Thursday, July 5, 2012

In-Game Holidays

Happy Day after July 4th!  Hopefully everyone got all or at least part of the day off to stand outside and sweat by a BBQ watching fireworks :)

Thinking about the reason for the season, as it were, got me thinking about holidays in other worlds.  People as far back as we can figure have had their own celebrations.  They've had special days that commemorate events, nature, the seasons, deities, and whatever else was important to them.  It follows, then, that your created world could have the same thing!

Due to scheduling, it's not always possible for a LARP to set aside a certain date for your holiday. But there's no reason why your world can't have a, say, mid-summer festival.  Or really any type of festival that commemorates a certain event around a certain time of year.  PCs, you could even start this off by recognizing a previous event you were a part of (Happy Day of the Dead Lich everyone!).  Then keep doing it at the same time every year.

This can add a lot to the in-game atmosphere.  Holidays are something that gives a people an identity, as what you celebrate says a lot about you.  Look at Americans - we've got quite a few days that others don't specifically share, like 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day; and that says a lot about what Americans have valued as the holidays were created.  Some days may be wild, some may be somber, but it can really help build your world and your NPCs.  If you only run a few events a year, these holidays could even be the reason for the gathering.  Rather than referencing the last "market day" or whatever your group uses, you could instead talk about what happened at your harvest festival, or last Dragonslaying Day.

As plot, I've always loved using holidays (maybe a bit too much) as inspiration for mods or other encounters.  If anyone remembers the 3-legged turkeys at Ashton around Thanksgiving, I apologize :)  But holidays can give you great ideas for mods where you need them.  In spring, maybe some potions at your Festival of Love got out of hand.  In the fall, maybe different groups need help harvesting.  After going to a lot of events, they can run together, so giving something a theme can make that game memorable. 

You can also use it as a reason to have games, contests, and other events.  Staff doesn't need to set it up, they can work with an interested PC to help it come up.  These can be contests of skill using in-game and out-of-game skills. I've found it's good to have both, so that people who are good at one or the other can still participate!  And don't leave out non-martial talents like art, baking, or performance.  This is fun for the players and also helps Staff take breaks as the games are going on so they can concentrate on other mods knowing the PCs are occupied.

I will say that this sort of all-out fair can't be done too often.  Every one of your events can't have contests of strength, as that can get boring - unless, of course, you've got a fun plot reason.  A town of barbarians may regularly see who's stronger to determine leadership or something. This could even evolve into a ritual of some kind - but I digress :)  In general I think the character that was the strongest at the June event will be the strongest at the July event, so in LARP time doing this once or twice a year makes more sense.  I think the specifics about running a game-day festival could be a whole new post, so I won't go into it more. 

You can also support the theme in other ways.  Have someone make a special Midwinter treat that you only make that time of year.  Give out little trinkets that represent the holiday.  Come up with traditions for your NPCs to mention, and even incorporate them in game.  Example:  If you have a day of remembrance, bring in one of your NPCs to lead a candlelight vigil, make a speech/toast, add new names to the banner of the fallen etc. This specific example double-dips, since it goes back to the post about remembering fallen characters (see what I did there)! :)

But what do you think?  Does your game have any regular festivals?  How can it work for you?


  1. One of my pet peeves is plot that is obviously based on out-of game holidays or events. (The springtime rabbit is here, and wants us to go find the colored eggs that he hid? What a shocker.)

    References to the out-of-game world naturally make the players think about the out-of-game world. Suddenly, the players are not immersed in the game but are instead thinking about the original context of your reference.

    (Side thought: I can imagine a game built to lampoon overused RPG stereotypes and common tropes. I wonder if it would work in general, and if referencing the world behind the fourth wall would work well in that situation.)

    As was brought up, there is great opportunity in seasonal plot that furthers understanding of and immersion in the world. It makes complete sense in a high fantasy world for there to be a harvest festival, or celebration of the solstice, and so on, and for there to be unique traditions associated with them.

    But please. No more chaos-tainted flying reindeer.

  2. I totally meant to respond to this post before now, I swear!

    In Madrigal, there is a complicated cosmology that connects to holidays and the calendar, and each event is considered to fall on a different IG holiday. So the June event is always Highsummer, which is when the Fae are most active, the October or November event is always the Festival of the Dead, when certain evil forces are more powerful, etc. Not that everything that happens is dictated by the holiday (that could easily become tiresome), but it gives it a sense of consistency, and kind of explains in-game why the 5 weekends a year we play are so action-packed.

    In Volta, one of the Nero games I play, the plot is very barbarian centric. Every two years, they have a moot where all the clans compete. This could easily get annoying if they just ran the same event every time, but the couple of times it's been done, the moot was executed very differently, and involved different kinds of tasks. Sometimes it was the center of the event, and sometimes it was just kind of a side thing.

    In a different nero game, some friends and I ran a fae plotline that had a lot of seasonal aspects, and we tried to create one or two scenarios where people were rewarded IG for decorating their cabins thematically, but in an IG fashion. So, not light up reindeer, but maybe pine boughs in the winter, or pumpkins and garlands of autumn leaves in the fall. Nothing too kitschy or OOG.

    As part of a national nero plotline, someone I know basically created a holiday that we sometimes jokingly call "Nero Christmas" (only OOG, of course). We had discovered some historical information about the founding of the IG location we were in, including the fact that five great gifts had been given in honor of the five noble families of the kingdom. The information just so happened to have been discovered on the winter solstice. The next year, one of the PCs invited everyone to a feast in honor of the founding of the kingdom, to be held on the solstice, where guests were encouraged to bring 5 gifts for other attendees. The tradition has continued for a few years now, and we've had a lot of fun with it. It's a cool way that incorporates the bits of the holiday that work well IG, without, you know, the flying reindeer.

    I agree that having regular IG events like holidays can really bring together your game world and make it feel more real and connected. It also gives PCs something to get excited about and plan for, even if they may not know what other plot is running.