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Interview with Michael Tresca

Posted on June 21, 2005 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

I was in a Gifted and Talented Education program in the fourth grade. My parents were given a list of games to help foster a child’s imagination. Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was on the list. My mom bought me the “red box” version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons (BDD) and then taught me how to play it. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing.

My aunt, seeing an opportunity to foster my creativity, bought me the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (ADD) hardcover books. I didn’t understand that ADD and BDD were incompatible with each other, so I mixed and matched. I played my first game world with my neighbors (that’d be George, Kenny, and Kevn), but it wasn’t really a campaign at all. I think we played The Keep on the Borderlands a couple thousand times before I realized you could buy other adventures.

When D20 Modern came out a few years ago, it was the only book I bought from my local Wizards of the Coast store at full price. That’s saying something, because I haven’t purchased a book at full price in years. I had just beaten Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick for the Playstation 2 and I was incredibly hyped about updating and expanding the Evil Dead universe for D20 Modern. So I bought the book and, in just under one week, I created a D20 Modern free supplement that had rules for playing in the Evil Dead universe. It was both a learning experience about how to use D20 Modern and a lot of fun to write.

What can you tell us about the “Blood & …” series?

I’m new to the series. Chris Davis and Charles Rice launched the “Blood &…” series with “Blood & Guts” and “Blood & Space.” What was unique about both of those series is they take a serious, measured approach to play D20 Modern. The original presentation of D20 Modern had a “Dungeons & Dragons in the modern world” feel, but RPGObjects took the concept a step further and created rules for the game that everyone wants to play: military special ops.

You wouldn’t think books about hunting monsters would have any place in RPGObjects’ line. I realized that I could take the Evil Dead supplement a lot further if I made it more generic. So I bought the Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, watched a lot of zombie movies, and had a book completed in a month.

Because I was convinced that it would be worth publishing, I did something unconventional—I pitched it on ENWorld’s message boards. RPGObjects showed an interest. After exchange a few emails, we had a contract. It was originally titled, “The Zombie Hunter’s Handbook,” but the new version of the Open Gaming License prohibits use of the word “handbook.” So we changed it to “Blood and Brains: The Zombie Hunter’s Guide” and the rest is history.

I view my contributions to the “Blood &…” series as WWAD or “What Would Ash Do?” If you had someone fearless (and more than little crazy) who was faced with a horrible evil, what would he do?

He’d shoot it in the face with a shotgun, that’s what. That pretty much sums up all of my contributions to the series. The books provide more information than just killing the bad guys; they’re horror genre books, giving game master and player alike enough material to play an “us vs. them” monster-themed game.

What has been your most challenging work in the RPG industry?

Without a doubt it’s Combat Missions for Spycraft. You haven’t heard of the book because it’s still in pre-publication, but it’s eventually going to see the light of day in 2006. I watched no less than 15 bad action flicks in a row to get a feel for each mission. It was grueling work. After explosion #5,783, you don’t want to watch action films anymore.

Writing about modern settings is difficult because you have to really know your material. I learned all about terrorism, mercenaries, crime scene investigation, and how Hollywood picks and chooses dramatic elements to make a better story. Who knew that you could scrape a corpse’s throat to see if the victim suffered from smoke inhalation? Or how a super virus could paralyze civilized nations by stealing the personal identities of millions?

I’m proud of the book, but unfortunately there were a lot of technical challenges that have prevented it from being published. And now there’s Spycraft 2.0 coming out, so that’s delayed the book as well.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the gaming industry today?

Relevance. Pen-and-paper role-playing games were very late to the computer gaming industry. Instead, programmers who were D&D fans stole the concepts and made their own games (anyone remember Rogue?). Only recently has there been a definitive crossover from pen-and-paper to computer role-playing games (CRPGs) and massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). There needs to be much more of that.

My brother’s girlfriend was a dedicated MMORPGer. When I introduced her to Dungeons & Dragons, she got it immediately: races, classes, spells, hit points, levels…the MMORPG did all the hard work for me. That experience convinced me that just about anyone can be turned into a future role-player. The number one obstacle is the rulebook.

I’ve seen how a lot of folks want to introduce newbies to the fold, by throwing a Player’s Handbook at them. I’ve said this before: the number one deterrent to getting more players is the rules themselves. Who wants to read a monstrous 300+ page book just to learn the game?

I’ve learned not to take the rules too seriously and slowly introduce them over time. Rules are great, but role-playing is supposed to be fun. There’s nothing more off-putting than telling prospective players that Dungeons & Dragons is about playing heroes in a fantasy universe…and then telling them “you can’t do that, your Jump skill isn’t high enough.”

You’ve been to quite a few conventions, what makes for a good convention experience?

Water. Seriously, having a water bottle with a built-in filter is important, because you can get dehydrated from walking around, role-playing, and being in rooms with no ventilation. I also have issues with my glucose levels, so snack food is always important.

Sleep. Why anyone thinks that staying up all night gaming is fun is beyond me. I’ve watched games with players falling asleep at the table, making very poor decisions, and basically screwing the game up for everybody else. Get a good night’s rest; gaming may not require physical activity, but it does require a lot of brainpower. A tired player causes his character to make fatal mistakes.

Registration is very important. If there are events, register for them ahead of time. This is especially true of Gen Con. You don’t want to be the guy standing around waiting to join a game.

Speaking of which, I’ve learned from personal experience that going to a convention by yourself can seriously suck. It’s like being the scrawny kid in dodge ball that nobody wants to pick for their team. Bring at least two or three buddies to go with you.

Ultimately, having an open mind is a big help. You will see a lot of crazy stuff at conventions: people dressed up in costumes, long lines, rooms full of crowded attendees with little elbow room, and worse. Heck, the local McDonald’s ran out of food the first time Gen Con moved to Indianapolis.

The key is to have fun and be patient. After all, we’re all there to play games…and what good is a game if it isn’t fun?

What RPGs are you currently playing?

I’m currently embroiled in alternately game mastering and playing in the Arcanis setting. We’re using Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and having a blast. I play an uptight legionnaire known as Quintus Aurelius Ignatius of the Legion of the Triumphant Rays of the Invisible Sun. He’s a cleric, but don’t tell him that.

As a game master, I’ve recently fallen in love with miniatures—the cheap, painted kind. In fact, I’ve been on the prowl in party stores for collections of various animals to round out my collection.

I keep a running record of the party’s adventures on ENWorld’s story hour forum. I’ve recently started taking pictures of the miniature battles too. It’s a huge productivity drain on all my other projects, but I’m enjoying myself.

What’s next for you?

The Complete Guide to Werewolves from Goodman Games should be out this month. I’m just finishing up the editing on Blood and Blades: The Profiler’s Guide to Slashers. My wife (who has a day job as an editor) is editing the print copy of Blood and Brains: The Zombie Hunter’s Guide. I’ve already started working on Blood and Freaks: The Mutant Hunter’s Guide, which is sort of X-Men meets Nightbreed.

I have two more contracts in negotiations, one involving an exciting license and another world book that I’m chomping at the bit to write. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you more until I sign the contracts. Finally, Ancient Kingdoms: Greece from Necromancer Games is slated for release some time in 2006.

For information on Michael Tresca’s work, visit his website: michael.tresca.net.

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