After a hard day killing monsters and looting their stuff, many PCs like nothing more than to kick back and relax. Typically, this involves going to the tavern, but if you want to mix things up a bit, add a festival to your campaign!
Every settlement is unique and has its own traditions and customs. Whether a festival is relatively normal, or downright odd, they are a tremendous way to breathe character and verisimilitude into a settlement.
Taking the time to design a festival is design time well spent. I include festivals in my own Borderland of Adventure campaign for several reasons:
- Local Flavour and Verisimilitude: Adding a festival or holiday to a settlement is an excellent way of underlining the locality’s flavour.
- Adventure Backdrop: A festival or holiday is a great backdrop to an adventure. Additionally, these adventures could be a great change of pace from the normal dungeon delving, hack and slash fare of most adventurers.
- Change of Pace: If the PCs are allowed to participate in a festival, they’ll invariably get to make skill checks, ability checks and so on as part of the celebrations. It’s a fun change for the players to make such rolls without the lives of their characters being on the line. Festivals can be a great time for the PCs to let their hair down and have a bit of fun.
- Meet NPCs: Festivals are a great time for the PCs to meet NPCs, both significant and insignificant. This is particularly handy if one or more of the NPCs appear in a later adventure. It gives the PCs a connection to the NPC, which might come in handy later on both in terms of emotionally investing them in the adventure and giving them a reason to participate in the first place.
When designing a festival, consider:
- The Event’s Origin: What historical event gave birth to the festival? Was it good or bad for the community? Is the festival a celebration, commemoration or does it serve some other religious or secular purpose?
- How the Locals View the Festival: Do the locals look forward to the festival or do they participate out of a feeling of duty?
- When It Is Held: Festivals held in the depths of winter will by necessity be different to those held at the peak of summer. The events, traditions and special foods, entertainments and so on will all be different.
- Where It Is Held: The festival might be held at a particular landmark or in a certain building. Alternatively, it may be celebrated publicly throughout the settlement or privately in individual homes.
- Composition of the Festival: If the PCs have the option of attending the festival, what will they see and hear? Will they be able to participate or must they observe only? Also consider if everyone in the settlement celebrates the festival or if on one segment (perhaps those of a certain race, religion or nationality) celebrate it. If it is not a universal festival, how do the other folk feel? Do they care? A festival that acts as a flashpoint between rival groups or settlements is a great basis for an urban adventure.
- The Festival’s Frequency: If the festival is celebrated yearly, no doubt its tone and scope will be different to one celebrated monthly or weekly. Similarly, if the festival is only rarely observed—perhaps every decade—it will no doubt be the focal point of the year and be a very special event.
Raging Swan Press has posted a couple 20 Things articles about festivals and celebrations.