December is one of those times in the year when religious festivals loom large. Such communal worship is often absent from our games. Large festivals are generally treated as plot devices in a campaign. However, in a setting with multiple deities, there should be frequent minor festivals.
The tables in the article help the GM create small festivals with just a few dice rolls. These could be festivals for minor deities and cultural heroes. Possibly the festivals represent minor myths involving the central gods. In a large city belonging to a pantheistic culture, there will probably be a minor festival held almost every week.
The process of creating a minor festival involves three rolls to establish when the festival takes place, the nature of the worship and the actions of the worshippers. There is a lot of overlap between the last two categories, so weave them together to create a distinct festival. The three tables are:
A festival happens at a specific time of the day or night. You may want to pick a time suitable to the nature of the deity so that a solar god is worshipped at noon or a lunar goddess is worshipped at moonrise. However, there is no reason why a minor festival for a deity could not happen at a “less-favourable” time. Weaving the theme of the deity into the story of the festival is discussed further below.
In conjunction with the timing of the festival, you may want to determine the duration. If the description of the festival does not suggest a clear duration, such as overnight or all day, then assume it lasts 1d6-2 hours. Treat any result of 0 or less as a 1-hour festival.
The second aspect of a minor festival is the nature of the worship conducted by the participants. These actions are performed as a direct expression of their devotion to the deity. This is the personal communion between the individual and the divine spirit. Should any of the worshippers be possessed with the essence of their god, then this is where it would manifest.
Most festivals are a combination of many of these devotions. Prayer, song and storytelling are common features of every festival. The outcome of this table denotes the highlight of the festival, the aspect of the ceremony which represents the primary link between worshipper and deity. As always, the GM should tailor the exact nature of the content to the theme of the deity.
Closely linked to the previous table, the central action to the festival forms the core of the ceremony. If the devotion links the worshipper to the deity, then the action is the part of the festival which binds the community together. As an outsider, it is the action of a festival which is most noticeable, while the worshippers may value the devotion aspect more.
|1||Appease household spirits|
|5||Decorate holy place|
|6||Entertain wilderness spirits|
|10||Feed neighbourhood spirits|
|11||Honour the ancestors|
|12||Parade holy statue|
|13||Prepare symbolic food|
|16||Reverse social order|
|20||Wear sacred colour|
Using these Tables
The combination of the three outcomes produces a range of festivals. Thus, appeasing household spirits with music is likely to be a serene, peaceful ceremony. In contrast, appeasing household spirits with dance is a much livelier festival, perhaps with a line of dancers weaving through every house in the village. Combine all the elements of the festival together to create a unique method of worship.
The final aspect of every festival is the thematic link to match the worship to the deity. Thus, the celebratory dance for a warrior god will be a spear dance performed by warriors, while the dance for a spring goddess features young children dancing through the fields with flowers in their hair. If the narrative of the festival can be tied to a myth featuring the deity, then this is even better. These communal re-enactments of myths make your gaming cultures more distinct and allow the Players to learn more about the mythology without having to read through extensive campaign wikis.
Scaling up a Festival
The aim of these tables is to create small festivals for minor gods in your pantheon or lesser festivals of the major gods. However, you can also use these tables as the starting point for a major festival. Increase the duration to all day, if not spread over several days. Combine several methods of devotion and a couple of actions into a large public ceremony. Weave in a suitable theme, preferably one with an epic story about vanquishing armies, saving the cosmos or establishing a major feature of the setting.
If religion is a major part of your in-game cultures, then there will be multiple festivals scattered throughout the year. These tables quickly generate a small festival for minor gods or a lesser festival for the major gods. The presence of these festivals add flavour to your cultures and provide simple ways for the Players to learn more about the local pantheon. I must weave more of these into my campaign.
What local festivals appear in your game? Are there any types of worship I missed from the tables? How do your Players react to small festivals in your setting? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
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