I’m a Backer: Rebuilding EN World

Backer EN World

I thought this might be the first week since I started this segment that I would have nothing to endorse. Though volume has been up significantly, I haven’t found much that I believe in strongly enough to give them my money, recently. Then came this week’s project, and saved me from having to figure out what I might fill this space with instead.

This week I am a backer of Rebuilding EN World. Though this project offers some great digital swag for gamers, this project falls firmly into the “things I think the world is better off having” category. In that way, this project is closer to a certain space elevator to me, than to the much more analogous FATE Core project (which I am also a backer of.)

If you know what EN World is, why are you still reading this? Go back the project!

If you don’t, well – let me persuade you.

According to Wikipedia, EN World publishes “news about new product releases, and also acts as a database of different d20 products. The members can review and comment on different products. In addition to this, the website also has forums focused on D&D and other d20 games. An international community of gamers constitutes the forum members. Areas of EN World devoted to other RPGs, such as Star Wars Saga Edition (d20), d20 Modern, d20 Babylon Five, and GURPS, and GURPS Traveller. Play-by-post games are also played using the EN World message boards. The main focus of EN World is on d20 System-based role-playing gamesDungeons & Dragons in particular, although discussion of other types of role-playing games also takes place.” They are also responsible for the ENnies, an annual awards ceremony held at Gen Con every year.

Recently this fine website, a pillar of the online gaming community was hacked, and severely damaged. To help fund it’s rebirth, they launched a Kickstarter. To date, this project is 3000% funded, and shows no signs of slowing.

The project itself is pretty straightforward – the creator wants money to rebuild an online community. My first question was, of course, “why didn’t he have backups?” Though this answer is buried at the very end of the project page, it is equally straightforward – they did. To quote the creator:

REGARDING BACKUP STRATEGIES — a number of people have asked “why didn’t you have backups?”

We did. The database was entirely backed up (if you go to EN World right now, you can see that every post, thread, and user is still present and correct – no data was lost).

The code, on the other hand, consisted of a heavily modified vBulletin 3.x codebase. It was a decade old, and subject to exploits over the years. In short, a decade after it was installed, it was no longer secure or reliable — that’s why the hackers were able to get in. In short, it was vulnerable, and the backups of the code were therefore also vulnerable. I made the decision, therefore, to upgrade to the modern, supported, and far more secure vBulletin 4.2. The effect of this was that our code was all rendered obsolete/incompatible. I couldn’t just use it again; it was for a different version of the core codebase.

Hopefully that explains why I couldn’t just use the backups. I could have, but if the site had been restored to exactly how it was before the hack, the hackers would have immediately jumped in again the next week using the exact same method.

So the cause is worthy, but how is the project?

The project is pretty serviceable. The video is entertaining, and the reward levels are logical and straightforward, not to mention generous. The biggest problem with the project is that there is a long and growing wall of text. Not that the information presented isn’t informing and everything, but it could do with a little pruning.

Did I mention that the rewards were generous? Right now at the 25 pound level ($40) you get several thousand pages of RPG PDFs, including:

  • TOURNAMENTS, FAIRS, & TAVERNS for the Pathfinder RPG
  • Admiral o’ The High Seas for Pathfinder and D&D 4th Edition
  • War of the Burning Sky 700-page compiled for D&D 3.5
  • Five ZEITGEIST adventure path adventures for Pathfinder or 4E (your choice)
  • What’s the Pirate Ship Like, Anyway? from Raging Swan Press
  • Villainous Pirates from Raging Swan Press
  • Wild Spellcraft for the Pathfinder RPG
  • The Town of Kalas and the Castles & Crusades Quickstart Rules from Troll Lord Games [also please see Troll Lord’s own Kickstarter, which is awesome, too!]
  • The Borderland Keep Deluxe 3D paper terrain models from Fat Dragon Games and A0: Crows Nest Island from Adventureaweek.com (both pictured above, added after the big image below was made).

To sum it up, if you are aren’t a gamer, you probably don’t care, and no amount of value will tempt you. If you are a gamer though, especially a d20 gamer, I don’t see how you can pass this deal up. How often do you get the chance to give money to a good cause, and get this much swag in the bargain?

I had a chance to sit down with the project creator, and ask them a few questions:

So let’s get the hard one out of the way first. Did you have any inkling that the site was vulnerable before the breach?

— No more so than anybody else does. I mean, intellectually you (as in any site admin) know that any website *can* be hacked (and much bigger, more important sites than mine have been), and I was conscious that the site was over a decade old. But no, it just doesn’t really cross your mind until it happens to you.  We took reasonable precautions, made backups, changed passwords regularly, and so on like any sensible site admin would, but it’s easy to underestimate human nature. The current code base – vbulletin 4 – is fortunately supported by the developer with patches, security updates, and so on.

Trends show you have thousands of pounds more headed your way. Have you dreamed up any big stretch goals in preparation?

Well, I’m sure it’ll slow down! From what I can tell, most projects have a great start and then the curve kinda flattens out for the rest of the project, with an uptick at the end.  At least, so I’m told! I’m not counting my chickens yet, let’s say.

We’ve already made more than I thought I would (heck, I was nervous I wouldn’t get anything!) and I have some ideas, but the sudden success has caught me a little off guard; I’m waiting to hear from people and companies regarding various things – EN World dice, an OGRE mobile app, more PbP features, investigating the role a second server could play in terms of performance, looking into more comprehensive coverage of RPG news, convention coverage, and so on. Lots of ideas all designed to make EN World a better experience for folks.

You’ve already given away the store with your two great adventure lines, Zeitgeist and War of the Burning Sky. Any chance we will see more adventure paths in the stretch goal roster?

Possibly. The other adventure path we’ve been working on for a while is in a far-future space setting based on the novels of Mike Resnick. It’s currently being designed for Pathfinder and D&D 4E.  We’re still early in that, though, and it’d be quite a big stretch goal if it were included. I’m not sure yet!

This isn’t your first Kickstarter, but it is the most successful. What did you learn in your previous projects that helped you with this one?

There definitely is an art to running a successful Kickstarter. I’m far from an expert, and much of what I’ve gleaned came from Monte Cook’s excellent book on the subject. The hard part is getting people engaged with the project; the more people talking about it, the more likely success is. And it’s a circular thing – the more backers you have equals more people talking, equals more backers. If I were a statistician, I’d probably say there’s some kind of critical mass where the project gains momentum and starts to self-propel itself. That depends, of course, on the project catching peoples’ attention and imagination.

So I guess I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and trying to copy them.  Reaper Bones, Pathfinder MMO, Numenera — and more — are object lessons on how to do it. And while I’m tiny in comparison to those juggernauts, I can still try to copy their basic methodology.

I’m sure you have found such an outpouring of support to be deeply touching, but what about the endorsements from the luminaries of the gaming community? Were those expected/solicited, or were they just as surprising?

They weren’t expected at all. The one from Paizo blew me away; I really felt quite emotional after seeing it. Sometimes I think we forget how small this industry is, and how connected we all are. Too often it breaks down into factions and rivalries, and things like this just remind us that we’re all one big loosely related family. And when people like Lisa Stevens, Ryan Dancey, Monte Cook and more start saying such lovely, lovely things, it can be a little overwhelming.

This entry was posted by David Winchester.

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