Christmas Tree by Enimal

A few years ago I ran a Christmas-oriented scenario in my superhero campaign, and it was pretty successful on a number of fronts – so much so that I thought it worth taking the time to tell you all about it.

Scenario Premise

The concept of the scenario itself is remarkably simple: I had the characters do their christmas shopping and then give each other the gifts. There were only three rules:

  • The gifts had to reflect the personality of the gift-giver;
  • The gifts had to be appropriate to the recipient; and,
  • The gifts had to reflect the character’s cultural attitudes toward the season.

Each character was to rate which gift was most appropriate, both in terms of the giver and the receiver and the relationship between them; these ratings would be the basis apon which experience for the scenario would be determined.

Along the way, I was able to sneak in some campaign background, and a couple of subplots that would lead into future scenarios, but in essence, that was the heart of the scenario.

But as a scenario structure, and delivered in two parts with a time-gap in between, it hit a lot of sweet spots.

  • It gave each player the chance to dig a little deeper into their character’s background, either discovering their native society’s attitudes toward christmas, or – in the case of those which were completely fictitious – the chance to expand the character’s background into perspectives on property, on ownership, on generosity, on religion, on commercialisation, and so on;
  • It gave each player the chance to dig a little deeper into their character’s personality and relationships with their team-mates, exploring areas that rarely recieve attention during play;
  • It provided an avenue to progress and develop those relationships;
  • It captured a sense of ordinary day-to-day life within the campaign without being boring or about mundanities;
  • And lastly, by wrapping the gift descriptions at the table and including little christmas tags, it made the scenario itself feel like Christmas. In other words, it was fun, and light-hearted, and filled with a sense of comradeship and friendship, all without being soppy.

This scenario was so successful that early in the new campaign, I intend to run it again. Only two characters remain from that earlier time, out of five, and one of those two has experienced severe shifts in his personality in the intervening period. That won’t happen until Christmas 2011 or 2012, but it will happen.

Variations On A Theme

If you’ve already run something similar, there are a few variations on this theme that you can pull out of the box.

  • The Unwanted Gift – in which a gift is recieved that (entirely unintentionally) wreaks havoc on the vicinity;
  • With Enemies Like These – in which the characters have to provide an expensive gift for an Enemy for political or social reasons;
  • The Department Of Whimsy – in which government regulations collide with the christmas plans of a neighbour or friend and the party has to sort out the problem;
  • Scrooge For A Day – in which one of the characters is mistakenly targetted by the three spirits of Christmas as a Scrooge and has to convince them that he’s not
  • The Gift That Matters – in which the conflict with an enemy inadvertantly ruins the christmas of a small child, necessitating a cease-fire and the opposing sides coming together to make matters right {nb: humanises an enemy);
  • Can’t Buy Me Christmas – in which a PC and a stranger compete for the last gift on the department store shelf (play for laughs or it can get too schmaltzy)

…and so on.

I’ve tried many other christmas scenarios over the years, some based around the theme of hope, some based around the theme of three wise men, and so on; none of them have proven to work as well as gift-oriented scenarios, perhaps because there is too much baggage and too much scope for schmaltz with anything else. (I do have one more scenario up my sleeve, but I can’t talk about that one until I run it…)

And if there is no Christmas in your campaign?

…invent one. It might be a local celebration that the party just happen to be in the vicinity of. It might be a long-lost ritual that is being brought back for some reason. It might even be completely out-of-continuity, having zero impact on the campaign – the rewards it offers still make it worth running.

If you want more ideas on how to integrate real holidays into your campaign, you can read this post on the subject: “Holiday Hell – Rec-creating real holidays for RPGs”. If you would like more info on how to put a holiday together within a campaign, I recommend Johnn’s post “How to design a cool holiday for your game”. You might also find “With An Evil Gleam: Giving Treasure A Personality” to be useful.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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