Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hitting the Folk Festival Circuit

The dark ages were rife with looters and jam bands.
So, I plan on borrowing heavily from existing adventures for my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign, to include using Peter Spahn's Blood Moon Rising and Raggi's own No Dignity in Death: Three Brides.  Folk Festivals feature prominently in both adventures and I reckon I'll be using both of these fairly early in the campaign.  What I like about adventures during festivals is that they are a wonderful backdrop and provide additional opportunities for competition/roleplaying that normal day-to-day operations do not.

As I reflect on my gaming experience, I think about cool dungeons and other modules, but the ones that were the most visceral were the adventures that took place during festivals.  Anyone remember B6 - The Veiled Society?  The adventure itself isn't all that awesome but it has some really interesting imagery, not the least of which is the players being introduced to the main factions of the town by virtue of a street brawl that breaks out during the Festival of Lucor ("Bald-headed fool!  Do you Torenescu think you own the street?").  When I look back at the modules I loved, B6 always comes back, even though I look at it as a very linear and predictable adventure.  It's amazing how powerful some marketing (Oh, come on, those purple cowls looked AWESOME back in 1985) and a dramatic opening can make you forget the mediocrity of the plot.  Good lord, I just realized how much I sound like Jerry Bruckheimer there.  *facepalm*

Fire!  Entertainment AND Punishment!
The classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventure Shadows over Bogenhafen also worked a festival into play.  This festival was a bit better for the players, because it has a lot of little side encounters.  When I went through it as both a player and a GM, someone from the party entered the archery contest as well as the wrestling bout (Come to think of it, I think we ADDED the archery contest...).  It gave the players a feeling that the festival was alive and not just a plot device.  What's nice about festivals is that you can truly find something for all of the players.  Your fighter types can take part in wrestling matches or stylized fighting tournaments, your nimbly sneaky types can take part in the games of chance and skill, and anyone can participate in these events.  I've introduced NPCs as fellow competitors, who evolved into patrons or antagonists.

Even if you have the players as spectators to a festival (as in the second part of Three Brides), it's important to give them some kind of investment.  Side bets, anyone?  Or maybe they know one of the participants and are there for moral support.  Maybe they can just make a buck, through legitimate minstrel work (barding? minstrelry?) or illegal thievery.  The size of the festival matters here--the Festival of Lucor in Specularum would provide much more cover for illicit action than Pembrooketonshire's Great Games.

So, you can have plot hooks, competition, and money-earning potential at festivals.  What else is there?
I don't even know why I bothered to put a caption here.
SUBPLOTS!  Exactly what I was thinking.  If you have crunchier players who are more interested in swordplay and the like, you don't need to worry too much about sub-plots.  However, if you have players who want their characters to be balanced personalities, the festival is a great place to advance the subplot.  Your character has amorous intentions toward a lovely lass?  Well, ask her to the Frolic in the Fall Foliage dance!  Does someone else have identical intentions towards said lovely lass?  Challenge that rambunctious rake to an honor duel!  Why am I alliterating so much?  I blame Havoc and Chaos.

Of course, not all festivals require a nefarious backdrop (all four I mentioned trigger a much more insidious plot).  Sometimes a festival is just a festival.  Pendragon uses tournaments extensively in the Great Pendragon Campaign (which, I cannot lie, intimidates the hell out me, but you can't deny it's an amazing monstrosity of campaign goodness), which just serve to promote your character's social standing.

Festivals are a great tool.  Even if you've only seen the video for "The Safety Dance" or been to a Renaissance Faire once, you can picture what's going on.  It's a bit easier to relate to than delving into a slimy moldy dungeon.  The opportunities are varied and exciting.  I'd love to hear how you've used festivals in your games.  Until then, cheers!