The Book of the 'Dactyl

History of the Hunt


SWIL was founded in 1978, by Jim Huang '82, who served as SWIL's Fearless and Charismatic leader for three years. It replaced a vast absence of science fiction club, though it did overlap slightly with the (newly-created but slowly-fading) Swarthmore Chapter of the SCA, called the Canton of the Ivory Tower. It was then merely a science fiction club, having no Pterodactyl Hunt, no Birdwainer Library, and a considerably smaller store of strange traditions and history. All of this, of course, has since been remedied.

The Pterodactyl Hunt originated as a joke perpetrated within the Swarthmore Folkdance Club, and was adopted by SWIL in 1984. It is an annual tradition, generally taking place in mid-October, and drawing up to 200 participants in recent years.

1983-84: The Origins of the Hunt

"The 1983 Oktoberfest Committee had a lot of trouble getting volunteers to run the events, even though they extended the deadlines and pleaded for volunteers. Nobody seemed interested in running the Pterodactyl Hunt even though a modest amount of funding was available for it. At that point, one of the issues in SWIL was, how do we have a higher profile on campus? How do let those people who don't attend SWIL know that we exist? How do we show the campus that we are useful and therefore deserve to be funded? The Pterodactyl Hunt seemed the appropriate sort of even for a SWIL service project - so I volunteered to organize it that year with support from the group. We didn't necessarily plan to run the P.H. forevermore at that point. The next year, as Oktoberfest approached, people began to say, "Are we going to organize the P.H. again this year?" and there were eager volunteers once they found out what a Pterodactyl Hunt was - Eric Knapp, Ben Fulves, & Perry Dees. And if a group does something twice in 2 years at college, it's a tradition."
~ Sherry Levi, SWILhistory page

"The Pterodactyl Hunt was begun by members of the folk dance club. I have few details about the first hunt, although I was stopped by some folk dancers who wanted to know which way the pterodactyl had gone. The next day there was a paper mache pterodactyl in Dupont Science Library. I think it wasn't until the second year that there was anything besides a completely imaginary pterodactyl."
~ Jennie Jacobson, SWILhistory page

"I've been told the Pterodactyl Hunt's first year there were signs put up all over campus: Come to the Pterodactyl Hunt, Crum Meadow, such & such a time. Lots of people showed up but nothing happened. The following year SWIL took it on."
~ Jed Hartman, SWILhistory page

In response to the idea that the Vampire always had a shadow:
"Actually, this was a ~1989 innovation; prior to that, the Vampire was just a standalone monster. (The Shadow was created because Rick Post didn't play in the Hunt, but enjoyed wandering around the field, in his customary long black trenchcoat, grinning innocently at hunters in ways that invariably caused them to run in terror... So he couldn't actually kill anyone (seeing how as he wasn't actually playing), but people seemed to think he was the Vampire, and thus the Shadow was born.)"
~ Josh Smith '92, hunt list, 30 Sep 2003

Years in between:

"I think the Hunting Licenses were created in or about my time (94-98). The Hunt had a year or two of being just incredibly short because we had a lot more players and they took out the pterodactyls right away.

"It was really rough at the beginning though (I think this was around when money was introduced too), and the first Hunt or two AFTER the licenses were introduced took way way way too long. One memorable hunt involved Audrey "Men are like fudge" Walton-Hadlock as the Dactyl dancing down the middle of Magill walk singing "I'm a pterodactyl, I have no guards, come kill me, please!" and players yelling from Parrish porch "We don't believe you!""
~ Melissa Binde '98, hunt list, June 17 2003

"My frosh year I remember hearing something to the effect that upon killing the dactyl, the winning team had to run back to hunt central holding the glowing dactly heart up in the air, during which time other hunters could attack them and try to steal the heart."
~ Robert McFarland '02, hunt list, June 17 2003

"Back in my day, we used both [North and South campus]: We played around Parrish, as I recall, ranging from the Bell Tower to the Rose Garden, down to Sharples (or the path north of Sharples, anyway) on the south side, and basically most of north campus on the north side. Of course, this was before the science center, Kohlberg, and the PAC. (grin)"
~ Josh Smith '92, hunt list, June 17 2003

"Back in my day (tm), it seems to me that very few of the unique monsters could be killed. Oracle, Black Knight, Vampire, Shadow, Werewolf, Troll; of those, only the Black Knight and Werewolf can *ever* be killed, and even those two only seldom. In some sense, they were for folks who wanted to help run the Hunt, but didn't want to run around fighting. (The Black Knight was good for someone who wanted to fence and liked drama but had bad knees; the Werewolf was the only real run-around-fighting monster.)"
~ Josh Smith '92, hunt list, June 17 2003

"Yep. I remember playing the thief (which, I believe, I made up because I didn't want to fight that year but still wanted to run around) and approaching two players. Player 1: "What's that?" Player 2: "I don't know, but she doesn't have a sword -- let's RUN!""
~ Melissa Binde '98, hunt list, 6/19/2003

"For what it's worth: Back in my day, I think the silver swords were either hidden on the premises, or available from the Oracle, or some combination thereof. Also, we didn't have gold, so there wasn't really any advantage to running around killing the werewolf over and over again; having a silver sword was more of a defensive weapon (now your whole party doesn't get scragged every time you run into the werewolf) than an offensive one."
~ Josh Smith '92, hunt list, 6/17/03

" Back in my day (my new favorite phrase for this list :^), normal swords were rolled up newspaper, while silver swords were wrapped end to end in duct tape, making them *much* stiffer and stronger than normal swords. Having a silver sword thus gave you a distinct advantage over characters using normal swords (either against sword-using monsters or in duels with other players), making it valuable in its own right even if you never saw the werewolf."
~ Josh Smith '92, hunt list, 6/17/03

"As for distinctness, (at least as far as I know) we've only even distinguished between orcs and hobgoblins in terms of equipment for one year now. My sophomore year hobgoblin guards had the same face paint as other hobgoblins and orc guards had the same face paint/garbage bag decorations as other orcs, and equipment was a non-issue. I've been led to believe that before my sophomore year guards were orcs/hobgoblins, with none of them particularly caring (or even necessarily knowing) which they were, and the rivalry was between guards of specific dactyls; my sophomore year each dactyl was the ward (or dactyl god, depending on how you want to look at it) of one horde or the other. But I also have the distinct impression that, especially since before my sophomore year it was only the guards who sang battle songs, there also wasn't a strong orc/hobgoblin rivalry (although not necessarily non-existant either), and that it started with me and Prime writing anti-orc songs at the beginning of my sophomore year and then the pre-hunt battle. But this is all based on things I think I've heard people say, not personal experience, since I was a hunter my freshman year."
~ Rachel Sapiro '04, hunt list, 6/17/04

"well, i think in the early-to-mid-90s, or maybe late 80s, orcs and hobgoblins were distinguished by target areas, and perhaps also by swords. there are references to "hobgoblins have reduced target area" in some of the older hunt notes which are (or at least used to be) in george.

"when i was hobgoblin king (in 1998 and 1999), there was no difference. "i think i gave my hobgoblins some orange caution tape my senior year to distinguish them, but it didn't go much beyond that. which isn't to say that the orcs didn't suck, nor that we didn't crush them mightily with our racial superiority, just that it wasn't very organized."
~ Chaos Golubitsky '00, hunt list, 6/17/03


"We reintroduced distinctions between the basic monster races, which had been discontinued long ago. We also added several more types of basic monsters, or, if you prefer, a tier of monsters between basic and special. It's time to review that list of basic-ish monsters and work out any adjustments we wish to make. Here's a recap of last year's roster:
_Orcs_ (common) had longer swords.
_Hobgoblins_ (common) had reduced target area.
_Kobolds_ (uncommon) had small shields. They were to use daggers, but these turned out to be ineffective, so they used regular swords.
The _Tortoise_ (unique) had a shell which protected its back.
_Achilles_ (unique) had his target area on his lower legs."
~ Ben Newman '01, hunt list, 6/17/2003

Due to construction on North Campus, the hunt was held on Sharples field:
"Sharples Field is the field on the left side of Magill Walk as you face Parrish. It's right by Sharples. Last year we cut it off at Magill Walk, the path by the bamboo grove, the path running right by Sharples, and the path right up the stairs."
~ JC Ravage '04, hunt list, June 17 2003


In spring of 2003, a Hunt Committee was created to guide and advise the wizards for the 2003 Pterodactyl Hunt. An email list, hunt(at), was created over the summer, so that members of the Hunt Committee, including wizards and participants past and present, could communicate with one another. Between June 17th and June 19th of that year, the list generated quite impressive amounts of mail, discussing changes to implement in the next hunt, as well as vast amounts of Hunt lore.

Changes made in 2003 include:
Adding a third Pterodactyl to the hunt; the construction of larger and more impressive wings for the 'Dactyls, using a new PVC framework to support a duct-tape-and-cardboard wing and a novel system to secure the targets to the wings; actually constructing enough foam swords for all 150 hunters, color-coded such that monsters' swords were green and hunters' yellow; introduction of 'dactyl scales as a supplementary form of currency, replacing the 'dactyl eggs; silver daggers (very short, blue foam swords) sold as offhand weapons; addition of three turtles (to fill out the set of 4) and the Sphinx.