It's that time of year again! Despite -- or perhaps because -- I celebrate a secular Xmas, I am a huge fan of Santa Claus in all his weird and wonderful forms, and this post remains a perennial favorite of mine. Some year when I'm less busy writing my own setting and working on mystery projects, I'll try to get that Dionysus encounter linked below written up into an adventure, or maybe create some stats for St. Nicholas and his crew. Today, though, enjoy this Xmas repeat.
An encounter for Pirates of the Spanish Main:
When the crew is in port during December, they encounter a strange figure at the tavern:
The old man is short – barely five feet tall -- and heavy-set. A white beard frames his fleshy face and laughing eyes twinkle above a broken nose. His knuckles are calloused – the hands of a brawler – and a length of heavy chain wraps around his thick stomach. Three jingling bags of coins are tied to his belt. He raises his mug to you and smiles.
Rugged sailors and crusty pirates give the old man’s table a wide berth. He smiles warmly at the tavern wench who brings his meal and wine and tips her generously from the gold he carries. He says grace and tucks into his hearty meal.
Questioning the tavern staff and guests reveals the following rumors and speculation (one per success or raise on a Streetwise roll):
- He’s a Dutch pirate – Nikolaas van Hoorn* – wanted by the Spanish for the sacking of Vera Cruz. (False)
- He’s a slaver; his ship is crewed by the ugliest scum on the face of the earth. (Almost False)
- He’s looking to pay some young maiden’s dowry with the gold he carries – wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more. (Almost True)
- He’s a sorcerer; he carries the Chain of St. Peter, a holy relic capable of binding demons and spirits. (More True Than False)
- He’s really a Greek named Nikolaos who escaped from a Turkish prison. (True – from a certain point of view)
- He’s got a mean right hook and he’ll punch you in the face if you blaspheme in front of him. (Very True)
The old man is, of course, St. Nicholas of Myra -- also called St. Nicholas the Wonderworker – and patron saint of pirates, prostitutes, sailors, and thieves. His identity will probably be obvious to many players and it is not recommended the GM go to any great lengths to obscure it. Courting his favor can grant the crew several boons; earning his ire will cause them problems.
If the crew buys St. Nicholas a drink or a meal, treat anyone who chips in money as blessed with the Luck Edge until the next time they commit an infamous act (feel free to make it Great Luck if they buy him milk and cookies). If they beseech his aid, he can break the curses of supernatural beings – but he will demand penance and good deeds in return. St. Nicholas is one of the few supernatural beings powerful enough to contend with Dionysus or Atargatis and can free PCs from servitude to one of those pagan gods.
Player characters who assault or steal from St. Nicholas will find themselves hunted by the saint’s demonic servants – Bellzebub, Black Peter, Knecht Ruprecht, Klaubauf, Bartel, Pelzebock, and the Krampus (treat as Wild Card Ghost Pirate Captains armed with clubs). These frightening devils will beat the characters senseless and play other cruel tricks on them before leaving them where they can be found by the authorities or taunted by rival crews.
*Nicholas van Hoorn was an infamous Dutch pirate who actually named his ship "Saint Nicholas' Day." Seriously