While most thoughts this time of year turn to family, friends, and food (not to mention football), the holidays were known for quite awhile in my family (from about 1979 to 1990 or so) as a time to game. After discovering D&D and RPGs in general in the late 70s, every stay at home holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, Spring Break/Easter) when school wasn't in session turned into massive roleplaying exercises. You see, school would often but a crimp in our plans to game 24/7 so we used the time off to shove as much gaming in as humanly possible. One year, I think 1980 (being too young to drink) we started gaming about 6 pm New Year's Eve and didn't finish until sometime the next afternoon. I even remember the session, because it was one of the few non-TSR adventures I ran (a mash up of the High Fantasy modules Moorguard and Fortress Ellendar) and degenerated into a near punch-up when my middle brother was captured by orcs and they were debating whether to castrate him or not, and he (and his tied and bound character) great objected to this treatment (ahh, holiday memories!!!)
Holiday gaming took on an even bigger aspect in the 80s. In 1981 my brothers and mother moved 800 miles away, and when I went to college I only saw them during the holidays. Unfortunately the very small town my family moved to had a huge dearth of anyone interested in RPGs, so it was left to me and my visits during the holidays to bring gaming to my brothers and their friends. When I got into town for the Thanksgiving or Christmas season, we would literally game non-stop for days (ditto when my brothers came to visit me during those same periods). Often they had friends stop by to game with us, as I was a "REAL DM" from the big city, a fact I was inordinately proud of when one of my brothers would introduce me to the few eager fellows they had recruited to play. The gaming was mostly one-shot as we didn't have the means to do any campaign related stuff, so I still to this day recall weekend-long sessions running I2 Tomb of the Lizard King, the classic X4/X5 Expert "Desert Nomad" series, and the Call of Cthulhu campaign Shadows of Yog-Sothoth. A couple times we squeezed in Top Secret sessions using the Orient Express adventure pack (Top Secret was a great one shot adventure game, especially for those not familiar with roleplaying, because everyone has seen a Bond movie or two and wants to be a superspy, and shoot someone in the head). Several times the entire neighborhood (which consisted of maybe 5 other kids) stayed the night at my mom's house during Christmas or Spring Break vacation so that I could run a group through Temple of Death with just a break or two to eat thanksgiving turkey leftovers or Christmas pies and cookies. A couple kids in the neighborhood either had no family or very indifferent families (one friend of my middle brother had parents that had disappeared on a fishing trip years earlier, feared drowned, and he practically lived at my mom's house most of the year). I think those kids looked forward to my holiday visits and promise of escape into fantasy worlds as much as my brothers did.
In an earlier post I talked about a great Call of Cthulhu game run during holiday sessions, and we often ran one shots from The Asylum or Cthulhu Companion adventure packs. If we paused to contemplate the irony of rushing through our family Thanksgiving dinner so we could hurry back to butcher slimy Deep Ones and be eaten alive by shoggoths or have brains blasted to goo by Things Not Meant To Be, I don't remember. The best session we ever had was one of the last ones...the first year my brothers and family had moved back here, we decided to run a one-shot of B1 In Search of the Unknown. I made my brothers roll three 6 sided dice in order, old school, with the results of one brother running a functioning idiot (Int and Wis together about 10 pts total) and the other with a 90 year old priest (he said he was 90 because his Str and Con were about 4 pts each). The first character was so stupid my brother had him roll for his equipment randomly, which led him to bringing a cat (stuffed in his pouch) along for the dungeon crawl, and using a hammer (not a lucern or war hammer, just a....hammer) as a weapon. High point of the crawl was a desperate battle with orcs, which led my brother to take out the cat and throw it in the face of a surprised orc...and with it's claw,claw, bite, promptly rip the unlucky humanoid's throat out and cause the rest of the orcs to check morale and retreat at the "magical demon" the fighter had unleashed! We were laughing and hollering so loud during the entire game, we were getting dirty looks from the rest of the family engaged in more "genteel" pursuits on Christmas Eve (the only time we got dirtier looks was when we watched Reservoir Dogs one Christmas Eve on the big TV in the living room, but that's another story.....)
Looking back on it, gaming was something we had enjoyed together before our parent's separation, and being together for the holidays gave us a chance to bond as brothers in a way we understood. Some families have touch football games, drinking bull sessions, card games or watching sports as a "bonding" activity during these times....we did the same except we bonded with a fighter and mage destroying an evil temple and rescuing a large amount of gold and jewelry. The most natural thing in the world!
As we got older and my family moved back into my hometown, we didn't game as much during the holidays as we once did. Since we could see each other much more often, the urgency to cram as much gaming into the holiday period as possible wasn't there. Particularly when wives and kids became part of the picture, the RPG sessions we had enjoyed have become family game sessions (Trivial Pursuit is my favorite because I never lose, Scene It and Cranium are popular, but the kids love Apples to Apples and it's become somewhat of a Christmas Eve tradition). I sure do miss the day, weekend, and sometimes week-long RPG sessions of the 80s holidays though, when we didn't have a care in the world except which game session and adventure to use next!
Back Cover adventures of POPEYE (1943-44) - *These strips appeared on the back covers of Popeye issues of Dell's Four Color comics. Two of the pages are signed BZ (with a bee), the work of Bela Zab...
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