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Festivals of Light
Tracy Hurley

A s the northern hemisphere prepares for its longest nights of the year, it's no surprise that our attention and celebrations often turn towards lights—whether its ancient form of an open flame or as the more modern LED. And for many of us, this time of year is filled with light-filled holidays and commitments, at times pulling us away from the gaming table.

How to handle this as a group isn't always clear. Those able to be play during this time might want to bring the spirit of the season into their games, or at least wish to explore ways to add winter-themed festivities.

So in that spirit, let's explore holidays both out of game and in!

Dealing with Holidays as a Group

For some, this time of year can be full of festivities. The close clustering of New Year's, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, and other celebrations can all take their toll on some groups. While not every culture has holidays around this time of year, many still have a time of year where it's just not easy to get a group of friends together and roll some dice.

Need some ideas on what to do?

  • As The Learning DM suggests, many groups take a hiatus for a few weeks, move to games with less prep such as board games (a suggestion echoed on the Geek's Dream Girl blog), or indulge their passion for D&D in a more asynchronous format, such as play-by-post (PbP). The Rule of the Dice blog adds play-by-blog to the growing list of ways to play in this format. An example of 4th Edition play can be found on MilwaukeeJoe's Grind4e blog. And the Omnipotent Eye has some great advice for how to play by forum.
  • An article a couple years ago on Dungeons' Master lists suggestions for getting your D&D fix including reading D&D novels, catching up on blogs, recruiting new players, or making a visit to your friendly local gaming store (FLGS). They weren't out at the time, but both D&D Encounters and Lair Assault can help scratch the gaming itch when the normal group is too busy to play.
  • Try your hand at creating content for the community. DailyEncounter.net is running a blog festival with a loot theme. In blog festivals or carnivals, someone picks a topic and others volunteer to write content around that theme. If you are interested in participating, contact them to let them know and then publish a post on the subject between December 24th and December 31st.

Adding Holidays to Your Game

Holidays can be a great way to add color and flair to your game as well as give players a break from the normal focus and tenor. Many gaming groups decide to bring real world holidays into their campaigns, especially around Halloween and in the winter. Others create ones unique to the game world.

Creating holidays around the actions of the PCs, especially the culmination of a major plot arc, gives the players a sense of achievement and the feeling that their characters are leaving a mark on the world. Perhaps the small town they saved holds a banquet to commemorate the anniversary of the closing of a portal to the Far Realm, or they encounter a band of kobolds who worships the group's dragonborn because years ago she showed mercy to their current leader.

Looking for more ideas?

  • In "Maybe it's not the Thought that Counts," Asmor offers a twist on the traditional gift exchange. Not only are the PCs each missing a prized possession, but another object takes its place.
  • Community members took a stab at adding some 4E holidays in this forum thread on RPG.net. The Day of Atonement and Dragon Day both seem fun.
  • In her "Kristmas Kobold Adventure," JayDot of the RPG Musings blog discusses building an adventure around the mythical Alpine Krampus. According to legend, he travels with Saint Nicholas. While St. Nick rewards the good children, Krampus warns and punishes the bad and may even cart off the truly naughty.
  • The Skyland Games blog has a 4E adventure based on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
  • Want to try your hand at designing a holiday? The prolific community site poster wrecan is running his 33rd Expert DM competition and the challenge is to create a holiday.

Examples of Winter Celebrations and Themes

Given the often bleak weather and the variety of myths and legends, it's not surprising that winter inspires a fair number of celebrations. If nothing else, the end of ever lengthening nights around the winter solstice provides a reason to celebrate. The cold weather and lack of sunlight means there's less time available for chores and work, and more time spent together with family and friends beside the fire.

  • Wikipedia has a wonderful list of winter celebrations, both in real life and in popular culture. The site also lists festivals of light. For Diwali, people light clay lamps to celebrate the victory of good over evil, a common theme in winter events. Many groups over a large area observe the holiday, leading to a fair amount of diversity in how they celebrate it.
  • ReligiousTolerance.org has a section dedicated to winter solstice celebrations past and present.
  • In September, Jim "twwombat" White organized a Winter is Coming blog festival. The participants created winter-themed content for the community. In particular, Adam Page contributed a number of winter festivals for the Nentir Vale.

Tavern Tales

  • The Dark Dungeon 2nd Edition blog has some tips for quick and dirty adventure building, starting with a beginning, an idea of what's at stake, an enemy, and an end. It continues with tips on adding color, allies, and a twist.
  • In Mouse-Guarding your 4e, Mark Meredith discusses shifting the meaning of rolls from deciding binary success or failure to creating complications and interesting failure.
  • Pace can be really important in a game. Evilgaz of The Smart Party blog provides some tips on how to keep the game moving forward.
  • Do you have someone who wants to be a guest or new player in an ongoing campaign but you're not in a position to introduce a new PC? The RPG Corner blog suggests having the player play an adversary.
  • Looking for inns and taverns to add to your game? The Fame & Fortune blog has a number of them, including location, NPC descriptions and food.
  • Some people like the simplicity in tracking that 4E minions offer, but feel that players defeat them too easily. Glimm the Gnome explores some alternatives in "Resolve: An Idea for Tougher Minions." Speaking of minions, the Roleplay-Geek blog brings the concept to OSR.
  • The Labyrinth blog offers free maps, many of them continents or islands.
  • Some players and DMs enjoy an improvisational game style. In the post, "The Art of 'Winging It'", Bill of the Mandragora blog presents some great tips on how to bring improv to your game.
  • Writer's block hits DMs just as much as novel writers. Susan J. Morris gathered tips to combat this from a number of well-known authors including Shelly Mazzanoble, Ed Greenwood and Erin Evans, and Kimberly Pauley, Paul Kemp, and Bruce Cordell.
  • In "Not Seeing It," ObsidianCrane looks at the 4E skills system, in particular the Perception skill, and suggests how to use the current rules in a way that encourages exploration.
  • At the end of November, Wizards of the Coast released a 4E adventure, "Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut." For those interested in cool terrain and maps, the Always a Gamer blog has instructions for creating a tile model of the hut.
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