Renaissance Fair, LARP, Boffer War, and SCA : What are the Differences?

Common Interests : Different Hobbies

Love for history, fantasy, and medieval times can be expressed in a lot of ways. Various enthusiasts have been gravitating around a few activities that are now going hand in hand with any mention of medieval or fantasy fans.

While 'ren faire', LARP (Live Action Role Play), SCA, or boffer are terms sometimes confused by neophytes when talking about medieval-themed events, they are in fact very distinct hobbies, even though they may share the same attendees.

Each of these activities occur in live, as opposed to Tabletop Role Playing Games, but tend to focus on different aspects of our rather wide community. History, fantasy, roleplaying, casual entertainment, sport, and costumes are all different facets of this passion for the medieval genre, and few events can appeal to everything at once.

In this blog, we will try to define the particularities of various hobbies related to medieval enjoyment and how they differ from each other.

✧ What is a Renaissance Fair?

Carolina Renaissance Festival

A Renaissance fair is an outdoor gathering open to the public and commercial in nature with various artisans and small businesses displaying their wares and products for sales, like handcrafted leather goods, small handmade jewelry, period clothing, etc.

The venue is generally set in a way to provide some amusement to the guests in the form of costumed entertainers, theatrical acts, music, or period-themed events such as knight combats and jousts. Some are permanent theme parks, while others are short-term events in a fairground, or some other large space.

A Renaissance fair can last a few days to weeks on end, and people can enter and leave at their leisure to explore the venue and participates in the activities. It resembles in many ways a convention, such as Comiccon, which can attract casual fans, curious passerby, or hardcore enthusiasts.

Attendees often decide to come costumed at a Renaissance fair, but this is in no way mandatory. Being in costume or being in character is not expected from fair-goers, but is certainly encouraged as it provides a more entertaining ambience at the event.

✧ What is a LARP?

Brumelance - Benoit Vermette

Standing for Live Action Role Play, LARPs are private events where all attendees play a fictional character. Typically, these events will occur on some private land or rented location, often in a natural setting with some buildings to create the illusion of a medieval village. This is a form of interactive theater that incorporates aspects of improvisation with a basic scenario, costumes, and RPG gaming mechanics to create a singular experience.

LARPs are relatively complex in nature and require some preparation to attend, with steps such as learning the rules, character creation, and registration required before someone can join. These events often take the form of scenarios with a starting hour and an ending, often lasting a whole day or a weekend.

All players are expected to work with some degree of autonomy in a LARP and have to understand both the game in general and the intricacies of their own character, as most of the play is done without direct supervision by the event organizers and storytellers.

LARP typically have a medieval fantasy theme and involve a certain degree of progression from event to event, with both the characters and the narrative changing over time through shifts in the scenario and players' decisions. However, LARPing isn't strictly limited to a medieval setting, and many LARP events will keep the roleplaying aspect but go for radically different settings.

LARP events often involve some degree of combat, which is generally theatrical and used to further the plot of the story, create tension, or resolve conflict between characters or groups. Combat will then mostly involve semi-realistic weapons made of foam and latex, as a compromise between visual immersion and safety.

✧ What is Boffer War?

Dagorhir Battle Games

Boffer or Boffer LARP is a subtype of LARP unique to the United States and characterized by its use of heavily padded weapons. These homemade weapons are made with safety in mind first and foremost and will inevitably present a puffy appearance that makes them less realistic than the weapons used in other LARP events. This is an intentional choice on the part of organizers and plays in the other traits often associated with Boffer events.

The focus on safety is a precaution due to the intense and fast-paced combat seen in these events. As a general rule, Boffer often lean more into the war game side of LARP than the roleplaying aspect. While combat is a part of most LARP events, combat is the main focus in Boffer and tends to be competitive and sport-like in nature.

Boffer is a more casual hobby than typical LARP, with affordability and inclusivity for new players being prioritized over visual immersion or complex roleplaying scenarios. The unmatched affordability of Boffer gear makes it a natural choice for these reasons.

Outside the United States, events similar to Boffer are often called war games or combat LARPs, but will not see the use of the iconic puffy weapons of Boffer. Instead the players are encouraged to wear more armor to adapt to the physical aspect of the game.

✧ What is SCA?

Barony of l'Île du Dragon Dormant

Standing for Society for Creative Anachronism, SCA is an non-profit international organization that focuses on period reconstitution. SCA events are all about bringing back the past, narrowing it down to the 16th century and earlier periods, by researching and recreating skills, crafts, arts, combat, and cultural practices.

SCA includes some elements of roleplaying, as participants are encouraged to use a persona with period-accurate names fitting of the culture they will dress as. The persona may also have an occupation and social status, but these characters do not have to be extremely intricate. A persona's first role is to help ground the participant's costume into an historical context for a given place and century. This is not historical reenactment though, as all personas are fully fictional and no real event of the past is being recreated.

Historical clothing, called garb, is very important for SCA events, and many attendees will craft their costumes themselves to fit the precise specifications of their persona's time period and culture. Authenticity is the name of the game, but with ingenuity the hobby is available for all budgets, and aim to be inclusive to all identities.

SCA gatherings are full of food cooked with ancient recipes, historical games, medieval music and dances, and craftsmanship workshops. There is also plenty of fighting, with fencing and archery being practiced by many members. SCA combat is more physical than anything you will see in LARP, using rattan weapons (made of reed-like wood) and striking at full force. Armor is not optional, and it must follow strict safety standards.

✧ Other Related Hobbies

❧ Tabletop Role Playing Games (TTRPG)

Tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), and the multiple other gaming systems that evolved from it such as Pathfinder, are often a big hobby for fantasy fans. The first LARPS were most likely D&D games adapted for live action, and this relation still shows with how many LARP participants also play tabletops in their spare time.

With elements of fantasy, medieval themes, and a good portion of roleplaying, TTRPG are more accessible and casual than LARP while scratching a few of the same itches.

❧ Historical Reenactment

There is obvious anachronism in mixing various centuries' clothes and music in the same gathering. For historical reenactments, even the relative authenticity present in SCA is too casual and too loose. What they are aiming is to relive history at a specified time, occasionally with research purpose in mind or with the aim of creating a living museum.

Reenactors will often act as real people from the past, whether a historical figure or an ancestor. Creating a fictional persona is also possible, but great care will be given to make this character plausible and more or less typical of the time period.


La Compagnie Médiévale, Montréal

Standing for Historical European Martial Arts, HEMA is a martial art focusing on fencing and armed combat, using manuals from the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The goal is to learn swordsmanship and attempt to rediscover lost techniques from applying these sources into live combat situations.

HEMA practitioners practice fencing with blunt steel weapons and also train cutting through mats and other materials with fully sharpened swords. The European longsword is the most popular weapon in the discipline, but HEMA fighters will also train with rapiers, sabers, one-handed swords, daggers, grapple techniques, and other medieval weapons.


1 comment

  • Grommet's Leathercraft

    Thanks for this informative blog! I’m so much into the renaissance period and am always present at our community’s annual renaissance faire. I always look for my clothing on online sites like this one here When and why did renaissance faires start?

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