If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I am a huge proponent of finding alternative fitness methods.
The first step to starting on a healthier path is eating a little better and getting out of your house and moving around!
But after that, the next thing that often comes to mind, when people think about “getting in shape” is starving themselves, eating nothing but salads, and running endless miles on a treadmill. And that sounds miserable and boring, doesn’t it?
Lucky for you, I am here to tell you otherwise!
You can definitely start your fitness journey by finding a geeky hobby you enjoy and burning off some calories without even realizing it.
One such hobby you can pick up is LARPing, or Live Action Role-Playing.
Now, truth be told, I don’t have much experience with this nerdy past-time other than watching the movie Role Models, so I have assembled a team of fake sword-wielding, bad-asses to educate us all on the subject and keep me from saying something stupid (not the easiest job in the world).
Today we are joined by three fantastic folks, all involved in different LARP organizations – Michael Surbrook, Kristin Brumley and Leslie Stewart.
So let’s see what they have to say about the hobby, how it can help you get in shape, where you can get started…
Oh, and how to unlock the secrets of +3 Cardio and -3 Flab!
What is LARPing?
Let’s take a minute and define exactly what this activity is before we go any further.
Leslie – LARPing stands for Live-Action Role Playing. Think Dungeons & Dragons meets the Renaissance Faire. It’s a real-time game, with live combat and improvised interactions, but it is a game, and you have a character to play, a costume to wear, and skills you can use to help yourself progress or level up.
Mike – In my mind, LARPing, at least as the SCA practiced it, is one of reenactment. Rules and the like are set aside (SCA combat is based purely on skill for example), with everything done as part of one’s persona. For example, I was a 15th Century squire, preparing to sail across the English Channel to help Henry V fight the French in pursuit of his claim of the French crown. Thus, everything I wore, carried, used, and such, was my attempt to emulate the world of 1415.
Of course, this can carry over to more traditional, game-centric LARPS. In the case of the LARP where I was a movie producer circa 1926, I wanted to dress appropriately for the time period (based on my limited resources), and tried to keep my conversation centered on subjects that would be common for 1926.
LARPing, when you get right down to it, is really an example of improvisational theater presented on an all-encompassing stage in which the audience is the other players. At an SCA event, you might get curious bystanders, but really the people your playing to are the other attendees. In a traditional LARP, it’s the other players of the game.
Kristin – LARPing is where you physical act out a character’s actions. It’s fictional. It’s creative. It’s a long form of improvisational theater and a gaming platform. There are many types of genres and not every genre involves fighting!
So essentially it is a game of pretend, and imagination, with it’s own rules and roles not unlike many organized sports.
Kristin – I’ve always LARPed. Even when I a child and didn’t know what LARPing was, it was something that I loved to do. When my mom tried to make me eat broccoli, it wasn’t until I LARPed as a dinosaur and pretended that the broccoli were little trees that I finally ate my vegetables.
I used LARPing as a way of deciding if I liked something or not before allowing it into my real life…because, unbeknownst to me, broccoli was delicious once I tried it!
It’s basically just a more challenging form of tabletop game. It’s a lot harder to act out what a character is doing than saying what a character is doing. I like that challenge. I like feeling what the character is feeling!
Also, I was a huge improvisational actress in college. LARP, in its basic form, is just improvisation. Socially, a lot of people don’t really understand LARP and its players. I think it simply comes from the fact that we’re not represented well in most media and people don’t come across us often (and when they do…I suppose we look a little…unique?)
Mike – When I was a kid, I always wanted to be the guy in the cool outfit doing cool stuff in front of the crowd. When I was in the SCA, I was that guy. It was kind of a thrill to be at a demo at a public place and have people taking my picture, marvel at my armor and gear, and otherwise express their astonishment at seeing someone perform full-contact combat. Certainly, it was a huge ego boost.
But there are other reasons as well. While traveling about to various SCA events and tournaments I visited new places, met new people, and had experiences I never would have had I stayed at home. I also learned new skills (such as woodworking, metal casting, and how to use a sword), learned and taught period games, learned about the history of the time period my persona was set in, and fought in mass battles with more than 2,000 participants!
Leslie – LARP has opened so many doors for my confidence. Between being a more confident, fit, and meeting my now husband, it’s been a really fun ride. It tests you on all levels – physical, mental, wit, energy, cleverness, creativity – it’s the whole package. Honestly, you have to try it to really understand why you should do it.
In addition to being an excuse to get out of the house, meet some new people, and enjoy some fresh air it sounds like there are a ton of intangible benefits to this unique game.
The Benefits of LARPing
I firmly believe there are a lot of mental and physical benefits to be had here, but don’t take my word for it…
Mike – As an SCA armored fighter, I regularly wore 30-40 pounds of leather, plastic, and steel, as well as a thickly-padded coat. Even practicing once a week I lost weight! I also knew that in order to get better at armored combat, I needed to be in shape, and was encouraged to engage in physical fitness regimes in order to improve my physical skills.
Of course, when it came time for events and tournaments, spending 8-12 hours out in the sun and open air didn’t hurt things either. And the Pennsic War, in which I spent a week or more camping, eating period food, and fighting most days, was a rather impressive way to lose 10-15 pounds.
Leslie – How physically demanding the LARP will be on you personally will be heavily linked to the type of LARP and character you play. If you play a fighter, you will probably be expected to fight more because you will be good at it, which might mean you will always be on your feet, sparring and running around. If you play a rogue, however, you might be able to hide behind a tree the whole time and not get much of a work out at all.
For example, I usually play 1 of 2 characters: Soria, or Franky.
Soria is a Cleric who heals people (or even bring them back from the dead) and Franky is a Craftsman who brews wine, and captains a ship on the high seas. Each of these 2 characters has different physical demands based on the character’s development, and what that character would do.
For example, Soria is a healer, and therefore, if anyone is dead, or dying, it’s expected that she will run as fast as she can to get to them and save them. PHEW – Talk about a work out! At a very combat heavy event, Soria is constantly running back and forth, saving people, dragging bodies out of battle, throwing them onto my altar and performing the rite of resurrection. Soria is a character who gets a really good work out.
Franky, on the other hand, is a more laid back, “I am going to drink an ale in the tavern” type of character. However, if she was attacked, she would run away or fight back to defend herself. It really depends on what your character needs to do that may affect the amount of physical activity you do.
Kristin – LARPing can be a great physical activity. In one weekend I use just about every muscle in my body fighting off beasts and goblins and kobolds – so much so that it’s very seldom that I come home and don’t feel the ache of a job well done. I am a fantasy boffer LARPer, and I like to play fighter type characters who get in the thick of battle.
Sword fighting is one of those activities that takes a lot of strength and balance, and I love the challenge.
I typically burn 4 times more calories than I do on a normal day when I’m LARPing, and I like to say that the shower after a LARP is one of the best showers in the world.
Leslie – The mental benefits of LARPing are actually pretty obvious. As you can see, I already started to bore you guys with the names and back stories of my LARP characters. The immersive world of LARP is a creative vacation for your brain, and a chance to do things and become characters you can’t in your real life.
See, and I am always talking about them because of how involved I am with their minds!
A LARP character is an off-shoot of your brain really, and you can craft your character in a way that lets you be the person you can’t be in the real world. If you feel weak or stupid or boring or whatever – you can BECOME anything you can CREATE. And to immerse yourself in that world for a few days, well – it’s like resting your brain and putting everything on hold – it’s like a very intense and therapeutic vacation.
Mike – One of the great benefits of the SCA was the chance to learn all sort of new information.
As mentioned, I learned how to fight with a sword and shield, as well as a spear, pole arm, and great sword. I also learned numerous non-martial skills, including how to work in wood, how to cast and mint coins, how to play an assortment of period dice and card games, how to create a coat of arms, how to understand a coat of arms, and so on. I even taught others what I knew, either assisting with the training of new people in the art of the sword, or teaching people card games or the proper nomenclature for period arms and armor.
Possibly even more than the physical aspects of LARPing and the SCA, I feel that this access to knowledge had a huge impact on me, opening new aspects of history I never new existed.
Kristin – LARPing has a lot of great mental benefits. I’ve hosted a Google Hangout in the past where we talked about using LARP as a form of therapy; there have also been some studies out there that have been proving that LARP can be used as therapy for autistic children. Additionally, some people I’ve known with PTSD and other mental disorders like depression have found that LARPing has given them a healthy environment to face their problems.
Personally, I’ve used LARP as an anti-depressant.
Firstly, it’s an extremely social place where I’m surrounded by people who love me. Secondly, LARP allows me to create characters who are able to face what I can’t “in real life.” I create confident characters or independent characters or characters who are facing similar problems as I do – and I use the LARP environment as a testing ground. I can figure out what it is I like about myself and I can test my limits in ways that don’t normally present itself in our normal world.
LARP is the ultimate sandbox. You can recreate yourself entirely. You can be the person you want to be (or the person you never want to become).
In this way you can use LARP to discover or examine things about yourself. It is through LARP that I know more about myself, and it’s incredible the difference it makes. Later this year I’m really looking forward to creating a new character, Alina Rosewood, who is going to be an extremely selfish and narcissistic character. I’ve always had a problem putting other people’s needs ahead of my own (to the point of it being unhealthy), and so I’m creating Alina in an attempt to take it to the extreme and find a balance in my own life. I’m trying to teach myself that it’s okay to do something for myself.
It’s okay to like who I am.
While you aren’t going to get ripped swinging a fake sword or spear around, it definitely sounds like a really fun way of burning a bunch of extra calories as well as giving you an opportunity to learn new skills and a little bit about yourself too!
How to Get Started
Now that you’re hooked on the idea of throwing on a costume and getting your LARP on, where do you start?
Mike – If you’re interested in medieval reenactment, go to www.sca.org to find a Shire or Barony in your local area. Once you’ve done that, email the Chatelaine and introduce yourself, it’s as simple as that!
Ask about newcomers nights or events, as well as what the minimum requirements for attending an event (don’t worry if you don’t have any gear, most Shires and Baronies have a loaner’s closet for newcomers). Then go to an event and talk to people. Express interest in an art or craft (such as armored fighting, illumination. or the making of period clothing) and you’ll find plenty of people willing to teach you.
Kristin – Larping.org has a great list of LARPs in the U.S. and in Canada that you can check out. As far as what you’ll need to know, know how much your first event will cost and if they will have food provided there.
Find out what the sleeping arrangements are if it’s an overnight LARP, and pack accordingly. Also make sure to check out the weather forecast before an event! It’s always good to know if you’ll need a 10th pair of socks for rainy occasions.
On second thought? 10 pairs of socks might be a good idea regardless if it rains or not.
Leslie – To get started, make a friend who LARPs, or just Google local LARPs in your area. They are well versed in the world of newbies and can offer you all the advice you need to get started. Find their messages boards or Facebook pages, and post a message.
LARPers are friendly folk, and always willing to help out!
What to Expect
Mike – Okay, I’ll admit, and SCA event can be intimidating, especially for a first timer. There are people in elaborate clothes, in full armor, with circlets on their heads and fancy color-coded belts. They might be using strange words, discussing strange events and places, and mentioning such anachronistic subjects as kings, queens, knights, lords, ladies, and courts.
Don’t worry about it.
Relax. Ask questions. See if there’s a introductory primer for newcomers like yourself, read it over, and just go with the flow. After a few events, you’ll feel like an old hand and all the terminology will come naturally. After all, the guy in full plate armor, with the white belt and crown on his head had to start somewhere, and it was probably as confused then as you are now.
Kristin – LARPing is whatever you want to make it. However, there are some people who believe there is a “right” way to LARP. Some people believe it needs to be as realistic as possible, while others wear nothing but their normal clothing.
I prefer games that value immersion and realism.
I like having a good costume and eating with time-period appropriate props, and sometimes this requires spending more money to get handmade utensils and real leather boots. However, this isn’t required, and you can almost certainly put together a good costume just by visiting a thrift shop and a few yard sales.
It’s a work-in-progress hobby, and you’re not expected to have a perfect costume or camp kit right out of the gate. At the very least you’ll need a little money for the events and for food and for that simple costume – although, notably, a lot of LARP games offer the first event for free or at a discounted price.
Leslie – You really can’t expect the same thing at any two LARPs, so be open-minded, and ready to adapt. Oh, and be prepared and do weird things – like pretend you are someone who you aren’t. As long as you’re friendly, willing to communicate, and willing to learn, you will do fine and have fun.
I know, even for some geeks, this activity might seem pretty out there… but is it really?
What’s the difference between:
- Joining a bunch of people on a field, putting on colorful uniforms consisting of tights/pads/helmets/etc…, running around and trying to win a game while following a bunch of rules based on roles like quarterback/wide receiver/running back/etc…
- Joining a bunch of people on a field, putting on colorful costumes consisting of tights/armor/helmets/etc…, running around and trying to win a game while following a bunch of rules based on roles like warrior/healer/wizard/etc…
The honest answer?
The only difference is that society says the former is “cool” and the latter is “weird“.
Ignore societal norms, stop sitting at a table rolling dice, or clicking a mouse and moving characters around a computer screen, and burn some calories running through the woods wearing epic armor and swinging a fake sword at your foes!
Tell me your thoughts on LARPing, or other alternative methods of fitness, in the comments below…
And don’t forget to throw some love to my LARP-tastic contributors!
Michael Surbrook – Author, gamer, artist, anime fan, and LARPer. When not tromping around in armor swinging a wooden sword at people’s heads in the SCA, Michael writes for RPG gaming companies; he has produced several supplements for HERO games, Blackwyrm games and D3 adventures. His most current project, “Larger Than Life: Tall Tale Adventures“, is almost complete.
Kristin Brumley (@OrlySunja) – Writer, actress, artist and LARPer. Aside from studying with the folks at HEMA and smiting people with padded weapons, Kristin is very passionate about spreading the LARP gospel through vlogging and web shows like Basic Adventuring 101 which she acted in and produced… Also, click here to support the show’s production on Seed & Spark!
Leslie Stewart (@DarlingStewie) – Graphic designer, gamer, blogger, LARPer and Internet Pixie extraordinaire. When she isn’t healing her compatriots on the LARP field of battle she is cultivating her project, the Internet Geek Girl Pen Pal Club and promoting her local blogging convention the NEPA BlogCon.
PS: In case you haven’t claimed your free e-book, “The 7 Fitness Obstacles Newbies Face” by subscribing to our newsletter… here’s where you subscribe!
PPS: Also check out our YouTube channel (if you want access to our Nerd-Core Fitness exercise videos), follow me on Twitter, and like us on Facebook and Google+ (there is content on both not available here on the site.) There are many different ways for you to get your daily dose of Jerdly goodness so don’t miss out!