One of the things about small towns that sets them apart from the vast metropolises and great cities are the variety of small festivals that are held on a regular basis. unlike the larger communities, it isn’t entirely out of the question for most of the residents of a small community to know most, if not all of the other residents. In the larger villages, meeting someone they know at such a gathering is almost a certainty.
The Social Role of the Festival
One of the primary factors of festivals are to bring the poeple together. In most basic medieval settings, villages tend to be small and spread out, following agricultural models with small clusters of farms spreading out from town markets, all connected by a web of roads, though some of these roads might not be much more than a rutted path through the forest or across the grassland.
It is the festival that gives the agricultural minded community a chance to come together. Unlike the religous back holidays, or holy days, the primary activity is socializing with other folk. young couples would certainly be more likely to elope during a festival than at another time during the year. There are no family reunions as we know them now, but the festivals would again serve as a focus for such gatherings. Family in other villages and communities would certainly share room with visiting relatives for the idea of them attending the festival with the undertone of them leaving after the festival.
The final aspect allows the governing bodies of the small communities a chance to demonstrate what they can do. Militias are likely to stage parades or tournaments to demonstrate that they can protect the populace, while councils and barons would make shows of their generosity, often holding festival feasts, hiring entertainers, or the like.
The Economic Role of the Festival
Barter or coin based economy, if the people do not move and interact, there is no wealth generated. Small town festivals are chances for vendors and craftsmen to sell their wares to common folk who do not visit the markets on a daily, weekly, or even monthly visit. While through the regular part of a month, a pie cook might sell a few dozens pies, enough to get by, during the Strawberry Festival, he might sell enough strawberry pies to put money away enough to keep him up through the winter.
While the vendors are certainly in a position to make money, especially those who are located at the site of the festival, visitors are able to take advantage of the presence of the vendors to fill their needs. The farmer isnt goinf to take two days out of his schedule to take a mule to the village to find a smith to make him an extra ax-head and new bolts for his harness, but when he comes to town for the Festival of Dier Romaas, he would certainly take advantage of being in town to get those things.
The Religious Role of Festivals
Often serving as the basis of festivals, with most older festivals being Saint’s Days, the faith benefits from the festivals by having a number of people on hand for sermons, making offerings to the church/temple and other religious functions. Many marriages could also be held on such occasions since many family members would be present, and there is a jovial atmosphere to be had. In a medieval world, things like marriages bringing people from across the land is a thing of the elite and the noble, with commoners having to make do as best possible.
While funerals would not be held over until a festival, these could certainly be small memorial services, or even entire festivals dedicated to remembering those who have died. These could be minor affairs, such as a meeting at the cemetary during the Rice Wine Festival, or a major undertaking like the Feast of All Souls, held once a year, across the kingdom.
The Game Role of Festivals
While there isn’t likely going to be a dingus of wonderous power lurking in the Juniper Height’s Gin festival, it is a prime mode of demonstrating the color and background of your realms. It is easy to write up a great idea for a little village, and the PCs rocket through it like a kid at Christmas ripping through paper to get his next toy. The festival is a good way to show off those little details that you came up with during the brainstorming sessions before the game.
Mini-Games can also be ran during a festival, ranging from entertaining scavenger hunts to more macabre murder mysteries. this can be an encounter that is more role-playing that roll-playing, and the rewards are seldom going to be gold and XP for the players.
Finally, it can be a good way to get players involves outside of the game. For example, there is a Strawberry Festival near where I live. For an in-game treat, have each player bring some sort of strawberry product for the group to snack on. This could be as lame as peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches to fresh berries or even strawberry pies.
The Difference Between Large and Small
Small town festivals are not the equivalent to major holidays. A major holiday would be celebrated on the same day across an entire kingdom, religious domain, or geographical region, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Small town festivals are only celebrated in one town, or in a few small towns in a certain area, such as all six villages in the Koduc valley celebrating St. Verag’s Day when St. Verag fought off the bugbears 200 years ago. While the major holidays are ‘universal’ villages outside the Koduc valley don’t care a flip about the footnote St. Verag.
A Final Note
I plan on writing up a few small town festivals and adding them to this as a codex. There are no scroll entries, and this isn’t a mistake and if anyone feels like writing up some small town festivals (Plot/Event/Encounter - for proper submission guidelines) feel free to link them to this codex.