The Rankin-Bass Holiday Special RPG

Before my buddy Randy moved away to Texas, we used to scheme over various half-baked ideas for webcomics, RPGs, and various other projects. None of these have fully come to fruition yet, but one idea that I think we were both pretty fond of was an RPG based on the old Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated holiday specials.

I mean, those various specials offer a wide variety of adventures, different character types, and even animation styles, but, if you disregard The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, which was based on a novel by L. Frank Baum, they developed very specific mythologies around their characters, even ones that are well-known and well-loved outside of the specials such as Santa and Rudolph.

In the name of geeky holiday-themed nonsense, I thought I’d share with you some tidbits of what might have been. Next time you’re watching “The Year Without a Santa Claus” or “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July”, you just might find yourself dropping the characters into categories, or trying to determine their attributes.


Attributes in the system would measure things that are important to know, such as a character’s basic strength, intelligence, and what not. They would be expressed in numbers from 1-25, probably worked out through some kind of point-buy system. I see the attributes as being Strength (for battling Bumbles and what not), Stamina (Nestor’s mother protecting him through the storm), Agility (Rudolph’s awesome physical prowess almost from day 1), Smarts (neither Frosty nor Jack Frost have a high level of this), Will (The Burgermeister Meisterburger has a strong one, much to everyone’s displeasure), Likeableness (Santa is maxed out in this stat!), and Cheer. Cheer is a stat representing your holiday spirit, and it can be used for activating holiday-based powers, as well as overcoming Gloom, the hopelessness that accompanies disbelieving children, terrible snowstorms that threaten to cancel the holidays, and stingy old men voiced by Walter Matthau.

Skills & Powers

There are a theoretically infinite number of skills and powers in the game. Every Archetype has three skills or powers associated with it, but each player character also gets to choose another skill or power that they choose to help make them unique, or to help them fit a particular design. For example, as an Elf, Hermey picks up Toymaking, Stealth, and Singing automatically, but in order to make his character stand out, he picks Dentistry as another skill. Rudolph is a Flying Reindeer, so he gets Athletics, Antler Combat, and Flying automatically, but he chooses Glowing Red Nose to stand out.


By looking at the specials, it becomes quickly apparent that there are some obvious archetypes to be played. Let’s look at some of the most common.

Human: Humans can be the biggest heroes or greatest villains of a scenario. Without the dogged perseverance of Iggy, there might really have been a Year Without a Santa Claus, and Jessica was a key figure in passing messages from a young Kris Kringle to the children of Sombertown. On the flip side, however, Kubla Krauss rules January Junction with an iron fist (not to mention Iron Ka-Nights), and Professor Hinkle almost stopped the legend of Frosty the Snowman before it began! Humans are unique in that they get to choose all four of their skills and powers, rather than just one. And before you think that humans are the generic group of the lot, let’s not forget that Santa himself is human, albeit with powerful allies and magic-items! Example Character: Yukon Cornelius. He may seem like a bit of a greedy idiot, but when the chips are down, he’ll wrestle a Bumble over a cliff to save his friends. He has the skills of Wrestling, Northlands Lore, and Pick-Axery, as well as the power of Super-Tasting.

Talking Animal: From groundhogs, to rabbits, to know-it-all mice, talking animals play an important role in the Rankin-Bass mythology. They get the skills of Aggressive Cuteness and Inconspicuous (no one ever suspects an animal of being a protagonist until that animal draws attention to itself). Animals get to choose two powers. One power must represent an attribute specific to your species, such as a skunk’s spray, a rabbit’s hopping ability, or a cheetah’s speed. Example Character: Albert Mouse. His extreme skepticism (a low Cheer score) almost cost Junctionville its Christmas, but he came through in the end, fixing a clock to save his family and the town’s holiday. He has the skills Know-It-All, Clockworks, and Combat Annoyance. His animal attribute is Diminutive, which allows him to get into hard to reach places.

Flying Reindeer: Reindeer are so holiday specific, they get their own archetype. These creatures, enhanced by magic corn provided by the Winter Warlock (please…call him Winter) are capable of unassisted flight. They receive the skills of Antler Combat and Athletics, and the Power of Flight. Example Character: Fireball. Fireball would actually make an excellent PC, as we know little about his career beyond the fact that he befriended a young Rudolph before the Red Nose got him excluded from reindeer games. Along with the standard reindeer powers, we’ll give Fireball the power of Combat Insult.

Elf: No, these aren’t the bow-wielding, tree-loving Lord of the Rings escapees of most RPGs. We’re talking Santa’s elves here. These shortish people with pointy ears and pointy shoes are amongst the most skilled toymakers in the world. They automatically receive the skills of Toymaking, Stealth, and Singing. Example Characters: Jingle & Jangle. Without Jingle and Jangle…um…well, nothing, really. If Mrs. Claus hadn’t goaded these two into looking for someone with some Christmas spirit, then Santa and Ignacious “Iggy”Thistlewhite would never have met, Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have had her run-ins with the Miser Brothers…well…I guess it would’ve meant a Year Without a Santa Claus…but maybe not, since, at the end, everything they’ve accomplished to give Santa day off comes to naught, as he goes out on his sleigh ride anyway. Sheesh.

Other Archetypes could include Mythological Figure (the Miser Brothers, to Jack Frost, the Leprechauns who inexplicably ended up linked to the holiday through one of the least-viewed Rankin-Bass specials ever…); Snowmen (Frosty, Crystal); Wizards (the Winter Warlock, Winterbolt)…the list is seemingly endless, and a few hours watching holiday T.V. will probably give you even more ideas.

Will I ever sit down and fully-flesh out this game? No, probably not. It’s a fun idea, but it’s yet another fun idea that I look at and think “I don’t have the time to devote to making this as awesome as it would need to be.” So instead, it’s an idea I give to all of you. If you like the idea, run with it! Maybe someday Rudolph, the Winter Warlock, and O’Grady the Leprechaun with set forth to fight Kubla Kraus and his army of Iron Scrooges. Who knows?

Who Would You Play?

If you were going to play a character in a Rankin-Bass RPG, who would you choose? Is there an existing character you’d like to be, or would you make someone totally knew? Pitch us your character ideas, and what skills or powers they might have. You just might inspire someone else’s next holiday game session.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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