Monday, December 15, 2014

Rankin-Bass is My Dungeon Master

A party of misfits
If you ever spent time as an American kid in the 1970's or 1980's, you surely are aware of Rankin-Bass holiday specials. And back then, they were special. No VCR's, DVD's or internet, so you had once chance each year to see Rudolph, and if you weren't home, you didn't see it! Egad!

R-B did more than just Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964 though. In Christmas specials alone, they produced The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970, my favorite), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975), Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976), The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976), Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977), Jack Frost (1979), Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979), Pinocchio's Christmas (1980), The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981), and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985).

So many holiday specials ... and thus so much material to mine for a little RPG nonsense. So, in the spirit of Mother Goose is my Dungeon Master ...

Races and Classes

First and foremost, we don't have adventurers in Rankin-Bass D&D. We have "misfits". Characters in this game are weirdos who don't quite fit in, and thus leave Santa's Castle or the Island of Misfit Toys to do some adventuring! Silver and Gold!

I'll be your narrator for this adventure
Moreover, the DM isn't a DM. He or she is the narrator, and they have to do the whole game impersonating an old celebrity. Something like The Caves of Christmas Chaos narrated by Sean Connery.

Humans have to be included as a playable race because of Yukon Cornelius. Other options could be elves (shorter than the traditional D&D elves) and reindeer (definitely a candidate for "race as class"). How about toys? Winter sprites? Lots of options there.

Classes - prospector, knight, winter warlock, dentist? Dentist!? Heck, you could even just stick with the old fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user standbys. A 3rd level elf magic-user, a 5th level reindeer fighter, a 2nd level dolly thief. How can you beat that?

Clerics need divine patrons, and R-B gives you Father Time, Mother Nature, Father Winter and of course Old Saint Nick himself.


Only high-level misfits better tangle with this character
The bumble, King Moonracer is a shedu, giant vultures, town guards, elemental misers and their miserlings (mephits fit the bill very nicely for these guys), keh-nights (mechanical knights from Jack Frost) - many options here. Rankin-Bass adventures seem to be more centered around big villains with a collection of minions around them. That villain had better be threatening Christmas or New Years, too, or what's the point?

Adventure Sites

You're just loaded here. The North Pole, with Santa's Castle and the reindeer caves and Yukon's peppermint mine is a good home base. Burrow heavily from Candy Land and get a candy cane forest and gumdrop mountains. The Island of Misfit Toys is nearby, with its Shedu ruler King Moonracer. The weird Sea of Time that shows up in Rudolph's Shiny New Year could and should be the site of a mega-campaign all on its own. Seriously - if you haven't watched it, watch it. Great imagination fuel. You can go further afield with the Holy Land, Sombertown (apparently somewhere in Central Europe), the Russian Steppe and its Miserable Mountain, Southtown, etc.

The Game

It's Christmas Eve, and your friends are over. Pull out Basic D&D or one of its clones, pick a place to adventure, make up a villain or bring back Burgermeister Meisterburger or Kubla Kraus, figure out how they're trying to screw up the holidays and then roll up some elven dentists and human knights and jack-in-the-box whatevers and get to adventuring.

Oh, and don't forget to put a little of that goodwill towards men in your hearts. Share your +1 short sword. Don't be stingy with the healing potions. Give a little love, and get a little love back. It is Christmas, after all.

And no pouting and shouting if your character dies. Santa's got his eye on you!

Note - All images are the property of their copyright owners. No intended infringement in this post - just a bit of holiday fun.


  1. Excellent post. Another great PC race would be the human-headed caterpillar/butterfly (some kind of weird Naga?) from the Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971).

  2. Your Easter Bunny and Kringle classes would be excellent for this.

    1. I've now been writing this blog and publishing stuff for four + years ... which is apparently long enough to forget things that I've written, such as the Easter Bunny class. Now I need to look it up. I hope it didn't suck!

  3. No, it doesnt suck. You call the Kringle a Paladin at one point, but it still is an excellent class (though I have not tested it). The Puritan is also good for holiday hijinks.

  4. I always thought it was interesting that the cold miser was taller and thinner than the heat miser. Take a look at the Frost and Fire Giant descriptions in the Monster Manual.

    1. I often wonder about all the secret, forgotten influences on early D&D. I also wonder if AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) was a nod to AD&D (Accidental Death & Dismemberment), given that Gygax was in the insurance industry. It would probably be fun to make a parody version of AD&D called Accidental Death & Dismemberment.

    2. I hope there'll be an option for insurance in that game: when you go in original AD&D you don't get any compensation at all.
      As a side note of this sort: bit of trivia: ever wonder who in Lake Geneva has now got the famous PO Box once belonging to TSR? It' insurance company.
      PO BOX 756, LAKE GENEVA, WI 53147
      Ph: (262)248-6000
      They insure for AD&D, I already checked. I asked about Basic D&D and it looks like you'd be covered. But as to Expert, they said they weren't set up for that yet. So don't get beyond 3rd level and you're all right. They DO NOT insure for clones.

  5. You just inspired me to create a chart for Dungeon Crawl Classics to generate Rankin-Bass inspired Zero level characters. I was planning to run the new Holiday adventure in early January and now I know who they will have a chance to play!

  6. I love it when you do stuff like this, it's awesome.


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