The Band Played On
We have talked about creating a celebration; now it's time to think about the celebrating. I wanted to simply entitle this piece “Celebrate Good Times,” but if you think about it, not all celebrations are good times. Some are somber occasions, some are evil revelries, and some are just gatherings. Some of them get perverted over time, picking up new meanings and changing into new celebrations. Keep in mind that there are two formative aspects of celebrations in our games: Player-designed celebrations and GM-designed celebrations. Roleplaying a celebration, therefore―like all playing in an RPG―is a compromise between Players' stories and GMs' stories. The first thing you want to understand is whose celebration you're celebrating. If you want to celebrate your character's background, in most games you'll need to talk to the GM in advance and get the details sorted out. Once that's done the story is handed over to the GM, who must be trusted with your creation. On the other hand if it's a GM-designed celebration the Players walk into, then we'll need to respect the GM’s story. We want to make sure we all understand the purpose of the celebration, as well as the mood. A birthday party marks the arrival of life and it's often fun, while a funeral marks the occasion of death and is often somber. All participants normally agree to these terms, and to the rituals that are played out on these occasions. By paying attention to these facts and honoring them, we ensure that the celebration plays out in a series of rituals designed to bond people closer together.
While celebrations are fun and rich in interaction, sometimes things can go terribly wrong through faux pas: these are simply unplanned failures to follow the proper rituals. Examples might include bringing cheap wine to a fancy dinner party, hitting on the groom’s mother, falling down while standing at attention, and many more. These small tragedies can be fun to play out because of the humor and the short-lived nature of the consequences, to say nothing of the gossipers who live to retell the tales of such events.
Another possibility is to rebel against the ritual. The effect of such a rebellion is to ridicule, break or reduce the bonding effect of the celebration: making a deliberately bad toast at a wedding, wearing a celebratory color at a somber festival, etc. These types of behaviors are designed to a create a scene. Be forewarned though: taking this path often results in a negative reaction, and might even bring about violence or later reprisals.
As we can see from all the above, the key to playing a celebration is in understanding the rituals of the event. This is true whether it’s a small event like an anniversary or a huge one like a victory party celebrating the overthrowing of an evil empire. By attending these rituals and playing them out, we make these occasions into notable encounters or even whole adventures. Like all encounters, there may be hidden traps or dangers―in this case social dangers. There may even be monsters, either literal ones found in the shadows, or figurative ones played by PCs or NPCs seeking to make a statement.
The stakes of playing the celebratory session might just be maintaining the support of your character's family. If you're the good child, little may be at stake except a feeling of warm fuzzies, but when the stuff hits the fan, family matters; those warm fuzzies can pay off at a later date. On the other hand, going to the party with your friends and playing the bad girl might just get you your next contact. So knowing about these in-game celebrations and how to roleplay the rituals can be quite important, and can pay off in many unforeseen ways.