I currently play in two Dungeons & Dragons groups, one of which I run and the other I just play in. For my group, we’d been running the newly released Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, while my other was neck-deep in a Dragonlance campaign. However, as we crept closer towards the end of 2020, we found ourselves in the middle of one of the weirdest holiday seasons of all time. So with a lot of people unable to see family and get particularly festive this year, I wanted to do something special for them the only way I knew how to: A holiday themed one-shot. It was also an opportunity for me to move away from the lackluster module of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, but that’s a story for another time. Instead, I’d like to tell you the story of Holiday Havoc: The Clausening, the holiday one-shot I ran for both of my D&D groups.

The main conceit of Holiday Havoc was that Santa Claus had essentially transformed his yearly package deliveries into a full, Amazon-esque logistics company called The Holly Jolly Corporation. How this was a sustainable business, I don’t know, but at the North Pole Santa had a big ol’ shipping and receiving center called The Holly Jolly Wish Fulfillment Center. The characters were all seasonal hires that were to be couriers for the evening, with the explanation that Santa is old and figured out a way to avoid doing the work himself. Adventurers were perfect for being holiday couriers, considering they have a knack for problem solving and Santa’s list might not be super accurate, resulting in the players wandering into dangerous situations.

They were outfitted with a sleigh, reindeer, and a magic Santa suit that had illusory capabilities that would make people think they were seeing the actual Santa in their house, and not just a goblin wearing a red jacket. I also needed a way to not have them murder everyone they encountered, cause you know, it’s a festive one-shot. So I gave them these magic bracers that transmutate all their spells into nicer and less deadly holiday themed variants of themselves. For instance, casting fire bolt would result in a piping hot beam of hot cocoa being lobbed at their face. Technically it’s still super deadly, but it’s hot cocoa so my players thankfully stopped asking questions at that odd logic. I also turned their weapons into candy canes, hard candies and peppermint bark, all of which still did the normal amount of weapon damage, but were all non-lethal variants of their armaments.

The general flow of the game was broken down into 3 different encounter types, all of which were important and added something positive or negative to the final scene of the campaign. The first encounter was your standard D&D dungeon crawl, where they would fight against enemies that I Photoshopped festive hats onto, and also find items that could help them later.

The second and most prevalent encounter was the delivery aspect of the game. I had around 10 handmade deliveries that I could send them on, but both groups only made it about 5 of them before we moved to finish the campaign. In these scenarios, I’d describe a home or locale where a present or present needed to be delivered. I made sure to let them know that deliveries weren’t complete until a present was under the tree in an effort to keep them in a situation rather than just run away from one. They could look at their bracers to see who the gift was for, their age, and what the present they wanted was. Here’s an example of what I’d read to them to get them started:

Your sleigh touches down on the rooftop of a modest two-story home.  The outside of which is decorated in rainbow colored glowing bulbs, garland lining the perimeter of the windows, and a sagging snowman in the front yard.  The lights on the inside appear to be off.  Your magic bag fills out a little bit, but is still easy to carry.  An illusory bubble surrounds the home, letting you know that you are shrouded and unable to be seen from the outside.  

And once they figure out a way inside of the house I’d read this:

You find yourself in a cozy living room with a bit too many effigies to Saint Nick himself littered everywhere.  The mantle is covered in holiday themed sundries with four stockings hanging from it.  Beside the fireplace is a large tree that’s been beautifully decorated with care.  A nearby end table has a plate of beautiful chocolate chip cookies on it, with a tall glass of milk as well.

Both simple descriptions that give you just enough information with being overly exhaustive. The idea was to essentially let the players help me fill in the blanks of this world via dice rolls and role playing. One of the later houses for instance had a dog inside of it, but the players wouldn’t have known that from the description I wrote of the place. So while they were scoping the perimiter of the house, one of the players gave me a perception check looking for something that I can’t quite remember, but they mentioned a dog. Since they rolled well, I manifested a “beware of dog” sign that was covered in snow that they had uncovered. Building off of that knowledge, they asked if there was a doggy door on the backdoor. They rolled an investigation check and thus found a doggy door that was big enough for their Kenku party member to fit through.

I kept encouraging each player to do something in these scenarios because it would help them in the third encounter type I had made for this campaign. The players were tasked with delivering to 100 houses and a minimum of 1 high-risk location (dungeon crawls). Since I had only made about 10 deliveries like the one described above, I needed a way to simulate their success in these ambiguous deliveries that felt like they had an impact on it, so I devised a new mechanic: the delivery roll. I figured it would be incredibly unfair if I picked a skill from the list and said that it was the delivery skill they’d roll for success, so the delivery roll would just be a straight d20 roll. Something needed to augment this roll though, and I figured tying a modifier to the success and participation level of the previous encounters would be just the thing.

So I told everyone that their successes and failures in the second encounter type would either grant them a +d6 or a -d6 to the ambiguous delivery rolls, and would keep track of their successful and unsuccessful skill checks during these scenes. I told them that not participating meant you’d just get no modifier on the ambiguous delivery rolls, along with the fact that doing well on those meant getting buffs or boons like a random potion or temp HP. There wasn’t an exact science to tracking this stuff, and usually if they ended up doing something hilariously funny or clever I’d reward them for it regardless of how the dice worked out for them.

They had other narrative things to contend with like a rival courier group and the prospect of a prize from Santa for completing deliveries quickly, efficiently and safely as well to keep them engaged in the little story that there was. I also included a Chuck E. Cheese analog in the for of Cheddar Chandler’s Exploratorium, a place that was in the middle of renovations to become a more teen friendly affair called Cheddar Chandler’s Extreme Teen-a-torium. It was a place of dangerous and unfinished challenges like rope swings, scaling big walls, and vague obstacle courses, all of which culminated on the arcade and show floor of the establishment, where the party would face off against a monstrous version of Cheddar Chandler himself, along with his army of break dancing teens.

While that was a blast, there were some other missions that didn’t make the cut for time purposes. For instance, there was an abandoned guild hall that a bunch of goblins had turned into an evil snowman production facility, which seems really normal when you consider that the other scenarios were Home Alone and Die Hard related missions. I wanted to really hit those classic holiday themes hard.

The whole thing culminated in a showdown on the warehouse floor of the Holly Jolly Wish Fulfillment Center against the rival courier group and a bunch of Santa’s elves. They’d come to find that Santa had been corrupted by the magic of being Santa for so long and became just wildly evil, to the point where he had brainwashed the rival couriers into fighting the party. There were some cool things in the factory the party could mess with such as dangerously high speed conveyor belts, explosive barrels and forklifts which one player did try to use, but lacked a key to turn the thing on.

At the end of it all, they’d be tasked with picking a new Santa Claus for the next few centuries. I had no idea how that would end or who they would choose, so I just kind of didn’t write an ending outside of some flowery language around how beautiful the holidays were. Alas, neither group ever made it that far but I sure had a blast running this campaign anyway, and I know they did too. And that’s kind of the only thing that matters, isn’t it?

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