Rankin-Bass is My Dungeon Master

A party of misfits

If you ever spent time as an American kid in the 1970’s or 1980’s, you surely are aware of Rankin-Bass holiday specials. And back then, they were special. No VCR’s, DVD’s or internet, so you had once chance each year to see Rudolph, and if you weren’t home, you didn’t see it! Egad!

R-B did more than just Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964 though. In Christmas specials alone, they produced The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970, my favorite), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975), Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976), The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976), Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977), Jack Frost (1979), Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979), Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980), The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold (1981), and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985).

So many holiday specials … and thus so much material to mine for a little RPG nonsense. So, in the spirit of Mother Goose is my Dungeon Master …

Races and Classes

First and foremost, we don’t have adventurers in Rankin-Bass D&D. We have “misfits”. Characters in this game are weirdos who don’t quite fit in, and thus leave Santa’s Castle or the Island of Misfit Toys to do some adventuring! Silver and Gold!

I’ll be your narrator for this adventure

Moreover, the DM isn’t a DM. He or she is the narrator, and they have to do the whole game impersonating an old celebrity. Something like The Caves of Christmas Chaos narrated by Sean Connery.

Humans have to be included as a playable race because of Yukon Cornelius. Other options could be elves (shorter than the traditional D&D elves) and reindeer (definitely a candidate for “race as class”). How about toys? Winter sprites? Lots of options there.

Classes – prospector, knight, winter warlock, dentist? Dentist!? Heck, you could even just stick with the old fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user standbys. A 3rd level elf magic-user, a 5th level reindeer fighter, a 2nd level dolly thief. How can you beat that?

Clerics need divine patrons, and R-B gives you Father Time, Mother Nature, Father Winter and of course Old Saint Nick himself.


Only high-level misfits better tangle with this character

The bumble, King Moonracer (a shedu), giant vultures, town guards, elemental misers and their miserlings (mephits fit the bill very nicely for these guys), keh-nights (mechanical knights from Jack Frost) – many options here. Rankin-Bass adventures seem to be more centered around big villains with a collection of minions around them. That villain had better be threatening Christmas or New Years, too, or what’s the point?

Adventure Sites

You’re just loaded here. The North Pole, with Santa’s Castle and the reindeer caves and Yukon’s peppermint mine is a good home base. Burrow heavily from Candy Land and get a candy cane forest and gumdrop mountains. The Island of Misfit Toys is nearby, with its Shedu ruler King Moonracer. The weird Sea of Time that shows up in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year could and should be the site of a mega-campaign all on its own. Seriously – if you haven’t watched it, watch it. Great imagination fuel. You can go further afield with the Holy Land, Sombertown (apparently somewhere in Central Europe), the Russian Steppe and its Miserable Mountain, Southtown, etc.

The Game

It’s Christmas Eve, and your friends are over. Pull out Basic D&D or one of its clones, pick a place to adventure, make up a villain or bring back Burgermeister Meisterburger or Kubla Kraus, figure out how they’re trying to screw up the holidays and then roll up some elven dentists and human knights and jack-in-the-box whatevers and get to adventuring.

Oh, and don’t forget to put a little of that goodwill towards men in your hearts. Share your +1 short sword. Don’t be stingy with the healing potions. Give a little love, and get a little love back. It is Christmas, after all.

And no pouting and shouting if your character dies. Santa’s got his eye on you!

Note – All images are the property of their copyright owners. No intended infringement in this post – just a bit of holiday fun.

Let’s Get Grimm … Nursery Rhyme Monsters III

Yeah, I know, this is taking forever. What can I say?

Nixie: Nixies dwell in the rivers and streams of Fairyland, and are more apt to be seductive and cruel than playful and kind. They are aligned with Hearts, and are wicked 75% of the time.

Ogre: Ogres in Fairyland come in two varieties, the traditional man-eating lout who carries a club and takes great delight in frightening people with their fangs, and the spellcasting ogre mages who cultivate a veneer of civilization (though they remain just as thoroughly wicked and hungry for human beings), like the one who appears in Puss-in-Boots. Either way, they conform to the ogre and ogre mage stats in traditional D&D. Ogres are aligned with Clubs (wicked) and ogre mages with Diamonds (wicked).

Pixie: Pixies (or sprites) are the most numerous of the fairy folk. They dwell in meadows and glades and disguise their villages with cunning illusions. Many become attendants of fairy knights.

Rat Swarm: We all remember the tale of the Pied Piper, and thus know that great swarms of rats have a definite place in Fairyland. Many fairy tales were born during the plague years of Europe, and thus rat swarms in Fairyland always carry that disease with their bite.

Rat Swarm: HD 4; AC 5; Atk 1; Dmg 1d6 + save vs. disease; Move 150; Save as Ftr 4

Red Bull: Red bulls are two-headed, fire-breathing bulls that can be treated as chimeras without the wings, sans the dragon and lion bite attacks, but with two butt/gore attacks. They are aligned with Clubs (wicked)

Revenant: Zombies in MG&G are called revenants. They differ from traditional D&D zombies by retaining their intelligence and memories (and alignment), though they are always twisted and wicked in their dealings with the living. It is not uncommon to find them traveling with their coffins upon their backs.

Robber: Robbers are the bandits of MG&G, and conform to the stats for bandits or brigands. They may form small gangs (3d6 individuals) who waylay travelers through woodlands, or they might form larger bodies (up to 40!) who have their lairs in secret caves and attack entire villages for the purpose of plunder.

Roc: The mighty roc makes an appearance now and again in Fairyland, swooping in from balmy seas beyond the mountains of Jinnistan on its way to visit the east wind. They are aligned with nothing and nobody.

Satyr: Satyrs in MG&G are the same as in D&D, save they are a bit hornier and more frightening. Satyrs are aligned with Hearts, and though not completely wicked, they definitely push the boundaries of polite behavior and have significant difficulties in restraining themselves around females (save vs. spells).

Sorcerer: Sorcerers are men who practice the magical arts, and are thus capable of casting spells as fairy godmothers (roll level on 2d4). Sorcerers may be aligned with any of the factions, but 5 in 6 are thoroughly wicked and corrupt due to their willingness to deal with demons. 1 in 6 sorcerers is a white magician.

Sphinx: Sphinxes are not common in Fairyland, but they do exist. All sphinxes in Fairyland are gynosphinxes, and they are typically aligned with Clubs (wicked), as they enjoy throttling travelers who cannot answer their riddles.

Treant: The treants of Fairyland are pretty similar to those of traditional D&D, save they are usually incapable of moving around. A treant that isn’t talking is only recognized as a treant on a roll of 1 on 1d6 (or 1-3 on 1d6 for dwarves and fairy knights and other fairy folk). Treants do not get on well with woodsmen. Treants are often aligned with Hearts, but some trees are aligned with Clubs.

Troll: Trolls adhere to the same rules as in traditional D&D, with the exception that some of them turn to stone in the light of the sun (either permanently, or only until nightfall). All trolls must save vs. spells or run in terror when they hear the peeling of church bells.

Wicked Witch: Hags in MG&G are known as wicked witches. They are not, of course, old misunderstood women, but evil fairies who seek out the helpless and innocent to consume. Just use the various hag stats in D&D, but give them the ability to cast spells as fairy godmothers. Wicked witches are aligned with Clubs (wicked).

Let’s Get Grimm … Nursery Rhyme Monsters II

Sorry for the delay in getting this baby out – work has been crazy busy for the past couple weeks (in a good way, but tiring nonetheless).

Fairy: Fairy is, of course, a blanket term for all the fair folk (including sprites, brownies, leprechauns, goblins, etc.), but for us, it refers to the beautiful, elfin women of fairy tales. Fairies conform to the stats for nymphs, but gain the ability to fly with gossamer wings, and the ability to cast magic spells as a fairy godmother. Among the more famous of fairies is the Fairy with Turquoise Hair (who serves the court of Hearts), Morgan Le Fey (who serves the court of Spades) and Titania (who serves the court of Diamonds).

Ghost: Ghosts are thick in fairy tales, and can be modeled after the incorporeal undead of D&D, such as the wraith and spectre. They need not be wicked, of course, nor intent on draining energy, though they oft times find mischief irresistible.

Giant Animals: Though not all animals in fairy tales are giant (in fact, few are), giant animals still make excellent monsters in fairy tale games. Naturally, they are all at least dimly intelligent and capable of speech. Giant eagles, goats, owls, snakes and spiders all play their part in a game of Mother Goose & Goblins.

Giants: The most appropriate races of giants for fairy tale gaming are, of course, the infamous cloud giant (sniffer of the blood of Englishmen) and the loutish hill giant. Some fairy tale hill giants can grow exceptionally large (although they are rarely seen), and can, to keep things simple, be referred to as mountain giants (double or triple the size and hit dice of a hill giant, add one dice of damage for double-sized giants and two for triple-sized giants. Cloud giants are not especially brilliant, but they are all magic-users of some renown, but hill and mountain giants are utter dopes.

A variation on the hill giant is the green giant, who has extraordinary intelligence and wondrous powers of illusion. These fellows dress in the manner of knights, and enjoy sending princes on quests.

The ettin, more commonly referred to as a two-headed giant, is also a frequent visitor to Fairyland, as is his cousin, the three-headed giant (+1 HD).

Giants usually serve the court of clubs (evil).

Goblin: Goblins are as thick as flies on the borders of Fairyland, and loom large in many legends. As in D&D, they are ne’er-do-wells who delight in torment and trouble, and generally conform to the normal rules for goblins (or even kobolds). When encountered in their lair, there is a 1 in 20 chance that adventurers will have stumbled upon a goblin market, where fey of all stripes trade wondrous goods and might even trade with the adventurers, if they dare. Goblins either serve the court of clubs (evil) or diamonds (evil).

Griffon: Griffons reside in the mountains of Fairyland, preening their feathers and grooming their tawny fur in the sun. They are creatures of terrible nobility, and are not to be trifled with by inexperienced adventurers. The greatest princes might make them their mounts, if they can be subdued (per the rule for dragons). Griffons serve the court of diamonds, and are always prideful.

Hobyah: Hobyahs are just hobgoblins by another name – and might also be called hobs. They are not always as wicked as their counterparts in D&D, and some serve in the manors of less savory princes as foresters and rat catchers. They have warty hides, bulbous noses and grim expressions. Hobyahs serve the court of spades.

Hydra: The hydra, or three-/five-/or seven-headed dragon as it is more often labeled, appears in a few fairy tales, filling the same basic role as the dragon. Pyrohydras are not uncommon in Fairyland. Hydras, like dragons, serve the court of diamonds (evil).

Leprechaun: Leprechauns are fairy cobblers, and members of the fey proletariat, as it were. As in popular myth, they hide their gold in pots that can only be found by following rainbows, but those who steal a leprechaun treasure will find themselves hunted for all their days by the vengeful fey and their kin. Unfortunately, 1 in 20 pots of gold actually contains brightly dyed foodstuffs. Leprechauns can be found in the AD&D Monster Manual, but might also be modeled after halfling who must grant three wishes to those who catch them. If this be used, allow the leprechaun to roll their initiative on 2d4, and double their movement rate. Leprechauns serve the court of spades.

Merchant: Human merchants loom large in many fairy tales, and can be modeled after the trader of D&D or the merchants of AD&D. They are usually encountered with a wagon of goods, or with a pack mule, and often have a beautiful and innocent daughter they’ve left at home with her stepmother. Merchants can sometimes (1 in 6) speak the language of the fey, as such merchants have had truck with those folk, and know some of their secrets. Merchants serve the court of diamonds.

Let’s Get Grimm … Nursery Rhyme Monsters I

Just about any animal belongs in a fairy tale world, but some animals are more prominent than others, including bears, foxes, leopards, lions, owls, pussy cats and wolves. Just use the normal stats for these “monsters”.

About 1 in 6 animals is a talking animal. Larger talking animals conform to the normal stats, save they are intelligent and can speak. Smaller talking animals (and some of the larger predators) are more anthropomorphized. Pussy cats are clever and often quite magical (spells as a 1st to 4th level magic-user) and have a knack for the fiddle, bears live in comfortable houses and dine on porridge, foxes are able rogues (as a 1st to 4th level thief), etc

Animated Silverwear

When animals aren’t talking in Fairy Tale Land, dishes and spoons are running away with one another.  One can imagine the surprise of a party when it wanders into an “empty” dining room, only to be set upon by the fine china. Also – note that most animated forks, knives and spoons are made of silver.

Animated Silverwear: HD 0 (1d4 hp); AC 5; Atk 1 slap, poke or stab (1 point of damage); Move 120; Save as 0-level human; Aligned with Clubs; Special: None.

Big Bad Wolf
Big Bad Wolves have a bad reputation in Fairy Tale Land, and a well deserved one. They are a particular menace to little pigs and knaves in red cloaks, but are happy to attack anything they think they can make a meal of.

Big Bad Wolf: HD 4; AC 3; Atk 1 bite (1d6); Move 120; Save as Fighter 4; Aligned with Clubs (Evil); Special: Small creatures who are bitten for max damage must make a save vs. death or be swallowed whole.

Billy Goat Gruff

Billy goats gruff are large specimens of intelligent goat. They are neither wicked nor kind; just don’t attempt to bar their way.

Billy Goat Gruff: HD 3; AC 7; Atk 1 gore (2d6); Move 180; Save as Fighter 3; Aligned with Spades; Special: +4 damage on charge.

Bogeymen are savage looking humanoids that gather in Bogeyland, but sometimes make incursions into happier places. They often fight with firebrands (1d4 points of damage, save vs. petrification or catch on fire). Bogeymen use the stats for gnolls. Aligned with Clubs (Evil).

Bugaboos, or bugbears, conform to their normal D&D stats. They look like creepy bears, who lurk in the woods and frighten travelers. Aligned with Clubs (Evil).

Changelings are the issue of wicked fairies. When a fairy steals a human child to raise (these children grow up to become fairy knights), they leave a changeling in its place. Changelings are wicked and ill-mannered, and grow up to become spies and assassins. Changelings conform to the stats for doppelgangers. Aligned with Clubs (Evil).

Construct – Gingerbread Man
Gingerbread men are sometimes concocted by wicked witches, and sometimes created accidentally by bakers. They are quick and enjoy taunting others, but sometimes laid low by their over-confidence, and the fact that having a head made of dough doesn’t lend itself to great intelligence.

Gingerbread Man: HD 0 (1d4 hp); AC 4; Atk 1 strike (1d4-1); Move 180; Save as Thief 2; Aligned with Clubs; Special: None.

Construct – Wooden Soldier

Wooden soldiers are built by tinker elves and animated by martial spirits. They look like 6-foot tall soldiers carved of wood and painted in gay colors. Wooden soldiers carry wooden weapons. They are immune to most magic spells, but sticks to snakes cancels their magic immunity for 1d6 rounds. Patrols of wooden soldiers are sometimes led by Nutcracker Princes (8 HD, AC 2, Save as Fighter 8).

Wooden Soldier: HD 2; AC 4; Atk 1 wooden weapon (1d6); Move 120; Save as Fighter 2; Aligned with Spades; Special: Spell immunity, immune to fear and other mind effects.


Devils are foul creatures from the Netherworld who pop into the Fairy Tale Land to tempt the foolish. They appear either as beautiful temptresses (perhaps with vestigial fangs) or as thin, sophisticated men with red skin, pointed black beards, small horns and a tail that ends with a point. Although they often appear unarmed, a devil can summon a trident to hit or her hand instantly when threatened. They can also unfurl bat wings when they find flight a necessity. Aligned with Spades (Evil).

Devil: HD 6; AC 0; Atk 1 trident (1d8) and tail (1d4 + poison); Move 120 (Fly 240); Save as Cleric 6; Special: Poison tail (save or paralyzed for 4 rounds), teleport (in a puff of sulfurous smoke), only harmed by magic weapons.

Dragons in Fairy Tale Land are of the fire breathing variety, though in coloration they are usually green. They have the normal stats for a red dragon, and the normal chance to speak and use magic.

Dwarf, Yellow
The yellow dwarves are cruel tricksters who often fall in love with princesses, doing their utmost to force them into marriage. They are dogged and determined, and never let a slight go unrevenged. Yellow dwarves have sallow skin and stringly, orange-yellow hair. They are usually armed with short swords or hand axes.

Yellow Dwarf: HD 1; AC 6; Atk 1 weapon; Move 90; Save as Dwarf 1; Aligned with Diamonds (Evil); Special: Growth (double in size, fight as 4 HD monster, weapon deals double damage) once per day for 10 rounds or invisibility (once per day).

Mother Goose is my Dungeon Master!

I was watching Babes in Toyland the other day (like you do), mostly because the daughter and I had a hankerin’ for Laurel and Hardy, and while viewing it, a strange thought popped into my head.

“If Mother Goose wrote D&D, little pigs would be a playable race.”

Naturally, one thing led to another …

Mother Goose & Goblins

The basic rules here are B/X D&D (or Labyrinth Lord, if you please). I’m not going to repeat everything in the rules (for now …), so if I don’t mention it, it works like B/X. The concept here is “what if Gygax was inspired more by nursery rhymes and fairy tales than swords & sorcery”. The game is still meant to be about exploration, treasure hunting (with some good deeds thrown in, of course) and fighting monsters, just with a veneer of (slightly tongue-in-cheek) Mother Goose-isms.

MG&G has seven classes, as follows:

The prince works essentially like the fighter – can use any weapon or armor, d8 for hit points, etc. Princes are young, handsome men, and are always the children of one king or another (kings are as copious in fairy tales as grains of sand on a beach).

A prince with a 17 Charisma who has reached at least 4th level can elect to become a Prince Charming. A Prince Charming must serve either the King of Hearts or the King of Diamonds. His kiss can dispel any magical effect, he enjoys a +2 bonus to saving throws against evil magic, and he is bound to fight evil dragons, rescue helpless damsels and give generously to the needy.

JOAN OF ARC RULE: A female character with a Strength of 12 or higher can become a Princess (i.e. a female version of the Prince).

Fairy Godmothers are always elderly women of an elfin demeanor. They fill the roll of the magic-user and generally follow the rules for that class, save that a fairy godmother knows all the spells (assuming you’re just using the spells in B/X) of a level she learns to cast (much as a cleric), and must possess her magic wand to cast any spell. If a knave is adventuring with a fairy godmother, the fairy godmother must adopt them as a godchild and do their best to teach and protect them.

Knaves are boys and girls of common ancestry (1% chance of being the child of a king and queen who was hidden away with a peasant family to avoid a terrible curse). They fill the role of the thief, with the same skills and abilities, though some skills are renamed slightly for flavor:

Ask/Solve Riddle (replaces find/remove trap)*

Climb Beanstalk (i.e. climb walls)
Hear NoiseHide in Shadows
Creep Quietly
Steal Tarts (i.e. pick pockets)

* Traps do not play a big part in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, but the idea of confusing an opponent with a riddle, or needing to solve a riddle to get past a problem does crop up now and again. Naturally, players can still have their characters look for traps, and can devise ways to get past them without rolling dice; now they can instead roll dice to get past riddles or stun a foolish opponent (for 1d6 rounds) by asking them a real puzzler (the victim gets a saving throw even if the “ask riddle” roll is successful).

Each naughty or wicked act of a knave carries with it a cumulative 1% chance that they will be given a conscience (in the form of a talking cricket or something similar) to attempt to guide them into a more law-abiding and honorable way of life.


Curtal Friars are men with tonsured scalps who cultivate a healthy paunch (in order to demonstrate the great abundance of the Lord), wear simple robes (with a mail coat beneath, usually) and wield a club or mace in the name of God Almighty. They are, essentially, clerics in terms of rules, though their ability to “turn undead” works on a slightly different set of monsters (as not all of the B/X monsters appear in fairy tales or nursery rhymes).

Pixie/Leprechaun (replaces skeletons)
Revenants (i.e. zombies)
Devil (i.e. imp – replaces ghoul)
Changeling (i.e. doppelganger – replaces wight)
Ghost (i.e. wraith)
Troll (replaces mummy)

Naturally, one can play a Nun instead of a Friar, though warrior nuns are generally pretty scarce in fairy tales.

One of a group of seven who left his brothers to see the world. Dwarfs conform to the Dwarf class in B/X D&D. Each has a particular physical or personality trait that dominates their character, and for which they are named.

The Little Pig replaces the Halfling in MG&G. Little pigs have a +2 bonus to save vs. fear (“who’s afraid,” they inquire, “by the Big Bad Wolf?”) and a particular skill at building houses and at setting traps (for wolves or others).

The fairy knight (or fairy dame) replaces the Elf class in B/X. They are permitted to wear up to mail, and though beautiful, they have no souls and thus are not to be completely trusted.

Whereas B/X has three alignments, Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic, MG&G has four alignment which correspond with four royal houses in fairy tale land. A character must pledge his or her troth to one of these alignment (though they need not always cleave faithfully to that faction – unless somebody is watching).

Hearts: The character is pledged to the ideal of Love. He or she gets a +1 bonus to hit when defending this ideal (i.e. defending a loved one), but must pass a save vs. magic when confronted with the temptation of Lust.

Diamonds: The character is pledged to the ideals of Truth and Beauty. He or she gets a +1 to hit when defending beauty or seeking out the truth, but must pass a save vs. magic when confronted with the temptations of Envy and Avarice.

Spades: The character is pledged to the ideal of Judgment. He or she gets a +1 bonus to hit when fighting against outlaws and other evils, but must pass a save vs. magic when confronted with the temptation of Vengeance.

Clubs: The character is pledged to the ideal of Mirth and Merriment. He or she gets a +1 bonus when fighting spoil sports and bullies, but must pass a save vs. magic when confronted with the temptation of Cruelty.

Next installment will cover Grimm Tales (i.e. monsters & treasure)

APPENDIX N (A brief version, anyways)

Snow White
Beauty and the Beast
Little Mermaid
Three Little Pigs
Three Billy Goats Gruff
Hansel & Gretel
Red Riding Hood
Rose RedBlue Beard
Puss in Boots
Gingerbread Man
Jack and the Beanstalk (Jack the Giant Killer)
Humpty Dumpty
Cat and the Fiddle
Tom Thumb/Thumbellina
Princess and the Pea
Frog Prince
Little Boy Blue
Simple Simon
Pied Piper
Tom Tom the Piper’s Son
Old Woman in a Shoe
Old Mother Hubbard
Old King Cole
Little Jack Horner

Supplement I – Wonderland
Supplement II – Oz