One Fan's Criticism Of D&D App Roll20 Sends Its Subreddit Into A Meltdown

Illustration: Wizards of the Cost

Roll20, a popular website with tools for pen-and-paper RPG players, has found itself on the bad side of many of its fans after a bungled moderation incident that has led to its entire moderation staff stepping down from its subreddit - and the fourth most-downvoted Reddit post of all time.

Yesterday, a Roll20 user named Cory, known on Reddit as ApostleO, posted a thread on both the Dungeons and Dragons and Roll20 subreddits saying that he had cancelled and deleted his Roll20 account after five years. A few days ago, he wrote, he had been banned from the Roll20 subreddit.

Since he had only posted three messages that didn’t seem to violate any rules, he was confused, and sent a message to the mod team asking why he had been banned. One of the subreddit’s mods, who went by the username NolanT, pointed him to an account that had a similar username, ApostleofTruth, that they’d banned a year earlier.

Looking into it, he found that the last comment ApostleofTruth had made on the Roll20 subreddit was a criticism of the site. The last comment Cory made had also criticised some features of Roll 20. NolanT believed that ApostleO was just ApostleofTruth, back under a new name.

Cory was not the previously-banned user. But as he looked into that user’s history, he felt that their banning was also unjust.

“Now I’m not just angry for myself, but for this other guy who got banned a year ago,” Cory wrote in his Reddit post. “He got banned for criticising Roll20, and pointing out moderation abuse trying to quash criticism.”

“Ironically, I never would have known about the history of mod abuse if NolanT hadn’t pointed me to it himself,” he wrote. Over the course of the day, Cory’s post gained traction amongst the other members of the subreddit, who petitioned for the bans to be lifted and for NolanT to be removed from the mod team.

NolanT responded to the thread to say that while the ban was indeed in error and he apologised, Cory had sent what NolanT described as “threats” following the ban, saying that he would become “an active detractor on social media” and speak up about Roll20's “abysmal customer service” if the ban was not lifted.

In response, NolanT dug in his heels and said that “the level of this escalation” meant that he would leave Cory’s ban in place. How did the subreddit react? By making the comment the fourth most downvoted in Reddit history with almost 60,000 downvotes.

But the controversy was just beginning. NolanT’s post was signed, “Nolan T. Jones, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Roll20.” Up to this point, Cory and many other posters on the subreddit did not realise that Roll20 staff members were moderators on the subreddit. In fact, it turned out that every mod was a Roll20 employee.

“These two facts were not hidden, just not widely known outside of frequent r/Roll20 users,” Cory told Kotaku over email.

When Kotaku reached out to Roll20 for comment, a representative directed us to a public statement that has since been stickied at the top of the subreddit and on Roll20's forums. This statement says that all Roll20 staff have been removed as moderators from the subreddit.

“We asked the mods from a different subreddit (/r/lfg) to step in and become the new moderators of /r/Roll20,” the statement read. “We are leaving it up to them to decide the rules of the subreddit going forward, and have removed all Roll20 staff from that subreddit. In addition, the 13 users previously banned from /r/Roll20 have been unbanned.”

Although he’s now free to post on Roll20 again, Cory said that he’s been trying to avoid posting so as to “avoid fanning the flames.” He posted a now-stickied thread in the Roll20 and D&D subreddits asking other posters to remain civil. He told Kotaku that while he has not seen threats of violence, other posters had told him they were there.

“I had not seen any myself, but I was told that they were present,” he said. “I assume they were being removed in accordance with Reddit code of conduct.”

Although the subreddit still looks like it’s in disarray—all of the posts on the front page are jokes and memes referencing the recent drama—the new mod team seems eager to step into the mire.

“We are allowing memes for the next 48 hours people,” one wrote in the thread about the moderation changes. “Get it out of your systems now, before we go into normal moderation mode.”

Cory told Kotaku that he had no idea that his post would blow up like this. “The entire issue could have been avoided if I had been more patient with the moderation team and u/NolanT, or if I hadn’t posted the details of our exchange,” he said.

“Others have pointed out that the community reaction stemmed not from my situation alone, but from pent-up feelings of frustration with Roll20 and Nolan.”

“It has been suggested to me that the situation was a powderkeg,” Cory said, “and if I hadn’t set it off someone else would have eventually.”


    Bungled moderation is certainly a way to describe it...

    It's pretty telling that the tone-deaf abuse of power came from the co-founder, and not a PR person.

    So, a fuckwit got outed. Now, the more important question: What are good competitors to that product?

    Oh please, telling other people that you experience bad customer service isn't a "threat", it's just a result of bad business practices. It's annoying when jilted customers throw tantrums on social media, but it's pathetic for a staff member to sink down to their level and ban them instead of acknowledging valid criticism of their product and/or service and working to resolve it.

      Nothing wrong with shaming shitty service on social media.

        it is when the people complaining aren't actually involved, just they just joining posse for the sake of it. I imagine you wouldnt feel as happy if someone took something you did wrong, or handled in a misguided way, which become a huge click-storm but people with no active interest in the matter.

          true but, at the same time. if you represent the company. you are the co-founder of a public company and you say something stupid... You know to expect a storm. It'd be simply better to apologise in a genuine manner or not respond at all.

          You are talking about people relaying information/stories. Do you also have this issue when news media do writeups about someones crappy tweets?

            thats the purpose of a news outlet. Though one persons insight and interesting story is another persons rubbish.

            At least with news outlets there is (normally) levels of professional standards, in which the information is proven, through research and multiple sources, and attempts to protect sources and like are employed.

            so much of this was was the masses just believing what they were being told was true, no sources needed, no facts needed, mass hysteria does the rest. Sure in this case there was some truth to it, the same can not be said about so many other downvote campaigns.

              Ah, OK, I thought you were speaking in the specific, but it can be a more general issue when information relayed is false.

      I work for a major telco and I’ve had my fair share of angry customers.

      Customers promising they’ll spend considerable effort defaming is on social media or reporting is to A Current Affair = not a threat.

      Customers claiming they’re going to damage our property, cut down our towers, commit suicide, go into a store and punch an employee = threat

      It’s amazing how upset people will get over a later payment fee ..

      Last edited 28/09/18 9:27 pm

    Moderation is a tricky business...when done right, there's no thanks; when done wrong there is disapproval from everyone. Bottom line is to set up a consistent set of rules, and a structured moderation team and process, and ensure there is a workable and fair appeal process.

    Nothing but another example of clinical mass hysteria from the reddit hive mind.Sure no doubt it started from a true place and sure it gain traction because it was a bit rubbish but to get the fourth most downvoted or whatever in reddit history, give me a break. If only these people took their disenfranchisement in life to actually real world issues, not just all downvoting as if it is some form of credible anarchy.

      The trouble is that I suspect many do take their disenfranchisement to the real world, and create issues for the rest of us.

    I followed this from the start. I don't want to write a long thing about it, I'll just say that Nolan and his team were absolutely in the wrong, on basically all counts. I have done community management on and off for years, so my perspective on this is:

    - ApostleO shouldn't have been banned just because of a name similarity, that's bad moderation 101. Similarities trigger investigation but you never act without evidence. Never.

    - When he appealed the ban, support should have communicated with him at every step. This was a paying customer making the case that he was unfairly treated, ignoring his attempts to get in touch for days was the direct cause of his increasingly panicked/frantic messages and his ultimate 'threat'.

    - When Reddit got back to them to tell them they weren't the same person, the entire thing should have been undone and apologised for right there. Trying to justify upholding a now definitively proven unjust ban because his entirely understandable reaction to it was to get upset is absolute bullshit - in fact, this is by far the worst of the mistakes Nolan did. You don't get to punch an innocent stranger in the face and then say they deserved it because they said 'fuck you' afterwards. Absolutely awful conduct from Nolan.

    This isn't the first time Nolan has done this, as plenty of threads pointed out. And they were clearly unapologetic about it since they continued to match usernames between Reddit and their own boards and ban users on Roll20 itself who were participating in the Reddit threads, even after they handed moderation over to LFG.

    Frankly, a lot of the backlash against Nolan was justified. Obviously not the death threats, violence threats, etc. (that should go without saying), but this was the most recent example in a pattern of clear misuse of power compounded by trying to double down instead of admitting the mistake.

    ZJ, I agree re the backlash, and your comments re threats and what have you. I've moderated for a number of years on the forums of a well known and popular game developer, but our moderation team was drawn from trusted long-standing community members, under the oversight of a non-game development component of the company (they had their fingers in a number of pies). We had an extremely structured set up, including restrictions on what we could do (based on our seniority), and everything was reviewed by our internal leadership, and by the company management team. We still had dodgy decisions made though, and we had to cull out a couple of moderators over the five or six years I was active. Properly conducted moderating is a job in itself, because if you are largely independent you are balancing the interests of the forum hosts vs the interests of the posters, while trying to retain your own integrity...the vast majority of people simply don't get it (and by that I mean forum hosts and posters).

    How common is it that developers (whether PR people or designers) are a mod for a game or app's sub reddit?

    I'm not too active on any gaming sub apart from Dota 2's and Valve obviously go about things differently and don't get involved too much but obviously read it as bugs mentioned there are dealt with quickly.

    It seems to be a recipe for disaster if these employee are mods (apart from small games/apps I guess). If you want to control your own forum make your own. Paradox games does this.

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