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Playing Dice With The Universe


by Bill Kte'pi
Dec 08,2004


Playing Dice With The Universe


My girlfriend suggested the idea for this month's column, when she realized it would run a couple weeks before Christmas. A few of you may know that I wrote a game called Santa's Soldiers, published by Deep 7 (I created the concept and wrote most of the non-mechanics text of the first edition; second edition is almost all theirs, much to their credit). Santa and I have sort of a history, when it comes to games.

Is Santa Claus a religious figure? Always? Sometimes? Never? I'm actually going to bring that up in a future "what is religion" column, which currently exists in disorganized note form because I keep adding more material to it -- it's not the kind of question I want to attempt to answer and then get horribly wrong. But I think with Santa, we can safely say the answer is "pretty much."

As much as some religious Christians complain -- not without basis -- that Christmas has been obscured by the traditions Santa Claus represents, there's no question he originated as a religious figure, a saint -- any powers he had would come through God, as they do for the saints to whom prayers for intercession are directed. But it's just as true that in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Santa has been the central icon in a less church-bound and more secular celebration of Christmas, a Christmas that has emphasized high spirits, "good will towards men," peace on Earth, and so on, over an explicit focus on the birth of Jesus. Whether that's good or bad or neither or context-dependent, we don't need an editorial for either side of things -- in the interest of full disclosure, I'll be celebrating Christmas at home with an artificial tree, A Christmas Story, Scotch, and probably some duck -- neither at church nor at the mall.

In any case, Santa's enough of a religious figure -- bound up in religious traditions (and I'd argue that even a secular celebration of Christmas is religious in an important sense -- some people may prefer the word spiritual -- just not one to which Christ or Christianity are necessarily relevant, but not a revival of pre-Christian solstice celebrations either; more on that in the eventual "what is religion" column) -- to be covered here in Playing Dice. Instead of picking one game to talk about Santa in, or one viewpoint applicable to multiple games, I thought, "Hey, you know, let me balance out the lack of game content in some columns by doing one that's very specific and covers a number of games."

So just for the hell of it, let's see how Santa can make it into your games.

Vampire the Requiem: the Kringle bloodline

The Kringles are a small enough bloodline that even they don't know much about themselves -- and no one will take credit or blame for the name, an irreverent reference to the earliest remembered claim about the bloodline: that their founder was Saint Nicholas, the Byzantine bishop who spoke out against the Arian heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and whose name in Dutch (Sinterklaas) became the English "Santa Claus," as the traditions of the generous Nicholas and the mythical Father Christmas converged.

The origin story -- which has Nicholas embraced by a Ventrue Kindred during the Council, one who sought (and perhaps succeeded) to influence the direction of Constantine's Christianity -- is not impossible, although it does seem far-fetched. While the memories of elder Kindred are famously unreliable, there are reasonable indications -- corroborated both within and without the bloodline, even hinted at in some vague mortal records -- that a coterie of Kringles occupied Greece for a lengthy period of time. Today, most of them live further north, especially in Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and Canada: a persistent rumor (so far as a rumor can persist about a bloodline few have heard of) says that the Kringles have trouble with warmth, and need the cold to survive.

It is difficult to generalize about the Kringles, as the bloodline is so small -- fewer than a dozen members -- that personal preferences make patterns imperceptible. They are almost universally cheerful -- jolly, even -- and upbeat, and likely to be generous to the point of gullibility. Several of them are prominent in Scandinavian cities. One of them, who allows people to believe he is a Ventrue, uses Macy's in New York City as his haven, and throws bizarre, degenerate parties, open to all Kindred, on Christmas Eve. When they are aligned with covenants, they tend to favor the Invictus and the Lancea Sanctum.

Parent Clan: Possibly Ventrue.

Appearance: Despite their bloodline weakness, below, Kringles are always adults. They are usually of Nordic stock, although a Greek would not be out of the question, given the Nicholas story.

Haven: Malls, abandoned drafty castles covered in snow, workshops, reindeer ranches.

Character Creation: Social traits are always favored.

Concepts: Deranged toymaker, reindeer breeder, creepy uncle, jolly fat man, caretaker.

Clan disciplines: Kringles have slightly different versions of Auspex ("he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good..."), Celerity, and Resilience.

Clan weakness: Kringles can feed only on prepubescent non-infant children -- between the age of three and eight is ideal.

Adventure seed: An exhibit of antique texts by the Greek Orthodox Church includes a codex fragment which, when read properly, implies it may be from a book of lost sorcerous Kringle lore. The rumored book includes rituals to create enchanted servants out of reindeer and sculpted snow, to twist children into gnarled, elf-like workers, and to travel the entire world in a single night. Armed with this text, could the bloodline pull itself up out of obscurity and become a real power in the Kindred world?

Marvel Universe: Superheroes Fight Over Some Kind Of Misunderstanding

Santa Claus: Retro stats

Just to satisfy my own need to do it, here's Santa's stats for the Marvel Super Heroes Advanced (the black box!) RPG, the one I grew up with (the first roleplaying game I played, in fact, and still one of the finest around for my money). I don't have any of the books handy, I'm just gonna do it from memory, kickin it old school.

Fighting: Excellent. Agility: Incredible. Strength: Amazing. Endurance: Class 1000. It's Santa. He can pull an all-nighter on Christmas Eve, stopping in every house in the world, and never break a sweat even though he's a fat guy. Reason: Remarkable. Intuition: Class 1000. Psyche: Class 1000. Health: 1110. Karma: 2030. Resources: Irrelevant.

Powers: Monstrous Phasing (he can get into any home to deposit his gifts; however, if a chimney is present he must make use of it); Unearthly Teleportation (probably only when using his sleigh and/or reindeer, but maybe not); Monstrous Body Armor; Amazing Invisibility.

Reindeer: Amazing Flight, Amazing Agility, Strength, and Endurance -- Goods for other stats.

Santa Claus: MURPG stats

Intelligence: 6. Strength: 6. Agility: 4. Speed: 4. Durability: 10.

Actions Flight: 5. Invisibility: 5. Phase Shift: 7. He can enter any home or dwelling place: however, if a chimney is present, he must use it as he means of egress (even if it isn't big enough to serve as such). Teleportation: 10.

The Power Yule

In addition to the powers listed above, Santa possesses the Power Yule, which much like Norrin Radd's Power Cosmic or the Molecule Man's abilities can effect nearly any other power in the books -- something Santa rarely needs to do, and so he reserves the Power to maintain the secrecy of his workshop at the North Pole, and to imbue his reindeer, sleigh, and elves with the abilities necessary to do his work. Further, the Power Yule is the source of his very specific quasi-omniscience: he "knows if you've been bad or good," and retains an encyclopedic awareness of everything an individual has wished for, whether that wish was in the form of a letter to Santa, a Christmas list, or even a simple unspoken desire.

Adventure Seed:

While patrolling on Christmas Eve, the hero(es) keep coming across signs of minor break-ins, but nothing seems to be stolen -- in fact, toys and other gifts are left behind. In this letter-bomb/anthrax-aware age, the heroes may not assume the toys are harmless, but any number of tests will prove them so. When they eventually catch up to Santa Claus, they probably attack and start whaling on him before discovering that he's Santa after all -- with some of his Power Yule siphoned off by Black Pete, a malicious disgruntled elf, he's been reduced to breaking and entering in order to perform his annual rounds. Now it's up to the heroes to restore Santa to full power and save Christmas!

Variation: Replace Black Pete with Dr Doom, who wishes to use Santa's power to free his mother's soul from Hell on Christmas morning, when the infernal borders are at their weakest.

Wyrd is Bond: The SLH

Jason Blair's Wyrd is Bond (Key 20) is not quite as high-profile as Marvel Universe or Vampire: the Requiem, but the main thing you need to know is that it revolves around gang culture in a world where magic has gone public. From the book itself:

"The world of Wyrd is Bond is street-level, eye-to-eye to drive-bys, and infused with magic symbology and culture. Imagine a world where street gangs took their orders from eldritch masters in back rooms and where you heard references to the occult in modern music on all the top radio stations and video channels ... where rap and urban culture owe their roots just as much to the mythos of Enochian magic as the scratched wax of the Sugar Hill Gang ... where Tupac was a shaman taken down by a rival street magician."

Where the man they call Santa Claus was a near-immortal wizard who found out "near-immortal" wasn't good enough when he met his match and his demise in the form of a cabal of slingers who wanted his power.

Where the elves who survived the attack on the North Pole are dying out, deprived of the locus of power that kept them going, and reduced to just another gang struggling to survive and get a foothold.

The SLH used to be Santa's Little Helpers -- elves who worked abroad instead of in the workshop, information gatherers and reindeer recruiters, spymasters and sleigh-testers, that sort of thing. Most of them died within days of Santa's death -- like the other elves, they were brought to life by the big man himself, created from snow and God knows what else under the light of the aurora borealis. They know the loss of Santa is more significant than their own fates (which doesn't mean they necessarily care about more than self-interest): his gift-giving and cheer-spreading wasn't just pointless altruism, it was a concerted and highly organized effort to minimize the power of the infernal creatures who draw their power from humankind's suffering. "The Christmas spirit" isn't just a figurative cliche -- the big man's work put enough hope out there into the world to keep it going for one more year, one more black ice winter. Everyone talks about how the suicide rate climbs in December: what they don't realize is how high it'd be if not for Santa.

Now that he's gone, God knows what'll happen. Some of the SLH want to replace him -- recruit a new slinger for the job, or put up one of their own. Some of them want to find out who did him in -- was it the D-Men? was it just some stupid slinger looking for a power-up? -- and get their revenge. A lot of them would be happy just to live another year, another month, another day.

Elves appear identical to humans in all respects, on the outside.

Aspect: The Christmas Spirit. The SLH draw their Wyrd from the dwindling echoes of the Christmas spirit, the magical energy "injected" into the world by Santa's elaborate rituals and reinforced by mortal society's participation in such through such things as the decoration of Christmas trees, the making of snowmen, the hanging of sacred mistletoe, etc. In the wake of Santa's death, the Spirit may only last another handful of Christmases.

Initiation: Inapplicable. You can't become one of the SLH; either you always have been or you never will be.

Intolerance: The SLH can't abide to even be in the presence of someone who encourages suffering for its own sake or harms -- or allows harm to come to -- children.

Names: There was a time when many elves -- especially the Helpers, who were the ones with the most contact with mortal society -- resented the silly names Santa had given them, names like Jangle and Bangle for men, or Snowblossom and Icetwinkle for women. With Santa dead, they take a sort of ethnic pride in them, daring others to make fun of them.

Threads: Red, green, and white -- in whatever combination -- are the SLH's traditional colors. Jingle bells, snowflake designs, and so forth, are not uncommon, even out of season.

Tags and Tells: The aforementioned snowflake designs -- sometimes such that the snowflakes resemble pentagrams and other magical stars -- are popular tattoos among the SLH, and used for other decorations as well. A jingle bell worn out of season is a nearly positive sign of one's affiliation.

Sound: Silent Night, Silver Bells, Walking in a Winter Wonderland ...

Weakness: With Santa dead, the SLH will eventually lose their ability to wield magic, and shortly after that -- perhaps concurrently -- will die. No one seems qualified to provide an estimate; there are times when the elves would swear they get sick easier than they used to, and heal more slowly, but they can't be positive they aren't imagining it, or that it isn't psychosomatic.

Trick: Elves get an extra die to Power whenever it's below 50 degrees -- either outside (being in a heated building doesn't make them lose the die) or inside (boosting the air conditioner until it's 45 degrees in July will give them an extra die).

Getting Juice: Elves get juice by singing Christmas carols in a group (there must be both singers and listeners), giving gifts to strangers, and helping children or the needy.

Bonus Dice: Elves get bonus dice whenever they are working directly in the interests of the preservation of the Christmas Spirit.

Gang-Related Slings:

Enchant Reindeer: Just what it sounds like, this strength 4 sling teaches a reindeer -- and only ever a reindeer -- to fly, achieving speeds and maneuverability roughly comparable to an Escalade.

Enchant Snowman: This strength 4 sling animates a snowman after an hour's careful adjustments to the snowman's form -- during which time the elf may carry on a distracted conversation, but cannot do anything else. If attacked or otherwise forced to stop his work, he will have to begin from scratch. The snowman lasts indefinitely at temperatures below 38 degrees (slightly above freezing, yes).

Adventure Seed:

When the fifth Salvation Army Santa in a week shows up dead, killed by means that might have been magical, rumors start among the SLH and others in the know: these guys can't be getting mistaken for Santa, but there's bound to be a connection, right? Did Santa give them something? The mall Santas of the world, the corner bell-ringers, were they actually part of Santa's network the way they told everyone? Was the big man keeping a second family that he kept secret from the elves? If so, why, and who's killing them off now?

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