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Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound Review – Roleplaying in The Mortal Realms

The worlds of Warhammer are rich with narrative and a finely crafted tapestry of lore and history, something that lends itself brilliantly to table top roleplaying games. We have had RPGs set in both The Old World and the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, but up until now we have not had any roleplaying games set in The Mortal Realms. That is about to change with Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound by Cubicle 7! We had been keeping a close eye on this game since first mention of it a couple of years ago, to more detailed info last year at the UK Games Expo where we spoke to producer Emmet Byrne about what to expect in the book,

It’s safe to say we were a little excited for this one to arrive, but the time has finally come for us explore The Mortal Realms in Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound!

 

The Mortal Realms

When the World-That-Was of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle universe fell to the forces of Chaos during The End Times, Sigmar the God King had managed to cling on to a final fragment of it’s essence in a bid to save it. Eventually this shard of the Old World became part of the firmament above The Mortal Realms, a gathering of various different realms enriched with the residual magic of the destruction of The Warhammer World.

Since the arrival of the second edition of the Age of Sigmar game alongside the fantastic Soul Wars starter box, we have seen the lore and background of this universe massively expanded. The Soulbound core book takes this information and grows it further, giving both the GM and the players a rich resource of knowledge from which to draw upon to craft their games.

I would recommend anyone into the universe of the Age of Sigmar to pick up this book, as it gives us lots of detailed information that fleshes out what life is like for the citizens of the Mortal Realms – from what people do for work, to the entertaining mirror-based  light shows put on by the people of Hysh or even what people eat and farming in the Mortal Realms! We had seen the world fleshed out in each Battletome that has been released by Games Workshop, but Soulbound really looks at what passes for “normal” life in the Realms, well as normal as life can be in a place inhabited with the various horrors of it!

The book offers a couple of pages investigating each of the Realms in turn, offering ideas to spark your imagination in order to set adventures in each of these locations. Each realm also has a boxout with example adventure hooks to help the GM come up with a thread to start your journey in the Mortal Realms. For example in Ghur we see the Sons of Behemat get a nod with an adventure hook revolving around trying to hire the services of a Mega-Gargant called Argol Brighfist in order to bring the fight against the forces of Chaos.

We also get a chapter covering one particular location in great detail – The Great Parch is the primary setting in the core rulebook, and the Soulbound book presents and absolutely brilliant section of the book going into this region in massive detail. I was blown away at how much information, history and detail that they managed to cram into bringing this part of Aqshy to life, and I really hope we see future supplements each looking at a different realm. This chapter really breathes life into the region and give you fuel in order to craft your adventure across this perilous environment. When if you are only interested in the lore rather than the game, I would recommend picking this up just to learn more about Aqshy and what life is like there.

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The Soulbound

The “Soulbound” of the title refer to a group of individuals “Bound” together by the Pantheon of Order in order to serve as guardians of the Mortal Realms. This ritual ties the fate of all those involved together and they are bound to each other member of the Binding until they die. While doming them to a fate of battling the horrors of the realms, the Binding does receive some benefits from this ordeal. Firstly, they can use the power of the Binding to give them abilities far and beyond a normal mortal. Secondly, the Soulbound will never age and wounds will knit back together and heal quicker than they did pre-binding. Finally, their souls are safe from Nagash as they are annihilated upon death, escaping a darker fate as a servant of the God of Death once they fall in service to Sigmar.

I love this concept, both as a way of explaining how the player characters are more powerful than average mortals and as a way of forcing the party to cooperate even if they perhaps have conflicting interests. It leaves a lot of potential open for the GM to explore what happens when a bound party tries to fight against the bindings and go their own way, as I imagine the side effects would be disastrous! It also gives us another nugget about the Gods of Order again cheating Nagash out of souls – for all his megalomanical insanity, Nagash kind of does have a point about Sigmar and his allies cheating the God of Death out of souls that should be headed to him.

Soulbound is all about the party, and does a great job of giving players a load of choice and options in crafting their characters while also keeping things simple and allowing them to hit the ground running. While full rules are included for creating a character from scratch. as people may be used to in systems such as Dungeons and Dragons, Soulbound takes something we have recently seen in Wrath & Glory by framing character construction around Archetypes.

These Archetypes are essentially customisable character builds that define your starting stats, skills and talents within the frame work of a certain race or class. With 23 different Archetypes over 7 different factions the game offers loads of different options in making your perfect character and as previously mentioned you are free to create your own Archetypes or characters from scratch too.

I really like the ease of having these frameworks with suggested skills and talents as a way of building a character that not only performs well in the game, but also fits from a narrative point of view. With the complexities of randomising stats and assigning points taken out of the picture, this leaves you the time to create the important aspect in what is essentially a collective storytelling game, the personalities and background of your character.

Each character has 3 attributes – Body, Mind and Soul. These attributes determine the number of dice in your pool when doing tests. While it may seem strange to players of other roleplaying games, this makes for a much slicker game as essentially all skills boil down to 3 things, how strong you are, how smart you are and what your spirit is. With this there’s no pondering over which skill uses which attribute as they will all fit neatly into one of these 3.

Skills likewise are streamlined with each one having 3 tiers of training (Each one adding an additional dice to the pool) and 3 tiers of focus (Each one giving you the ability to add +1 to a dice roll) – The balancing act is making sure you have a good mixture of each in order to make your character effective – Do you put everything into training and attribute points in order to gain a larger dice pool, or do you work on focus so that even though you have a smaller pool you are getting bonuses to what you roll?

Talents represent the cool abilities or features that your character has such as being able to fire a gun in each hand or having a loyal Gryph Hound accompanying you to adventure! Again, these cost XP in order to learn, so make sure to balance what you are picking up!

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Roleplaying in the Age of Sigmar

The core mechanic in the game revolve around tests based on the difficulty and complexity of what you are trying to do. This results in a Difficulty Number or a “DN” – this is a representation of how easy it is to pull off the task. The DN will indicate what number you are looking for as a success and how many successes you need in order to do it. For example a test might have a Difficulty Number of 3:2 – in that case you would gather together your dice pool based on your attribute and any associated skills then roll all those dice. The 3 here represents what number you are looking for on the dice, and the second number is the number of successes you need to pass the test. For example if you have 4 dice in your pool and roll 1, 1, 3, 5 then you have passed the test with 2 successes! Tests may require higher numbers or more successes to pass the more difficult they get.

This core rule also applies to combat, but in another brilliant move, rather than having a mass of stats on combatants each character and monster has their Melee, Ranged and Defence broken down on a scale of how effective they are from “Poor” through to “Extraordinary” –  you then compare the effectiveness in order to determine the DN needed in the fight. For example a lowly Grot might have a defence rating of “Poor” against your Melee rating of “Good” this would mean that your target DN is only 2 due to the fact that you 2 more more steps higher than them on the the ladder, so you are looking for results on 2+ on your dice roll. You then count how many successes you get, subtract their armour and cause the remaining points as damage.  This system makes combat really quick and flow well without having to make a lot of calculations each time. As every combat stat is broken down into these abstract ratings it is really easy to determine how effective a fight is going to be and your chances of surviving it!

The Core Book has a wealth of information on Spells, Miracles, Endeavours to explore mid adventure and a chapter full of info on running a game as GM. Sadly the core book does not have an example into adventure, however the GM Screen that is also up for pre order at the moment has a collection of 25 adventures, so will be well worth picking up! I imagine we will see some adventures for download over on the Cubicle 7 website and no doubt stand alone adventures will be in the works to be released as books in the furure.

It’s worth pointing out here that the core book also hints that we will be getting a future book looking at some non-standard character types such as greenskins and Skaven! Looking forward to seeing this whenever it drops!

 

A Long Awaited Book

Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound is everything I could have wanted from a roleplaying game set in the Mortal Realms. Not only is it a sleek and well crafted game engine that cuts a lot of the fat from older RPG systems while still keeping the challenge, skill and excitement of questing and adventuring with your party, it also greatly expands upon the lore and world building of the Age of Sigmar universe and acts as a must have sister book to the Age of Sigmar Rulebook from Games Workshop. Even if you have never played a roleplaying game I would highly recommend picking up this book for the additional info within that further builds what we know about the Mortal Realms.

If you do play roleplaying games then you absolutely need to play through this system and begin your adventure across The Great Parch, the team at Cubicle 7 have put together a brilliant system that perfectly captures the feeling of the established narrative while also offering a rich toolbox in order to craft these games.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound is currently available to order now from Cubicle 7 with an expected physical copy release window of Q4 2020. All rulebook orders include a full copy of the PDF which you can download right away in order to start playing the game!

Thanks to Cubicle 7 for providing us with a copy of the book for review purposes.

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