Happy Horvu!

Happy Horvu, everyone!

What in the world is “Horvu” you ask? A reasonable question, to be sure. Horvu is a week-long festival/holiday celebrated by the kenku in Grant’s D&D game. It didn’t exist until the session we had on January 6, but odds are good that it’s going to inform the setting for some time to come.

To fully explain why, we need to back up a bit. The original colony mission had two ships, the Brazen and the Formidable. The PCs were all onboard the Brazen. During the final leg of the journey from the Old World to the New World, the ships were separated in a violent storm and lost touch with one another. The Brazen, with the PC group, ran aground on some sandbars just off the coast of the island the colony has been established on. The presence of the PCs has paid off enormously for the colony. Between the various party members, we have ability to identify what’s safe to eat, keep food and water stores stocked and safe via magic, scout things that may be dangerous unseen, and drive attacking saguagin back into the sea. We can heal the sick, take down large, dangerous threats, and engage in peaceful diplomacy.

In addition, the island the Brazen landed on is, by and large, a pretty nice place. The fishing is good, there is plentiful food on land (some of it very appetizing and some of it less so) and the native community is a village of kenku called Aua who have been good neighbors from pretty much the first moment we laid eyes on one of them. The same can also be said for the colony, and representatives from both Aua and Landing (the colony) worked together to bring down Auntie Bloat, a sea hag and the most evil threat present on the island. The soil is fertile, there’s fresh water available, and there is space to grow and spread out. The threats present on the island have been getting systematically removed by the PCs – when the ship landed, there was the aforementioned evil sea hag on the western coast that was stirring up trouble, an ettercap commanding an army of giant spiders to the south, various giant wildlife, and a wyvern to the northwest. The hag and the ettercap are gone, the wildlife has been cleared out of habitable areas, and the wyvern is mostly just an apex predator that’s part of the local ecosystem. We’ve left it alone for the moment as it doesn’t seem to range near the colony.

Finally, while the Brazen did take some damage, it washed up on a sandbar and has been repaired and has begun its journey back to the Old World.

The crew and passengers of the Formidable were nowhere near so fortunate. The Formidable crashed violently onto the shore of a rocky island, killing a bunch of passengers and colony leadership in the process. They immediately came under siege from gnolls and sahuagin. Their irreparably-damaged ship has been stripped for parts and transformed into a pallisade which they’ve had to hide inside, sending large, well-armed parties out for food when they can. In their desperation they did something bad enough to violently anger the local lizardfolk, which has the party scratching their heads in horror because the lizardfolk we’ve encountered have been deadpan to the point of barely being interactive. Due to the constant state of siege and low availability of food and medicine, the Formidable’s colony is down to less than half of its original numbers and that number continues to drop.

The gnolls, in addition to killing and eating colonists, have been selling a few of them into slavery to various grung villages (evil, slave-keeping frog people.) The only reason we know what we do about the situation is that we recently rescued one such slave, an elven carpenter named Therivol.

Therivol, as one would imagine, was in pretty bad shape when we found him. Malnourished, suffering from multiple infections, and traumatized, he was barely coherent when he was rescued and didn’t believe the party was real at first. Lambert spent a bunch of time healing and feeding the poor man on the way back to to colony, and by the time we arrived, he was in much better shape physically, but there wasn’t a whole lot we could do for his mental damage.

And that’s where Horvu came in.

We had several concerns about Therivol and his colony mates. The first and most pressing ones were for Therivol himself, of course – the kind of experiences he’d been through could shatter a person completely and we obviously didn’t want that to happen. But there was also a concern that unless we started actively working against it, we could wind up with a bunch of violent xenophobes in the colony, and anyone harming the kenku is not going to fly with the PCs. So with all of that in mind, once we’d delivered the initial reports to Governor Warwick, we brought Therivol to Aua … and arrived just in time for the start of Horvu. The plan was to give Therivol some “kenku therapy” and also to recruit Rishi, a village “wise man” and a close friend of the party to come along on the initial contact as a sort of diplomatic envoy from the non-homicidal population of the New World. (It doesn’t hurt that’ he’s a storm sorcerer, of course.) Our first sign that something was out of the ordinary was that Grant described the village as being “more decorated than usual.” After a brief search, Rishi’s apprentice brought us to a very festive (and slightly tipsy) Rishi who filled us in on the wonderful warmth and festive happiness that was Horvu. Poor Therivol got to spend a day surrounded by happy people, colorful decorations, wine, and music. That experience, particularly the music, did him some significant good.

In addition, it became fairly clear that the attitude of the kenku about Horvu wasn’t “This is our holiday, you dirty outsiders keep out!” but much more akin to “You’ve been wasting your life by not celebrating Horvu all these years?! What is WRONG with you people?” Festivities included feasting and drinking, telling stories, music, and making small clay figurines to honor important kenku figures of the past. And as previously stated, the village was decked out in colorful finery. There’s a good chance that when the party gets back to the colony, some effort will be made by the party to make Horvu a shared holiday that the colony can celebrate too, further cementing the bond between the people of Landing and Aua.

However, it also introduced a complication. Horvu lasts for a week, and for both personal and cultural reasons, Rishi was not going to leave his village while Horvu was going on. While that was understandable, the party didn’t have that kind of time. The other colony being in a besieged and desperate situation (and likely getting more amoral, xenophobic, desperate, malnourished, and smaller in number with every passing day) wasn’t something the party, particularly Lambert, were okay waiting a week before acting on. Rishi would have to stay behind.

The general gaming lessons to be taken from Horvu are as follows, at least as I see it:

First, more setting texture is always good. A lot of the time it’s easy to fall into the trap of making the whole world be about your adventure plotline. Holidays, festivals, important civic dates, and so on help to keep that at bay.

Second, it’s good and interesting to have something be helpful and hindering at the same time. Horvu came at just the right time to help Therivol out, but it also tied Rishi’s schedule up in an inconvenient way. It aided the PCs while reminding them that they aren’t the absolute lords of the setting.

Finally, don’t be afraid to introduce things on the fly, even major things. Horvu wasn’t part of Grant’s prep for the night – he himself stated that he made it up on the fly to keep us from relying on Rishi too much and also to help us with Therivol. However, it’s going to become part of the world’s calendar now – and it’s an inside joke/reference for our gaming group. We’ve already joked about Horvu parties, Horvu wine, and more.

[GM’s Note: Peter’s exactly right when he says I made up Horvu on the fly. Rishi’s a great NPC, but he also intimately knows the setting and has many ways of easily solving the PCs’ problems. He can easily undercut the whole premise of a game based on exploration and discovery of the unknown! I needed him unavailable for more than a day or so, and this ended up working splendidly. It was also inclusive rather than exclusive of the PCs, which was critical. I didn’t snatch Rishi out of the setting and hide him from the player characters. Rather, I made a big, obvious, non-destructive excuse for him to be unavailable; one which fit the existing setting (and Rishi’s character) and which the PCs could participate in and explore. That’s much less frustrating. And really, what sort of player character turns down free booze? — Grant]

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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