by Jason Campbell

Note: today’s campaign diary is about two sessions I ran at a local game store with the one-shot Holiday adventure, Slayride for Dungeons and Dragons 5e. Slayride is inspired by classic TV Christmas specials. We published this adventure a couple of weeks ago. If you’d like to get a PDF copy of the adventure for D&D 5e and Cypher System, you can get it with a $5 donation to the Extra Life charity here!
Spoiler Alert! This post reveals plot points in Slayride, so if you’re going to play it you might want to stop reading now.

Last weekend I ran the adventure Slayride for two different groups at a local game store, for D&D 5e. The groups consisted of players of all ages. Most players brought their own characters (this adventure was run for 4th level characters), but I had pre-gens available for any who didn’t bring their own. Both sessions were scheduled for three hours and they both took about 2 hours and 45 minutes to play. 

The premise of Slayride is that the PCs are an adventuring party in a wintery part of some fantasy land. The encounters follow a linear path:

  1. Santa’s sleigh crashes onto the roof of the tavern the adventurers are in. Santa was transported to this land from Earth by the evil Jack Frost. He asks the heroes for help in getting him and his sleigh to a portal back to Earth, located on a nearby mountain top.
  2. The party comes to a clearing where there is a greenhouse. Hiding in the woods is Flakey the snowman. Inside the greenhouse is a magician who wants to steal the hat that animated Flakey. This is principally a social encounter although the PCs can take any approach they would like.
  3. The party finds the path goes through a crevasse in the mountain which is blocked by a huge ice boulder. To the left is a fire giant who identifies himself as Heat Master. He shoots a ray of fire at the boulder and melts it. As soon as the boulder is melted a frost giant appears to the right, shoots a ray of frost which remakes the boulder. He identifies himself as Snow Master. There’s an optional resolution if the players have trouble with this encounter, the DM can have Mother Nature appear. She is the giants’ mother and scolds them, moving the boulder to let the heroes pass.
  4. The path splits and enters 2 tunnels through the mountain. The path to the left leads to a friendly gold miner (barbarian) named Yukon Cornelium. The path to the right leads to a vicious abominable snow monster. If the party chooses the path to the left it’s possible for them to avoid the snow monster, and Cornelium might join the party if asked. If they go to the right they will end up fighting the snow monster, although the DM has the option of having Cornelium appear to help.
  5. The party comes to the mountain where the portal back to Earth is at the top. There’s a skill challenge to safely get to the top, and at the top they will have to contend with Jack Frost, who is currently in the shape of a giant ice golem. Once the PCs defeat the ice golem, he turns into Jack Frost, a small fey creature with little power, who tries to escape through the portal. Santa can go through the portal and get back to Earth.

The first group took a while at the tavern. There are NPCs present in the tavern to help the PCs along if the players are slow to get moving. They then encountered Flakey and he warned them that the magician was mean. They avoid the magician and Flakey accompanies the party. When they got to the giants they took a long time to decide how to proceed as the two giants would have been a deadly fight for 4th level characters. One PC asked about the giants’ mother so I took the opportunity to have Mother Nature appear and help them continue on the path. At the tunnels the party’s rogue went ahead to check out the tunnel. He met Yukon Cornelium but quickly left him and they continued through the other tunnel, leading to a fight with the snow monster which they won. When they got to the final mountain there was only a half hour left in the session, so I didn’t use the climbing skill challenge and just let them get to the plateau to battle Jack Frost as the golem. They defeated the ice golem and captured Jack Frost to bring him back to the local authorities. 

I got the chance to sit in on the party for the first group for this event. The thing I liked the best about playing with the group was watching them enjoy the many references to classic TV Christmas specials, and seeing them laugh at the antics they got through the adventure. Despite these sessions always being run as one-shots at the game store, many of the players have played together three or four times now so we kind of knew what to expect from each other. This allowed us to anticipate behaviors in some ways, which I think made some parts of the adventure easier to navigate, and others took longer, again, because of expected behavior by some characters.


When your session has a hard time limit it’s important to keep an eye on the clock. I wanted to make sure they fought the golem at the end so the adventure would have a satisfying conclusion, and I estimated the fight would take at least a half hour, which is why I eliminated the skill challenge. I had the adventure prioritized in my mind, so that they got the chance to meet all the important NPCs, and the climbing skills challenge was the least important, so I knew that was something that could be skipped if needed. Timing also impacted having Mother Nature appear to solve the encounter with the giants. If you had no time limit you could just let the players take as long as they needed to find their own solution.

The second group took a long time at the greenhouse. They split up and two PCs talked to the magician in the greenhouse while the others stayed behind and encountered Flakey the snowman. They all eventually regrouped in the greenhouse but the players were somewhat obsessed with why the magician was there and what his motivations were. After this went on for a while I realized they weren’t making any progress, so I had the magician break down and admit he was a fraud and gave up his whole plan. That got them back on track and continued to the encounter with the giants accompanied by Flakey. They schemed for a bit and came up with the idea that one of the PCs and Flakey would do a dance routine of their own in front of the Snow Master to distract him while the others ran through the crevasse once the Heat Master melted the boulder. The PC dancer (a tabaxi) then grabbed Flakey’s head and hat, and jumped to a safe landing place past the ice boulder. As written the giants would be difficult to distract as their fighting is the entire reason for their existence. The idea of distracting Snow Master with a sentient snowman was creative and they rolled high performance checks, so I thought it made sense to allow this to work, which would be a more satisfying conclusion than having the NPC Mother Nature show up to fix it for them. At the split in the path the players encountered Yukon Cornelium and he joined their party. They avoided the fight with the snow monster entirely. They arrived at the final mountain with time to play through the climbing skill challenge and the PCs succeeded there with little trouble. They defeated the ice golem and they put Jack Frost in Santa’s sleigh, reasoning that he was from Earth so he should go back there.

Running games with hard time limits can require some on changes on the fly by the DM. To do this you should know where the plot halfway point is, and note if they get there earlier or later than halfway through your session time. You should also have the various encounters prioritized in your head so that you know what parts you can eliminate or narrate through if needed. You should avoid rushing the final encounter so the players all feel the encounter had a satisfying conclusion.

Let us know in the comments if you would do things differently, or any time you’ve had to adjust an adventure on the fly. 

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