Creating a Meaningful Festival

With summer in full swing, I think that now is the perfect time to talk about major holidays of our wonderful worlds, and no doubt, the biggest holiday for our PCs can, and should be, GAME DAY! Of course, I’m not talking about our own game days, but the big summer festival for our characters. We’ll discus what to do with it, and how to use it in your game. Now, in order to have this be a yearly event, we must make sure that we have set up and are using our handy dandy calendars.

There are two big festivals of the year which aren’t necessarily religious based. Generally these take place in the Winter and the Summer. Winter festivals generally revolve around eating and drinking, but the Summer Festival, well this one is all about showing off.

Villages and Cities all have their own festivals which are designed by the leaders to please and entertain everybody. It gives a chance to compete, enjoy life, gamble, and be merry. Tradesmen show off their wares and judge their fellows, especially in large cities where there is real competition. Some trades have games to see who is the fastest, strongest, or luckiest at what they do, but generally these won’t effect the PCs who are, by trade, adventurers. What will get their blood running is true competition! Competing with each other and rivals for prizes and glory!


Archery tournaments were big fun, and anybody could enter. The larger the city, the larger the prize. Really big tournaments required paying for entry. The format is always the same, all day long archers compete with each other, the top scorers making it to the next round until there are just two final archers, then the champion is decided.

D&D rules for determining scores are fairly simple. Each archer shoots 5 arrows, the target is AC 10, all archers have a –5 to their attacks. A miss is 0 points, a hit is worth 1 point, if you roll 5 over what you need to make your attack roll, you get 5 points. A natural 20 is worth 10 points.

The final round is different, it uses a smaller target, one which is AC 4, but uses the same system for scoring.


Depending on how much time you want to spend on this (which probably isn’t much), just assume that all characters who wish to enter make it into the finals. You can generate 1d6 good archers which stand a chance against the PC. Next, we have to determine their levels, roll 1d100, 1-30 = 2 levels lower then the highest level PC. 31-50 = 1 level lower. 51-60 = same level. 61-75 = 1 level higher then PC. 76-00 = 2 levels higher then the highest level PC.

Each phase of the tournament will eliminate half the competitors (round down), until just two are left, then the target is changed to the AC 4 and the winner wins the prize.


Sometimes cash is up for grabs, but what is really going on is to prove that you are the best. A winner of a local tournament will be welcome to move to a larger location next year. Often the prize will be a golden arrow which can be used as proof of skill later on. An tournament winner can expect to get paid more for their services, improve morale of the troops they fight with, be given high class jobs, and possibly be recognized by nobility for excellence, either way your name will surely be out there.

By following these rules, you can use them for basis of other competitions, even friendly gambling wagers at bars. Throwing Daggers, darts, blow guns, slings, any missile is fair game.


Elven societies and other social groups who prize archery will attract a better class of spectator, and better prizes. It won’t be as big of a crowd as the main attraction, but it could include a minor noble or two, even amongst the competition.


The next most important event of the festival was wrestling. Again, anybody could enter, this is unarmed combat, however noblemen rarely did as nobody wants to get beat by lesser men. Another problem with local wrestling competitions is Professionals. Huge men which chose wrestling as their livelihood. They would show up to these things and just clean house.

Wrestling is handled exactly the way it is listed in the PHB. This may include martial arts, or boxing depending on your campaign. To save time you can just have the PC wrestle a few times, and then take on a professional of 1d4 levels higher, and always STR 18/00. Cash prizes are always awarded for this competition, however with martial arts much more then just cash can be on the line. Teaching positions are worth money, not to mention honor and greater status within ones discipline.


THIS was the cream of the crop. The event which NOBODY missed. It was dramatic and high entertainment. What other sport allowed the common man to sit in the presence of true Royalty. If a King makes but one true appearance per year, it will be at this time.

Entering this competition is much stricter then any other competition. Only nobles can enter, Paladins are always expected to enter, as are any knights. To skip out on this event is a slap in the face to whomever knighted you. One must have a very good reason, limited only to conquest, severe illness, and death to not show up and support your kingdom.

Knights are expected to provide their own mounts, arms, and to pay a large fee, which may be covered by one’s lord if the knight cannot afford his own way in. The fee should be 100 gp per level, this will entitle the knight to food, drink, and entertainment as well. But wise knights know to keep their heads for this, as much is on the line.

A knight who is eliminated early may lose his status, and all of his support which really isn’t that good of a thing. For this reason competition is fierce and nobody screws around. A knight who does well will win more then just prize money, he’ll prove himself worthy of additional troops, greater responsibility, the respect of his peers and serfs watching him battle, not to mention the King himself! When the Jousts start, the streets are empty as all eyes are on this competition. The final marks the end of the festival, and the winning knight is award anything from bejeweled weapons, to a kiss from the Princess (royal attention). The winner will close the ceremonies with his King and be allowed to celebrate in the Royal Palace that night, rubbing elbows with the kingdoms Elite. A big deal! But getting there isn’t all that easy.

A Joust can also be a private affair, an established knight may host one looking for Officers, the winner earning guaranteed work for life.


The goal of the joust is to dismount your opponent. Two riders race down a field, attempting to strike the other down with ones lance. Riders are broken down into random pairs (or not so random as it doesn’t take much of a stretch of one’s imagination to see how political this kind of thing can be). The losers are out, the winners move on. If need be, a loser will return to face a winner to keep everything equal. They call this “fighting the bye” and it is a coveted spot because no matter if you win or lose against the bye you still move on to the next round. A manipulative knight will always attempt to connive his way into fighting the bye as many times as he can, while a noble knight will not be pleased by it.

Many joust winner are awarded a crown of flowers, which they give to a lady of their choosing from the spectators, and this lucky lady will be the knights date for the noble feast later that evening.


The joust will be handled with (hopefully) blunt weapons. Blunted lances dish out only 25% real damage, and 75% temporary, which can be naturally healed quicker with rest. All other rules of mounted combat with lances apply.


Dance and Song are always present, as is drinking and food which leads to loose tongues (read new adventure hooks) Tradesmen also set up stalls, and provide items for sell which normally wouldn’t be available. Adventurers can easily find henchmen, sell hard to fence items for a really good price, buy specialty equipment for fair prices, get armor fixed up on the cheap, blades professionally sharpened, items repaired, clothes for a fraction of the cost they would normally pay for them, and if you are a really nice DM, allow them to level up for free.

I’ve been tossing the idea of players buying experience points. 2 gp = 1xp. The logic would be that skilled folks of class would be at the festivals giving seminars and classes and such. A festival would be the perfect place to find even a 20th level NPC who is willing to train. Selling NWP also isn’t out of the question, 100gp per level, per point. 1 point earned per Festival. Of course I’d have to decide if a specific NWP was available or not, and these would be available regardless of open slots or not. I never bought the fact that a 3rd level warrior could learn a new NWP while a 4th level one can’t. If you’ve got the money, then I’ve got the time. Anything to get rid of access gold, and this way the players could actually see were their money is going and effect them in the long run.

They will also make a note to attend all festivals, and adventure to afford the things that they want from them. If they wish to compete, then cool, if they just want to learn a new skill or better their chances of leveling up, that is cool too.


Sitting around and just rolling dice for the hell of it isn’t much fun, there should be other stuff going on at these things then just merriment. I remember playing one game which was tough, a Black Knight was hosting a competition and I was ordered to go in as a spy. I had to win all of the jousts, and spent my off time sneaking around his castle trying to find out what this guy was up to. IT WAS HARD! I was getting so beat up by the tournament, then I had to turn around and sneak around this castle. Running into monsters was always a risk because if I fought it, and lost even a hit point, it could ruin my chances of winning the next joust and failing in my mission.

A good DM will know how to use this as a spice to flavor his session, because, after all all this is is a setting. A colorful background which triggers even more ideas. Carnivals, bring rogues and swindlers, gypsies and bards. It also brings out the nuts, folks trying to sell yak vomit as healing potions, zealots using it as a stage to preach the apocalypse, fill it up with colorful characters and special opportunities and it will provide you with some fun now and then to really bring your calendar to life. This festival can last for at least a month, but it is up to you and your players to determine how much time is good for you to spend in it. A good rule of thumb is that, like life, once the money dries up then it is probably best to be getting out of town before you are ran out.


Kevin Mac said...

Thank God for my decades of Ren Faire experience. Not only has it helped my game in general be what it is (which is awesome), but I love letting the PC's hang out at Faires and festivals. So easy for me at this point to just wing it on things that are happening there.

RipperX said...

Excellent advice Brunomac, & a great way to go about doing homework!

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