Feasts and Festivities – Part OneNovember 2, 2018 Off By TK
Welcome back, adventurer, to the first installment of a new series to expand and enhance your players’ immersion in the tabletop adventure that you are guiding them through. This week, we’ll be getting started with some ideas for feasts and festivities (or, dare I say, “feastivities”) that even the newest players will recognize as “passably historical”. This series best serves those telling a story in a medieval or pre-modern setting, but could easily be re-skinned for a post-apocalyptic society or alien world.
So let’s get to it!
Meat’s Back on the Menu, Boys
Introducing food is one of the simplest ways to flesh out your world for the people at your table. Scribbling out a short menu of pseudo-medieval items for a tavern scene or a trip through the marketplace is a perfect way to make your players feel as though their characters are interacting with a living, breathing society. Most players expect to be occasionally greeted with a mug of ale or a loaf of oat bread, so it’s always good to keep that sort of list on hand.
Consider taking your food a step further and doing a little research on different types of dishes that will fit your time period and setting. If your story is taking place on a tropical island, your players might find themselves confronted with more exotic dishes, such as brightly colored fruits, rice desserts soaked in palm wine, and ocean creatures like shark or jellyfish cooked in coconut milk stews over an open flame. Perhaps your story takes place on a frozen tundra, with sliced seal blubber, caribou jerky, and mousefood tubers in hearty supply. How expensive is clean water in an arid desert? What are the staples in the villages carved into the sides of steep mountains? In a fantasy world, your characters’ pallets can be tested further with a range of interesting non-human cultures, as well as monster meats and mystical plantlife. Sources such as the Monster Menu-All can help tremendously with this so that the cuisine in your world becomes unforgettable.
In the Woods There Grew a Tree
Who doesn’t love walking into a new town in the midst of a festival? The night is warm, the sun is sinking into the horizon, and colorful streams of lanterns are strung across the promenade, beckoning your PCs into the middle of a parade filled with outlandish masks and overpriced stalls of cheap souvenirs. The children are dressed in their finest (or perhaps not) and wine flows like…well, like wine. There is raucous music and dancing, and there may even be some sinister mystery lurking in the shadows of the abandoned alleys. Even better, these holidays can be as richly detailed as a grand masquerade of shifty nobles or as humble as a rural market with garlands of wildflowers and a pie contest. It’s a perfect introduction to a lively new culture for your players to explore.
So, what is your festival for?
The oldest and most highly venerated holidays typically revolve around the seasons, with four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter) in temperate climates and two seasons (wet/dry or light/dark) for equatorial and polar climates. This knowledge gives you a foundation for the celebration, but it also gives your players information about weather, the time of year, and the values of the locals. What challenges can they expect in a city that worships the dancing lights during a month of darkness? In a village where the fall harvest demands a blood sacrifice of strangers, how will your party of low-level heroes fare? Are they caught off guard by the solstice in the southern hemisphere, where it snows during what “should” be summer? As you can see from the questions we answered and then discovered anew, a festival can be an excellent alternative to your “introductory tavern scene” for your first session.
That’s all for this week, adventurers! Next week we’ll discuss infusing your festivals with spiritual significance and developing dishes with significance to the settings and story.
About The Author
TK is a speculative fiction writer and part-time eldritch horror. They can be found as a cast member of The Demonplague, Unearthly Twilights, The Land Between Two Rivers, and Hell’s Belles on the Don’t Split the Podcast, WebDM, and Dungeons & Dragons networks, respectively. Their gothic and cosmic horror stories can be found at tkjwrites.com and very soon in print in a collaborative set of short stories and comics with artist Kayla Cline. TK themself can be found on Twitter @tkjoinsthefray.