The First, Best, and Worst D&D characters series is switching to Fridays. Since I celebrate Easter, I decided to skip Easter weekend and give myself a break, eat candy, and do other Easter things within my family’s traditions. This made it a good time to switch my articles to a different day of the week, so you won’t have to go two whole weeks without an article.
Speaking of Easter, what affects do holidays have on your campaigns? Do you write holiday-based adventures, like specials on TV? Do you skip any sessions that fall near a holiday, or do most of your players not celebrate anyway?
In any case, this is a good time to talk about holidays in Dungeons and Dragons Worlds. While any world will likely have its own set of holidays based in a unique history, religion(s), and culture, how much thought does a DM actually put into these holidays? In my limited experience, there are at least three approaches to adding holidays to D&D worlds. For simplicity’s sake, let us calls them the Historical Approach, the Event-Based Approach, and the Culture-Based Approach. If you have your own approach, I would love to hear about it in the comments!
The Historical Approach
The historical approach is often recommended for fantasy authors when writing a book in a new setting. After all, Dungeons Masters and Wizards of the Coast are not the only writers who create fantasy worlds. This approach involves taking your world’s history into account and making set holidays. You might know exactly which day of the year they fall on, or you might change around some details to make it interesting for the players.
For example, in my own homemade world, Ferella, I have a holiday called Rebel Victory Day, that celebrates the day that a militia group called “The Rebels” finally cast off invading forces that had plagued their land for many years. This holiday is based on a historical event that characters played through. This adds some color and a sense of history to the world, just like adding a monolith or the ruins of an ancient city. It also adds character that helps your characters feel invested in the world, whether they are the ones the holiday is based on, or whether they are simply celebrating it.
The Event-Based Approach
The event-based approach is similar to an event-based quest, as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. These holidays and celebrations are created to move the story along or get PCs exactly where you want them as part of the plot. They can also be designed to help Characters with an interesting idea. For example, your party might need a distraction to break into a castle, and discover that All Kings Day is coming up in two days. These festivities would be a perfect distraction for them, and the players have no idea you just made it up.
These events, while constructed for convenience and sometimes with haste, are no less real to your characters. They can be tied into your world’s history or culture, even if you have to invent the history to back up the holiday. This allows your characters to feel accomplished, as they are able to complete their task by manipulating factors in their environment. It can also be amusing to see how characters roleplay around a party, or to figure out how to roleplay it if you are the character.
The culture-based approach means creating holidays that fit cultures. These holidays will likely change in each settlement, race, or kingdom, not only in what they are celebrating but in how. For example, a music-based desert village full of bards might have a singing competition or bring out a particular magical flute that causes visions. Your elves might have a drink that allows you to breathe fire, but only works in winter. Thus, it is only drunk during your winter holiday. As a baseline, you can assume that most cultures have a winter holiday and at least one holiday to celebrate the harvest. There may also be holidays based on religions or other customs in the area.
These types of holidays can be roleplayed as part of downtime or as a break for characters between quests. They let characters collect information and learn about the cultures of the land. You might choose to give some background knowledge to a bard or scholar, passing them a note or whispering in chat to let them know about the origins of a festival, or telling them what will happen next during the celebration. That player will feel like their class choice was worthwhile, and that extra bit of roleplaying knowledge can help make up for that time they crit failed during combat, or the time their squishy wizard was knocked out by a lowly goblin.
How do you celebrate holidays in your world? Do you prefer one way of creating holidays over another? Do you have an entirely different way of creating holidays? If you liked this post or are interested in fantasy holidays, please leave a comment below!