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Friday 16 December 2022

Friday Fantasy: Claus for Concern

Almost like films on the Hallmark channel, Christmas brings with it festively-themed scenarios for Dungeons & Dragons. Typically, they involve Santa Claus getting kidnapped or Santa’s grotto or toy workshop at the North Pole being invaded, and the Player Characters having either to rescue him or deliver presents down all of the chimneys in the world and into children’s stockings everywhere. And the whole affair is wrapped in a kitsch swathe of red, green, and white, whether that is wrapping paper, bows, candy cane sweets, baubles, and whatnot, all of which is being invaded by someone who is monstrously grey and wants to spread misery rather than joy, but who only needs to be shown some love and the error of their ways so that they once again enjoy the bonhomie of Christmas. It is both a well-worn cliché and extremely American. Claus for Concern: A Holiday One-Shot for Christmas is no different. Published on the Dungeon Masters Guild, it is a scenario for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition.

Claus for Concern: A Holiday One-Shot for Christmas is designed to be played by Player Characters of between First and Fifth Level. However, it will require some scaling up and down to be suitable for the extremes of that range, whereas as written it is designed for Player Characters of Third to Fifth Level. It is intended to be completed in one session, but depending on the players could last as long as two. Although there are maps—drawn by Dyson Logos—for both the players and the Dungeon Master, it is a pity that there are no ready-to-play pre-generated as that would have supported the scenario as a one-shot and would have made it easier to set up and run.

The scenario begins with the Player Characters being approached by several Kringle Elves looking shell-shocked. They implore the Player Characters for help—they have escaped from Santa’s Workshop after it has been invaded by Frost Goblins, Ice Sprites, and Snowy Bugbears, and both Santa Claus and his wife Myra Claus are missing. They implore the Player Characters to come to their aid, return with them to the North Pole, investigate what has happened, and save the Workshop—and in the process, Christmas! What follows is a linear affair. The Player Characters arrive at the North Pole, make their way through the gingerbread and candy-styled North Pole Village, its byways scattered with various gift-wrapped presents (which the Player Characters are free to open), and into the Santa’s Workshop. It is not until they begin to descend into the workshop below the Player Characters encounter any opposition. Technically, what the Player Characters are doing is descending an inverted tower, so the stairs are actually backwards on the map, but everything they find is festively themed, but smashed to bits. Someone definitely does not like Christmas.

Ultimately, the Player Characters will encounter the villain of the piece—a very icy ‘Christmas Witch’. She is a fairly tough opponent and the scenario does warn the Dungeon Master that there is the danger of a ‘Total Party Kill’ if she is not careful. She has a very frosty feel and that follows through on her choice of spells. In addition, the scenario follows through on the ice theme in terms of its monsters. These include Mimics as both presents and Christmas trees, Snowy Bugbears armed with Frosty Morningstars and Icicle Throws, Ice Sprites, Frosty Winged Kobolds with Icicle Spears and Chill Wind from their buffeting wings, and others. Stats are also included for Santa Claws and Myra Claws. The invention also a stocking full of magical items, all themed, such as Rudolph’s Nose of Everlasting Light, Fruitcake of Greater Healing, Red Fur-lined Coat, and Santa’s Holiday Bag of Holding, the latter which might just be a Bag of Holding.

Physically, Claus for Concern: A Holiday One-Shot for Christmas is a neat and tidy affair. Bar the cover it is not illustrated, but as you would expect, the maps are excellent. The scenario is well written, but as a consequence of being linear, there is one moment where if the Player Characters cannot get through a door—which they need to in order to reach the climax, the monsters break it down from the other side. Which undermines player and character agency.

To be clear, Claus for Concern: A Holiday One-Shot for Christmas is Christmas cliché from start to finish. It is a turducken stuffed with mince pies, studded with bow-tied candy canes, slathered with bread sauce, soaked in egg nog, and covered in brandy and set alight whilst pulling two Christmas crackers with an equally festively anointed turducken Dungeons & Dragons Christmas cliché. However, it is a decently done cliché and perfectly playable, and there is even some invention involved that makes it stand out from the traditional Dungeons & Dragons Christmas fare, not least of which is the almost pun of a title. So if a Dungeon Master and her group want to play a Dungeons & Dragons Christmas-themed scenario, then Claus for Concern: A Holiday One-Shot for Christmas is definitely what they want for Christmas.

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