Subscribe to the Roleplaying Tips Weekly Newsletter - game master tips

Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #403

15 Holiday Adventures



This Week's Tips Summarized 

15 Holiday Adventures

  1. The Great Eel-Culling
  2. The Time-Travelers' Heptennial
  3. The Lyres' Testament
  4. Remembrance of the Seed
  5. The Great Races
  6. Marketsfront
  7. Humanity's Memoriam
  8. Feats of the Queenlings
  9. Day Of The Storm
  10. The ACME One-Day Super-sale
  11. Atonements' Day/Atonements' Eve
  12. The Milking
  13. Dawn of the Coming
  14. Shutters Close
  15. K'klam

What's Your Favorite RPG? 

Readers' Tips Summarized 

  1. Spice Up Your Items
  2. Name Resource: Plato's dialogues

Lose The Eraser With Turn Watcher

Turn Watcher(tm) is an easy to use Initiative and Effect Tracker for table-top RPG dungeon masters. It tracks spells and other effects, alerting you when those effects expire, automates temporary hit points and hit point boosts, tracks PCs, NPCs and monsters easily during combat rounds, and handles delayed and readied actions in a snap. Use it to perform secret Spot and Listen checks and even Will saves on your players without them being the wiser. Download your copy today!

Return to Contents

A Brief Word From Johnn 

Issues #1 - #400 Plain Text Format - Free Download

I've compiled the first 400 issues of Roleplaying Tips Weekly into a zip download. Grab it to complete your collection or re-read for 1000s of GMing tips.

Issues #1 - 400 (Zip 4.3 MB)

You can also get any back issue individually here.


This E-mail List is Ending - Please Re-subscribe

If you want to continue receiving the Roleplaying Tips e-zine, please subscribe to the new list.

Issue #401 went into the reasons for the switch, and you can also get the scoop here.

If you have any questions about this, don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Have a game-full week!


Johnn Four,

Return to Contents

Catan: Dice Game

Discover, explore, and settle Catan anywhere and anytime... even all by yourself! The Catan Dice Game is the perfect portable adventure experience. Play it in only 15-30 minutes. It's a great casual introduction to the world of Catan. With 6 colorful, embossed wooden dice and your scoring map, you can roll - and risk - your way to victory. Challenge the odds and discover a fresh way to master Catan!

Catan: Dice Game at RPG Shop

Return to Contents

15 Holiday Adventures  

You can catch part Part 1 at: Roleplaying Tips Issue #344

All these holidays were written by jl hatlen linnell.

Return to Contents

1. The Great Eel-Culling 

Black Harbor is a vibrant trading community built on the mouth of a large river and the open end of a busy harbor. The harbor itself has only a narrow passage to the ocean between high cliffs of a mountain range that otherwise blocks passage to the ocean for some miles.

This harbor is quite important to mercantile traffic for the town's artisan community and for agrarian goods from the surrounding countryside.

Among the creatures of the harbor is a prodigious species of eel. Each year, a female Harbor Eel lays close to a thousand eggs, which mature and hatch in the week following the summer solstice.

These eggs are a prized delicacy, and a pricey commodity, but their sheer number threatens the harbor with overpopulation, halting shipping and endangering the ecosystem of the harbor.

Every year at the solstice, the community gathers for a grand contest. All men and women over 12 and under 40 are invited to gather all the eel eggs they can find.

Whoever gathers the most eggs (by weight) receives a generous cash prize from the merchants' guild, and is named the Grand Elver. This honor involves parades at each equinox and solstice, culminating in a spectacular celebration at the end of the year when the crown is passed to the next bearer. No citizen may hold the title of Grand Elver for two consecutive years.

Encounters: The harbor will of course be teeming with competitors, and random conflicts or collaborations with others are matters of course.

Some other encounters:

  • Previous Grand Elvers hoping to restore their glory.
  • A magically- or mechanically-apt youth using a great and impressive (or ridiculous) machine to gather eggs.
  • Crowds of fans along the shores, perhaps seeking autographs, or memorabilia, or offering assistance (or distraction).
  • Sabotage by financiers supporting an opposing team.
  • "Eel rights" protesters - perhaps peaceable, perhaps armed.

Return to Contents

2. The Time-Travelers' Heptennial 

Date: 3rd day of the 9th month of the year 1026

Runcliton is an interdimensional port well-known to the community of time-travelers, frequented by spacefarers and travelers from myriad worlds and dimensions.

In celebration of the community that brings this city its thriving port industry, Runcliton has established a grand celebration on the city's grounds, roughly 1,000 years before the city's foundation.

As a custom, time travelers return to the site and date of this celebration to join the revelry, add new parades, and pursue new adventures for one day's time.

The day after the festival, the site is disassembled, and the grounds thoroughly cleaned, except for one large stone engraved as a memorial to the day's festivities. It is open to philosophical debate whether the marker drew the first celebrants, or the first celebrants left the marker.


  • The PCs might run into themselves. Pick this apart in your head and decide how it alters your campaign. (Maybe there's a parade featuring one particularly famous traveler in seven iterations?)
  • Open a book. Any book. Pick a person, and they might be there. This is open to all the goofy ideas you might expect of TOS Star Trek or old Dr. Who series.

Return to Contents

3. The Lyres' Testament 

In this kingdom, musicians are an active part of the culture, serving as messengers, announcing guests to court, entertaining nobles in their chambers and tradesmen on the street.

Despite this, the musician's life is humble, barely above the life of a simple servant. But the current king is a great lover of the arts, believing that life would be dull, empty, even morally bankrupt without the wisdom and emotional outlet offered by the society's musicians. Early in his reign he decreed a special holiday: The Lyres' Testament.

On the day of the Lyres' Testament, bards rule the town. Any order given in song by the minstrels is binding for three days' time. For three days, the town sees a mix of anarchy, tyranny, levity, and confusion - and a great influx of tourists who come to see the spectacle.

After the three days are over, the minstrels put on a great parade, and return order to the city's mayor by placing a huge ornamental crown of banana peels upon his head.


  • Minstrels, naturally. By ones, twos, even bands. You're at their command.
  • Tourists coming to enjoy the spectacle. They may be fools with their money, or experienced travelers.
  • A restaurateur, angry at a new law requiring every dish be served directly from an employee's shoe.
  • A singer with a broken lyre - perhaps a PC has the ability to repair his lyre and restore his power for the day. What price will the PC demand?

Return to Contents

4. Remembrance of the Seed 

This day is inspired by the World Tree setting, but can be used in any setting wherein a single plant - or perhaps a crop source - is the basis of a community's identity or well-being.

This is a religious holiday, when sages lead the town in a memorial to the seed that began it all. Be it the first grain of barley, the acorn, the bean at the base of the stalk - whatever birthed the plant that is the heart of this community is honored on this day.

Alongside religious honor, there will of course develop a secular celebration. Percussion instruments filled with seeds, grand plant-like costumes, perhaps exchanges of seed pods filled with gifts or candies.


  • Farmers, plant-tenders, etc. depending on the nature of the plant. They'll be especially honored, and any interaction with them has a different power relationship on this day.
  • Crowd members (or party members) who are at odds with the plant-based religion might find themselves in conflict with community folk.
  • Many shops close down for the Remembrance of the Seed. If players have an emergency need, they might be out of luck.

Return to Contents

5. The Great Races 

This holiday works in many settings. Perhaps a community with many horses; perhaps a society like that in Mad Max, or Car Wars; perhaps a town with a strong automobile industry, or a community whose youth greatly admire modern vehicles, and whose industry and politics depend on the same.

The holiday is an annual race day, when the best and fastest are called forth to compete. We all know what NASCAR looks like, or young Anakin's races in Star Wars. What if the whole community were invested in these races? The racers themselves - and their supporters - become objects of great civic pride.


  • If the players are racers (or support a racer's team), they may come into conflict with gangs, financiers, or other supporters of a rival team.
  • All the marketing you can imagine. Plus, crowds that include swindlers, con men, and pickpockets.
  • Sabotage. Somebody hobbled a major contender's vehicle or steed, and the party is called upon to investigate - or retaliate.

Return to Contents

6. Marketsfront 

In this community, the "market season" is a limited time of year. This might be due to repressive regulations from a government or emperor, or it might be that the community's economy is tied to agriculture in an area with a sharply defined rainy season.

Either way, when the trading season opens, a massive festival marks its start. Merchants put out their finest wares and produce, peddlers and performers line the streets, children and lovers look around for gift ideas. It's a day of vibrant bazaar activity.

Encounters as you'd expect for any active marketplace - but this is more crowded and something of a sensational atmosphere.

Return to Contents

7. Humanity's Memoriam 

This could be a science fiction setting wherein the great majority of humankind was wiped out generations ago by an alien invader. Or it could be some other setting after a plague or war destroyed the human race. Or maybe a small society born from the descendants of a starship that crashed on a remote planet without hope for rescue.

Anyway, once a year a memorial is held for the humanity that was - for the distant ancestors that have been lost. For some, this is a sombre day, and for some a day of celebration and "toasting" of the not-forgotten. For others, it's just a bank holiday and a day to goof off.


  • Religious zealots or nationalists use the holiday to press their agenda, harassing someone whom they claim has "forgotten the true meaning" of the day. A scuffle ensues, and the party is caught in the middle.
  • Supernatural twists: The departed ancestors actually come back, and a horrific or light haunting-style adventure ensues.
  • A vendor approaches the party selling "relics" of the long-past. Most of his wares seem to be cheaply-made frauds, but one item has a magical glow to it, or can be appraised highly by a character. If they buy (or steal) it, what does the item mean, and who else wants it?

Return to Contents

8. Feats of the Queenlings 

This holiday is an important event for a race organized much like ants or bees, with a central queen and castes bred to fill needed social and economic roles. Queens rule absolutely, but only in five-year cycles.

During the fifth year, a batch of five to twelve "Queenlings" is bred, and at the culmination of the year, they spend one week competing for the honor of the crown.

This will be a week of tournaments, fights, and displays drawing huge crowds from this race and perhaps others who are fascinated by the rare spectacle. What happens to the "losing" queens? Are they killed, banished, or do they take some other caste's role?


  • Fights or small brawls between "fans" of a given queenling.
  • An escaped queenling approaches the PCs, fearing for her life. Will the PCs smuggle her out of the realm?
  • The PCs place a bet, or otherwise become involved in a gambling deal surrounding a match. Any number of adventures may open up in the world of organized crime.

Return to Contents

9. Day Of The Storm 

Fifty years ago, this village was founded by the survivors of a starship that fell from the sky. The ship had been caught between a meteor shower and an energy storm, and was thrown down from orbit.

The majority of the crew of 3,000 survived the crash, and each year, the anniversary of the storm is celebrated. To outsiders, it looks like a very joyful celebration of the crash itself - but this society is grateful for their survival, and takes great joy in commemorating it.


  • Passers-by greet the PCs with the joyful shout "We are fallen!" What do they make of this?
  • The town "madman" hollering and reminding others that "people DIED on that day!"
  • If PCs arrive on-planet during the holiday, how do denizens react to new contact with an off-world ship? Some will greet them with joy. Some might sabotage their ship or set it up to "fall" like their ancestors'.

Return to Contents

10. The ACME One-Day Super-sale 

This is for all the cartoon characters. One day each year, the ACME Central Supply Warehouse offers a stunning discount on all its merchandise for twelve hours only!

All the greedy cartoon characters storm through the store to find the greatest gizmos and basic necessities at rock- bottom prices.


  • You and granny both reach for the last box of corn flakes.
  • Cleanup in Aisle 10! The aisles are flooded by a broken MONDO-JUG of oozing motor lubricant. All must struggle to keep their feet (and their goodies).
  • Mack's Head-zoom! A television set in the electronics department starts an ugly argument with one of the PCs.
  • The final countdown - sale's almost over and now everyone's racing to the checkout line! You've got less than twenty seconds, and you're cut off by an obnoxious and self- centered duck!

Return to Contents

11. Atonements' Day/Atonements' Eve 
     (Revengenight or Day of Returns)

Atonements' Day is an ancient holy day when the people of the empire gather in places of worship to list their sins, perform penance, and receive a blessing of absolution. The faithful are expected to keep with them this sense of purity, and over time take part in fewer and fewer misdeeds.

But society's not so pure, really. The night before Atonements' Day has devolved into a day of reckless debauchery for many, akin to Mardi Gras - with a vengeance.

Indeed, vengeance is a growing and serious trend, as a burgeoning number are taking this day to make a list of people who have wronged or offended them, and seek retribution.

They attack, to steal back "repayment," or otherwise malign perceived wrongdoers, expecting to be absolved on the following day. Atonements' Eve can be a night of great joy and excitement, but also a night of intrigue and danger.


  • Some religious communities are quite concerned with the "abasement" of the Atonement holiday, and their proselytizers and teachers will be found in many places.
  • Criminals are likely to keep a low profile on this day, fearing attacks by others. On the other hand, the festival might draw out a vengeful or reckless spirit in the most surprising sorts. PCs could be drawn into a web of bizarre vengeance, or caught between unusual combatants.
  • If new to this land, PCs might observe a day of wild debauchery, and wake up to a land of piety and stricture. They will no doubt offend somebody that next morning.

Return to Contents

12. The Milking 

This is not a holiday tied to the date of a year, but to the life of an animal. For a nomadic, riding culture, the lifespan of their animals might be as important as that of any human in the group.

Perhaps a large celebration (akin to a 'coming of age' birthday party) might be held when a young herd member or riding beast bears her first offspring. The people share of her first milk, and bestow her with gifts, markings, etc.

Encounters are fairly straightforward, as such communities are small. This could be part of a culture your party is from, or the party could encounter and travel with such a group and experience this celebration along the way.

Return to Contents

13. Dawn of the Coming 

In a community on a fantasy world, there are legends of a great visitation from the sky. Take any story of bright lights, saucers, or gangly men with globe-shaped heads; all the tropes from cheesy ET/visitors science fiction.

The story has it that the visitors brought the end to a war and a period of famine, and promised to return "another year" with greater blessings. Then they boarded their ship and flew away, disappearing in twelve minutes beyond sight into the sky.

Each year, the people of this village gather on the anniversary of this promise, an elaborate ritual of thanks is performed, and the townsfolk look to the mountaintops for twelve minutes before returning to town for a large feast of thanksgiving.

Will the aliens return? What was meant by their promise? If it is not true, it might be the opening for an alien invasion. Or, the visitors might have simply lied to pacify the crowd.


  • Children who insist the "visitors" never really existed. What sort of tension might they create?
  • The actual aliens return (see above).
  • If the PCs are from elsewhere, and express their own doubts or confusion, they might be met by hostile response.

Return to Contents

14. Shutters Close 

In the first year of an ancient king's reign, he declared the first day of winter to be a day of and for the family. On this day, every person was to remain in their house celebrating love and honor within their household, in the interests of a stronger family and a stronger community.

Over time, this law has lapsed, but a thousand years of tradition remain strong in the culture. On the first day of winter, throughout the nation, windows and doors are drawn closed, shops are empty, families are together, and all are focused on their closest personal relations.


  • Where do the homeless and the solitary go on Shutters Close? A secretive underground group might develop to share a sense of "family" where they can find it. Of course, others might shame them for leaving home to be with mere compatriots.
  • Perhaps the party enters a town that appears deserted. What will happen before they realize why no shops or streets are occupied?
  • Campaigners for the "old ways" might form a vigilante group to keep the "unworthy" off the streets this night.
  • A party member might be invited to one family's home for the night, in sympathy for their lack of visible family.
  • An important NPC might leave the party unexpectedly to return to his home for the holiday, deserting the PCs at an inopportune time.

Return to Contents

15. K'klam 

This is for a science fiction setting, where humans exist among a large collection of alien races. One race in particular has a tongue unpronounceable by humans, and communicates telepathically with humans when they do.

Once each year, this race has what appears to be a large celebratory festival. They have shared nothing of its origins or meaning with other races. The holiday has come to be described by outsiders as "K'klam," the closest human- pronounceable equivalent to a common cheer shouted by groups on this day.

Through the day of K'klam, the aliens orchestrate large and irregular parades, acrobatic displays, and shoot fireworks - not in a large display, but seemingly at random to punctuate the day.

It is a day of fasting for the aliens, and they are quite offended if others eat around them. At nightfall, the aliens eat one normal-sized meal, and then run through the streets offering bread and fruit to everyone they meet, hollering "K'KLAM!" as they go. If their food is refused, they tend to giggle uncontrollably.

Encounters are celebratory aliens cavorting randomly, and bewildered fellow city-folk.

* * *

Holidays as GM Aids

Holidays can be much more than minor background elements or distractions. Turn them into GM tools that speed up prep time, supply a whole new batch of campaign seeds, and make your world deeper and more realistic without a lot of GM overhead.

If this sounds interesting, you might enjoy these tips:

Return to Contents

What's Your Favorite RPG?: 

7th Sea

From: John Gallagher

Hurray, another chance for me to hype my favorite system of all time. I recommend you take a look at 7th Sea; the original rules set, not the d20 version. It has everything you could ask for, and a couple of things you didn't ask for, but implied.

7th Sea is a classless system based on build points. It includes personality and background as part of the chargen, in a rather unique way. It *costs* points to buy a background.

The payoff comes when the background plays into the story. The PC gets bonus experience if the player roleplays the background well. There are also disadvantages that give more build points, and these also focus on roleplaying, not crunchy bits.

The system couldn't be much easier. Traits and abilities are ranked from 1 to 5. To accomplish a task, find the appropriate ability and associated trait, add them together and roll that many dice. Keep the best few dice equal to your trait. That's it. That's pretty much the entire mechanic.

That leaves a lot of room in the players' guide and GM guide to talk about the world, with plenty of info for each nation so that you never need to buy a supplement if you don't want to.

If you don't want to pay retail, you can sometimes get the two core books on eBay, and they're also available at Drive-Thru RPG. And there's plenty of room to add levels of complexity to the rules or to tinker with them if you like.

Maps are kind of optional, but can be handy, mostly to keep track of levels of height. There's no need to scale them; ranges can be handled by DM decision. And falling damage isn't calculated by how many feet you fall, but by what "level" you fell from.

For instance, the bartop is level one, as is everything roughly the same height (table tops, etc). The first landing of the stairs is level 2, the second floor balcony is level 3, and so on.

Magic in 7th Sea is interesting. It runs in the bloodlines of the nobility, and the different nations each have a different magic associated with them.

One nation's magic is called Porte, and is based on transporting items and people. Sorte is fate magic and affects odds of success or failure. Another nation's magic allows them to assume animal forms.

As you progress, the powers increase: you can take more people with you when you teleport, you can assume only part of an animal's form (for instance eagle eyes), etc. Sorcerous power is considered evil by the church, so there is a check on magic.

As for roleplaying, well...7th Sea is a swashbuckling game. It encourages roleplaying at every level, including during combat. It's not enough to just beat the bad guy. You have to look cool doing it.

Good swashbuckling is rewarded with something called Drama Dice, which are core to the game. You can add them to any roll, except damage. If there's an ungodly hard task to perform, throw drama dice at it. Sorcerers use them to power spells. Players are constantly looking for them.

You don't just come down the stairs to him and bash the bad guy. You swing down to him on a chandelier. You slide down a rope. You drive your knife into the sail (or pennant) and use it to slow your fall as you leap down. You jump onto one end of a long table and send the other end see-sawing upward to bash him in the chin. And yes, there are abilities listed for all of those things.

And regarding maps: the rules encourage GMs to just say the hell with it. When the player asks if there is a chandelier rope handy for him to swing down on, just say yes. If he asks if there's a beer mug handy for him to throw, just say yes.

Powergamers will love the various swordsman "schools" that grant some nasty combat maneuvers.

Storytelling is essential to this game. Swashbuckling isn't just combat.

It's political intrigue, spies, maneuvering through polite society while figuring out who is good, who is evil, and who just looks evil. It's romance, it's honor and it's calling someone out to duel when they insult you. It's exploration of newly discovered lands and saving the queen's honor.

The method actors will love the emphasis on style and manners, and everyone will love swinging on ropes and firing pistols on the way down.

As you can tell from the above, the setting is upbeat. But if you wanted to play it like a World of Darkness game, that's there too, in the supplements.

I think you'll find 7th Sea could just be the ruleset that allows you to satisfy all your players on the same night. I've got the same kind of group you do. Roleplayers, min- maxers, and tanks, and they all seem to be having a ball. And this response has gone on longer than I intended, as usual when I get started on 7th Sea.

Good Gaming.

Readers' Tips Of The Week: 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. Spice Up Your Items 

From: Tommy H.H.

Here is a table for spicing up old treasure.

When using this table, keep in mind that any magical item generated by this should be one less level than rolled or have -1 abilities.

It works best on items already generated by a table.

01 Burnable
This item must be held within 3 cm of its owner to be burned. A burned item becomes dust, but in return it activates a single special ability known only to its owner. This ability is in addition to any abilities the item already has.
02 Burn-preventer
This item can recreate a burned item of the same type as its own. Roll a D6 when the other item is burned. On a roll of 1 or 2 the item is recreated and may be burned again.
03 Hostile
This item will try to destroy items of its own type each turn.
It will destroy enemy items first if any are present. Roll a D6 as long as there is a magical item of its own type present.

If the roll is higher than that item's number of abilities (or equal) the item is burned away as if it were burnable. Some hostile items are stronger than others, so you may add ± to the roll.
04 Living
The item becomes a living item. Roll a D6:

1-3 animal origin
4-5 plant origin
6 mineral origin

The item is now able to function during any kind of anti- magic, except anti-magic that affects magical beings. The item can be affected by diseases, mutations, salves and so on; it is considered living in all aspects and might have a soul and become undead.
05 Self-activation
The item may use its own abilities whenever it wants; it has a will of its own and must have an alignment. Only users of an appropriate alignment may coax the item to do their bidding.

Only a heroic alignment item would self-destruct to save others. The item might have an idea of what it wants for itself, and could try to achieve its own goals.
06 Changeable
The item is able to disappear into the void, to be replaced by another item of the same type, with a random level of power.
07 Spellrunes
A spell is inscribed in the surface of the item. (Or 2D3 spells, if you like.)

This spell is treated as if in the page of a book. The item counts as a book when referring to magical side-effects that will alter spells in a book in any way.
08 Sun/Moon-Special
The item has a second set of abilities that are active only during the day/night.
09 Elemental Nearness
The item has an additional ability that is only available as long as the item is within 10 meters of a special element or resource.

This may range from ice and dragon blood to crystal and cheese.
10 Movement
The item can move by rolling, dragging, jumping, flying, teleporting or other movement types. The item may either be moved by its owner, or if it has a will, by itself.
11 Rune Of Creation
The item is inscribed with a rune that has directions on how to magically duplicate the item. The copy however will not have the rune inscribed (unless you want it that way).
12: Roll Twice Or DM Tests New Ability

Return to Contents

2. Name Resource: Plato's dialogues 

From: Damien

Here is another idea for fantasy names. For a lot of names from ancient Greece, try Plato's dialogues, especially the earlier, shorter ones (e.g. Ion, Laches, Charmides).

They are always named after one of the characters that Socrates argues with, so you can pick up a stack of names just by looking at the contents page from a volume of his works. They are also all on the Internet.

Skim through a couple of dialogues and you will harvest a lot more names, as prominent people of the day are often mentioned. For example, Pausanias from Cerameis or Pherecrates the playwright.

If you have a party that enjoys roleplaying, maybe introduce an NPC like Socrates - an irritating sort who questions characters' beliefs and ties them in knots with logic. Of course, you will have to be on your toes for this to succeed.

It's even better if the Socrates character has no powers or abilities other than his quick wits - this pesky old man has just publicly proved that your paladin PC does not even know what "virtue" means - can the PC resist killing him with a single blow? Requires some effort from you, and only works with certain players, but can be rewarding.

Return to Contents