Three hundred years ago, Greyhawk was a thriving metropolis surrounded by fertile farmlands, the very picture of prosperity and happiness. None were more successful than the mages who inhabited the tower at the centre of the city. That is, until the Witching Plague began. The tales spread rapidly through the city, started by fearful washer women and superstitious kitchen boys, growing until they were scarce to be believed in the smallest outlying villages – tales of men and women dying in agony, of mutilated corpses, mad men throwing themselves off the tower, and fires that seemed to come alive and scour the rooms. The people, who had always feared and distrusted magic, believed it was a judgement from the gods. Magic users were driven out of the towns and villages, in some they were lynched. But it wasn’t enough, the plague came anyway and consumed those with the slightest hint of the gift. The people even turned against the clerics, for their prayers did nothing and perhaps their magic fed the destruction as well, eventually even they succumbed to the plague. Artifacts and spells books were destroyed, consumed by bonfires or melted in forges, except for a few hidden by mages in hopes that future generations would discover and use their power.
A decade later, the plague had been mostly defeated, with the population of Oerth nearly eliminated. Greyhawk, abandoned, became a ruin of poverty and disease; trading had all but stopped between the smaller towns and villages as the survivors huddled together and focused on survival and propagation. People feared to travel, the countryside was said to be haunted by the ghosts of the slain, lost in between life and death – the gods having seemingly abandoned the world.
Over time, the people learned how to live in this new world. Those that couldn’t died of starvation and exposure early on. Eventually, a few brave souls began to travel, hoping to trade for supplies to keep their town alive or for someone to marry who wasn’t a cousin. Over the years, they established trading routes and even a few larger towns, bringing back the old feudal system on a smaller scale. Now, it is tradition for the smaller villages to send some of their youth to the “city” in the interests of friendship and exogeny. Every few years, new citizens arrive from other villages and they send their emissaries out in exchange. The roads are considered to be safe, but recent traveling parties have reported seeing strange lights in the sky and having encounters with ravening beasts they’d never seen before. The people have mostly forgotten the plague, but perhaps it had further reaching consequences than anyone ever knew.
You live in Hommlett, about a week’s journey from the city of Verbobonc, though it may take longer in poor weather. The people of your village are mostly farmers and fishermen; a few hunters keep everyone supplied with fresh game and leather, but you must trade with the other towns for fruits, cloth, coal, and metal. School meets in the old church building every morning, but by the age of ten most of the children are needed to work – only those from large families, or the particularly wealthy, have the luxury of a thorough education.
This year, it is your village’s turn to send a party away to what’s left of Greyhawk, to be replaced with newcomers from another town far away. As per tradition, unmarried villagers between the ages of fourteen and eighteen will participate in the harvest day games for selection. The winners will be taught basic medicine: how to bind a wound, set a broken bone, and draw poison from a bite; and will be gifted one weapon each from Hommlett’s meager armoury, along with the usual traveling supplies.
If you want to join the party, you must participate in the Festival. The Festival is a series of competitions to determine who are the most worthy men and women to send to the Yearfeast.