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Author Topic: Unsung SWAT: KABOOM (aka session 2)  (Read 17810 times)
xiombarg
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« on: September 10, 2003, 09:44:53 PM »

You might want to freshen up with the original thread.

We added a new player, Dana, who was playing Alicia Tyloni, a sniper with rumored connections to the Mob... One of the interesting things about Dana as a player is she'd done a lot of freeform roleplaying online, but never really played with an acutal, agreed-upon formal "system" before... And she took to the Gift and Lapse mechanics -- with the strong Director stance -- like a duck to water.

This session was a lot more cinematic. Below are links to the logs. As before, the first link is a slightly edited log of the narration, and the second link is the OOC chatter, including die rolls.

http://ivanhoeunbound.com/unsung2_nar.txt
http://ivanhoeunbound.com/unsung2_ooc.txt

The OOC log is almost as excited as the narration log, as you can see a high amount of Gifts being given and taken. I had trouble keeping track of it all. We had at least two Lapses, and we nearly had more...

I'm very interested in what people -- particularly Mike, but I'd love to hear from anyone -- think of Alexander's suggestions for character advancement. He suggested ditching the whole curent advancement system, and just giving everyone 1 Gift Point at the start of every session -- advancement would only come from  turning Gift Points earned in play to Story Points. This does have the advantage of focusing the game EVEN MORE on Gifts and Lapses...

I'd also love general comments about the game or the system. As a reminder, this is the system we're using:

http://ivanhoeunbound.com/unsung_playtest.html

...tho we're doing advancement after EVERY session rather than after every 5 sessions.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2003, 09:31:51 AM »

Ugh, those logs contained the previous session, too. I trimmed them so they're easier to digest.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2003, 07:19:32 PM »

First, I thought Dana went well (Is she Alicia?  She was spelled Alica all night and I thought she was using some cool avant-garde spelling).  Without her, I don't think we would have had nearly as MANY Gifts as we had, and the Lapses wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.  She was really a natural, and I enjoyed her addition to the group.  I have nothing bad to say about Dana's performance.

Meanwhile, I too am interested to hear people's thoughts on my suggestion to Kirt about ditching a lot of the "every five sessions, every ten sessions" dice-rolling point-giving crap, and just turning it into a Gift Point extravaganza.  For those who were interested:

My suggestion was, basically, to give one Gift Point at the beginning of each session in addition to anything else that happened, instead of all the "every five sessions" group of dice rolling.  Honestly, the math works out to be ROUGHLY equal to the same stuff.  Especially since 3 Gift Points = 1 Story Point, so anything that's currently worth 1 story point could be worth 3 Gift Points.  Makes everything simpler AND increases the focus on Gifts.  My one change to this suggestion from what I gave in the logs, though, is: set it up so that 2 Gift Points can buy a new Descriptor (instead of three), but if you REALLY want it, you can spend that extra Gift point to get it "without a player vote" (which is what 1 Story Point, i.e. 3 Gift Points, allows).

Any ideas on this?  Thoughts?  Comments?  Criticisms?  Rude remarks?
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Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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Dana_mun
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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2003, 08:27:50 PM »

Hey guys...

Yeah, for the record, it is Alica (pronounced; a-LI-sha  - I know thats not technically correct, but I just like it that way). It's basicaly a spin off my ususal internet alias as Alica Tylon. I had a complete blank for a name and just fell back on my stock choice  -  thats why my yahoo group name is what it is.

I was also curious and had an idea about the rerolls -  I think they should be allowed, with the ususal 1 point for responsibility, 2 pts for the others. HOWEVER, you should have to encorperate the failure into the narration. For example, if Alica botches her shot roll and I choose  to reroll, she should have her gun jam for a second but then recover. What do you guys think?
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Lxndr
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« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2003, 09:24:06 PM »

Hmmm.  My gut reaction is that rerolls, unlikes automatic successes, should be worth 1 Gift Point, no matter what attribute they're for.  It just doesn't feel right to me, otherwise.  It also makes someone a bit more likely to try a reroll... "Hmmm... automatic win for 2 gift points, or test my luck for 1 gift point?"

Just a thought.

I agree that either way, the failed roll should be incorporated into the narration, whether the final roll is a success or a failure.
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Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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Dana_mun
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« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2003, 06:58:35 AM »

Yeah -  and a double botched reroll could be REALLY interesiting. I wonder if loki will like that mechanic
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2003, 01:10:05 PM »

I like Alexander's idea for advancement. The idea of improvement doesn't make sense to me thematically. I mean, the characters "develop" already in play via the Responsiblity related mechanics. And that's what seems to be important. The rest is just what happens "around" that.

I think that by focusing on this aspect that you really have something with this game. I do think that it needs to be tweaked a bit in other ways, however. For one, I think that there's an assumption of the player as advocate for the character, which doesn't neccessarily bear out. If you want that to be the case, then you need to encode that somehow (I'm thinking some sort of metagame goal mechanic or something).

Mike
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xiombarg
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« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2003, 04:40:33 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I like Alexander's idea for advancement. The idea of improvement doesn't make sense to me thematically. I mean, the characters "develop" already in play via the Responsiblity related mechanics. And that's what seems to be important. The rest is just what happens "around" that.
I have to admit I was attracted to Alexander's idea for the exact same reason.

Quote
I think that by focusing on this aspect that you really have something with this game. I do think that it needs to be tweaked a bit in other ways, however. For one, I think that there's an assumption of the player as advocate for the character, which doesn't neccessarily bear out. If you want that to be the case, then you need to encode that somehow (I'm thinking some sort of metagame goal mechanic or something).
Hmmmm, while I think I do make that assumption somewhat, I'm not sure I want it to be the case. Or, more accurately, I have no preference one way or another. What is the negative effect of someone not being an advocate for their own character? More Gift points for everyone else, as the player is more likely to accept Gifts? More Lapses? I'm not sure either of those are a bad thing, per se...
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2003, 06:55:53 AM »

It's hard to explain. There seems to be an adversarial sort of process inherent. Maybe if you can explain to me why the player can't Gift his own character, I'd understand better.

So that others have some perspective, at one point my character was approaching a bomb to defuse it, and nobody seemed prepared to give him a Gift, despite it seeming to me that this was exactly what he was designed for. So I asked if I could give on to my own character. I was told by Kirt that I couldn't, and the other players chimed in that this "wouldn't make sense", etc. Basically, the feeling seemed to me to be that the giving of Gifts is adversarial. Players are trying to dent the other character's shining armor (and in the process create some really neat play).

The point is that we all felt the same thing. When you have a player like myself playing in a very authorial stance, there's no reason to avoid Gifts. You welcome them, in fact, and wish that you could give yourself some. Because there's really little else to do in the game other than to explore the character's moral dilemmas.

Given that there's nothing saying that you have to be an advocate for the character's moral fibre, however, this all seems to fall down. That is, the player is allowed to roleplay Lapses whenever he wants to do so (in fact two of our characters seem pretty depraved at times). The Gift and Lapse rules just force him to do so. Given that the player could just declare these actions anyhow, and that the player can veto Gifts if he wants, that seems to make them like suggestions for which the suggesting players get a reward. There don't seem to be teeth.

What happens when a character reaches 0 Responsibility? Does the player lose the character? That would almost give the player an incentive to be the compass for the character, except that, again, the only interesting thing to do is to challenge the character's integrity, and that I think a character "loss" might be cool to play for.

This is especially true because I don't see this being a long-term game. I mean one could play it as an ongoing TV style serial or episodic game, but I think that after a while that you'd run into the same sort of problems with realism that you do in TV. I call this Magnum PI syndrome. I really bought Tom Selleck's portrayal. The thing that I couldn't get over was all the stuff that happened to him week after week after week. How many love interests does a guy have to go through, anyway?

It seems to me that Unsung seems to detail some crucial period in the lives of the characters. Some series of stressful events that lead to some ultimate conclusion. Very much like Sorcerer does. It just doesn't make sense to go on and on. In the original setting, the military at war, the characters are eventually going to get through the current battle or mission. Even go home, eventually. In the meanwhile, stuff happens to to challenge their morality, sure. And there's always another battle. But once you've presented the character with his shot at being good or bad, his story seems mostly told, IMO.

(The short term feel is also another reason why I would say that "advancement" isn't neccessary)

This may take many sessions to get through. But I think these stories need some sort of conclusion. As such, I think that playing for "bad guy" is just as valid as playing for "good guy". Someone should get to be SGT Barnes, just as someone should get to be Elias, and someone should be Chris; the main characters from Platoon. Note how our three characters started out with exactly that split. Barnes starts as overly pragmatic, and slides into depravity. Elias' morality gets him killed. And Chris is there to have to make the tough decisions based on the acts of his role-models. Classic.

So if we're playing to such a goal, then there's no adversarial process, and it seems senseless to restrict Gift giving to other player's characters only.

Mike
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xiombarg
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« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2003, 07:49:06 AM »

Well, first of all, no stat can go below 1 or above 19. Unlike Sorcerer, there is always a tiny amount of hope left -- it never truely bottoms out. Only death ends the character. This was a deliberate design decision -- when you hit rock bottom, you have a change to pull yourself out. I know it's stated in the rules somewhere but I might do well to restate it when talking about changes in Resposibility.

I guess it wasn't clear from your initial comments that self-Gifting was the issue. Part of it, I think, is a fear of Gamist creep -- if you can give yourself a Gift, it becomes much easier to get Gift points, and this strikes me as potentially "abusive" and subject to a form of creep. Perhaps this fear is unjustified given the power of GM veto, but I believe that was part of my thinking at the time.

That said other -- and bigger -- part of it was an intent of scene involvement. That is, I want to encourage people to pay attention to, and be involved with, scenes that their character is not in. If you cannot earn a Gift point with your own character, you have to be paying attention to what the other characters are doing, which gets them involved in those character's actions. If you can get a Gift point from self-Gifting, it's much easier to drift into a "My Guy" sort of mode where you're only concerned with your character's devolopment rather than what's going on with everyone else.

This is the same reason you don't get a Gift point for accepting a Gift. You are already being rewarded with attention.

All that said, if I said you couldn't Gift yourself, perhaps that's a heat-of-play knee-jerk decision that, on reflection, I don't fully agree with. I think you SHOULD be able to give your own character a Gift -- just not get a Gift point for it, for the above reasons, particularly the attention one. If you're in a moral dilemma, you're already being rewarded with attention, and you don't need a Gift point there.

Now, there is the assumption -- Hell, it's even built into the term Gift -- that the player sees attention on their character, positive or negative, to be a good thing, and enjoyable. The sort of person that Robin Laws calls "the casual gamer" might not get as much enjoyment out of Unsung for this reason.

THAT all said, there was no adversarial intent. Now, that may have evolved into the game because of the players and/or some sort of unconcious bias on my part, but it's not supposed to be an advesarial thing. Again, it's called a Gift for this reason. It's supposed to be: "Ooooh, I see an opportunity for character growth here, for you." And that earns a Gift point because the player is showing an interest in your character, which is something I want to reward. It's assumed everyone is interested in their own characters.

Now, I find your sense that Unsung is mainly good for short-term game interesting. I hadn't thought about it -- you may be right. Do you think that it could benefit from some sort of My Life With Master sort of Endgame? Or, at least, emphasizing the short-term nature in the text?

What do other people who've been playing the game think about Mike's assessment? Too much "meltdown" for long-term play? Not that this is neccessarily a bad thing -- a short burst of intense roleplaying is a wonderful thing.
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Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2003, 08:36:39 AM »

I didn't bring up the self-Gifting thing at first because its a symptom that I knew would be misleading if I mentioned it. And I was right. I only mentioned it to point out that the Creative Agenda is confusing in the presentation, IMO.

I like what you've said, above, however, in general terms. The interesting thing is that players are rewarded for causing moral problems, but they have no incentive to play out the situations in which the character is redeemed. This seems to me to be the real problem. That is, the reward system only rewards the downward trend. So you feel a need to guard against this by creating what feels to me and others like a adversarial system, where you can only Gift other player's characters.

Let's say that a Gift could also be given to cause the opposite of a Lapse (is there a term for that? A Redemption?). If that were the case, then I don't think that it would matter if a player could do it to their own character. Because the rewards would be for whatever good situation the player could put himself in, not for a situation that tends to a particular direction.

Looking closely at the reward mechanic, we have to consider the two sides, what the reward is for, and what the player can do with it. The "what it's for" is definitely in line with what you want already as you only give points for making the situation more complicated. The only reason someone might go Gamist is that the rewards can be used for character success.

And here we see another problem. You could just say that Gifts can only be used to automatically succeed on a Responsibility roll. But then you have this odd situation where the player may be getting a reward that he doesn't want to use if he's authoring the downward slide (with the effectiveness boost options, you have a very "Dark Side of the Force" sort on an effect where the player can be moral, or more effective, but not both). Again, the system is saying that you want rewards because you must want the character to do well, and to keep from sliding into depravity. Unless the player is defined as an advocate for this, however, this isn't neccessarily true.

Looked at another way, it's odd that the same point you recieve for Gifting a player (who could have vetoed your Gift) can be used to automatically succeed at a Lapse roll for a Gift that he accepts. A player doing this would be accepting a test, but ensuring that he passed it. That's just a lot of control over the situation. To an extent, I think that the player veto is part of the problem.  

Do you see where the trouble lies with the players trying to determine what their role is in play? I'm not saying that I think that you ought to go a particular way, but another way to go would be to embrace the adversarialism. Give it that Gamist edge where the players are trying to keep the characters moral, and the others are trying to drag him down. That could work quite well, IMO, as an alternative.

On another tangent, looking at the rules again something that occurs to me is that it would be cool for Responsibility checks due to Lapses to happen on the spot instead of at the end of the session. More rewarding that way, and less bookkeeping.

Mike

P.S. I just realized another interesting issue. The rate at which you recieve Gifts from other players, and the rate that you Gift, affect the players pool of Gift Points from which he can "protect" his character. That is, if there were only two players, and they essentially "took turns" Gifting, they'd have enough GP to always prevent each other's Gifts from being effective.
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Dana_mun
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« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2003, 10:53:44 AM »

Quote
Looked at another way, it's odd that the same point you recieve for Gifting a player (who could have vetoed your Gift) can be used to automatically succeed at a Lapse roll for a Gift that he accepts.


I see your point. Hmm -  perhaps there should be a rule that lapses can;t be rerolled or corrected, but other checks can.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2003, 10:59:23 AM »

Perhaps this is so subtle I'm missing it, or, being the creator of the game, I find this so intuitive I have trouble understanding what you're arguing for and/or against.

The idea behind the game is that the downward spiral is the interesting, and that is why the game focuses on that. However, you want to check it for as long as possible, because that extends this interesting play, and leads to more interesting and complicated situations.

The focus is not on going down, but the interesting situations that happen on the way down. The important thing isn't the loss, but the complications that lead up to the loss. The struggle is all, and it doesn't matter whether the character succeeds and/or fails in the struggle so much as it's happening. I am more concerned with the complication than the results of the complication.

That is why you get a point for introducing a complication -- it creates a struggle. You can't self-Gift because I want people to be interested in other characters -- we covered that. To me, the interesting thing about Vampire -- where a lot of the inspiration for the Responsbility mechanic comes from -- is not whether you become more or less human, but what happens to you while that's going on. Embrace your inhumanity, or fight it? The reason the Gift point is best used to make a Responsibility check is to encourage extending that complicated situation for as long as possible.

Now, I'm sure at this point you're saying: "This assumes that you're an advocate for the character's Responsibility staying high." Not so. If you want to embrace the darkness, then do so. That's why Gift points can be used for other things. It's cheaper for Responsibility checks because while I want to encourage moral struggle, I do not wish to require it. I want both modes to be equally valid, tho perhaps one is more difficult than the other. Ideally, for most interest, you should have people in the group that go both ways, for contrast, which is the other reason to try to get people interested in what other characters are going.

And for a player interested in jumping down the throat of the spiral, Gift points let you decide how and when that happens. It lets you extend that period of time where the character is not a total cad, where there is ambiguity about the character. Because once the character is totally out-of-control, the chance another PC or NPC puts a bullet in his brain is high. The most interesting villians have a scrap of morality left, a core they're holding on to, and I want to encourage people, if they go the out-of-control route, to be that sort of "villian".

There's no reward for setting up for an act of heroism, because heroism is supposed to be its own reward. Doing that right thing is supposed to be hard, and the main benefit it it makes it easier to do the right thing again. I have to admit that in the context of the gritty tone I'm going for, I find the idea of rewarding heroism any more than that to be counterintuitive.

And remember a potential Lapse can be a heroic opportunity as well. You can do the wrong thing, but it's also possible for you to do the RIGHT thing.

Now, the reason for player veto is that a Lapse can mean a loss of control of the character -- and some people might not want that to happen as often as others. Now, the GM can require a Lapse check at any time due to the situation, without a Gift, so no character is immune -- but it's there for player comfort, so they're not forced into an area they don't want to deal with. It's like having a safeword in S&M, without interuptting play. I'm not sure why the player veto is problematic in this context.

As for the "Dark Side of the Force" effect, remember that character action and giving Gifts are two different things. I can play a very moral character -- and still use Gifts to make things very complicated for the other characters. With all those Gift points, my character would be both moral and effective. In fact, doubly so, given the different uses for Gift points.

By the way, before I forget, I'd like to remind you that it also only costs 1 Gift point to allow ANOTHER PC to succeed at a Responsibility check. Does this help or hurt your concerns? The idea here is if you're interested in another character (and gaining Gift points), you can use those Gift points to extend their spiral for as long as you want, or even give them a chance for redemption.

Remember also that Responsibility isn't just for Lapses -- it's also for making people trust you, and, more importantly, when you do something heroic, you get a Responsibility check to increase Responsibility -- and you can use a Gift point for THAT.

I think what you're seeing as a problem, I'm seeing as a deliberate attempt at flexibility, given what I'm trying to do. Down or up, I want to encourage people to extend things for as long as possible, without making it too difficult to go down if that's what you WANT.

Now, I know there's a love here on the Forge for mechanics that do ONE THING and do it well, but I really don't want to emphasize one way or the other, except perhaps lightly. I want player options to remain flexible. If you want to advocate for Responsibility, great -- support is there. But it isn't required.

Also, while I wasn't aiming at an adversarial system, I'm not sure I'm opposed to that, either, so long as interesting complications result from it.

Quote
On another tangent, looking at the rules again something that occurs to me is that it would be cool for Responsibility checks due to Lapses to happen on the spot instead of at the end of the session. More rewarding that way, and less bookkeeping.
It's interesting that you say that, because I set it up the way I did to cut down on rolling and book-keeping...

The idea behind doing things my way was to slow down the downward spiral. No matter how many times you Lapse in a session, your Responsibility can only go down by 1, and then only at the end of the session, unless you burn Responsibility with the Rule of Sacrifice.

Doing it the way you advocate would possibly make the game much shorter-term than I'm comfortable with. Now, perhaps it could be you make the check the first time you Lapse in a session, and then not again afterward...

I see the character sheet just having a check box with "Lapse" on it and you check it when you Lapse, and check for Responsibility loss at the end of the session and erase the check. This doesn't strike me as a lot of book-keeping.

(If I seem slow to react in the actual game, it's because I'm more used to face-to-face games, and find keeping track of things on paper a lot easier than doing everything virtually -- but feel the need to keep up with the virtual side of things so I can cut and paste as needed...)

Quote
P.S. I just realized another interesting issue. The rate at which you recieve Gifts from other players, and the rate that you Gift, affect the players pool of Gift Points from which he can "protect" his character. That is, if there were only two players, and they essentially "took turns" Gifting, they'd have enough GP to always prevent each other's Gifts from being effective.
Yes, I'm aware of this issue, which is why I had the "more the merrier" attitude about the game, and why I didn't want to run unless we had at least three players. I should problably put a note to this effect in the text...
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2003, 11:00:46 AM »

That'd be curing a symptom again, Dana, not the cause. I think something needs re-arranging at the root of all this, though I'm not sure what precisely. That's not as bad as it sounds. Often these things can be fixed with just a tweak in presentation, and a couple of rules fixes. But I'm not sure here.

That said, this is the sort of place in design where instances of elegant design occur. That is, in making this sort of adjustment you often improve other things simultaneously.

Can any of you other players corroborate of contradict the problem I'm trying to get at? It seems to work fine in play, so maybe I'm overthinking it.

Mike
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xiombarg
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« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2003, 11:10:25 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Can any of you other players corroborate of contradict the problem I'm trying to get at? It seems to work fine in play, so maybe I'm overthinking it.
Perhaps, but I'm enjoying talking to you about it. ;-D

Be sure to check out my post above -- we seem to have cross-posted. And I'll repeat Mike's question: Anyone getting the sort of vibe Mike is getting? I mean, I may be blind to it because I'm the game author.
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Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
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