Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Harvest

Egyptian Harvest of Papyrus

Plants. I bet you ate some today. Maybe you had some coffee in the morning. Toast. Maybe an avocado or some rice (rice for breakfast is pretty awesome). A salad! If you have a garden you’re probably wishing you had never planted ALL THOSE TOMATO plants right about now.

Every plant has a growing cycle, their germination, proliferation, flowering, fruiting and seeding based on levels of light, moisture and heat. Many people tend to think there are four seasons distinguished by their average temperatures and type of precipitation but in many climates the deciding factor between one season and another is usually amount of precipitation. Seasons dictate when animals ‘share the DNA’ to result in their young being born with the best conditions possible to ensure the safety and survival of the next generation. Migratory patterns of animals mean predators lie in wait to take advantage of a seasonal abundance.

Harvest is a time of abundance that can only be taken advantage of through hard work. As crops ripen in the fields and fruit hangs heavily on the boughs, people gather together to take in the bounty as efficiently as possible before the weather can destroy it, before food over-ripens, more opportunistic individuals take what isn’t theirs or before it simply passes through. Communities come together and use the best technology they can get their hands on to reap, pick and gather, working day and night. When the harvest has been accounted for is a time for rejoicing and partying before everyone is driven indoors to live off the food carefully processed and stored for the hungrier months.

All of us eat food and many cultures have celebrations tied to the harvesting of important crops such as rice, wheat, grapes, barley or animals like fish. Thanksgiving, the Moon Festival, Makara Sankranti, Lammas, Crop Over, Sukkot and more are important harvest festivals that take place the world over. Many cultures tie religious significance to the harvest, giving thanks to their deities, creation stories corresponding to the change in the land and the air. Some traditions call for people to return to their ancestral homes and give offerings to those who have returned to the earth. Others call for simply partaking in the bounty provided by nature and nurture. Special foods and drinks are made for these times. As the plants and animals wind down, people have a huge hurrah, making sure their lives go out with a bang of goodwill, good cheer and positive energy.

As the seasons turn, people gather and assess what the next few months might look like for their bellies. Harvest festivals provide great opportunities for PCs to come together and interesting backdrops for many encounters.

For GMs

  • What are the seasons like in the region? What defines them? Heat or lack thereof? Precipitation? How many seasons are there?
  • What are the food staples of the region? What is their growing season like? How has the culture adapted around the food item? How has the culture forced the food item to fit the culture (through breeding, hybridization, etc.)?
  • Which foods have religious significance? What crops and animals are tied to which deities?
  • What are animal migration patterns like? Do animals pass through? Lay eggs/give birth/spawn? How does the calendar correspond to these natural events?
  • What rituals are done to ensure a good harvest? How do local religious organizations involve themselves in the harvest?
  • How does the local government participate in the harvest? Do they enforce laws to make it easier for people to participate?
  • How do urban areas involve themselves in the harvest?
  • What does the Harvest Festival look like? What is it called? What do people do? How does it vary from region to region? What are the traditional foods and/or drinks? How long does the holiday season last? Are there competitions? Plays?
  • Do other cultural groups have their own harvest traditions? How do they compare and contrast to the traditions of the population at large?
  • Is a certain demographic (by age, gender, profession, state of living) honored during the Harvest season?
  • What technology is used to facilitate the harvest?
  • Where is the harvest stored? How is it processed to keep it from spoiling?
  • What would be contributing factors to a ‘bad’ harvest? What would a bad harvest mean for the population?

Plot Hooks

  • When several villages have had part of their harvest ransacked every year for the last few years, the PCs are sent to speed up the harvest and train the population to better defend itself against their assailants and thieves. What triggered the attacks in the first place? What is being stolen? How do the villagers feel about their food being stolen? Can the villagers survive on what is remaining or will they suffer if the food is not kept? Who sends the PCs to help them and why are they intervening?
  • When passing through another region’s harvest festival, the PCs are challenged to partake in the local traditional competitions or lose face. What do the competitions entail? Who challenges them? How important is it that they win? Who makes up the audience and what will it mean for the PCs among their own people and among this second population if they participate?
  • A regions hopes are dashed when a hybrid food item dies overnight, right before the harvest. The plant or animal had been doing well and dies suddenly, leaving plenty of dead plants or animals for the people to deal with, as well as a lack of food. However, several individuals believe the item in question was sabotaged and send the PCs to investigate and sort out what happened. Who provided the region with the seeds or stock animals in the first place? How exactly did they die? Is there someone or something that was opposed to the introduction of this new lifeform? Why did this region receive the new food item? Why was it hybridised in the first place?
  • An animal migration pattern always draws a nomadic culture with it who harvest the animal for their own purposes. Their presence is a time of celebration as the PCs’ culture and the nomadic one trade and intermingle, the harvest of crops and the animals coinciding to provide plenty for all. However this year the animals arrive but the people do not. The PCs are sent to investigate the absence of these people. What do the PCs know of the traveling patterns of the nomads? Where do they go first? What are they hoping to find? Can their own people offer any clues regarding the disappearances? How does their country feel about the nomads and how has that changed over the years?
  • When the PCs hometown harvest suffers from bad weather, they are sent to the capitol to try to seek aid. However, Harvest Festival preparations are underway in the city and the PCs are finding it hard to get the help they need. What levels of government must they go through in order to receive aid? Were all regions hit as hard? To what lengths are they willing to go to in order to help their town? How are they received in the capitol? How do they feel about being separated from their families at this time?
  • When the religious leader is kidnapped from their town before they can bless the fields before harvest, the PCs are sent to find and bring back the individual before it’s too late. How much time do the PCs have? Why was the holy person kidnapped? Who has kidnapped them? What will it mean if the fields do not receive the blessing?
  • The day of the Harvest Festival is also the day a certain deity is supposed to come down and revel among mortals. It is said if one can identify the deity and steal a particular item from them, the deity will grant the person one boon. The PCs want the wish to help someone in desperate need an all agree to work together to try and find the deity. What kind of celebrations take place at the festival that are related to the story? What is the wish the PCs all wish to come true? Do all the PCs really want the same wish? How are they going to identify the deity? Is the deity what it is said to be or is it something else entirely?

For PCs

  • How do you feel about the Harvest? About the changing of the seasons?
  • Do you go home to help with the harvest/participate in the Harvest festival?
  • What is your favourite food and when is it in season?
  • Do you have a favourite Harvest tradition?
  • How do you think the Harvest should be handled? Do you believe in the spiritual aspects of the harvest?
  • Do you feel connected to the seasons and the cycles of plants and animals?

What say you? Gleaned anything good? What are you looking forward to as the air gets a bit chilly and summer dies down? Autumn begins in the Northern Hemisphere September 22nd. Are you doing anything special?

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