Mourning Rite

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Earlier this week, we learned of a sudden loss to not only the Pathfinder community, but the gaming community as a whole.

Steven D. Russell, owner of Rite Publishing, was one of the first third-party publishers to give his support for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but his impact goes well beyond the hundreds of products he helped usher into creation for gamers everywhere. Many of Paizo's freelancers got their start with Rite Publishing, and more than a few of us that work at Paizo also had the pleasure of working with him. Friend, advisor, mentor, author, designer—he wore all of these titles proudly. But none were as proudly worn as "gamer."

He was One of Us, and his influence and passion for the hobby will be missed.

A memorial fund has been set up by his family for those wishing to donate.

Liz Courts
Community Manager

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Tags: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
Liberty's Edge

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Spot on, Liz. Thank you, and the folks at Paizo.

Liberty's Edge Developer

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Steve was an amazing man, and gave 100% enthusiasm to every project.

Community Manager

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Steve was willing (and able) to take up my Adventure Quarterly project after I couldn't make the commitment to it that I wanted to. I was very pleased to see it continue on, and I loved how he always wanted to push the third-party community to do more and be better. I will miss your drive, Steve.

Liberty's Edge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2012

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Liz, thank you for the lovely tribute to Steve.


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Thank you for this, Liz and Paizo. Well said.


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Beautifully said. Thank you, Liz. The world is indeed a bit darker today.

Dark Archive

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a sad loss for the gaming community.

Scarab Sages Developer, Starfinder Team

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Thanks Liz. We appreciate that.


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Thank you for your words and memories.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Thank you, Fellow Steve, for bringing me Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, and so much more.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

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We miss you good sir.


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Thank you Liz.


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I didn't know he was going to be a father soon. Tragic.


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He was a generous mentor, an innovative designer and a staunch advocate for us all. Thanks for posting this.


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So sorry to read about Steve's untimely passing! My heartfelt condolences to his wife and family.


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A very nice tribute. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.


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Well said.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16

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Steve was my publisher, mentor, cheerleader, and friend for over five years, and nearly everything I've ever written was for him. I owe him so much, and I will miss him dearly. Thanks Liz, and thanks to Paizo for making it possible for 3rd party publishers like Steve to contribute freely and grow the game for all of us.

Liberty's Edge

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This was an important post to make.

Thank you, Liz.


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Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Steve was one of the first persons to hire me as an artist and to give me brutally honest advice regarding artist-publisher relations, I'll remember him always.

We'll miss you Steve!

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32

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I never had the opportunity to meet Steve in person, but I had the pleasure of working with him a few times, and I can say without a doubt he was one of the most enthusiastic and supportive people I've ever met. He had a way of making everyone he talked to feel like the most important person in the room, and he was genuinely interested in seeing everyone around him excel.

I still remember our first conversation from a few years back. I was pitching an idea for a product and I mentioned, as part of introducing myself, that I had written several articles for Dragon magazine. Out of curiosity, Steve asked their names, so I rattled them off. The list included an obscure pair of articles I had written some ten years earlier.

Imagine my surprise when Steve not only recognized those two titles, but cited his favorite part of the first article off the top of his head. As it turns out, Steve, gaming enthusiast that he was, kept a binder filled with photocopies of all his favorite Dragon magazine articles for ease of reference. To this day, knowing that I contributed to that binder remains the biggest compliment I have ever received as a game designer.

But the great thing about Steve was that he did that for everyone he worked with. He could cite all of his freelancers' best work, and he could push them to produce more of it, because he wanted everyone around him to succeed. He was an amazing collaborator, an amazing publisher, and an amazing man.

This week, the industry lost a muse and quite a few people lost a friend.

Liberty's Edge

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Well said, Liz!! We are all diminished when a member of our community passes. May Steve's memory be for a blessing and burn bright in the minds of those who knew him. May his family, friends and colleagues be comforted.


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
Thank you, Fellow Steve, for bringing me Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, and so much more.

This is how I got into Rite Publishing, which in turn got me into Pathfinder.

Steve will be missed.


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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Good and important words, Liz. Thank you.

Liberty's Edge

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Ciaran Barnes wrote:
I didn't know he was going to be a father soon. Tragic.

Agreed. I was shocked when I first heard about Steve's death, but when I found out he was going to be a father .... man, that's even more heart-breaking ...


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Thank you, Liz.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32

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Ciaran Barnes wrote:
I didn't know he was going to be a father soon. Tragic.

Steve's sister posted the following in a comment on this blog:

Nikole Gardner - Steve's Sister wrote:

The thing that scares me the most is that Steven’s (and Miranda Russell) baby, who is due this winter, will never have the opportunity to know what an extraordinary person his/her father was.

I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, compassion and concern everyone has shared for Steven. So many of you have shared memories and stories you had with him. I look ahead to the future and wish I could remember them all so we can share them with his son/daughter.

I have set up a gmail account for anyone that would be willing to share stories/memories/thoughts of Steven so when Miranda feels the time is appropriate, she can share the account with their child. I’m hoping this will give him/her a small glimpse into the amazing life his/her father lived and what a caring, giving, creative, loving person he was.

babyrussell2017@gmail.com


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Steve was one of the reasons I stuck to Pathfinder. This is no hyperbole, this is the truth.

I became a fan of his AE-material back in the day. He was the first publisher to publish my writing, the first man who gave me complimentary copies on a regular basis. He was the one man who continued to provide feedback, who helped me evolve into my own reviewing style. He was the first to tell me that I made a difference with my rambling feedback. He never minced words, but neither did he confuse me as a person with my reviewing "duties"...

His designs have brought countless hours of joy to my table.

But more than that, he always had my back. When I fell upon hard times back in the day, he helped me recover with stern, constructive advice; with an open ear and a big heart. He was not only a publisher and designer I admired, a motor for creative and innovative impulses...to me, he was a friend.

My hands still shake. I still don't want to believe it. I'm stunned.

We have lost a giant. I can only fathom and extrapolate the impact he must have had on those people blessed enough to know him better than I did.

Rest in peace, Steve, and thanks to the Paizo-crew for the entry.
I will never forget you.

Grand Lodge

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I've worked for Steve for four years. Steve allowing me to work on a Rite project for Hero Lab that became my graduation internship. Which lead to many releases from Rite for Hero Lab.

Steve was always there for me, whether I was having trouble with something for Hero Lab or even my personal issues over the years. When there were problems, he wanted me to know first. E-mail wasn't enough, he called me on more than one occasion to explain things that weren't working right.

Steve helped usher in many changes in my life. I am a better man for having known him and worked with him. Out of all the years my only regret was never being able to meet him in person.

Rite was just getting ready to make the move into Hero Lab and 5e to be the first 3PP in that spot. I'll be sad not to be able to user that in.

Steve I miss you already. And will miss you for many years to come.

Liberty's Edge

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Good grief this is awful. I bought a lot of his work and enjoyed using them in my games. His influence will be missed at my gaming table.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

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Ezekiel Shanoax, the Stormchild wrote:
...thanks to Paizo for making it possible for 3rd party publishers like Steve to contribute freely and grow the game for all of us.

Steve is the very exemplar of the reason we do these things. His impact on the industry goes far beyond the products he published.


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Rip. Brother

Paizo Employee Chief Operating Officer, Web Store Manager

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When I think of Steve, I always remember his gigantic and inviting smile. He was a good man and he will be missed.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games

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Well said. A sad day indeed and a friend and colleague lost to many of us. Tomorrow is not promised. :(


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This is awful. My condolences to his wife, child and other family.


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This news is deeply saddening to me. Steven was one of my favorite game designers. Moreover, he had an impeccable eye for talent in others, which guided his company into releasing an incredibly rich library of high quality RPG supplements. Rite Publishing was/is a strong contender for my favorite RPG company, and was/is definitely my favorite among those producing d20-related supplements. On top of those talents, he was also a genuinely nice person, even on the internet. He will be missed.


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Steve was great to write for and a good friend.


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Steven was a great guy and a an exemplary ambassador for the hobby with his infectious passion for gaming. His wrote great and innovative gaming material and I'd like to think a little bit of Steven lives on in his words and ideas that we enjoy on our gaming tables for years to come.

I haven't yet summoned up the will to open any of the many Rite books I have in my collection as the wound is too fresh now. But I will, eventually and I will be thinking of him everytime I do so.

Scarab Sages

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Pathfinder Card Game, Rulebook Subscriber

After Steve's funeral today, I jotted down a set of thoughts about Steve, which I have shared elsewhere, and thought I would here as well, in his memory.

In Memory of Steve Russell:
When I learned that Steve Russell had been killed in a tragic car accident, I was at a loss to know what to say about Steve. There were so many things that I could say, but I didn’t know where to start, or what would be important. I had been in the middle of writing a proposal for a project for Steve that morning, and the first and only thing I could think of was that he would never get that email; you never know when a conversation will be the last you will have with a person. But beyond that, I had nothing. So I waited.

I was blessed to be scheduled to be near enough to Dayton to make both the viewing and the funeral for Steve. I introduced myself to his sister and wife. Miranda, Steve’s bride, pointed out the various books that Steve had published which they had put out for people to see. Around the books were scattered dice, a Babylon 5 hat, an Ennie award and down on the floor was a large “miniature” dragon, about twelve inches tall.

A few of the books were some I had been involved in helping bring to fruition. In particular, I noticed a copy of Coliseum Morpheuon on the leftmost table. I had a suspicion what I would see if I opened it, and I was right. I knew that copy. On the inside front cover was my scrawl, next to that of Clinton Boomer’s. I remembered signing that book. I had met with Steve in Reynoldsburg on the east side of Columbus for the purpose of signing a set of those books. We met at Arby’s. My wife and kids spent the time browsing the nearby Half-Price Books. It was the first time we were to meet in person. It was a rather momentous occasion for me, and I think for Steve also, as it was his first physical “book” to come out of Rite Publishing (though not the last).

Some months earlier Steve had asked me if I thought I could finish up Coliseum Morpheuon, a patronage project that was meant to be a high-level adventure set on the Plane of Dreams. He had a mess of material, but it was unorganized and while plenty of background material had been done, the actual adventure had not been written. I am not sure why Steve thought I could do it. I had, at that point only done one other thing for him, a small book co-written with Trevor Gulliver. Steve suggested he needed another 15,000 words, all he could afford to pay for. I ended up doing about 60-70,000, a great deal of editing, and a full organization of the book. I worked at it for about a month, solid. Steve could only afford, when all was said and done, what he had agreed to pay me, but I would do it again. Because when it was done, there was an actual RPG book, in print, with my name on the cover as a co-author. It was the fulfillment of a life-long ambition.

Steve Russel gave me that opportunity. He did that for many of us, and it was one of the things that made him so special, though certainly not the only thing, nor the most important thing.
So we met at Arby’s and I signed books, after which Steve planned on driving to Boomer’s place to have him sign as well. During which, I signed a copy for Steve and I had Steve sign my author’s copy. He signed it, “To My Second Favorite Designer.” He explained, with a smile he had to reserve the #1 spot for himself. I didn’t care. His compliment was heartfelt and I appreciated it. I don’t know if I remained #2, or if Steve had a plentitude of #2’s. He worked with some very talented people, and I can’t believe that Owen Stephens wouldn’t bump me down a rank or two if Steve was being completely honest. But it doesn’t matter. It was a nice little tribute, and at the end of years, worth more than the small bit of money I got paid for the actual words.

Steve was good at making people feel good about their work. He would be critically honest of things that weren’t good, but he had an eye for what was good, and he was able to tell people when they had done a good job. That’s not actually a common talent, though you would think it might be.

All that came back to me when I saw that book there with my signature in it.

***

I met Miranda for the first time at Steve’s viewing. It was obvious, as is the case with most of us men, that Steve had married up. I think Steve knew it too. He seldom referred to his wife online by name. She was referenced as “She-who-is-amazing.” It seemed obvious that he was quite in love with her.

It was also good to meet Steve’s sister, who he had so often praised publically for the work she did for their family.

There were a goodly number of people at the funeral for Steve; they had to keep bringing in chairs for the ones that kept coming in. I suspect a fair percentage were family. Family seemed important to Steve, and many of the photos posted on the arranged boards near to the other mementos of Steve’s life were of Steve with family. Photos with his niece and nephew were especially touching and there was obvious mutual affection visible in them.

One of the most heartbreaking things, after learning Steve was gone, was learning that he was going to be a father. I think he would have been a good father. I suspect he had been happy to have the opportunity.

His niece, Eryn Gardner (I may be misremembering the spelling of the name), wrote a very touching letter about her uncle, which was read at the funeral. Among other things, she commented that she thought that, in addition to being a good brother, uncle, and son, Steve would have made a good father. So I am not the only one to have that thought.

While on the topic of family, one of the things I always appreciated about Steve, a thing that resonated with me, was that he was a dutiful son. I think the world needs more dutiful sons that respect and love their parents. His mother’s death affected him greatly, as it should have. I think it obvious that he wanted to be closer to his father to help take care of his dad.

***

Speaking of the pictures that were arranged around the funeral home, one thing I thought about during the service for Steve was that he was very good at smiling. I appreciate that because its not one of my talents.

Steve smiled a lot.

Most of the pictures of him, it seemed to me, were of Steve smiling.

He had a good smile.

***

I mentioned Steve gave people opportunities. I’ll say more about that.

Rite Publishing’s DrivethruRPG pages list 472 different products for sale. I wrote or helped or contributed to at least 30 of those products, which include several things I am still rather pleased with. Each one was a chance to do something I really enjoy doing. As I said before, Steve gave me that opportunity.

I was not alone. Steve did a lot of the work for Rite himself, but it was not a one man show. He had the help of editors, artists, lay-out persons, and writers. He had, I think, an eye for talent, and a sense of good ideas.

Steve was a decent writer in his own right, but the best things he offered were not always his own work. The Demolished Ones, Lord’s of Gossamer and Shadows, Coliseum Morpheuon and several others that could be mentioned were ideas others had which Steve facilitated, or ideas Steve had which he gave over to others to work on. Steve recently listed the top 10 items he had produced in reference to the first 30 days of sales. Only #10, 1001 Spells, was a book Steve had personally written. But Steve was happy to let others shine, and he encouraged others to produce good stuff for him.

Many who wrote in memory of Steve have commented on the encouragement Steve gave them, and the opportunity he provided for them to work in the RPG industry.

Steve also gave me the opportunity to go to GenCon in 2011. Me and my wife both, courtesy of Cubicle 7, who had published Coliseum Morpheuon in book form for Steve. Steve had told them I could GM. As I recall, I had been running games at Origin. I had asked Steve if I could do so under the auspices of Rite Publishing, and he had agreed. I have ended up running games for at least 5 years at Origins, representing Rite, though operating on my own in planning, arranging, etc. But that year, as I remember it, I had run one game, after which a player had gone and bought several books from Steve. It was some such. Anyway, he had been asked to find GMs for Cubicle 7, and he had proffered them my name.

I ended up running Airship Pirates for them, as well as One Ring. I fell in love with One Ring, and was meh on Airship Pirates. My wife spent the Con working the Cubicle 7 booth and became quite chummy with the designer of One Ring, which was the hotness that year, Francesco Nepitello. It was an opportunity and experience that we would not have had, without Steve.

***

Creative people all have their own unique way of going about things. We don’t always see eye to eye.

Some of the ideas I floated past Steve he didn’t think would work, and some he floated by me I thought were a bit off. I worked on his anyway when he asked me to, making them as good as I could under the guidelines he gave. He in turn sometimes let me experiment on my own. Things tended to work out.

I remember after he had just finished up doing 1001 spells he was ready to take a little break from his 101 series. He asked if I wanted to do a month. I said yes, enthusiastically. I had a great idea, from a previous book of doing a whole series of cursed items and 101 of them seemed like just the thing. He gave the go-ahead and I gleefully churned out 101 Malevolent Magic Items.

I found out after, in a passing comment he made, that he had thought the idea would never really go over, but he let me do it anyway. I got to do the book I wanted, and when it was well recieved, he acknowledged he had been wrong. He was generous that way.

Steve had strong opinions, but he could and would change them, if necessary. And when some of his own pet projects failed to pan out, he was not so stubborn as to refuse to change course. Which of course allowed him to focus on those things that were actually successful. Because, while not all of his ideas were good ones, several of them were very good.

*****

The funeral for Steve ended up being a good one, as such things go.
The funeral music, before and after the service was eclectic, encompassing both the Shire music from the LotR (which was actually quite appropriate) as well as an accapella rendition of Cash's "Ring of Fire." (which was touching if even a little discordant in tone) I was slightly amused when, after the funeral was over, what sounded like a sound-track from a video game (didn't actually recognize it) came on and the minister looked slightly and only momentarily askance. I am not convinced he fully approved of gaming, but he bore it well.

There were several touching eulogies offered by friends and colleagues of Steve’s at his funeral.

I had thought about the possibility of speaking on the drive from Columbus to Dayton, and what I would say, if offered the opportunity. Many of the thoughts I had are recorded above.
One thing that came to mind was the topic of Creation, which I touched on, when I did get the opportunity to say a few words in Steve’s memory.

People are creators, made in the image of a Great Creator. We build. We plan. We dream. We imitate the One who created the worlds, children playing at trying to be like their Father. Our efforts are pale imitaions of the real thing, but that does not make them without value. There are many ways to go about this act of creation. Some people build furniture. Some people paint. Some people do pottery, or sew clothes, or cook food, or invent. Some write music, or compose poems, or shape metal or invent new gizmos and gadgets. And some people dream up worlds.

Steve was a dreamer of worlds. Fantastic worlds filled with fantastic creatures, danger, heroics, and magic. He gave many of us the opportunity to do the same. There’s something of the divine in that activity. It’s a good thing to do, this act of creating, a heritage of our shared humanity, and while, like all things, it can be misused or abused, it’s a noble endeavor with a rich tradition in which to walk.

I am glad of the opportunity to have walked it a time with Steve.

He will be missed. His absence leaves the world just a little less bright, and a little emptier, bereft of his smile.


Beautiful tribute, Wicht. Thank you for sharing it here.


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I hope that those who knew Mr. Russell can take solace in the fact that he was a generous, kind individual who brought a lot of happiness to many people, both through his actions and his work.

Hopefully, it's not too soon to ask this question (if those who know the answer believe it is, I apologize in advance, and [obviously] feel free to wait until a more appropriate point in time): What does this event mean for Rite Publishing? I know Mr. Russell was one of, if not the driving force behind the company. Are there those who are able and willing to carry on after regrouping, or will the company need to be shut down, or is that a decision yet to be made?

Scarab Sages

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Pathfinder Card Game, Rulebook Subscriber
Readerbreeder wrote:
Are there those who are able and willing to carry on after regrouping, or will the company need to be shut down, or is that a decision yet to be made?

As far as I know, and I am not speaking from any sort of position of authority, only as someone involved with Rite, it is the latter. The funeral was only yesterday and it was agreed by those of us who freelanced for Steve that it would be wrong to ask Miranda her intentions with the company without giving her a proper amount of time to mourn and collect her thoughts.

Those of us who have done work for Rite, several of us, most certainly have plans to continue producing product in one fashion or another. There are also some works which were in the pipe for Rite already, in various stages (editing, writing, etc.). How that will all play out though is not yet certain.

Please give it a little more time for things to be decided.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Steve was an inspirational and generous man, with kindness in his words and actions. I had no idea...

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

AinvarG wrote:
Beautiful tribute, Wicht. Thank you for sharing it here.

Yep. Thanks!


Wicht wrote:
Please give it a little more time for things to be decided.

Of course; I meant no disrespect. I hope everything works out for the best from here.


Readerbreeder wrote:
Wicht wrote:
Please give it a little more time for things to be decided.
Of course; I meant no disrespect. I hope everything works out for the best from here.

For those who haven't seen it, there's now a post on the Rite Publishing Facebook page to say that projects currently in progress will be completed, but the long term future is still to be decided.


HerosBackpack wrote:
For those who haven't seen it, there's now a post on the Rite Publishing Facebook page to say that projects currently in progress will be completed, but the long term future is still to be decided.

Thanks for the pointer, HerosBackpack.


So sad to hear this news. I remember the early days of Rite Publishing and was honored to help edit The Rituals of Choice project > Stephen was just awesome to work with. Very positive and upbeat > he made gaming exciting for me again.
Prayers of peace and comfort for his family.


It was bittersweet seeing Rite Publishing in the "Fan's Favorite Publisher" category for this years ENnies awards voting.

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