Recently, we were asked if we would be covering Jessica Price’s recent allegations made towards Paizo Publishing in tonight’s live episode of Know Direction. The short answer is yes. It is a major news story in the gaming industry at the moment, one involving Paizo. As the self-proclaimed Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews podcast, it seems like this would be a given. However, the long answer is more complicated.
The Know Direction Network is fan-owned and operated. We are not trained journalists. Although the flagship podcast has a news segment, we regularly remind listeners that we are biased, and the segment is more about raising awareness and explaining what is happening in the hobby than it is journalism.
Furthermore, as fans, we have volunteered in the past with Paizo’s Pathfinder Society organized play program, with multiple members of the network currently in long term volunteer positions that involve Non-Disclosure Agreements. On top of having members under this NDA, the parameters of the NDA have been tied to a separate situation related to the Jessica Price allegations.
We also freely admit that it benefits us to stay in Paizo’s good graces. Our entire network is dedicated to Pathfinder and Starfinder (and inclusion, more on that later), and we enjoy unprecedented access to Paizo staff for interviews. We do not shy away from expressing our opinions in reviews, and interjecting our personal feelings in most news items. This is different.
We debated internally how to best handle this story, including, we admit, whether we should cover it. We ultimately decided to cover the topic. We have long touted ourselves as gamers who believe in inclusion, regularly dedicating network time to raising awareness of social issues and complimenting Paizo for the work they’ve done to represent more marginalized groups in their works.
In that light, we cannot turn our back on a social issue tied directly to Paizo. However, technically we are a journalistic entity, and misrepresentation of facts makes us vulnerable to libel. Therefore, this news item will distinguish statements from facts, cite sources, and avoid conjecture or editorializing. We have varying levels of personal experience with all involved parties and we will do our best to leave those relationships outside of this news source.
Complicating matters further, we were originally scheduled to have Frank Mentzer, a central figure in the allegations, as a guest on this very episode to discuss his history with the game and promote his now-cancelled Kickstarter campaign. A representative of Mentzer’s contacted us to cancel his appearance. We received the message at 3:23pm on October 17th, nearly 5 hours before the first Jessica Price tweet linked below. We have no further information on the reasons for the cancellation.
[Editor’s Note: Clicking on the embeded tweets will open the full thread of conversation. We tried to embed the relevant start of threads for all the discussed twitter conversations.]
On October 17th, Jessica Price tweeted a summary of her experiences with Frank Mentzer.
So, while we’re talking about missing stairs in our professional communities, let’s talk about Frank Mentzer.
— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) October 18, 2017
An early tweet mentions meeting him when he was the guest of honor at PaizoCon 2014.
Their later online interactions started June 11th, 2015, based on timestamps on a Facebook messenger private message she received . She goes on to paraphrase a Twitter thread about a sexual assault victim that Mentzer commented on. Price explains not expecting to need to screencap the conversation before deleting it after Mentzer ignored her requests to stop commenting. She then described blocking him on Twitter only for him to contact her via private message her on Facebook. It is at this point that she accuses Mentzer of “talking about how he’s going to make sure I never work in the industry again.”
He posts publicly about how I “flipped out” and blocked him, and talks about how he’s going to make sure I never work in the industry again. pic.twitter.com/r3Xm5bi8Dm
— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) October 18, 2017
In an October 18th tweet, she brings up Paizo, saying “I don’t work for Paizo anymore. I was warned, when I did, that there were limits to how much of this sort of thing they’d tolerate.”
And I don’t work for Paizo anymore. I was warned, when I did, that there were limits to how much of this sort of thing they’d tolerate.
— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) October 19, 2017
On Saturday, October 21st, Paizo message board member fjw70 started a thread titled “I am very disturbed to hear the allegations about Paizo these days” about the Price/Mentzer allegations, the incident involving Bill Webb of Frog God Games at PaizoCon detailed bellow, and “reports of Paizo threatening legal action against a PFS volunteer who reported being harassed.”
In the thread, an earlier incident at PaizoCon was brought to light by Robert Brookes in which he says “At Paizocon I saw an altercation where Frog God co-creator Bill Webb was harassing a female guest to the point where I was asked to help.” And also that “It turns out a Paizo employee was injured (to a degree in uncertain of) trying to break up the events that led up to my involvement.”
It turns out a Paizo employee was injured (to a degree in uncertain of) trying to break up the events that led up to my involvement.
— Robert Spookes💀 (@Sphynxian) July 5, 2017
On Sunday, October 22nd, Matt Finch, partner of Frog God Games confirmed in a post on RPG.net that the allegations were correct after he was appointed by the partners of Frog God Games to conduct an internal investigation.
On October 23rd, Paizo CEO, Lisa Stevens, replied the following in the above thread (now locked) and in a new thread titled “Open Letter From Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens” The statement reads:
“My name is Lisa Stevens and I am the CEO and owner of Paizo Inc. Events of the past few weeks have compelled me to make this statement.
“My company will never condone any sexual harassment or assault against any of our employees, male or female. We will never condone any sexual harassment or assault against any of our customers on paizo.com or at sanctioned organized play activities. Whenever I hear any allegations of sexual harassment or assault related to Paizo’s activities, I always immediately drop whatever I’m doing and I make getting to the bottom of these issues my top priority. We have banned people from paizo.com. We have banned people from participating in our organized play activities. We have stopped doing business with individuals. And we will continue to do so.
“As a woman and a survivor of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of these attacks. I know what it is like to feel the shame, the terror, how it changes your life forever. And because of this, I will never stand for my company to condone this behavior.
“Paizo’s employees are encouraged to come forward with any allegations of sexual harassment or assault and let a manager know as soon as possible. If criminal activities have taken place, they are encouraged to report it to the police and take legal action against the perpetrator. We have asked our employees to not engage in explosive and angry dialogue on paizo.com. We want our website to be a place where our customers feel safe and among friends. If there is problem on paizo.com, then our community team will handle it and, where appropriate, ban the perpetrator.
“In closing, you have my word that I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault, and the same is true of Paizo. Please be aware that we treat these issues with tremendous sensitivity, and only disclose the specifics and resolutions of any such incidents on a need-to-know basis, even within Paizo or with our legal counsel. We do not and will not discuss these matters publicly. Every instance that I am aware of has been thoroughly investigated, and appropriate actions have been taken or are in the process of being taken. You have my word on this.”
This thread also included an official response from victim of the PaizoCon incident that reads as follows:
“Paizo Con: The only thing I desire is peace and to be left alone to create.
As the victim in this particular situation, I have watched in public silence as the world dissected my story and speculated as to the intimate details. I looked on and relived these events as people believed, disbelieved, defended me passionately, and cast doubt on the situation. I received many wonderful messages from those who were there or heard what happened, expressions of anger on my behalf and an outpouring of love. And yet I am heartbroken by what I see, not due to the event itself but that these same individuals, who aided me when I was in need, are being verbally assaulted and accused of less than exemplary behavior. So, despite being told that I in no way needed to by countless individuals on all sides of the event, I’ve chosen to speak. I’ve selected Paizo as my medium to do so to ensure that everyone can see my words.
What happened at Paizo Con was not appropriate. The offensive behavior I dealt with from this person was very inappropriate, unwanted, and frankly a bit scary. However, Paizo’s staff did all they could to ensure I was safe, they made all the right offers to take care of the situation, and when I declined some of their suggestions they chose to protect me with their silence. Nearly every member of Paizo’s staff interacted with me in some way during these awful events. Many offered protection, others walked me to my room, spoke out on my behalf, held my hand while I was afraid, and even physically stepped in when the clearly inebriated individual in no way wanted to hear my “No thank you.”. In the end, Lisa Stevens herself shed tears alongside me as she heard my story. Her concern was genuine, her anger fierce, and at no point was there any disbelief. She passionately argued to be able to defend me and doesn’t deserve to be accused of doing anything less than her very best to protect me while I was in her “house”. Paizo made me feel welcome, believed in, and defended me in every way I would allow.
No one tried to silence me, I silenced them.
The individual who stalked me through the halls that day was far too drunk to drive, he had children staying at the convention, and I asked that he be allowed to leave when sober. I also requested the incident be kept as quiet as possible to protect his family. Additionally, several of my friends work at the very company this man represents, I didn’t want their professional lives impacted by a public scandal any more than I wanted anyone else’s to be. Members of Frog God Games checked in on me and handled their side of the mess as they saw fit. I protected others and I tried to protect myself. I’m a private person who’s survived far worse storms than what happened here and I simply wanted to resolve the issue for all involved and put it behind me before it resurfaced more traumatic events in my mind. We all have to choose what hills we die on. I didn’t feel the need to make this one mine. I work here. This industry is my life, it’s where my friends are, it’s my creative outlet; the place where I bring to life all the crazy ideas parading through my mind, and all I want to do is take my imagination out for a stroll and create games we all enjoy.
I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to all the people who cared enough to stand up for me, walk beside me, and protect me from the public. I personally consider this matter closed and would prefer everyone else do so as well for the sake of my own privacy and personal sanity.“
Tonya Worldridge, Organized Play Manager at Paizo had this in response to the issues brought up about the use of NDAs and Organized Play Volunteers:
“Paizo and the Organized Play Foundation use Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to protect non-public business information and trade secrets. Paizo and the OPF do not use NDAs to suppress volunteer speech regarding personal events.
That any of our community feels pressured to silence by their NDA upsets me greatly. I encourage any person, Venture-Officer or otherwise, to contact me directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may open a discussion and work towards issue resolution.”
A few hours later, Price tweeted more details about her frustration with how Paizo handled issues. She describes Paizo management as saying they care but then outlines several experiences -in particular on the forums- where management either didn’t act on issues that female staff brought up or treated the act of bringing up the issue as a larger issue. She also explains that she made many suggestions for addressing the issues, and the suggestions were not welcomed.
Most frustrating thing is Paizo management continues to act as if saying "we CARE" loudly while doing the minimum to avoid bad PR is enough.
— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) October 24, 2017
As of time of writing this is what we know of the situation and we will continue to report on it as it develops.