Monthly OneShots: The D&D Christmas Special

With the festive season in full swing, it made perfect sense to run a Christmas themed game as my monthly one-shot adventure. Many years ago I ran one such adventure for my group in Glasgow, using the lightweight, and now largely forgotten Big Eyes Small Mouth system. It was chaotic and immense fun so I decided to revive it like the ghost of Christmas past for this year’s game. Only rather than BESM, I’d run it in D&D 5th Edition. This was partially because I knew I would get more players but also because I feel like I need more experience with the system. Between Pale Reach and the upcoming Immortals campaign, 2019 is likely to be D&D heavy, with a one-shot I could experiment and play with encounter expectations.

The setup was simple, a caravan had gone missing during the depths of winter and a small group of adventurers had set out into the wilderness to find it. Becoming disorientated in the snow they stumbled upon a modern Santa’s lair, which had been taken over by a young dragon and her minions. Inside a clan of elves worked away as slaves, constructing toys and trinkets for the dragon’s horde.

Overall the adventure ran well, with the chaos that I had expected as the adventurers delved deeper into the workshop. Due to last minute cancellations, I was once again short of two players, which threw the balance out completely. The easy initial encounter became rather challenging (especially as it was the more martial characters that were missing) while the final boss fight would have been a TPK if two of the players hadn’t taken an unexpected approach, which resulted in offering to serve the dragon by taking on the role of Santa!

It was the middle encounter that I was happiest with as realising that they were outmatched in a fair fight the players tried cunning which we played out as an impromptu skill challenge. For something put together on the fly it worked really well and ended with the PCs freeing the elves and inciting a mini-rebellion to take out the ogres overseeing the production line.

All in all, I feel like the game was fun but also highlighted that I need to re-read the rules, especially for the rarer situations that can come up surprisingly often in D&D. Given I’ll be running a regular campaign full of new people I think this is a must, when it comes to running such an iconic game I want to ensure that they get an authentic experience and come out of it wanting more.


Engaging from the start…

I ran my first session of D&D 5e this week and despite my issues with the d20 system in general I think my response on twitter summed up the experience:

Why did it feel so good to get back to the role of GM? Partially because I have always preferred it to being a player. I like the role of setting up scenes and watching them play out. I like having to gauge the impact of PC actions on the bigger picture. Most of all I like seeing the response of players as they realise what is going on or come up with a solution I couldn’t have foreseen (as the Happyjacks hosts are fond of saying the GM should create problems, not solutions).

The other reason it felt so good was that I went in with a plan to engage the players and I feel like it worked. I was GMing in what is best described as a community campaign akin to the Adventurers League. There’s a pool of players and GMs but each session will see a different combination of them come together. The big difference though is that there are no parallel sessions of the same adventure. Every session is a unique and self-contained standalone adventure set within the wider campaign world. The starting point for any adventure is the players, they state what their character is investigating or up to and then put a group together.

It’s not the easiest way of doing things. Individual sessions can be a little disjointed with only loose tie-ins to those that came before. For this, my first session, I had to prep an adventure based on brief summaries from one player and the previous GM. Not the easiest of asks, even for an experienced GM. It also had to engage the players in such a way that they would want to follow up on it, to generate enough interest in the events that it could become a plot in its own right.

This meant having a plan – introducing a new faction that could make an immediate impact and that had the potential for being a long-term threat. So in came a heretical cult within the ranks of Lathander that place particular importance on the divide between day and night, for the sun can only rise if it has first set. To establish their importance I put the party in position to witness (and ultimately disrupt) a ritual that had taken place hundreds of years before. It explained why nobody had ever heard of the cult and presented a clear threat to the established status quo in the present.

For me, as the GM, it also presented a way to engage long term with the wider setting as I’ll be able to build up the details of the threat over multiple sessions if and when the players engage with it. Given one of them is already planning a follow-up I’d count it as a success.