The season of giving is upon us and what better way to celebrate it with your players than with a Christmas-themed adventure? There are plenty of 5th Edition games that feature a jolly gift-giving elf or even the demonic Krampus, but there are also some lesser-known Christmas myths from around the world from which to draw inspiration to surprise your players.
Take, for example, a family of cave-dwelling trolls who wreck mischief and despair upon villagers. From Iceland we have 13 prankster trolls known as the Yule lads, and their evil mother Grýla whose Yule cat hunts down children for snacks. Although this family draws on a lot of familiar holiday ideas of being on the naughty or nice list, there’s a grimmer outcome for kids who misbehave—namely, they wind up in stew! For a heroic party of adventurers, the task of saving a small village from trolls may seem clear cut but these creatures have plenty of tricks up their sleeves.
When designing your 5e Christmas adventure you can easily make it a standalone quest, but it could just as easily be incorporated as a side story into any campaign. The main thing you’ll want to do is set the scene with an annual holiday tradition like a festive Yuletide event or take the opposite route and present a dreaded unholy night of terror. In either case, there’s a bit of storytelling shorthand that happens when you set the stage with an idea that is familiar to your players. If you’re looking for some inspiration to get you started, here are a few hooks to consider.
The adventurers play as children or teens who have been left alone for the holidays. The reasons for their unwanted night of independence can be weather-related—a sudden winter storm prevents caretakers from returning after running errands in the village—to sheer negligence. During the night, thirteen burglars make off with various items before heading to caves in the mountains where a family of trolls prepares a terrible feast.
Sugar and Spice and All That’s Nice
The adventurers are hired by village leaders to investigate the disappearance of several children. All clues lead to a suspected hag and her cat in the mountains.
A village feast is disrupted by ingredients going missing. The adventurers are asked to apprehend the thieves but discover the food items are the least of their concerns.
The family of trolls live in a labyrinthine network of caves that can make for a challenging dungeon crawl if you decide to use some of the interesting natural features inspired by Iceland’s natural environment. Think icy glaciers, hot springs, and lava caves!
The Yule Lads | Jólasveinar
These thirteen trolls descend from the mountains to wreak mischief in the nights leading up to the festival day. Every one of them has their own characteristic prank. Depending on the level of your PCs, you could use the ogre or troll stat blocks. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using the troll stat block to illustrate their unique abilities with mutations. Regardless of which stat blocks you use, with 13 lads in total this could make for a fairly epic encounter on its own if focused solely on combat.
However, the Yule lads are troublemakers whose crimes are generally petty larceny – with an emphasis on petty. While you can certainly turn up the dial on their crimes and wickedness, it’s also a lot of fun to play around with quirky holiday themes and lean on other pillars of play outside of combat. Consider an investigation to solve who’s stealing everyone’s belongings from town, or a social puzzle where one of the trolls needs to be outthought that merely slain.
The real fun with the Yule lads is adjusting their stat blocks and giving each troll a special ability or magic item that’s in line with their pranks. Traditionally the Yule lads behavior is expect from their names, which reflect their mischievous behavior. Their names translated, you have everything from Door-Slammer who likes to slam doors loudly, to Spoon-Licker who likes to steal unwashed spoons and lick them clean.
The Yule lads are generally depicted as wearing peasant clothes of wool and sheepskins and arrive in the following order:
Stekkjastaur | Sheep-Cote Clod
Stekkjastaur is the first Yule Lad who comes to town. He harasses sheep and notably has stiff peg-legs. Consider halving his walking speed when he is in his true troll form.
Shapechanger. Stekkjastaur can use his action to polymorph into a wolf, or back into his true form. Its statistics, other than his size, are the same in each form. Any equipment he is wearing or carrying isn’t transformed. He reverts to his true form if he dies.
Giljagaur | Gully Hawk
Giljagaur hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into cowsheds and steal milk.
Camouflage. Giljagaur has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in rocky terrain such as gullies and ravines.
Stúfur | Stubby
Stúfur is abnormally short. He steals pans to eat the crust left on them. Make this pint-sized troll size Small.
Nimbleness. Stúfur can move through the space of any creature larger than he is.
Þvörusleikir | Spoon-Licker
Þvörusleikir steals and licks wooden spoons. He is extremely thin due to malnutrition.
Amorphous. Þvörusleikir can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
Pottaskefill | Pot-Scraper
Pottaskefill is a glutton who steals leftovers from cooking pots to gorge himself upon.
Gluttonous Regeneration. Pottaskefill regains hit points equal to the damage dealt from his bite attack.
Askasleikir | Bowl-Licker
Askasleikir hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their food bowl, which he then steals.
Shadow Stealth. While in dim light or darkness, Askasleikir can take the Hide action as a bonus action.
Hurðaskellir | Door-Slammer
Hurðaskellir likes to slam doors, especially during the night, waking people up.
Gust Aura. A magical aura of wind surrounds the troll. The aura is a 10-foot-radius sphere that lasts as long as the troll maintains concentration on it (as if concentrating on a spell). Any creature hostile to the troll that starts its turn within the aura must make a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be pushed 15 feet away from the troll.
Skyrgámur | Skyr-Gobbler
Skyrgámur enjoys stealing… well, skyr (yogurt). Maybe just let this lad live his best probiotic life.
Bjúgnakrækir | Sausage-Snatcher
Bjúgnakrækir hides in the rafters and snatches sausages that are being smoked. He has a climb speed of 30 feet.
Shapechanger. The troll can use his action to polymorph into a cloud of smoke, or back into his true form. His statistics, other than his size, are the same in each form. Any equipment he is wearing or carrying isn’t transformed. He cannot make the attack action while polymorphed into a cloud of smoke but can move through a space wide enough for air to pass through. He reverts to his true form if he dies.
Gluggagægir | Window-Peeper
Gluggagægir is a snoop who looks through windows in search of things to steal.
Roguish Aura. A veil of shadows and silence radiates from the troll, masking him from detection. He has a +10 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks and can’t be tracked except by magical means. He leaves behind no tracks or other traces of his passage.
Gáttaþefur | Doorway-Sniffer
Gáttaþefur has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate bread.
Keen Smell. Gáttaþefur has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Ketkrókur | Meat-Hook
Ketkrókur uses a metal hook to steal meat. Swap out its claw attack with a hook attack.
Hook. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d10 + 4) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15).
Kertasníkir | Candle-Stealer
Kertasníkir steals candles made of tallow so he can eat them.
Fire Breath (Recharge 6). Kertasníkir can use a bonus action to exhale fire at a target within 30 feet of him. The target must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw, taking 14 (4d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Ultimately, the thirteen Yule lads all descend from the mountains each year to terrorize the villagers. Once the adventurers have defeated the troublesome trolls, its time to venture into the cold mountains to confront the true baddie, their mother Grýla.
Yule Cat | Jólakötturinn
The Yule cat is vicious and likes to hunt children. More specifically, it tracks down kids who don’t receive anything new to wear for the holidays and eats them. For this kitty, start with the lion stat block but add a few surprises. Its mistress is a spellcaster so it’s only fitting for her companion to have some magical enhancements. Give the Yule cat fire and cold resistance because for the purposes of this retelling, it lures unwanted travelers into both the icy mountains and lava-labyrinth caves. Consider changing its hit points to 52 (8d10 + 8) to make it a bit sturdier against adventuring parties that have just tackled a group of 13 trolls. Add 2 (1d4) cold damage to its claw attack and 2 (1d4) and fire damage to its bite attack. Finally, give it a means of escaping.
Infernal Stride. The Yule cat and up to three willing creatures within 5 feet of it magically enter a Hell plane from the current plane, or vice versa.
Grýla is a scary matriarch who can detect when children misbehave. She then hunts them down and takes them back to her cave to make a stew out of them. Since she’s the big bad in this scenario, use a higher CR creature like the frost giant stat block. Her abilities revolve around finding kids to put on her naughty list so allowing her some spells like a hag is thematically on-point. Boost her Charisma to 16 (+3).
Innate Spellcasting. Grýla’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 14, +6 to hit with spell attacks). She can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
At will: detect evil and good, hold person
2/day each: locate creature, scrying, sleep
Her cave is likely filled with grisly evidence of her eating habits and guarded by her Yule cat Jólakötturinn. Together they can make for a challenging final encounter in an effort to save misbehaved children from a gruesome end.
The Adventure Continues
Of course, Grýla could escape to find another village to prey upon. However, if an adventuring party is successful in putting an end to her evil designs there are other ways to bring back her threat. Although Grýla’s husband and father of the Yule lads is painted as a lazy fellow in folklore, after his family is defeated, he might wreak havoc of his own. According to the tales, it’s more likely his lay about ways wind up allowing something like the lava fields to overflow in the absence of Grýla who must have kept them back!
Heroic adventurers can be awarded with treasure related to the lore. The Yule lads in recent years have become gift-givers who take turns visiting children on each of the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. Children place one of their shoes on the windowsill of their rooms for each evening. For those children that behave well during that day the Yule lads will leave candy or a small treat, but those who behave badly can expect a rotten potato. A fun twist could be creating the following:
Boot of Good Turns
Wondrous Item, rare
While in possession of this single boot, whenever you perform a good deed roll on the following table to receive a boon. Once used, this property of the boot can’t be used again until the next dawn.
|1||Roll on the Trinkets table to gain a random item.|
|2||Choose one ability score. You have advantage on ability checks and saving throws made with that ability score.|
|3||A feast spills forth from the boot as though the create food and water spell had been cast.|
|4||You gain inspiration for 24 hours, which can be used three times before it expires.|
|5||Choose a target. Your attacks and spells deal an extra 1d8 radiant damage to that target.|
|6||You gain a fey familiar of your choosing until dawn.|