Leonard Balsera is the Creative Director at John Wick Presents. He is best known for his design and development work on Evil Hat Productions’ various Fate system games, such as the award-winning Dresden Files RPG, but has worked across the breadth of the industry, with credits from Pelgrane Press, Fantasy Flight Games, Green Ronin, Margaret Weis Productions, Onyx Path Publishing, Steve Jackson Games, and many others. When he isn’t eating, breathing, and sleeping hobby games, he spoils his cats rotten, reads voraciously, performs on stage occasionally, and plays a lot of video games. He lives at the intersection of memory and dream, but his physical body resides in Austin, Texas.
Q: Lenny, we’re so thrilled to have you on board as Creative Director of John Wick Presents. You’re no stranger to the RPG industry! Your design credits include, among other things, work with Evil Hat Productions on the Dresden Files RPG and Fate Core, and licensing administration for Steve Jackson Games. What initially drew you to RPGs? At what point did you decide this glamorous industry was right for you?
Lenny: I would say the industry chose me, more than the other way around. My venture into professional work started at Evil Hat Productions—the short version of the story is that Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue found me in Fate’s fan community and brought me on to work on Spirit of the Century when their ambitions turned toward starting a publishing company.
While on the convention circuit promoting that game, I had a conversation with Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press, which led to my first freelance industry gig. And it basically happened that, year after year, I’d go to conventions and talk to people and end up with more jobs, or get references via the Internet. At some point, I looked back on that momentum in retrospect and said, “Huh, I guess I work in the hobby games industry now.”
Q: What were some of your earliest roleplaying inspirations—either games, systems, or designers? What are some of your big RPG inspirations now?
Lenny: Too numerous to mention. My particular brand of obsessiveness in the hobby is absorbing new systems, and I’ve been doing that since I started playing D&D as a kid. I feel like there’s a neat piece of design tech in just about every RPG, and it’s my job to find them all. Consequently, I’ve read more games than I’ve run or played.
A selection of favorite standouts, though, are Over the Edge, the Star Wars RPG from West End, Cyberpunk 2020, Feng Shui, HKAT, the James Bond RPG, every version of the Star Trek RPG, everything in the original World of Darkness, Primetime Adventures, Fiasco, basically everything Vincent Baker makes, Will Hindmarch’s Always/Never/Now, Epidiah Ravichol’s Swords Without Master… my tastes and preferences are all over the place.
And of course, 7th Sea.
Q: You’ve already jumped right into your work with JWP. Pretty soon you’ll be sleeping and dreaming 7th Sea! What are some of the things you’re most excited about in 7th Sea: Second Edition? (It’s pirates, right? It’s got to be pirates.)
Lenny: So, my enthusiasm for the original 7th Sea has a lot to do with it being one of the first RPGs I ever played where there was no “paying to suck” in character creation. D&D popularized the “zero to hero” thing, and a lot of RPGs in the 80s and 90s adopted that as a default assumption. 7th Sea was very much “hero from the word ‘go’,” and I fell in love with that dynamic. The second edition takes that even further, and I’m extremely happy about that.
I also really like a lot of the work that’s gone into the rebooted setting, so much so that it’s hard to pick a favorite element. Worldbuilding has always been one of 7th Sea’s core strengths, and it was awesome to see how that played out in the new edition. I’m also thrilled that we’ll get to see more of the world and go beyond the borders of Theah in upcoming books.
But pirates are cool too.
Q: A project as big as 7th Sea involves so many people at work on so many different moving pieces. There’s advertising, mechanics development, writing and editing, herding cats, managing production timelines. As Creative Director, can you talk a little bit about what your work will entail?
Lenny: My main job is to facilitate getting books out the door. That involves a lot of different tasks: keeping track of the schedule, making sure our developers and writers have what they need to do their jobs, brainstorming with creative staff to help them arrive at a clear vision for the work they’re doing, resolving logistical obstacles, shepherding a particular book through its various milestones and eventually to print, and making sure that the content we’re producing meets our standards of quality and is compatible with John’s vision for the world.
Q: Okay, saving the most important question for last! If you could travel to any one of the Théan nations, where would you visit and why? I hear tickets to Eisen are cheap this time of year.
Lenny: Castille. I want to join Los Vagabundos.
Thanks Lenny! We’re all so glad you’re here and I look forward to working with you!