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Author Topic: Amber Times Seven  (Read 2604 times)
Epoch
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« on: November 14, 2001, 11:47:00 AM »

Ron requested that I post a little something on the experience of going to Ambercon.  I think it's an interesting topic, so I'm going to -- although, given our disparate viewpoints, I doubt I'll hit everything Ron's interested in -- and I'm also going to talk about my Amber campaign, which was essentially ongoing at the same time.  Hence the title:  I played in five Amber games at the con, GM'd a 6th, and GM my campaign.

Amber is, as far as I know, unique in having inspired not one, but, I believe, seven annual dedicated gaming conventions, five of which are in the continental U.S., and the Colorado Amber players are working on a 6th/8th (http://www.ambercons.com">www.ambercons.com).  The cons' core audience (though certainly not their only audience) is the incredibly dedicated Amber net community (http://mabarry.kdmcs.com/amber/amblink.html">MaBarry's Canonical Amber Links), many of whom visit multiple Ambercons each year.  At ACNW (in Portland, Oregon), there are several regular attendees who live in the United Kingdoms.

All of this points to the way, back when it was released, Amber Diceless Roleplaying grabbed and hung onto the hearts and souls of a lot of players.  It was enormously revolutionary and influential, primarily in championing pure-Drama mechanics as no game before it had.

So, something near a decade after its initial release, what do people do when they're involved in seven Amber games in quick succession?  Stylistically, it's highly varied:

Slot 1: Dangerous Relations

I selected this game to play because I'd played with the GM before, and knew to expect the opportunity for lots of character exploration within the context of a general plot.

To use the jargon of the Forge, this was a highly Character-focused Simulationist game (and one which demonstrates aptly the well-known fiat that "simulationist" does not equate to "realistic").  The setting was an Amberfied version of Three Musketeers France, and the PC's played Cardinal's Guards.  The GM showed a paradigmatic interest in expanding the game's mechanical potential to make viable lots of different character types.  He expanded the powers range and stats options, and all of our characters had secrets which we expected, over the course of the game, to reveal (I played the woman-masquerading-as-a-man).

Slot 2:  Shades of Gray

This was the longest game I played at ACNW, and it epitomized one of the most common types of Amber con games that one can find:  Lots of players, multiple GM's, rich world, problem-solving and character-interaction focus.

The fact that one of the other players and I decided to be very stubborn about the obvious solution to the posed problem probably biased it more towards character-interaction than the scenario called for as default -- I got the impression from the GM's that they didn't expect anyone to reject the obvious solution, and were worried that our rejection of that solution stemmed from dissatisfaction with the game -- which the other player and I assured them was not the case.

Like most Amber, it was Sim-heavy.

Slot 3:  Outcasts

I GM'd this game in my usual Sim/Narrativist mixed style.  As my games have recently become, it was very character driven -- I actually didn't mean this to be the case, but realized that when I sat down and tried to plot the game (I felt that a con game ought to have a plot, for various reasons), I found that I couldn't -- the premise demanded that the players be given free leave to do pretty much whatever they wanted.  So I just impressed on the players that they needed to have non-trivial goals, and set them out in the world.

There was a strong explorationist (lower-case e) trend to the game -- the characters were thrust into a much wider universe than they were familiar with, and much of the fun came when they slowly realized just how powerful they were.  It worked out well for a short, fun game.  The players seemed to enjoy my descriptions (I concentrated on really bizarre Chaosites) and flexing their muscles.

Slot 4:  Ambition's Verge

This was probably the roughest game of the con for me.  See, the thing is, I think that both I and the GM expected a fairly strong Throne War element (for those not familiar, a Throne War is a style of mechanics-light Amber Gamist game in which everyone rushes to get their candidate on the throne, and compete among the other PC's), but the other players were interested primarily in a fairly Gamist problem solving (all players vs. the GM) approach.  I qualify this problem-solving game as Gamist rather than Sim, because, in my opinion, people were very willing to trust and behave in ways contrary to the established characters we were playing, and the trappings of the setting.

It turned out well enough, but I would still like to have played the more player-competetive game.  Ah well.

Slot 5:  Flotsam & Jetsam

Sim-heavy problem solving game.  We played established characters again, but this time my feeling was that people put a lot more effort into portraying the characters as established, and within the setting.  There were some issues with the plot of the game -- it was kind of rough to try to make the guesses we were supposed to in the time we had -- so we concentrated more on character details, which worked very well.  Lots of fun, for me, at least.

Slot 6:  Hell Hath No Fury

Um, I'm not the best person to ask about this game.  It was the last slot of the con, I was punchy, and I was playing a psychopathic character who was involved in a really disturbing BDSM kinda relationship with another PC (these were pre-generated characters!).  I think that it was supposed to be kind of dark and edgy, but the other player and I just spent the entire game mugging for the rest of the players.  The actual game was, eh, I dunno.  Plot-heavy Sim, I think.  We all had a ton of fun just doing the social gaming thing.

Campaign: New Mutiny

I've talked a lot about New Mutiny on this forum, so I'm going to be brief.  Character-driven Sim/Narrativism.  I GM it.  I try to be very Sim in my event resolution kind of role, and very Narrativist in terms of setting up NPC's and that kind of thing.

All in all, I think that it's telling that there's as much stylistic variation in the Amber con games as there is.  Since Amber players are restrained in many ways by the established setting, I think that they/we've taken a lot of really interesting approaches to wringing fresh life from the system and game.

I dunno.  I'm kinda meandering here.  Any of this look interesting enough to warrant discussion/further exposition?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2001, 12:01:00 PM »

Of the games you played (as opposed to GMed) which was your favorite, and why? (I'm putting my money on #2)

Mike
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Epoch
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« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2001, 01:30:00 PM »

Really tough to decide.  My favorites were Dangerous Relations (#1), Shades of Grey (#2), and Hell Hath No Fury (#6) the best, but for wildly different reasons.

Dangerous Relations probably edges out the other two, because I liked its cosmology and premise a little better than Shades of Grey, and because it's extraordinarily fun to talk in the style of the Three Musketeers.  Very satisfyingly put together game.  Lots of fun scenes.

Shades of Grey (and Flotsam and Jetsam, for that matter) was very fun in the sense that I got to drive the game and be at the center of things and do my own thing.  It was less plotted than Dangerous Relations.

Hell Hath No Fury was wildly funny and a good stress release.  But, yeah, I think the edge goes to Dangerous Relations.

All of the games were very fun for me -- even the ones which didn't make this list were very solid.  God, I love ACNW.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2001, 01:51:00 PM »

How many attendees at ACNW?

One thing confuses me, how many of these games are about Amber? Like the Three Musketeers one? Was that about Amber, or was it just the system applied to something else? I'm only familiar with basic Amber and am curious as to how it's used in the examples that you give. When people refer to the Throne War are they refering to the game as it is in the book, or is it something that has developed differently since?

Can you explain some of this?

Part of my disenchantment with Amber is that I have never read any of it (gasp!), and subsequently I don't really get what I sense is a vibe that people who have read it do get.

Mike
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Epoch
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« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2001, 03:04:00 PM »

Dangerous Relations was set in the universe of Corwin's Pattern.  PC's were generally speaking younger-generation Amberites or Chaosites, but were ignorant of their heritage.  None of us were Pattern or Logrus initiated, and we were pretty ignorant.  There was no venturing out into Shadow or anything like that.

All the rest of the games I played in were in something which resembled the normal canon to a reasonable degree.

ACNW has something like 75-85 attendees.  Down around the 75 level this year, because there was some kind of deadly plague that only targetted Amber players this year.  The number of sicknesses was amazing.

"Throne War" has come to basically mean any game with a player-versus-player approach and a clear goal -- usually the throne, but not always.  Not necessarily using the rules in the DRPG about auctioning off positions or whatever.

Reading the Amber novels is somewhat important for getting the game, I think.  The game's author, Erick Wujcik, has some very, uh, "interesting" ideas about what the canon is and says, and as much as there can be said to be a consensus, the consensus is that sometimes, he's full of it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2001, 09:40:00 AM »

gasp] And then we climbed the mountain, and, and then I rolled a 20 and killed the king baboon,
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Epoch
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« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2001, 10:52:00 AM »

Duh.  I meant "Karma," not "Drama" -- I just grabbed the wrong two-syllable term ending in "ma."  :razz:

Amber con games tend to be suprisingly heavy on the pre-game prep -- often for the players as well as the GM's!

In fact, for the five games I played, four of them involved emailing the GM, getting chargen guidelines, making a character, and sending the character and a background to the GM for approval.  I was flabbergasted by this concept last year, when I first went to ACNW -- I'd never heard of such a thing for a con game.  It is, to my knowledge, unique to Ambercons.

My game (Outcasts) and the last game (Hell Hath No Fury) both used heavily written up pre-gen characters, more than the number of expected players, and the players chose which character to play at the start of the game.

People have very different concepts of what makes a good pre-gen character.  I intentionally avoided giving my pre-gens a personality -- my opinion is that that should be a player decision in its entirety.  My write-ups concentrated on description of the character's capabilities -- another aspect of the variation in Amber gaming is that various people have massively different ideas of what, say "50 points of Strength" actually means.

Other people do write up extensive backgrounds for the characters, which, of course, involves making some assumptions as to their personalities.  Hell Hath No Fury was one of these.  That has the neat effect of helping you immerse yourself in the world -- though only if you can sympathize with your character...

Anyhow, before the actual play session, we'd generally talk a bit about our characters, get an idea for who each other was.  Most people would either use their con badge to make a nametag with their characters' name on it, or put a thing in front of them on the table with the character's name, and if there was some reason that you'd know another person well, you'd probably talk with them briefly.  In two cases (Dangerous Relations and Shades of Gray), I exchanged pre-con emails with other players to get an idea for IC relationships.
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DaR
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« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2001, 02:54:00 PM »

Quote

If you've ever played Amber, weigh in on this thread. If you've ever been interested in doing so, do likewise.


I'll throw my hat in the ring on this one.  I've played quite a bit of Amber of late, mostly with a group of online friends I've had for about forever.  All told there are about 10 or 12 of us who have played in a total of 7 different games and campaigns, plus 3 throne wars, over the course of about 2 years now.  We log all our sessions and currently we've got something on the order of about 40 megs of relatively unique logs (all the players log, so sometimes there's a bit of overlap).


Quote
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Dan Root
Epoch
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« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2001, 03:49:00 PM »

The epic-scale, wild threats, big Powers games can be a whole lot of fun.  They tend to be what Amber groups start with.  Some people eventually get dissatisfied with 'em and go on to more tightly focused games, others stick with 'em.  Sounds like you've got the best of all worlds -- sounds keen.

My last campaign (Many Paths) was a fairly big, epic one, and I had a good time with it.  It was hard on me, the GM, though, because it's like you're running a constantly accelerating race.  New Mutiny is a much quieter, narrower game, and that's allowed me to spend a lot of time concentrating on various inter-Family relationships and questions of loyalty and such, which I just didn't have time for when I was racing to deal with the fact that one of my PC's just single-handedly killed 500,000 people and routed a multi-million-man army.

(Gah.  I need to tell this story every once in a while, because it's one of the great examples of players just totally throwing a wrench in your schemes:

I had this idea that we'd have a prisoner exchange -- Gérard and one of the PC's for an NPC.  I wanted to show some division in the enemy ranks -- Robert (one of the enemy NPC's) was opposed to the PC's, but honorable.  Daniel (another) was just a total bastard, and in league with Endymion, who everyone already knew was a horrible bastard.  So my idea was that Daniel would double-cross the prisoner exchange and kill Gérard, and Robert would be horrified and turn on Daniel, and Endymion would help Daniel escape, using Endymion's signature abilities.  Clean and neat, right?

Well, at the last minute, Aisling (a PC) decides to go along on the prisoner exchange.  It doesn't even occur to me, as I'm plotting away, that Aisling is in love with Gérard.  So, things go off as I planned: Daniel shoots Gérard.  Aisling's player gapes at me for a moment, then says, "I go Primal."

Primal Form was, in my game, the final word in Shapeshifting.  Basically, the idea was that you hardwire your Shapeshifting ability directly to your subconscious mind, and go to town.  You lose consciousness, and act in emotional/animal ways, but you gain enormously in Shapeshifting ability.  I went out of my way to discourage people from using Primal Form lightly, because I thought it should be important and significant and not without cost.

Aisling had something like 50% of her total points in Shapeshifting, which was an incredibly heavy investment.  I had set her up as one of the most talented Shapeshifters in the universe, limited primarily by her youth and lack of technique.

So, I felt that, at that point, I had to reward Aisling for going to that extreme, in a way that really made sense for her character.  I described how she erupted into a whirling mass of fractal ribbons, razor-sharp and constantly devouring.  She killed Daniel right off.  The PC's watched from a ways away, and one of them asked one of their allied NPC's if they shouldn't escape.  This was the allied NPC who could create Trump (teleport) gates.

He thinks for about fifteen seconds, and then puts a Trump gate in front of Primal Aisling and ending in the middle of the enemy army.  She lurches through it.  Death begins.

This is a tightly packed, primarily infantry army.  I've decided that Primal Aisling moves around 30 miles per hour, and slows down not at all as she goes.  Before the army had succesfully retreated, she'd killed a half-million of them.

My plans for the evening were in total disarray.  I was gaping as I saw how much of what I'd generally thought was likely to come about was going to be totally reworked.  It was really satisfying.  That's the most thoroughly that anyone's messed with my plans, pretty much ever.)
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xiombarg
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« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2001, 03:09:00 PM »

Well, perhaps this is a good thread to talk about the last Ambercon North I attended, and the games I played and ran there. I dunno what Ron looks for in a description, and I didn't attend ACN with an intent to look for GNS stuff, so keep that in mind...

Slot 1: Bring Me the Head of Carl Corey!

This was a game based on the Invisibles comic, with the PCs being an Invisibles cell. We were investigating Carl Corey, which readers of the Amber novels will recognize as Corwin.

We had a good Invisibles cell. The came was set in the 1960s, so we had a proto-punk (our leader, as determined by random draw), a character who had two bodies but one mind (one a rich black woman and the other a poor white boy... when we split up, this character was in both places), a androgynous character who could control electricity, a racecar driver, a rich socialite biker girl, and my character, who could talk to household appliances and other industrial artifacts (a sort of techo-shaman).

While we had a pretty good time playing our characters, the group didn't mesh like an Invisibles cell is supposed to, and this, combined with the odd diceless rules that were being used (very non-ADRPG standard) which confused people, and a lack of focus on our "mission" (the Invisibles comics are very mission-oriended, and I think everyone expected that), we felt sort of letdown, even the GM. This was too bad, as it was the game I most looked forward to when I signed up.

High expectations might have been a problem, too... The GM was pretty experienced and everyone was a fan of the comic, so I think everyone's expectations were very high, when in fact the game was more of an experiement.

Slot 2: Saving Private Corey

Basically, we were a bunch of young Amberites sent to keep Uncle Corwin from dying in WW II, without giving him is memory back. This was made more complicated by the fact it turned out Uncle Brand, as an SS officer, had captured him. Oh, and there was something about a missle aimed at the US or the UK or something...

I don't know if the GM intended the game to be as campy as it became, but it was free-wheeling and crazy and a lot of fun, perhaps *despite* what the GM had planned. (One PC -- not mine -- was based on Jack Burton from _Big Trouble in Little China_. Imagine a shadow-capable semi...)

I'll always remember that game for the image of an old castle filled with SS men being attacked by jaguar-headed infantry, dragons (who took out the missle in mid-flight), and wooden sailing ships with cannons. In my opinion, this game can only be explained in the "and then (gasp) and then (gasp) and then (gasp)" way Ron refers to, because that's the way the game *was*.

Slot 3: Equinox

I'm in the infamous and long-standing Amber PBEM Equinox. This was a planning session for that game. It was filled with boring lectures and annoying OOC politics (read: disfunctional social behavior) between the players. The less said about it, the better.

Slot 4: Lesser Houses

This was a game where all the PCs were members of Lesser Houses of Chaos visiting Amber (as ruled by King Random) to talk about the Keep of the Four Worlds, with Lord Mandor as our babysitter. Everyone had a "special power" (outside the standard ADRPG) based on our House and a secret political agenda. Think of it as a more complicated Throne War and you'll get the idea.

My faction lost, but I had a grand time doing it. All of the characters had interesting and strong personalities, including the NPCs, and the interactions between everyone -- even the combats -- were hilarious.

My character's special power was he could come back from the dead. Boy, that annoyed Caine...

Slot 5: Big Eyes, Small Throne 2: The Turmoil Within

I ran this game. It's web page is still at http://www.io.com/~xiombarg/best2.html if people are interested. Essentially, this was Amber done Anime style. Basic ADRPG rules were used, but the *attitude* was way different.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, even the people who didn't seem to understand Anime very much. My games tend to be "here is the situation, what to you do" with events happening unless PCs intervene, and it seemed to go very well. Mecha fought each other, melodramatic speeches were given, and a PC died in service to Amber.

Slot 6: The Witch-King of Avalon

Remember how Corwin didn't want to talk about what happened in Avalon? This was the reason why. The PCs were natives of Avalon, and the idea of the game was to remove Corwin from the throne of Avalon.

This game was another disappointment. Cool idea, terrible implementation. Things went very slow if you weren't part of a certain cadre of PCs, doing the things that interested the GM. No attempt was made to partion conference time with the GM out in a fair fashion, which is a bad idea in a con game, IMHO. The GM also had a nasty argument in front of all the other players about what one of the more interesting players had intended with her actions.

There was some really cool between-PC interaction, but I'd say it was despite, not because of, the scenario and the GM. The game ended with a very dull combat.

Slot 7: The Princes at the End of Time

I ran this game. Best to just quote from the event pamphlet:

"Corwin and the others have returned to Amber after Patternfall. A strange... portal... has appeared over the Pattern. Dworkin says it's a "temporal anomoly" but refuses to investigate because "temporal distortion gives me sour-tummy." It falls to a small cabal of Elders to investigate, and stop the portal from draining away all of the Pattern's energy...
 
"This is a crossover between Amber and Michael Moorcock's funny and satirical "Dancers at the End of Time" series. Familiarity with Moorcock's series isn't needed; a sense of wit and satire *is*. Players get to play their favorite Elder. (Even Brand. But it's complicated.)"

The game was supposed to be fast, loose, and goofy, playing on the humor value of the cut-throat Amberites having to deal with the mega-decadent people at the End of Time. I think I was the only person familiar with Moorcock's work, which was fine. Everyone seemed to have fun, especially the girl playing the young Pattern-Ghost of Brand...

One game from that slot was cancelled and I got the overflow, so the "small cabal of Elders" became nearly all the Elders. This added to the chaos, which turned out to be good. In the end, the problem was solved, and several people got odd rewards from Dworkin. (I kept handing people Trump-powered twine...)

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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Epoch
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« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2001, 04:58:00 PM »

Heh.  Excuse me while I geek out for just a moment:

You're in Equinox?  Man, I've looked over that game's webpage a few times, and it's totally goddamn insane.  That's not intended to be either an insult or necessarily a compliment.

Okay, back to relative normal.

If any of you went through Xiombarg's link to his anime-inspired game, that's just a taste of the various interesting genre mixes that people run Amber in.  I described my own Outcasts as a pulp.  Jack Gulick ran a famous con game called Nine Princes in Hong Kong, which was an attempt to mix Amber with a HK Kung Fu movie sensibility.  At the last ACNW, there was Nine Princes in Dixie, Amber in the Old South.  At this ACNW, there was All Cats are Kings, an Amber/Furry deal.  There have been innumerable Amber/Supers games.  Someone's currently starting an Amber Noir PBEM.  And that just scratches the surface.
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DaR
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« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2001, 05:17:00 PM »

Quote

If any of you went through Xiombarg's link to his anime-inspired game, that's just a taste of the various interesting genre mixes that people run Amber in.  I described my own Outcasts as a pulp.  Jack Gulick ran a famous con game called Nine Princes in Hong Kong, which was an attempt to mix Amber with a HK Kung Fu movie sensibility.  At the last ACNW, there was Nine Princes in Dixie, Amber in the Old South.  At this ACNW, there was All Cats are Kings, an Amber/Furry deal.  There have been innumerable Amber/Supers games.  Someone's currently starting an Amber Noir PBEM.  And that just scratches the surface.


Of the Throne Wars my group as run, none have been Canonical settings.  The most recent, run at our annual in-person get together just before Halloween, was 9 Princes in Kyoto, which  was based very heavily on Meiji era-Japan, as interpreted by action-drama samurai anime (in particular, Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai Spirits).  For our next Throne War, we've already got two factions forming up, one of which wants to play The 9 Dukes of Hazzard, and the other wanting to play 9 Mullahs in Mecca.

   -DaR
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Dan Root
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« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2001, 03:05:00 PM »

Okay, after you mentioning that, I'm giving serious consideration to running "Nine Dukes of Hazard" at the next Ambercon I go to...

And to reply to Epoch, yes, Equinox is insane. In fact, after playing in it for... hmmm.... four or five years now, I finally retired from that game. Long story.

Actually, Equinox is another excellent example of how far Amber games can get from the source material. Check out the http://www.equinox.org">website and you'll see what happens when a lazy yet detail-oriented extremely very right-wing bibliophile (history-oriented) Canadian GM (who believes Monarchy is a workable and good system in real life) does with Amber, with obcessive archivist players in a PBEM that's been going on for over 6 years. Knowing about Amber is only the *first step* in joining Equinox -- the second step is learning the extensive in-game backstory, including revisionist history surrounding the novels, and what happened *before the novels*. I can't even begin to talk about the number of times my character, Mordred, had to explain all the different Thelbane (Courts of Chaos) Civil Wars to new players IC, including the one Mordred participated in.

Wow, I used a lot of adjectives to decribe Craig, the Equinox GM, there. But it's the only way to explain the insanity. ;-)


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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
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