Six Questions: Russell Morrissey

Groundpug Day is nearly upon us! Will Mister Pants see his shadow tomorrow?

While we wait for the answer, here’s six questions with Russell Morrissey of EN WORLD. In all my years of forum-wandering, I’ve always found EN World to be my favorite source for news, reviews, and discussion, and I’m proud to have an ENnie award on my desk. Over the last few years, much of my forum time has been devoted to the official WotC Eberron forums, but as I start talking more about Codex, I expect to be spending considerably more time on EN World. Recently the site was attacked, and Russell is running a Kickstarter campaign to build a new and better EN World. Now, here’s the man himself!

What’s the story of EN World, and how did you end up as the man behind the curtain?

So, before there was an EN World, there was a website called Eric Noah’s Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News, run by Eric Noah.  In the lead-up to the release of D&D 3E, Eric reported all the scoops and rumours, and compiled all the information known about the game – his site was very popular.  EN World started compiling d20 news not long before Eric decided to stop maintaining his website, and the two sites merged to become the site you see today.  Over the years it’s changed of course – it’s no longer just a d20 and D&D site; it’s a site for all tabletop gaming (though D&D and Pathfinder are still the most popular topics on the site).

In an internet filled with fantasy forums, what makes EN World stand out from the crowd?

EN World’s one of the older RPG communities out there.  There are some older ones, and some bigger ones, and lots of newer, flashier ones, but I feel that EN World’s combination of age and size works well.  It means that the site is a treasure trove of information —  much of its traffic comes from specific Google searches about very focused questions, which lead folks to a particular thread or topic.

Additionally, EN World is one of the best, most generous communities around.  In fact, I’m constantly surprised by just how amazing this community is, and I’m very grateful for that.  The recent Kickstarter is a testament to the community.

I’m also proud of the news page, which is a daily updated news digest that’s been going strong for 12 years now, and is still the busiest area of the site to this day by an order of magnitude.  It’s changed format over the years, but it’s been diligently reporting RPG news for as long as anybody else in the industry, and longer than most – with an additional focus not just on large announcements, but community news, blogs, fan creations, and the like.

EN World also tries to keep busy and *do* stuff.  Some more successfully than others, but the site stays active: we’re responsible for the ENnies, we make adventure paths, we have spin-off communities, we’re even making cartoons these days!  I’ve never been content to just sit there and watch it bumble along, and I always like to try new things. Some of those things don’t work so well, while others work out very well indeed, and that’s down to that wonderful community of active, vibrant people.  I feel it’s important that EN World be more than just some messageboard software and a news page – it should be doing things.

What’s the strangest story that has come out of EN World?

Yikes. There are stories of generosity – just look at the current Kickstarter; of opportunity, like the day Peter Adkison contacted me and said “Hey, would you like to hold the ENnies at Gen Con?”; many stories of insanity (you should see some of the rants the moderators get in their inboxes!); stories of disaster; stories of wonderful friends I’ve made across an ocean who have welcomed me into their homes; bizarre stories of people who write lengthy blog posts calling me mean names because they don’t like how I run a little D&D website; odd legal threats with no grounding in reality; hacking attempts on the website. You name it, it’s happened!  Where do I start?

There’s more to EN World than forums and news. EN Publishing has produced a range of products, from the War of the Burning Sky campaign to Space Fight! What product are you proudest of, and what are you looking forward in the future?

Is this where I get to blow my own trumpet?  I honestly think that our ZEITGEIST adventure path is astonishing; right at the very top-tier of fantasy adventure-writing.  Of course, I’m going to be biased, but it’s so good (I can say that because I’m not writing it personally!)  It’s also very brave, and is very much targeted at the experienced GM, a group that I always feel could use more complex, challenging, rewarding material.  It’s consistently gotten glowing reviews and critical acclaim, and that makes me very proud indeed.  When we originally produced the War of the Burning Sky adventure path, we determined to do something different to what existed already; what WotC or Paizo was doing already so well in their own right.  Emulating them would be pointless.  So we started a journey of sorts with WotBS, and went even further with ZEITGEIST in a different kind of experience for a dedicated group of gamers looking for something new.  It’s more of a niche market than the stuff the bigger companies are producing, but for those within that niche it’s so rewarding.

In 2012 EN World began hosting video content. Where do you want to go with this?
I don’t know what the future holds for the internet, or for websites like mine. It has changed *massively* in the last decade, and it will change massively in the next decade.  One part of that is ensuring that you’re not left behind.  I got onto the social networking thing too slowly, and a bit too late.  The video aspect is another example of that – I don’t know for sure that video will be more, less, or equally important to the web in five years’ time, but I want to be in a position to handle it whichever.  So we’re essentially “training” ourselves to do it; it’s new to us, requires a very different skill-set, and has technical challenges, but it’s also the sort of thing a “grown up” news entity should be able to handle easily.  We did a trial run at Dragonmeet (a small convention in London) in December, which went well.  We put together a cartoon last year which was our way of starting to learn an entirely new skillset, and we’ll be doing that again this year. I hope to bring video coverage of Gen Con to EN World this year.  Essentially, right now, it’s about getting ducks in a row for the future. One area I wish I had covered is audio podcasts; and that’s another challenge again!
Currently you’re involved in a Kickstarter to help support EN World after the site was brought down by an attack. What happened? What will you do with the funds if the campaign exceeds expectations?

In December, EN World was attacked (and then a bit later my other site, Circvs Maximvs, was attacked). The hackers brought down both sites, and I was forced to rebuild EN World — the existing code clearly was no longer secure.  The Kickstarter is accomplishing that — in fact, it’s already exceeded expectation by a degree which is astonishing to me. So first of all, I’m rebuilding, securing, optimizing, and hardware-upgrading the site – that’s the primary goal.  Then I’m adding cool functionality or additional ways to conveniently access the site’s resources (mobile apps, for example – I’ve already put an Android app into place, and an iOS one is awaiting Apple approval).    I’m offering swag in the form of PDFs, apps, even exclusive dice.  The long-term result is going to be a fast, powerful EN World positioned for the next ten years with awesome functionality and resources.