If you’re worldbuilding festivals, you’ll know how rewarding they can be! After all, there’s a reason that so many great series, movies, and books use festivals in their storytelling. From Emperor’s Day in the Warhammer 40K Universe to Terry Pratchet’s Hogswatch, to Firefly’s Unification Day, Festivals offer so much drama, conflict, and storytelling possibilities! This blog has 5 ways you can use them to up your RPG campaign, your story, novel, or DnD adventure. I’ve even included some adventure hooks, and there’s a worldbuilding prompt challenge at the end, to help you put into practice what you’ve learned! (And if you’d rather watch a video, scroll down to find that, too!)
1. Worldbuilding Festivals into your story are exposition gold!
Festivals are a fantastic way to build exposition in your world! They’re amazing for setting seeds for your upcoming story, or just trying to get your players up to speed with your world! They can be a fantastic opportunity to drop some information in a fun, interactive way! Here are some things to consider.
For starters, what is the festival about?
If you want to explain how your cosmos works, why not set about worldbuilding festivals that celebrate the alignment of the two suns in your sky. Or perhaps choose a special festival of a deity, perfect to show players your pantheon? If there’s a critical piece of history in your story, say an ancient battle, maybe this is the celebration of its victory? Festivals allow you to deliver information in an interactive, immersive way that your players and readers can enjoy! You can keep things vivid, entertaining, and in motion whilst dropping information your players and readers will need later – and they’ll never even notice the exposition! After all, they’ll be too busy having fun!
Introduce exotic goods and far-off lands:
Festivals are a great way to showcase your world setting outside your active worldbuilding area (i.e. the bit that you’re actively using and building right now). You can use traveling merchants, imported goods, and even “exotic” entertainers (they may or may not turn out to be the genuine article) to make your world feel bigger than just the area of your campaign setting.
Introduce quirky local customs:
And on the other hand, how about introducing some fun, quirky local customs? Pancake racing, cheese rolling, jumping over babies, running from bulls and competitive conkers are all bizarre traditions in our world that give local flavor to festivals and celebrations!
Rather watch a video than read? Check out the video here for the basics, then get the details from the rest of the blog!
2. Festivals are great for creating mood and drama in your story
There’s nothing like worldbuilding festivals to inject mood into a settlement or culture. If you’re creating a dark, gritty campaign, you can have the festival be a memorial for a great defeat, an unholy celebration of an eldritch creature, or even something like Halloween, designed to scare off dark spirits. You might even have a bright, happy festival, with a sinister counter-festival that takes place in the sewers, or under cover of night.
On the other hand, you can make festivals feel lively and exciting with bright colours, fireworks, music and dancing, and other kinds of performances. There might even be challenges: races, sparring, and competitions for strongmen, archery, poetry and song! These are great ways to get your main characters or PCs immersed in the action too! Think of them as mini-games, ways for your characters to shine outside the main scenario. If you have a character who hasn’t had much limelight yet, this is a chance for them to shine. And the rewards from challenges like these can be great for later on in the story. They might range from reputation to new clothes, to magic items!
Pssst! If you’re looking for a place to organize and store your worldbuilding, make sure you check out World Anvil! It’s designed to help authors with their Series Bibles and Game Masters with their campaign setting.
3. Festivals increase the population, which leads to great adventure hooks!
Festivals often mean an influx of population – traveling markets, entertainment troupes, even extra security brought in from elsewhere! In simple terms, if something goes down, the stakes are higher because there are more people. Couple that with the fact that this increased population means that there’s a bigger payload on existing infrastructure (law enforcement and sewers are the big ones!) and you can see how things might start to bubble over – metaphorically or literally!
Adventure hooks for over-populated towns
An overfilled town is a great setting for all sorts of things to happen! Adventure hooks and inciting incidents you could use might be:
- A fight gets out of hand, and a bar-room brawl turns into a riot
- People are mysteriously getting sick in droves, and you discover that the water supply has been tainted
- In the hubbub of the festival, people have started going missing
- Each night since the festival began, a high-profile theft has taken place. There are only three nights left, and the guard suspects that, after that, it will be impossible to catch the perpetrator…
4. Festivals are a great way for characters to step outside their usual roles!
People behave differently in different situations – we know this, from our own lives – so throwing your characters into different situations is a great way to reveal different sides of their personality! Seeing your characters relax, indulge themselves, and enjoy the sights and sounds is a great way to explore how they behave in downtime, whilst still having an exciting scene to explore.
Festivals are also a great way to engineer interesting situations for your characters. What happens when the strong-and-silent type enters a drinking competition? Do they wind up spilling their secrets, or singing songs from their childhood? And how about when two characters who don’t get along are thrown together in a kayaking challenge? Can they overcome their differences, or do they end up paddling in opposite directions?
5. Festivals break up the status quo, and are a great way to introduce bizarre events in unlikely places!
Characters, even epic ones, often start out in small towns. It’s a legacy of the swine-herd to prince – or rags to riches – trope and it’s a great way to tell an amazing story! But when you need strange stuff to starts happening for your plot – and it never happened before – a festival can be a good reason why! Festivals, then, are a fantastic way to create a catalyst, inciting incident, or adventure hook for your characters, cince they’re a reason for surprising things to happen in a small, out-of-the-way place!
From visiting celebrities and dignitaries, to famous authors to archmages, important people will be drawn to a small town where a festival is taking place. And these characters or NPCs make important potential mentors! And with all the unique things happening, unusual people and strange goods will be piling into the town too. So if you’re looking for a good adventure hook for your next adventure, or an inciting incident for your story or novel, a festival might be the perfect fit!
Some worldbuilding festival adventure hooks:
- Increased trade in preparation for the festival has attracted bandits, pirates or even a more nefarious presence
- An explosion blows up half the town due to improperly stored fireworks/magical items
- An important person comes to the town for the festival and your PCs or main character impress them
- Supplies for the festival arrive, but they also carry a mysterious condition or illness
Worldbuilding Festivals – Challenge time!
Fancy putting your newfound knowledge into practice? Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is:
Follow this link to our worldbuilding festivals challenge to submit the prompt. Remember to think about how you can use the festival to set the mood and tone of your story or adventure, to drop a little exposition about something, and to up the stakes beyond normal! If you already have characters or PCs in mind, how will the festival challenge them? Or maybe give them an opportunity to explore another side of their personality?
And of course, you’ll also be able to check out other people’s answers there too, if people have chosen to make them public! You’ll be using the Traditions worldbuilding template which is full of prompts that will help you when worldbuilding festivals in detail! And once you’re done, you can share your article with your players and readers if you want to, or keep it secret! And of course, on World Anvil you can make everything look exactly as you want, and even include images, sounds, and random roll tables to make your festival feel more interactive for your players and readers!
So how about you? What’s your favorite use of a festival in fiction or games? Let me know in the comments below!