In connection with the two previous posts about using romance as a plot device and using historical cultures as the basis for the setting, I will be exploring how to use real world festivals as inspiration and how to use them in the campaign to expand the setting.
One way to explore a setting is build the exploration around cultural events such as festivals. In modern Western society the everyday is structured around the seven day week with five workdays followed by the two day weekend. This structuring of the calendar is not set in stone, but the result of specific historical events. In other societies and in other times things were done differently. The year round was filled with festivals at irregular intervals celebrating gods, rulers, seasons and important historical events.
A few keywords
Looking up Perchtenlauf, Tomato festival, wild man parades, Day of the Dead, Mummer’s Play gives some very interesting results about modern and medieval festivals. Ancient Rome have long list of interesting festivals worth stealing for a campaign.
I use festivals in my campaigns both as a way to present the setting, as a way of creating interesting roleplaying-scenes and as a way to present plots and mysteries in different contexts. Investigating a murder is one thing, doing it during a harvest festival is an entirely different thing.
Using festivals in my campaigns
In one of my present D&D-campaigns (The Wizard Campaign) the characters are all students at the Great School of Magic, and there are no such things as weekends. You have a seven day work week and instead of weekends, you have festivals from time to time at irregular intervals, celebrating either national, local or ethnic events. Events in the campaign are tied to the festivals – these are the times, when everybody is scheming and planning, because everybody will be there, and they are important public events, when struggling to gain social status.
In other words the festivals frames important events in the campaign and provides a reason for the PCs to be there. It also provides me with a chance to present the setting to the players.
Festival de Toros
During the Festival de Toros students chase monsters from the canals into the harbor, where they are captured (the chase with the bulls through the streets is in the capital replaced with students in gondols chasing monsters). The monsters are the results of accidental summonings, escapees from labs etc., and they present me with an excuse to use weird, out of place-monsters.
In the campaign the first year the PC’s witnessed the races, and they became involved an murder attempt during the race, where one wizard decided to use the chaos of the races to eliminate a rival. He threw a spell on a monster as it was being chased thorugh the canals of the city passing the rival. The PC’s came involved in the struggle against the monster.
During the second year the PCs created a team and went sailing around the canals in their own gondol competing against their favorite rivals. During a struggle with a weird para-elemental monster, they accidentally knocked a hole in building giving them access to some of the mysteries of the setting, which would otherwise be inaccessible.
During the third year two of the PCs were picked to be captains of their own teams, and suddenly the PCs were competing against each other. They had to pick their own team among the remaining PCs and NPC-allies. Both captains had to win in order to make their mentors proud, especially since their mentors had a bet on.
The Fire Night
The Flaem-people marches round in the night dressed in yellow cloaks with torches and instruments chasing away evil spirits. The same night is used by radical members of the Flaem-people to burn people, they don’t like.
On the first year the PCs are participating in the peaceful parades, when they discover that some of the participants are not really part of the parade. They have infiltrated it in order to eliminate an enemy and then blame the murder on Flaem radicals. Chase scenes thorugh a parade, where everybody is dressed in a identical manner and only the smell of garlic would reveal the false participants.
During the second year the PCs were invited to private parties taking place on the same night celebrating the event. At one party the PC suddenly realized he was among radicals wanting to hurt another ethnic group (the Alphatians), they considered an arch-enemy, and he had to keep a straight face. At another party the PCs were assaulted by various fire-elementals summoned on the night to kill the forementioned Alphatians.
On the Night of the Dead a mysterious alliance of wizards ressurected a dead wizard and the PCs had to battle ghosts and the Headless Horseman. At the Wintergames everybody goes skating on the frozen canals and at a great outdoor opera-show on ice one of the PCs is going to be married. At the Vyonesse nights everybody, who is something attends great balls in costumes etc. etc. etc.
As shown above the festivals are arenas for plots, for scenes depicting the setting and they are a tool to involve the characters, and to tie plot and setting together. And the parties are great.