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Dave Fraser

AOS - The state of the game

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Below is some drivel I wrote when 8th ed was coming to an end and we knew something was next but had no idea what.  I came across it when tidying up my computer recently and it's sparked a new rambling thought on the state of the game in AOS at present, I'll put that in the second message in the post.

9th Edition is (supposedly) coming

And for an old ****** like me what better than to look back at what has gone before rather than panicking about what is about to come.  I’m really thinking just 8th ed when I start writing this but it’s worth remembering I started Warhammer back at 3rd Ed so have a long familiarity with edition changes and all that jazz.

So 8th edition dropped on 10 July 2010, on that basis will be closing on 5 years old assuming 9th comes out this year as forecast.  Looking back over the editions this is broadly in line with the frequency of updates, 6th was the longest with 6 years but I’d say that was largely due to them hitting the reset button on army books that edition so everything was being reworked.

At Release

So how was the transition to 8th received?  Well there was much gnashing of teeth and wailing from certain aspects of the community, plenty of people claiming it was too random to be competitive, Yahtzee being a frequently used moniker and that premeasuring took the skill out the game. Other parts of the community hailed it as the best thing to ever happen to the game pointing to the fact that it finally made infantry viable choices for armies and helped balance the game.  There were many other significant changes too, I’d say it was the biggest step change through the editions of any, though you could argue 5th to 6th and the total overhaul of armies & the magic system from cards to dice was greater but I’d not put that solely down to the rules though.

Personally I was still playing dwarfs at the time and the change from max 6” charge including the distance for the wheel to 15” max measure to closest point was amazing!  Suddenly I was taking part in a large chunk of the game which had basically not been an option in the past.  As a dwarf player I could guess warmachine accurate to ½” going most of the way across the table so being able to just pick a point didn’t really change much. I never considered the ability to guess ranges a gaming skill so it was nice that what was considered tactical/strategic skill was actually more important than micromanagement and being able to eyeball distances. 

At the end of 7th all the armies were 2x10 horrors 3x5-6 fleshhounds, 2x single fiends, billy the bloodthirster and the Masque of slannesh (or variants upon that theme) or shooty DE with a pendant of khaleth dreadlord on a dragon.  The fact that the ‘tactical’ skill in most of these armies was having a longer charge range than most people and being able to spot that 2” gap where you could charge and your opponent couldn’t never really struck me as particularly skilful so I wasn’t overly disappointed to see it go. So yes I was a fan of the new edition from the get go.

Now have a look at what armies appeared.  You had some early tournament wins by Vampires with the graveguard horde (hitting on 2’s), Daemons with 2 big hordes later becoming up to 3 hordes of bloodletters as standard netlists.  Combat infantry DE with mindrazor with hordes of corsairs became common.  Infantry was king. 

Cavalry were written off as worthless as they couldn’t break steadfast and would just get ground out.  Combat characters were deemed too vulnerable to the attacks coming back (ohh that was another big one, 7th ed models killed didn’t get to strike back, so you wiped front ranks out and were safe from any return damage) and mages became the character of preference, the new ‘super spells’ were identified as ‘autowin buttons as you could delete half a horde of infantry and the characters hiding in there by just spamming 6 dice.

Early Books (up to Ogres)

That ran along for a while and after 6m people were complaining of the game being stagnant as we’d had no new books then O&G came out, everyone complained about only 8 magic items in the book, TK dropped and the same, plus their unique magic lore got nerfed but T8 beasties were supposedly going to break the game (guess what, they didn’t and are now considered junk). Then we got Ogres.

Ogres changed the environment.  They went from being a pitiful weak army filled with pointless limitations on their build to a powerhouse and that powerhouse had a name… It was mournfang.  All of a sudden there was a unit with so much damage output it could blow it’s way through the infantry hordes steadfast in a round or two tops, they didn’t even require the charge to be effective.  Plus with a 2+ save and parry were survivable (unlike the TK necropolis knights, which lacked the save or the manoeuvrability to dominate the game).  Monstrous Cavalry just became the game changer.

VC came out and were as ever comped to death over ethereals and screams but didn’t overly change much then Empire followed and added to the MC trend which basically sealed the fate of infanty armies.  Now you needed to be either manoeuvrable to avoid the MC or survivable enough to take a charge from them and not get broken, which really meant a 1+ AS and not getting stomped, so suddenly cavalry units started to have a purpose, but they also needed damage output to beat the MC so combat characters started to feed back into the game.  And we got 10 months without a book at this point so the ‘meta’ settled down.  Largely I think this is the period on which most people base their views of 8th being a reasonably balanced game.

The Rise of Chaos

After that we got warriors and daemons in quick succession early 2013 and skullcrushers were a big thing.  The daemons book release was hilarious, people declared it nerfed to the point of being one of the bottom tier armies (I actually bought them at this point buying from ragequitters thinking I was getting a middlish army) wow did that reaction get proven wrong.  It wasn’t really until the ETC that the UK cottoned on but the wall of Nurgle style army became very popular and very common.  It was one of the few counters to the super-fast & hard hitting WoC armies as they tended to win the grind.  Suddenly the power of the O&G book becomes an all-time high due to their abilty to ignore armour and just delete WoC and ogres with relative ease but they don’t fare terribly well against daemons putting a balancing check in place.

The year of the Elf

Then came the time of the Elves HE in May 2013, DE in Oct 2013 and basically it turned everything around again. Bolt throwers & mobility meant the smashy WoC were no longer dominant, Monst Cav were relatively easy picking too.  By now it’s worth noting the “powerhouse” book of ogres have been well and truly put in their place as each of these books basically trumped them.  Power creep? I’d guess you say yes but at the same time there is a bit more of a rock, paper, scissors scenario at play.  You can design a list which will comfortably beat an all comer list for one of these armies but that will conversely be hugely weak against another.

Dwarfs and WE rounded out the releases under 8th, neither hugely changed the status of affairs though both add to the Rock/paper/scissors matchup consideration for list design. With that we come to where we are now (ignoring ET as a entirely different topic), I suppose the one thing to mention is the FAQ which bumped the character allowance to 50% of your army in each of lords & heroes being the next big meta shift but it’s not a huge issue where ET characters are banned as comp generally hits the 4-5 armies that get the biggest bonus from it.

The End (of) Times (bro)

The ET stuff has been a bit of silly fun in many peoples’ opinion bringing us all to the brink of a new edition ready to reset everything to a fresh start.  And you know what, I’m still really enjoying playing 8th ed, so through all of this they’ve not lost me, the game has kept fun and fresh challenges over the course of 5 years.  I’ve heard a few people bemoaning the staleness of the game (I was pretty much there just before ET released and it gave me a new lease of life) but when I look back at 7th I know I was sick of it for a good 18m before it went and that simply hasn’t been the case for me in 8th.  Do I like the super characters, no not really, they completely change the nature of the game.  But all the other stuff is generally quite cool as long as not taken to silly extremes, restrictions (or self-restraint) make it fun.

Overall Thoughts on 8th

So there we have it, armies went from all infantry hordes, though monstrous cavalry round to cavalry buses and now often into character hammer through the cycle of the edition.  I’ve even noticed a few hordes coming back into the game recently.  It does make me wonder are the much maligned GW design team really as bad at what they do as we think?  They’ve incentivised gamers at different points in the cycle of 8th ed to buy pretty much every unit type from every book in the game and not done it in a way what has had people calling them out for forcing them to buy new things, to me it feels like they deserve a round of applause for a job well done. 

In conclusion I say bravo GW, WFB has been a wonderful ride through 8th and whoever has been the hand at the tiller over that time (the much maligned Matt Ward is certainly responsible for elves onwards from what I understand) have given me a great deal of pleasure from playing their game.  Now for 9th I have only one wish, please make it as fun a journey as 8th was.

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AOS

I wrote the above on WFB when it was clearly going into what I assumed was a new edition, instead what we got was AOS.  That was when 8th Edition WFB was 5 years old, AOS is now roughly 2.5 years old so you could say about half way through the traditional edition cycle and I thought it might be interesting to consider the state of the game.

Core Rules

Everyone talks about the 4 pages of rules as being the rulebook.  Personally I think it’s nonsense, if you go look at those 4 pages, nearly 2 of them are things you ignore as soon as you pick up GHB.  So it’s 2 pages + GHB that is really the rulebook.

It’s relatively safe to say the core rules work, everything can setup, move, shoot, fight etc without major conflict.  There are enough decisions around placement, target priority & the likes that it makes for a fun and tactical game.

Deployment & scenarios means that the game isn’t just about killing your opponent’s army, which is lucky because this game would be awful if that was what mattered.  I’d argue that because of the manner in which armies have gone there are a few armies who simply try and blow you off the table and scenarios are secondary consideration as it is and only the variety of scenarios helps keep this in check.

Armies

At this point in the development cycle it is very easy to point to death & destruction and say the game is incomplete, they’ve each had minimal updates and lag behind the Order & Chaos factions significantly.  But we’ve seen that death have something coming, so hopefully 2018 sees this balance itself out.

On a wider look at armies in the game and considering the state of affairs there are a couple of obvious themes of how the game plays (at the top level) right now:

1.       Turn 1 mobility/engagement is everything and

2.       Extreme

a.       survivability or

b.      Damage output (with either MW or Rend 2 or greater)

The clearest representation of this being at the masters where you had:

Vanguard Wing 30 1+ save liberators that can be dropped virtually anywhere on the table.

KO Barak Zilfin – drops down/motors across on the boat and then shoots you off the board

Murderhost – Zerg’s across the board and murderises you with mortal wounds

Fatesworn & Sayl – Drops a unit of hard to kill warriors in your face then sits behind on the objectives & blasts you with magic.

Seraphon – Drops units of 40 hard to kill saurus in your face and grabs objectives while blasting you.

Changehost – units have to be killed 3 times over to clear them off an objective! MW spell spam.

 

Basically all these armies try to take the whole game away from you in the first turn by pinning your army off objectives or killing you off the board so you can’t score objectives.

At the masters there seemed to be quite a few games which were being called at turn 2 or 3 as the result was a foregone conclusion as a result of the lists above dong what they do.

 

So what does this mean for the game, well I’d argue a lot of games being decided from just a single turn doesn’t really make for a terribly enjoyable game, effectively it turns the games into a bit of a coinflip, either my ‘all in’ tactic works and I win the game, or it doesn’t and I lose.  What I would much prefer see is there to be more options for counters, and ongoing play actually impacting the outcome of the game.

Obviously this is only really observed in a few lists which are the top end of competitive play.  As yet it’s not endemic to the tournament scene, so the majority of games still have opportunity to run their course over the 5 turns.  However, as observed in games like Magic the Gathering if a list becomes so competitive it skews the entire competitive scene then this is not good for the health of the game as every army becomes either that competitive list or a list which counters it.

What we have seen by GW is a willingness to take action when they do see this happening with particular builds.  Mainly it’s been via the FAQ process but we saw the Azyros get changed, we’ve seen tweaks to KO & Tzeentch to knock out some of what have been deemed overly powerful lists.  As long as they continue to FAQ the outlier lists then I’m not too upset about these lists coming to the fore.  It is important the player base are aware they’ll get max 6 months of usage but then likely have their wings clipped, as knowing it will keep everyone from flocking to those lists and help maintain diversity within the competitive game.

State of the game

In summary there is a clear delineation of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in the game at this point in time but the frequency of update is doing a good job of stopping that from entirely unbalancing the game and wrecking it as a fun & competitive spectacle.  Each new army coming out does feel super fluffy and fun meaning that every time I get a real urge to start that new army, which is exactly what GW wants.

Also Warhammer has always devolved into a smaller number of armies who can genuinely go out and win an event.  I’d argue there are a greater number of different lists which fall into that category now than in previous editions.  Where my issue with this lies is the gulf between the top and the rest feels quite large at present which makes playing one of those have nots an exercise in frustration if you find yourself regularly bumping up into that top list territory.

Overall I’m still really enjoying AOS but I can see why some people have got disenchanted with it given the way some matchups can be very polarising.  Ultimately it comes down to what you want out the game, if you’re playing to try and win events, then that’s the price you play.  If you’re just playing for the fun of a competitive game where either player can win then you probably want to put some thought into army construction and how far you should push any of the lists which can really dominate the game.

What are peoples thoughts?

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I love AOS. I think it's an amazing game and the way GW are handling it at the moment is brilliant. I'm just gutted I don't get enough time to enjoy it more. I agree with everything you have mentioned but I think the key point is this...

1 hour ago, Dave Fraser said:

Overall I’m still really enjoying AOS but I can see why some people have got disenchanted with it given the way some matchups can be very polarising.  Ultimately it comes down to what you want out the game, if you’re playing to try and win events, then that’s the price you play.  If you’re just playing for the fun of a competitive game where either player can win then you probably want to put some thought into army construction and how far you should push any of the lists which can really dominate the game.

I suspect the reason some players are getting disenchanted is down to the way they play and I think a lot of people see Matched Play as the only way of playing and in order to play that way you need the most competitive lists. I think this is the same with any game as you limited your options around how to play and everything can become a bit too samey. The great thing is how GW are listening to the community and evolving how it all works either through the Generals Handbook or new Battle tomes. For example, it's early to say but I think the Maggotkin will have a massive effect on the game due to how fast they can move or how they can control areas of the board. This means that the competitive lists we are seeing at the moment will have to change. This in turn will change again when Legions of Nagash has an impact on the game and then again when the next set of books hit.

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It was cool reading the summary at the top, I started again with the launch of AoS so everything from WHFB is like lore from the old times!

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Nice analysis, guys.

I'm not a fan of a TOP-TO-WIN-EVENT competitive build. They indeed kill the fun. I prefer strategy, movments back and forth, interractions, reactions, surprises, and all things that make a BATTLE alive.

When you see a top tier army above vs a "normal" one, you pretty much know the result before the battle starts. This is unfortunate. Even with a top tier vs top tier with the rule of rock-paper-scisor. 

And don't forget  the...HOBBY part. Hobby is a nice part of the whole game. I like to see an army. I like to build an army. Painting it is another thing. (lack of dedication here probably :$ ).

I think that the game is well born and well developped. New models look better and better. Spaming has been (relatively) limited thanks to GH. Shooting could be better as well as magic. My biggest annoyance is on the "teleport". I don't like it. It doesn't feel natural and it allows most of top tier "abusive" builds. I'm guessing if purely delete it completely from the game would be a nice move from GW, making initial deployement more important, making boost move or punctual limited (yet expensive) teleport more tactical.

 

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Thanks for this current "state of the game" thread.  I'm mostly a 40k player, last played during the Season of War campaign, returning due to Shadespire and Malign Portents.  Reading your thoughts has been very useful to me and I'll share the information with my close Warhammer friends.

A follow-up question for you please -  Are the gameplay issues you mentioned with the 1st turn alpha strike/extreme survivability or damage output mitigated by having smaller armies of maybe 500 to 1000 pts?  In 40k, we found even though an average tournament is 1500 to 2000 pts, the game is actually more balanced at about half that because it forces people to think about trade-offs, whether they can afford to bring that uber-unit at the expense of rank & file  units, etc.

I ask this because I remember one of our friends played a Tzeentch Battalion before the 1st General's Handbook, when they were free.  He just dominated with those extra benefits, until there was a points cost for Battalions, at which point games became much more balanced, because we were aiming for 1000 pts and the extra cost wasn't worth it.

Thanks in advance.  I'm curious for all thoughts on just "state of the game" to catch up, but am curious about if smaller games might be more enjoyable ones in AoS.

 

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Bataillons  are super expensive for a 1000 points game. Most of them are 200+ points (the uber ones) in addition to mandatory  units. That limits the spamming.

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Age of Sigmar still had a really bad lanuch as it took how long for the GH to come out. And until that happened there was no one way to balance anything really.

The game has improved since then however. And I like the look of the new Death Battletome which could be the standard for future ones. 

Edited by Envyus

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@N1SB my old group did the same, keeping to around the 750 - 1000 point mark in 40k makes a huge difference in balance vice higher points. Sure, there are still options for abuse, but it does need a lot more thought. I think 1000 - 1250 points is the magic number, as the games are faster, but you get some more options to use and the big top tier lists can't fit into that level of points. Now, would people just adjust and find other options? Of course, that is competitive gaming (competitive anything really, restrict something and players/coaches will try to find a way to exploit it) and should be expected. However, it should (dangerous word) make most lists usable and if not highly competitive, at least in with a shout to keep it close.

My $0.02.

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6 hours ago, Envyus said:

Age of Sigmar still had a really bad lanuch as it took how long for the GH to come out. And until that happened there was no one way to balance anything really.

The game has improved since then however. And I like the look of the new Death Battletome which could be the standard for future ones. 

I think they wanted to see how people would play the game if there was no preconceived limitations to what they could field.

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On 1/12/2018 at 11:17 AM, Gaz Taylor said:

I love AOS. I think it's an amazing game and the way GW are handling it at the moment is brilliant. I'm just gutted I don't get enough time to enjoy it more. I agree with everything you have mentioned but I think the key point is this...

I suspect the reason some players are getting disenchanted is down to the way they play and I think a lot of people see Matched Play as the only way of playing and in order to play that way you need the most competitive lists. I think this is the same with any game as you limited your options around how to play and everything can become a bit too samey. The great thing is how GW are listening to the community and evolving how it all works either through the Generals Handbook or new Battle tomes. For example, it's early to say but I think the Maggotkin will have a massive effect on the game due to how fast they can move or how they can control areas of the board. This means that the competitive lists we are seeing at the moment will have to change. This in turn will change again when Legions of Nagash has an impact on the game and then again when the next set of books hit.

Totally Gaz.

I loved it front he minute it landed.  It reminded me of how me and my mates used to play Warhammer in first and second ed. 

We brought cool models and put them on the table and forged our own narratives and backgrounds.  Times were different then I know.  We used scenarios like terror of the lichmaster and bloodbath at orcs drift to enhance our experience and just to use as an excuse to try something new.    I think the difference was that for us we were D&D players and so talking and imagineering and balancing our armies sort of came naturally as we'd all DM'd and run our own campaigns and knew when someone was taking the p.

 

Sadly the tournament hounds who ran our local at the time basically succeeded in putting everyone off it and most of us rage quit.  i regret that now as I was caught up in a tidal wave of negativity about it.  Then I really looked at it, played with my own models (open play), and never looked back.

Tournaments by their and their players nature will always need structure.  Competitiveness will always need structure.  As you say, your options become limited, that's the trade off for structure.  In order to stop it stagnating which eventually it will do - 8th and 7th did until a new army book came out to shake stuff up;  and it's that change that sets the arms race off anew so to speak.  

At this point, you either accept that you've been trumped and go and buy the new auto win or you just love your stuff so much that you know it so well that you still win... because you know exactly how to counter anything with what you have.

Open and narrative players might deride tournament cutting edge win at all costs players for killing the game, but it's those players (and I'm definitely not one of them, I'm the former) who will land big money on a new army every few months just to attend an event and win.

For me it's what you make it.  The state of the game hasn't changed, it's still a great game and still infinitely malleable.  you can still put down whatever you want if you're happy to take the trade-offs. 

 

in the original post I had to laugh, I was at the throne of skulls just after that 8e demon book landed.  There were two brothers there, one with chaos and the other with his nurgle demons.  That nurgle daemon army was just brutal.  It just didn't die.  nice bloke, and very experienced and knowledgeable with his army.

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I still hate some of the 4 page rules like the shoot while an enemy unit is within 3 (especially whenever I fight Stormcast)

Edited by SeanMaguire1991
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the game has its flaws (for me: shooting and teleporting) but globaly, it is a great and reich game.

A little note about the competitiveness: it is really interesting to see that whereas  horde seems have some (big) votes, there is NO auto win army actually. The last big  tourney (see topic in this forum  Heat 1 results does have  so many variety of competitive and unexpected armies.

Is the game super well balanced? No. Is it fun, full of variety, nice strategies? yes.

A big element of the strategy in tourneys, is the element of surprise. Mostly in the ARMY BUILDING. I've seen here in France a winner with totally unusual army.

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As soon as battalions go from giving you an insta-turn one to just a +1 to your roll, the quicker the stupid all or nothing armies will dissipate.

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I think the game has some flaws, potentially minor ones but annoying (nothing stopping shooting, double turn which is love or hate).  I think competitive lists are their own beast, and have things that should not affect the majority of the game but do since for most people matched play is the only style of play, and matched play seems to equal competitive/tournament type play.

Ignore the tournament "meta" and the style of lists that go into that, and the game suddenly becomes more enjoyable.  Ignore matched play (or feel free to modify it as you see fit) and the game becomes even more enjoyable provided you aren't playing with the type of player who will abuse summoning or cheese army construction if nothing prevents them from doing it.

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I agree with the general consensus here. 

In my experience, most of the flaws in AOS dissipate in friendly play, when the game mellows into 'DUDE I'm gonna take the Living Cyst with my Skaven next time and make squelchy, farty noises when it moves around,' and 'Really, I can take some Gryph-Hounds with my Exiles? At the same time?!?'

Edited by erasercrumbs
Typing snafu

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On 1/14/2018 at 1:44 PM, Kaleb Daark said:

We used scenarios like terror of the lichmaster

Taking me back with that one!! I was mesmerized by the artwork for that scenario. I didn't really have a proper army until 4th ed (Undead of Course) Happy to say that army still see's the table today when I can get an oldhammer game organised.

I love that army list so much - mummies, carrion, skull chukkas, wraith units that only get hurt by magic weapons - and my trusty Necromancy spell deck :D

Terror of the Lichemaster.jpg

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I love the game, I just wish GW were a bit bolder in their tweaks to balance things. If they change a warscrolls or adjust points too much occasionally that would be much better than what tends to happen now: they don’t do enough eg skyfires. 

It would also be good if TO’s took it into their own hands to fix it by making bolder rule/points/warscroll changes and promoted what a great podcaster once called ”Manhammer”: winning with skill rather than WAAC lists.  

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1 hour ago, Twitch of Izalith said:

Taking me back with that one!! I was mesmerized by the artwork for that scenario. I didn't really have a proper army until 4th ed (Undead of Course) Happy to say that army still see's the table today when I can get an oldhammer game organised.

I love that army list so much - mummies, carrion, skull chukkas, wraith units that only get hurt by magic weapons - and my trusty Necromancy spell deck :D

Terror of the Lichemaster.jpg

Yes, Ian Miller artwork is sublime.  I liked the humour, Krell as the undead champion of chaos that Himmler brings back and his lieutenant Mikael Jackson, with the flaming skull an the piercing shriek attack.

It was my first army when skeleton horde came out, and with that and mordini's doomed legion and a zombie dragon I thought I was there- pity they nearly all dissapeared to instability half way across the board, and the rest crumbled when a rock thrower would take out the necromancer!

I'm really liking the sepulcheral guard, if they do a whole load of skellies like those then happy days, especially if I can have an old school skeleton army and not have to have mortarchs (because I'm one of the few people who dislikes the models)  and other gothic vampire horror stuff in it.  I'm thinking more medieval dead - that's why I'm kicking myself over missing the tomb kings boat, I like the dry undead. :)

Edited by Kaleb Daark

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