Each Saturday, the Excalibur Club hosts a science fiction movie night in Franklin Patterson Hall that regularly draws about 20 to 30 students. Informal gaming is as popular with club members as it was when Excalibur was first founded over twenty years ago. Conjuring up the many-tentacled creatures of H.P. Lovecraft's tales using sidewalk chalk on Cthulu Night is a year-ending club tradition.
But it's Deathfest, held every semester in early fall and late spring, that really pulls in the crowds.
"The biggest thing we do is Deathfest, which basically is a last-man-standing, Dungeons & Dragons-type competition," says Ellen Dulaney 05F, one of the three signers for the Excalibur Club along with Andy Berquist 04F and Zach Clemente 08F.
Now in Division III, she and Berquist have been key reasons for an Excalibur and Deathfest resurgence in recent years. Over 150 people, a record number, showed up at Franklin Patterson Hall on March 7, 2009, for the competition. Compare that to 2004, when about 60 people made up what was then the largest turnout ever.
"It's been happening in various incarnations for seventeen years at Hampshire," says Berquist. "We start planning it when classes begin, meet for two hours weekly, and a consistent, if not crazy, story emerges. This past semester it took place in a post-apocalyptic future where no one was sure what happened, but the world just got weird."
Characters as weird as the story (this year they included space colonists, mutants, and cryogenically preserved celebrities) are dreamt up for every player. They spend all of Deathfest in their roles, split into groups of about 15 scattered all over FPH and battling until only a handful of players are left. Those survivors then meet up in the main lecture hall for a final grudge match to determine the semester's grand champion.
"I just like how Deathfest allows people to be ridiculous in their own special way for an evening," says Evan Silberman 07F, next year's Deathfest organizer who aims to preserve the momentum built up by Dulaney and Berquist. "I'm really impressed by the level of attendance achieved lately. I'm feeling excited about the chance to keep Deathfest organized."
As two of next year's signers, Clemente and Dillon Compton 06F feel similarly about the Excalibur Club as a whole. They're familiar with the club dictum that, if the creature conjuring of Cthulu Night works, no final papers will have to be turned in.