As part of Zachary Houghton’s wonderful Small Press Week, I got in contact with Steve Russell of Rite Publishing.  Steve started Rite Publishing himself and forms the (lively) backbone of the company.  I have thoroughly enjoyed Rite Publishing’s products and am excited to see a great example of a successful small press.  The interview has been cut down somewhat and type edited by me (including adding links, so I apologize if they are misdirected), but in no way have I changed the meaning or substance Steve’s answers to my questions.  Enjoy!

  • Why did you get into RPGs?  How about publishing?

It was my favorite social group in highschool and in college.  The people are always above average in intelligence, and have a sense of honor and fair play.  Occasionally you get the “I win” or competitive attitude, but mostly a sense of fellowship, of all my friendships in life the ones I made from behind the DM’s screen are the ones that have lasted.

Publishing was a necessary evil, since no one else was publishing the type of RPG supplements that I wanted to see made. I found out I was good at it.  Later I found out I enjoyed it as much as designing, so in a way it’s a bit of a cheat.  I get to be an idea guy sometimes without having to do all the work of polishing that idea to a professional level, since that’s what freelancers are for; with patronage projects, though, I avoid all executive meddling and my voice matters less than that of a patron.

  • How did Rite Publishing get started?

I was working as a freelancer and got shafted one too many times; I decided I could do it better.  The first year I learned some really hard lessons, the second year really saw us make some powerful strides as people began to trust that we would produce the products we said we would.  We are extremely accessible and responsive to our customers needs and desires so it has earned us a number of loyal customers, and we continue to grow.

  • What has been Rite Publishing’s most successful product?

That’s a really hard question as we have hit every goal we have set for ourselves so far.  I would have to say Coliseum Morpheuon as it was our first attempt at getting a fan favorite author along with achieving Paizo-level quality (full color interior) we have some really amazing artwork from Jason Rainville, we have also seen some really great input from our patrons.  This product is still in development and the patron boards are the most active of any of our products.

  • What is Rite Publishing’s primary product?

RPG Patronage projects.  We currently have 3 going and 2 seeking patrons.  We are using a business model called patronage, which we have adapted from Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design.  The people who want a project directly commission an artist (in this case, a game designer, cartographer, and illustrators) to produce a product of interest to them.  Patronage is similar to a preorder except you get direct input and access to the product before the product is released.  You get both the product and all of the benefits of an alpha and beta test, with senior patrons having even greater access, and making actual changes in the design itself.  It’s based around the idea that the greatest benefit to consumers on the internet is not lower prices but access to products and services that would otherwise not be available, so we tend to creature products that would not be possible under a traditional retail model.

  • What game systems does Rite Publishing work with?

Currently we working with the Pathfinder RPG (Coliseum Morpheuon and Breaking of Fostor Nagar), and Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved (Rituals of Choice Adventure Path, Litorians and Heroes of the Jade Oath); we are planning/hoping to work with Spycraft 2.0, Mutants and Masterminds, and Call of Cthulhu.  If we have an interest from patrons we will work with just about any system.

  • How many employees does Rite Publishing have?

None, we are dedicated freelancers and hobbyists; everyone has a day job, including me, if you’re working on a fully funded project though you are often called staff on that project.  A few examples of the really cool folks we have working with us are Clinton J. Boomer (Pathfinder Campaign Setting), Bill Collins (Empire of the Ghouls) Ben McFarland (Tales of Zobeck), Jonathan Roberts (Kobold Quarterly Cartographer), Clay Fleischer (6 Arabian Nights), Hugo Solis (Halls of the Mountain King) among others.

  • Does small press work?  Is it possible to be an RPG publisher in this day and age on a less-than-mammoth scale?

I think Rite Publishing is living proof that you can make it work.  When I look for inspiration I look at Luke Craig’s Mouse Guard RPG and Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design.  I also look at folks like Goodman Games and LPJr Design.  Each one of these companies takes a different type of approach, but the thing they all have in common is they treat their small press like a business.  We might all be targeting a niche market that we love, but if something is not making money you change your business model (patronage, preorders, subscriptions, direct marketing, and even personal retail relationships).

  • How has a patron system helped Rite Publishing?

I think I would have closed down a year and a half ago without it; it takes the risk out of covering the production costs of doing a full color deluxe product, along with patron input helping us reach the highest quality possible.  We also end up being able to do things that are not in the initial budget such as printable map packs of the cartography, paper minis and now we are hoping to make this available on virtual table tops like Maptool, TTopRPG and Fantasy Grounds.

  • Not to overstate things, but it sounds like patron projects are a revolution for small businesses.  How does it affect your role as a designer/developer?

It pushes you to listen to the input of your customers, and allows you to take advantage of the fact that your patrons are bright, imaginative folk who have been playing and DMing for just as long as and sometimes longer than you have.  A few of them are even freelance designers themselves.  As a designer/developer you have a big ego, simply due to the amount of criticism you have to be able to absorb.  Yet on a patronage project you have to put your ego in check and learn to recognize ideas that are better than and/or just as valid as yours are.  What makes you a great designer/developer is being able to make a bad idea a great idea so that you are still serving the patrons’ needs and desires.

  • What is your favorite game system to play in?  How about to design for?

The Amber Diceless RPG, I love the system and I love the setting.  I am just getting to play this again as a Skype voice chat game with some of our patrons and a few gaming friends who do not live close enough to game with me face to face.

When it comes to design, I have a tremendous love for whatever I am working on at the time, which lately has been Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved adventures (I love its themes, Oaths and Ceremonies, Character Choice being greater than Destiny, Contrast and Opposition, Complex Races and Classes, Evolution, Giving Power Back to DMs, and Tailor Made Characters rather than archetypes) and Pathfinder RPG feats (I have a tremendous love for the Combat Maneuver mechanic).

  • What has been your favorite product to work on as a game designer/manager?

As a Game Designer, The Rituals of Choice adventure path.  As each new adventure I have done so far has been better than the one before (we are seeking patrons now for #3, a silver level patron gets all three adventures), this to me is especially cool as the first adventure I thought would be my best work ever, but I keep topping it.

As a Developer, I am most proud of Heroes of the Jade Oath BETA, which was original a fan thread on Monte Cook’s Message board and has been in limbo for years.  Getting to show off the full color proofing print at GenCon this year was a real highpoint for me.  Proofing is almost done (the book is 310 pages), and I expect when that is done it will be yet another high point.

  • Given a year and unlimited resources, what project would you like to carry to completion?

There are many dream projects that I have, but right now the front runner is a Amber Diceless RPG patronage project.  There would be a license to pay to the estate of the author and original designer.  Then I would like to write revised versions based on the feedback of the existing fan base, and  then write the definitive adventure, along with seeing Rembra the underwater minor world of Amber to publication.