I was already long retired from my days of pushing little painted fantasy army men when I’d heard of Age of Sigmar, the remix of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles setting where Grimdark gave way to something new. I remember there was a lot of opinions about it, both good and bad, but I was so far removed from the hobby that I didn’t pay much attention to it.
It wasn’t until the fine folk over at Cubicle 7 announced that they were making a roleplaying game for it that I finally decided to check it out. It took a bit of saving up (as the pandemic really put a major dent on any hobby spending last year) but I was lucky enough to get a copy of the corebook on PDF to read (and review!)
Warhammer Age of Sigmar Roleplay: Soulbound has your player characters take on the titular role of the Soulbound, a special group of heroes who have been subjected to an ancient ritual created by the Pantheon of Order.
The Soulbound have their essences bound to each other creating a powerful tether that protects them and empowers them. These offer a host of advantages, such increased power over most mortals, no longer aging and having your soul be protected from Nagash, the God of Death. The game assumes that the player characters are part of a single group of Soulbound known as a Binding. Of particular interest would be that while a Stormcast Eternal might be part of the group, they’re not allowed to be Soulbound, given that they were forged, not born.
To be Soulbound is also to be tasked with fighting off the myriad threats to the mortal realms, from swarms of the Undead, the vile forces of Chaos, or even the destructive Greenskin Hordes.
Character creation in Soulbound is fairly straightforward, and defaults to picking an Archetype (and associated Species), determining starting Attributes, picking out Skill Training and Focuses, determining a character’s Talents, and finally their Equipment.
This is all laid out pretty well and the book offers a robust number of character options, with 23 different Archetypes ranging from the Stormcast Eternals to the Fyreslayers. Fans of the Greenskins and the Seraphon will have to wait for a future supplement, however.
There is also an option for a freeform character creation in a sidebar which can come in useful if the player wishes to have a much more customized character.
Soulbound is what I’d describe as a rules-medium game, akin to say Savage Worlds, or the Chronicles of Darkness. It’s easy enough to pick up, while having a good amount of tasty mechanical options to choose from as a player to make your character feel unique and interesting.
The core mechanic is a dicepool of six-sided dice, determined by your Attribute + Training of the relevant skill to a test. So, for example, a character with an Attribute of 3 and 1 level of Training in a skill would be rolling 4 dice.
This is rolled against a Difficulty that runs along 2 axes: Difficulty and Complexity. Difficulty is the face value of a die needs to roll to count as a Success, and Complexity is the number of Successes needed to pass the test. An average difficulty, for example would be 4:1, meaning you’d need to roll a 4 or higher on the dice, and have at least 1 die roll a success to pass. (People familiar with the oWoD system will feel very comfortable with this.)
But that’s not all, the system also accounts for a Skill Focus. Levels in Focus are spent on relevant skill rolls to provide a +1 bonus per level on a Skill Test. This applies to every test, so it’s a bit of a safety to “nudge” your face value higher and score a Success when you would otherwise have failed.
Mettle, soulfire and doom
Being Soulbound, the player characters also draw upon a resource called Mettle. Mettle is spent to achieve a host of effects, such as taking an extra action, powering a Miracle or doubling your Training or Focus in a skill. Mettle is recovered once per Turn, which will make it the workhorse of any combat encounter as far as the Soulbound are concerned.
Soulfire on the other hand is a more precious and powerful resource available to the Soulbound. Unlike Mettle, however, Soulfire is a shared resource among the players, and it’s use has to be sanctioned by the entire Binding as it represents the power of their union. Soulfire can be spent to Maximize Successes, Reroll a Test, Regain Mettle, Recover Toughness and Cheat Death.
As expected of a powerful resource, Soulfire doesn’t recover as quickly as Mettle does. Instead, the Binding gains Soulfire whenever they achieve milestones relevant to their goals.
Doom on the other hand is a resource for the GM and represents the malign forces and threats to the Mortal Realms. This starts at 1, and increased only in specific instances, such as when a party member dies or a Soulbound spends Soulfire without the consent of his Binding.
Doom isn’t spent like Soulfire either, but is instead a constant that influences a myriad of things from the local color (the realms becomes bleaker and more cruel with increasing Doom) and even mechanics relating to the opponents, which may gain more armor, more attacks or unlock abilities!
Combat rules for Soulbound are pretty crunchy, but should be no concern for those used to systems like Modiphius’ 2d20 iterations for Conan and Infinity.
Initiative is a set value rather than being rolled, with PCs getting priority on ties vs NPCs. On their Turn, player characters may Move and take an Action. Distances are measured in abstract Zones, which is a handy way to keep track of distances without having to count squares and hexes.
When in combat, the Difficulty of hitting a target is determined by comparing the attacker’s Melee or Accuracy vs the defender’s Defense score. Evenly matched scores have a Difficulty Number of 4, with that number going up or down depending on how much the Attacker or Defender outmatches their opponent
Damage is determined by the attacker’s weapon plus Successes scored in the attack roll, which is then reduced by the defender’s Armor. Any damage that gets through is applied to the defender’s Toughness. Once a character is reduced to 0 Toughness, any damage is then applied as Wounds. Running out of Wounds means you’re Mortally Wounded and start Dying.
Setting and Lore
For those like me who are new to the setting of Age of Sigmar, Soulbound has over 100 pages dedicated to the setting, going into surprising detail over the Mortal Realms, various factions, the Gods and Religions, the Geography of The Great Parch, and the various Lores of Magic and spells.
It’s a massive chunk of the book and will likely answer most of your questions and arm even the most novice of GMs with the kind of information to make them comfortable to run in the Age of Sigmar.
Magic is given a thorough treatment as well, with mechanics on spellcasting, as well as a list of 10 spells for each of the 11 different Lores of Magic made available for the corebook. Spellcasting characters won’t feel like they’re starved for choices. In addition, there are even rules for creating your own spells, which will certainly be popular for those who prefer custom effects.
GMing and Bestiary
Soulbound knows it’s a core rulebook and it shows. The GMing section is thorough and full of useful information on how to run a good game, in addition to advice on how to run a game that *feels* like it belongs in the Age of Sigmar.
Throw in a few optional mechanics in a GM’s toolkit that can help change the game in interesting ways and you’ve got a fully stocked chapter of helpful advice that will give any GM the confidence they need to run it.
Of course, the GM is also provided with a hefty Bestiary. There is little doubt that the Mortal Realms are dangerous and beset with so many different threats, and the Soulbound rulebook does an outstanding job with this. Unlike some core books that offer about a dozen creatures, Soulbound has a massive selection of threats, and perhaps more useful: notes on how to use them in your game.
Art and Layout
Soulbound is a very pretty book. From outstanding artwork to clean layouts and readable tables and sidebars, my 40-year old eyes are grateful for a product that is a joy to read and browse through even on pdf.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar Roleplay: Soulbound is a stellar product that gives me great hope for the Soulbound RPG line. Cubicle 7 has done a great job in bringing the setting to an RPG format, and in a manner that feels heroic, while keeping the desperate tone of the setting.
The rules are quite a bit for new GMs, but they draw inspiration from sources that are familiar to those who are used to systems like 2d20 and the World of Darkness and should be an easy transition to those who’ve played or run such games. Even the Doom mechanic feels like a similar element from Deadlands.
That said, a game is more than just it’s mechanics, and Soulbound offers a unique fantasy setting to explore that isn’t about just dungeon delving. And with so much more of the setting to explore past those options in the core book, Cubicle 7 has a lot more surprises in store.
If you’re interested in near-mythic heroes fighting against the tide of darkness, but without the tired tropes of D&D and the anime-inpired trappings of Exalted, then Age of Sigmar might just be up your alley.
Personally, it’s a purchase I do not regret at all, and I have a good feeling that Age of Sigmar will be one of the games I’ll be offering up for my home games very soon.