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Fantastic Festivals!

Written by Nicholas - Published on December 1, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Sometimes we all need a reason to celebrate. Holidays break up a mundane existence and force us to consider things we may take for granted the rest of the year. Every culture has them and they can tell you a lot about the values of that society. Creating holidays for your D&D campaign will make the world feel more authentic, give players a sense of life outside the dungeons and open up the potential for some really great social encounters. Here are some tips for creating your own celebrations, holidays and festivals.

Find the Core Idea

All holidays start somewhere and that’s where you can start building one. Consider agricultural and celestial events or significant events in the history of the land or religion. American Thanksgiving is a good example. After a very worrying period for the new colonists they managed to have a successful harvest. To celebrate they gather around with the friends and family who made it possible and enjoy the product of that harvest. A very simple idea, but it makes sense.

Now Drift From It

We still have a big Thanksgiving feast, but we have many new traditions. The president pardons a turkey. There is a big Thanksgiving football game. The day after has become its own special day of shopping. These things have nothing to do with the harvest or the original idea of Thanksgiving, but are important rituals anyway. Don’t even get me started on the bizzarre blend of customs surrounding Easter.

The point is that holidays are always in flux. They grow, change and are pilfered by other cultures and made over. We can’t quite trace back why we do some of these things, but they have been introduced slowly enough that it seems normal. Lets say you have a local holiday in your campaign world that celebrates the slaying a dragon long ago. I imagine that would include dragon effigy that children beat on. But how about on that day the girls give buttercups to the boys they like? It has nothing to do with the dragon, it just crept in over time. Holidays usually don’t make sense, a little randomness can make yours seem more authentic.

Introduce a Bit of Magic

Many holidays have a supernatural element. Santa travels the whole world in one night. The dead walk the earth again for a single day. The advantage of working in a fantasy medium is those things can be true in your world! The day of a celebration might not be arbitrary, but tied to a real magical event in the world!

Examples:

The Festival of Webs – A drow holiday that commemorates the first time Lolth spun a web. The entire community works together to create a massive, colorful cloth web which is then put forth as an offering to Lolth. The day also features contests of climbing and magic. At the end of the festival all of the eligible drow males are pursued in a race by the females. If a woman catches a man he is at her mercy the rest of the evening.

Arbadon – A comet appears in the sky every five years. Its appearance is said to awaken divination powers in the leader of each town. Each person may ask him or her one question about the future and have it answered. After receiving their answer, the asker is instructed to plant a tree. If the seed grows strong than their vision will come to pass. If it is weak or dies then the answer was false.

The Hunt – A rural human holiday which spans two days. The first day is marked by a massive hunt of the local animals to replenish food stores. On the second day the hunters take the first taste of the meat they have collected in a ritual to channel the animal’s spirit. They then disguise themselves as an animal and show their respect for the killed beast by imitating the normal habits of creature they slew. It later became custom to exchange gifts wrapped in animal skins at the end of the second day.

Does your campaign world have any special celebrations? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

 

 Comments

8 Responses to “Fantastic Festivals!”
  1. Kolbold Minion says:

    Great article!
    In my campains the players had a holiday dedicated to themselves for varous past herioc deeds. The players would recieve gifts and give autographs. This holiday was a springboard for a great campain where dopplegangers impersonated the PCs and ruined their reputations in front of a huge audiance. The players were then wanted alive by the Empire, so the PCs played a few games outside of the law and on the run.

  2. Ray Wenderlich says:

    I have enjoyed using festivals in my campaigns because it allows you to introduce a lot of fun games for the players to involve themselves in (such as arm wrestling contests, spitting contests, beauty contests, etc.). I think mixing that with your holiday idea would be particularly interesting, I’ll have to try it out sometime soon!

  3. Tiorn says:

    The DM of my old 1e/2e game back in the early 90s would throw in, from time to time, Ahkmed’s Travelling Circus… featuring the Lady who turns into a Bear (werebear) and the Human Pus Ball (another player’s PC, who was severely cursed by an extremely powerful creature). Ahkmed and his circus would show up pretty much anywhere at pretty much any time. Heck, I think we even had a campaign storyline arc that was time-travel heavy and we ran into Ahkmed and crew in a completely different millenia of our campaign world. I guess you could compare Ahkmed and his circus to the Sullivan Brothers Carnival on Heroes. Time and place didn’t matter… Ahkmed could be there anyhow. hehehe

  4. Saragon says:

    For PCs who tend to leap into these sorts of things with the “Ah-hah, the GM has presented us with something, it must be plot-related!” mindset, my personal favorite–especially for coastal towns–is the Red Herring Festival. It’s best presented when the PCs walk out of the inn one morning and find the entire town celebrating, eating and sharing all manner of preparations of fish, and engaging in (as mentioned above) friendly competitions. Only once the players have jumped in with both feet, running around desperately to find the plot points the GM must have planned, does someone say “So how are you enjoying the Red Herring Festival?”

    Always gets a great reaction.

  5. Nicholas says:

    @Saragon: I laughed out loud. I may steal that for one of my games.

  6. GroovyTaxi says:

    I once made some kind of harvest festival with lots of events in which the players took part, including wrestling in the mud (everyone wanted to get matched against the hot priestess), pumpkin pie eating contest, beer drinking contest at the tavern and more. The winners of these contests were “worshipped” by the whole village as champions and could eat and drink for free for the day, but the winner of the mud wrestling tournament couldn’t wash the mud off his body for the whole day while the eating/drinking contests winners would lose that privilege if they puked. The dwarf warrior won them all and he was running around town half-naked, covered in mud while the other PCs tried to make him barf. The biggest tavern brawl ever made in my days then took place and someone tried to hit the dwarf with a chair.

  7. Ray Wenderlich says:

    Lol GroovyTaxy sounds like a hilarious session. I might use the mud wrestling contest in a future campaign, that sounds like a blast :]

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