With the winter months upon us and the unavoidable gathering of family round “insert culturally appropriate vestige here”, I’ve been thinking more and more about the seasons. With Pathfinder being my particular brand of D&D nog, I considered my own campaign and found it completely lacking in the department of seasonally appropriate antics. I thought at first that the Pathfinder pantheon would yield inspiration, but found it to be, bluntly, a cluster@$#%. There are too many gods wanting too many things. So my mind turned to the mundane, to the medieval, and found fodder in the simple drudgery of serfdom.
Yes, with the late Middle Ages as my guide (since it’s the most relevant time period to the D&D oeuvre), I wanted to know what your run-of-the-mill farmer had to look forward to given the taxing nature of their profession.
What I found is a lovely article by Rachel Hartman titled, “The Medieval Agricultural Year”, which, despite its drab title, had exactly what I was looking for. The last section of Hartman’s article is particularly useful, containing a monthly breakdown of what farmers were doing during specific months of the year:
January: Clear ditches; cut wood; breed sows; spread manure; “camping”; early lambs born.
February: Prune grapes and fruit trees; prune and mend hedgerows; mend fences; kill moles; plant willow; add lime, chalk and manure to soil; lambing continues; calving begins.
March: Plow and harrow as soon as the ground is soft enough; sow spring grains; calving continues.
April: Plant onions and leeks; plant flax; wean calves; get milking and dairy work underway; farrowing (birth of piglets).
May: Weed winter corn; remove moss from thatched roofs and repair; sow pulses; capture swarming bees; mark sheep; plant beets, carrots, cabbages, and other garden vegetables.
June: Wash and shear sheep; shear lambs later in the month; start mowing hay.
July: Keep mowing that hay; harvest flax and hemp; begin harvesting winter corn.
August: Finish harvesting winter grain, begin on spring grain; gather in straw; plant turnips.
September: Harvest peas; breed cattle; harvest honey; plow fields for winter grain; sow winter wheat and rye; harvest apples, blackberries; take excess stock to market.
October: Sow winter barley and oats; harvest grapes; make wine and verjuice; breed sheep; let pigs forage on acorns and beechnuts.
November: Unsuspecting pigs get fatter and fatter; take in firewood; threshing and winnowing continue through the winter.
December: Slaughter hogs; never too early to shovel manure.
This monthly breakdown added to my rudimentary understanding of the four seasons (December, January, and February = Winter; March, April, and May = Spring; June, July, and August = Summer; September, October, and November = Fall) and developed a fuller understanding of exactly how to structure seasonal events.
With it being the month of December the first thing that caught my attention in Hartman’s breakdown was the winter slaughter. With the cold just beginning to bite and a period of isolation rapidly approaching for many a farming village, it’s the last time for merriment before the shutters find themselves closed for the year. So, with the blood being shed and pork now abundant, I’d say a festival is in order.
Each town has their own traditions, but you can be sure that December marks a time of celebration. It is not uncommon this time of year for adventures to come upon places in various states of revelry. With spirits high and wine aplenty PCs may find the local inns full up, but the general populous a bit more amicable. Reputation can go a long way and adventures could quickly find themselves the center of unwanted attention if not careful.
Once the winter truly descends the PCs can expect to find the streets of even the liveliest of towns subdued by the cold. Most people have hid away from the snow and the PCs may find it difficult to resupply in such conditions.
I recall learning in 7th grade history class that March was generally the month of choice for celebrating the New Year until the institution of the Gregorian calendar established January 1st as the new date. So, winter passes and the land begins to wipe the snowy sleep from its eyes; the sun once again becomes a more frequent friend. With the warm comes work and the blossoming of new life.
The shutters are opening and villages become livelier. With the retreat of snow comes the expectation of the New Year as oxen are once again hitched to heavy plows. The Spring Equinox is at hand and it is common for a celebration to mark the passing of the previous year.
Whichever pantheon catches your fancy (Pathfinder or otherwise) it is likely that particular attention will be paid to those gods who have fertility, farming, rebirth, and even death in their portfolios. Adventures may come upon a simple celebration of life, one that marks the New Year with a little drinking and some merry making. However, it’s possible the PCs find something a little more frivolous or outright dangerous during this time of year:
- A barbarian tribe who celebrates with a good ol’ ritualistic sacrifice.
- A cult who has themselves a nice orgy to show the fertility god they mean business.
- A village that holds a marriage festival to show the beginning of new life.
If the PCs aren’t careful they may find themselves involved in more than they bargained for during the spring months.
Spring passes and summer emerges with its most prominent feature: heat. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. If you can’t tell I detest summer. But pure hatred for something shouldn’t hinder the imagination. Not being a farmer myself it took a couple of minutes to realize that summer is important not because of the debilitating heat, but because that debilitating heat brings about the harvest.
The sun’s rays bring about the first fruits of labor. It’s not uncommon during this time for people to come together in celebration as their hard work finally shows purpose. If it’s looking like a good harvest, celebration may be quite lively. If harvest celebration has become something of a national tradition it is likely that even in a large metropolis a ceremony will be held to thank the god of farming (in Pathfinder this is Erastil) for a bountiful harvest.
Small communities are especially exuberant this time of year as a good harvest means a comfortable winter. PCs may find hamlets and small farming villages at party for several days with bread, cheese, and beer aplenty.
This can also be a time of desperation for many a farming community as it is a benchmark for the winter to come. If the harvest is poor because of some environmental or artificial interference it is not uncommon for leaders to ask assistance in locating the cause of the problem, or simply request that the PCs assist in securing more food for the upcoming winter.
Finally, the heat breaks and the leaves begin to change. Fall is here and it’s time to turn any excess into cold hard coin. The world moves and shakes in September, with merchants loaded and ready for some good old fashioned travel.
Hustle and bustle is the game as the once vacant roads come alive. People everywhere are ready to take the hard line to get more than fair price on their goods. Merchants are in need of guards, shopkeepers in need of extra hands, even small and isolated villages see a peddler or merchant this time of year.
Adventurers will often be hired on as temporary guards for merchant trains as any season that places import on the transport of goods also creates a swelling in the number of thieves, robbers, and bandits. Theft, like everything else, is seasonal and it would do adventures well to take extra precautions during this time of year to make sure their campsite is secure.
There; a few fun seasonal guidelines for GMs to think about. I didn’t provide any seasonal mechanics, but that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I just wanted to put some small thought into providing players with a sense of progress beyond just level advancement.