by Lowell Francis
In the Empire of the Claus, Joy = Duty. The snow-dusted land of England shivers under the heavy yoke of the Kringle. But a small band of revolutionaries gather to strike back against the tyrannies of St. Nick and his red-booted thugs.
The Industrial Revolution changed everything, shifting classes, populations, and views across the world. That change reached further than anyone could imagine, all the way to the North Pole. There Father Christmas sat and considered his demesne and the joy he brought to the world. His works had always brought merriment, but populations had risen and his magical workforce could barely keep up. He had given much, and now, for the Greater Happiness, he would take…
The winter of 1881 blanketed Great Britain and the whole of Europe as none in memory had. Through the blizzards that holiday season, Santa’s forces marched on an unsuspecting nation. The Elves work that year had been turned to new artifices: weaponized harnesses for reindeer, great steam toy-soldiers, and explosive stockings to drop down chimneys. By New Year’s it was all but over and King Klaus ruled England.
He issued edicts quickly, promising foreign nations his reign represented not a threat to them, but rather a new era of gift-giving and holiday cheer. England would become the World’s Workshop- a small sacrifice for the smiling faces of children everywhere. The gifts kings, czars, and rulers found beneath their own trees didn’t hurt either. Those who spoke out found coal and more sinister gifts on their nightstands, snuck there in the dead of night past well-trained guards. The message was clear: Claus was not to be crossed.
Now it is Year 5 AC (After Claus). Kringle’s sleigh whip has transformed the country into a landscape of dark Santa-ic mills producing candies, toys, and other goodies. Those who oppose his rule find themselves sent to the coal mines to harvest lumps for bad little girls and boys. The worst find themselves confined to the Islands of Misfit Toymakers, repurposed prison hulks lashed together with rigging and misery. Elves, co-opted industrialists, and desperate men and women carry out their orders in a shivering wonderland. Bell-ringing clockwork assayers keep everyone on a rigid timetable centered on the most wonderful day of the year…
Some still have hope- they believe the Yuletide Empire can be overthrown. But the underground is splintered and riven, divided by philosophies and desperately surviving. They face unreliable allies, turncoat members, and infiltrating Agents of the Krampus.
Sources: GM’s have at their disposal a host of Christmas imagery, with Rankin-Bass productions rising to the top. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol exists as a political tract in this setting, a Little Red Book for followers of Father Christmas. The tone of the setting also draws from V for Vendetta, 1984, Anno Dracula, and the Dr. Who special “A Christmas Carol.” To use this as a mirror to Victorian society, consider The Making of Victorian Values.
Disgruntled Nog Meister
Elven Dentistry Enthusiast
Fae Labor Agitator
Plucky Snowlark Urchin
Politically Conscious Toymaker
Rebellious Clockwork Minder
Shanghaied Toy Inventor
Sympathetic Tavern Keeper
Tree Cutter Anarchist
Turncoat Krampus Agent
Players will be deeply involved with the insurgency against Santa Claus, a dangerous task putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. Though united in common cause, class, philosophy, and even race divide these rebles. They must carry on their normal lives, find enough to eat, evade detection, and engineer ways to strike back against All Father Christmas. Different characters may have different goals…
…revealing the true nature of Claus to the outside world;
…rescuing an imprisoned loved-one;
…recruiting highly-placed operatives;
…finding a way to fight myth with science;
…bringing Santa’s elves over to the side of humanity;
…spreading a political manifesto;
…striking at Santa’s factories;
…helping refugees escape to the hinterlands;
…affecting change within the House of Claus;
…building a large resistance group;
…gaining vengeance for those lost; or
…seeking a magical counter-balance to Kringle’s powers.
Any of these could be the seeds for scenes and episodes.
Santa Claus: The man in the high workshop and The One True Father Christmas. To bring Joy to the many, certain sacrifices have to be made. Those who accept his message find him a jolly old soul. Those who do not may see the inside of his bottomless bag.
Mrs. Claus: The kinder and gentler face of the state, but still hard as nails. She carefully keeps the co-opted nobility and industrialists of England entertained and in line. At the same time she has become more progressive in recent years, backing new roles for women in Santa’s State. She supports her husband’s vision, saying “Christmas is the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”
The Krampus: Santa’s dark twin who oversees enforcement of his edicts. He maintains the network of enforcers who hunt down subversives and “Scrooges” throughout the realm. He has many agents from the fiendish Pelznickel to the Whipping Fathers. With rusty bells and chains, they clear the streets before Father Christmas’ honored servants. More subtly the Krampus also pays richly to informants and turncoats.
The Elves: Though to most they appear to be a unified group of fey, Santa’s Elves have many divisions, usually based on historical skills and duties. These include classic Workshop Elves as well as Zwarte Pieten, Servant Ruperts, and Tomtens. New groups take pride in use of steam and clockwork to craft uncanny soldiers for Santa’s army.
Other Forces of Fear: The Great Northern Polar Bear, a bumbling enforcer with a pair of sidekick cub thugs; The Chimney Sweeps, secret police who drop in unannounced to make certain of each family’s devotion to the Yule; The Abominable Snow Beasts aka the Wendigo who patrol the hinterlands seeking out the uncheery; The Elemental Misers: Bound magical servants who keep Santa’s new Kingdom exactly as he wishes it.
Life During Wartime and Resistance Fighters. There’s fun to be had interacting with a world blanketed with a different “false” holiday cheer. It isn’t winter all of the year, but one can imagine that Santa’s presence brings in the north winds earlier and colder, making life more unbearable. Even with Santa’s magical powers, giving over so much of the economy to luxury goods could mean famine and disease for the general population. Would the Claus object if the least useful workers simply faded away, making more room for long-lived and uncomplaining elves?
Stalinist and Orwellian archetypes appear here in tinsel and glitter. GM’s may want to play off the disconnect between reality and how Santa sees the world. His proclamations and five year plans come from high on sleigh, rather than on the ground. How will the workshop elves react when they contact human concepts of equality, liberty, and unionization?
The conspiracy offers rich dramatic details. A classic device is to begin with the group organized as a loose affiliation, tied by a charismatic cell leader. The story opens with that leader captured or denounced. The players must pick up the pieces, rebuild contacts, and perhaps carry out plans already in motion. Hanging above their heads should be the question of who set-up their leader.
TIGHTENING THE SCREWS
The threat of discovery should provide ample drive to players’ stories and dramatic arcs. Sneaking out after curfew, they evade the red-nosed searchlights and pass flyers with the slogans of the state: “Santa is the Reason for the Season,” “All I Want for Christmas is Efficiency,” and “Give Them Noël, Claus!” Characters will find themselves caught between normal lives and striking a blow for freedom. The season-ending arc could revolve around a McGuffin plan toturn the conflict around, undoubtedly coming to fruition on Christmas Eve. More sentimental or sinister GMs could have the party learn the real meaning of Christmas…
NAMES (ELF AND OTHERWISE)
This setting could also be played from the reverse, with the characters in the service of the Kringle. This would have a more Soviet-era vibe, with informants and proving one’s “Joyousness” as key elements. A more complicated approach would mix the groups, ala The Wire, with some of the PCs fighting against Claus and others working to extend Christmas Cheer.
A War on Christmas offers an important setting “dial”- the nature and form of the fantastic. The GM and group may want that more or less at the forefront. Depending on the group, Steampunk elements can easily be excised or increased. The same applies to the question of magic and magical powers. The classical stories have most of these gifts as inherent to the nature of Elves and Santa. GM’s may wish to make that more complicated- perhaps relating to old traditions. What if many of Saint Nick’s abilities come from pacts and bargains, ala the Faerie? What if there’s an even darker price to be paid for the extension of this winter wonderland?