Happy New Year! I thought that in keeping with the holiday spirit, I’d talk a bit about using holidays in your campaign world. Holidays are a great
opportunity for you to make your campaign world a little more real to your players. Holidays let you demonstrate that your world isn’t static; time passes, seasons change, and the people of the village don’t exist just to sell beer, swords, and healing to the player characters.
Holidays and festivals are also good vehicles for reminding your players that they’re in a different world, one with its own unique flavor. This is why I’m not a fan of mixing our familiar traditions with my fantasy world. It’s all well and good to have Christmas trees and Santa Claus with goblin elves in World of Warcraft, but I don’t want that in my “serious” campaign world.
Fortunately, there are plenty of real world but obscure traditions that one can draw upon for inspiration—elvers, for instance. (Okay, maybe this isn’t that obscure for those of you in the UK, but to me, it was sufficiently odd to incorporate into my fantasy world.) Elvers are young eels that make their way up European rivers from the Sargasso sea in the springtime. Apparently, there used to be quite a few of them, they were considered quite tasty, and festivals would spring up in riverside towns in response to the yearly arrival of the elvers.
This makes a perfect event to inject a little color into your world. One can imagine all sorts of elver stews and pies, tavern owners jockying for the prime catch, others cooking from up tents pitched down near the river, bands playing, ale flowing…you get the point. All of this underscores that the fantasy villagers have lives of their own, and that the world is real and bigger than the player characters.
For those of us in the US, the notion of a festival built around eel migration is sufficiently bizarre to make it work in a fantasy world, yet it doesn’t cross over into goofiness. For other ideas, I’ve compiled a short list of links at the end of this article.
Holidays and Festivals in Your Game
I think the key to using this technique is to not overdo it and not expect too much out of it. Like adding salt to a dish, it enhances the experience without necessarily calling attention to itself. An elver festival isn’t likely to be the most memorable moment of your campaign (at least, I’d hope not). It’s that occasional sprinkle of flavor, though, that over time, helps your players more fully visualize the world their characters inhabit, so that when the truly memorable events occur, your players can see them vividly and remember them for years to come.
More inspiration (mostly non-wiggly)
The Year of Eating Dangerously: A Global Adventure in Search of Culinary Extremes