DMing 101 – Christmas
Welcome to the DMing 101 Christmas special! As part of the ongoing genre’s series, I’ll be offering some advice on how you can run a special game for your friends to make Christmas a bit more nerdy, just like I promised I would (aren’t I nice).
Advance warning: Part of this article espouses views about Christmas that may greatly contradict some people’s perspectives, I know it can be a touchy subject for some, so you have been warned.
Genres – Christmas
You can’t do it all year round, but at least once why not take your regular game and make it a little more festive? Make your Christmas party more adventurous, mix in cracker-jokes with your plot hooks. Once the table’s clear of food, lay out the character sheets and settle in for a more interesting Christmas night.
Here is something to bear in mind: You need not go overtly “Christmassy” to create a festive feel. With the large blend of ethnic and cultural histories wrapped into one celebration, you only need to go for a few more universal aspects that make Christmas what it is.
- Winter: It’s the winter solstice, it should therefore be winter, or at least snowing during your game. It needn’t cause a hindrance, it could be a purely narrative difference, but there are more hazards you can play around with; slick ice, vision impairment, the cold itself. The sun should be low to the horizon, how does that affect your view of the world?
- Children’s Stories: Bit of a leap for this one, but Christmas is a time for family, and children tend to be the main focus. In Britain (I honestly don’t know about elsewhere) it’s also pantomime season, Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan, all the classic kids tales played out on stage. Consider drawing on their stories, their characters, or even take them back to the real Grimm stories. The lore around Santa is a fantastic tool for creating stories too.
- Fun: This should of course be part of all games, but you should avoid real fear, or elements of horror. Darker elements of your game should have an almost comical air to them. Consider taking the time to get experimental with game mechanics to create interesting new encounters, or incorporate music, rhymes, or christmas songs into the narrative, or as part of a puzzle.
Remember that in a Christmas game you only have a short time to build the atmosphere, and you may need to pre-build characters to save time. Consider tailoring the party to the story, if you’re prepared to put the work in it can make for a more interesting story, and gives you a lot more room to play with your own ideas. You can also replicate children’s tales by making your group take the roles of characters in the story.
Comedy is key, and there’s so much media and content that’s just ripe for parody. I for one enjoy taking the good guys and turning them around, like making Santa the evil slaver and overlord, but you can always reinvent the classics like Scrooge or the Grinch. What about taking a character like the Gingerbread Man and making him an elusive thief?
To keep things more amicable and less confrontational, why not run a quest without a bad guy? Give your players a task rather than pitch them into a fight with an enemy. With Christmas on the way you can create a sense of urgency with a deadline, give your group a tall order with a short timeline.
Above all, remember to keep things in the spirit of the season, keep the references to Christmas “stuff” flowing, they needn’t even be relevant – it’s Christmas, you can’t be any more cheesy than the music.
Christmas is filled with stories worth retelling, a parade of bad films about the time [X] saved Christmas, or tales of redemption. We’ve all read them by the hundred over the years, but here are a few ideas of adventures you can run this Christmas season.
Save Christmas: Something terrible has happened to ruin everyone’s favourite time of year. A grumpy old soul feels alone and is determined to make everyone feel as bad as they do. Just once, can’t the adventure be to bring joy to everyone at Christmas time? And how can a small band of heroes do the seemingly impossible.
Watch – The Nightmare Before Christmas
Play – Costume Quest
Escape: Captured, and forced to make toys for a wicked overlord. You awaken in a mysterious realm, no knowledge of how you came to be there. Taken in the night and locked away, if you break free you’ll make sure you’re never on the naughty list again. How can you escape your magical prison? Will you ever see your family and friends again?
Watch – Die Hard
Play – Riven
A Long Way To Go: An around-the-world trip in one night can’t be done with a busted vehicle. You can’t get home in time without getting a little creative about how you travel. Precious cargo will need very careful handling if you’re ever going to get it to its’ destination in one piece. A journey can be a quest in its’ own right, especially if that journey is littered with obstacles and challenges, and a sense of urgency.
Watch – Community: Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
Play – Rock of Ages