The winter holidays are fast approaching! I don't know about you, but they seem to me like a great opportunity to try a cool tabletop RPG with your friends and loved ones!
Here are five game recommendations (and some adventure ideas) on how to get the best out of the holiday spirit—and infusing it into your TTRPGs!
Game #1 — Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game
What do the winter holidays look like in the world of Avatar, the setting first introduced in the award-winning show Avatar: The Last Airbender, and subsequently expanded in The Legend of Korra, as well as many comic books and novels? As far as the canon goes, we don’t have any official information about it… And that’s a golden opportunity for a homemade adventure.
To set the stage, let’s place the story in one of the Water Tribes, as their icy environment fits the winter holidays best. Alternatively—and depending on the era chosen—you could use a northernmost town in the Earth Kingdom (like Bin-Er) or the Southern Air Temple (in an era where Air Nomads exist).
Once the setting is decided, you need a rough plot to work with. A holiday-appropriate story in the world of Avatar may include an otherwise munificent spirit attacking some citizens seemingly at random (the “nice” and the “naughty”); having to help an anonymous benefactor bring joy to children in otherwise desperate circumstances (The Hundred Year War Era is perfect for this); or having to change the mind of an otherwise curmudgeonly wealthy person who could help a whole community if they just opened their heart a little bit.
Game #2 — Bluebeard's Bride
On the other extreme of the heroic Avatar Legends, Bluebeard’s Bride is a gothic horror game which explores how, in our society, being a woman is an inherently horrific life-experience. It’s inspired by the folktale of the same name… And it can be the perfect horror game for a winter holiday chilling game session.
I feel safe in saying this because Bluebeard’s Bride is a very simple game to set up, as the players take on the role of a part of the psyche of the titular “Bride” (from both the folktale and the game) known as “Sisters”. These Sisters are very easy to detail and stat, so the whole character creation + adventure set up, in my experience, takes less than 1 hour. Moreover, the game can be played with as few as 2 players (1 GM and 1 Sister, for a personal horror-type experience) and as many as 6, so it fits families of any size.
Winter time can be a great environment for horror, as the cold, snow, and people-made fire are ideal for exploring the “weakness” and abominable treatment that women receive. Isolation and the everpresent, looming threat of death are at an all-time high during winter time and, what’s more, traditional folk tales are best explored huddled together looking for human warmth.
Game #3 — Masks: A New Generation
Superhero comic books have a long-standing tradition of featuring holiday special arcs. As always they vary in quality and employ the holidays to tell a great story, but they set an excellent precedent for you to have your own winter holiday special with your own teenage superheroes!
Winter holidays are a perfect time for contrasting the mundane and superheroic aspects of a Masks character. Janus and Beacons, for example, have a lot to explore in this case, as their human families expect things—such as gifts, last-minute grocery buys, or even just being there—that are difficult to achieve when a villain decides to enact their plan at the worst possible time. Outsiders may not have human families, but that can be a problem in and of itself. Or they may be fascinated by the festivities and the way humans change their behavior around the holidays.
On the other hand, the winter holidays are all about family and togetherness, and the group of superheroes is a found family of its own. Do the heroes celebrate the holidays together? Do they consider each other family explicitly—with all of the emotional implications that that entails—or do they act understandably awkward (as teenagers are wont to do) when admitting and communicating their deepest emotions?
Game #4 — Root: The Roleplaying Game
It can be expected that the anthropomorphic animals that populate the Woodland have some kind of celebration around the winter solstice, as it has been a tradition in our world well before modernity. Considering that, what’s the Vagabonds attitude towards it? As their name implies, the protagonists of Root’s adventures aren’t supposed to have a home of their own in the Woodland and, instead, wander from clearing to clearing doing jobs and getting profit.
In this case, you can reasonably draw inspiration for your own Woodland’s winter holidays from ancient folklore and legends from our own world, such as Bacchanalia, Karachun, Krampusnacht, Saturnalia, or Yule. All of these are excellent adventuring opportunities, as these large gatherings are great for diplomacy, heists, and dramatic confrontations with an audience.
On the other hand, the winter holidays can provide you with the perfect justification to explore your Woodland’s mystical side. What do your Denizens believe in? Do they have deities or nature spirits they revere? Are there burgeoning religions or mystery cults? Any priests, shamans, or mystics leading rites during the winter holidays? This can provide a noticeable contrast with the mundane affairs the Vagabonds are often accustomed to deal with, confronting them with things they can’t or don’t understand, and even providing you with opponents with strange/mysterious powers.
Game #5 — Zombie World
Although the end-of-year holidays may seem like something prosaic after Z-Day, the winter festivities especially provide great fodder for exploring the tensions inside the enclave, as people reminisce about “the before times” and take stock of everything they've lost. This can be a chance for quieter sessions, where the tension is about dealing with the survivors’ mental health and their relationships with one another… And a great opportunity for someone to reveal a Priest or Psychiatrist Past cards.
In contrast, even in an enclave when everybody's mental health is doing well, modifying the prompt of a Fate card to make it topical for the winter holidays may turn an otherwise average Zombie World session into a specially memorable or distinct one. For example, “A personal conflict boils over” Fate card may come about because a group within the enclave wants to forage extra food to do a “proper” celebration, while their opposition don't care/don't want to risk themselves for something they deem “unnecessary”.
Finally, even “normal” Zombie World circumstances may get an extra flavor when happening during the winter holidays. After all, it's not everyday that you fight from the dead while standing in 3-foot snow; have to sacrifice a prized Christmas from before to avert disaster, or put some jingle bells on a moving target to fool a swarm of zombies.Conclusion
As you can see, the winter festivities can be an excellent chance to introduce loved ones to the amazing hobby of role-playing… And our game lineup offers great alternatives to do so in an easy, quick manner.
Happy holidays, gamers!
Helena Real (she/her)