With Christmas less than two weeks away I felt it was a good time to dust off this holiday-themed article from the Dungeon’s Master archive and give it an encore performance. First published last December, this D&D holiday-themed tale was inspired in part by real events that happened in my household over the holidays. Merry Christmas.
Originally published on December 15, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Christmas With the Gamer.
I’d rather be playing D&D. But it’s Christmas and my family is coming over for a big holiday dinner. So I’m forced to settle for the banality known as real life for the next few hours.
I lumber downstairs from my bedroom, making no effort to be stealthy. Anyone in the living room or kitchen with a half-way decent passive perception knows I’m on my way. As a triggered action when I reach the bottom of the staircase my mother, the controller, starts giving me orders. I have to clean the basement, playfully called the dungeon, before company arrives.
As I pass by the living room I notice my father watching football. My dad is the epitome of the Warlord class. He’s a generous leader who constantly gives up his actions to let other act in his place. Whether that action is taking out the trash, cleaning the basement, or mowing the lawn, he’s always been very generous and giving. He’s just that kind of guy. Even when my mother asks him to do something he takes advantage of his class features to give up his action and let someone else do twice as much on their turn.
The dungeon is a disaster area. There is clutter everywhere. I manage to make my Acrobatics check to avoid stepping on anything hazardous or breakable. I even manage to make my Athletics check to successfully jump over a small table that’s in my way.
As I assess the room I need to figure out the best way to tackle this problem. I can do the fast and easy thing, and just shove everything haphazardly out of site. But that means that I’ll have to just go through it all again later when I actually need to find something. That’s a skill challenge I don’t want to do. Better to just do it the right way the first time and put things where they belong.
Half-an-hour passes and I’ve already failed three Endurance checks. I have to sit down and have a refreshing beverage while I take a short, 5-minute rest. Just as I’m debating a second short rest, my passive perception is surprisingly good enough to hear company coming in the front door. It’s my aunt and uncle from the sounds of it.
I opt for Stealth and hope that if my mother doesn’t hear me she’ll forget I’m down in the dungeon. Greeting the relatives is an encounter that’s best avoided until reinforcements arrive. My mother calls for me to come up and say hello. I use Bluff and tell her I’ll be up as soon as I finish cleaning the dungeon. I only hope she fails her next Insight check or else I’ll get a second call shortly, this time with a mind-affecting compulsion thrown in for ensured obedience.
I finally manage to get the dungeon organized when I hear those reinforcements arriving. My brother, his wife and two kids charge through the front door. Time for me to take initiative and join the encounter.
When I get to the top of the stairs I see the kids have enthralled my father. His low Will defense made him an easy target for their “Pay Attention to Me” aura. My sister-in-law has already joined my mother in the kitchen to help with preparations.
One of my nephews makes his Perception check and spots me. He immediately charges me, arms wide, attempting to get me in the inescapable “Bear Hug of Childish Might.” My brother, a valiant fighter and strong defender takes his opportunity action to grapple the little guy as his son runs through his threatened space.
I move carefully around the room, avoiding the difficult terrain of coats and boots left sprawled throughout the hallway and front room. I fail my perception check and don’t notice the puddles of melting snow that have accumulated beneath the boots. The water trap gets me and I’m forced to suffer the indignity of ongoing “wetfoot” until I make a save and change my socks.
I perform my duties by hugging and greeting all of my relatives. Other than the water trap, I get through the encounter unscathed. From the kitchen my mother suggests that I take the kids downstairs to play until diner time.
I fail initiative and the kids rush past me and down the stairs before I can even shout for them to be careful and not to run. Clearly there’s some chaotic in their alignment. I believe they get that from their mother, a Bard if I ever saw one. She’s a performer and an adventurous spirit who is always trying new things and taking up new hobbies. And she’s clearly the leader in her household.
Keeping the kids entertained is a skill challenge I’ve had plenty of practice with. I know that pretending to be overjoyed in their presentence is an easy Bluff check that guarantees one success. An Intimidate check can often earn another success by threatening to tell their mother if they misbehave. Where I usually wrack up an early failure is failing my Endurance check. I just can’t keep up with a couple of active four-year-olds.
I manage to keep them entertained until dinner by teaching them a couple of new games I had the foresight to look up online before their arrival. That Streetwise check required some digging, but I knew it would pay off.
The kids make their Perception checks and hear movement in the dinning room. They tell me what they hear and anticipate dinner is forthcoming. Sure enough they’re already half way up the stairs when we’re called to the dinner table.
The next encounter begins when I enter the dining room. I try to make a History check and remember who I was sitting next to last year and whether or not there were any issues. My mind’s a blank. Oh well, I just sit in the nearest chair.
My brother delays his turn and doesn’t choose his seat until much later in the initiative order. My uncle sits to my right and my sister-in-law to my left. My brother comes off of delay and chooses the seat across from me.
As more and more food is placed on the table I remember just how adept my mother is with the culinary arts. The things she can do in the kitchen are nothing short of magical. Just by looking at all of the food on the table I can tell that she’s outdone herself again. Every year she performs the “Holiday Feast” ritual and every year she gets a higher and higher result on her Nature check. The fact that she’s got another years worth of experience and a number of helpers assisting doesn’t hurt either.
Before the meal begins someone has to perform the blessing. My aunt takes point. I always envisioned her as a Cleric. She’s trained in Religion, has clearly taken the skill focus feat and is certainly a leader in her professional life as well as at home. We bow our heads as she begins saying grace.
My uncle the Rogue, knowing that everyone has their eyes closed and heads bowed takes this opportunity to secretly kick me under the table in an attempt to make me laugh. He lands a solid, yet playful blow, taking me completely by surprise. The combat advantage he gained because my eyes were closed let him follow-up his attack with a poke to my belly as a minor action. I start laughing against my will, alerting everyone that something’s up.
I don’t need to have a good Insight to know that my mother is angry at my outburst. My aunt ignores the interruption and continues as if nothing’s happened. I glance at my uncle but he’s sitting as still as a statue. His Bluff is so convincing no one even suspects his guilt.
My brother, sitting across from me gives me a knowing wink. I try making another History check and this time I’m successful. I suddenly remember that he fell victim to the same attack from our uncle during last year’s dinner. Clearly he made his History check before he sat down which explains why he delayed his action until after both my uncle and I were seated. Clever.
As food is passed around I rely on my Perception to help me decide on which foods look and smell the most appealing. With a successful Thievery check I grasp the oven mitt under the really hot bowls as the come around. This year I manage not to burn my fingers in the process.
When dinner is finally over everyone starts moving into the living room where they search for the best spot to collapse and watch sports. Clearly most members of this party failed their save against gluttony and now they need to rest.
The last thing I want is to have to spend an entire evening with my family. I use Diplomacy on my mother and ask her if I can sneak away to my friend’s house later. I give myself a pretty substantial modifier to this check by helping with the dishes and clean up before even being asked. Success, I get the green light to go.
With things winding down I make my move and slip away from the commotion. I grab my gaming stuff and head for the front door. It looks like I’ll make my D&D game after all. Finally, a chance to focus on D&D and leave my real life behind for a few hours. If it wasn’t for fantasy role-playing games I don’t know how I’d pass the time.