Up Front by Emma Hart


All I Want for Christmas is a Dark Elf Thief

It's not that I hate Christmas. I have no Christmas-related traumas; it doesn't often drive me to irrational atheistic ranting. It's just that Christmas can be trying. You can’'t hate your three year old no matter how much she whines and screams: she's just trying.

This year I've got Christmas down. I've finally discovered the perfect mental attitude that makes the trials of the Christmas lead-up as unthreatening as a fat labrador on a sunny doormat. This year, I'm playing Christmas as an RPG.

The first couple of levels were easy. The missions were things like 'go to thinkgeek.com and empty out your paypal account'. Pretty basic, and well worth chucking a few points into 'diminish shipping charges' and 'resist cuteness of cartoon monkey'.

You can tell when the learning curve starts to get a bit steeper though: the game starts playing Christmas music at you. I’ve been through all the menus and I can't find any way to turn it off. My character's pretty cute in a librarian sort of way and she has high resistance to Queuing and Crowds, but she seems particularly vulnerable to the effects of Mall Christmas Music. Eventually her mana decreases to the point where she can't even cast 'reveal original price tag', let alone 'detect perfect present for thirteen year old boy' and I have to pull her out and retreat to the Inn.

Knowing how close we were getting to the dreaded End of Year Function Run, I decided to do some serious grinding this weekend. An hour of mindless hack-and-slash Christmas card writing and I felt warmed up enough to have a go at the Make the Christmas Cake mission. This is a pretty strenuous work-out, but I was lucky enough to be able to suck in a lower-level character who was prepared to do a lot of the grunt-work for her share of the XP. We were pretty close to scoring a Perfect on that until we accidentally put the baking soda in with the orange juice instead of the water. I think that was an Arcane Ooze we constructed.

I'm going to have to watch that lower-level character: she's levelling up fast than I am these days. And you never, never turn your back on a Chaotic Neutral Rogue. She gave lessons on Christmas Tree Angel Making yesterday without once uttering the phrase 'you’re such a n00b, Dad'. She's peacefully accepted that we won't be running the Santa Claus module this year. Something's up.

Tomorrow I'm going to buckle down and do the first of the really tough missions: Christmas Post Office. I know this post office; so fiendishly poorly designed and under-staffed that it has queues out the door on a normal day. I'll be stocking up on Mana Potions, because I just know that when I finally battle my way through the doors, I'll be hit by the deceptively gentle strains of a +20 Mistletoe and Wine.

The End of Year Assembly mission looks like it'll be easier in this year's version than last: the new Principal is about the same level but missing the old End of Level Monster’s nasty 'overt religiosity' attack. That used to get right through the gap in my character's armour between the bottom of her steel bikini and the top of her thigh boots.

Then it's on to the heavy Trip Home for Family Christmas mission, fighting my way through hordes of Stoned Brothers to face the insanely powerful Queen Guilt Monster in the Kitchen of Doom. It's a pretty safe bet that the other members of my party are going to chicken out of that one and decide they pressingly need to level up in Pea Shelling. Bastards.

Still, I'm dragging them with me for the Bonus Boxing Day Sale level, because I know they want a share of the reward. The EA Games Swirling Vortex Crowd monster drops the best stuff.

There's always a period of let-down when you finish a big game like Christmas, where you wander around the house trying to work out what to do with yourself. Not this year, though: I'm going to kick Christmas's butt so hard that we unlock the New Year Expansion. I think I'm going to have to go dual class for that one.

Just a reminder that this Thursday is Christchurch's first Drinking Liberally: 6pm at Warner's, Guest Speaker Andrew Little of the EPMU. Get along if you can - it'd be pretty awful if we got out-Liberal-ed by Palmerston North. I'm intending to be there, depending on how much damage I take at my daughter's Kapa Haka performance.

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