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Saying Goodbye to my friend Steven

Posted on July 10, 2016 by Matt-M-McElroy

Last week, I was horrified to learn that Steven D. Russell of Rite Publishing was killed in an car accident on July 5th, 2016. Steven was one of the first DriveThruRPG publishers I was able to build a friendship with that I had not already known from my previous experiences in the RPG industry. Having run Flames Rising for several years (and a little freelance writing here and there), I had naturally built up a number of friendships and working relationships before I started working for DriveThruRPG. But, those friendships represented only a fraction of the industry, and jumping into the publisher services role offered me a ton of opportunities to get to know even more people from companies big and small. Steven was one of them, and that friendship was built over time as his company (and DriveThruRPG) grew.

Steven would constantly push for and offer ideas on what DriveThruRPG could be doing differently for both publishers and freelancers. Sometimes, we’d trade a dozen e-mails on a single tech feature or a tool set that wasn’t doing what he wanted it to, in the way he needed it to. This kind of dialog was immensely helpful for me, as I’d be able to hear directly from someone using the site every day. While sometimes we’d argue from time-to-time or get frustrated, those disagreements were always, always handled with the deepest respect because we both wanted the same thing. Our discussions were always about how to find better ways of getting more cool games into people’s hands (or hard drives as the case may be) to not only support Rite Publishing, but to keep gaming alive and well.

Both of us worked from home, in different states, so a large part of our friendship was conducted online via e-mail, Facebook and the occasional Skype chat. However, every year we’d make time to hang out, talk shop, and generally catch up on each other’s lives at Gen Con. In fact, we were just planning this year’s meet-up, and I still can’t believe I’ll never get to talk to him again. While most of our conversations started about work stuff (we were both workaholics) we’d often wander onto to other topics and jokes. We had similar tastes in media, and I’d often recommend indie and self-published comics for him to read. Then, we’d discuss them after he’d had a chance to catch up, and we’d wander off onto some related topic, before we talked about gaming some more as we were both passionate about what we do for a living and for fun. I remember, too, that when I had my emergency cardiac surgery in 2014, he made sure to catch me on Skype to ask how I was doing. Then, he steadfastly refused to let me work while I was in recovery and made sure I had some cool new stuff to read until I got better.

I admired a lot of things about Steven, but there was one in particular I will never forget. He would offer up advice and suggestions not just to his business partners, like DriveThruRPG, but also to other small press RPG publishers and freelancers. He would do this without question, without ever asking for anything in return, because he cared. He was always asking me for more success stories, and wanted to know when more games would be available, too, because he wanted other publishers big and small to succeed out of a genuine desire to see the RPG industry expand and flourish. He’d give advice to freelancers whenever asked, whether they were working for him or not, and he was one of the friendliest and hardest working people in the community. Steven was always humbled by the fact that this industry and its fans bought enough of his products to give him the opportunity to work in gaming full-time, without having to rely on a “day job” outside of gaming. He felt it was his responsibility to give back and share what he had learned with others, and I hope to live up to his example.

His passion for his family, his generosity and creative talent, and his impact on the RPG industry as a whole is something that will be truly missed. We’re all poorer without him in our lives. He was my friend and I will miss him every day.

There is a Steven Russell Memorial Fund set up on gofundme.com if you’d like to contribute to those expenses. Additionally, there are hundreds of amazing RPGs from Rite Publishing that Steven worked on with a creative energy few could match. Please, don’t let his work be forgotten. I think one of the best ways we could honor his memory is to keep gaming, and maybe name a surly (but heroic) mentor NPC after him.

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3 Responses to “Saying Goodbye to my friend Steven”

  1. Billzilla Bill Bodden says:

    I don’t believe I ever met Steven, but from the sheer volume of lamentations I saw on Facebook and on private, industry-only email threads, he clearly was a stand up guy, and will be sorely missed.

  2. Jason Durall says:

    Thanks for this testimony. Steve was one-of-a-kind, and it’s wonderful to see this outpouring of admiration for the guy.

    It was a privilege to have worked with him, and I’m happy to have had him as a friend.

  3. Steven Dawes Steven Dawes says:

    I never had the chance to meet him either, which is too bad as it sounds like he was a really good man. Those are rare these days.You have my condolences.

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