Sunday, 23 December 2018

Christmas Keepers (Trail, Lovecraft Country)

This is going to be my last post for the year. Happy holidays to all, and I hope you have a great New Year!

Let's talk Christmas in New England, that jolly time of year when eating a mince pie can get your ears cut off.

When the Puritans settled in New England they brought their customs with them, and being a joyless bunch of asshats one of their most beloved customs was a hatred of all things cheerful. That included Christmas. The holiday season was a complete anathema to those stern Yankees, so much so that in 1647 laws were passed to ensure nobody kept Christmas, or any saint's day, and certainly didn't make mince pies, attend Christmas masques or dramas, dance, or play any musical instrument. Decoration was also banned, which meant no holly or mistletoe; that might encourage kissing, God forbid!

The first Puritans arranged things as they liked, but were constantly threatened by those among them who weren't Puritans and who enjoyed festive cheer. One such was Thomas Morton, who was caught by Miles Standish having a good time in his own home, and promptly banished from Plymouth Colony.

Thomas Morton was playing the Lord of Misrule, which was a particular grievance to good Puritans. The Lord of Misrule was a traditional Yule figure in English folklore, now not often seen in its Christmas role. Each year the Lord, usually a peasant or of low birth, would be appointed and go around the neighborhood dressed in green and orange, with bells at his ankles, dancing with his celebrants, leading the crowd in games and singing. The band would make a nuisance of themselves until given money, at which point they'd go off and find some other householder to torment. Often the merry pranksters would invade the church and interrupt the solstice sermon, which is why the Puritans so disliked the Lord. The tradition may have come from the Roman Saturnalia, but its origins are obscure, and in any case people usually don't need much excuse to get drunk and go round in a group making a nuisance of themselves. The 'getting drunk' part of the ceremony encourages any kind of bad behavior.

Being Puritans, the colonists' treatment of those caught in the act were severe. Morton was lucky to get away with banishment; cash fines, time in the stocks, branding, or having your ears or nose cut off were typical punishments. This was all intended to bring people to Salvation, for on the Day of Doom the Lord would judge impartial, but stern, and woe betide the sinners who passed on Christ's left hand side.

This worked so long as the colonies were made up entirely, or at least in the majority, of Puritans. However as time went by more Catholics, Episcopalians and Universalists arrived in New England, and public opinion changed. By 1681 the laws banning Christmas were repealed. It took time for people to become used to the idea - a small entertainment, called 'educational', here, a modest party there - but over time even the Puritans came to accept some Christmas frivolity.

However even after the law was repealed good Puritans, of whom there were many, treated Christmas like any other day. They did not close their shops or schools; as far as they were concerned, Christmas was a day of work, not play. It wasn't until 1797 that a churchman felt safe enough to call for a celebration of the holiday, and up to the 1870s schools kept on teaching right through the holiday period. It wasn't until after the Civil War, when Christmas became a Federal holiday, that New England really embraced Christmas. By that point the season was becoming commercialized; a time to work so you can buy and give presents, not to play games or dance around with bells on your ankles.

Now, to gamify:

Crack Nouts and Cry Yule

The Hook

The weather this Christmas is particularly harsh, and Arkhamites nervously joke about a return of the great 1921 ice storm that blanketed the town and nearly froze the Miskatonic. People don't hang around on the streets after dark; they hurry home, where there's warmth and cheer.

There's a story going round that a gang of carol singers are making a nuisance of themselves in East-town, the seedy and decaying residential section once so beloved of Arkham's upper class. Rumor has it that they use the singing as a distraction to burgle the houses they visit, and there have been several letters to the paper about it. Where are the police, they ask, and why can't more be done to stop these thieves?

However those with History, Occult or possibly Library Use notice a pattern. The lead figure of these criminal characters is dressed as the Lord of Misrule. The Lord never removes his mask or participates in the thievery, but it's clear from the accounts of those who've seen him that the Lord is the most menacing of the group. The attacks seem to radiate out in a circle from a central point: the First Unitarian Church of Arkham, on Federal Street. Further, every location where the carolers have been is visited by another mysterious figure with a much more violent MO. This character, whoever he is, attacks and brutally injures people outside after dark. Four attacks have been recorded, and in each case the victim lost extremities - noses, ears, always due to frostbite. Those who go into this further notice that, according to the hospitals and doctors (Charm, with a bonus die for those with Medicine above base), six people with that kind of injury have been treated by local hospitals or doctors.

The Awful Truth

The Minister of First Unitarian, Doctor Spencer, recently hired a professional archivist, Norton Deane, to help bring the church archive into some kind of order. This was more a question of charity than need; poor Norton recently had a great shock that required a stay in a sanitarium, and this job was meant to put him back on his feet.

Unfortunately for Deane some of the earlier documents in the archive, related to early Christmas traditions in Arkham, contained Mythos knowledge. The revelations Deane encountered, in his weakened mental state, drove him over the edge. He became the Lord of Misrule, visiting nearby houses to spread Christmas insanity.

His first two visits were solo affairs, as the investigators will discover if they talk to newspaper reporters or cops. However a bunch of criminals joined in, seeing an opportunity. These might be young Arkham hoods (the Finns, the Rocks), or more experienced bottom-feeders. Deane doesn't object to them following in his wake, so long as they dance and sing. He insists on that, and they're too frightened of him to object. The level of violence has increased since they joined in, but the Lord of Misrule doesn't mind that; violence is part of Christmas.

However something else has joined in the celebration. Icy Cold Ones are closing in on the Lord of Misrule, determined to put an end to him. They wouldn't be able to do it without the freezing weather, but so long as ice storms threaten they can roam the streets at night. The Mythos texts that Deane found draw these Cold Ones in, so they too congregate around or near First Unitarian. The church at night is a very hazardous place to be.

The two injured men who aren't part of the official tally are part of the gang of crooks that follow Deane, and if they're interrogated they can tell the investigators about the Cold One attacks and the Lord of Misrule. 

Defeating the Lord of Misrule, or burning the Mythos texts, drives off the Cold Ones and end the threat.

There is a time limit on this. The longer the Lord of Misrule, and by extension the Cold Ones, are allowed to do their work, the more likely it is that the gathering Cold Ones will cause an ice storm more dangerous than the 1921 event. Should that happen, the weak and vulnerable of Arkham will die off, frozen to death in their own homes. Assume there is a 10% chance, cumulative, per week, that this will happen. This deadly storm causes a SAN penalty of 1/1D6+1.


No comments:

Post a Comment