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MIT student blogger Jessie L. '07

Conspiracy and intrigue by Jessie L. '07

Before we get to the subject of this entry, we have a question!

Xin-Xin asks, “Hi, I need a bike (damn Simmons). I hear there are bike auctions sometimes. Where do I find out more about them, like where and when they are?”

Excellent question, Xin-Xin. I’m not much of a cyclist, but I looked at my contributor’s copy of How to Get Around MIT (frosh should use it, it’s a good book), and discovered that every fall Campus Police have a bicycle auction where old bicycles sell for very cheap prices. I also discovered that you can buy a bike at Cambridge Bicycle, which is two blocks up Mass Ave from MIT. If you don’t want to spend money, there’s a new student-run program called TechBikes, which allows members (membership is free) to borrow bikes locked at “intelligent bike rack stations” around campus.

I did something I’d never done before this weekend. I got a playing character part in an Assassins’ Guild game. The Guild is an MIT live-action roleplaying (LARPing) society.

What is a LARP, you might ask? Well, it’s a little like a play, only not quite as scripted (and played in buildings around campus, not a stage). And not really intended for an audience, though many Guild games have observers watching them.

If you’re a playing character (PC), you’re given a packet with several informational sheets in it. Your “character sheet” is a short biography and personality description of your character that also explains your character’s goals for the game. Your “greensheet” explains prior knowledge that your character has. Your “bluesheet” exlains any groups, formal or informal, that your character belongs to, and what the goals of those groups are. You may also have ability cards that give you commands that can be used to represent skills that may be useful for your character in the game, like fighting or first aid. Or item cards, which can be exchanged before the game for items that your character posesses, such as guns (represented by disc guns) or secret papers. All these sheets and cards are written by the gamemasters, or GMs – the creators and administrators of the game.

Once the game starts, you act out your role based on the information in your packet, which includes not only playing a personality but trying to accomplish any missions you were given as well. Other characters are doing the same thing, and you don’t know what was in their packets…it might include trying to thwart or even kill your character, form a conspiracy with or against you, or any number of other possibilities!

The fun thing about this is that nobody, including the GMs, actually knows what’s going to happen in the game – they wrote the context, but again, there’s no script. The particular game I was in last night, “Krazny Octybr”, has now run five times, starting in 2003 (run four was Friday night, run five was the one I played in Saturday night). And each run has been drastically different. On Friday night, the game was pretty quiet for the first three-quarters…then the Executive Officer of the submarine staged a coup but was gunned down, most of the other characters were also gunned down in a series of massacres and counter-massacres, and the sub was sunk by the Americans because nobody was there to drive it. Only three characters survived the game. In our run, on the other hand, only about half a dozen characters were gunned down, most of them by a deep-cover CIA agent on a killing spree, and there was no coup, but the reactor control room was flooded, the radio and warheads kept getting stolen by various characters, several people were beaten up by the Russian Mafia all throughout game, and we launched 13 missiles to start World War 3!

I played the Zampolit, or political officer, of the sub, which meant that everyone would stop talking when I walked in anywhere (which made it annoyingly hard to figure out what anyone was up to!). Also that I got to legitimately carry a disc gun. Unfortunately, since I was playing, I couldn’t take pictures of the game, but I did take pictures during the “wrap-up” at the end, where the GMs discussed what had happened with us and explained what had been going on and what everyone was up to.

Ash ’08, pictured here listening to the GMs, was secretly in a plot to kill me and take over the ship! (Or at least, her character was plotting to kill my character – important to keep in-game and out-of-game reality separate). Alya ’06, next to her, was also trying to kill me. Actually, she was trying to kill a lot of people. She played the deep-cover CIA agent, who flipped out when we started launching missiles and took out most of the people in the missile room before getting shot down herself.

The plot line with Ash and me was sort of funny. I realized that she was plotting to kill me about halfway through the game, and made absolutely sure not to let her behind me for the rest of the game. She knew that I was on to her. In the last 20 minutes or so, while we were facing each other sitting at our stations to launch the missiles, we were in a bizarre standoff, watching each other out of the corners of our eyes, both of our disc guns drawn and in our laps, fingers on the trigger, just waiting for the other to make a false move, paranoid and frozen…and all the while, we were turning our keys on command to launch nuclear strikes! I was so tempted to shout that I knew she was plotting against me and blow her away in a hail of discs, but I thought any move would probably lead her to shoot me, and she might get me before I got her (in retrospect, I should have done it anyway). She, in the meantime, was in a similar situation, waiting for the chance to attack. Neither of us ended up shooting the other. I’m sure the observers watching us were fighting not to laugh.

I didn’t do so great on keeping the ship together, but I did achieve my goal of protecting the illegal boxing ring from detection, even though it meant having to drag Ash (who, remember, was trying to kill me) away from the scene and distract her by discussing the conspiracy against me with her, only not letting her know that I knew she was involved!

One reason I played this game was that I really like the GMs. The GMs who wrote, cast, and administered the game were Jake ’00 and Joe ’98 (now a Graduate Resident Tutor at Senior Haus). Liz ’05 was their assistant GM, who helped cast and administer these runs of the game.

Jake ’00 and Liz ’05 explain the plotlines to us during wrap-up:

The guy whose head is in the bottom right corner of that pic, Nelson ’09, was probably the biggest star of our run of the game. That’s right, a freshman was the big star! His character was secretly a Nazi who wanted to take control of the ship, and really wanted us to fire missiles. In an amazing bit of acting, he managed to convince everyone that there were orders coming over the radio to fire, even though all he could really hear was static.

Another big star was my hallmate Yelena ’06, wearing the black shirt. Her character really wanted us to fire missiles and start a nuclear war. And, look what happened, we fired 13 missiles! (the previous record was 3 missiles, and three of the five runs had no missiles launched at all). I’d say that’s a pretty successful result for her.

There were a lot more stories, but I don’t want to give too much away…in case this game runs again sometime when you prospectives are students and maybe playing in it!

One thing I really love about 5th East – when those of us from the hall got back from game, we started yelling to the people from the Friday run about how we lauched 13 missiles and blew up the world and people kept stealing the radio and on and on, and nobody in the lounge even raised an eyebrow. The hall is used to this sort of thing.

3 responses to “Conspiracy and intrigue”

  1. Sam says:

    I’m not sure I entirely understand what you’re doing here, but I do know that it puts everything I’ve ever blogged about playing Mafia to shame. Congratulations on destroying the Earth and on not dying! Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t there also 3 or 4 other student groups at MIT that do similar things?

  2. Jessie says:

    There’s no other LARPing group at MIT, as far as I know. The ASA won’t recognize groups that are too similar to existing groups anyway. There’s Patrol, which is a weekly disc gun combat game run by the Assassins’ Guild. There’s also the Strategic Games Society (SGS), which involves tabletop strategic games rather than live action/acting.

  3. Kate says:

    LARP here too? MIT is officially heaven. Hopefully a Kate ’11 will join the ranks in two years. ((Yes, I’m a less-than-freshman, but you were there at some point too >.>))