RPG Blog Carnival: You Do WHAT For Your Birthday?!

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by Full Moon Storytelling, and they want to talk about adding Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations to your campaign. Adding in holidays and celebrations can make your campaign feel “lived in”, reinforcing that the world spins on outside the view of the characters. It can also be a great character building moment in the campaign to celebrate a character’s or NPC’s birthday.

I had a conversation with a friend recently, talking about the strange things our parents did around our birthdays. This led me down a research rabbit hole into strange birthday traditions from around the world, which was fascinating. I adapted some of what I found into a list of twenty-five suggestions for making birthdays a bit different in your campaign. You could pick one that works best with a particular culture, or have them change depending on region. Feel free to make any changes you like to better fit them into your campaign.

  1. Each year (including their birth year) the celebrant is tossed from the roof of the local church, to be caught by family members holding out a blanket. If the family is unable to keep them from touching the ground, the celebrant is declared an adult, and must make plans to move out of the house and begin their life before their next birthday comes around. The family may choose to allow the celebrant to stay regardless, in which case the tradition is repeated the following year.
  2. A sinister clown-like figure is hired to stalk the celebrant all day on their birthday, scaring them at odd times and leaving creepy notes and gifts for them. This culminates in a party thrown by friends and family, where they drive the “clown” away to show their love, and to bring luck to the celebrant in the coming year.
  3. Individual birthdays are not celebrated. Instead, “milestone” achievements are celebrated to show a person’s development. These range from small personal celebrations, to large community events showing off the achievement. First meal cooked by themselves, first solo hunt, graduating school or developing a new skill, building an item or structure, could all be examples of this.
  4. In order to not draw the attention of evil or capricious gods and spirits, no birthdays are celebrated until a child’s sixteenth year, when they are secretly given their own name (prior to this day they were simply referred to as [Parent’s Name]’s child) and recognized as an adult.
  5. Everyone in the community celebrates their birthday on the same day each year, regardless of what day they were actually born.
  6. At the birthday celebration, the celebrants friends and family hold them down and coat their nose in grease, so bad luck can’t get hold of them in the coming year.
  7. Gifts for the celebrant cannot come from any living person. Instead, gift givers must sign the name of an ancestor who is bestowing the gift from beyond the grave.
  8. Throughout the day, the celebrant is pelted with Birthday Coins, which they are expected to keep until the celebration in the evening. They then use the coins to “buy” the various aspects of the birthday celebration (the cake, food, drink and so on) from their friends and family.
  9. The birthday celebration features a gingerbread-man style cake which, after a series of games and activities, is beheaded. The head is then served to the celebrant.
  10. A person’s feet are not allowed to touch the ground on their birthday. Friends and family take turns transporting them where they need to go, including carrying them into buildings or up and down stairs as needed.
  11. The celebrant writes down all the bad things that happened to them in the past year, and burns them one by one at the birthday celebration in order to leave them in the past.
  12. On your birthday, you are required to report to the town hall in the morning, where you will be set a number of community service tasks to fill out your day. The entire town then comes out to celebrate your birthday with a feat in the evening.
  13. Birthdays are the only day of the year on which it is acceptable to get new clothing, either as presents from friends and family, or purchased by the celebrant with money they’ve saved for the purpose.
  14. Each year a person is expected to give out small presents to their friends and family on their birthday, usually of chocolates or small trinkets.
  15. On a child’s first birthday, the parents shave the child’s head. The hair is weighed, and that weight in silver is paid to the local church as a thank-you to the gods for the continued health of their child.
  16. On a child’s first birthday, a number of symbolic objects (sword, artisan tools, a book and so on) are placed near the child. The parents take note of which item the child crawls to first, as an indication of what their future might hold.
  17. On the night before a person’s birthday, friends and family take turns sneaking into the celebrant’s bedroom and placing gifts around them as they sleep. This stops either when all gifts have been placed, or if the celebrant is awoken, whichever comes first.
  18. On their twelfth birthday the child is invested with the power of Natal Magistrate, and the community takes turns coming before them to have various disputes resolved. The disputes are not real, and there is competition to make them as humourous and ridiculous as possible. The disputants then “pay” the Magistrate in small gifts and food.
  19. Starting at their first birthday, celebrants are locked away in a tomb for a day of isolation and contemplation. At dusk they are released to attend a party with family and friends.
  20. The celebrant is not allowed to mention their birthday, and it does not officially begin until someone else brings it up.
  21. The celebrant is not allowed to talk on their birthday. This is traditionally a day where folks will come to praise the celebrant, or take the celebrant to task for something they did which hurt them. A party is held the following evening at which the celebrant thanks everyone for their words, and acknowledges the wrongs they committed.
  22. Birthdays are Ogre’s Day! To commemorate the passing of a kindly ogre in the community’s past, each year on their birthday the celebrant must pretend to be an ogre for the entire day.
  23. Birthdays can only be celebrated if the celebrant’s family can afford to pay the Birthday Tax. The amount of the tax is usually tied to the well-being of the family.
  24. Bladed weapons are never given as a birthday present, because it’s believed you may cut a person’s life short by doing so.
  25. On their birthday, the celebrant’s gifts are hidden around the house and they have from sunrise to sunset to find them all. Any undiscovered gifts are given to charity.

There you are, twenty-five birthday traditions to drop into your campaign as flavour. I hope some of these will inspire you to come up with traditions of your own, or maybe even other holidays or celebrations. Feel free to share your strange birthday traditions in the comments or on Twitter.

And while it’s a ways off, we’ll be hosting the RPG Blog Carnival here at The Rat Hole in November! While we’re still working out details, we’ll be doing something around Indie RPGs. We want to hear about everyone’s favourites and give folks some ideas of new games to try, just in time for the Holidays!