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First I know I did not explain everything in the title. It's a little complicated.

Similar to the rules in this question.

Magic potions exist with the following rules

  • Pre-industrial revolution world. It's advanced in many ways. But no more medical knowledge than that era.
  • Only wizards make potions.
  • Potions are plentiful.
  • Potions are cheap. The poorest can afford a health potion.
  • No side effects.
  • Potency is a bit of an issue but not much. If you get a very deadly disease then the strongest potion will cure it. However for a strong cold or some coughing a simple or average potions is enough.
  • Potions can cure all disease with the only exception being magical afflictions.
  • Doctors exist to 'diagnose' cases to help people choosing the "right" potency of potion.
  • The richest just jug the strongest potion.
  • Wizards benefit from that system and so they are actively working towards greater integration of potions into society.
  • Wizards completely control the trade with the full support of every state where those potions are available.
  • Wizards take any messing around with potions as a capital offense with bloody and terrible murder as the only answer. And being wizards they can actually track and monitor just about all forms of magic.
  • The state, since it's a world I'm just using this to cover all forms of government, is a part of the deal. A court wizard exists to protect and help rulers, among other things.
  • Most commercially available potions are sold through licensed merchants. Those merchant are under the watchful eyes of wizards. They might be able to get their hands on unlicensed potions, but the whole system is made up in a way the makes in beneficial for all parties enveloped to follow it. And so risking getting ripped apart by demons and having your entire life savings burnt in front of your family to get a crate of potions that will get you an extra 10% of profit does not seem like a good idea to most merchants.
  • There is a robust potions detection system. Again breaking it gets you killed violently.
  • For all intents and purposes health potions don't degrade with time.
  • Health potions are always effective. A disease can't evolve against it.
  • Other forms of potions exist. For example they are given to animals, and also added to irrigation water to protect the crops.
  • All sorts of potions exist with varying degrees of availability.
  • Certain potions are illegal.
  • Magic poisons are extra illegal.
  • Using potions to aid in crimes incurs extra and sever punishments.
  • Potions in general offer better than modern medicine healing while direct magic covers the rest.
  • Growing limbs is usually a matter for direct magic. But limb growing potions exist, they are expensive though.
  • Custom potions are possible. But scarce

Now I hope this provides enough context and answers to the rules of the most used and common potions.

However despite all this potions are illegal to use in combat. How? Again this is a part of the overall treaty between earthly powers and the ruling body of wizards.

It's illegal to use magically enhanced soldiers in fighting, it's illegal to get a wizard to inspire troops, it's illegal to call demons and control the elements to change warfare...etc

And since, so far, the wizards are a tight bunch, they don't go rogue that much. So the idea that a best asset a general or a ruler can wield is a rogue wizard is not feasible. For obvious reasons that once a thing is known, the entire state is compromised and a sort of crusade is called upon it.

The world got a lot of history with that exact sort of thing. So in this point in time those are the ruler and we should not bother with exceptions.

The last point, and sorry for thing lengthy post: Healing magic can be given to soldier after the fighting is done and they are in camp or whatever the army's healers feel appropriate. Also stamina potions are allowed. They just remove the feeling of being physically tired without enhancing a soldier. That's all I came up with, so far.

The rational is that it's basically healing people and helping them. But a potion that takes away fear and makes soldiers more violent is a hard no.

So at last:

What sort of workarounds would generals use to give themselves an advantage? But not a huge one as well, otherwise they risk wizards getting angry.

Just to make it extra super clear. The rules might be too constrictive and allow little for general to do, that's great. In that case just say so. The rules might enable a small or a big exploit for generals, again fine by me.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 23 '20 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ Win the war. War crimes are prosecuted by the winner. The defendants are always from the losing side. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Jun 23 '20 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ It's not enough characters for a low-rep edit, but the verb to work around is properly written as two words. Workaround is a noun. $\endgroup$ – phoog Jun 23 '20 at 14:55

13 Answers 13

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The amateurs discuss tactics. The professionals discuss logistics.

You have a big army yeah. But the marching speed of the army is determined by the supply train. You have a thousand men but also a hundred wagons full of food and water. And we need to march through the desert before the enemy army, without our wagons getting stuck in the sand.

Oh wait I forgot we don't have wagon trains today. We just gave each soldier 10 potions of sustenance. So we are free to move the troops as fast as physically possible. Let's rock and roll boys.

Bonus: This is why the Potion of Potion Carrying is the most forbidden potion of all. Only one man was ever foolish enough to get his hands on one thousands of years ago. Then the wizards found him and has not stopped screaming since.

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    $\begingroup$ One interesting tactic is if you can ambush a marching army before their effects have worn off thereby forcing them to choose between breaking the treaty or dying without putting up resistance. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jun 22 '20 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ I love it. It's like exploiting the Skyrim magic-enchanting-alchemy $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 22 '20 at 22:49
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Healing Potions Spam Mid-Combat

In most action-role playing games, there are healing potions that can be chugged mid-battle to refill that lovely red health bar on the top of the screen. These are great - you suffer from a fireball? Nope, healing potion. Sent through a pillar by an Iron Knuckle? Nope, healing potion. Tank a enraged dragon's Hyper Beam to the face? Nope, healing potion. Now, in real life, that's not how battlefield medicine works.

But if healing potions are magic and plentiful, than, yes, that is how healing works. Get stabbed, slashed, battered, or bruised? Just chug a health potion and you're back on your feet. An army supplied with health potions has no need to fear casual or non-lethal wounds - they just need a few seconds to chug a healing potion and they'll be good to go. And a few seconds can be bought so long as they're part of a squad - in a one on one fight, not so useful. But if they're part of a shieldwall? They can just switch places and R&R for ten seconds to get back to fighting shape.

Thus, there would only be two ways of taking people out of commission - either a killing blow or crippling blow, or else you run your opponent dry of healing potions. Given that killing people on a battlefield when they're actively avoiding to be killed is difficult (especially when they're fine taking the wound elsewhere); wars are going to be a battle of attrition. (I mean, generally wars are a battle of attrition anyway, none of the flashy historical fights will show that, but in general, war are just two armies shoving against each other, especially when they're shieldwall based. Which these armies are going to be.)

Obviously, pain will be a problem, but there are plenty of non-magical ways around that, such as nightshade-derivatives. Final point - the wizards can't stop this, because this isn't something the general even need to order. Individual soldiers, of their own volition, will buy and use the potions themselves, because it beats dying. Even if the generals order them not to, the soldiers will ignore it because, again, violating orders is better than dying. And wizards can't very well threaten the entire army with punishment to get them to stop or cut off the supply without drastically reducing the availability of potions.

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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty much the best argument and how I can see it happening. So I guess it's either that or they will have to run back to camp and get healing potions meaning just a better rotation system, right? On the wizards power. They actually can threaten entire nations. A wizard, if powerful enough, can engulf the entire field in flames and claim they were demonically possessed. The general can accuse them of whatever they want. But if it's a magical manner, guess who judges the situation? They are absolutely brutal when it comes to misusing magic. Also generals can search their men $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 22 '20 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ Also, these hats. $\endgroup$ – Kartik Soneji Jun 23 '20 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ You mean actively trying not to be killed? $\endgroup$ – user253751 Jun 23 '20 at 11:43
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Magically-augmented manufacturing processes for non-magical equipment. If you have the theoretical knowledge to make an engine or tool of war but not the technology or infrastructure to do it, then you use magic to get around the your technological-limitations in the manufacturing process. Since there is not yet a non-magical way to achieve the result, it might as well be magic, except it's not and the end product can be used by anyone anywhere without magical traces.

Not unlike a factory. You can't bring a factory or all its processes to the battlefield, but you can certainly bring their fruits to bear.

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It would be helpful to know how wizards are policing the use of potions.

Additives

It's possible there's an inert ingredient in most recipes (like stench is added to natural gas lines). The otherwise inert ingredient may react with adrenaline producing nausea or other symptoms that are designed to effectively enforce the ban on giving potions to combatants. Medical practitioners may be cautioned to calm their patients before administering potions.

Since wizards have a monopoly on production, commanders can't set-up private labs to identify recipes that remove the inert ingredient. However, commanders might work around the bad side-effect by having special forces meditate or practice calming techniques before imbibing. Some percentage of the soldiers will probably still get an adverse reaction, but if the technique works with enough fighters to be worth it, it could be done.

Alternatively commander COULD set up private labs to identify the cause of the bad reaction and identify herbs or chemicals that nullify the additive.

Taggants

Wizards could, instead, enforce potion rules with taggant (like is done with explosives). Potions contain some combination of ingredients that, when used in the heat of battle, spill out as magical markings in the blood and sweat on the field. Taggant may be unique enough that, matched with a registry, wizard investigators can identify which batch of potions has been used illegally through the activated taggant spilled on the battlefield. It might be possible, even, to verify a particular soldier illegally used a potion by a blood test identifying activated taggant still in his or her blood.

Commanders could try to evade these rules the same way users of performance-enhancing drugs in sports do. They could have soldiers illegally (or maybe even quasi-legally) use the potions during training to help them train harder than the enemy. The commanders could encourage soldiers flushing their bodies with water, so that no trace of the illegal activity shows in audits, or on the field.

Curses

Being wizards, illegal use of potions might be enforced through curses. A commander, then, will probably invest considerable time understanding precisely how far use can be pushed before the curse is invoked. Is it possible to amp up a longbowman because he or she is outside the line of scrimmage? Does being a certain distance from the melee keep the curse at rest? Or maybe there's a certain critical number of people involved in a fight before the curse is awakened? Perhaps small brawls under twenty people don't trigger the ward?

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent. So far there is something that, and I'm not even writing in English so bear with me, is like a trace. A wizard can trace a potion to a person or a place, also they stack. So if 30 strength enhancing potions were used in a place, it's like 30 flashlights, but if it's 2, it's less light. This coupled with "fiends" can insure that a wizard knows that something happened, and then using the fiend they can find out what exactly. Fiends are sort of a low tier demon, not really but let's not argue about that, who exist in an in between state. They are not here nor there... $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 22 '20 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with the additives and taggants is that they would also go off in situations where potions are likely to be used. If the city catches on fire, or just after escaping shipwreck, or the like. Curses would be more plausible because they could identify combat. $\endgroup$ – Mary Jun 22 '20 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ Those creatures can only be used by wizards. And they are an excellent source of information in general. There is also demons but that another thing. Now theoretically that a commander can acquire warfare illegal potions. But that runs the risk of his army being spotted by a wizard, remember the flashlight? well. Multiply that by 10000, before he even arrives at the battlefield. Also scarcity. Combat creates it's own unique "aura" so your last point could be done. but I don't like the idea of hardcoded rules to this level. The abuse of powers is pretty much my theme. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 22 '20 at 23:17
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Sabotage the opponent's potion supply

Send a couple spies to the warehouses that store the potions of the country you're fighting with. Destroy the potions, or poison them using mundane poison. I don't see anything in the rules that say you can't wreck the other side's economy or tamper with their potions.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is inventive. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 23 '20 at 17:23
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The amateurs discuss logistics. The professionals discuss tactics.

Buff your generals ! Give them Smartness potions, give them Eagle-eye potions... anything to make them the bestest best generals. Magically enhanced soldiers are forbidden ? No problem, make magically enhanced leaders !

Also, is magical communication available ? You could have one magician on each battlefield, communicating with another magician near your Super General #1. He could thus coordoninate every battlefield at the same time while being far removed from the fight.

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Add a cost. In the simple case, they make you fall unconscious for a while. Even just 10 minutes would be no big deal in most situations, put a nice armchair in each potion shop, but in a battle it would be suicidal.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is really interesting. Thought won't that mean that armies will just develop a more solid rotation system? But come to think of it I think the smarter option would be to randomly fall unconscious in the first couple of hours. That way the rotation system can't abuse the 10 minute rule and it insures that you have to keep your healing soldier out of the battle until the time passes. I think that might be a good idea to incorporate to n extent. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 23 '20 at 16:56
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Let the Wizards kill your enemies

Since the Wizards seem to be especially cruel and rash in their judgement the most effective way to defeat an army is to plant a mole in the enemies army. A crafty ruler will have planted undercover spies in every foreign army. If someone moves against you, your spy will use magic to help the foreign army, Wizards will trace it and kill everyone.

There are a lot of ways to make unmasking these spies almost impossible. They could be hiding in an army, supply staff or similar for years - maybe occupying the position of a stable-boy or cleaning the latrines. They might not even know themselves who hired them to sabotage the army, they only know someone is taking care of their family at home if they sabotage this army and kill themselves before anyone can make them talk.

On the other hand, if Wizards are not so rash in judgement but take their time in launching a full scale investigation who used magic, why and if their superiors knew of this, or if the soldier acted on their own. Then you will have the whole range of intrigue games and political chess around the uses of magic on the battlefield. All you have to do is to make sure that the investigation later on will believe it was an enemy spy, or a soldier acting on his own.

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  • $\begingroup$ Omnipotence in punishing people is nothing without the omniscience to back it up with sure judgement, otherwise the Wizards are just marionettes for the rulers who use them like bloodhounds. $\endgroup$ – Falco Jun 23 '20 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ This makes for any number of great stories. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Jun 23 '20 at 15:25
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Potions of Clarity

Give all your soldiers potions which merely enhance their senses, enabling them to see, hear, feel, and smell from a much greater distance. This would make them almost immune to ambush, but would not be as obvious as Captain America-style super-serum. They would be able to sense every incoming attack and react accordingly with much greater precision, but it would appear to be just a matter of getting lucky or their attacker having poor aim rather than the obvious tells of having super-strength, bullet-proof skin, or what-not. Your snipers would have much better aim as well, and be able to detect micro-eddies in the wind that might affect their shots. All of the effects of a potion of clarity would be nearly indistinguishable from just having superior training and experience. Combine this with the stamina potions already mentioned in the OP, and you've got tireless soldiers that can never be taken by surprise, and yet all their advanced abilities can be excused by simply appearing to be more well-trained than they actually are.

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Your rules are solid, but there are a few things that can drastically improve the effectiveness of a magically enhanced army.

Information

One of the key elements of warfare is information. Knowing where the enemy is, how many of them and what kind of equipment they have. Scouting terrain and enemy movements should be doable for a wizard. Looking in a chrystal ball like Saruman? Seeing through the eyes of a crow like bran? Even a simple invisibility potion for a scout would be technically legal, as it is not used in combat directly.

Recruiting

With potions of stamina and regeneration it is much easier to recruit a soldier. The time of recruitment is limited by the capacities of a human beeing. If you can increase those capacities, you can shorten the process of training. Increasing the army size most always increases the chances of winning battles.

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It seems to me that the real threat in this world is the wizards themselves.

  • Wizards always act in unison (no rogue wizards)
  • Wizards are very good at detecting magic, to the point where kings and lawmen across the land rely on them to determine if the laws on using magic have been broken in the first place, and who's to blame if they were.
  • Wizards are also the only one who can CREATE magic.

Therefore, the wizards are really the ones in control here. They can use any magic they want - without restriction - to support whichever state they prefer.

They don't need to worry about getting caught because there are no whistleblowers ("rogue wizards") who will out them. Even if common folk suspect magic was involved, the wizards can send someone to "investigate" and either determine that no magic was used or pick a convenient scapegoat to blame for it.


How does a mundane general use this to his advantage? He does whatever he can to make sure the wizards support his state, when the time comes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes. It's true they are the most dangerous entity. But the council does not allow the younger and eager wizards to actually control anything or intervene in political matters. That's why the peace can be kept and things run smoothly. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 23 '20 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Seallussus Not sure what youth and eagerness has to do with it. There are plenty of old people who covet power, and when your order has an ironclad approach like these guys do, it's less realistic, in my view, to assume they'd be altruistic. $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Jun 24 '20 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Seallussus On second reading, it ocurs to me that you might be picturing a case where wizards are working against each other to serve the states they individually prefer. That's not what I meant. The wizards would work in unison, effectively a state unto themselves. They might swear fealty to a given king and serve in his court, but they really serve their own (united) interests above all, working to support the governments that they wish to see in power. $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Jun 24 '20 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ So we are basically having a discussion about how I should do two things: Change the lore of my world to fit a viewpoint here. Change individual wizards outlook on life to again comply with what you guys think is the "correct" answer. Now I won't mind arguments . But how is that related to my questions? It's like: A man wants to kill himself using poison, what type of fast poison can we use? With the answer being stuff like: He should not kill himself, life is great. It's a sin in the lords eyes to kill yourself. Why not build a car instead... Now are those that an answers? $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 24 '20 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ 2nd comment. Which is the complication I'm trying to avoid, for many in universe reasons. Because supporting an earthly government would bring back all the complexity of politics and personal views. The council wants to support lord X? But I disagree with his views. and I'm a wizard. So guess what happens? But if you still disagree with him yet he receives no help from wizards, you won't feel less loyal to the council and overall framework under which the wizardly world operates. So the whole idea is that the system is a work in progress. And I can critique any other as well. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 24 '20 at 18:34
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just simply use it in ways where a government can maintain any and all deniability. SO for example in this world, governments hire mercenaries to do questionable activities and to at the same time maintain deniability.

all generals would have do, is hire mercenary groups that use magic.

it's called, deniable assets.

and many mercenary groups will do even illegal activities if the price is good enough.

and in this world there'd no doubt be rogue wizards from other kingdoms and city states.

and many would have formed PMCs (Private military company) to do cloak and dagger business with generals who want a quick victory.

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  • $\begingroup$ 2 problems. No mercenary company would risk angering the wizards. They will be hunted down, they will be tortured, their money seized, and they will spill the beans about the the government. Then the ruling body of magic will demand all people involved, in the business and absurd fines. Otherwise it's all out war. Wizards hold immense powers. Even the strongest empire won't survive a simple boycott of potions. Just denying potions would collapse the economy of any state. Not to mention literal demons and hellfire and mountain shattering magic. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 22 '20 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Seallussus "No mercenary company would risk angering the wizards" I fail to see your reasoning for this; there are plenty of example in both history and modern times of groups attacking or taking on larger governments or organisations with extensive intelligence networks who will respond with violence. Just look at ISIS, Hong Kong, the IRA, or the Turkish Kurds. As you keep adding to the dictatorial monopolies and powers of these wizards in comments, the more likely it becomes that there will be rebellions and guerrilla warfare to exterminate them - fast-acting poison in their potions? $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jun 23 '20 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Seallussus It sounds to me as you are just trying to coax out the answer you envision and stamping down on all others. It's your world sure, but it starts to sound as a badly designed total theocracy, where the overlords are omnipotent, omniscient and only maybe lack immortality. If wizards are so powerful, then they probably rule. If the magic is so powerful, there is no need for resource wars. So everything becomes a sandbox for magical Deus ex machina. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Jun 23 '20 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal, Actually most of your examples are terrorist groups which is not the same. And the balance of power is worse. Mercs are not suicidal idiots. They want to get paid now but also in the future. With the after mentioned magical abilities of wizards you don't anger a single wizard, let alone the actual council of wizards. It just does not work like that. And tension exists. But that aspect would be too complex to hand here and not a part of the question to begin with. But I get your point. The system is not perfect and people work to maintain it. But it has to hold, for now. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 23 '20 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Seallussus I think part of the issue people are having is the repeated incremental restrictions and rules that you keep adding via comments. I suspect that had you posted this in Sandbox first (so that all the questions and queries could be pulled out there), and posted the question with all the rules already stated and in place, then people would seem a lot less argumentative... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jun 23 '20 at 18:23
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Plant Illegal Potions on your Enemies

There is a ruling council of Wizard Overlords that will -- provided you have the required documentation -- sell you a potion of +5 Ogre strength for use building bridges and ONLY building bridges. No warfare, got it?

If you chug the potion outside of the designated bridge building area a portal opens up and lava pours out and totally murderkills you and everyone in a 50 foot radius.

So buy the potion and dip all your arrows in the potion and shoot them into the other guys. These potions don't care how they get into your body, so every enemy soldier you hit gets the effects of a potion of +5 Ogre strength.

Unfortunately this activates the wizard misuse detection system, and so portals open up and bing bang boom we just won that battle lads. Good job.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not overlords. More of an insanely powerful organization that protects it's own and screw up anyone that misuses they magic. Want to raid the other country and eat the flesh of their children? Good luck with, don't abuse magic and we won't care. I don't see that working. Tracing is a thing, previous comments. Also you would have broken the rules using it in warfare yourself. So when a wizard finds out. The general and soldiers doing that will end up dead. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Jun 22 '20 at 23:23

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