Interview with Green Ronin’s Jon Leitheusser

Jon Leitheusser

Jon Leitheusser

Anyone who is a fan of Mutants & Masterminds or DC ADVENTURES has probably seen the Threat Reports that Green Ronin has been putting out lately. Threat Reports are 99 cent downloadable PDFs for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition. They contain a quick little story about a bad guy and their stats allowing GMs to use them in their M&M games. I recently got the chance to interview one of the creative minds behind the Threat Reports, Jon Leitheusser and ask him where the idea behind Threat Reports came from. I also got to ask question about what it’s like to work with Green Ronin and what future projects he is working on.

Youseph Tanha:
I want to thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with me. It seems like there are never enough interviews like this in my opinion and I really appreciate you making the time.

Jon Leitheusser: You bet!

Youseph: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where you grew up?

Jon: Well, I grew up in Burlington Wisconsin. Which is sort of on the South Eastern corner of the state not far from the Illinois border. Actually its ten miles away from lake Geneva which is where D&D was created. I went to school there (Burlington) and high school there. I went to college in Madison and the UW. I ended up spending 14 years there. Not in school, in Madison.

Youseph: What role playing game did you cut your teeth on?

Jon: Oh, Advanced Dungeon & Dragons. I think it was 1982 when I started playing that.

Youseph: How did you come to work for Green Ronin?

Jon: In 2001 I got recruited to come and work for WizKids out in Bellevue Washington. While I was working their I did a little bit of freelance work for Green Ronin. Doing some editing. Specifically doing editing for stat blocks because I enjoyed it. They had a hard time finding people to do that. So I did a little bit of that for them. I did a little bit of freelance writing for them. I wrote part of the Iron Age book with my buddy Seth Jonson who was the HeroClix Game Designer after me. Then I ended up leaving WizKids and the guys from Green Ronin said “hey you want to come work for us a Line Developer”? And I said “Sure that sounds like a lot of fun to do in my free time”. So that’s how all that went down.

Youspeh: So are they your full time employer right now?

Jon: They are.

Youseph: What did you do for WizKids?

Jon: For WizKids I was hired to be the advertising and public relations guy. I was probably there a couple of months when I walked into the head of the game design department and said “I want your job.” And he said, “All right, I’ll start sending you rules and you start giving me feedback on them. Let me know what you think.” So I… It wasn’t editing. It was slightly editing and slightly like, you know, the logic on this is wrong. The wording on that needs to be cleaned up. That sort of stuff. I don’t know what these rules are trying to say. Here is how I would fix them. He was impressed by this so he hired me out of the marketing department and into the game design department. I moved up from there and I think in two years I had his job and he had been moved up to be vice president.

Youseph: So did having something like that on your resumé open up doors to places like Green Ronin?

Jon: I imagine that is probably true, but I think that has more to do with making contacts with people. I have known Chris Pramas actually now for a good 16 years one way or another. I worked with him when I was a product manager for ‘Capital City Distribution’ which was similar to Diamond Comic Distributors. Then Diamond eventually ended up purchasing Capital City. So I had a lot of contacts in the gaming industry through that job. Chris knew me from that. We would talk at conventions.

Youseph: So how many employees does Green Ronin have currently?

Jon: Full time?

Youseph: Yeah.

Jon: 8 plus some part timers.

Youseph: So the thing that came up that made me want to do this interview was that Green Ronin has been putting out these ninety-nine cent PDFs called Threat Reports for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition. Looking at the whole thing, the whole idea of it just seems genius to me. I mean you got something that costs less than a buck and it adds a layer of depth to the game. It’s just awesome and it’s set at a good price. Who’s idea was that?

Jon: The short answer is that it started with me, but the long answer is we have been talking about doing more PDF products for a while now. I was sitting around thinking about this and I though “People like PDFs. They like the immediacy of them right? So, if it costs ninety-nine cents, it’s an easy thing to download and have right then.” Then the other thing people really like are bad guy books. Those sell very well for us. So I thought “Why don’t we just do a villain of the week thing.” That’s originally what the ‘Threat Reports’ where called. ‘Villain of the Week.’ Then as we got closer to the launch date we thought “You know we should come up with a more interesting name than this.”
We figured that at the very least the PDFs would at least pay for themselves and they have. Which is great. Eventually we will collect these villains into a book in order to sell in stores.

Youspeh: I imagine there will be several more books to go with M&M 3rd.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, there definitely will be more in the future. Just for M&M this year we have a hand full of books already planned or are in the works. Then for next year we have probably already talked about another half dozen.

Youseph: Which I think is great.

Jon: Yeah it is. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good to keep new products coming out and people seem to be really enjoying the new edition of the game which is great.

Youseph: So, as an outsider looking in I love the fact that the PDFs Green Ronin offers are not watermarked. I love the fact that when you guys do an update, like the errata for DC ADVENTURE I was able to download the entire PDF updated with all the errata and it did not cost me a dime. I mean to me that is HUGE! How come Green Ronin is more accepting of selling PDFs than a big boy like Wizards of the Coast.

Jon: I don’t really know the reason behind Wizard’s strategy there. I don’t understand. As for Green Ronin, none of us are particularly concerned about piracy. It’s just not something we spend a lot of time thinking about. I can’t even say we have a strategy for it. Right? We release the products the way we do because that’s the way we release them. That’s the easiest answer. I think all of us kind of look at piracy and think, “that sucks,” and it would be great to get all that money from all the people that are “Stealing this from us”, but you know I think a lot of piracy happens because people are interested, but not actually interested enough to spend the money… and if they download something that interests them then it’s entirely plausible and possible–and very likely in fact–that some number of those people in the future will by product from us. So, it’s another way to do marketing I guess. It’s hard to track and it’s not like you would be able to crack down on it anyway unless you pulled all of your PDFs from being on sale… and that still doesn’t even end the problems. We are just not going to bury our head in the sand over it. We know it’s out there, but we hope some of those people eventually spend some money with us.

Youseph: I want to share a link with you. Do you know the author Neil Gaiman?

Jon: Oh yeah. I have been following him and his giving the book away for free. I haven’t been able to convince Green Ronini to do that yet. -laughs-

Youseph: Well what I am trying to say is that I like what you guys are doing with the PDFs and the price point and what not. It works for me.

Jon: Well I think one of the things that helps us is that we have a really good fan base. They are really responsive and interested in what is going on. So when we announce a new project or a new product goes up for sale we do the pre-order which has the hard copy book and the pdf for an additional five dollars, or you can just get the PDF for, I think, full price or something like that. I think when you order the book, and the PDF is only an extra five dollars or so, you don’t have to worry about overpaying. The price makes it reasonable to pay for and download the pdf right away.

Youseph: Right. With the DC ADVENTURES game, was it hard to convince DC or Warner Brothers that you were going to create a PDF and put it out there and not be able to track it?

Jon: No, not at all. Not in the least. We explained to them that we would not only have the hard copy, but we would also be offering the PDF. I think there was a couple of minutes where they weren’t sure. Then they realized we were going to charge money for it and they would be getting their percentage of the sales they were fine with it. The issue of piracy never came up.

Youseph: Well that was kind of cool of them.

Jon: Yeah they have been really great to work with.

Youseph: So the ‘Threat Reports’ are selling well then?

Jon: Yeah. They are doing just fine. I mean they aren’t blowing the doors off. They are not selling thousands and thousands of copies, but you know, hundreds of copies is great. As long as we can make back what it costs to produce them we are going to keep going with them.

Youseph: Can you talk about any future projects you are working on?

Jon: Nothing that you haven’t already heard about. Heroes Journey is coming out right now. Emerald City Nights. The prologue is up and chapter one will be going up hopefully very soon. The M&M Heroes Handbook just came out. The Gamemaster’s Guide is in good shape actually. It’s written, it’s edited, it’s developed. We are just waiting on art. It’s all laid out, we just need to put the art in. Then we should have the DC ADVENTURES Heroes and Villains books coming out soon. We have the DC ADVENTURES: Universe book coming out later in the year. Hopefully in the summer. Then we have the GM Screen and the Character generator that just came out in PDF and will be out in hard copy in the next couple of months. It’s probably no surprise to anybody that there will be an Emerald City book in the summer which I am working on now. And that’s it until later in the year.

Youseph: Do you have a favorite role playing game right now?

Jon: I know I am supposed to say Mutants & Masterminds. Which might actually be true, but I’ll discount that one. See I really like mechanics, game mechanics, and I like elegant mechanics that facilitate fast, fun game play. They don’t have to necessarily have to be super deep. They just have to work well and be consistent. There are just so many games I like. Like I said I am going to discount M&M because that would probably be my favorite since I’m a superhero fan. So outside of that, I would probably have to say Savage Worlds.

Youseph: Really?

Jon: Yeah, because of what I said. Its fast and light and its internally consistent. It has a lot of flexibility because it allows you to play it as a role playing game, or a miniatures game, or a skirmish game. I mean there is all sorts of stuff you can do with that system.

Youseph: I received my copy of Mutants & Masterminds the other day.

Jon: Oh, that’s great news!

Youseph: Yeah it was nice to get it. One thing I was disappointed about was that it was a softcover.

Jon: Yeah. We’ve heard that a few times.

Youseph: Any particular reason you guys went that route?

Jon: Part of it was we assumed that people would have just purchased the DC book and we didn’t want to “make” people purchase another hardcover book since it would have cost at least ten dollars more. So instead we went with softcover. I’m sure at some point will do a hard cover version of the book.

Youseph: Oh don’t say that.

Jon: I am sure it will be a ways down the road, though.

Youseph: Well it is what it is, I guess. So I am ready to do my Inside the Actors Studio ten question ending here.

Jon: -laughs- Ok.

Youseph: What is your favorite word?

Jon: Yes.

Youseph: What is your least favorite word?

Jon: It’s a dirty word.

Youseph: That’s ok.

Jon: Ok, its cunt. I hate that word. It’s so hard.

Youseph: What turns you on?

Jon: Creatitivity. A good idea.

Youseph: What turns you off.

Jon: Willful ignorance.

Youseph: What sound or noise do you love?

Jon: That is a fine question. It’s got to be rain on a roof.

Youseph: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jon: The wrong note.

Youseph: What is your favorite curse word?

Jon: The F word. I also like to say “curses”.

Youseph: Very villainy of you.

Jon: Yes. -Laughs-

Youseph: What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Jon: Really anything, but if I had to pick one I would say full-time writer as opposed to part-time writer, which is what I do now.

Youseph: What profession would you not like to attempt?

Jon: Probably anything where I would have to be really angry or really aggressive all the time.

Youseph: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you reach the pearly gates?

Jon: I guess you were wrong. -Laughs-

Youseph: -Laughs- Well Jon, that’s it. Thank you so much for your time. I had a blast doing this.

Jon: You bet. Any time.