May 112012
 

Hermes, God of Athletics and Sports.

There are approximately 640 skeletal muscles in the human body. These are the muscles that work in conjunction with your glorious skeleton to move you from the computer to the fridge and back to the computer again. I’m assuming you live like me, wrapped in a blanket, drinking coffee and wishing your kid was old enough to make sammiches.

These muscles sit between your disgusting but useful organs and your skin. They help to propel you forward, pick things up, put things down, punch that caterpillar that was sassing you, summon and then wrassle Kord, open jars, put a case of water in the shopping cart. The list is extensive. Without your muscles you would be as useless as one of those hanging skeletons you always see depicted in high schools, made from the donated bodies of dead people (at least that’s where my science teacher told us our skeleton came from).

Depending on your level of physical activity, different muscle groups on your body will be more developed than others. When my spouse was taking Eskrima (a Filipino martial art influenced by local tradition and Spanish fencing), he had huge forearms from drills with ratan sticks. He also had insanely hard shins and huge calves from kicking things. A friend from high school is a female bodybuilder. That means that periodically she has to change her diet significantly and bust her ass in the gym to achieve the definition required to place. When I was growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan I often heard the crazy pops and sneaker scuffs of those playing handball, hard hands and harder muscles sending a tiny rubber ball zipping across the court. Badminton players, fencers, basketball, soccer, all these sports demand a certain body type in order to best play the game.

We’re all born with muscles but definition and strength is built and made. Even the lowly farmer would still have enough muscles to work in the fields, guide and strongarm his or her animals, perform household chores and whatever else might come their way. Different professions would require different physical bodies. The lord who rides his horse all day and gets as much food as he needs will have a different body from the porter who works from sunup to sundown, carrying loads on their back and eating whatever could be carried all day. The soldier who practices sword drills all day needs a different strength from the one who loads the cannons or projectiles. The knight who wields the customary broadsword of their deity will probably have a different build from the fencer. They all have different muscle memories, some of the training able to be easily transferred to a different skill set or different objects, others not translating well at all.

Adventurers must be strong enough to carry their own gear obviously but what kind of physiques do they have? What kind of training lends itself to the perfect archer, duelist, bludgeoner or empty handed combatant? Beyond the bodies we inherit from our parents, how do our jobs and livelihoods carve and build the muscles that we use to run from or beat up danger?

Click the link to see pictures of different athletes and the body types that correspond to the specific sport (note: the athletes are wearing black undergarment type things so if someone at your job might be all o_O proceed with caution). The bodies really run the gamut! Not everyone is straight up ripped like Conan the Cimmerian; actually, hardly any of them are. There are many kinds of strong bodies that exist and the adventuring party will run the gamut.

How do people get the types of bodies needed to perform their tasks? Most train at a gym. Gymnasiums have existed for thousands of years, and in Ancient Greece athleticism was seen as an important aspect of life. Gymnasiums were places not only for the body but the mind, where children and young men went to learn ethics. The Ancient Romans preferred a more militaristic approach with training helping to train soldiers that could help with conquests. The aristocracy might set up training schools for their children, buying the best teachers tuition can pay for while a poor child with aspirations to knock heads might take on difficult chores to build strength or offer to trade work for training. A teacher might have one student or a roomful, all of of them vying to be the best. Mundane tasks can translate to dangerous moves if done correctly. Others might train as soldiers where they are forced to work out not just to gain skill but to push the individuals to their limits, to physically and mentally condition them to keep going past what they think they can do.

And all bodies have limits, those points where we physically break down. Sometimes the exercises we do can do more harm to our bodies than good, causing or exacerbating problems. Do the adventurers plow through the pain? Switch hands/weapons/tactics Or do they break down under the strain?

For GMs
-What types of places exist for athletes and adventurers to train and hone their skills?
-Are there schools to learn physical activities? Are they free or do people have to pay? Are there scholarships?
-What kinds of sports and physical activities are prevalent in the area?
-How are athletes viewed?
-What sports do the local peasants play? The aristocrats?
-How important is physical healthy? What is considered ‘healthy’? Is there a deity that honors sportsmanship?
-Who is the best swordsman in all the land? Best archer? Etc.
-Are there competitions for athletes/soldiers? Are they regional? Between towns? Between cities? Nations?

Plot Hooks
-When the country is at war, the local athletic training camp is decommissioned and the athletes left to fend for themselves. The PCs are all athletes who now must work, using their specially honed skills and strength to make money for their athletic halls and clubs. Are they recognized by their fellow countrymen? How do they translate their sports skills to fighting?
-A cultural exchange program has the PCs at a symposium where different athletic schools talk about their merits of their methods of trainings, the PCs all prime examples of the best their countries training can produce. What other students are there as well? Is national pride involved? Friendly rivalry? How do the other nations view the athletes and ideals of others? Are there any competitive events in the exchange?
-A rag-tag team of non-conventional fighters is sweeping through the countryside and the PCs must stop them and bring them to justice. Where did the street fighters learn their craft? Who are they fighting? Do they have anything to teach the PCs?
-The PCs are all part of a sports team for the national sport. While being presented with an award from the local or national important person, a sudden explosion rocks the stadium. The PCs are the only ones close enough to rescue the state official. Who caused the explosion? Do they get the official out? What kind of recognition do they receive for performing the task successfully? What kind of punishment do they receive if they fail?
-When the ‘Deityof Wrassling’ possesses the local religious figure, they goes around challenging all government officials to wrestling matches, claiming that ‘might is right’ and soundly beating any who meet the challenge. The deity goes on to say that a great battle is coming and all must be ready to take on the attackers The PCs must figure out what is going on. Is the member of the clergy really possessed? How does it affect the church they represent? How do the people react when their officials are beaten? Does the deity play fair? Rough? And what ‘attackers’ is the deity speaking of?

For PCs
-What type of body is ideal for your line of work? Do you have this body? How is this ideal for your work in line with how people are generally built?
-Can people tell what you are/do just by looking at you? Do you hide it (under clothes, with your demeanor) or do you flaunt it?
-What kind of physical training did you undertake to get into shape? What kind of activity do you do to maintain your physique? Any foods you eat or avoid?
-Do you play sports to help you maintain your weight/body type? Are you a competitive person?

What say you? Also, I need to start working out. :/

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About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

  6 Responses to “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Body Types and Physical Training”

  1. [...] reading the whole article here. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have [...]

  2. Very true. Form follows function after all, if you are all about moving big rocks, you will tend to be big as well. While gymnasts are slender and strong. And endurance runners are nearly skeletal.

  3. Yep. There are many ways to be strong and many ways to be a ‘fighter.’ It would be neat to see all the athletes depicted in the spread all done up in fantasy gear.

  4. [...] fighters and soldiers in fantasy campaigns keep their physique? Or get fit in the first place? Tristan J Tarwater @ Troll in the Corner says that these questions lead the way to some great advent… What places exist to get fit? What plot hooks could be tied in? What kinds of activities do the PCs [...]

  5. Congratulations on being linked to from the Wizards of the Coast website: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4news/20120525

    Tristan, great job writing the article!

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