The Nightmare Before ChristmOz

Game Masters looking to run Christmas-themed one-shot games over the holidays need look no further than The Nightmare Before Christmas. Tim Burton's movie has become an iconic symbol of the holiday cycle in America, but its roots are much older...and considerably more violent. For that, we can thank L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz which inspires the iconic movie, wrote several other stories that he later set in Oz. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus fleshes out a full backstory for its namesake, a baby adopted by a wood nymph named Necile and a lioness named Shiegra. Under their tutelage, Claus moves into the Laughing Valley and makes toys for children, which greatly upsets fiends known as awgwas. The joy that Claus spreads thwarts the awgwas' misery-making efforts, so they decide to kidnap him. Claus gets away -- he's friends with an entire army of faeries -- and after another failed attempt, the immortals who look over Claus decide they've had enough. A full-fledged war breaks out:
And on the third day after the declaration of war a mighty army was at the command of the King Awgwa. There were three hundred Asiatic Dragons, breathing fire that consumed everything it touched. These hated mankind and all good spirits. And there were the three-eyed Giants of Tatary, a host in themselves, who liked nothing better than to fight. And next came the Black Demons from Patalonia, with great spreading wings like those of a bat, which swept terror and misery through the world as they beat upon the air. And joined to these were the Goozzle-Goblins, with long talons as sharp as swords, with which they clawed the flesh from their foes. Finally, every mountain Awgwa in the world had come to participate in the great battle with the immortals.

The side of good rallies their own troops:
Soon the entire Valley, from hill to hill, was filled with the little immortals. The Master Woodsman stood first, bearing a gleaming ax that shone like burnished silver. Next came the Ryls, armed with sharp thorns from bramblebushes. Then the Knooks, bearing the spears they used when they were forced to prod their savage beasts into submission. The Fairies, dressed in white gauze with rainbow-hued wings, bore golden wands, and the Wood-nymphs, in their uniforms of oak-leaf green, carried switches from ash trees as weapons.

Things don't go well for the awgwa army, who greatly underestimates the powers of the immortals. Claus goes back to making toys and eventually the immortals decide grant him immortality so he can continue his good work. Baum would return to the subject of Santa Claus later in another short story. The story was retold by Rankin Bass in a 1985 film of the same name.

The Nightmare Before Christmas borrows liberally from the Oz mythos:

The film follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, Halloweentown's beloved pumpkin king, who has become bored with the same annual routine of frightening people in the "real world." When Jack accidentally stumbles on Christmastown, all bright colors and warm spirits, he gets a new lease on life -- he plots to bring Christmas under his control by kidnapping Santa Claus and taking over the role. But Jack soon discovers even the best-laid plans of mice and skeleton men can go seriously awry.

There's Santa Claus himself in a land populated by fey folk, a talking pumpkin-headed being known as Jack Pumpkinhead, a talking scarecrow (just like Sally), and even a little dog (Zero standing in for Toto).

A Kidnapped Santa Claus

This story is essentially a retelling of the first book, but with a different ending. The awgwas are renamed daemons, with each assigned an emotion: Selfishness, Envy, Hatred, Malice, and Repentance. Like the awgwas, the daemons kidnap Santa Claus. Without Claus, it's up to his fey companions to manage Christmas toy delivery: Nuter the Ryl, Peter the Knook, Kilter the Pixie, and a small fairy named Wisk. They soon gather a faerie army to retrieve Claus (this time, there are also pixies and gnomes among them). Before they come to blows, the daemon of repentance realizes the error of his ways and lets Santa go free.

In the Nightmare Before Christmas, three evil children kidnap Santa Claus (Lock, Shock, and Barrel) on behalf of their boss, Oogie Boogie. They roughly line up with Selfishness, Envy, and Hatred, with Oogie acting as the daemon of Malice. It's up to Claus' proxies to deliver gifts for Santa, and they screw it up too -- something Santa has to fix when he's back in control, thanks to Jack who has a change of heart. Jack himself plays the part of the daemon of repentance, who regrets kidnapping Claus.

Baum wasn't quite done with Santa though. He eventually had the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead visit the jolly old man himself.

The Queer Visitors from Oz

In this short story, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Woggle-Bug, and the Saw-Horse decide to give back to the children of America as thanks for their hospitality. Each of them uses their magic to create toys in their own image. They even challenge Claus' flying reindeer to a race with their mechanical gump, but are quickly outmatched. Just as in The Nightmare Before Christmas, the scarecrow and pumpkinhead work on creating their own toys for Christmas.

There's a host of role-playing scenarios in these three stories, with the war between the fey folk and the awgwas/daemons particularly fertile ground for a Christmas-based game. PCs could be some of Santa's allies, managing his Christmas deliveries without him. And if they're really looking for a fight, they could go to war against the dragons, giants, demons, awgwas, and goblins. In the next installment, we'll take a closer look at the armies of evil aligned against the forces of good.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to You can follow him at Patreon.
Michael Tresca



Orcus on a bad hair day
This is pretty nifty, I had no idea Oz handled Santa Claus. I'm finding more and more references to the Oz books in cool things. I had never really looked at them to read and I think I need to revisit that.


Heroes of Oz RPG by Grey Ghost Games has adventures including stats for Santa Claus and his adventures in/around Oz.


Heroes of Oz RPG by Grey Ghost Games has adventures including stats for Santa Claus and his adventures in/around Oz.
Was this full game ever released? No mention of it on the official site other than the quick start rules and their FB page hasnt been updated since January of '17.


Latest threads