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Deathwatch mission: the Fall of Kursanov Prime

Charlie: This is the final post about the Deathwatch scenario I GMd recently. This time I’m going over the scenario concept itself, accompanied with in-fiction snippets and photos from the day. The concept is simple enough that you could probably adapt it for a themed 40k skirmish; we were playing it as an RPG using our in-house ruleset.

The first thing the players got was the briefing. This came weeks before the mission itself, so they had time to choose their marine’s gear (and make a model if necessary; Andy rather wisely magnetised his marine’s arms so that he could swap out the weapons in future scenarios).

This is going to be a hefty post with a fair few photos and fat chunks of screed, so if you're down for that, hit the jump.

Mission Briefing

Obligatory green text on dark background, replicated below for your convenience.

++++AUTHOR: Inquisitor Erasyl Nurzhan, Ordo Xenos

++LOCATION: Kursanov Prime, high orbit

++++++++TO: Watch-Captain Lucius Valerian, Hydraphur, Caerostrum

+++SUBJECT: Petition 
+CLEARANCE: Ω5/xenos/adjunct/454934QS/uplink&castifastropath=G9+\\

Honoured Captain Valerian,

Kursanov Prime, the most industrious hive world in the Macharian Sector, has succumbed to a xenos cult. The infestation must have taken years—possibly even generations—and yet once the cult revealed itself, the world was theirs within eighteen hours. They have control of the infrastructure, significant elements of the planetary defence force… even the planet’s sub-orbital defences, including multiple squadrons of aircraft. Billions are dead. Whilst there are still some pockets of resistance, it cannot be denied that their victory is total.

Three days elapsed before the navy arrived to enact a quarantine. Since then, nothing has been allowed to leave the surface. Just one of these alien life forms (known colloquially as ‘genestealers’) can damn a world to a similar fate given sufficient time to… reproduce. My stomach turns at the fate I must deal out to the planet of my birth, but my duty is clear:

I have sanctioned exterminatus. 

This amputation will prevent further infection to the sector, but we do not know how many xenos might already have left on ships bound for other systems in recent months. This is where I must ask you for aid, Captain.

There are two objectives. The first is to secure an uplink with any one of Kursanov Prime’s starports, so that we might acquire accurate records of which vessels have recently visited the system.

My dear colleague Inquisitor Yelizaveta Fyodorova confided in me that she suspected some cult was at work in Hive Corvum, and had set up a base of operations there. Upon arrival in-system I attempted to contact her, but to no avail. If anyone has valuable insights into the cult’s machinations, it would be her. Your second objective, therefore, is to reach her base of operations in Corvum and retrieve her or, if the worst has come to pass, to retrieve whatever intelligence you can from her facility.

If you are unable to render assistance, I will endeavour to achieve these objectives myself. A futile gesture, perhaps, but when faced with a tragedy of this magnitude one cannot stand idle.


Erasyl Nurzhan


A fleet hung above Kursanov Prime like a headsman's axe over a  waiting neck. Frigates and destroyers drifted next to kilometers-long ships of the line, all silent. The quarantine was in its fourth week. Crews grew listless; many of them hailed from Kursanov and even more had relatives only a few thousand miles below them. They stared out of viewing ports, starting to suspect what was to come, and wondering if they'd refuse to obey when the order came.

One by one, the fleet's vessels detected a ship approaching. A gladius-class frigate. It gave no response to hails. Moments later, the ships received word from the commodore: radio silence was to be observed. The ships stopped hailing the frigate and merely watched as it shot past them into low orbit in the skies over Hive Corvum.

A single gunship left its hangar bay.

Scenario one: the docks, Hive Corvum

Objective: extract shipping records held by the Planetary Shipping Authority so that the Inquisition can determine which vessels could have carried genestealers to other worlds. Secure both a port office and a communications array to broadcast said information into the Inquisitor waiting in orbit.

The black-hulled gunship was still glowing from atmospheric entry when it shot between the uppermost spires of Hive Corvum. It cut its main engines, flipped, and re-engaged them, initiating a brutal deceleration. Inside the passenger cabin Ganzorig hollered his excitement, making Hytius and Unik smirk. Acting Sergeant Jophiel remained silent, as did Kyaneus, the former through reticence, the latter through habit.

In the cockpit Uzziel watched the dials as the gunship’s velocity dropped. When the speed became manageable he grinned, and flipped the storm eagle back over. A mountain range of towering hab stacks and ancient spires swung into view, and in the distance, their target: one of Corvum's tertiary dockyards. "Thirty-four seconds," he voxed. 

Back in the passenger cabin, Ganzorig and Kyaneus rose from their seats and helped each other into their jump packs, then signalled their readiness to Uzziel. Air rushed out as the two marines made their way to the opening ramp. Ganzorig turned to face the others as he reached the ramp's end, spread his arms wide, and allowed himself to fall backwards with a laugh. Kyaneus waited a moment, then stepped off the ramp without a word.

Since scenario one required the team to simultaneously hold two objectives, and Jeff (Ganzorig) and Tom (Kyaneus) both had jump packs, they decided to secure the orbital comms relay (pictured below) whilst the rest of the team landed outside the port authority office.

A few surprised dock workers with suspiciously bumpy foreheads barely had time to look up from smoking their lho sticks before getting some well-placed bolter rounds to the chest, although another dock worker managed to escape into the bulk access elevator and fled the scene - presumably to alert his fellow cultists that some large chaps in chunky armour had just expressed themselves all over Dave and Bob (who definitely had backstories, I mean, you can't just have two random spods smoking a cheeky lho stick without giving them family lives, amiright?).

The relay is from the Sector Imperialis Objectives kit.

You can just about see the whole board here, with Ganzorig and Kyaneus perched
on the scaffold near the top right, and the Storm Eagle having just landed outside
the port authority office, top centre-left.

Jophiel, Unik and Hytius disembark the storm eagle and kick in the door to the
office of the port authority.

Hytius guards the door as Uzziel makes ready to take off and provide air support.

Ganzorig (foreground) and Kyaneus keep a look out, in case the one bloke who
got away comes back with friends. 

Three dozen neophytes of the Four-Armed Father readied themselves as the bulk access elevator took them up to the surface level. Biran must have been exaggerating about the invaders; he'd clearly fled from the scene so quickly he'd not taken things in properly. The neophytes hefted their autoguns, and the foreman led them in a chant.

All for the father, all for the children, all for the father, all for the children.

They watched as the lights on the wall switched on and off as they rose through the last few levels, then tensed as a soft ding sounded, and the surface level light came on. The doors had barely opened by a hand span when a grenade flew through the gap. There were a few panicked shouts, then it went off.

In the confines of the elevator, the effect was devastating.

As the doors continued to open, a hail of bolter fire chewed into the neophytes amid screams of abject terror. Some of the people at the front had survived the grenade, but were pinned to the floor by the writhing bodies of those behind. Someone managed to reach up from the floor and slap the descent icon on the control panel. The attackers continued pumping bolter shells into the elevator even as the doors closed again, then there was nothing but the sound of the wailing wounded and the whirring of the elevator.

After the first wave of attackers never even made it out of the lift, Tom and Jeff felt they had the comms relay pretty well secure, and made to shift position and provide flanking fire for the rest of the team. To their confusion, Maisey (playing team sergeant Jophiel) gave them strict orders to stay where they were, even though a crowd of cultists were advancing on the port offices, threatening to overwhelm the other three marines.

Cultists advance on the port authority offices, supported by a goliath truck.

Hytius and Unik brace themselves.

With Jophiel busy pulling files from the cogitators inside, it fell to Hytius and Unik to hold the offices, with supporting fire from the storm eagle gunship.

Unik sniped at the cultists carrying industrial lasers, and Hytius' infernus heavy bolter mowed down the front rank, after which the storm eagle passed overhead and launched a salvo of missiles into the goliath truck, thus taking it out for a lovely night on the town and finishing with a slightly upmarket seafood restaurant full of locally sourced detonations.

I wasn't the only one with things to paint; Jeff managed to get 30 neophytes ready
for the game like a baws.

Maisey's instincts proved correct when the doors of the bulk access elevator opened again. Kyaneus and Ganzorig fired a volley of bolts through the doors, but this time, the cult used aberrants to hold up big metal plates to shield the cultists behind them, allowing the primus' acolytes to spill out into the street.

The acolytes swarmed up the tower. While Kyaneus shot those closest to reaching the top, Ganzorig called in an airstrike from the gunship. Uzziel obliged him and met with spectacular success, sweeping the tower clear of hybrids with a pair of heavy frag missiles.

Meanwhile, Jophiel finally finished the upload. Clearing a path by using up yet more of the gunship's limited supply of missiles, Jophiel, Unik and Hytius boarded the storm eagle and joined Kyaneus and Ganzorig at the bulk access elevator.

It was time to descend into the hive and say goodbye to the air support.

Notes on the terrain layout
To ensure the team faced some tricky decisions, I ensured that they had to be on opposite ends of the table, and of course their gunship couldn't be everywhere at once. They had to hold both objectives until Jophiel finished the upload, which took quite a few turns. Maisey was kept busy managing the storm eagle and its monstrous payload of missiles.

What should I have done differently in scenario one?
The thing about deathwatch kill-teams is that they're, well, killy. The thing about storm eagle gunships is that they're even killier. As much as I hurled enormous numbers of cultists at the team, I think I should've hurled even more, and from more angles. That would've tempted them to waste the gunship's limited supply of ammo in the first scenario, or face some fairly bracing close quarter battles with only two marines. That said, the first mission was meant to be pretty easy compared with the second and third, so in the end I decided to keep the story moving.

The tricky thing about scenarios like this is that you only run them once, which means you don't get to learn from your mistakes.

Scenario two: hidden Inquisition facility, Hive Corvum

Objective: Yelizabeta Fyodorova was the first Inquisitor to sense something was wrong on Kursanov Prime. She set up a base of operations in a dilapidated hab-stack in Hive Corvum to investigate, but has not been heard from in some time. Reach the facility and locate the Inquisitor, or failing that, extract whatever intelligence can be found in her base so that the Inquisition can learn more about the genestealers.

The whole concept for this mission was exploration. Before the day of the game, I'd created a map of a layout of two space hulk boards combined with the tiles you get in Deathwatch: Overkill. As the players moved into the area, I'd reveal the sections of the map they could see. What the team didn't know (but let's face it, were probably expecting) was that since they'd butchered so many cultists, the Patriarch was now searching for them with his purestrain genestealers in tow, and the first purestrain scout would show up as an auspex blip after ten turns' worth of exploration.

Good thing Unik the Space Wolf remembered to bring an auspex, eh?

Floorplan of Fyodorova's base in Hive Corvum

I made the map in Google Sheets, and had it open on my laptop so I could see which tiles to put where as the team explored it. They began at the bottom of the map and explored from there. The rooms at the bottom right were a red herring - just the neighbouring apartment, bought out by Fyodorova to avoid discovery. The complex at the top right was another apartment, separated from the main facility, so that the Inquisitor could enjoy plenty of living space (by hive standards) and be nice and far away from the lab (and the specimens within).

It became pretty immediately apparent to the players that the facility was abandoned, at which point the team declared it was time to split up and search for survivors. Normally I'd say that's a stupid move, but if motherfudging space marines can't split up and search for survivors, who can?

Ganzorig and Unik explore the Red Herring apartment, while the others push on ahead.
You'll note doors in the above picture. It turns out doors are great for suspense, because while you can peek your head around a corner, you literally have to reach out and touch a door. It seemed like spending so long finding no-one only served to make them more nervous. Either that or they did an oscar-winning job of humouring me.

Yes, Hytius' infernus heavy bolter is a prototype held together with duct tape.
He named her Ripley, but none of  his brother marines know why.

Shortly after Ganzorig and Unik found a room full of dissected purestrains and some cogitators full of sweet intel, Unik's auspex went beep. Something had just crawled out one of the garbage disposal chutes scattered about the map. Cue everyone except Maisey weeing themselves, and then wondering why Maisey wasn't weeing himself, and then wondering why Maisey's melee-focussed Dark Angel was going towards the auspex blip.

Now fair's fair, Jophiel's main achievement was managing to parry when the blip turned out to be (shock!) a genestealer. He then backed the funk up like a champ and shot it with a plasma pistol, and seemed unsure as to why everyone else was looking so relieved. Jophiel's from the Dark Angels' Deathwing, yo. He's seen some shiz.

Beeeep beeeep beeeep... this Dark Angel is reversing... beeeep beeeep beeeep

Initially the team figured it'd be best to head out the way they came, until they saw a wall of blips on the auspex, and bravely headed in the exact opposite direction, towards the apartment's front door and the underway beyond.*

*Underway being Hive Corvum's term for an underground highway. I know, I know, I'm a genius.

Um... guys? My auspex is playing the tetris theme at me. Is that bad?
At this point things became a headlong sprint down the corridors to get the hell out of dodge, led by Hytius and his win-cannon.

Hytius clears a path with Ripley.

Why yes, they are coming out of the walls...

...with predictable results.

Hats off to Jophiel, he did a solid job of surviving multiple genestealer attacks where the other marines, not as kitted out for melee, would've been shredded. He didn't escape unscathed, but was probably starting to feel like he had this whole space hulk thing locked down.

The the patriarch showed up.



The patriarch's arrival signalled the start of Operation: Enduring Bum Wee, in which the team did an amazing job of leaving, aided with a topical application of grenades and hellfire ammo. Even Jophiel wasn't up for duking it out with the patriarch.

Unik charged down the hallway firing from the hip. The genestealer fell from the ceiling and crumpled up like a twitching spider, its thrashing limbs gouging lines in the walls and floor. Just to be sure, Unik stomped on its glistening cranium and grimaced at the crunching pop that followed. His auspex showed that the room around the corner was lousy with them, and for a moment it seemed like they would be surrounded on both sides. Uninterested in giving up, he tossed a grenade around the corner and listened to the resulting explosion with some satisfaction, but only one of the beasts disappeared from the auspex screen. It must have wrapped itself around the grenade to save the others. As he resolved to turn the corner he heard bolter fire, not from his pack mates behind him, but beyond the hall ahead. Not one bolter, but three... no, four. The blips on his auspex disappeared one by one, and he seized the moment, rounding the corner and gunning down the last of the xenos as they retreated from the massed fire ahead. Running out onto the pavement, he saw a rhino APC bearing sororitas icons. Two sisters of battle, looking shaken but defiant, stood by the rear access ramp, and a third crewed the APC's storm bolter.

"What keeps you, brother? Get in, before more come!" shouted the sister superior. The rest of the kill team ran from Fyodorova's facility, concentrating fire at its front door to prevent pursuit by the purestrains. The sister crewing the storm bolter dropped down into the cab and gunned the accelerator as soon as they were all aboard. The genestealers gave brief pursuit but could not keep pace, and the squad breathed relief at their escape.

In a brief window of pure roleplay in an otherwise explosion-filled day of gaming, the squad learned that the sisters were Fyodorova's insurance policy, and had set off for the base as soon as the marines tripped the silent alarm upon entry.

Fyodorova hadn't been heard from in weeks, and was probably dead, but the sisters told the astartes that the populace hadn't given up and were mounting a patchy, if dogged, resistance movement. It became clear they had no idea there was a fleet in orbit preparing to initiate exterminatus as soon as the marines got into orbit with the intelligence they now carried.

The marines decided, on private squad vox, not to tell the sororitas what their plans were, and that they'd at least take the sisters with them off-world. All that remained was to escape; Estela, the sister superior, guided them to the Plaza of the Ancients as a space big enough for the storm eagle to put down.

As they made their approach to the surface, they saw Chimera APCs were converging on them from both ends of the underway, and Estela was pretty sure they'd be cult-led guardsmen.

What should I have done differently in scenario two?
I was quite openly counting off each turn as it was completed, so the players knew something was gonna happen at some point. My mistake, I think, was saying "ten" with such finality. It's a big round number. I should've given it another turn or so, which might have prevented the immersion-breaking thought process of "Charlie's counted to ten so I guess we'd better leave now."

Also missed was the opportunity to describe genestealers' creepy mesmeric qualities; I focussed too much on how they'll rip your limbs off. It's a shame to bungle that in a more roleplay-centric gaming session. Hopefully if we run future deathwatch missions featuring genestealers I'll get that right.

Scenario three: extraction

Objective: the nearest viable landing site to Fyodorova’s base is the Plaza of the Ancients. Clear away whatever anti-air emplacements the enemy control and await Brother Uzziel in the team’s Storm Eagle gunship.

The rhino got borked as soon as it got topside; an autocannon was waiting for them - it's almost like trained soldiers can co-ordinate with each other. This final scenario would be, I hoped, the most challenging - the squad was going to be ambushed by corrupted elements of the planetary defence force as well as more cultists, and they wouldn't have air support until they'd disabled the five AA turrets that were spread across the area.

Worse, the PDF forces had access to tanks. This meant the team, with their sororitas allies in tow, had to be very careful about hanging around in the open, even in power armour. They spread out, each one of them heading for one of the AA guns.

Ganzorig prepares to administer a lead suppository.

"Contacts in that building, maybe twelve," Unik voxed, pointing to a structure on their right.

"Acknowledged," Jophiel replied. "If they emerge, I will face them. Focus on the turrets for now."

They moved up into the shell of a bombed-out mansion. Torn strips of ornate wallpaper hung from the cracked plaster. The remains of a crystal chandelier crunched beneath Jophiel's boot as he raised his plasma pistol and took aim at the lascannon turret out in the plaza. It was a perfect shot, straight through the mounting ring, and the gun slid off its base.

Unik loped around the side of the mansion, and as he glanced back, saw that the hybrids had emerged from the building just as he predicted. Acting sergeant Jophiel - the "Blame" as Ganzorig had called him since he offered to take responsibility for the squad - seemed oblivious to the threat. Unik reasoned Jophiel was just playing it infuriatingly cool, and carried on to the next turret. If the Blame wanted the glory of facing the hybrids alone, he could have it.

But the hybrid acolytes were surprisingly stealthy; Jophiel only became aware of them when a three-clawed appendage grabbed his arm and began biting with unnatural strength into his armour. He tried to yank his arm free, but the cultist clung on like a dog with a bone, and as he turned, a dozen hybrids swarmed over him. Warning runes filled his helmet display as his armour registered damage to limbs, chest plate, and servos. Then he felt the claws scrape against his ribcage. He realised, too late, that he'd underestimated the wretches.

Unik, left, carries on by as Jophiel gets bundled.

His armour was badly damaged, but still stronger than theirs. An inelegant solution occurred to him.

He pulled the pin from one of his frag grenades and waited.

Two streets away, Ganzorig saw an explosion blow out the last of the glass in the mansion's window.

"Is the Blame ok?" he asked.

"Get to your next objective," came the reply.

"Such warmth," Ganzorig retorted, igniting his jump pack and soaring over the rooftops, getting a brief glimpse at the other turrets before plummeting down into a back alley.

Back in the mansion, Jophiel swayed on his feet, removed his helm long enough to spit out a gobbet of blood, then set about patching up the gaping holes in his armour with what was left of his repair cement.

One by one, the team took out the AA guns, and Uzziel swept in. The first order of the day? Firing three krak missiles right up the arse of the leman russ that had rumbled into the plaza. The only problem was that there were too many targets for the gunship to deal with, and Chimeras were now approaching from behind as well as ahead.

Chimeras approach from the underway while more cultists advance across the plaza.
Hyti is surrounded as men disembark from their chimeras.

At the western end of the ruined mansion, Hyti braced himself. The entire ground floor was surrounded, and while he could hear Jophiel moving about on the floor above him, there was nothing the Blame could do to prevent what happened next. Lasgun muzzles smashed through windows, frag grenades were tossed in, and the chimeras brought their turret guns to bear. Hyti became the centre of a whirlwind of shots.

Most of the weapons used were not designed to combat astartes plate, but the sheer volume of fire began to take its toll. He was forced to his knees. Chunks of plasteel spalled off  his greaves as multilaser volleys and heavy stubber rounds struck him. Suit systems went down, one by one. A chunk of spinning concrete struck the fuel tank of his heavy flamer, and the fuel guage started to drop as well.

Summoning every ounce of strength, Hytius hefted the infernus heavy bolter and pulled the trigger. Promethium spewed out of the broken windows, swallowing the guardsmen to his left. Roaring with pain and the effort of hefting the heavy weapon without the aid of his power unit, Hytius wrenched the gun around, dousing the guardsmen on the other side of the building until all the fuel was spent. That which had leaked on the floor ignited, setting one of his legs on fire, burning away some of the rubberised seals. He struggled back, away from the inferno engulfing the west wing of the building, not even noticing as Jophiel dropped a pair of grenades on the few guardsmen still on their feet.

"Hyti?" Kyaneus voxed with a rare note of concern.

"Clear," Hytius replied.

As Hytius dragged himself toward the eastern end of the building, Jophiel leapt from the first floor to the roof of one of the chimeras and set about carving his way through the driver's hatch with his power sword.

Over on the rooftop he'd claimed, Kyaneus assessed the situation. Two of the sororitas had been injured - he wasn't sure when - and another chimera was coming across the plaza. As he made ready to ignite his jump pack, a robed figure rose from the roof hatch of the chimera with a gilded staff in his hand. As Kyaneus took aim at the man, the man looked straight back at him.

Kyaneus blinked, and lowered his bolter, suddenly lost in thought. The sororitas had brought them to this plaza, this deathtrap. It was the closest any of them had come to falling; were Hyti not half-bionic he would have been dead already. If the sororitas lead them here, they did so at the behest of the enemy. Kyaneus took aim again, but this time at the bare head of Sister Estela. Cut the head off the snake, and it can lie no more, he reasoned. One careful shot would see the matter resolved.

Unik emerged from the alleyway he'd been stalking through and looked out across the plaza. The others had drawn so much attention to themselves that no-one had noticed him. That wouldn't last long, he reasoned, so his first shot needed to be a good one.

Across the plaza, a man in red robes had emerged from the roof hatch of a chimera. Between the red silk and the gold staff, Unik reasoned that he seemed important enough to warrant the use of an implosion round. He flicked a switch on his shot selector and took aim.

Estela crouched down to tend to her wounded sisters, temporarily obscuring her from Kyaneus' aim. He was reasonably certain he could make a decent guess of where her head would be, and adjusted accordingly.

Unik watched with some satisfaction as the implosion round detonated in the chest of the robed man. His ribcage collapsed in on itself and he fell back into the chimera.

Kyaneus blinked. Estela was dragging one of her sisters to a doorway, making ready for the gunship's arrival. He lowered his gun, appalled, and tried to gather his wits. An autogun round bouncing off his pauldron did the job for him.

The robed man had disappeared back into the chimera - Kyaneus had no idea why - but the hatch was still open. It was a rare opportunity and Kyaneus took it, igniting his jump pack, sailing through the air, and slamming into the roof of the chimera. By the time he landed, the frag grenade was already primed. He dropped it in and closed the hatch.

Kyaneus makes a three dimensional painting on the inside of the chimera.

Suffice to say, with the gunship coming in to land, the team managed to scramble into the plaza with impressive timing (it's fair to say Ganzorig and Kyaneus wouldn't have made it without their jump packs).

All aboard! (Including two bleeding sororitas.)

I have to say I'm stunned that no-one died. Jophiel and Hytius both played fast and loose with mortality, and Kyaneus was only saved from complete a complete mind-humping by Unik's timely implosion round.

Upon getting back into orbit, Ganzorig convinced some of the others to urge Inquisitor Nurzhan to hold off on the exterminatus to see if some of the civilian population could be evacuated. Incredibly, he was successful - what Jeff didn't know was that Nurzhan was so sickened by the concept of exterminatus that he was going to commit suicide once the order had been carried out. Much as Nurzhan knew it was the only option, I figured he was vulnerable to Jeff's line of reasoning. Kursanov Prime gets a stay of execution. For now, at least.

What should I have done differently in scenario three?
Actually I was pretty happy with number three. All the characters had moments of glory, most had at least one moment of despair, and many of them had moments of "am I about to die?" ...there will of course have been things I could've done better, but overall I was happy with how it went.


If you made it all the way to the end of this monstrous post, I really hope it kept you at least somewhat entertained. If not... sorry!

Finally, and rather cheesily, I want to thank Jeff, Tom, Andy, Jon and Maisey. It's really hard to roleplay as a space marine without them turning into faceless badasses, and I've done a pale imitation of their characterisations in this post. I couldn't ask for better players; they kept me thoroughly entertained throughout the day, and their reactions to some of the situations I put them in were deeply gratifying. Between that and the effort they put in with helping to paint scenery and models, I'm a chuffing happy camper.



  1. This was a fairly enjoyable read, thanks for putting this together!

  2. Really nice battle report, you have a not-so-small collection of wh40k stuff!
    Don't know the details of your rules, but it really makes stand out the Space Marines as the badass they are!

    1. Thanks Major! It's definitely gratifying to see marines work like the almost unstoppable monsters they should be :)


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