More Than a Scientist: Paraj Mandrekar’s Career & Contributions to Tabletop Roleplaying Games

Paraj Mandrekar began his career at Promega in 1998 in the Genetic Identity Research and Development program. In 2001, he was a consultant at the World Trade Center to help meet the urgent need to identify victims of the 9/11 attacks. Two products, one of them being our DNA IQ™ System, that Paraj and others used for automating forensic DNA purification at the time were featured in the R&D 100 Award in 2002.

As he progressed through the successive ranks in R&D, Paraj took on more responsibility for the research, design, and development of novel chemistry. A significant high point in his career was being promoted to Senior R&D Scientist 1 in 2010. At that point, he was working on both forensic and non-forensic chemistries with paramagnetic particles. Promega’s non-forensic kit (AS1290) was launched with a new chemistry in March 2010, and a few months later, he got a new version of the Maxwell forensic sample kit (AS1240) out the door.

From R&D to Technical Services

As much as Paraj loved working in the lab, the hands-on work became more taxing with age. “I was 43 and I was still doing all the hands-on lab work, and at that time I would come home, and my hands would be hurting.” That’s when he transferred to Technical Services in 2014, starting as a TSS2.

“I kind of moved into a job where I could do more of the science with a desk and a computer and a phone line,” he explained. He progressed to TSSIV in 2022 as a senior scientist in Technical Services specializing in Nucleic Acid purification, Maxwell®, and Maxprep™ Instruments.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games

Having a more hands-free career now, he’s found other passions for utilizing his fine motor skills. “Technical services frees up my hands for painting miniatures and doing Dungeons and Dragons things in my basement.” In tabletop roleplaying games, miniatures refer to small figurines that represent characters, creatures, or objects within the game world. Players use these miniatures to visually represent the positions and movements of characters during the game. Paraj runs a Madison Miniatures Group with his long-time friend and Promega Global Product Manager, Tim Deschaines. The two host monthly events at Noble Knight Games in Fitchburg, WI, and welcome everyone, no matter their age or experience, to paint and socialize.

Miniatures featured are Lizardmen from the 1st Edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, painted by Paraj Mandrekar.

Paraj uses his scientific expertise to help review and critique tabletop roleplaying game books mentioning science, primarily those where someone is discussing forensic DNA or genetic engineering. He’s been mentioned in several gaming books that he’s read through as a professional scientist and offered critique and/or rewrite.

When asked about his favorite game to play, Paraj was quick to respond—GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System). He first picked it up 28 years ago and he feels it’s the one that is the best at simulating reality the way he likes to see it. “There’s a lot of simulation to it that just kind of matches my understanding of how a game system should match.”

Paraj has been a gamer since 1981 and a playtester since 2005. He’s been involved as a playtester and contributor in several tabletop roleplaying game products, including GURPS 4th addition. He’s contributed to several catalogs and toolbooks for GURPS involving low-tech equipment and technologies, applying biotech to gaming, and science fiction roleplaying games. He also contributed to GURPS gaming books for ancient science technologies, weapons, and warriors, how these technologies apply to everyday life, and discussion on how magical abilities and skills are used in an urban setting, like applying magical water purification to allow the increase in city size.

Another game he playtested, Top Secret New World Order, includes a character type, “The Squint” that, according to the designer, is inspired by Paraj’s real-life experience in Promega Genetic Identity and DNA purification research. The character class involves a field forensic agent who helps cover the tracks of a team using science.

He had the opportunity to playtest the Marvel Multiverse Roleplaying Game with his local gaming group which includes three Promega members: Himself, Tim Deschaines, and Monica Yue, Product Manager of Life Sciences Genomics & Instruments. Their group of seven meets weekly and includes other gamers with scientific backgrounds working in the area. To be included in the playtest, each person had to sign an NDA with Marvel/Disney during the period between playtesting and publication. 

Applying Science and Genetics to Tabletop Roleplaying Games

Photo from Paraj’s talk, “Gaming Problems in Genetics” at GameHole Con

As he rooted more and more of his scientific knowledge into the gaming world, he began attending local gaming events, GameHole Con in Madison, WI, and Gary Con in Lake Geneva, WI. Becoming a regular, participants would interact with Paraj, asking him for his ideas and thoughts on applying science and genetics to gaming. Once it became clear others were interested in the topic, he sat down and wrote a lecture. He’s given this talk once at GameHole Con and once at Gary Con.

As far as the lasting impact he hopes to have on his audience with this talk, he comments that, in relation to genetic engineering and CRISPR, he hopes they take away that as a gamemaster, the sky is the limit for your imagination. When mishmashing creatures, he says, “If you’ve got a mad wizard that knows how to properly mix DNA, you can kind of get away with anything you think you want to put out there.”

As far as future talks, Paraj is taking this year off on the topic of Gaming Problems in Genetics but plans to continue adding to this presentation for future events as new material becomes available. In the meantime, he’s encouraging his friend Tim Deschaines to write a lecture around ancient chemistry. “I’m trying to build more and more science into the gaming world,” he says.

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Riley Bell

Riley Bell

Riley earned her B.S. in Life Sciences Communication and a certificate in Global Health at UW-Madison. She is a Marketing Coordinator at Promega.

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