I was running a fairly large college game of D&D in 1976. December comes around and we get one last session in before finals and everyone heading home for the holidays. As the party returned from the dungeon, they noticed a lot of strange activity in town. People were excited. Shops were closing early. Even the taverns were shutting down, something that did not even happen on holidays. The group’s first thought was that the town was shutting down to prepare for some type of bandit or goblin attack, but when they dragged their banged up selves to the local militia grounds to offer their services, even it was closed down. They finally just asked some random person on the street (not that there were many of them) what was going on. They were told that the town seer had said that Santa Claus was coming tonight. The characters were confused. The players, however, just looked at me with jaded and dubious glares. Not trusting me a bit, they set watches — something they only did in town if they had a lot of treasure or otherwise suspected they might be targeted by bandits or they like.
There were no encounters that night, yet the characters discovered the next morning that various items had mysteriously appeared in their socks or their boots. Useful items like Potions of Extra-Healing, a treasure map, and strangest of all, a magic short sword. And not just any magic short sword but the heirloom sword of one of the characters that they had seen turned to melted slag in a fireball a couple of months before. They quickly discovered that everyone in town had received something in the same mysterious manner, things like food, or just enough money to pay the rent, or in one case a potion that cured the horrible wasting disease that was killing the person it was given to. No one save the PCs seemed to find these gifts unusual, but were thanking their gods for the visit from Santa Claus.
This started a tradition that has continued every (real world) year since: Santa Claus pays a visit to my campaign setting on the last game session we have before Christmas. It doesn’t matter if it has been many years or only a few months of campaign time since the last visit of Santa. There is no regular holiday associated with Santa’s visit in my campaign worlds as there is in the real world. Only seers can tell when Santa will next appear and only shortly before he does.
No one has ever found out who Santa is or why he does what he does — even the gods seem to know no more about Santa than their followers do, or if they do know more, they aren’t telling. However, over the years, an assortment of facts and legends about Santa have been discovered. Here are some of the more interesting ones.
* Santa brings everyone something that they can use (although not necessarily something they want). It does not seem to matter if one is paladin good, merely good, bad, or evil with a capital “E”.
* Crossing Santa is supposedly very bad. There are legends of what happened to people who did. For example, according to one common legend, an evil ruler sent out his city guard to collect every present Santa had given to the citizens of the city. The next time Santa came, the evil ruler was found the following morning quite dead — impaled on one of his castle’s turrets — and every guardsman who had participated in the confiscation of presents from Santa woke up with no hands. No one knows if any of these legends are true or if they are true that Santa was even responsible.
* Some of Santa’s gifts are weird. For example, in the current campaign Santa restocked the food and water supplies for city under long siege — and even restored the city’s walls to perfect pre-siege conditions, but gifted the army encamped around them with better siege weapons.
* Even the gods apparently get visits from Santa. Most gods seem to fear him, perhaps because he seems at least as powerful as they are.
* As far as sages can tell, Santa visits every being in every world (including those on parallel prime material planes and on other planes) on the same night. Some believe the visits all occur at the same instant in time.
* Some believe Santa is the most powerful of the Gods. Some believe that there is no Santa, but that Santa is just the gods acting in unison to be very mysterious. Others believe that Santa was once an unimaginably evil being who was cursed to aid others as punishment. Etc.
* Santa is worshiped as a god in some places. Such religions supposedly seldom last long, perhaps because they offend Santa.
* No one ever sees Santa. However, legends record various people and beings who supposedly have seen and even interacted with Santa during his visits.
This year, Santa arrived in my Wilderlands campaign the Sunday before Thanksgiving — our last M74 Wilderness Campaign session for the year. The characters received a number of useful presents, the most interesting one was a map that supposedly leads to a character’s father — who has been long thought dead. The map shows him in a keep of a powerful — and very evil — wizard on an island far across the sea. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the players decide to have their characters do with this map.
Santa Claus has been an interesting (and often useful) addition to my campaigns. The sad thing is I doubt this tradition would have gotten started if I had not started playing when I did — a time when gonzo stuff that did not make much campaign sense was much more welcome in games than it seems to be now. Even gonzo stuff that broke the line between the game world and the real world was often welcome. While the lack of such gonzo stuff probably makes for a more believable campaign world, I sometimes think we are missing out on a lot of fun by ruling it out almost automatically.