Happy Holidays

by Nancy Schultz

A guide to including Holiday Episodes in worlds without those Holidays

Let me begin by saying that I'm going to break a very good ground rule for gaming. I'm going to be talking about both Religion and Politics. Also my deepest apologies to our non-American readers, but I'm going to be using the American version of my sample holidays. However, the steps involved in bringing a holiday into your game are the same, and your politics, your religion, and the country you call home should change nothing.

We've often seen it on tv. The "Very Special" episode of our favorite show, usually sometime in winter, either around the twenty fifth of December, or else around the fourteenth of February, and sometimes around the thirty first of October. Sometimes they're fun, sometimes they're foolish, but they often happen. As many gamers seem to like to model their games on television shows, it only makes sense to try to bring in some holidays into your games. But Christmas, Valentine's Day and Halloween get boring after a while. And sometimes there's just some thing about some other holiday that hits just right... but it can be difficult to bring that element across when the game is set in a world that doesn't have that holiday. In the course of this article, we're going to look at bringing in Holiday themed games into worlds set somewhere other than Modern USA.

When deciding to bring holiday themes into a campaign, a GM needs to keep a couple questions in mind:

Why do I want to do a Holiday Episode? Any reason is a legitimate one. From "It would be fun" to "The holiday resonates with my game, even though said game doesn't occur in the real world". But whatever the reason, there should be one ("Just because I want to"="I think it would be fun" in this case.) And that reason should be kept in mind.

Is the campaign serious, comical, or somewhere in between?
The answer to this should affect the themes the GM looks at when making her decision about what parts of the holiday to import. While normally she may want to keep the theme choices in the same vein as the rest of the campaign, a change of pace might be a nice way to highlight the holiday themes.

Is the campaign serial, episodic, or a combination of the two?
Episodic campaigns are probably easiest to drop a holiday episode into, as each adventure is nice and more or less self-contained, so the past of the characters and the impact of the holiday don't have to be taken into account. The more serial the campaign, the more attention has to be paid to how the effects of a holiday episode will resonate through the campaign, and in some campaigns, the introduction of some kinds of holidays may mean that the holiday in question will be expected to be repeated.

Now, with these questions in mind, it's time to look at what holiday you want to emulate for the adventure, and what kind of holiday it is. All Holidays can be categorized by how they are observed, which can be either Secular or Religious (or both), and is also either Memorial or Celebratory (or both).

Secular holidays are holidays that are declared and observed by any non-religious authority. Religious holidays are, naturally, holidays that are declared by a given religious authority, and observed by practitioners of that religion. Holidays that are both Religious and Secular are typically Religious holidays that have been practiced so long, they've become observed by the general populace, even those who don't otherwise observe the religion in question. Most major holidays fall under this category.

Memorial holidays are, obviously, days in memory of some one or some event, and tend towards the more somber, such as remembering the dead from a war. Celebratory holidays are usually to mark a positive event, and are the most likely to be a cross between Religious and Secular, as everyone wants a reason to party.

So, with our definitions taken care of, let's look at three example campaigns and how holidays might be brought into each one. Please see the 7th Sea or Exalted sites for explanations of any unfamiliar game terms.

Bess is running a High Fantasy D&D campaign in a world of her own design. She wants the PC's to eventually be leading a cross racial army against the main villain, but she's having problems with some of the players taking the recommended Racial Prejudices in the base D&D book a bit too seriously in the portrayal of their characters. Thinking about how to nudge them in the direction she wants them to go, she notices the poster her son did for Martin Luther King Day in school, and starts to get an idea. Her campaign is fairly serious and very serial, but that's okay, as she wants this adventure to have some serious repercussions in the campaign, and hopefully kick the PC's in the pants to get them to stop bickering and start working together.

Maria is running an Exalted campaign, and wants to give the PC's a bit of hope that following the wishes of the Unconquered Sun is actually going to work out for them. Having noticed the easy to draw parallels between Christianity/Judaism and the Unconquered Sun, she decides to look for a good Christian holiday to borrow for her campaign to give the PC's a bit of hope, but she doesn't want to use the normal ones, since they have some connotations she doesn't want her players to worry about or run with. With Christmas and Easter out, she starts casting about for a good alternative and starts wondering about Palm Sunday.

Jamie is running a 7th Sea campaign, and she notices that one of the days she'll be running is on March 18th. She thinks, since about half of the PC's are Inish, it might be fun to do something themed around Saint Patrick's Day. (And it's an excuse for people to bring more Beer) The campaign is fairly light hearted and very episodic, so all she really has to think about in terms of campaign effect is how she wants to get the PC's to Inishmore to start off the fun.

Now, let's look at the Holidays in question, and think about what sort of themes and elements might be used in the various adventures.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, (January 18): A Secular Memorial Holiday, MLK day is a day to remember the teachings of the man for whom the day is named (obviously). For some, it is a day to take pride in sharing a racial heritage with such a great speaker. For others, it is a day of mourning that such a man was cut down by an assassin. For most school kids, it is a day to learn about unity across races, and how race isn't supposed to matter in judging the quality of a person. The main themes of MLK day, for most people, are unity and equality, along with a dream for a better tomorrow where prejudices based on a person's skin color and heritage are non-existent.

Palm Sunday (One week before Easter): A Celebratory Religious holiday, Palm Sunday celebrates the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem one week before what was to be His resurrection. This was a Triumphal entry, a contrast to Friday's trial, and the holiday continues to be Celebratory (and one of the few of this kind that does not have a large secular following). The exact nature of the Celebration varies between Christian denominations, and even between churches in less organized denominations, but usually involves palm fronds (obviously) in recognition of the palms and coats that were spread before Jesus as He rode into the city. Palm Sunday is a day of Triumph, where the rightful Son of God was recognized and welcome into the holiest of cities. It is also the beginning of Easter Week, so it has some somber tones as well in preparation for Christ's betrayal and sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection three days later.

Saint Patrick's Day (March 17): For most of the Catholic world, this is a memorial religious holiday, as they remember the patron saint of Ireland. For the Irish American population (and many Americans who aren't Irish), it's an excuse to wear green and get drunk, thereby making Saint Patrick's Day an excellent example, in the States, of a Holiday that is both Religious and Secular, as well as being both Memorial and Celebratory. Memorial, because the day is a day to remember a person, Religious because that person is a Catholic Saint. Secular because it is observed by a large number of people who aren't Catholic (and many who aren't even Christian), and Celebratory because many people basically party on Saint Patrick's day. It's a day with the themes of Green (as this is definitely a day of Southern Ireland), maudlin remembrances of Ireland, and drunken brotherhood... or friendly brawls. It's thought of as a day of luck (take that as you will), though not one of debauchery no matter how much drink is consumed.

Now, to use each of these in an adventure, the GM must consider what she wants, and how she wants to get there, naturally. This part of the process is much more organic, as the individual needs of the campaign must be kept in mind while developing the adventure.

Thinking about Dr. King and his message, Bess decides that she will present her PC's with an adventure where they will effectively get a chance to stop an early assassination attempt on a Dr. King based NPC in her game, and then escort him (by order of a local nobleman if necessary) to another village, thereby giving him time to talk to the PC's about how all their different races can work together, and how their strengths compliment each other. She also decides to set up the challenges along the road to emphasize this point, and a few opportunities for the PC's to demonstrate if they're listening or not. If the NPC survives, she plans to have his preaching continue to impact the campaign, bringing at least some of the different peoples together even if the PC's don't take up the cause.

Maria decides to focus her Palm Sunday adventure on the Zenith Caste PC who was raised to believe that the Unconquered Sun (and by extension the Solar Exalted) were irredeemably evil, and therefore is having lots of Angst over his new direction in life. She also decides to use this to introduce the PC's, who so far have been more or less wandering/running, to the Gold Faction of the Sidereals. She decides to create a village struggling under the thumb of a Realm-loyal Despot and the Immaculate Order, but secretly loyal to the Unconquered Sun, and hoping that an event of the almost forgotten past, when a Priest of the Unconquered Sun and his Circle came and freed the village once before from a terrible Warlord, would happen once again. The village has roots going back to the first age, and still remembers the event with a celebration every spring, one that they take pains to disguise from the eyes of the Immaculate, and one that will be being prepared for even as the PC's arrive.

Jamie sends out an e-mail to let everyone know to bring the Beer and bad brogues to the next game. That done, she sits down to think about what she wants to happen. A tavern brawl is a must, of course. Thinking about memories of Ireland, she looks over people's character sheets and finds some Backgrounds that could be fun. One person has a Lost Love, and another has a brother that doesn't like them, so she decides to put the two together, and give the PC with the Lost Love a chance to reclaim it, and the one with the brother a chance to make up. To bring in a metaphorical Snake, she produces a Vodacce ruffian who is trying to take over the harbor area (in a strange homage to the whole Italian/Irish gang problem of Chicago in the 20's), and ties the brother and the lost love both to him.

Obviously, these are just some sample ideas and plot outlines of what can be done with some non-standard holiday themes. (Though if people let me know, I might write one or more of these up as a full adventure for a future issue.) A holiday game can be more in depth, examining the themes more seriously, or can be more "traditional" such as a Valentines themed adventure dealing with love and romance, or a Christmas one dealing with peace on earth (or kids and presents, or whatever). But Holidays can provide some fun themes to explore in your games, and maybe even add a bit of Holiday Magic.

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