Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Christmas Adventures

[What better time for such a post than July 5?]

Because I make Halloween adventures, I have often been asked, "are you going to make a Christmas adventure next?"

The short answer is no. But because I've been asked so many times, I've put a lot of thought into it. Here's my full answer.

The first and most important reason why I wouldn't is that I don't really like Christmas. Some years I'm in more of a "it's just not for me" mood, but other years I can get pretty Grinch-y. And so I wouldn't really be the right person for the job. I hope that anyone who reads or plays Tricks & Treats can tell that I fucking love Halloween. But if I'm correct and that shows through in the finished work, then surely my lack of love for Christmas would show in any attempt I make at a Christmas adventure. It deserves to be made by someone who has enough passion to do the task justice.

But I also have a weirder, less convincing reason why. A train of thought where I've talked myself into believing that, ackchyually, a Christmas adventure would be inherently inferior to a Halloween adventure for XYZ reasons!

The problem with Christmas adventures

Tricks & Treats follows a formula. Not one that I devised methodically, but that I intuited naturally. Which is important. What are the core moods that describe Halloween? It's 1) scary, 2) funny, and 3) sexy. What are the core moods that describe Christmas? It's 1) sentimental, 2) cozy, and 3) stressful. Which of those two is better suited to a traditional D&D-like RPG? D&D is already driven primarily by a balance of scary and funny, and sexy makes for a great icing on top. RPGs that are sentimental, cozy, and/or stressful can be brilliant, but they are major departures from the sort of activity we're talking about.

Trying to twist Christmas to be fit for D&D adventure is, at best, a subversion. It's an ironic, humorous departure from what you expect out of the holiday. With Halloween, it's already a D&D adventure. If you had a childhood like mine, it was the closest thing you got to experiencing something D&D-like in real life. Even without monster costumes and tricks, Halloween is intrinsically about fear in its most basic activity. When you're a kid, you're told to always follow rules. Don't walk in the street, don't stay out after dark, don't talk to strangers, and don't wander in places you don't know. But then, for one night of the year, you're told to break all of those rules at once. For a lot of kids, that's terrifying. Which is what makes it so much fun. Contrast this with the main activity of Christmas: hanging out with your family. That's some NPC shit.

Halloween is celebrated among friends whereas Christmas is about family (generally speaking). It can be interesting now and then to try having a familial relationship within the party. But telling the whole party, "you have to play as a family. You can be a parent, child, grandparent, weird uncle, whatever" is less appealing to many players than just being separate characters. They might enjoy it as a novelty, but it's a major constraint of story and character possibilities. Plus, a lot of folks don't like the theme of family (for similar reasons to why they may not enjoy Christmas itself. Ahem).

Halloween is more about going out and doing things whereas Christmas is about spending the day indoors. There are exceptions of course, but the private nature of Christmas is what makes an activity feel Christmas-y. My own family has often gone to the movie theatre on Christmas, but that's not really a Christmas-y activity. It's just something we do because we aren't really into the holiday and so we don't do most of the common stuff.

Halloween is already about monsters and treasure-seeking whereas Christmas is respite from both danger and temptation. It's also more overtly religious, which creates issues. Plus, the naughty vs nice thing is extremely analogous to D&D alignment, which is one of the most widely-hated parts of D&D. Hell, for decades now Halloween has been lumped in with D&D by religious fundamentalists and other Satanic Panic ghouls (which, yes, is still going on).

Of course, why not break the rules? Why not make a Christmas adventure that subverts the main emotions of the holiday? My two favorite Christmas movies are Gremlins and Die Hard, which are both fucking excellent models for D&D adventure. Well, here's why.

There are a loooooot of people who fucking hate when you mess with the Christmas formula. Usually, it's the Christmas-super fans, too. The ones who are convinced of some kind of nebulous concept of a "Christmas spirit." Personally, I think that adding horror and action to Christmas fucking rules. But I'm not the target audience for Christmas products, am I? Even if my opinion is correct, it doesn't matter. The very fact that there's such an insanely vocal and vicious group of people who insist on branding those movies as "not truly Christmas films" every year is indicative of the inflexible nature of the holiday. You could make a Christmas adventure where the family gathering is interrupted by monsters who need to be fought off, and it could be awesome. But even if it's awesome, there will be an insufferable and overwhelming contingent of the audience who screeches, "tEcHnIcAlLy It'S nOt A cHrIsTmAs AdVeNtUrE!" You'll never get that for Halloween.

That being said...

If I ever change my mind or someone else wants to make some Christmas adventures, here's my best ideas.

Monsters / villains
  1. Krampus (duh)
  2. Jack Frost (use those crazy weather effects and environmental hazards)
  3. Killer snowmen (just steal from Calvin and Hobbes)
  4. Gingerbread dungeon + golems
  5. Either the rats from the Nutcracker or the Nutcracker himself, with his palace as a dungeon. A heist to steal the Sugarplum Fairy's tiara actually sounds awesome.
  6. The ghosts of the Seleucids, i.e., I would totally include a Hanukkah episode
  7. Okay maybe I'll need to do a different thing for the Hanukkah one because clearly there needs to be a Christmas Carol-themed one about ghosts and time travel
  8. The elf on that goddamn shelf cannot be trusted
Other bullshit

Every adventure should take place on Christmas Eve, not Christmas day. That way, you can have active, outdoor adventures. Last-minute shopping at the mall, getting a tree from a tree farm, going sledding, caroling, that sort of thing.

Halloween may have candy, but Christmas has presents. This should be a prominent game element somehow. The wrap-up ritual at the end of the adventure should probably be a quick Christmas day celebration where everyone declares the gifts they got for everyone.

I would absolutely include Naughty vs Nice as an alignment system. Fuck the haters, I love alignment. The stupider, the better.

Another idea would be to lengthen the adventure. It's a 12-day scenario where the players have to choose how they spend each of those days leading up to Christmas. The general map, NPCs, activities, and details are mostly the same from year to year (small changes here and there), but the main difference is the new monster + mystery each year. The scale would be a bit zoomed out from traditional D&D, but you'd still have the task of trying to get all your Christmas-season stuff finished by the deadline. Of course, by halfway through the scenario, the sinister villain's machinations are disrupting the status quo enough that they demand to be addressed, and by Christmas Eve you are in full crisis mode.

...Okay, I'm beginning to kinda like the sound of this.



  1. Those whiny people you mention don't understand Christmas properly. Anyone who knows how many days it has and what a lord of misrule is knows that it's fine to have a Christmas D&D adventure.

  2. The Grinch lays out the perfect template for a Christmas adventure - the PCs are tasked with Saving Christmas from some terrible monster who has stolen something precious - all the presents, some physical manifestation of the Christmas Spirit or perhaps Santa himself. Bonus points if there's a non-obvious method to grow the Grinches heart 3 sizes that day.

  3. Santa needs the party's help but when they try and fulfill what should be an easy fetch quest, they discover that Santa is a newer, more sanitized version of Odin. And there's only one reindeer and he has 8 legs...

  4. Isn't the Green Knight a Christmas story?

    1. Alright alright that is tied with Gremlins and Die Hard. And it could be adapted to D&D pretty easily. Much trickier to do in a modern setting for a more general, non-fantasy audience, though.

    2. A Halloween story should definitely have horror theming, so an invasion of the supernatural into the real world makes sense. It plays on people's sense of security. But Christmas being all about joy and happiness would be better represented through themes of escapism. Think Narnia, or being taken by Santa back to the North Pole. Halloween world comes to us, but Christmas world is ventured INTO. Christmas makes for a better Isekai style adventure than Halloween; and I think that would open up more options for different kind of stories too.

  5. For those painfully hooked on history, the twelve days of Christmas *starts* on the 25th of December and ends on Epiphany, 6th January, with the arrival of the Three Kings. Crossing that with "What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" and you have all sorts of horrific "impending doom", or maybe even "tower defense", scenarios possible?