The Holly and the Ivy, a midwinter’s game for two to six players

Requires ten d6 each, preferably of a uniform size and color. Red, green, white, or gold recommended.

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

It is Solstice Morning. In an hour, the great white stag will run through your county, trailing the rising sun in his wake. If you can catch him, you may make a wish. This is your own heart’s wish — there are no characters here, only players, so chose wisely.

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

To earn your right to make a wish, you must roll your chosen dice until all of them show the same number. On your first throw, you must decide which category of wish you will make. The number on the die determines the category, thus:

  1. A wish concerning love
  2. A wish concerning family and friends
  3. A wish concerning health
  4. A wish concerning wealth
  5. A wish concerning this very day, that is already half within your grasp.
  6. A wish concerning the world

So, if in your first roll four of the ten dice show a 3, you can choose to follow the guidance of fate and pursue a wish regarding health, or you may choose to pursue a wish concerning the world, even though there is only one die showing a 6. All players roll this initial throw at the same time, but take a moment to decide if you will follow fate or forge your own destiny.

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir

Following the first roll, each player rolls in turn, pursuing the white stag and their heart’s wish. If you are rerolling any dice, you must add a detail to the story of the running of the deer before the rising sun. Anyone rerolling dice may add a few sentences describing the environment — the bite of frost in the air, the clink of icicles, the scent of pine, the plum-colored shadows blooming on the snow, and so on. If you are rerolling 5 or fewer dice, on your turn you must add a detail about the stag — the reach of his great antlers, his steaming breath, his sharp hooves breaking through the crust, etc — or about the hunters individually or collectively — your arms tense on the bow, the heft of the spears, the way your empty fingers quiver in the cold anticipating the feel of the stag’s warm side, the pounding hearts, the hope in your eyes, your inner thoughts, the way your cape catches on the brush, the sharp crack of a neighbor’s foot on a snow-covered branch. If you are rerolling 2 or fewer dice, you must describe your own attempts to approach or to shoot the stag.

The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

Take turns around the circle rolling and adding to the story. The person with the most dice to reroll from the first throw goes first, then around the circle. Incorporate and build on each other’s words. When the time comes, some players may be shooting at the stag as others try to reach it empty-handed. If you are shooting, you are the holly, sharp and piercing — you must not hit your fellow hunters. If you are approaching empty-handed, you are the ivy, widespread and encircling — you must not block you fellow hunters shot.

The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

The first player to reach all ten dice showing the same number wins the right to make a wish according to the fates they have followed or the destiny they have chosen. Unless you have followed a wish for this very day, keep it secret in the manner of wishes. Tell the wish for this very day and seize on it!

Players who have not won the right to wish may play a second round if they so desire.

(This post is supported by my patrons at https://www.patreon.com/Meguey, where I am making a series of short seasonal games you can play with anyone. This is the first in that series. The next game will be out May 1st.)