At some point in our gaming lives, we may be tempted to execute a “holiday” game. The temptation grows immense in winter, when the psychic critical mass of the world’s winter holidays sits on top of your imagination and begs you to invite them to the table. Whether you’re running with a real-world holiday, religious event from the game’s canon, or your own home-brewed festival, I’ve got a few words of advice on making your very special holiday installment an enjoyable one.
Player Buy In
Consider this the bottom rung to achieve before trying to do a holiday game. If your player’s aren’t biting, your homage to television holiday episodes is going to be like being dragged face-first through a tunnel into Hell that’s lined with bad Christmas sweaters. “Sneaking up” on players with a holiday episode isn’t cool. If they come to you first asking if there’s going to be a Very Special Shadowrun Christmas this year, it’s worth the time to consider incorporating the holiday into at least one session.
A Die Hard Christmas Carol
Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie. If I had to pick a second one, it’s probably the Patrick Stewart A Christmas Carol. In Die Hard, Christmas is the thematic backdrop for one of the worst days John McClane will ever have. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge recants decades of being a total dick after being visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, and a host of freaky holiday spirits. These are both equally valid narrative choices. Depending on your game, and the genre involved, you may lean strongly towards a holiday serving as a backdrop to the session. Or you could get freaky and drag in holiday themed supernatural choices. Going with a mashup of both is also an option.
Lest anyone think the Jewish columnist recommending Christmas narratives is weird: check out Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins for a seriously spooky spin on Hanukkah.
The point is: you’re going with real-world winter holidays, go with what fits with your game. That could involve Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Saint Lucia’s Day, a host of holidays are out there. Pick a holiday that is appropriate to your group’s game. For an example of a holiday episode that incorporates a supernatural element, pulp animated series The Venture Brothers uses the legendary Krampus in their 2004 episode A Very Venture Christmas.
Is This Canon?
Sometimes the holiday episodes of our favorite television shows are never mentioned again. They happen in some sort of weird bubble; in the case of Haven’s Christmas episode, that’s actually the plot of that episode. It happens in a weird bubble. That episode is never mentioned again. Is your ‘holiday episode’ going to be done tongue in cheek? Is it a serious entry into your gaming group’s in-world history with each other? How much, if at all, is this session going to become a part of your group’s canon?
You’re Bringing the Cranberry Sauce
I used to be a GM for a live-action roleplaying troupe that did a holiday session every year, usually close but not on the real life date for the holiday. I’ve invaded Thanksgiving dinners with ghosts, run combat in hellfire clubs on Christmas, and helped bring about several fictional comas. I’ve also been at house cons where we took a break at sunset to light Hanukkah candles before we all went back to gaming.
Maybe your gaming group would dig having a holiday dinner together as a group during the same month a holiday is going down. They may even dig doing an in-character one, like my past larp troupe. Just remember, no matter how much you might dig the holidays, they can be stressful, so consider making a bit of time for some out of character bonding as a group. The holiday season is a fun time to unleash a few legends to entertain our players. It’s also a great time to check with each other, and see if there’s something you can do to make the holidays easier for the people at your table. Sometimes, that might involve rolling some dice.
What are ways you’ve pulled the holidays into your gaming group, in or out of character? Recipes, anecdotes, and words of wisdom are welcome in the comments.