Monthly Archives: November 2009

Let Us Give Thanks: Chinese Harvest Moon Festival

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With this being Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, I got to thinking about harvest festivals in general. I rarely see harvest celebrations in RPGs and yet in real life, they’ve been an important part of life throughout at least a large part of human history. Harvest festivals bring families and communities together; surely our fantasy worlds would also have similar rituals and festivals?

chinese-moon-goddess(Image courtesy of / CC BY 2.0)

Harvest Moon Festival

Celebrated in the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year, the Harvest Moon Festival draws family members from far and near to celebrate the beauty of the moon together. The Chinese believe that the moon is  at it’s fullest and brightest, symbolizing completion and abundance. Like Thanksgiving in America, people use this harvest festival to give thanks to the gods for the blessings they’ve received over the past year.

This ancient festival is celebrated with parades, brightly colored lanterns, feasting and moon gazing. Children stay up late and lovers holding hands dot benches, hill tops and river banks. The most well-known of foods eaten are moon cakes – small pastries stuffed with a variety of fillings, the most common being a lotus seed paste. Traditional foods for this celebration are red, the color of luck and fortune.

Lanterns festoon public and private areas. Traditional lanterns take the shape of carp, butterflies, rabbits, lobsters and star fruits, among others and are usually colored red. Also known as “Women’s Day”, it makes the beginning of the “dark of the year”, the period of time when the days grow shorter and the nights long. This time of the year is considered yin or female. Women set up altars to the moon goddess Hengo or Chang-o, decorating them with moon cakes, round foods, tea, rice and wine.

When the moon is full, mankind is one


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Let Us Give Thanks: Homowo Festivals or “Hoot at Hunger”

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With this being Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, I got to thinking about harvest festivals in general. I rarely see harvest celebrations in RPGs and yet in real life, they’ve been an important part of life throughout at least a large part of human history. Harvest festivals bring families and communities together; surely our fantasy worlds would also have similar rituals and festivals?

For the rest of the month, I’m going to detail various harvest festivals from around the world that you can use as inspiration for your own games.

(Photo courtesy of / CC BY 2.0)

homowo drummerHomowo or “Hoot at Hunger”

This is a festival celebrated by the African Ga people, marking their migration to Ghana. According to tradition, the Ga people suffered a severe famine; Homowo celebrates the bountiful harvest they achieved after reaching their new homeland. Essentially, Homowo consists of sharing a meal with the living and dead members of the family in celebration of the harvest. It also marks the beginning of the Ga year.

The festival draws family members from far and near back to their ancestral towns. Normal daily business is suspended and the festival is considered a time of social harmony where debt payments may not be demanded, nor can oaths be taken or legal proceedings begun. It’s believed that ancestral spirits will cause the death of anyone who breaks these traditions. In a fantasy setting, this could be literally true.

Homowo Eve

On the eve of Homowo, men bring their father-in-laws bottles of gin and women bring their mother-in-laws firewood for cooking the next day’s feast. The senior women of a family smear the window sills of their home with ochre to protect themselves from any evil spirits that might enter the town during the night. A fantasy version of this could have the ochre blessed with a Protection from Evil or similar spell.

Modernly, guns are fired to warn people to stay inside their homes as the ancestral spirits enter the town on this night, but you could have the local clerics use bells, horns, or other noisemakers for the same purpose. Late that night, the Ga king sacrifices a sheep and shares it with senior members of the Ga government.

Homowo Day

Early Homowo morning, women of the household prepare a feast for the family. The male heads of household pour libations and a portion of the feast food on the graves of their ancestral spirits. Then the family gathers and eats together, ignoring the usual social hierarchy were senior members of the house eat before junior members and men eat before women.

After the feast, the community celebrates with a dance during which social norms are suspended. Anyone may dance and people may wear the clothes of the opposite sex, sing songs making fun of important people, and/or dress in tattered rags. Everyone can dance as equals. While the dance continues, all social constraints are thrown off.

Ngoo Wala — The Day of Remembrance

In Accra, this takes place the day after Homowo. Families gather to mourn their members who died during the last year. People go from house to house greeting friends and relatives, wishing them well in the upcoming year. This is a customary day to settle disputes and arrange marriages.

Three weeks later, Homowo closes with a children’s celebration that involves a legal looting of the local markets.



Tweet Here’s the continuation of yesterday’s post on web resources for writing adventures: 9 Tips for Running Your First Convention Game. This is one of mine. On designing up and running conventions scenarios. 30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make … Continue reading


Tweet We all struggle with it (well, at least many of us struggle with it) — how do you write an adventure that your players will love? Here’s a collection of adventure creation resources available on the web: (Photo courtesy … Continue reading

Check Out Protodimension Magazine

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I stumbled across this ‘zine while checking out my stats. They did a very nice write-up of my adventure creation with the 6 W’s post (Thanks!). If you’re looking for all things conspiracy-related, this ‘zine is a must. I love playing with conspiracies (probably too much for my players’ own good 😉 ) and I’ll definitely be using this as a resource. The magazine’s in full color and best of all — it’s free!

Beyond ‘Fred’: Russian Names for Characters

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Russian Nesting Dolls

Sometimes the hardest part of building a character is  coming up with a good name. You can always take a name from Tolkien or other fantasy novels, but you’ve seen those names over and over and you want something a little different, but not way out there. How about an historical name? Or one from a different culture? In the first “Beyond ‘Fred'” post, I covered Roman names. If Roman names aren’t your cup of tea, how about Russian ones?

[Photo courtesy of: / CC BY 2.0]

Russian Name Structure

Russian names are complex, as many people have not only a given name but also several nicknames, based on the their relationship with the speaker. Because of this, I’m using a very simplified Russian naming method.

In general, Russian names consist of two elements: a given name and a patronymic. Russian patronymic names are based on the father’s given name, with a ending that depends on the character’s sex:

-ov for a man, -ova for woman

So Boris, son of Ivan would be Boris Ivanov. Ivan’s daughter Susan would be Susan Ivanova. Women usually retain their own last names, even after they’re married. There is an exception to this — if the person is a member of the ruling class, the ending is different:

-vitch for a man, -vitcha for a woman.

If the father’s name ends in a consonant, add the ending becomes -ovitch or -ovitcha. So Boris, the son of Ivan who’s a prince would be Boris Ivanovitch and Susan would be Ivanovitcha.

For a really good, in depth coverage of creating a Russian patronymic, see Paul Goldschidt’s Dictionary of Russian Names — Grammer.

List of Names

This also includes nicknames based on the given names, where I know them.

Male Names

  • Alexandr (Sasha, Shurik, Alex)
  • Alexei
  • Arkady
  • Boris
  • Budimir
  • Busla
  • Dmitri (Dima, Dimka)
  • Erema
  • Fedor
  • Fyodor
  • Georgi
  • Grigory (Grisha)
  • Ilya
  • Ivan (Vanya)
  • Kirill
  • Lev
  • Login
  • Mikhail (Misha/Mika)
  • Petr
  • Sergei
  • Solovei
  • Roman
  • Vasily (Vashya)
  • Vladimir (Vova)
  • Viktor (Vitya)
  • Vyslav
  • Yuri

Female Names

  • Anastasia
  • Darya
  • Ekatarina (Katya)
  • Eugenia (Zhenya)
  • Irina
  • Katarina
  • Marya
  • Maya
  • Nataliya (Natasha)
  • Olga
  • Sofia
  • Svetlana (Svetla)
  • Titania
  • Vasilia
  • Yana
  • Zhanna


Other Articles in this Series:

Meadowbrook Needs You! Contest Extended

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Since I’ve only received one entry for this contest, I’ve decided to extend the contest through the end of November. So, if you haven’t been wanting to enter but haven’t had the chance to get to it, you’ve still got time. I’ll post the winner in early December.

Just for reference, here’s a link to the original contest information:

And here’s the information about Meadowbrook itself:

Product Review: Kobold Quarterly #11

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I thumbed through my advanced copy of KQ #11 (okay, since it’s a PDF, I didn’t exactly thumb — more paged down through) — the first issue of KQ I’d ever seen, and started to feel the excitement I used to have when looking through early issues of Dragon magazine.

15 articles (counting Maps and Free City), 9 of which I could immediately apply to my game and 5 more which, with some adjustments, could be adapted to fit my game. The visual layout of the magazine is minimalist — something I like very much. Color illustrations and splash graphics are nice to look at, but often eat up space in magazines I’d rather have taken up with ideas and text. KQ balances graphics and text well.

I particularly enjoyed Uvandir: The Pride of Craftsman — an alternate take on dwarves which seems to fit with the way I’ve been wanting to take dwarves in my own game world. Even as a veteran World of Darkness gamer, I was happy to see two articles reminding us that two favorite supernatural monsters (vampires and werewolves) are just that — monsters. It was a pleasant change from angsty soul-searching and eco-rage. I found the article on werewolves as PCs (Howling Werebeasts) especially helpful — full of great ideas on how to remind players that being a were is not like having a limited polymorph or shape-shifting ability. Were-creatures aren’t just powerful alternate forms — lycanthropy is a curse, first and foremost, and this article gave me some useful tips on how to bring that home to players.

The articles Running Across the Screen and Haunted by the Spirit of the Rules have good, solid advice on being a GM. The first one consists of interviews from industry designers on how to be a good GM, while the second reminds us that it’s the spirit of the rules that matters. I’d never thought of putting it that way before, but I’ll definitely be thinking about it the next time I have a rules-abusing player at my table.

I’d don’t play 4th ed, so I mostly skimmed the Wishing Well (an article about how to codify and use wishes in a game), but it did get my brain working on ways to structure the power of wishes in 3.x ed and other game systems. Whack Jacks and Harpy Nets got me thinking about how intelligent monsters would enhance their natural abilities with specially-designed weapons. I’m almost ashamed to admit that the idea never crossed my mind before I read this article.

Torture and Fear on the Tabletop puts teeth back in torture, creating ways to put the screws to (so to speak 😉 ) even characters with huge pools of hit points. Same Rules, Different Treasure gives ideas on how to make magic items interesting again with little to no modification of game mechanics. Philip Larwood, in Monstrous Paragons, discusses PC “monster” races for paragon-level characters. The article Mysteries of the Philosopher’s Stone, tells us how to use this real-world legendary item in fantasy games. While aimed specificially at D&D, the article does include some ideas (in a separate section of boxed text) for using it with Mage: the Ascension. I wouldn’ve like to see a bit on how to adapt it to Ars Magica along with the Mage data, but it’s a minor quibble and I can easily adapt the idea to  ArM by myself.I’ve often found myself less than enthused about rangers having the ability to cast spells. The Spell-less Ranger gives me the alternative I’ve been looking for.

On the whole, I couldn’t be more pleased with this magazine. It’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten this many ideas out of a gaming mag. Please excuse me while I go subscribe and look up back issues.

Have you used any of the material from this or previous issues of Kolbold Quarterly? If so, please pass your experience on to us.