Marley was dead. Really dead. Not the "need to visit the Spirit Healer and get re-rezzed with a 25% hit to my item durability" dead. He was the "nerfed" kind of dead. He was the "eliminated from the item database and not coming back" kind of dead. In other words, Marley was dead. This story's not about him, however. This is about his partner, the Master of the "Dickensian Workhouse" Guild, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Now Scrooge, though human, tended to hang around the Ironforge Auction House where he boasted the unique virtue of making the local goblins look like philanthropists.
"Have a wondrous Winter Veil, Master Scrooge, sir." The pathetic excuse for a Hunter greeted him as he left the Auction house for the day. Bob Cratchit, a Dickensian Workhouse Initiate and a regular visitor at the auction house, smiled his pathetic smile while his pet, a sad looking Tallstrider who, despite his name, wasn't very tall at all, named "Tiny Tim" lurked behind him and tried to not be seen.
"Bah, Humbug!" Scrooge said by way of response.
"Bah, Humbug?" Cratchit replied.
Scrooge shrugged, "It's the only thing that'd get past the chat filter." Then his expression changed. "Cratchit!" he yelled, "What are you doing here?" He looked over Cratchit's right shoulder, "You've got an entire quest log filled with things you should be doing! Why are you in Ironforge wasting my time when you should be out collecting useless trinkets from monsters that I can auction off?"
"Well, sir." He replied. "It's just that it's Winter Veil tomorrow, sir, and I was wondering…"
Scrooge looked around at the silly decorations that had sprouted all over the front hall of Ironforge. He hated it. Indeed, the whole reason he had moved to Ironforge from Stormwind was the gloomy atmosphere made him feel more at home. "Oh, dear!" he said in mock sympathy, "It's Winter Veil! I had almost forgotten! If only there were more reminders besides those damnable goblins decorating every major city in Azeroth to within an inch of its life, and those damn fool adventurers getting in snowball fights all day long in front of the bank!"
Cratchit ignored the sarcasm. "I was wondering sir, Tiny Tim's happiness icon is getting very red. I was wondering if I could have..." he trailed off.
Scrooge sighed, "Out with it, man."
"A few extra experience points, sir. I've gotten beaten up by Ol' Sooty about 16 times now and I just need an extra level to take him down. For Winter Veil, sir."
Scrooge fairly exploded, "A few extra experience points? Is that all? Why, young man, when I was your age we had to earn our experience points! We had none of these fancy-schmancy doodads. No Quest logs, no mini-maps, no gryphon flights, no round-robin looting. Nope. We didn't even have 3D back then, and we liked it! That's the problem with the modern age, you youngsters have it too easy. Then, to top it all off, you have the temerity to ask me for extra points… For Winter Veil?"
Cratchit said nothing. Finally Scrooge threw up his hands in an /exasperation emote.
"Fine." He said. "Head over to the bank and talk to a goblin named Wulmore Jinglepocket, the Smokeywood Pastures vendor. He'll give you a couple of brain-dead n00b quests that are good for about 2000 xp. But know this! After Winter Veil is over, I'll expect at least 60 units of Copper and Tin each to make up for it!"
Cratchit clearly didn't hear the last portion, because he merely smiled his idiot smile and ran off searching for a gold exclamation point.
Later that evening, Scrooge reclined in a bed in one of Ironforge's inns and, not for the first time, cursed the lack of player housing. He had just finished his evening repast and was about to log off when a thin, reedy voice, clearly using an older version of the EAX sound drivers, wafted across the room.
"Ebeneezer Scrooge..." it said.
"Hey!" Somebody else in the inn yelled, "Stop spamming the general channel with that RP crap!"
"Who... who is it?" Ebeneezer replied.
The vision that appeared before him was a horror. It was the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley. The spirit was bound in chains attached to boxes. Scrooge looked at the titles and images on them. Daikatana! The Nintendo 64 Superman! The Atari 2600 Pac-Man! BMX XXX! The hideous evil that wafted from the boxes was almost more than Scrooge could stand.
"Marley!" Scrooge cried. "How can this be? You're dead, but I know I am not."
"Are you sure?" Marley replied.
"Of course." Scrooge said. "Otherwise the world would be all gray and shiny like when Frodo put on the Ring in the movie."
Marley waved him off. "That doesn't matter, Ebeneezer. You are right, you're not dead. You're worse. You're a forum troll, a spammer, an item re-seller, and a chiseler who sells common drops for ten times their worth to clueless n00bs!"
"I'm no worse than you were, Jacob."
Marley held up his chains. "And behold my fate! Is this what you wish Ebeneezer? To go through an eternity where the very best games available are made by Acclaim?" He shook a copy of Turok: Evolution in Scrooge's face.
The old Guild Master screamed. "No, no. Anything but that! How do I avoid such a fate, Jacob?"
"You shall be visited by three spirits who shall show you the error of your ways. Truly embrace the lessons they have to teach and you shall be spared."
Scrooge put on his best alt-persona. "You betcha, Jacob. Why I can already feel it working!" He noticed that "The Three Spirits" had appeared in his quest log.
Marley just shook his head. "Three spirits. One chance. That's all you've got, Ebeneezer." Than he faded away.
Scrooge sat back, trying to absorb what he had just seen. "Damn role-players." He muttered. Just then he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around. He was facing a tall, bearded human wearing luxurious finery and a crown. He had short, blond hair with one long braid that trailed down over his shoulder and he looked vaguely familiar.
"Do I know you, sir?" he said.
"I am Lord British!" the man boomed. "And I am the ghost of Winter Veil Past! I shall show you flashes of your younger days that you might learn their lessons well." He lunged forward and grabbed Scrooge by the collar. The next thing he knew he was standing in a crudely drawn and oddly flat village. All around him people were yelling at each other, fighting rats because the rabbits were too tough, getting ninja-looted and griefed left and right by higher level players. Every now and then the whole world flickered in and out as a server crashed under the weight. The anguish was palpable.
"Do you know where you are?" Lord British asked.
"Of course!" Scrooge cried. "This is Ultima Online! It's only a couple of days after launch." He looked around, "I'd forgotten how crappy the graphics were back then."
"And do you know who that is?" he said pointing to a young Paladin at the town gates.
"Listen, people!" The Paladin was yelling. "It doesn't have to be like this! We need to work together to make the kind of server shard we can all enjoy! Help the n00bs, they're the future of the game! Stop killing every player you come across and work together to make the kind of world I saw in beta!"
One of the other fighters laughed, "LOL, D00d, I'm gonna Ownz0rEd you!"
"That's me!" Scrooge said in wonder. "I'd forgotten about this. Look how passionate I was."
Lord British nodded, "Yes, you were. What happened to you, Ebeneezer?"
"Nobody cared." Scrooge said, "I got tired of endless message board flame wars, of idiots in groups who couldn't take their pet off "Aggressive" and drew monster agro, of the people who looted someone else's kill, or snuck in and stole a treasure chest just after you cleared the monsters. I guess I gave up."
"Is that why you treat your Guild initiate Cratchit so badly?" Scrooge looked around. Lord British was gone. In his place was an oddly beautiful, though menacingly monstrous, green-skinned woman.
"I'm Kerrigan." she said. "I am the ghost of Winter Veil Present."
"Wait a minute!" Scrooge said. "You're not even from this genre!"
Kerrigan shrugged. "It pays the bills until StarCraft II comes out."
"And when is that?" Scrooge slyly hinted.
Kerrigan smiled, "Wouldn't you like to know? Anyway, that's not why I'm here." She waved her clawed hand and they appeared on a green wooded slope that overlooked an enormous blue lake. Scrooge recognized the place as Grizzlepaw Ridge in Loch Modan. In front of him, he saw Cratchit. The pathetic 13th level Hunter and his Tallstrider were fighting a 20th level Elite mob called "Ol' Sooty" and at least 2 other 18th level Patriarch Grizzly bears. The fight naturally, didn't last long. More awful, though, was the next five times when Cratchit reappeared and launched himself into battle again and again.
"Where are your buffs, you fool?" Scrooge said. "He didn't even remember to turn on Aspect of the Hawk or feed his pet! I bet he's probably fighting with broken equipment, too." This time the battle was even shorter. Another death and a rez later and Cratchit was back fighting Ol' Sooty. "Group up, you nincompoop!" he shouted and then turned to Kerrigan. "Why can't he hear me?"
"We're stealthed." She replied.
"Why doesn't he put together some macros?" Scrooge asked. "Or get some better equipment?"
"Why are you asking me, Ebeneezer?" Kerrigan asked, "He's your Guild mate. He's passed along his rare drops and materials the way he was supposed to, but have you taken him under your wing as a Guild Master should? Have you shown him the tricks for fighting 'Leet Mobs? Have you passed on your old equipment or does all you find go up for auction to strangers to feed your never-ending hunger for gold?"
Scrooge activated his /sad emote. "You're right" he said. "I could have helped. It was my responsibility to help and now he might cancel his account - all because of me!" But Kerrigan was nowhere to be seen. Instead Scrooge found himself a nondescript young man wearing a suit and tie and smiling at him with bright, even teeth. Despite his seeming inoffensiveness, though, the waves of darkness and hatred pulsing from the man almost bowled Scrooge over.
"Hi!" The young man said, "I'm Bob from Marketing. I'm here to show you a projection of Winter Veils to come."
The world shifted and Scrooge found himself standing on an empty but surprisingly well-rendered plain. In the distance he could see a beautiful city made of shining steel and glass. Despite the surface attractiveness, though, the people running by and fighting their empty, meaningless, battles didn't seem to be happy. Snatches of conversation drifted on the wind. "Where's the combat revamp?..." "Why did you nerf the Bounty Hunters?", "Devs, please respond!"
"Thanks to players like you, our profits are up 62% this year." Bob was saying. "It helps that we're now the only player in the MMORPG category, so players have nowhere else to go." Overhead a well-rendered triangular spaceship loomed into view.
"No." Scrooge said. "No, no, no, no! Oh, no!" despite his denials, though, the truth was all around him. "I'm in Star Wars: Galaxies!"
He threw himself at Bob's feet. "Please, Spirit! Tell me that this can be changed, that I may yet have time to save myself from this fate" Bob just laughed at him. "I swear to you, to all of you, to honor the Winter Veil season in my heart and to be the kind of player that I, myself would wish to group with. Please, Spirit, tell me that I may be saved!"
There was no answer. Bob from Marketing was gone, as was the well-rendered city. Scrooge was in the Ironforge Inn.
"They did it!" Scrooge said, leaping from the bed and activating his /dance emote. "Oh, thank you Spirits, for showing me the true meaning of this season!" He gathered up his equipment. "I've got to get busy, so much to do!"
The next morning, a bedraggled and haggard Cratchit found Scrooge in his customary place outside the Auction House. "I'm sorry, Mr. Scrooge." Cratchit said. "I just can't seem to kill Ol' Sooty."
"Oh, really?" Scrooge said with a harsh expression on his face. "That's just what I expected from you. I'm afraid you leave me no choice Mr. Cratchit…" Suddenly Scrooge's face broke out into a wider smile than the Hunter would have believed possible, "…but to give you the equipment you need to do the job right!" Suddenly Cratchit's Trade window opened and a slew of gear came flooding through. Agility boots! Bracers with +7 Stamina! A fancy silk shirt! A 35 Armor Cloak of the Whale! Vegetables for Tiny Tim! And silver, lots and lots of silver!
"Mr. Scrooge?" Cratchit said.
"It has come to my attention recently that I have not been the Guild Master that you need and deserve." Scrooge said, "But I plan to change that starting now. Would you group with me?"
Scarely believing what had happened, Cratchit hit the "Accept" button. "It'd be an honor, sir!"
"Then follow me, Mr. Cratchit!" Scrooge cried as he ran for the Gryphons, "Together we'll show Ol' Sooty what our Guild can do!"
"Right you are, Mr. Scrooge!" Cratchit called back, "And if I may say, sir 'Titans bless us, every one!'"
Thank gamespy for the great write up. I wanted to share it with you all. Merry Christmas and Happy Winter Veil all.