Craft Custom Holidays for your RPG Campaign


’Tis the season for holiday specials, so why not bring some of the magic to your roleplaying game campaigns as well? Using an existing holiday from your game’s setting or crafting a new holiday of your own can provide a fun change of pace for the campaign, lend a sense of verisimilitude to the game world, and help your players celebrate the season in a unique way.

The Reason for the Season

Holidays come about for many different reasons. Cultures mark transitions that are meaningful to them, be they the changing of the seasons or years or the progression through different stages of life, such as birth, coming-of-age, marriage, or death. Civilizations will commemorate important battles, independence movements, and pivots from one epoch to the next. People also come together to celebrate things that are meaningful to them: big harvests, ideals such as love, famous individuals, and beloved institutions.

When designing your own holidays, consider the setting’s history, climate and geography, organizations, cultures, mythologies and the important transitions, events, and concepts associated with those things. You’ll need to invent a reason for the holiday or festival, as well as devise ways in which the celebrants observe it. Is the overall mood of the holiday joyous and light, or is it somber and reflective? How long does it last, and why does it last that long? Cultural elements such as food, dance, art, and fashion typically have symbolic associations: eating long noodles to promote a long life, for example, or wearing a special type of dress evocative of the memorialized times. Festivals bring together these cultural elements with special market days, games and competitions, parades, and technology. Rituals performed in secret or for the masses help to mark the occasion or perform necessary functions for society or the world.

In a fantasy setting, holidays can be more than merely symbolic: in order for magic to function or to maintain the blessings of a certain deity, specific prayers, artifacts, and sacrifices might be required. In science fiction settings, you can dig deeper into the tone of the setting by portraying a milestone like “first contact” as a day of triumph or a day of mourning for different species/worlds. In a cyberpunk setting, you could highlight the ideal of rampant consumerism espoused by megacorps in the form of a no-holds-barred shopping spree one day a year.

Popular RPG settings come with their own holidays tied to setting elements the developers deemed important. The Forgotten Realms setting has Highharvestide and Shieldmeet, while Golarion has festivals like the Night of the Pale and Seven Veils, and Rokugan has the Bon Festival and the Chrysanthemum Festival. Check your campaign sourcebooks or browse the associated fan wikis to find out what holidays exist in your game world’s setting. For real-world or alternate-history settings, you can research holidays from different cultures and time periods, and then modify them to suit your campaign.

The Archmage got Run Over by a Reindeer

As fun as it is to participate in holidays in our daily lives, including holidays in roleplaying games isn’t as simple as showcasing the customs. The players will quickly grow bored if their characters are merely going through the motions of the holiday—that is, until you can introduce conflict into the equation.

To involve the PCs, allow them to assist in a problem or challenge faced by the holiday organizers or celebrants. If tournaments or competitions are a hallmark, design and run the events the PCs would need to partake in to become the champion. Perhaps the PCs’ normal patrol duties become further complicated when they must pursue a suspected criminal through a bustling festival or parade snaking its way through the city. In fantasy setting where rituals are important to preserving magical stability, charge the PCs with recovering a vital artifact or protecting a sacred vigil or ceremony site from monsters or rival factions.

If you want to make for an even more meaningful holiday adventure, you could take into account the underlying themes of the holiday. If you are inventing a new midsummer holiday, you could extrapolate the power of the sun/light and heat/fire to themes such as illumination/revelation, destruction, passion, and transformation. When you design your scenario, include characters, locations, items, or scenarios that embody the themes you want to reinforce.

Decking the Dungeon Halls

Even if you aren’t creating an actual in-game holiday, you can still borrow elements of real-world special occasions. Game masters can color their regularly planned adventures with a splash of seasonal trappings, or they might enjoy designing a one-shot game session that takes the tropes of a given celebration and twists them into something fresh and funny. Include special consumable magic items such as mistletoe sprigs that confer the Charmed condition or cookies that provide temporary hit points. Alternatively, try your hand at staging a Krampus or corrupted Rudolph boss fight in a snowy set-piece encounter.

No matter how the holidays manifest in your game, you can always enjoy the new memories that you’ll make—and perhaps you’ll even create a new gaming tradition for your group!

What tips do you have for creating and using holidays in your RPG campaigns? What seasonal traditions does your gaming group share? Share your stories in the comments below!

Image Credit: CBS

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes