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Assassins in a role playing game to die for

By Michelle Povinelli

STAFF Writer

It’s a cold and rainy Friday night at MIT, and a group of students are sitting around in Room 8-302 eating Domino’s pizza, drinking grape juice, and wearing suits with fedoras or evening gowns. A student with a name tag reading “an exotic woman in revealing clothes” is wearing an outfit to match.

At least, that’s how you might describe the scene “out-of-game.” “In-game,” this is Chicago in the 1940’s, and we’re sitting not in 8-302, but in Mama Accardo’s Ristorante. An assortment of gangsters and drunks mingle with prostitutes and jazz singers, while an FBI agent and a private detective keep an eye on the proceedings.

The characters in the cafe are all part of “A New Deal,” a role-playing game sponsored by the MIT Assassins’ Guild. “A New Deal” was set in the world of 1940’s film noir and took place last Friday and Saturday.

Players live vicariously in game

A drunk Irishman (played by Courtney S. Shiley ’03) ducks outside the door of the cafÉ to explain his goals for the evening. “Mostly, to drink,” he says. “It’d be nice to get some money, to get laid, but mostly I want to help my friends.”

Each player is guided by his or her character sheet, which is written by the game master, or GM. The sheet describes who each character is, and what they are interested in. As the game progresses, plots and subplots emerge.

While each player’s goals may change, he or she must try and act true to character. At the beginning of the game, for example, the Mafia crime family was out looking for a stolen car. By the end of the game, they were chasing a murderer loose on the Chicago streets, still faking their Italian accents.

Certain characters have special Ability Cards, which allow them to, for example, turn invisible or pick locks. There is even “sex,” which players can have by playing blackjack.

The GM for this game was Philip B. Tan G, who wrote “A New Deal” while taking a graduate course on Film Noir. “It’s like being a playwright, only with less control,” Tan said.

How to win

In the character-based games like this, the story can be more important that the action. “In this game, if you die, you don’t necessarily lose if you die with style,” Shiley said.

Charles Hope, a local lawyer who has been coming to Guild games since 1988, expanded on this view. “It’s not about shooting to me, but about which people are telling you the truth and which people are lying to you,” he said. “Once you figure that out, there’s probably someone you need to shoot.”

Action takes place all over campus

The action of the game takes place all over campus, as players go looking for one another to make deals, trade information, and eventually kill one another off. Of course, not everyone on campus is part of the game; the players occasionally startle a graduate student or two working late in the lab.

When the “restaurant” closes, it’s time to move to the bar, located in Building 24 in the Experimental Studies Group lounge. Jennifer K. Chung ’02, a pianist, and two singers Susan E. Born ’98 and Erin Price, a student at Boston College, put on a (real) live jazz performance, while the others sit at tables to watch.

Meanwhile, characters flirt according to carefully prescribed rules. According to the manual, “the first person who fails to come up with a witty retort within five seconds of the last response loses the flirtation.”

By Saturday night, a body has been found in the Chicago river, and everyone suspects the bartender. For the rest of the game, the remaining players must team up to stay alive.

The end... until next time

The Guild holds a number of role-playing games each year, with the longest games running for ten days. Each one is based on a particular scenario, which can involve anything from aliens to chess-playing nuns to drug dealers in Colombia.

The next game, set in the future on the space colony Lagrange 5, is scheduled from Oct. 25 to Nov. 3. The selling line for the game promises “spies, corporate infighting, dastardly plots, and lots and lots of guns.”

Aside from role-playing games, the Assassins Guild also holds shoot-em-up style games each Saturday night, called Patrol. “Take the gun, shoot the person,” said Haiyao Huang ’06, explaining the rules. “It’s a great stress relief.”