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Role Playing Is Not ‘Dead’ For Student Group Members

Sarah Fay

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By Sarah FayThe Daily Northwestern

Mary Pruess is a tall, beautiful socialite from Perth, Australia, who likes to hide the fact that she is the “toreador primogen,” the leader of a rather artsy group of vampires.

On other days and nights, Pruess is known as Communication junior Emily Mark.

Mark is the newly-elected president of Dead City Productions, a club dedicated to live-action role playing on campus. In addition to engaging in impromptu role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons and Exalted, members of the group meet every other Saturday night to assume the roles of vampires as part of a yearlong “chronicle,” or serial adventure. Mary Pruess is Mark’s most recent character in this year’s game.

Each year, the story starts over from scratch as the narrators, called story tellers, change. Because the adventure is contained within one school year, players expect “some kind of apocalypse at the end where everybody dies,” Mark said.

Role-playing games often have extensive rules, which span volumes of players’ manuals and forms. But the basis of live-action role playing is acting and improvisation.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s more like acting than people tend to think,” Dead City Productions member Michael Downey said. “It’s so much less about rules and fighting monsters than interacting with each other.”

Downey, a Weinberg senior, joined the group as a freshman and was the main story teller for last year’s chronicle, which was set in a small town in Ohio similar to his hometown, he said.

“It really is terrible, so it was a good place for a depressing world of darkness,” Downey said.

Story tellers have the creative liberty to plan the plot of each year’s game, but the individual characters that members create and act out have considerable influence on the storyline, Mark said.

“Some people prefer to play more manipulative characters who don’t often enter into the combats and sort of just skulk around behind the scenes,” Mark said. “Then there are the more smash-and-crash characters, the physical guys, they just like to go punch things.”

Dead City Productions attracts students from many different fields at Northwestern, especially theatre, Mark said.

“It’s very much the idea of having a character that you embody and dress up as every couple of weeks and go be, so there’s definitely crossover with the acting element,” she said.

The group’s membership has grown from about 15 members last year to more than 30 this year. Mark said she expects to add more story tellers next year to accommodate the additional participants.

On Saturday nights, the role play usually lasts for about five hours. After the games, many members head over to Chili’s, 1765 Maple Ave., to discuss other role-playing games and the events of that night’s installment.

McCormick sophomore Brad Habegger said he has found a close-knit community connected by a similar interest through the group.

“No matter how much of a nerd you are, there’s always someone else who’s nerdier than you are and is interested in playing a game you want to play,” Habegger said.

But Mark rebutted any attempts to stereotype the group or its members.

“Just because we dress up as vampires every couple of weeks and go pretend to be nightly undead stalkers of evil doesn’t mean we’re all goth kids or crazy people,” she said. “We just like to play around and dress up and be a character.”

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