‘A Christmas Carol’ takes place on an unnamed human colony which still celebrates Christmas (the opening narrations says the first settlers called it Crystal Feast but throughout the episode they continue to call it Christmas).
It isn’t hard to imagine that the human colonies celebrate other festivals that originated on Earth. They might call it different names, has different ceremonies and different religious connotations but the sentiment is still the same.
This allows you to run themed adventures appropriate for the season. What better excuse to get a group of friends together to take part in festive Doctor Who game?
This does not necessarily have to be Christmas. You could have a Easter, New Year, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Ramadan or Passover adventure. This episode shows that you don’t even have to restrict yourself to Earth.
While it is easiest to justify this if the planets population are originally from Earth an alien culture might develop similar celebrations. This could be evidence of parallel history or cultural contamination or the PCs themselves could be responsible for giving the alien population the idea.
When designing the adventure you can think about what are the core sentiment of the festival. What makes it special? What captures the feeling of the festival and how can you evoke that emotional response in the players?
Using Christmas as our example you could decide that you want to concentrate on the idea of ‘goodwill to all men’. This can be seen in the Doctor’s efforts to make Kazran care about the fate of those on the space liner.
Such an adventure centres on convincing someone that they should care about others. What tactics the PCs take can be very revealing about their own character. Why do they care? Why do they think its important? The lessons they choose to teach others reveals what they believe.
You could cease upon the idea that the winter festival is a chance to reflect on what has gone before and what is in front of us. The original ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.
At the midpoint in some ones life the PCs can encourage them to appreciate where they are and how their actions have taken them to this moment. Is the way they’ve lived their life something they should regret or cherish. Do they want to change their ways or stay the course?
In ‘A Christmas Carol’ Scrooge sees that his fortune has made him lonely and that he’ll die alone and unloved. In ‘A Wonderful Life’ George Bailey is shown how much good he has done and is encouraged.
The PCs have the advantage of having a time machine so that they can give people a guided tour of their own lives. Care must be taken to ensure that they don’t alter history (unless that is their attention). This could be an argument for skipping a time track so that they can witness events without being seen.
If their TARDIS is capable of going to alternative timelines (or unfixed points in history as we discussed last time) then they could show someone how the world would be different if they made different decisions or didn’t exist at all.
Even without using time travel they can still look into someones background and present evidence to them about how the actions they’ve taken has shaped their life. It could be that a NPC was unaware of the harm they’ve caused or alternatively the lives they’ve improved.
You could decide that Christmas is about community and helping each other. Scrooge in ‘ Christmas Carol’ is shown the poverty of the Cratchits and a dark future in which Tiny Tim dies young, George in ‘A Wonderful Life’ realises how he has helped everyone (rather than doomed them as he thought) and the community rally around him.
In this episode Kazran learns more about Abigail and how her absence affected her family. He is shown the fate of the space liner and how the passengers are still clinging to hope. This helps him appreciate how his actions impact others and how he might do some good by showing them kindness.
In this case the PCs don’t have to change a NPCs nature. It can be enough for them to help a community at the darkest point of their lives (the mid-point of winter). They could do this on an individual by individual basis or the community as a whole.
In either situation this must feel personal. It is important that the PCs get to know the NPCs they are helping. There does not need to be an external villain to defeat. Rather their plight is situational.
Their gift of charity doesn’t need to solve the problem outright. It can be enough to give the NPC some respite or hope for the future. It can help them survive or put them on the path to salvation.
Festivities can happen against the background of ordinary life (whatever form that takes on another world) or against a dire situation. Tales of Christmas during world conflicts are all the more touching as we remember loved ones who can’t be close to us and we worry about what the future holds.
All of this can be done without religious overtones. This can be important in groups consisting of different faiths or those who don’t like to discuss the subject. Instead you just concentrate on the sentiment.
Once you have your core meaning and have developed the plot around it everything else is window dressing to enhance the story. ‘A Christmas Carol’ didn’t need to take place on a Dickensian human colony with snow and snowmen but it helps to make it more Christmassy.
Incidentally, merry Christmas to all of you at home.