Senior Staff Writer Lucia Towne, a known sci-fi skeptic, joined the CU Sci-Fi Society for an RPG night.

I walked into Lerner 302 and was greeted by several of the CU Sci-Fi and Fantasy Society E-board members. They introduced themselves to me and included their board positions. I jokingly said something about how I expected them to have cooler more sci-fi-y position titles instead of the basic president, secretary, treasurer, etc.

They immediately, without pause, told me their secondary (more important) roles including “Grand Vizier” instead of Vice President and “Alien Liason Officer” instead of Secretary. If you at all were questioning the vibes of the CU Sci-Fi Society, I have included a transcript of our conversation that I think best sums up the energy of this group:

Charlie, CUSFS President: I’m officially the President, but more officially, I’m the god Emperor.

Lucia, confused journalist: Is “God” capitalized in “God Emperor”?

Aron, Grand Vizier: Yes.

Charlie, god Emperor: No.

Aron, Grand Vizier: It was capitalized in Dune!

As someone who has neither seen nor read Dune, I was a little surprised at how the grammar of the book could be argued as the number one source for whether or not “God” should be capitalized, but the Grand Vizier brought up Dune with such passion that I was inclined to believe him.

I was able to talk with the E-board and a few other members of the club about the group’s history and what they like most about sci-fi culture. My most pressing question was what exactly does CUSFS stand for? Strangely enough, the group goes by many different names. Columbia’s official website lists them as the “Science Fiction Society”, but their Instagram says the “Columbia University Sci-Fi and Fantasy Society”. So where does the “fantasy” part come into play?

They actually don’t know! We sat there for a little while wondering what “CUSFS” could stand for, some members assuming that it was Columbia University Science Fiction Society and that the “fantasy” is just not included. Others thought it could stand for Columbia University Sci-fi and Fantasy Society, thinking that the acronym is simply a bit more squished. I thought that it was possible that the “CU” in CUSFS might not stand for Columbia University at all and we ended our aimless musings considering that maybe they were actually members of the Cut Onion Sci-fi Society the whole time.

No matter what CUSFS stands for, they spend their weekly meetings watching movies, hosting PowerPoint parties, playing games, and even writing their own short films. They told me that in the early 2000s, CUSFS wrote and filmed a parody of The Blair Witch Project called The Lerner Hall Project. While many of the club’s members admitted that the short film was generally terrible, they did say that it was “certainly quotable,” and clearly it’s a major part of CUSFS’ lore. I can appreciate some good lore and I too am horrified by Lerner. On top of the group’s weekly programming, they also have their own little library in Wallach containing science fiction and fantasy books that members can check out.

What stood out to me the most about their programming is their semesterly sacrifice to Cthulhu. Yep, you read that right, they make a sacrifice to Cthulhu at the end of every semester in the hopes that their sacrifice will result in a positive finals season. The god Emperor did clarify that they don’t actually use blood, so that was reassuring! Definitely an interesting way to unwind after a difficult semester of classes but I guess I won’t knock it till I try it.

After I finished my hard-hitting interview, we began the actual point of the day’s meeting; Lasers & Feelings. Lasers & Feelings is a single-sheet RPG. Think Dungeons & Dragons, but simpler, I guess? The general plot is that the players are on a space ship and their captain is asleep. Your character’s goal, job, and personality are up to you! I have absolutely no way to actually explain how to play the game because even two hours in, I still had to confer with other players to make sure that I was playing correctly.

Here is the basic story that we created!

I played Gonzo, a heroic pilot who also happened to be a muppet. Amongst other … interesting … characters on board, there is Giga Mega, a giant muscle man who is trying to eat the spaceship piece by piece, a doctor who only practices acupuncture and really cares about everyone’s zodiac sign, a bomb-crazy man whose only goal is to jump into a black hole, and a two-headed sometimes Canadian (?) alien named Qarl and Qorn.

My fellow space adventurers and I received an emergency call from Victor, a scared soldier in a ship full of space nuclear bombs that has been overtaken by parasites. We eventually (somehow successfully) overtook the ship and found Victor. We did accidentally shoot and kill one of his friends who was definitely innocent. That was our bad. While trying to escape with the non-infected soldiers, Qarl and Qorn got kidnapped and ended up (I’m not quite sure the logic of this choice) singing and dancing with their eyes closed while being held hostage. Gonzo, Giga Mega, Qarl and Qorn, and the non-infected soldiers managed to escape the dangerous spaceship while the remainder of our crew mates flew the ship full of space nukes into the sun.

Sure, the story itself is pretty interesting but for some added nuance I’ve included a few things that occurred during our gameplay that I think are essential to understanding CUSFS as an organization.

  • There were several arguments about which die rolls the best. I have no idea what that means.
  • At one point I (Gonzo) was in our spaceship’s break room eating a hot pocket.
  • There is a CUSFS member who is wearing Heelys and occasionally rolls around the room as a form of transportation.
  • Qarl and Qorn are “envoys” but neither of the CUSFS members playing as Qarl and Qorn really know what an envoy is.
  • The Game Master tried to make radio static noise and then gave up saying “I can’t do static well” which of course prompted everyone in the room to make terrible radio static noises.
Drawing of our crew courtesy of CUSFS member Embyr (CC ’25)

While many clubs on campus boast about their inclusive environment, I can assure you that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a group that actually lives up to that promise as much as CUSFS does. I had an absolute blast and genuinely laughed so hard at this meeting that my stomach hurt! If you’re into sci-fi (and maybe fantasy, depending on who you ask), feel free to join CUSFS in Lerner 302 at 8 pm on Thursdays. They’d be happy to have you and you’d be happy to be there.

In conclusion, long live Cthulhu. Long live CUSFS.

Images via Author