“Gather, all, for night falls and brings the deepest darkness with it! This is a time that brings both fear and trepidation, but these tales will protect us from Old Scarwood and his ilk as long as the terror rings true.”
– Traditional start to the Warding of Pallowen
Pallowen, known in some areas of the continent as the Frightful Harvest, is a yearly festival celebrated in honor of the last day of autumn. It acknowledges the blessings gained throughout the year and the role that both good and evil play in the lives of the people. It is a time to give thanks, but more importantly, it is a day of warding. Warding against not only the darkness of the season to come but of the nefarious creatures and evil spirits that are empowered during this transitional season.
A Druid’s Sacrifice
There are two central figures of Pallowen: Pallowen, the brave halfling druid that the holiday is named for, and Old Scarwood, a dark and twisted tree creature full of rot, blight, and malice. As the legend goes, a thousand years ago, the specter of a blighted druid tormented the people of the countryside, poisoning their crops and blighting their forests. After many people valiantly tried and failed to stop the wicked spirit, a humble halfling druid answered the call of the woodlands that depended on her.
Pallowen battled the foul spirit, but the specter was powerful, more powerful than Pallowen by far. But the druid knew that if she didn’t stop this evil it would continue to spoil and corrupt the lands that she loved. So Pallowen cried out to her god of nature and channeled every bit of earthen energy that she could muster from the ground beneath them and into the specter, destroying herself in the process. Her desperate gambit worked, but only partially. The specter wasn’t destroyed but was instead sealed within a great tree, where it has been trapped since that day so long ago, merging its essence completely with the tree that holds it. But there is one day a year when the spirit, now known as Old Scarwood, is free to roam the world again. The transition between the seasons when all evil is at its most powerful. The day now called Pallowen.
A Festival in Parts
Pallowen begins at first light and ends at first light the following day, and is a holiday filled with food, costumes, dancing, and stories. The traditional celebration is separated into several distinct parts, each representing Pallowen’s battle with Scarwood, but it’s not uncommon for urban areas to focus more on the masquerade and treat giving aspects of the holiday.
At first light, The Grace of Pallowen starts and is seen as a time to recognize the bounties of life and the harvest. It starts with fasting, while the community gathers to decorate and prepare the feast and treats for the day of celebration. When the sun is at its highest, they break their fast and begin the Great Meal, a time for family, friends, and welcomed visitors to come together and show their gratitude. It’s customary that each person at the table takes a turn to speak their gratitude aloud and acknowledge the fruitful gains that they’ve made over the season, generally while receiving jovial ribbing and teasing from the others around the table.
The Warding of Pallowen starts as the feasting comes to an end and the sun begins to hang low in the sky. It’s the time of the holiday to focus on fear and how to face it. It’s a commonly held belief that Pallowen marks the transition between autumn and winter, and that this transitionary period on the Prime Material plane is a time when evil creatures and spirits, led by Old Scarwood himself, are at their most active and powerful.
To ward off the creatures of the night, and stop them from bringing famine and disease to the community, the people gather together and tell scary stories and legends of great evil. These tales are always told in the first person, as though the speaker themself was the one causing the terrors of from their story, in order to trick Old Scarwood and any other wandering evils into believing that the village has already been claimed by nefarious beings bragging about their conquests.
The second half of The Warding is full of fun and celebration, as everyone puts on colorful costumes and gathers the treats they had prepared earlier in the day, placing them in a central Pallowen basket. After the treats are gathered together, all of the children (and lighthearted adults), who have dressed themselves as various monsters, demons, and villains, begin their parade around the perimeter of the village, winding around the streets and houses and marching past the Pallowen Basket to collect treats wrapped in parchment and containing blessings and prayers for the season to come.
The Sealing of Pallowen is a time to recognize the druid Pallowen’s sacrifice and to protect the village and people during the hard season to come. After the parade, the people gather together for dancing and games, celebrating for as long as they can before midnight approaches.
Midnight on Pallowen, being not only the transition of one day to another but of one season into the next is believed to be the most dangerous time of the year. As the celebrations and festivities come to a close, villagers giddily rush back to their homes, laughing and scrambling to collect the pieces of parchment containing the good omens and tidings that their neighbors festooned their treats in on the way. To close the evening, and provide the final act of protection for the season to come, they burn the pieces of parchment on the doorsteps of their homes, sending the good wishes and blessings into the ether to join the spirit of Pallowen herself.
The following are plot hooks that you can use to stir up some adventure on Pallowen.
- While traveling through a great swamp, the party realizes that midnight has passed on Pallowen and the ominous feeling of being followed settle upon them. The rush to make it back to civilization now begins.
- On the outskirts of a small hamlet, the group is approached by a terrified young child that tells them that her mother is going to be sacrificed by the locals in an attempt to drive off Old Scarwood.
- During the Warding of Pallowen, the sound of snapping trees and piercing screams suddenly interrupts the festivities, as several treants amble into the town square.
- While walking down the street, an unseen force suddenly lifts a horse and throws it through a tavern window. Screams can be heard coming from the building as people spill into the street still dressed in their Pallowen costumes.
- Raina Pamerra, a local lord, has asked that a nearby dungeon be emptied out before midnight on Pallowen. She fears that the evil within will devastate the countryside if left unchecked during this dangerous season.
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Featured Image: The Pallowen Symbol by Victor Benitez Morales
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