Skip to content ↓

Acting, Writing, and Roleplaying: A Match Made in Heaven by ARTalk

[by Susan Shepherd '11] Guild members have infiltrated the KGB, made first contact with aliens, signed peace treaties and saved the world a dozen times over. How did they manage this? Through role-playing.

[by Susan Shepherd ’11]

Here at MIT, you can find students pursuing hobbies of all kinds – acting in the Musical Theater Guild, for example, or painting a mural on the wall of their room, or writing short stories for Rune, MIT’s student-written and published literary magazine. Given a chance, students often will combine two or more of these hobbies in order to create something fun and new. For example, painting skills and knowledge of electronics came together several years ago to create a Mario Brothers mural that plays the game’s theme song when you touch it.

Some years ago, there was a group of MIT students who enjoyed acting, writing, and directing. They also enjoyed role-playing games. The end result of their efforts was MIT’s live-action role-playing club, better known around here as the Assassin’s Guild. Players generally call it the “Guild” for short.

Since its inception, Guild members have infiltrated the KGB, made first contact with aliens, signed peace treaties and saved the world a dozen times over. How did they manage this? Through role-playing. The players are essentially actors, doing their best to act out the roles of their characters as effectively as possible in a strange and sometimes hostile environment. Once a player has assumed their character’s role, he or she stays in that role, and both acts and reacts the way the character would.

For example, let us say that your character is a middle-aged politician who is in New York City on a campaign tour when Godzilla attacks. As a player, your first instincts are probably to a) run, b) find a safe place to hide and c) get out of New York altogether. But your character has different goals – you need to a) help get others to safety, b) stay in New York so that you can update Congress on the situation, c) find safe places from which you can access the Internet in order to send email and pictures to Congress, and maybe even d) look awesome and brave during this whole process, in order to show your constituents how calm you are under pressure.

These kinds of situations are what makes the Guild so famous for its improvisational acting. When you add the other characters into the mix, suddenly your goals are not nearly so easy to achieve. There are the rescue workers, who may want to move you to safety against your will – you have to either talk to the one in charge, or just avoid them. There may be civilians in the area, some of whom have goals contradicting your own, such as a diamond salesman who wants to cross emergency lines to reach his wrecked store and save a prize emerald. Will you accept his bribe? Or will you go into danger to save it for him? The cameras are rolling, and elections are just around the corner…

After Guild members have played a game or six, and have become more familiar with what can be done in the games, many of them choose to write a game of their own. To this end, the Guild hosts a short summer writing camp to train new game writers. The first week, they work six or more hours a day, learning how to fit everything together or actually writing their first game. The second week, they test-run all the games to work out the kinks. At the very end, they edit their games as needed, and then the games are ready for people to play.

I’d like to end by congratulating those of my readers who were accepted or waitlisted, and hope that when you come to visit MIT you’ll check to see whether the Guild is running a game that week. The Guild provides a wonderful, low-pressure way for actors to improve their skills at characterization and improv. If you like to make costumes, the Guild is also a great place to show off your latest masterpiece. (Although I do not currently have a picture of it, my favorite costume thus far is the dragon costume worn by Kendra ’08. It was handmade by Jesse ’11 in his spare time using ringmail and steel scales.) And if you like writing the way I do, you might consider writing a game of your own.

A group of Guild members hangs out during a break in a ten-day-long game. Although this is a designated ‘safe’ area, some of the players are still ready for anything, as evidenced by the toy disc shooter located within arm’s reach.

16 responses to “Acting, Writing, and Roleplaying: A Match Made in Heaven”

  1. Davorama says:

    not 1st! again.

  2. Abhishek says:

    Assassin’s Guild, cool man

  3. Abhishek says:

    :D (actually it is my first time as first post)

  4. Davorama says:

    We can see the post this time! =P

    Thanks for posting – I love posts on how MIT students take aspects to many fields to create something awesome.

  5. senna '12 says:

    Assassin’s Guild…wow…
    Awesome!! *jaw dropped*

  6. Paul says:

    Awesome entry! The Assassins’ Guild is one of my favorite clubs at MIT – I’m not quite as dedicated as Susan, but I have played a few games and they’ve been absolutely awesome. If you liked what you read in this post, I would definitely encourage you to find out more about the Guild during CPW!

    If you can’t make it to CPW, or if you have more questions already, feel free to email me or Susan.

  7. Wow. I’ve wanted to join the assassin’s guild ever since seeing Dave LARP on season, umm, 4? of Beauty and the Geek. Can anyone interested join?

  8. @Paul:

    Yes, anyone can join the Guild. I recommend signing up on the Assassins’ Guild email list when you get here – that way, you’ll get reminders and updates, and you can apply for games more easily. No one pressures you to do a certain number of games each semester; if you’re busy, you can take time off and no one will bother you.

    I also recommend Saturday night games – less acting, more skills-based dart gun practice. (Correction: Less formal acting. I regard Saturday as my time to roleplay Brienne of Tarth from SoI&F or Elwing, my D&D character. If you want to pretend you’re Lancelot, go right ahead.) You don’t need to apply for those games; in fact, if you have a friend who’d like to see what our club is about, invite them along. There are a fair number of folks here who are too busy for an all-day game, so they play on Saturdays instead.

    Kudos if you recognise either name. Bonus points if you know what Elwing means … and an extra prize if you can hear Person A insult Person B in Sindarin and understand what the insult meant.

    Yes, that has happened. This is why MIT is awesome.

  9. JR '11 says:

    The Saturday night game she is referring to is called Patrol!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Is that Kathleen ’10 in the picture?

  11. Katherine says:

    Cool! I love just role-plays (that is to say, PBP. I’ve never tried LARPing…). Sounds like fun. :D

  12. Wow, even though the games are student-made and student-run, they sound like a big commitment. Ten-day-long games?!? Definitely have to watch the first time…

  13. While LARPing is all good (and something I will probably try in the future), does MIT have any more traditional improv or improv comedy troupes (a la the professional Second City groups or Cornell’s Whistling Shrimp)?


  14. Using the google machine, I uncovered the name Roadkill Buffet .. I will certainly read their site when I can find the time, but does anyone have any time to share some “inside info”?

    Sorry for being lazy before

  15. Roadkill Buffet (or RKB for short) is MIT’s forefront improvisational acting troupe. They’re fantastic. I’ve been to all of their shows. You can definitely get involved really easily. Many of my friends are involved so if you want first-person opinions or answers you can e-mail me and I’ll forward it to someone on the troupe. My e-mail is kmh2011 (at) mit (dot) edu.

    I myself have never been LARPing :( but again, I have friends who do (like JR above) and you can e-mail me with questions I’ll forward and have answered for you.