Post Greyhawk Wars: 585 CY
This frigid seven-day period marks the transition from one calendar year to another, and is usually accounted as the start of the new year. Merchants typically complete their annual bookkeeping during Sunsebb, just prior to this week, figuring the taxes they owe for the year past as soon as spring comes (Growfest). Some guildmembers labor in their halls and shops, producing new goods of wood, cloth, and metal to sell in the coming year. All such work
ceases during Needfest.
All seven days of Needfest are public holidays in Greyhawk; this is a time to celebrate life when the weather is most miserable. Food stored away after harvest is brought out for grand dinners and all entertainment establishments are full to bursting. Each noble of Greyhawk invites his vassals and servants to dinner one night during this week, and charitable gifts of food and drink are common at such parties. The news and gossip of the year is reviewed and rehashed, and plans are laid for the coming year. Overindulgence and merrymaking are the rule. Some middle-class and noble citizens have a radition of decorating their homes with yellow candles, boughs of evergreen branches (symbolizing the triumph of life through hard times), and even magical lights and ornaments. Daytime displays of harmless illusion/phantasm spells are held at the High and Low Markets in the Free City, drawing many spectators.
Needfest is not a religious celebration per se, but local religions take note of it nonetheless. Special services are held at many churches and temples, complete with singing, music, sermons, and feasts to which the priests and their helpers invite all parishioners. The religions of Rao, Pelor, and St. Cuthbert banded together after the Greyhawk Wars to feed the refugees that flooded the city; this began a new practice that seems to have caught on. On Godsday (the 4th of Needfest), hundreds of small loaves of bread are distributed from booths at the Low Market to needy citizens from the Old City, who stand in a long line along the Processional from the Black Gate to get this bounty. The booths are operated by minor priests of the three religions involved, with the stoutly armed faithful of St. Cuthbert providing security and ensuring that everyone behaves. A smaller but similar event is held below Wharfgate for the destitute residents of Shack Town.
The clergies of Heironeous, Pholtus, and Trithereon do not participate, but they attempt to perform good deeds (or lawful deeds, for the former two) each day during this week. However, the great rivalries between the clergies of Pholtus and Trithereon, and between those of St. Cuthbert and Pholtus, provide unintended and lively antics for Greyhawk’s citizens to view, as the clerics of these faiths argue with each other and even fall to blows if their “good deeds” conflict in any possible way. Regrettably, Greyhawk’s citizens often cheer on such fights and make bets on the outcome.
The evening of Needfest Godsday is also known as Midwinter Night. On this night, Needfest 4th, only aquamarine Celene is visible in the sky, as Luna is new. For this reason, Midwinter Night is also called Handmaiden’s Glory or the Dim Night. This is a holy night for priests of Celestian, who conduct allnight services of moonwatching and stargazing on the grounds around the Grey College Observatory. Magical adjustments to the weather are sometimes made to ensure good viewing, though the temperature is always left cold enough to prevent widespread melting of snow and thus flooding. This tinkering with weather angers the few local druids, who consider this night holy and gather at the StoneRing outside the city’s Druid’s Gate for chanting, prayer, and other services.
The height of the midwinter celebration is Needfest 7th, the Feast of Fools. This is held from 5 P.M. to midnight, precisely timed by clocks and magic on that Freeday. The Feast of Fools is thought to have been established as a holiday by Zagig Yragerne, the city’s most famous Lord Mayor (now a demigod, Zagyg the Mad Archmage), but evidence suggests it is much older than that, perhaps dating back to the days when the city was brought into the Great Kingdom, around I CY.
During the Feast of Fools, the theme of reversal is explored: The high is made low, and the low is made high. The Lord Mayor and the Directing Oligarchy, wearing dunce’s caps and straitjackets, troop into the Old City in a ragged line, heading down alleys and streets through the Slum and Thieves’ Quarters. They stop to hear the words of simpletons and idiots along the way, listening sagely as crowds jeer and cheer them on. It is generally understood that any attack on these gentlemen will be swiftly detected and repulsed by the many thieves who are
guildmembers in the city, who are thick in the crowds but nondescript in appearance. The much feared Guild of Assassins is also said to be out in force on this night, providing an extra level of security.
Elsewhere in the city during the Feast of Fools, madness reigns. Thieves secretly leave small bags of coins for former victims and the poor to find. Warriors beg children to save them from unseen monsters. Rangers claim to be lost, and paladins loudly challenge puppets to single combat. Judges and senior officials in the Courts of justice are stood on the docks and tried by lowly clerks and messengers for absurd crimes, after which they are (briefly) jailed. The sages and tutors of Grey College, the University of Magical Arts, and other
schools sit in the audience as their most inexperienced students happily regale
them with nonsense. Even the clergy of churches and temples take part in this event, though the actual rites vary according to the religion practiced. Priests of Rao are addressed by fools and maniacs. Clerics of Heironeous listen to tales of heroism and sacrifice told by known liars and cowards. Members of the Order of St. Cuthbert listen to any religious advice offered by those of other faiths and appear completely won over, smacking themselves on the forehead for having been so misguided before.
All of this silliness is overseen by The Fool, the most talented bard or jester in the city, who gains this very honorable appointment by vote of the Directing Oligarchy. For the seven hours of the Feast, The Fool is lord of the city. Whatever The Fool orders is done, though these directives (like everything else that goes on in the city at this time) must be governed by a carefully designed logic of paradox. Nothing that threatens the security of Greyhawk, injures any citizen, destroys property, involves physical violence, and so on is allowed. The Feast of Fools is meant to be completely in fun, with no later regrets; even The Fool must be careful not to do something dangerous or stupid. A “stupid” act in this case is anything that might offend someone so much that The Fool will be very sorry about it later. (Angering the Lord Mayor is considered “very stupid;”
angering Glodreddi Bakkanin, the
Inspector of Taxes, or Vesparian
Lafanel, rumored to be the
Guildmaster of Assassins, is plainly
the act of a genuine madman.)