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Friday 1 December 2023

The Other OSR: Operation S.A.N.T.A.

Traditionally, roleplaying scenarios involving Christmas have the Player Characters doing one of two things. Either Santa is unable to complete his round the world trip and cannot deliver of the presents to boys and girls everywhere, so the Player Characters have to complete the task for him, or Santa’s grotto is under attack or he has been kidnapped, probably by the Elfish Workers’ Collective or decidedly non-Christmassy Trolls, and so the Player Characters have to go and save him. In the process, the Player Characters save Christmas and everyone is happy. Which is boring and a cliché and does not exactly reflect that sometimes Christmas is not always as good everyone hopes and sometimes it is even rotten. So, for a change, why not have a Christmas roleplaying scenario is also rotten and horrible? Why not make Father Christmas the evil for change? Why not run Operation S.A.N.T.A., an anti-festive scenario in a world where it turns out that Santa is a horrible tentacled alien who has turned the North Pole—technically Greenland—into a dystopian, nuclear waste spoiled horror-land, Polar Bears are still grumpy and hungry, but Penguins turn out to be anarchists able to talk and use tools, the latter very badly. Operation S.A.N.T.A. is not going to ruin Christmas for you, but it might make you appreciate the one you are going to have, because it serves up the worst December the twenty-fifth that you can imagine.

Operation S.A.N.T.A.
—or the Strategic Annihilation of a Nefarious Tentacled Alien—is published by Beyond Cataclysm following a successful Kickstarter campaign, and includes stats for use with two different, Old School Renaissance adjacent roleplaying games. One is Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing. The other is Troika!, the Science Fantasy roleplaying game of baroque weirdness published by the Melsonian Arts Council. That said, the technical nature of the setting means that it would work better with Troika! rather than with Mörk Borg, but the tone of Mörk Borg fits Operation S.A.N.T.A. better than Troika! does. That said, Operation S.A.N.T.A. is easily adapted to the roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice.

At the top of the world and thus at the heart of the scenario sits Rødt-På-Hvidt, an alien tentacled being, all red and white—or rather red on white—which crashed to Earth in Gertrud Rask Land, the very northern-most tip of Greenland. Its exact plans are unknown, but it has twisted both the land and all those who enter the region where it holds sway. Thus, has arisen the legends of the Elves in red and white with thin stature and pointed ears, but that is the least of their mutations. Aerial reconnaissance has revealed bear patches of rock, free of the ice, clouds of toxic mist, zones of unexpected life in the arctic region, and deep pools of liquid radiation. Few stand against Rødt-På-Hvidt, who continues his experiments unhindered, his ‘Elves’ loyal and his ‘E.E.’ Elite Elves troop ready to defend the strange patch of land that is his. The Polar bears might snap and claw at the Elves if they could, for they hate Rødt-På-Hvidt, but only slightly more than they hate everything else. The Penguins would bring down Rødt-På-Hvidt immediately, were it not for the fact that every action needs a mandate of the masses and so vote on anything and everything, and they are too busy putting up subversive posters and developing an amazing array of fish-flavoured ice cream. Then of course, there is the United Nations, which would like something done about the region, so it might suggest that Canada or the USA investigate…

Operation S.A.N.T.A. suggests reasons why the Player Character might have come to Gertrud Rask Land and how and why they got there, but suggests that the players develop these in play too. The majority of the scenario is dedicated to describing the locations of the region, from the Polar Bear Compound and the Elfanage to the Power Plant and Santa’s Grotto Lair. Each is given a page or two of detail and a colour illustration or map which neatly depicts the location. The locations are presented with a minimal of fuss, enough for the Game Master to bring into play, but still leaving plenty of room to add or create content of her own. The monsters are given similar space, if not more, to help them come to life, especially the Elves and their mutations. Included alongside that are the Nisse, mythological creatures from Nordic folklore associated with the winter solstice and Christmas. These can replace the Elves already in the scenario or even be included alongside them if the Game Master wants to add an element of factionalism to the play of Operation S.A.N.T.A.

Physically, Operation S.A.N.T.A. is presented in big bold colour. Suitable then for a Christmas celebration, but not one of jollity and joy. Operation S.A.N.T.A. twists the annual festivities into a journey into the unknown, to face anarchy in the Arctic and horror for the holiday, but not in the traditional way. Operation S.A.N.T.A. serves up a scenario that is as poisonous as Christmas can be, fouls the festivities, and could just make Christmas an utter catastrophe. 

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