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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

Ten days of live-action roleplaying by CJ Q. '23

no joke, there i was…

One of MIT’s oldest student groups is the Assassins Guild. We’re the live-action roleplaying group. Over my time in the Guild, I’ve roleplayed as a ghost who didn’t know he was a ghost, an undercover robot working for space police, and a Wookiee stuck in a tavern in the middle of a desert storm.

And one of the Guild’s oldest traditions is the ten-day game, which is exactly what it sounds: a ten-day long larp. These happen in IAP, the glorious time of year when classes aren’t as big of a deal for most people. Such ten-days have been written about in the blogs before, like in 2008 and in 2009. In fact, that 2009 post is from Paul B. ’11, one of the co-authors of Athens, another game that ran that IAP.

This year’s ten-day game was Harry Potter Year 7: Hogwarts Under Siege, co-written by Andrew M. ’97, Ariel S. ’04, E. Rosser ’12, and Krue ’14. This is a rerun of HP7; the last time it ran was in 2011. And it’s the first ten-day I joined: in 2020 no one ran one, and in 2021 and 2022 no ten-days ran due to the pandemic. So I was so hyped that a ten-day ran this year, and got as many of my friends to sign up as I could. The pandemic’s been rough for the Guild, so there were less players than I hoped. But the game still ran, and it was amazing. It was the highlight of my IAP this year, a spot of joy in an otherwise dark winter.

As much as I want to, I don’t have the time or energy to write a huge post about this, but here’s some scattered thoughts.

Almost all Guild games during the semester are one-nights, which take around four hours. Ten-days are a commitment, but it’s not like you’re in-game 24/7. On weekdays I usually entered game at around 7 or 8 PM and stayed until 1 or 2 AM, and on weekends I entered at around 3 or 4 PM and stayed until 2 or 3 AM. To be clear, I spent this much time on game because I was having fun! I spent time outside of game looking forward to coming back and doing things. I’d guess that I was also on the upper end in terms of time spent playing.

Cramming a one-night in the middle of a semester can be hard, sometimes, due to scheduling and school. A ten-day game in IAP sounds like a lot, but I enjoyed every hour of it, and I wish I’d gotten a chance to do this earlier.

Costuming and props are fun. I was reluctant to get robes at first, but some generous donations from alums allowed us to all get robes for free. I played as Neville Longbottom, so I have these gorgeous red-trimmed robes, that fly around when I walk quickly.

neville wearing robes and holding a wand

it’s a me

You can also see me holding a wand in this picture, which was made by Ariel S. ’04. I loved holding my wand while walking around the halls. It didn’t have a mechanical effect in the game; if I wanted to shoot people I’d use a Nerf gun, not point my wand at them. But it felt so cool to do the hand movements when casting spells, and it was a nice thing to fidget with while walking down hallways at 2 AM.

The best thing about the robes is that I’ve kept them after game end. Wearing the robes while square dancing was great, because it does the spinny thing when I rotate my body, and it looks so cool. It’s mildly warm, so I’ve worn it outside when it isn’t too cold, when I don’t feel like putting on a jacket.

Like many Guild games, HP7 has combat mechanics. Nerf guns for generic spells that did 1 HP each, maybe 2 HP if you had an ability that did extra damage. Then spell packets for other spells. A spell packet is this cloth sphere, maybe five centimeter diameter, filled with bird seed, held with a rubber band. You throw these spell packets and yell what effect they produce when they hit, like “flee”, “cower”, “crucio”, or “death”.

As Neville, I was part of a group called Dumbledore’s Army, and one of our goals was collecting some items. Let’s call these MacGuffins, for lack of a better name. Another group was trying to get the MacGuffins, the Death Eaters. And like many Guild games, there’s some secrecy in hiding which groups you’re a part of. Plus, the Death Eaters are Considered Evil, so they were keeping a low profile.

Anyway, one night, I, Michael Corner (Alex B. ’24), and Charlie Entwhistle (Spruce C. ’26), were breaking into the office of Professor Flitwick (Jesse A. ’11). We got in, saw two MacGuffins. Because they’re MacGuffins, they didn’t do anything on their own, and were mostly useless unless you knew what MacGuffins were and were also looking for them. I offered to split the loot between the three of us, you know, being all polite even if I wanted all of it.

Then Charlie hit me with a flee packet.

I ran away. The flee spell made me run until I reached another building or floor, so I kept running. But that moment, Charlie outed himself as a Death Eater to me, and Michael was a witness. Which, I dunno, I thought was pretty funny.

A shadowrun is a challenge you beat to get into a location that’s otherwise guarded, covered in wards, locked, or inaccessible. As high school students living in a dangerous time, we were forbidden from leaving Hogwarts. So if you wanted to go to the Whomping Willow, you have to defeat these challenges:

a sign titled "Whomping Willow"

there are about twenty of these

A person sorted into Slytherin could beat the slytherin challenge. Someone who has the spell Lumos ready could beat the light challenge. Someone who brings a pet snake can beat the snake challenge. And some people might be inherently nimble or small, and able to beat that challenge.

The thing about spells is that, even if you knew all of them, you couldn’t have all of them ready at the same time. Everyone has a spell hand of around 3 to 4, and you can’t switch spells during a shadowrun. Beating this Whomping Willow shadowrun alone is pretty much impossible; you need the help of others.

This kind of shadowrun, where all the challenges are presented upfront, is the easier kinds of shadowrun. In the harder kind, there’s a certain area, where you have to find the challenges yourself. It starts off with this map:

floor plans of some mit building with a highlighted area


In the area highlighted, there’s small strips of paper taped in hidden places. And I’m talking small, like 1cm × 5cm. They could be below a sign, in the middle of a wall, behind a railing, blending in on top of a poster, wherever. The strip says something like “Challenge: patronus“, and you need to find and beat a certain number of these to do the shadowrun.

a small strip of paper saying "Challenge: patronus"

tiny sign

The Guild takes down its signs after every game, but because these shadowrun signs are small and hard to find, they can stay up for years. Like this one I found the other day; you can see the date’s from 2019.

a small sign saying "Til Human Voices / Dive Sign 27 / May 4th, 2019"

found in a basement

I love shadowruns. I loved the feeling of breaking into something, of looking for these small pieces of paper, of saying “I know a spell that can beat that challenge!” Neville’s broken into all the professors’ offices, went into the Chamber of Secrets and back, explored random secret corridors. I love the tension of not knowing what’s behind the envelope after finishing a shadowrun. Is it something that’ll be useful? Maybe everything good’s already been taken by another group? Is someone in my group gonna hit me with a flee packet once we’re there?

Neville was supposed to be good at combat. I started the game with 5 HP, which was on the high end of the HP stat distribution. I started with two combat spells, one that gave me extra HP and another that made my Nerf bullets do more damage. But CJ, the player, was not interested in combat. So I didn’t bring a Nerf gun around, even though there were some people who wanted to kill me.

I remember doing a raid somewhere with a bunch of other students, up against Death Eaters. I didn’t come in ready to do battle. But I was a tank: I could take a lot of hits. I didn’t fire any shots, but I picked up used bullets and spell packets and helped people reload. Because someone’s gotta play the support role in the party, right? I like to think we won in part because of my help.

This tension between player and character is discussed in length in Philip T. ’01 MS ’03’s thesis, Tensions in Live-Action Roleplaying Game Design, if you’re interested in a longer exposition. By the way, he’s now the creative director for the Game Lab, which is so cool to me. Dream job TBH.

Related to shadowruns are dot hunts. In a dot hunt, you’re looking for these small brightly-colored sticker dots. Except the area is much larger, typically a group of buildings. As a hint, the GMs instead give you a picture of a nearby item.

Neville did a dot hunt to look for Trevor, his pet toad. Here’s the first picture the GMs gave me:

a picture of an elevator, concrete walls, blue and red striped floors

can you guess where it is

It’s like doing the MIT Picture Scavenger Hunt. I was looking for details I recognized. Like, which buildings had elevators with that color of wall, or with elevators that telescoped? This one I found within an hour:

a green sticker dot labeled 1

it was between two elevator doors

The dot trail was five dots long. And at the end, Neville and Trevor were reunited!

neville holding trevor, a stuffed frog

it’s a trevor

Dots are also hard to clean up, so if you go around MIT, you might spot these colored dots in out-of-the-way places. I’ve also been informed that, in the past, Facilities has also used colored dot stickers, so maybe don’t just randomly take them down.

While Guild games vary widely, many of them have a focus on mechanics over plot. When given a character’s goals, I’m less interested in why I have these goals, and more interested in how I can accomplish them. That doesn’t mean plot or roleplay don’t matter, however. It’s called live-action roleplaying for a reason, and I’ve had my share of beautiful roleplaying moments.

One of my roleplay things was being in this will-they-won’t-they romance with Draco Malfoy (Jerry H. ’23). Literally night one of the game, Draco and I started doing the romance mechanics with each other, and utterly failing. Apparently all the flirts I knew wasn’t compatible with Draco’s tastes, and vice versa. Oops. Thankfully, Lavender Brown (Bianca H. ’24) did everything in her power to set me and Draco up, teaching us flirts she knew the other would like.

neville sitting on a couch in front of draco

arent we cute

Now, there’s no mechanical reason for Neville and Draco to romance each other. It’s not one of my character goals or anything. I mean, it’s a little good for mood, but I didn’t care about that stat too much. But we did it anyway. I think Jerry and I made eye contact during packet handout, realized we had characters that would make for a cute ship, and we, as players, thought it’d be fun to do it. So we did, because who cares about canon?

Anyway it culminated it me dancing with Draco in the Yule Ball, as everyone cheered wildly for us.

neville and draco dancing in the yule ball

dancing 100

The Guild owes much to its alumni. We have a long oral tradition, stories passed down from decades before, over post-game dinners at restaurants around the area. Cruft come and write games for current students, because cruft generally have more free time to write games. Donations and membership fees from alums cover some of the Guild’s costs.

In one sense it gives me joy, thinking about how I’ll be an alum in the future, that I can come back and continue to be a member of the Guild. In another sense it terrifies me, because with each year, there’ve been changes that make it harder for alums to stay involved. For example, over my undergrad, it’s become harder to arrange access to the Guild office, or to game spaces, or to our archives on Athena. Then again, maybe I’m worrying too much.

Some random quotes and pictures that I don’t have time to write about.

Eliza Nicklebury (Jen C. ’23): “If someone searches me, they just get the library.”

Vincent Crabbe (Bella X. ’25), to Neville: “Your bottom has grown too long!”

Pierre Moreau (Shashvat S. ’23): “We are Dumbledore’s secret weapon! The students who survived his teaching!”

Hannah “Cruciatus” Abbott (Izzy R. ’24): “Professor McGonagall, what should students do if they feel unsafe in their own common room?”
Millicent Bulstrode (Julia W. RPI ’20 G): “Then one should kindly ask Hannah Abbott to leave that common room!”

Angelina Norman (Spencer L. SM ’16): “Alright then, I’ll go ask Gryffindor, they’re actually brave, you cowards!”
Anthony Goldstein (Richard F. UMass PhD ’20): “You aren’t wrong.”

Daphne Greengrass (Diana S. ’25): “Being a journalist is so much more fun when 3/4 of your articles are shameless lies and the other is self promotion.”

character sketches of angelina norman, mollly pickville, and pierre moreau

drawing by Molly Pickville (Skylar L. ’23)

mary and claude over an unconscious snape

Mary Goodspeare (Giniya A. ’24) and Claude Selwyn (Silk Y. ’25) over Headmaster Snape’s unconscious body

claude and millicent shaking hands, with neville pointing a wand

a “mildly breakable vow” here

a chalk drawing of a person crying next to failed exams, and a happy person with hearts and dollar signs. underneath, "stop learning charms. learn flirting instead sleep your way to the top"

drawings by Samuel Clarenlocke (Via T. ’26)