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Assassin’s Guild Brings Buffy to MIT

By Ariel E Segall

Everybody knows the Campus Police aren’t quite like the students, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that they’re really robots controlled by the Student Information Processing Board. Or that Physical Plant (sorry, the Department of Facilities) employs zombies. Or that Fox Mulder is working undercover as a member of the administration.

Well, maybe not. But that was how the world worked in Friday’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, written by Andrew E. Ellis ’97, Charles Hope, and Tom Giordano, and run by the MIT Assassin’s Guild.

For those people not familiar with the Assassin’s Guild, it’s an organization dedicated to something called Live Action Role-Playing, or LARPs. LARPing is a lot like acting or improvisational theatre. Instead of lines to memorize, a player is given a character and a scenario. Character information includes some combination of history, personality, life/game goals, and in-game acquaintances. The scenario, given to all of the players, contains commonly-known information about the universe the game is set in. Recent settings have ranged from far-future galactic civilizations to medieval France and modern-day Croatia. When the game begins, the players are set loose within a section of campus which maps to an in-game location, and the characters descriptions. A game is an interactive story, and the choices that players make for their characters can dramatically influence the direction the plot takes. The Game Masters, or GMs, are the ones who’ve written everything, but once game begins they are there only to answer last-minute questions and watch their creation unfold.

You may be wondering how action really works in a game. The games are called LARPs for a reason- players are expected to interact in the same ways their characters would. Of course, this rule doesn’t hold for things like combat and seduction. (Some people might want to sleep with their love plot, but most of us would prefer to avoid that.) Anything that a player cannot or should not do himself is done using some form of mechanic; abilities ranging from chemistry to lockpicking to throwing fireballs use cards describing the effect of the ability, while combat involves small plastic guns that shoot plastic or rubber ammunition, and some non-physical system of conflict resolution such as rock-paper-scissors. Persuasion, spying, and racing to finish plots before game end, however, are all left up to the players.

“Buffy” allows new twist for Guild

The game that ran on Friday was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Welcome to MIT.” As its name implies, it was based very strongly on the TV series. In the game, Buffy and her friends had all gone off to college, most of them in the Boston area. Willow came to MIT, and most of the main characters of the show just happened to drop by for the Course 6 open house (read, party) that night. Not so coincidentally, so did an awful lot of vampires.

I was playing Officer Alexis Lewis, the CP assigned to the northeastern quadrant of campus. My mission: protect the students. In an unsafe world, it’s the job of the campus police to stand between the students and danger, and make sure that if anything does happen, the bodies get taken away before The Tech finds out about it. I had my own goal, though: upgrade Athena to utilize magic, creating an everpresent spy network to help the police keep campus safe. Stake in one hand, gun in the other, I was ready to protect my beat from whatever might threaten it. This turned out to be a rather optimistic goal.

One of the interesting things about this particular game was that it really was attempting to model itself after a television show. Television shows, of course, have stars, main characters, small parts, and extras. In game, this translated into plot relevance, which determined how hard to kill your character was. Buffy had a plot relevance of 4, characters from the show had a relevance of 2 or 3, and the lesser characters had a relevance of 1. The extras, of course, had a plot relevance of 0, and could be killed by just about anyone, just like your average red-shirted ensign in Star Trek.

There were also plot points, which could be gained by doing certain in-character actions (in my case, killing vampires and cleaning up bodies) and were spent to achieve goals or kill plot-relevant characters. Most Assassin games have some mechanic designed specifically for that game; these plot mechanics were Buffy’s experimental ones.

For the most part, they worked pretty well. The extras in game were either non-player-character (NPC) vampires, or players who played entire student groups, one member at a time. There wound up being something of a food chain, with the plot-relevant characters killing the vampires and the vampires killing the student group members. The ease with which an NPC vampire took down a student group member made protecting the student groups more than a little bit difficult. There was a never-ending supply of Pagan Student Group members, APO brothers, and the like, however, so it wasn’t the end of the world when we lost one.

I spent most of my time running around chasing reports of vampires and trying to keep an eye on the ever-present Tech reporter, played by Alexey A. Radul ’03. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to prevent him from photographing several dead bodies, but we helped each other kill some vampires, and worked together on researching information for the magical rituals we needed to complete to finish our plots.

About halfway through game, life started getting more interesting. One of the members of the administration passed off a code phrase telling me that he was to be trusted and helped to the best of my ability. Twenty minutes later, his cover had been blown, and Fox Mulder was wandering around game. (Scully, despite constant inquiries, remained missing.) And as though a stake-wielding, magic-using campus police officer wasn’t unusual enough, the vampires who tried to drink my blood all wound up spitting it out and complaining that I tasted of motor oil. When the SIPB representative offered to heal me if I could just find an iron resistor and some aluminum wire, the truth finally came out- I was a robot that SIPB had created, and he was looking for an infinite power source with which to upgrade me. I, however, was far more concerned about integrating magic into Athena, and enlisted his help. As it turned out, after gathering together all of the ingredients I needed for my ritual, I was two minutes too late to finish it during game, but I certainly had a good time trying.

Most of the game, it turned out, also just missed finishing their plots. Giles (Matt Ender) was unable to bring his true love back from the grave, Cain/Steve Balzac (Yoav Yerushalmi ’97) barely missed banishing himself to Hell, where he wanted to rule, and Spike (Lawrence J. DeLucas G) and Drusilla (Laura M. Karbiner ’98) were thwarted in their attempts to resolve their love plots. Xander (Chris Provenzano) did succeed in breaking his curse, however, and many vampire extras were slain.

Cross-cast Buffy provides humor

The most memorable parts of the game, however, had nothing to do with plot. Buffy, as it turned out, was cross-cast, and played by Joe Foley ’98. Watching him walk in wearing a small purple tank-top, carrying a purse, and with his hair held back in a bun using two small wooden stakes was extremely amusing.

The best moment, however, had to be when Sami Gernstein, playing Guild member and graduate student Jeremy Brown complete with streaked hair and a drawn-on beard, ran into the real Jeremy H. Brown G. Despite distinct differences in sex and height, the resemblance between them, and the expressions they both were wearing, was remarkable. After a great deal of laughter all around, the in-game Jeremy Brown was gifted with one of the original’s flannel shirts to wear for the duration of game, to make the costume complete.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” might not have been the best Assassin game I’ve played this year, but it was certainly quite enjoyable. Though lacking many of the standard Assassin game features (there was not a single destroy-the-world or save-the-world plot in the entire game, for example, which although not at all a bad thing is quite unusual) Buffy succeeded in conveying moderately well the spirit of a television show with decently fleshed out characters. I will admit that I have never actually seen the original show, but the combination of a reasonably high action level with low-epic-level plots fit well in my mind with a television episode. I had a good character, and there were many enthusiastic players. All in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening.

For more information on the MIT Assassin’s Guild and upcoming games, e-mail to be put on the mailing list. The next games running will be the game-show style “Whose LARP is it Anyway?”, running October 15th, and “Nexus: Horrors of Fiobrachnae,” a high-action game running October 22nd. The Assassin’s Guild also runs Patrol, a very high-action game using lots of rubber-dart guns, every Saturday night at 8 p.m. in 36-115.