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 canceled 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 criticizing 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 apologized, 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 realize 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.”