The Plain People of Gaming: Christmas in Cthulhu City

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.

– The Festival

Of course, they celebrate Christmas in Great Arkham. It’s a normal city, a god-fearing city, and they have more reason to chase away the midwinter gloom than most. Every year, the city council raises a great tree in Independence Square, and decorate the streets with electric lights. Bands play down in the Wooded Island, and there are fabulous balls and parties in Kingsport and the Hotel Miskatonic. For a little while, maybe, it seems as if the oppressive darkness of the city retreats.

Look closer.

Sentinel Hill: The Church of the Conciliator, Great Arkham’s dominant religious sect, celebrates Christmas. It’s the birth of our Lord, a time of joy and hope! On this day, long long ago, God filtered down from the stars and took on human (well, material) form, to bring the good news of the Old Ones to the world.

  • Theology: The nativity readings in the Arkham City Cathedral are oddly sympathetic to Herod, of all people. There’s the unsettling implication that the birth of the saviour somehow required the sacrifice of many, many other children.
  • Streetwise: Attendance at mass over Christmas is obligatory, even if one doesn’t regularity visit church. The priests take note of those who refuse to celebrate this holiest of days. Why, ungrateful people who can’t even go to mass at Christmas don’t deserve to see the New Year…

Old Arkham: The wealthy families of Old Arkham host elabourate banquets and feasts, bringing the whole family back together for one night at least. Christmas is a time for renewing old vows and bonds of loyalty, and for bringing wayward scions back home.

  • Bargain: There’s a little shop on Go-by Street that sells the most marvellous Christmas decorations, handmade twists of glass and silver in the shape of stars and branches. Hang them from your tree, and your home will be protected for the season at least. They’re expensive, though, and there’s a waiting list as certain wealthy families buy a new one of these… charms every year. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can still get one – or borrow one with Filch…
  • Medicine: No-one dies in St. Mary’s Hospital at Christmas. It’s not some seasonal miracle, though – it’s something older and darker. Those who succumb to illness or injury on the 25th of December linger on in defiance of all medical science, and mutter in strange tongues as if some other force speaks through them.

University District: The university closes for the holidays, of course, so the storied halls and lecture theatres of Miskatonic are deserted. Most staff and students go home, leaving only a few lonely souls or bachelor professors to haunt the campus.

  • Library Use: There’s a book related to Ithaqua the Wind-Walker in the Orne Collection. Well, there’s sometimes a book on Ithaqua there. The tome only manifests on the coldest of nights around Midwinter. Read it if you dare, but each page you turn drops your internal body temperature by a degree or so.
  • Oral History: All the students go skating on the frozen Crane Pond during the water. There’s a campus tradition that if you’re on track to fail your exams, the ice will crack and break beneath you when you step on it, as if the Pond weeds out unworthy students.

Westheath: It’s hard for Christmas cheer to penetrate the grey skies and tomblike tenements of this district, but it’s here that the most honest celebrations of the season may be found. The people here light candles and place them in the windows of their apartments as a sign of defiance against the Mythos. Each morning, the elders of the community rise before dawn and walk the dark streets, checking every window. If a candle’s missing, does that mean that a family has succumbed to despair? Have they been taken by the Transport Police or some other dark force?

  • Biology: Christmas is obviously a busy time for Gardner Industrial Farms, where they churn out truckloads of obscenely large turkeys. They don’t have time to fatten the birds through conventional means, so they give the birds triple doses of the vitalising light from the patent Whipple lamps. Workers then enter the building and weed out the mutant birds, the ones whose cells… reacted to the Whipple lamps in an unwholesome fashion.
  • Streetwise: Christmas is hard for many families in this poor district; loan sharks working for the Malatesta family are always eager to help out. Nothing’s more useful to the criminal gang than an honest man without a prior record who’s unknown to the authorities. Want to give your kids a Christmas they’ll remember? The Malatestas can help…

Dunwich: Snow blankets the backroads and thickets of Dunwich, making travel difficult. Most people bunker down for the season, staying close to home. They have stories here – brought from the old world, they say – about Father Christmas and his elves. Things creeping through the woods, lithe and pale and leaving no tracks. A huge figure, white-bearded, his coat splashed with red, astride (or one with) his horned mount, following after his hunting beasts. No, it’s best to stay close to home at Yule in Dunwich, and leave offerings on your doorstep so nothing slithers down your chimney.

  • Oral History: Snowed in at the White Stone roadhouse, the investigators spend Christmas stuck with a bunch of strangers. Tongues loosened with port and mulled wine, each stranger relates a tale of horror and mystery… (aka, a one-shot flashback using pregenerated player characters).
  • Electrical Repair: The mighty turbines of the Olmstead Dam provide electricity for all the lights and amusements in the city. From the top of the dam, one can see the city blazing with seasonal illuminations… and when the turbines skip, the whole city flickers for an instant. It’s as though the dam’s transmitting messages to the streets, subliminal signals articulated in patterns of darkness and light.

Northside: Northside’s thronged with shoppers and revellers at this time of year. Plunge into those anonymous crowds, cast off your individuality, and join the dance of consumption!

  • Forensics: These bones recovered from Christchurch graveyard have toothmarks, suggesting that someone ate the corpse. What’s really disturbing, beyond the mere fact of the cannibalism, is that there are several different sets of toothmarks, implying that a whole family feasted on the deceased…
  • Physics: A misfiring Yithian machine buried deep under Northside triggers around midwinter, projecting its victims into the past, present and future for brief jaunts before returning them to their point of origin. The investigators are hired by an old and miserly businessman who’s experienced two such time-jumps already, and wants them to find a way to stop the machine before he’s forced to confront the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Salamander Fields: Here in the oldest, darkest heart of Arkham, they do not speak of Christmas. It is the Yuletide, and it is celebrated by descending into wet, dark tunnels that glisten with green flame. There are lights in the deserted houses, and strange spiked growths that might resemble Christmas trees at a distance, but do not mistake them for anything safe or festive…

  • Occult: A curious custom practised by an ancient Lodge in Old Arkham – each year, the wealthy members of the Lodge find some poor beggar or hobo and crown him King. They bring him back to their hall, dress him in fine clothes, feed him a meal fit for a king, and then… well, the king returns to the gutter, but is never quite the same afterwards.
  • Bureaucracy: The city’s determined to finish the infamous and long-delayed Dig as soon as possible, and work on the massive engineering project is due to continue through the festive season. Enterprising investigators could infiltrate the Dig site by taking temporary employment over the holidays.

Innsmouth Docks: Swim down, and you’ll soon find there are no seasons in the deep. Winter and summer are things of the surface; the deeps are timeless. So, the Yuletide is of less importance in Innsmouth than in other parts of the city. There are no brightly lit streets down here, and what hangs from windows is limp and damp and weedy instead of glittering tinsel.

  • Credit Rating: The Gilman House committee does host an expensive Christmas charity dinner every year. Since the raid on the House itself, the dinner’s moved to the more upscale function rooms at the Devil’s Reef restaurant. Those cultivating political connections in this part of town are advised to give generously. Especially promising donors may be introduced to certain… elderly individuals who are of great influence in Innsmouth.
  • Craft: Some unlucky children find strange pale dolls under the Christmas tree. The parents mutter to one another in wonder, trying to work out where the gift came from, and how it was placed under the tree in secret. They would be better off keeping a closer eye on their children; the dolls are lures dispatched by the Moon-Beasts of the Black Ships, and if the children are not watched, the dolls lead them off down to the docks to board the waiting ships…

Kingsport: Kingsport is Arkham’s pleasure-garden. It’s more associated with lazy summers and yachting than the dim midwinter, but there are still amusements to be found here. Walk along the promenade, fortified by hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts, and look out at the snowy harbour before visiting a gallery or a Christmas movie. It’s festival time, and strange pleasures might be found down some unexpected alleyway or winding stairs that only appears in moonlight.

  • Oral History: Everyone agrees that the best department store Santa Claus in the city is in Hartman’s Department Store in Kingsport. The jolly old fellow is positively magical in how he enchants the children, and always has the right gift to hand. Who knows what he whispers in their ears, though – and strange to say, in some lights, his face looks as artificial as his fake beard…
  • Art History: A script for a Christmas movie has floated around the various movie studies in Kingsport’s film district for the last few months. It’s called The Snowglobe, and it’s a seasonal tale of weird horror about a man who discovers that his quaint little village is actually a model trapped inside a globe, and he must fight to escape from this picturesque prison. The identity of the screenwriter is a mystery, and it’s rumoured he was visited by the transport police shortly after submitting a draft to AKLO pictures.

Chinatown: This district is a merciful refuge from the Yuletide spirit. Be of good cheer – there’s a place to escape Christmas, even in Cthulhu City…

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2 Responses to “The Plain People of Gaming: Christmas in Cthulhu City”

  1. Bryan Gustafson says:

    Will there be more holidays for Cthulhu City? I’d really like to see a Madi Gras Party or May Day Cult.

    • Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan says:

      I might do a Cthulhu City calendar, spotlighting civic and religious holidays and anniversaries of important events. No idea when that’ll get slotted in, though. (Yes, I am aware of the irony of not being able to schedule a calendar :)).

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