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Reviews - A Kringle in Time
by Demian Katz

A Kringle in Time logoA Kringle in Time
Published by Cumberland Games & Diversions
Written, Designed, Produced and Illustrated by S. John Ross
85-page PDF file

I've noticed a somewhat unfortunate trend in the roleplaying products I've encountered over the past few years. It seems that if you purchase a really simple, basic set of rules, you get very minimalistic adventures with it, and if you want a long, epic campaign, you’re generally forced to learn complex rules in order to bring it to life. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with playing a quick 1PG session from a single-page adventure outline or with plodding through d20 System rules in order to experience something massive like the Witchfire Trilogy. However, once in a while, it seems like it would be nice to play through a lengthy, detailed, ready-to-run story without being forced to learn or explain a lot of rules in the process. Enter A Kringle in Time, the latest release for the free Risus system.

I've encountered Risus in the past due to the excellent Ring of Thieves solitaire adventure that it spawned a few years ago. The system is based around the simple-yet-brilliant idea of building characters entirely from clichés. The standard Risus character has ten dice worth of clichés like Computer Geek or Swashbuckler, and it is these, rather than attributes or skills, which are tested during combat or other actions. A few more optional rules can be added (including numerous variants found in The Risus Companion, which can be acquired by joining the International Order of Risus), but the core is very simple, covers a lot of ground, and works for a variety of gaming styles, including the nearly indescribable one found in A Kringle in Time.

This product is challenging to review because it is both funny and surprising, and saying too much about it could detract from the fun of experiencing it first-hand. That being said, the best description comes from the text of the game itself:

This is an adventure about saving Christmas from ancient evil. This is an adventure about murdering Santa Claus for his own good (seven times). This is an adventure about shopping, and family, and eggnog, and Jesus Christ, who appears here courtesy of the Almighty God, along with his robot duplicate. This is an adventure about the stress of fast-food employment, the grandeur of world-domination plans, the difficulty of pronouncing things in Welsh, and about toys nobody wants.

This is an adventure about cannibalism and about rotting corpses, but probably not at the same time.

If that sounds funny, you can probably stop reading the review and buy the adventure now – you won't be disappointed. If that sounds offensive, you're probably right, as there is a certain amount of good-natured sex, violence and blasphemy on display. If you're still undecided, read on – I'm not done praising this product just yet.

In addition to being a genuinely funny read, this adventure does an exemplary job of providing the GM with well-organized and inspirational material. The general look and feel is reminiscent of the core Risus rules, which you might as well download since they’re free. There are two columns of text on every page, and cute stick-figure illustrations add flavor throughout. The book starts off with an introduction reproducing some key rules from The Risus Companion and offering advice on integrating the adventure into existing campaigns. After this, the story is broken into five chapters, each set in a different locale or time period ranging from modern-day New York to Dickensian England. An entire game session could be devoted to each chapter, or things could be condensed a bit to cram the whole epic into a couple of shorter sessions. Sidebars throughout the adventure offer key stats along with ideas for fleshing out the story, dealing with possible character actions, and setting up running gags. In several places, advice is also given for shortening and accelerating the story if necessary. “Groovy Boxed Text” is provided for scene-setting and key events, and detailed maps are included for most areas that the PCs will want to explore. There are even some cute player handouts in the very back. In short, this adventure has everything a GM could ask for, and then some.

If anything at all can be said to be wrong with this product, it's the fact that it's seasonal. It takes a considerable investment of time to play through the whole thing to the fullest, and you may have trouble getting your gaming group together over the holidays. It also won't work very well if your group fails to get into an appropriately silly mood; if Wraith is all you play, this may not be for you. However, if you enjoyed Santa's Soldiers or Kobolds Ate My Baby!, you truly can't go wrong here. Even if you can't find time to play through the adventure, it is both a hilarious read and a shining example of how to design a satisfying ready-to-run adventure. I look forward to running it for my group this holiday and I eagerly anticipate the next Risus release.


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