The world ended in a conflagration of Chaos. The God-King Sigmar was cast into the void and, once rescued, gathered the remaining gods of Order to form his pantheon. Together they brought civilization to the new worlds of the Mortal Realms. However, Chaos is insidious and corrupted the people, then turned the gods against each other. Sigmar retreated to his throne in the realm of Azyr, bringing those who remained in the alliance, and the Mortal Realms fell to Chaos. Slowly the pantheon of Order marshaled their forces and, when ready, struck out at Chaos, reclaiming the lands past the Realmgates, building the Cities of Sigmar for the Free Peoples. Now the Soulbound – champions of the Free Peoples bound together magically – quest in the service of Order and their people, performing heroic and epic deeds.
Thus ended the world of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and was born the Age of Sigmar. Unlike the original game, with its late-medieval, pseudo-Renaissance faux Holy Roman Empire setting, Age of Sigmar takes place in a weird multi-dimensional fantasy setting, full of strange physics and themed realms of existence.
The setting is the Mortal Realms: eight dimensions of raw magical energy. All but one is held by Chaos and the Undead, meaning the armies of Order are engaged on numerous fronts, holding fast and striking out to reclaim the land from their enemies. Nagash, god of the dead, has added to the problems the Mortal Realms face by implementing his Necroquake, which has raised undead soldiers throughout the universe and caused upset in the magical aura.
The history of the universe is detailed well and explained clearly. I wondered if I might have trouble due to prior knowledge of the Warhammer Fantasy setting, but I think anyone coming to the game completely fresh should be able to take Soulbound entirely on its own merits. Some of the gods of the Soulbound setting were heroic units in the old game, but if you didn’t play it shouldn’t be weird and if you did play it’s a nice little development of the setting. There’s a full chapter dedicated to them, so you are given suitable detail to work with.
There’s a lengthy and detailed chapter on The Great Parch, the Realm of Aqshy (Fire). Considering there’s no previous frame of reference one has to understand life in the Mortal Realms, this is invaluable and also very interesting. You learn about the peoples and cultures, how they sustain themselves, and the unique geography. Plot seeds are scattered about the text and there are a number of conflicts to explore in this harsh world. The Great Parch is an excellent points-of-light setting and perfect for the core book. Presumably the others will be detailed over time. While not unique to Aqshy, I particularly like the section on religion that follows the Great Parch chapter, as it helps playersguide their characters in a world where they may walk side-by-side with gods.
So it is into a world of danger and war that the “Soulbound” enter. They are a resurrected order of champions mystically connected. They operate in a unit known as a “Binding”, whose members may be the best of friends or most grudging of allies. Nevertheless they are …bound… to each other’s mutual aid. This is an excellent way to organize the PCs, as again, the setting is different enough that GMs and players can use help to answer the question “why are we adventuring?”
Characters are built either completely freeform from a set pool of points, or mildly adjusted after choosing one of 23 Archetypes (that represent a wealth of unit options from the miniatures game.) Again, the designers were very considerate in providing the Archetypes to help communicate the flavor of the setting, but also mindful that you might want to define your own character. If creating freeform you choose a Species (Human, Duardin (dwarf), Aelf, Sylvaneth (tree spirit), or Stormcast Eternal. The latter are souls reforged by Sigmar into impressive fighting machines.
You assign points to your three Attributes (Body, Mind, Soul), Skills (learned abilities), and select any Talents you are entitled to (special abilities like spellcasting or various martial feats), then pick some gear and assign Goals – the fulfillment of which will gain you experience points to advance your character. Character creation is pretty short and sweet, open enough to allow many possibilities, and with plenty of examples and guidance to help fit the flavor of the setting. While building a character freeform I found the Archetypes additionally useful to indicate how many points I should spend in each area to keep my character on par with them.
The core mechanic is nice and straightforward. Tests are done by rliking a pool of six-sided dice equal to one of three Attributes (Body, Mind, Soul), plus your level in an applicable Skill, with the goal of equalling or exceeding a Difficulty Number on the actual dice and equalling or exceeding a number of required Successes (dice equal or higher than the Difficulty). So you’d roll Mind 3 + Arcana 1 for a pool of 4, to learn of an ancient empire. If the Difficulty is 5 any dice 5 or higher are a Success. If your character has Focus in the Skill you can apply those points to raise the result in an individual die by 1 per Focus spent. It’s a nice way to indicate deeper capability with a Skill that doesn’t create buckets of dice to roll. There’s a table included which is helpful to gauge relative difficulty of a task.
Because the Soulbound are awesome, they have extra advantages in Mettle (points spent for extra actions, dice, or used to fuel Talents), and Soulfire, which is a shared resource among the group allowing resource recovery, rerolls, even the ability to cheat death – however, the group needs to agree with a spend. If they don’t, that’s one of the ways they increase Doom, which is a Gamemaster resource representing the cosmic forces arrayed against the heroes.
I like “theatre of the mind” play, but also love when I can use a board and miniatures. Since there are so many gorgeous ones for Age of Sigmar I appreciate that the designers accommodate both styles of play. This is done with my favorite way of tracking movement in combat: Zones. These are abstract areas indicating the terrain over which a character can exert influence: the bridge, the west and east sides of the river, the trees to the east, the hill on the west, for example. Everything range and movement-related then is applied relevant to the Zones in the conflict.
Combat tests function similarly to normal tests, with the attacker and defender comparing strength on a small table to determine Difficulty. It’s not a complicated step (and the chart is reproduced on the character sheet), so I don’t see it slowing down combat at all. Combat looks to be suitably heroic, all the way to the end, so your Soulbound won’t be pushovers (hey, they are champions after all!) Regardless of the overall character concept, it seems most will be perfectly capable in a fight.
Magic in Warhammer has always been very flavorful. Soulbound maintains the danger of magical study – that one can go too far and be consumed by it, and incorpates the updates to the setting. Magic is born of the Mortal Realms, one Lore per Realm. Each is themed alongside the dimension which spawns it and requires a certain mentality to use. One of my favorite things is “Living Spells,” which are effects that didn’t end upon casting and now roam the Realms enacting their effects – sometimes growing so powerful as to cause cataclysmic crises.
There’s a good list of spells to choose from, both “Common” and Lore-specific. They act like regular Skill tests and I’m particularly pleased that spellcasters can support each other and cast together and that being in the same Realm as your Lore also boosts the effect. Failure is suitably disastrous, causing damage, reversed effects, and other results. You’re not stuck with only “official” spells too – there are spell creation rules that read clearly and concisely, allowing your imagination to run rampant. Creating a spell is something that occurs during downtime.
I love downtime rules and Soulbound does not disappoint – they’re brief, but cover a lot. Characters have plenty of options between adventures, including studying, crafting items, training, shopping, and as mentioned, learning or creating spells.
The GM section is incredibly useful. There’s a massive table helping give the odds on success rates for Skill Tests, session zero and expectations discussion, a lot of talk about tone (heroic, hopeful, tragic, doomed), and some great guidelines on structuring adventures and stories, with tips on creating a living world that grows alongside the PCs actions.
Age of Sigmar: Soulbound has jumped onto my full-length campaign list (it’s a long list.) The game blends of epic, heroic action with weird fantasy in a colorful and vibrant (if doomed) way. The Mortal Realms is a setting I look forward to exploring through every Realmgate and the world is a really fun remix of the classic Warhammer Fantasy setting.
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