There are tons of holiday media out there – Hallmark movies, Christmas cartoons, and Biblical retellings being the most prominent. But many of these don’t make for great fantasy inspiration. They’ve been told and retold, and their tropes are easily recognizable to anyone you might have at your table.
Luckily, the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery genres (which I find to be extremely useful genres for finding inspiration for games and LARPs) are not without their own holiday spirit.
Gawain and the Green Knight
This classic Arthurian Romance sounds more like fae horror than holiday festival, but in fact it takes place at Yuletide! It’s a time of little light, rebirth of the new year, and also gatherings, making it a perfect place to have a massive party or feast. And where knights gather, adventure abounds.
In the poem, the Camelot Christmas Party (okay, fine, a Yuletide feast) is interrupted by the arrival of a massive green knight. He towers over the knights, insulting them and demanding that someone meets his challenge – a game of equal blows. Today, one knight will strike him. Next Christmas, he’ll return the blow. Sir Gawain accepts to keep King Arthur from doing so and, on the advice of the others, cuts his head clean off, thinking that a return blow will be impossible. But the strange knight simply stands up and gathers his head into his arms. He leaves promising to see the young knight in a year, sealing his fate. But no Arthurian knight ever accepts their death lying down, and Sir Gawain’s following Christmas adventure will be on remembered for hundreds of years.
A beloved entry in Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, this adventure features Death, his granddaughter, and the wizards of the Unseen University as they attempt to save Hogswatch (the Disc’s winter solstice holiday-du-jour). It’s witty, funny, and will make you appreciate the holiday season for entirely new reasons.
In it, we see the Arbiters of Reality, annoyed with the chaos and creativity of humanity, approach an Assassin’s Guild with a strange commission. The head assassin is confused as to how exactly they’re meant to murder the Hogfather (essentially, Santa Claus) when he’s a fictional embodiment of a holiday. But one of their members, the off-putting Teatime, has already given it a great deal of thought. Unfortunately for him, Death has taken an interest in the well-being of humanity, takes on the Hogfather’s duties while his granddaughter Susan investigates, and puts a stop to the end of Hogswatch.
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
Beloved by readers of various generations, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is Sherlock Holmes’ only original holiday-adjacent story (although adaptations by later authors frequently place the detective at the heart of holiday capers). It’s short and sweet, so it won’t take long to read. It’s also an excellent introduction to the classic version of Sherlock Holmes if you’ve never managed to read any of the original Sir Doyle works.
In it, a young man brings a hat that he’s found to Watson and Holmes’, which he saw lost in a scuffle along with a Christmas goose with a group of ne’er-do-wells in the street. It does have a name on it, but a common one, making it difficult to track down the owner. It’s not strictly a crime, but Holmes’ accepts it as a mental exercise. And soon he finds that he was correct to, becoming entangled in the theft of a valuable gemstone, and the false arrest of an innocent man.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
Almost as famous as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, the fussy little Belgian sleuth who’s always using his “little grey cells”. He in fact has a couple holiday stories (The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is also good, but very short), but this one is a favorite. It was also published under the names A Holiday for Murder and Murder for Christmas and is included in various Poirot and mystery collections.
A wealthy family has gathered for the holidays and is just settling in for the night when an almighty ruckus is heard behind the locked door of their father. When they break the door down, they find him dead! A detective among them reveals that he was asked here by the victim himself, who believed that someone would try and steal his diamonds. One of the family members finds, and reveals, a small bit of rubber and a wooden peg – but that’s all the clues that they can find. Finding the case hopeless, the detective calls on Hercule Poirot, who must sort things out with the little evidence that he has available to him.
Christmas on Ganymede
Isaac Asimov is probably the best-known science fiction writer in the United States, if not the world. He’s known for speculative fiction, dystopian forewarning, and suspenseful drama. Holiday cheer and humor aren’t necessarily what one expects from him, but he lends both in his short story Christmas on Ganymede.
In this story, a group of ostrich-looking aliens (called Ossies) are working for an Earth-based company under the employ of a human manager. When the Christmas season comes around, he tells them stories about Santa Claus and Christmas, which causes them to demand a holiday event of their own. And they won’t work until they get one! Unfortunately, this endangers their production quotas, and their manager must find a way to fulfill their wishes as best he can – even if it means putting Christmas on himself.
Have you read any of the listed stories and novels? Did you enjoy them? Have you used any as inspiration for your tabletop games? Let us know in the comments below!