Well, Gentle Readers, due to several upheavals in this wandering wolfs life (including a car in the shop and a job on the ex-), it looks like my column on games will have to wait until next issue. In the meantime, the following occurred to me while spending New Years Eve with some fine furry friends in
Columbia, TN. (I know, it just shatters the alliteration.)
Originally, the New Year coincided with the beginning of spring in agrarian areas. In the Ukraine, for instance, the New Year was rung in at the beginning of April, while Rome observed it in the month of Mars (god of the plow, before he was modified to an Ares duplicate; the rare case of a plowshare being beaten into a sword).
In fact, the months between the onset of winter and the beginning of spring didnt exist in agrarian calendars. These were the empty months or dead times; because nothing could be farmed in most agrarian areas during these months, the days officially didnt exist. The months of January and February didnt exist in the early Roman calendar, for instance; the calendar ran:
Avrilius (light grains)
Maius (cereal grans, such as corn)
The remaining space in the year was intentionally left blank. (Keep in mind, however, that the calendar didnt quite fit the year; the Roman calendar was originally Etruscan, so it matched the Etruscan seasonsnot the Roman.)
As a side note, the pre-Christian version of Christmas was Saturnalia in Rome: This was a days-long festival in which all laws were officially suspended, and (to paraphrase the travel agencies) what happened on Saturnalia stayed on Saturnalia. (The holiday was officially suspended at a later date; one can only take so much lawlessness in a more-or-less civilized society.) This denoted the start of the dead months.
These factors can lead to some interesting situations. Imagine
- A robbery or murder, or even an invasion, takes place during the local counterpart of Saturnalia. Because all laws are suspended during this time, the heroes attempting to deal with the situation must hurry; when Saturnalia ends, whatever happened becomes non-existent, rendering murders and robberies unprosecutable (because they were legal when they were committed) and invasions a fait accomplithe land cannot have been stolen when theft is legal. Of course, the suspension of law works both ways. Handling the matter during Saturnalia means the characters arent bound by rules, either; after all, revenge is perfectly legal
- From an anthropomorphic standpoint, hibernating species (such as ground squirrels, some hedgehogs, and even bats
but not bears, who often get up during the winter) truly would consider those months dead time, and might even see hibernation as a living death. After all, they go still and cold (ground squirrels can hit twenty-seven degrees Fahrenheit for almost a month), so, from a laybeasts view, whats the difference besides duration? Moreover, such species would definitely earn a reputation
though whether it was a reputation of immortality or undeath, mysticism or isolation, is of course up to the individual GM. After all, one beasts hibernating neighbor is anothers frozen food. Just ask anyone thats ever gone ice fishing. I woke up, and they were gone!
- In a fantasy realm, what happens if the dead months really dont exist? Whether through hibernation, suspended animation or a time-bending curse, most people in a region never experience these months. If the heroes possess the ability to actively survive during these months, they have free reign (albeit likely with some very strict limitations); if the villain has this power, things just became very, very interesting for the heroes. Whoever is exempt from the limitation basically has the entire region as their private sandbox for the duration.
- Outside fantasy, what happens if an entire society basically shuts down their economy during the dead times? Bad time to need a refuel at the spaceport
Closed For Hibernation. Back in April. (Bill Holbrooks online strip, Kevin and Kell, addresses this facet rather well, with temp agencies finding replacements for hibernating workers.)
- Back to fantasy: If certain months are dead times, perhaps the dead walk. People would stay inside not because of the cold, but because the dead come to life for these months to resume a semblance of their living activities. These would be months dedicated to the god/goddess of death and the underworld
perhaps magic would even be aspected toward death at this time.
- In fact, in some mythologies (Celtic and Germanic included), both the beginning and the end of the dead times were times of grave danger (pun intended), as the walls between Life and Death weakened with the change of seasons. If youve ever wanted an excuse to send your players characters against a horde of undead
Next time, I promise, its on to games. The elements of chance and skill, the designs and types of games, and how these can be impacted by species; all will be examined.
Until then, this is Wanderer, signing off!