'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas is on Kickstarter

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: H is for HOLLY, and I is for IVY

Holly and ivy have become so inextricably connected with Christmas, mainly because both are evergreens, like the fir tree and the boughs used to form the traditional Christmas wreath and, as such, date back to pagan times.


The Romans believed both holly and ivy brought good luck and so decorated their homes with the plants during the festival of Saturnalia. They would also give sprigs of the plants to friends and loved ones as good luck tokens.

In time, the Church took these traditional elements of the extant winter festivals and gave them a Christian twist, adding their own symbolism. The sharp leaves of the holly came to represent Christ’s crown of thorns, while the red berries were drops of his blood. The nascent Church was so successful in modifying the symbolism of the holly that in Scandinavia it is still known as the ‘Christ-thorn’.


Other legends were invented, linking Christ to the holly. One stated that there had been a holly tree growing outside the stable where the infant Jesus was born. The tree was bare of berries, hungry birds having eaten them all. However, as soon as Jesus was born the tree grew new buds again, then flowers and finally berries – all in the space of that one night.

Another tale had it that the shepherds who visited the infant Christ left behind a lamb as a gift, corralling it within a pen of holly branches. The lamb had other ideas, however, and forced its way out of the enclosure to return to the hill pastures with its mother. In doing so, the poor thing tore its coat, the sharp prickles of the holly drawing blood from the creature. It being a cold night, the drops of blood froze becoming the holly’s red berries.

To the Medieval mind, the holly and the ivy had other important characteristics. The holly represented the male – with its tough, woody stems and sharp prickles – whilst the ivy was supposed to be female – clinging and feeble. People believed that whichever plant was brought into the house first on Christmas Eve (as it was unlucky to bring either into your home before then) would be in charge for the following year. If the holly was brought in first, the man would be the boss, but if the ivy entered before the holly, the woman would be head of the household.

Holly was the more important of the two plants. It was supposed to protect a home from lightning, and so was often planted outside the front door. And it had even more miraculous powers; its red berries were able to detect evil and so the holly could offer protection against witches. Medieval men also believed it had powers like those purported to be possessed by certain deodorant sprays today; carrying the leaves or berries about his person supposedly made a young man irresistible to the ladies.

And of course, in the carol ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, the point is made none-too-subtly that the plant that represents the male is the most important! However, there were a number of carols written in the fifteenth century that had a different emphasis, although the ivy still often came off the worst.


Both the holly and the ivy make an appearance in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, and may also crop up in 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.

      

Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: G is for GRYLA

Gryla is a giantess from Icelandic mythology with an appetite for the flesh of mischievous children, who she cooks up in a large pot. Her husband, Leppaludi, is lazy and mostly stays at home in the cave they share.

Gryla made her first appearance in the 13th century compilation of Norse mythology, Prose Edda, but no specific connection to Christmas was mentioned until the 17th century.

She is enormous and her appearance repulsive. The oldest poems about Gryla describe her as a parasitic beggar who walks around asking parents to give her their disobedient children, although her plans can be thwarted by giving her food or by chasing her away.

Originally, she lived in a small cottage, but in later poems she appears to have been forced out of town and into a faraway cave.

The Yule Lads are the sons of Gryla and Leppaludi. They are a group of 13 mischievous trolls, who steal from or harass the population and all have descriptive names.

They come to town one by one during the last 13 nights before Christmas and leave small gifts in shoes that children have placed on window sills; imagine a whole family of Father Christmases. However, if a child has been badly-behaved the trolls will leave a potato in the shoe instead.

Gryla and the Yule Lads appear in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, and may also crop up in 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.

      

Friday, 6 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: F is for FROST FAIR

The temperature has been dropping steadily this week, here in the UK, but it's not got so cold yet that the River Thames here in London has frozen.

Between 1400 and 1814 (which was the last time it happened) the River Thames froze over 26 times. And when it froze solid, Londoners made the most of it, holding Frost Fairs on the ice.

The tidal, somewhat salty Thames is a deep, fast-flowing river today, but before the Old London Bridge was demolished in 1831, the river’s waters were pooled slightly behind the medieval arches, which probably helped the ice take hold. It was also the time known as the Little Ice Age, when winters were colder and more severe than they have been since 1800.


An Exact and lively Mapp or Representation of Boothes and all the variety of Showes and Humours on the ICE of the River of THAMES by LONDON During that memorable Frost in the 35th yeare of the Reigne of his sacred Maj King Charles the 2nd

The embankments had not yet been built, either, and so the River Thames was wider, shallower, and probably a little slower moving.

The Thames froze several times in Tudor England. Henry VIII is known to have travelled from Whitehall to Greenwich by sleigh, along the River Thames, in 1536. In 1564, Elizabeth I practised her archery on the frozen Thames, whilst menfolk played football on the ice.

The first frost fair, in terms of full-scale activity and commercial stalls and sports took place in 1608. It was a cheerful and spontaneous affair.

The Long Freeze or Great Freeze of 1683/4 was one of the coldest-known English, and European, winters. The Thames froze solidly, and the ice was up to a foot deep. The frost began six weeks before Christmas, and lasted well into February.


Streets of stalls and booths stretched from bank to bank; all London’s normal entertainments made their way on to the river. A whole ox was roasted at Hungerford Steps, bear-baiting and puppet-shows were held on the ice. Skating and chair-pushing events were also set up.

The Great Frost of 1709, probably Europe’s coldest winter for 500 years, saw another large-scale frost fair.

The last proper freezing of the River Thames in London took place in 1814. The frost set in at the start of January, and by the end of the month, the River was frozen solid. An elephant was even led across the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge to demonstrate the safety of the ice!

Hordes of traders and entertainers rushed to set up shop, and the fair was in full-swing. It was shorter than many, as the solid ice lasted only a week.

You can visit a Frost Fair in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas.

The RPG inspired by the gamebook, 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.

      

Gamebook Friday: NaNoWriMo and The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas

Today is something of a day of disappointments.

First of all, I failed to hit the NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words this year, despite starting with 10,000 words already in the bank. I was about 2,200 away from the target, with two days to go, but then last Friday was taken up with prepping with Dragonmeet and Saturday was Dragonmeet itself, which meant I didn't have any time (or energy) left to make my goal.

On the upside, Dracula - Curse of the Vampire is about one fifth written, and I'm pleased with how it's going. However, it's going to have to go on the back-burner again until the New Year as I have other projects demanding my attention at the moment, and my own stuff always has to take a backseat to paid gigs.

The other reason for my disappointment is that 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas isn't funding on Kickstarter. Current projections are that it will only reach around 70% of its funding goal. I had really hoped that people would get behind this but so far only about 60 people have, and I need around 200 people to back it to achieve funding. And even then, it will only be at the most basic level, which means there won't be very much more of Tony Hough's artwork, which in itself is disappointing.

Despite having run 12 Kickstarters, and had 9 of them fund, sometimes it feels like I'm starting from scratch when I launch a new one, especially when it's not just another gamebook or history of Fighting Fantasy. Clearly, the people who back my Kickstarters are first and foremost gamebook fans.

I think part of the problem is that sometimes I spread myself too thin and then I don't feel like I'm really accomplishing anything.

But today is another day, and next week is another week. I just need to refocus my attention.


Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: E is for ELVES

Santa’s Elves invade the UK each Christmas in increasing numbers, but where does the tradition of the Christmas elf come from?


Elves appear in Germanic, British and Scandinavian folklore, and are often referred as light elves or dark elves. They were often described as tiny, dwarf-like creatures, either male or female, they are said to be immortal, and possess magical powers.

In pagan times, Elves were believed to guard homes against evil. If you were good, the elves would be good to you, but if you were bad, they would play tricks on you. For example, they were believed to give people nightmares by sitting on their heads while they were asleep.

To keep the elves well fed, happy and out of mischief, people left a bowl of porridge on the doorstep at night. The use of the name “elf” in old English reflects the characters’ mischievous nature, and is from the old English ælf. The word was combined to create the words ælfadl “nightmare” and ælfsogoða “hiccup”, afflictions apparently thought to be caused by elves.

Already associated with storytelling and magic, elves began to be associated with Christmas in the mid 1800s, when they became Santa’s helpers. Christmas celebrations were gathering popularity and Scandinavian writers penned the elves’ role as we know it today - good-hearted, fairy-like helpers of Santa Claus that are sometimes mischievous.

Today’s children’s Christmas stories have drawn inspiration from the original folk tales to fashion what we think of as modern Christmas elves. Christmas elves are typically described as diminutive creatures, clad in red and green, with pointy ears and pointy hats. They help Santa bring Christmas to life. They design and make toys and gifts for children, look after the reindeer and keep the sleigh in good condition. They keep Santa’s naughty and nice list in order, and guard the secret location of Santa’s base of operations.

Folklore tells that elves make sudden appearances to families in the run up to Christmas. They keep an eye on children, check who’s naughty and who’s nice and report their findings back to Santa. If you don’t want to wake up on Christmas morning to find your stockings filled with lumps of coal or bundles of twigs – you’d better be good for goodness sake!


'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, which is full of elves - both good and bad - makes the perfect stocking filler, as will 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.

      

Gruss vom Krampus!

Today is 5th December, which means that this evening is Krampusnacht, the night when the Christmas Devil stalks the streets of Austrian and German mountain settlements, searching for naughty children to whip with his birch switch and carry away to hell in his wicker basket.

Krampusnacht feels more like Halloween than Christmas. To mark this occasion in the winter calendar, men dressed as Krampus drink alcohol, run through the streets, and frighten children. Often, they chase delinquent children around and actually hit them with sticks!

The Krampus costume itself traditionally consists of a hand-carved wooden mask and a suit made from sheep or goat skin. Cowbells are worn around the wearer’s hips.

Of course, Krampus is the villain of 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas (which is accepting reviews on Amazon now), but he is also the Big Bad of 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which needs some love on Kickstarter right now.

Don't forget to pledge your support before midnight, to benefit from the Early Bird rewards on offer.


And it's not too late to send some Krampus Kards this Christmas. If you need some more, they can be purchased from the ACE Gamebooks Etsy shop here.


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: D is for DECORATIONS

People have always festooned their homes with some manner of decorations, whether boughs of winter greenery or with enough electric lights to double their energy bills for the year. But where did it all start?

Our Norse ancestors used evergreens – mainly holly, ivy, mistletoe and the branches of fir trees – to decorate their homes during the winter months, to remind people that life would return to the world again. In time, other man-made decorations, such as bows of red ribbon and lit candles would be added to enhance what nature had already provided.

Following the example set by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1840s, the trend of having a Christmas tree in the home grew during the nineteenth century, and so the demand increased to have things to put on it.

Other than the lit candles, of one form or another, at first many Christmas tree decorations were of an edible nature. There were sweets, fruit and even wafers; then came small presents and paper ornaments.

By the 1880s glass ornaments were all the rage, with baubles replacing the once traditional apples hung on the old-fashioned Paradise tree (a precursor to the modern Christmas tree) – a reminder of the forbidden fruit tasted by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And now we have strings of fairy lights, tinsel by the metre and all manner of decorations with which to adorn our homes.


'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas makes the perfect stocking filler, as will 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.

      

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: C is for Yule CAT

The Yule Cat – or Jólakötturinn – is a terrible carnivorous monster from Icelandic folklore. This overgrown puss stalks the winter wilderness, searching for prey. If you encounter it, it will devour you unless you make it an offering of new clothing – a woolly sweater, socks, or something similar. But be warned, the demon cat will know if you are trying to trick it by offering it an old item of clothing!

The Yule Cat, as imagined by artist Tony Hough.

The Yule Cat makes an appearance in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, and may also crop up in 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.

      

Monday, 2 December 2019

The Krampus Kalendar: B is for the BOX of Delights

The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel by John Masefield, remembered as much for the BBC's 1984 dramatisation of it. In the story, Kay Harker returns from boarding school only to find himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box, which allows the owner to go small, go swift, experience magical wonders contained within, and travel into the past.


The dramatisation is noted for its Yuletide atmosphere (it is set during Christmas, after all) and has become something of a nostalgic treat for followers of cult TV. The seasonal theme music is Victor Hely-Hutchinson's wonderful orchestral arrangement of "The First Noël" from his Carol Symphony.

If you've never seen it, it's worth checking it out, and if you remember it fondly from your childhood, as I do, enjoy the following clip as you take a trip down memory lane and recall a creepy children's Christmas classic...


I have made my own homage to The Box of Delights in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, and will do the same in 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

   

To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.