Interview – John Reyst (d20pfsrd.com)

d20pfsrd.com was started in 2009 by John Reyst and is kept going by hundreds of people willing to volunteer their time updating/adding new information.

Starting off with a more personal question, I first starting following d20pfsrd.com after Pathfinder came out and it’s proven to be an invaluable tool at a lot of people’s gaming tables. What keeps you going?

Thanks! I’m sure that the almost 200 collaborators that have volunteered to work on the site would also appreciate the kind words.

A strange, never-ending energy and enthusiasm level that keeps me editing the site virtually every day, and often for several hours per day. I am blessed to have a day job that isn’t terribly taxing and so I am able to “multitask” which really means I get to spend an inordinate amount of time that I wouldn’t otherwise have available doing mundane fixes and additions to the site. What also keeps me going is an insane drive to continue expanding our reach, in other words, continue expanding the number of users using the site. A year ago we had 150 thousand page views in August. This year we have averaged 1.5 million page views every month for the last several months. So part of the drive is just the glee in seeing the traffic continue to grow. I know that it will only continue to grow if we continue to add value to the site and make Pathfinder more accessible and convenient for fans. The challenge is making sure we continue to add value and convenience to the users without also taking sales away from Paizo, after all, the site wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the tremendous products created by Paizo and the 3rd Party Publishing community now creating great content for Pathfinder.

What keeps you enthusiastic about working in the RPG industry?

The sheer notion that I am working in the RPG industry! That has been a life-long dream, to be able to actually somehow work in the RPG industry. I still really don’t see myself as “working in the RPG industry” but I am making efforts to remedy that. The reality though is that working on the site is massively time-consuming. Part of it is due to my desire to keep the site easy for non-technical people to edit. If this were a more standard site we could do some much more technically impressive things but we are held back somewhat by the desire to keep it easy to edit.

In 2010, d20pfsrd.com was nominated for Best Website and won Silver. What did you think of the ENnies when you found out that you were nominated? How about after you won?

First, I was ecstatic, but in all honesty I really felt like we at least deserved a nomination so I’m really glad we did. As an insider I am keenly aware of the level of effort and hours of work our people dedicate every day to improving the site so I would have been heart-broken had we not at least received a nomination. When I saw that we did though I could have been very satisfied with just receiving the nomination, as that at least meant that the judges recognized the amount of effort put forth and value we provide. This was my first Gencon EVER so I was amazed and delighted to actually be nominated for an Ennie. On Friday afternoon before the ceremony I met and spoke briefly with Erik Mona at the Paizo booth where he had some extremely positive and kind words about the site. I told my friend who I drove to Gencon with that at that point it didn’t matter if I win or not, that I was pleased as punch by what Erik said. However, I was still very excited about the entire event, the pre-show cocktail party, the ceremony, mingling with who to me are my heroes of the RPG industry. I had another friend show up to the ceremony at the last minute and I was tickled to be able to point out Jason, Erik, James Jacobs, Monte Cook, Margaret Weis, and so many other big names, that I really felt that somehow I had “made it.” I’m in the same room, nominated for an award, with my heroes. I couldn’t have been more excited.

As many people might say, I’ve never really won anything significant in my life, no lotto jackpots, no free cars in raffles, nothing. So when the moment of truth arrived (more suddenly than I had expected) I was almost breathless! I waited anxiously to hear who the winner would be, as if a million dollar prize was on the line! I had a strong feeling that Obsidian Portal would take the Gold since they had already shown they had a large and wide enough userbase to be able to pull off a Gold in the same category last year. So I had pretty much figured the best I could hope for would be Silver. I was almost certain that the amazing Pathfinder Wiki was going to get the Silver since I can assure you they put in at least as much if not more effort into their site (and it shows). However, I think we had the edge in that everyone who plays Pathfinder needs the rules, not not everyone plays in the Golarion setting, so the same advantage that Obsidian Portal had over us, I think we had over them, i.e., a wider user-base. Ultimately though I would have been perfectly fine with PathfinderWiki winning the Silver since they certainly deserved it at least as much as we did. I think it just came down to a numbers game.

Did your nomination and win affect traffic to your site? Has it started to level out since Gen Con or is it still going strong?

I have to be honest and say that it hasn’t shown MUCH of an increase. The site was already on a continual +10% increase month to month almost since the beginning, and we still are. Since we get over 10,000 visits a day on average, the referrals from the ENnies news on EnWorld and on the ENnies blog didn’t make as large of an impact on overall traffic as I anticipated. I suspect it would have been far more noticeable on a site with less regular traffic though. That probably sounds bad doesn’t it!

Now that we’ve been around for almost a decade, what do the ENnies mean to you both personally and professionally?

The biggest thing is that it means the work that the d20pfsrd.com collaborators puts in is recognized and appreciated by our peers. That’s the single most important thing to me. The ENnies are THE RPG and Gaming industry awards ceremony and being nominated and / or winning is very significant and meaningful.

If someone who had never heard of the ENnie Awards walked up to you today and asked, “So what are these ‘ENnies’ you keep talking about,” how would you answer them?

I’d say “You know what the Oscar’s and Emmy’s are? Well the ENnies are the same thing but for nerds! It’s an awards ceremony celebrating the best content created for the roleplaying game industry recognizing the best products by the best publishers, and also recognizing the best fan-created content. It is meant to reward the hard work put in by publishers and fans for their insane amount of dedication to what is for some just a hobby but for others a way of life (and their primary source of income!). It tells people ‘buy these products, you won’t be disappointed.'”

How often do you play RPGs? Do you have regular gaming sessions?

I play every two weeks, and have done so almost continually since the early 1980’s. We devote every other Saturday to roleplaying and we play generally from 10am Saturday until 2-3am Sunday. It’s a marathon of gaming! I play in two Pathfinder campaigns at the moment, one in the morning/day which is a Kingmaker campaign. I play a 3rd level half-orc cleric/fighter in that one. The other picks up in late afternoon and is also a Golarion campaign in which I play a 6th level lawful good dwarven Inquisitor. I’m very happy to continue playing the Inquisitor now that I see it didn’t get hit with the same nerf bat in the final Advanced Player’s Guide rules that the Summoner did!

Prior to the two campaigns I am playing in currently I almost 100% DM’d for the last 15 years. I ran a D&D 3.0 campaign when it came out. When 3.5 was released we converted the PC’s to 3.5. When Pathfinder Beta was released we converted to those rules. When final was released, ditto. We dabbled in 4E for a while but it was almost universally disliked at our table so it never really took off. To be clear, we played it for several months, but several of us just couldn’t accept the changes so we shifted back to Pathfinder and we’ve been very happy ever since.

What other hobbies do you have? You said you game every other Saturday; what do you do on the other days?

My single largest hobby other than gaming would be mountain biking. I started doing it casually last summer but it really took off this summer after I bought a much nicer (and much more expensive) bike. I’m lucky that the area of Michigan I live in has several very nice parks with very interesting and challenging trails to enjoy. I do that on average 1-2 times per week with a friend. It’s extremely intense and helps me with the diet. Other than that though, I virtually live on my PC and spend almost every moment that I am not actively engaged with the wife and three daughters, either reading the Paizo boards, reading EN World, or working on the site.

As for what do I do on the other days, well Monday through Friday I work normal business hours for a small mid-western bank, then I spend the evenings with the family generally until the kids are in bed. I enjoy the shows Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and True Blood so if any of those are on I’ll watch them with the wife or watch movies. Otherwise, it’s back to working on the site! I also go to the gym or go mountain biking on 1-2 nights per week. Sundays are usually family time in one form or another, and in the summer that usually involves a trip to the beach (we have sort of a lot of water options in Michigan!)

What are your plans for the future of the site?

We plan to continue adding any and all Open Game Content that is released by Paizo, 3rd Party Publishers, or fans, that is created for the Pathfinder RPG – that we can. We are continuing to convert Paizo content that was released prior to the PFRPG as well as converting monsters from the best Open Game Content sources available, such as the various Tome of Horrors books. We have multiple people actively working on monster conversions now but previously we had only one guy, though he was extremely efficient and converted a very large number of Tome of Horrors monsters. He (Chuck Wright) is now employed by Frog God Games. We’re very pleased he’s working doing what he loves and getting actually paid for it now, and really who better to work for that the successor to Necromancer Games?

Are you going to branch out and work on other RPG products?

I personally have considered establishing SRD sites for other game systems that have rules that are licensed in a way that would allow it. I’ve considered Eclipse Phase and even Swords and Wizardry, though in truth I think the problem is I just plain wouldn’t have the time to devote to them properly. In the first case I don’t even know the rules for Eclipse Phase even though it looks extremely exciting, and in the second case, I don’t know that a game system like Swords and Wizardry would translate well on an online SRD type of site. Part of the appeal to that system is its “old-schoolishness” and I suspect that the userbase might reject a site such as d20pfsrd.com created for those rules. I haven’t ruled out either one though and I have been tinkering with both in my spare time so who knows what might eventually come to pass.

Also, a partner and I have developed a game world setting designed for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and a large amount of it is complete, but we’ve sort of let that one lie for a bit while we both became distracted by other matters. We’re considering alternative distribution models with that one, meaning, instead of the classic “bind it all into a pdf and sell the pdf” we are considering a subscription model similar to Monte Cooks Dungeon-a-Day concept. We would be continuing to add new content all of the time so a static PDF wouldn’t really make sense.

Another thing we’ve been working on is a supplement for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game with options and alternative rules for spellcasters. We are nearing the end of actual content creation on that and my partner is actively creating necessary art for it. He is an extremely talented artist, digital and otherwise, and has done a great deal of 3D art for big name game studios. His participation on this book is currently slightly delayed in fact by his contract work with this computer game developer changing due to an emergency. This would be our first real official actual “product” so we’re trying to take it slow and make it the best it can be before we even start talking about it elsewhere. We haven’t even started to think about distribution methods, i.e. do we do it all ourselves or hook up with an established entity? I’ve made some friends in the industry so I think we may end up partnering with someone, but again, who knows? It just depends on how much of that side of the process we want to get involved in.

Thank you to John Reyst for answering my questions. If you’re playing in a Pathfinder campaign, or are just looking for more information about PF, make sure to check out d20pfsrd.com.

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