Fantasy literature is full of parties – Bilbo’s birthday, various fests appear in Robin Hood, lunar celebrations and so much more. Watching or reading celebration scenes helps connects these myths and fantasies to reality. Who doesn’t like a party? They also are a reminder that the times upon which Dungeons & Dragons are founded had a hundred holidays.
All told, holiday leisure time in medieval England took up probably about one-third of the year. And the English were apparently working harder than their neighbors. The ancien règime in France is reported to have guaranteed fifty-two Sundays, ninety rest days, and thirty-eight holidays. In Spain, travelers noted that holidays totaled five months per year.Pre-industrial workers had a shorter workweek than today’s
Within our games we can also capture these feelings of merriment, civic pride, religious faith, and family gathering. Not only can we, we should. The foundational literature demands it. Having characters and societies that are more than sword swinging, spell flinging battlers creates stories of greater emotional depth.
Full Moon Storytelling is hosting this month's Blog Carnival because it is my birthday. What better way to celebrate my own aging than talking about D&D parties? Last month's blog carnival was hosted at Codex Anathema, and was all about powerful magic items and artifacts. The rest of 2021's blog carnivals can be found at Of Dice and Dragons.
There are several ways that you can integrate these events into your campaigns. Whether they get a couple lines or are a couple sessions will be up to you and your tables.
This may be the easiest way to add a holiday to the start of your game. A cold open that involves a civic leader that needs the very specific item for the holiday in question gathers a group of specialists together in order to find the lost item.
Maybe at the beginning the community is downhearted. Rather than party they have to head off into the wilds to search for very specific item. Their journey brings them out of the village. In that world they can discover the thing, bring it back home as heroes and the festival is now also a victory celebartion.
Introducing New Culture
Journeys to strange lands mean new discoveries. When the group arrives in an unfamiliar place have them encounter a festival unlike any they’ve seen before. This introduction to a new culture emphasizes the differences, in a way that is full of brightness, joy, and excitement (unless you choose something dour).
By arriving at fest-time the group immediately knows how different the place is. Maybe if they have observational knowledge of the culture a history or culture check helps the character in question understand what is going on. Otherwise the group learns what’s going on by engaging with the worlds and cultures which you’ve created together.
Change of Pace
Between dungeons, dragons, orc wars, piracy, invasions by mindflayers, elemental cultists, the mists – what happens? Normal life. And normal life in the worlds of D&D is weird. But it’s also people who do things like celebrate birth, coming-of-age, weddings, coronations, harvests, solstices, equinoxes and more.
Take those moments of normality to highlight the abnormality of your D&D world. The dichotomy of a party with the world-shaking events of a tier 3 or 4 adventure is potent. Those few moments of calmness and levity during a session may just be the ones that the table remembers later. Killing a 45th bandit isn’t a big deal. Giving the town kids the feather of an owlbear? That’s a moment!
You’ve cleared the dungeon, slain the dragon, the forces of Gruumsh were held back, recovered the holy tooth of the founding family of the town, the heist was prevented, the heist was successful – however your adventure or campaign ends there must be a party, a big party.
Maybe the characters are throw the party. Perhaps the queen calls the empire to celebrate. Imagine that you’ve save the world and the Old Gods convene the grandest fairies of the planes to reward you and the world for the success.
Inspiration for Characters
You can also spin things the other way. Search real world festivals and holidays and turn them into you own character concepts. Maybe your next Artificer is based the technomancers of Jingle Jangle. What Moon Druid isn’t dedicated to the thirteen full moons? Before you became a hero were you a carnival barker? Your next D&D character could be the expert marksman brought in as a ringer, or the strongest person in the world.
Every birthday, holiday, or real world festival is an opportunity for character creation. So create. I’m certain that Awf’s birthday is coming up. Everyone’s favorite axe-wizard is going to party like the elf-raised dwarf he is – I don’t know what that means yet.
How do you integrate festivals, holidays, and birthdays into your D&D games?