Head to Head With Monsters and Dactyls: Pterodactyl Hunt Goes Western

Over the last couple of weeks, it was difficult to travel anywhere on Swarthmore’s campus without seeing the message “WANTED — EXTINCT OR ALIVE,” accompanied by an invitation to meet at the saloon — Kohlberg 115 — on Nov. 4. It follows then that last Saturday, hunters fitted with cowboy-themed attire, Southern accents, and pool-noodle swords entered the quad between Kohlberg and the Science Center, ready for showdowns with monsters and pterodactyls. 

The Pterodactyl Hunt is a longstanding and unique yearly live-action roleplay (LARP) tradition held by Psi Phi (pronounced sci-fi and an inversion of the disbanded Phi Psi fraternity). Every year, students who choose to be hunters dress for the occasion, adorning themselves with trash bags and arming themselves with swords. Meanwhile, monsters, pterodactyls, and special characters slip into costumes.

Hunters complete quests, interact with special characters and defeat monsters and pterodactyls. This year’s theme was Wild, Wild West, but throughout the event’s history, themes have spanned from Pirates to Cyberpunk. 

Hannah Rowland-Seymour ’27, who played the character Smokin’ Joe Rudeboy, facilitated duels throughout the night. Rowland-Seymour spoke to The Phoenix about why they chose to participate, saying they knew about the event before coming to Swarthmore. 

“It just looked really cool, fun, [and] community-oriented,” they said. “I knew I wanted to be a special character because I mean, I want to be a cowboy! It was a fun chance to do something new.”

When asked what their favorite part of the night was, Rowland-Seymour said that meeting new people and engaging with the atmosphere of the event was a highlight: “I had to be in character the entire night. Some people weren’t in character with me, [but] then some people [were] super in character. It was really fun to see everybody else so excited about fighting pterodactyls.”

Elijah Dillow ’27, who played Jedediah Smith from the “Night at the Museum” franchise, shared similar thoughts. Dillow asked for pickup lines from hunters passing by to use with Octavius, another character from the same franchise.

“It was fun seeing people trying to come up with pickup lines and enjoying it, because it’s fun to come up with a bad [one],” he said. 

Psi Phi Regents, or Co-Presidents, Minerva Springer ’24, Adelyn Klingbeil ’24, Ross Elkon ’25, and Librarian Elsa Toland ’25 discussed how this year’s event came to fruition.

“Members of Psi Phi donate their time, effort, energy, and sometimes their clothing and pieces of their souls to make the Hunt,” Springer said. “[The Pterodactyl Hunt] cannot exist without Psi Phi — we’re the primary organizers.”

While preparing for the Hunt, Psi Phi leadership asked students to sign up to play monsters and special characters and bought costumes for those with special roles. Members of Psi Phi then worked together on the day of the Pterodactyl Hunt to set up the decorations that made the event possible.  

“I think we more facilitate the Hunt, not create it,” Springer said.  

The event is not just a Swarthmore tradition, but serves to bring the campus community closer. Because of that, Psi Phi leadership recognizes the significance of keeping the event a tradition. Toland emphasized that the Pterodactyl Hunt is one of the few events throughout the year that allows students to take a break. 

“We spend so much time being grown-ups that we forget that we don’t have to all the time,” Toland said. “I think [the Pterodactyl Hunt] is one of the few places at Swarthmore where you’re allowed to be young and silly.” 

Klingbeil shared a similar opinion to Toland, emphasizing that the quirky and light-hearted community in Psi Phi and at the Pterodactyl Hunt is what has made the event a reality, year after year. 

“Psi Phi understands the inherent nerdy need to run around with foam swords and whack each other,” Klingbeil said. 

Klingbeil recalled a particularly memorable moment from last year’s Pterodactyl Hunt, where she played Trinity from the movie “The Matrix.” 

“Someone came up to my quest and they were just starstruck to be there. I started to explain [my role] and started giving my trying-to-be-cool spiel and they [said], ‘Oh my god, it’s Trinity from the Matrix. I’ll do anything for you,’” she said. 

When discussing how they believe the Pterodactyl Hunt may develop in the future, Psi Phi leadership expressed the different goals that they have for the event. 

“I would hope that the Hunt continues to grow and get bigger over time,” Elkon said. “I think more people need it, especially more than they realize, as something to blow off steam. Swarthmore is a harsh campus — that’s putting it lightly.” 

Klingbeil agreed with Elkon that she would like more participants to join in the future, but said the Hunt isn’t an event that needs to outdo itself every year.  

“We just want to preserve the traditions and hopefully get as many people to enjoy them as possible,” Klingbeil said.

Springer added that regardless of what changes occur to the Pterodactyl Hunt in the future, its roots and traditions will continue forward. 

“Maybe we’ll get better materials or better swords, but the core of the Hunt will stay the same. And that [core] is people putting on a fun thing because they are passionate about continuing it,” Springer said. 

When asked how students interested in the Pterodactyl Hunt can get involved in future renditions of the event, Springer emphasized that joining Psi Phi and attending meetings is the best way to participate in the event planning. 

“You can attend the writing meetings, costuming meetings, and really put your fingerprints on the Hunt and shape it to be the best that it can be.”

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