The Gauntlett
Making the Ever-Dreadful Christmas Scenario Good

Adam Gauntlett | 10 Dec 2014 15:00
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Or perhaps the group takes shelter in a small village during a terrific storm, at the height of which the Wild Hunt is seen tearing through the sky. At the end of it the villagers are horrified to discover that the graveyard has been demolished, and the bones of many of their dead taken, presumably by the Hunt. Without those bones the ancestors won't come back for the solstice feast, or grant their blessings and protection to the villagers. The local lord offers a reward to anyone willing to challenge the Wild Hunt and get the dead back in their rightful graves. Will the heroes face down the Wild Hunt directly, or strike some kind of bargain for the village's ancestors? Why did the Hunt take those bones; was it some kind of recruitment drive?

While I enjoy fantasy games, I haven't played them for a while. Dungeons and Dragons is a distant memory for me; I'm fonder of horror titles like Call or Trail of Cthulhu. Say one of those settings were to be used for a Christmas tale; what would that tale be?

If this is a New England tale, perhaps in Lovecraft's Arkham, you have the added advantage of Puritanism. The Puritans hated Christmas and all it stood for, condemning mirth, and the pagan Misrule that came with it. Even mince pies and pudding were considered dangerous, and there was no better way to make yourself unpopular than to be someone who celebrated the season, a Christmas Keeper. In the 1600s if you were found guilty of celebrating on Christmas Day you were excommunicated from the church, had your ears clipped, and spent time in the stocks; in 1644 Christmas was banned altogether. The fight against Christmas in New England was long and bitter, and though the law against Christmas was repealed in 1681 there was still a strong popular feeling against the holiday for many decades afterward.

Picture a New England town blasted by snowstorms, the like of which hasn't been seen in over fifty years. The local Historical Society is determined to hold its Christmas celebration come what may, but someone or something seems hell-bent on preventing it. There are several nasty incidents, culminating in a gory assault on one of the Society's volunteers, who was setting up decorations when he was attacked. When discovered, the now earless victim has a few ragged scraps of clothing in his hands, and long-dead flesh scrapings under his fingernails. What really happened to him, and can this madman be stopped before a tragedy happens?

Or let's say it's a Harlequin story, and this time let's make it slightly more science fiction. I'm going to assume for the purposes of this outline that the game world is futuristic, with all the cybernetics and artificial intelligence that implies, but still remembers its historic past, or at least has records to clue the characters in as to what's happening. This could also suit a superhero game.

The Harlequin in this story is an artificially intelligent humanoid with superhuman reflexes, capable of doing a lot of damage. In a Cyberpunk setting this could also be someone with cyberpsychosis, though a much milder form than usual. This Harlequin believes it is on stage, performing, all the time. It wants to make fun of its master, the buffoonish old man, and make love to its beloved Columbine. Trouble is, its short term memory is completely fried. It can't remember who its master is, or its Columbine, so it assumes everyone it meets must be one or the other. There are three typical master types for Harlequin, the Doctor, the Wealthy Man, and the Mysterious Swordsman, a mercenary military character and secret coward. Harlequin will attempt to best the pedant Doctor in debate, show up the Swordsman for the coward he is, steal the Wealthy Man's money, and make sweet love to his Columbine. The characters are tasked with capturing, not destroying, Harlequin; its former owners, or the law, want it back in good condition. Perhaps one way to do that is to let the Harlequin win, but that could turn into a race against time as the characters struggle to ensure Harlequin wins the debate, steals the money, bests the Swordsman and woos Columbine, all before its short term memory gives out and the process has to begin again.

Whether or not you choose to play a Christmas scenario, here's hoping your holiday season's a good one!

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