[by Susan Shepherd ’11]
It was 5:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in June, and Paul Baranay ’11, Jesse Ashcraft-Johnson ’11, Jonathan Chapman ’11, and I had at least another hour of work ahead of us. A row of manila envelopes lay on the floor, most of them only partially filled with character information: the white sheets that tell you who your character is, the blue sheets that describe your group members, the green sheets that tell you how you can solve your plots. A few of those sheets had not yet been printed. And a few—a very few—had not even been finished yet.
Then it was 6:30. It had just begun to dawn on us that we were about to pull an all-nighter, or close enough to one that the difference was negligible. But we kept on, writing and fixing errors and joking with each other until about 7:40, when we all headed off for bed to catch half an hour of sleep before work.
Welcome to Guild Camp 2008—”Boot, Not Summer”—a training session run by the MIT Assassins’ Guild where experienced Guild members and completely new writers come together to design, write, produce, and then run a game all within two weeks. The writing groups formed around vague ideas—the Greek Olympics, dinosaurs in feudal Japan, a traveling carnival gone horribly wrong, and the End of the World, respectively. Each group was given a zampolit—an experienced, competent non-writer who acts as a liason between the High Council and the writing teams. After an hour or so of discussion, each group decided on a production schedule, and Guild Camp began.
In many ways, Guild Camp was not at all what I expected. It was both harder and easier than I had assumed it to be—harder to come up with plot, easier to invent creative mechanics for the players’ green sheets. The original concepts were altered once, twice, and again, so that our final product bore little resemblence to our initial plot.
Every guild camp is different, of course. Last year the seventh Harry Potter novel came out during Guild Camp, and every writing team reserved a day in the middle of production so that they could buy and read Deathly Hallows. Some years see the writers get sick as a flu virus or cold gets passed around. Every now and then a game has to be re-written from the ground up because the writers find a plot hole that is too large to ignore or patch up through subtler means. My team realized about five days after we’d started that ancient Athens, our game’s setting, had never actually hosted the Olympics. (Oopsie.) We more or less ignored this and pressed on anyway; no one has yet complained.
In the end, the writing teams were exhausted. The Athens GM’s (Game Masters, or writers in this case) had met nearly every evening from 7 or so until after midnight during the week, and worked longer hours on the weekends. By the end, we had pulled two quasi all-nighters, Paul had caught a cold, and although our amazing zampolit Kendra Beckler ’09 had come to our rescue by fixing all of our coding errors (Thanks, Kendra!) so that our game would actually print out when we told it to do so, I still felt like strangling my computer. We weren’t precisely an optimistic group as we taped up signs and distributed drachmae to the players. I don’t know about the others; I was downright scared. Games have broken before—fallen apart due to broken plots that none of the writers saw until it was too late to do anything—and our GM team was just about the youngest and least experienced to ever write a game. If any of the four games that weekend were going to break, I just knew deep down in my bones that it would be ours.
Then the game started, and we rushed about trying to make sure that everything was perfect. This is, incidentally, well nigh impossible during Guild Camp, but just because it’s impossible doesn’t mean you give up on the possibility. (In retrospect, that last bit may define the MIT mindset in general—but I digress.)
The game started smoothly, reached halfway, reached the two-thirds point—still relatively smooth. Then some minor madness happened, which is typical in Guild, but it was all stuff that we expected to happen, so it was fine. Then the game reached the final stretch—players started running around trying to get their plots done—and then game ended, and nothing major had broken down despite a large number of small mistakes and errors in both the written material and on the GMs’ part. A typical exchange might look something like this:
Player: “Hi, I finished my plot and now I’m supposed to get this neat item!”
Me: “Oh, that’s right, I remember now. What item was it?”
Player: “Item X. But it wasn’t in the envelope that the instructions told me to open.”
Me: “Um … Oh, Keebles. (Yes, I really do swear like that.) Okay, one moment while I scribble that down on a random piece of paper and pretend that it’s an item card because looking competent as a GM is less important than getting this item into the game. Good luck!”
In the end, none of the four games that ran that weekend broke, and three of them were re-scheduled to run this fall for the enjoyment of Guild members who couldn’t play in the games over the summer. (You can see the Guild Fall Schedule here; “Athens” and “Japan Before Time” have already run.) I hope to see many of you in future game runs, and I sincerely hope that if you stay in Cambridge for the summer after your freshman year, you’ll consider joining us for another, even better Guild Camp.