It is said that when the dread wyrm Tyragorn threatened the kingdom of Errance, the heroine Saraya gathered the most able-bodied men and women in the entire kingdom and organized them into units of bowmen, with the intent of shooting the dragon from the sky as he terrorized the kingdom. But she knew that no men could hope to stand against Tyragorn's dragonfire, and that if he were able to bring this, his most terrible weapon, to bear against her warriors, then all would be lost. And so, Saraya came up a daring plan to steal it from him. Following the fivefold paths of antiquity, she snuck into the underworld, the domain of the dark god of death, Prataan himself.
There, surrounded by hostile spirits and demons, she crept through the Black Palace of Despair, where all men face their final judgement, and challenged the Scales of Worthiness. And, as her heart was pure, she won past even that most impossible of obstacles, and arrived in the chambers of the dark god himself, where she found his book. It is said that within his book, Prataan writes of the fate of the world. That it is here where he decides how many shall die in flames, and how many shall drown; how many shall be slain by beast, and how many by war. And as she searched its pages, Saraya found what she sought - a single number, the determination that in the year to come, two thousand and twenty-four men would die in fire. Armed with that knowledge, it was all Saraya could do to evade the guards of the Black Palace and escape back to the surface world.
There, for two months, the forces of Errance prepared for the coming of Tyragorn. And when the new year came, Saraya led their decisive strike. Throughout the kingdom, two thousand and twenty-four criminals were burned to death, murderers, heretics, and petty thieves alike.
And when the dragon came, his flames could not touch the warriors Saraya had gathered, for Prataan's decreed number had been met. Never again has a dragon been slain so easily.
In more modern times, this tale has come to be celebrated in the Festival of Prataan. "If Saraya could use up all of the deaths by burning", people say, "then surely we can use up all of the most miserable deaths at the beginning of the year, and leave the rest of the year a better, happier year for the rest of us." The question, then, becomes one of who gets to suffer these most horrible deaths. Quite a few kingdoms have reached the same answer: criminals. After all, if a bandit is going to be executed anyway, then surely it's better for him to be the one eaten alive by rats than for that fate to fall to a more law-abiding person.
The Festival of Prataan, then, falls upon the first day of every year, and is the day of execution, the day when the condemned are sent to the most horrible demises that can be conceived of in order to spare the more worthy.
Traditionally, the Festival is held near the capital city, so that criminals need not be relocated after meeting the king's judgement. The homes of powerful dukes and counts may have their own, smaller Festivals, but the king's is generally the largest, and therefore the most important. The executions themselves are normally held out of the private eye, in a field or clearing outside of town. That way, innocent city-folk do not need to witness the torments of their criminals, and can enjoy the festival day. Still, though, the Festival is normally opened with a parade of the criminals through town, that people may see the men and women who are going to die that they may be spared. Precisely the process of the parade depends on where it is being held. In some cities, it is a solemn affair, with people watching silently or praying as the condemned go by. In others, the parade is symbolic of absolution, and the condemned are given garlands and kisses as they go by.
After tha parade, the Festival splits dramatically. The condemned are led out to the killing grounds and put to death out of sight and out of mind of the rest of the city. While this goes on, most people happily celebrate how wonderful the coming year is going to be. There will be dances, pastries, and general amusements of all sorts. Some are put off by the disparity, but most simply enjoy the festivities.
In some lands, it is not uncommon for the Festival to be used for political purposes. A king who intends to march to war may stage mock battles amongst his criminals in the hopes of reducing war casualties. A man who fears assassins may have them poisoned or knifed. In general, however, such practices are frowned upon - the holiday is supposed to be for the good of the people.
- The PCs have been arrested and are to be executed during the Festival. Can they escape such a horrible fate? Alternatively, can they rescue someone wrongly accused of a crime.
- The PCs are foreigners. How will they react to such barbarity?
- Some progressive ruler intends to end the Festival. The people of his kingdom think he's a monster and are threatening revolt.
Mix it with other subs:
- Some incompetent servant has lost the King's Disque Esprit. If it isn't recovered before the Festival, then the royal family may be plagued by specters in the year to come.
- A whole bunch of Princesses Nemithia have been gathered up and are set to be executed. But what kind of horrible monster could let the Festival claim all those poor little girls?
Additional Ideas (3)
Quick added scenerio thoughts:
- The characters do end up freeing some innocents causing the overall count to go down below 2024 number and nobody really noticed. Usually they have more than that so it isn't an issue but the years of peace have slowly limited the crimes that call for death.
- The King, after years of slowly gaining support for ending this barbaric custom, finally succeeds in canceling it for the year. Instead they pardon 2024 of the lesser criminals or simply don't kill them.
For either of those, what is the outcome of not meeting the requirement? Loss of all the battles that year? The return of Tyragorn to complete his attack? Does the king survive the year as proof that the tradition is foul or is the kingdom ruined?
- Those that believe in the curse to the depth of their bones go out and assassinate or kill 2024 people anyway regardless of the king's intention. So even if they king protects his subject from that fate, those that believe and fear the curse will simply go on a killing spree to fulfill the need.
Now he has to decide to I continue the custom and spare the innocent citizens or fight those that would defy his decision.
- Because the king stopped the killings, many small villages that are deeply superstitious start blaming any misfortune on the lack of sacrifice. This leads to an almost religous zeal backing the belief. Slowly, through self-induced hysteria they may start killing their own criminals or lynching those that are only accused of crimes in order to alleviate their own personal misfortune. All it takes is a drought "cured" by a killing to provide "proof" that it works and soon the entire countryside is deep in their own version of 2024.
-- King decides that following the decision is better than this outcome and follows through with the sacrifice. Now he needs to get word through the kingdaom. Will the believe it? Will it be enough to stop what has already begun?
--PCs could have witnessed the fixed sacrifice and be charged with bringing this word, or carry it as they adventure because they want to stop the killing. Each time they come to a village would bring possible conflict. They villages might believe their word or call them liars. A new tension and moral dilemna for the players to have decide whenever they see an injustice based on the sacrifices.