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© 1998-2001 Dru
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Well, it's getting toward
holiday time again, and a real roleplayer just has to pause and think
... "how can I use this in a game?"
The first holidays I
ever saw observed in an RPG were characters' birthdays. Most people, on
rolling up a character—or at least on seeing a world's calendar
for the first time—will immediately figure out their character's
birthday. If nothing else, this helps players keep track of their characters'
ages, and a wily GM will make certain that the characters celebrate each
others' birthdays, thus forcing them to spend or give away precious magic
items and treasure on birthday presents! (Truly wily GMs make sure the
NPCs in the group also have birthday parties, so that some of the treasure
ends up actually leaving the adventuring group.)
But there's a lot more
that you can do with holidays.
Every human culture
has celebrated some sort of holiday (if nothing else, in the literal sense
of "holy day"), and it makes sense to assume that every sentient
race is likely to have some special days of observance. Putting holidays
into your RPG gives you a great chance to add more racial and cultural
flavor to your campaign world (e.g., make life as awkward as possible
for the PCs as they try to interact with a tribe in the midst of its Midsummer
week of feasting), work adventures around special holiday observances
(e.g., a murder mystery during the masked fetes of Carnevale), and permit
your characters to interact in new ways (e.g., shopping for presents,
There are three basic
types of holidays—religious, secular, and personal. I've kept the
descriptions very generic so you can choose the ones that will work best
in your own campaign and tailor them accordingly.
Religious Holy Days
These holy days should vary by religion—for every religion you have
in your campaign, different holy days should be celebrated (and religions
divided by schisms may have even more). Religious holy days can be celebrated
by clerics only (for smaller observances) or by clerics and congregation
(for larger observances). They may be days of celebration—feasting,
merriment, and goodwill—or days of deprivation—fasting, meditation,
Cycles: Many holy days fall on new or full moons, equinoxes or
solstices, or even (if predictable) eclipses and the passage of comets
or showers of meteors.
People: Other holy days can celebrate the lives of prophets,
avatars, priests, saints, and other holy people. These days typically
fall on the anniversary of the person's birthday or day of death, although
other important events in the person's life may be days for celebration,
A holy day may be observed in remembrance of a miracle (and, in turn,
miracles may be more likely to occur on holy days). Miracles for one church
may be disasters for another, if the two were at odds with each other,
or churches may view the same event as miracles particular to their own
religion, or have differing interpretations of a single event within the
same religion in the case of a schism.
Holy days may also be celebrated specifically to commemorate some ideal
behavior or emotion, for example, peace, love, motherhood, etc. The ideal
so celebrated will probably be associated with the religion that has made
it a holy day.
Secular holidays are
specific to groups, tribes, towns, cities, realms, nations, or even worlds.
Usually a secular holiday is a day of celebration, not deprivation. Secular
holidays may come about by decree of a ruling body or may generate naturally
from grassroots observances.
Events: Most cultures have some sort of celebration of a victory
in war, to remember fallen soldiers, to celebrate the signing of a treaty,
and so forth. It seems logical to assume that military holidays will be
celebrated with a show of military force, perhaps in a parade of warriors.
from Disaster: Some cultures may celebrate the anniversary of
the end of some terrible event, such as a famine, flood, earthquake, and
so forth. For this celebration to last more than a few years after the
event, the disaster would have had to have been extremely memorable.
Communities may also celebrate ideals such as peace, love, motherhood,
family, childhood, and so forth. The ideal would be something important
to the region.
Events: Communities may celebrate natural events that are important
or awe-inspiring to them—for example, planting and harvest; the
salmon run; the annual flooding of a great river; the shortest day of
the year and the longest day of the year; and so forth.
Communities may celebrate special days of trade in the form of bazaars
or trade fairs. This would be more likely in premodern societies where
merchants, farmers, and artisans might travel a distance to meet once
or twice a year to trade.
Individual events may
be celebrated by members of the same religion, the same country, or just
by individuals. For example, religious or secular leaders' birthdays,
weddings, and funerals may well be declared holidays for the relevant
religious group or country.
Most communities consider a day of birth something to celebrate. A similar
celebration might observe a special naming day or other recognition of
the child into the community.
of Age: Many communities will have some sort of rite of passage
to welcome children into adulthood. For human women, this is often traditionally
associated with the onset of puberty; human men have a less clear-cut
division between childhood and adulthood. Other stages in the life-cycle
may also be observed, depending on the culture and race (e.g., attainment
of elder status).
If there is a formal bond established between mates in a race or culture,
it is likely to be celebrated by some sort of observance. Marriage anniversaries
may or may not be observed, and the dissolution of a marriage may or may
not involve some sort of ceremony.
A sentient creature's death is likely to be observed in some fashion,
at least to the extent of eliminating the corpse (through burial, cremation,
cannibalism, etc.). The observance may be marked by mourning or celebration,
and may be very simple or very elaborate, depending on the culture.
Describing special holidays
is one more way to make a campaign interesting and "real" to
the players. Holidays can be used to differentiate between gangs, townships,
or alien cultures; they can be the focal point of adventures; they can
be used to pry money out of the characters' hands. GMs should not only
develop their own celebrations, but suggest that players contribute a
few, too—this can be especially rewarding in an ethnically or religiously
diverse gaming group, where players can draw on a variety of experiences
and ideas. And, hey, if nothing else, it might make a fun party-game for
your next gaming-group holiday party!
originally written December 7, 1998
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