GREEN BAY, Wis. — On any other day at the park, one might expect to see flowers or hear the babbling of a creek.
But Saturdays at Pamperin Park are transformed into something different, with people in colorful garb wielding homemade, padded swords and shields and casting spells.
The group, known as Crimson Circle descends on the Howard park every Saturday for a session of what is commonly called live action role play — or, in its short form, "LARPing."
Jonathon Buss, 28 of Appleton, whose game persona is "Cena," said the group is part of an international fantasy role-playing network called Amtgard.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette reports that Crimson Circle, along with other groups in Minnesota and parts of Illinois, is part of Amtgard's "Polaris" kingdom. It is one of about 20 kingdoms across the United States.
Buss said the group often gets compared to the movie "Role Models."
The 2008 comedy follows two men ordered to do community service through a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters. One of the men is matched with a boy who is heavily into live action role play, and the movie includes a battle scene of epic proportions.
Buss, a three-year Crimson Circle member, said the comparison to the movie isn't entirely wrong.
The group, which on a typical Saturday consists of 20 to 30 people, breaks into teams and plays a variety of games. Many of the games mimic classic school yard games like Sharks and Minnows, but with a twist.
One game called Goblin Bomb is much like Capture the Flag where each team tries to get what looks like a golden orb from the middle of the field to a designated area on the opponent's side. When that happens, the area "explodes" and the game is over.
During games, players use skills they've mastered or "leveled-up" through attendance points. Some skills include sword fighting and archery.
Kelsey Brown "Lyrah Liirea Lionheart," 29, of Appleton, said rules are usually that if a player is struck in the torso, the player is "dead" and must go back to their team's side for 20 seconds before returning to the game. If hit in the arm or leg, the player must continue the game without using that arm or leg.
Brown added that wounds can also be healed faster with a certain enchantment, and that rules can be changed according to what Park Champion Christopher Baker, 22, of Green Bay, sees fit.
Baker, who on occasion will wear a full set of gold body armor, said the group knows they look silly doing what they do, but they don't care.
"We really are a bunch of misfits," he said, smiling. "Most of us are people who don't fit into regular society so we just made our own group ... and if people laugh at us, we will just laugh back."
Some members said the group perfectly aligns with already nerdy lives filled with Dungeons & Dragons. Others, like Kayla Ragland, 18, of Green Bay, simply think it's entertaining and great exercise.
One of the biggest misconceptions about members of groups like Crimson Circle, Buss said, is that the players act as if they're really a different person, in some other world, when they play.
He said that's not always true, especially at "park level."
He said the Saturday games at Pamperin Park are casual scrimmages. Themes are intensified during larger, sanctioned events, like the 1,000-person event Sept. 19-23 in Manteno, Illinois. Even then, he said, people are there for different reasons.
"Some have entire back stories to their personas, some people are there to fight, but others are there for the cultural aspects like art and music," he said. "I think when people see we aren't super serious about this, that we're just having a good time, they see us for what we really are and want to learn more."
In college, Devin "Devaklon" Barnes, 30, of Green Bay, thought LARPing was too nerdy even for his nerdy group of friends. He is now a five-year Amtgard player and wishes he would have started sooner.
Like all members of Crimson Circle, he said his favorite part of Amtgard is the friendships that form among people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Even the brief connections with those in the park for other reasons are special.
The group has on several occasions been asked to join wedding parties that are having photos taken in the park.
Aside from the camaraderie, Baker said, it's nice just to let loose and be imaginative after leading "regular" lives throughout the week.
"When we grow up we're told to stop acting like kids, to color inside the lines, and we're saying no to that," he said. "I mean, the park doesn't even exist if you don't have a bunch of people to play in it."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Green Bay Press-Gazette.