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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Celebrations of Life and Death

I was going to skip today's post, because it's my birthday, and I don't work on my birthday. Instead I started thinking about birthdays, weddings and funerals, and how rarely they're featured in RPGs. Sure there are many games where they don't fit the play style, but where appropriate they can add color and depth to the campaign.

The average game group features four or five main characters and a host of NPCs, major and minor. If you take all those and lay out their dates of ritual importance on a calendar, you'll quickly discover, as I did, that the days fill up very quickly. Now there's no reason to turn these dates into full fledged encounters or game-shattering events, but they can add some flare and help develop your NPCs into more believable characters. Here are a few examples of how this idea can be used:

Birth and Growth
  • The party's favorite merchant is a new father. He follows the tradition of announcing his child's birth and offering wine to all visitors to his shop on the third day of the child's life. Guests usually give a small gift of silver coin as a token of congratulations.
  • A favored hireling asks the group's priest to oversee a young cousin's initiation into the family's religion, a task that will require a trip to the cousin's small outlying village.
  • The village celebrates the annual coming of age festival in the late spring after the crops are planted. A public feast followed by a drunken celebration brings business in the village to a standstill. There are usually two or three children conceived as a result of the festival, callously referred to as Crop Kids.
  • A wedding is a good excuse for a Festival especially if the couple has high place in society.
  • Of course weddings aren't always happy affairs. Consider the early scene in Tombstone where a wedding becomes the setting for a bloody and violent confrontation.
  • Anniversary celebrations are easily ignored by everyone but the married couple. Woe betide the spouse that forgets an anniversary. Perhaps the group is hired to obtain the perfect gift for a nervous spouse, providing an adventure with a built in deadline.
  • Adventurers are quite familiar with death (usually). It's funny how rarely it's rites and rituals are integrated into play. A funeral is a good way to bring closure to a story arc (the death of a nemesis or a sponsor) or start another (the appearance of a vengeful relative of the fallen).
  • Something as simple as an annual visit to a grave site on the anniversary of a parent's death becomes a challenge when the adventurers are miles away. Failing to pay homage might have no real effect, but appearances can be just as important as magical powers. The disrespectful son or daughter might find themselves treated with disdain or anger by their relatives or friends.
  • Of course dungeon crawling player characters often find themselves in situations dispassionate observers would classify as grave robbing. Sure they might be really old graves, but how are the locals going to react to a bunch of outsiders trying to pawn funerary objects?
So there you have it, some random ideas about celebrations of life and death to add to your campaign. I hope you find something here you can use. Me, I'm off to enjoy my birthday (leave your gifts of silver to the right -- *grin*).
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