The Most Dangerous Time of the Year

The holiday season is upon us again, and you may be wondering how you can add some holiday spirit to your game. However, at the same time you may not want to give your player characters an easy time drinking mulled wine and giving each other gifts. Here are a few ways to add a touch of festive style and still give your player characters a really hard time in the adventure.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.


Snow is a beautiful thing, lovely crisp and smooth, like a white blanket across the land. But it’s only actually nice when you are inside. Thick drifts of snow are not so much fun when you are outside. For a start you only get snow when it’s cold, so the beautiful blanket may force adventurers not properly attired to make fortitude saves to not lose some hit points. Movement can also become difficult in thick drifts, forcing disadvantage on things like acrobatics and athletics. Don’t forget as well that snow is frozen water, so anyone covered in it will be wet once they start to get warm again.


It’s always nice to receive presents, at least until you open the box. You can begin an adventure with a surprise package for your group that turns out to be much more than they can handle. Dangerous animals as gifts can be a lot of fun, for the Gamemaster at least, as can a bomb that starts a timer as soon as the box is open. Even the most innocuous looking present can be dangerous if someone else wants it badly enough and knows where it got sent. Firefly made good use of gift giving in the episode ‘The Message’ with two of the group taking delivery of the corpse of an old war buddy, and Brad Pitt wasn’t very pleased with his surprise package in ‘Seven’.


A jolly man giving out gifts in a sleigh that flies so fast it can visit every house in the space of a night sounds very nice. But if you change the words ‘giving out gifts’ to ‘delivering an explosive payload’ you are dealing with an apocalyptic weapon. If what Santa is giving out isn’t very nice, you are going to have to move very fast to stop him, or set a trap. While the later you set the trap the more chance you have of being ready for him, the most lives may be sacrificed before he reaches it.

Now, I’m not saying Santa has to be evil. Plenty of dreadful things can be done with good intentions. Given he also goes by the name St. Nicolas, which god is he a saint of in your world? A religious fanatic might distribute some form of holy item that converts people to ‘the one true path’ whether they like it or not. Can St. Nick be convinced not everyone will see it as a gift?


Santa needs help to craft and organise his operation and he usually turns to elves. While it’s good to have work, not all elves might be happy to give up a life of adventure for factory work. Santa probably doesn’t need them all year, and so maybe he does a little forced recruiting at this time. After a jingling of sleigh bells, the party might be surprised to notice the elves in the group have all vanished. Maybe there is a note (and a mince pie) saying they will be returned, but can you trust it?

The question also remains, why elves? Is there some magical quality to their species that is the only way to get the work done? If so, do half elves have it? Is it just an ability, or do they need to put a little of their soul into what they are crafting? If they can’t be rescued, will they be drained of their life and soul before New Year’s Eve? If it is both a regular event and people don’t come back, a community of elves might fear this ‘culling’ each year and engage adventurers to help them fight back.


Popular holiday plants are already dangerous, holly is full of spikes and mistletoe is poisonous. So if you want to bring a holiday theme you could do worse than introduce a deadly poisoning. The player characters might have to find an antidote to the deadly seasonal death potion, or perhaps find a seasonal plant to use as the antidote.


Some seasonal traditions might also have developed to ward off holiday problems or protect people against the terrors of the season. Any small ritual or tradition, like kissing under a plant or putting up a decorated tree might actually have a warding or protective power. If people know about and believe in this power, they will be very concerned about anyone who fails to follow such rituals. If the real reason for the ritual has faded from public knowledge, anyone who is too busy to perform it this year is in for a lot of unexpected trouble. Rituals are great for this sort of story as they can be as big as a whole village fire festival, to as small as putting marshmallows in hot chocolate. But its power an importance need not relate to how big the ritual is. It’s always more of a surprise when failing to do something simple like kiss under the mistletoe is enough to call forth the demon lord with snow covered havoc.

So, there you have it, some ways to bring a holiday feel to your campaign, but not one your players will be expecting in this season of goodwill…

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


Nice article. We had in a GURPS Steampunk-campaign that we needed to travel to the North pole, and delivery certain things to Santa, according to an old treaty. I seem to recall that some of the things involved griffon feathers and some steamy romance novels.

Other ideas, you have to convince Santa to move you from the naughty-list to the nice-list.

I'd suggest adding a couple of things to the list:

1.) Krampus- He's like a cross between Santa and the Bogeyman

2.) Frosty's Hat- Sure it's great when you put the magic hat on a snowman and the snowman comes to life, but what if someone put it on the body of one of the great villains of history, and brought them back to life?


Lord of the Hidden Layer
My group played a Christmas-themed side trek one year, and at the end Santa gave my character a pair of hand crossbows with the special Out of the Abyss duergar modification to light crossbows.

Little did my DM know my sneaky- and DPR-optimized Ranger/Rogue had recently earned enough XP to reach Ranger5 (for Extra Attack).
And he now had two 6-shooter pistols. 😍

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