The celebration of various occasions is a tradition as old as recorded history, and is an important part of the fabric of any society. Holidays are times when regardless of their differences, tradition unites a community and reminds them of the bonds of family and friendship. Not all holidays are significant to everyone, but in a D&D fantasy setting, many characters will be familiar with a variety of seasonal and religious festivities, and will often share them with the other members of the adventuring party.
If a holiday occurs between adventures or even during one, the DM can use this as an opportunity to get the players more involved in the setting of the campaign and to give the players a novel way to spend their gold and downtime. Note that characters who use this downtime activity are going a bit beyond what the average person would do during the holiday, and are going out of their way to make sure that the traditions of the holiday are honored and the occasion is appropriately joyous (or somber, as the case may be). This system is designed to be setting neutral and allow you to construct an appropriate benefit for numerous different types of holidays.
While a holiday often has various methods of celebrating based on region, faith, and race, usually they have a degree of focus that is universal. I have called them “traditions” for convenience. When you decide to include a holiday as a downtime activity, decide what traditions make sense based on the description of the holiday (if working from existing setting material or basing it on a real-world holiday) or what you think is appropriate to the time of year in your setting. You should also set a time frame for the holiday; most holidays are celebrated over the course of 1-3 days, but sometimes they can last as long as two weeks. Each tradition listed below has a requirement of time and money that must be spent during the downtime, and an associated benefit. This list does not cover every tradition imaginable, and you can create new ones if you choose. Generally, the requirement should represent some significant investment on the part of the characters, and the resulting benefit is similar to a charm, as described on page 228 of the Dungeon Masters Guide, though usually a bit less powerful. You can choose multiple traditions to be available for each holiday, but characters should generally not be able to stack the benefits of more than 2 traditions during a single celebration.
Celebrants are expected to either spend time helping the needy or to make large donations to worthy causes. One or both may be available, at the DM’s preference. If volunteer work is the preferred method of charity, they must spend 8 hours a day doing so for the duration of the festivities, but pay no additional lifestyle expenses. If donations are preferred, the character must spend 50% more than their usual lifestyle expenses (or more, if the character is known to be particularly wealthy; characters who are stingy do not gain any benefit) per day of the festivities, with the donations going to the poor or to charitable organizations.
Benefit: After the festivities have ended, the character’s generosity gives them a general sense of satisfaction and an appreciation of what they have. After the holiday is over, the character gains a number of d6’s equal to the days spent on charity. The character can roll a die and add the result to a Wisdom or Charisma ability check or saving throw, then the die is expended.
Exchange of Gifts
One of the simplest but most cherished traditions in many cultures, characters spend their time seeking appropriate gifts for friends, family, and often children. In some cultures, certain gifts are expected, such as particular food or toys, which can be handled as either charity or feasting traditions. However, in some cultures, the creativity of the gift giver is emphasized, and finding a unique gift is a rewarding challenge in and of itself. For these types of gifts, the character must list the number of people they are going to get gifts for, and must purchase actual mundane items from the Players Handbook. You can locate up to 2 suitable gifts per day (leading up to or during the holiday) and the cost of the gift should be at least equal to the recipient’s daily lifestyle expense or your own daily lifestyle expense, whichever is greater. Unless the gift-giver is a member of the aristocracy, it is considered quite irregular to spend more than your monthly lifestyle expenses on gifts, and this should be the general maximum (so a character who lives a wealthy lifestyle would spend about 120 gp on gifts).
Benefit: If you give, you will also receive. In addition to food and small gestures, you may receive an interesting piece of loot. The DM can use this opportunity to give you a specific item, or determine randomly. To determine randomly, roll a d100, then add your level and the number of other characters you gave a gift to and compare the result to the table below:
1-25: Roll on the trinket table in the PHB, and you also get a nice new pair of socks.
26-50: A high quality mundane item of the DM’s choice worth about half the total amount you spent on gifts
51-75: A high quality mundane item of the DM’s choice worth about the same amount you spent on gifts.
76-85: A high quality mundane item of the DM’s choice worth about double the total amount you spent on gifts.
86-90: One item from Magic Item Table A on page 144 of the DMG
91-95: One item from Magic Item Table B on page 144 of the DMG
96+: One item from Magic Item Table C on page 145 of the DMG
Celebrants prepare large meals and/or drinks, treats and delicacies that they would not usually have, and then share them with family and friends. A character or characters who devote themselves to preparing and providing feasts must pay the usual cost of a banquet for each other character they intend to invite (10 gp per participant). This cost can be divided amongst the hosts. Most holidays involve only a single large feast, but some include multiple ones spread out over several days.
Benefit: Every participant that spends the day feasting gains a bonus to their hit point maximum equal to the total number of participants and gains the same number of hit points (so 10 participants would each have their hit point total increased by 10). You cannot gain more than twice your level in additional hit points this way. This benefit lasts for the first full 24 hours of adventuring after the downtime where it took place is concluded.
The celebrants participate in rituals designed to ward off disaster, evil spirits, or misfortune. This often involves costumes, marches, placement of wards or totems at various points around one’s home or even the whole city. Oftentimes the original meaning of these rituals is forgotten, but they are still practiced and can be very effective if done correctly. Characters must spend at least 4 hours per day of the celebration organizing and participating in such events, and must spend at least 10 gp on an appropriate personal charm or costume.
Benefit: For each day of the festivities, characters who wear an appropriate charm or costume are treated as if under the effect of a Protection from Evil and Good spell. After the downtime ends, characters who participated can use an action to cast Protection from Evil and Good once, with their charm or costume from the festival serving as the only necessary material components, and then this benefit expires.
The celebration revolves around teaching or reinforcing a lesson from history, often the results of a battle or political upheaval. Celebrants are expected to study and retell the story of the events surrounding the holiday, which can take many forms, but is often done via playacting, with celebrants assuming roles of historical characters to reenact the original events (whether the events are remembered accurately and the degree of embellishment in the retellings is up to the DM). Characters must spend at least 4 hours per day of the celebration organizing and participating in such events, and must spend an additional 2 gp per day on costumes, scrolls, actors, etc.
Benefit: The characters are considered proficient in any Intelligence check related to information about creatures, events, objects and even magic portrayed in the reenactment (this ability is permanent), and gains a +5 bonus to such checks for 14 days after the holiday ends.
This is for holidays that are almost entirely religious in nature. Celebrants offer prayers, sacrifices (usually of money or food, rarely living things), and may fast, meditate, or engage in other forms of worship. Characters who participate must pay 50% more than their usual living expenses per day in donations or sacrifices, and must spend at least 4 hours a day on these religious practices. At least one participant must succeed at a DC 10 Religion check to ensure the devotions are sufficient during each day. Obviously, if a holiday is devoted to a particular deity or deities, the character must venerate at least the same pantheon, and cannot worship a god who is in direct ideological opposition to those gods.
Benefit: After the holiday ends, you receive a charm or blessing from the god or gods you venerated. This will generally be the ability to cast one first-level spell from a domain possessed by the god or gods once, without requiring material components or concentration to maintain, and then the benefit ends. Any of the Charms found on page 228 of the DMG could also be used at the DM’s option, especially if the characters are higher level.