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Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound Review

None of the Warhammer games have ever bothered with much in the way of subtlety and Age of Sigmar - Soulbound follows this fine tradition with a fiery enthusiasm. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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It’s a game that revels in having powerful characters performing mighty deeds, all set against a backdrop of crazy magical environments that make a typical D&D world feel like a slice of gritty medievalist simulation. The heroes aren’t even thrown together by friendship or even convenience, but by raw divine intervention that marks them as special right from the moment the ink dries on their character sheets.

From that point on they’re bound together by destiny, fated to explore Age of Sigmar’s madcap cosmology and battle the forces of chaos, death and destruction. One week they might be tasked with destroying a powerful demon who has seized a levitating fortress, the next they might head into the sewers to battle gun-wielding ratmen.

And while this divinely-inspired set-up may seem a little cliched, maybe even a little silly to some, there’s no denying that flexing your dice and indulging in some old-fashioned power fantasies can be hellishly entertaining. This is especially true when the fantasies in question are supported by a well-built set of rules that play smooth as elven silk. Mostly, anyway.

The rules in question are built around a core dice-pool mechanic that’s superficially similar to the ones that power Shadowrun and Tales From the Loop. This means that when a character runs into trouble or is faced with some obstacle that demands a test, they grab a number of d6s determined by their stats and skills and try to roll as many successes as possible.

However, where most other RPGs tend to keep either the number you need to generate a success or the amount you need to pass a check relatively static, Soulbound leaves both variables to the GM’s discretion. The idea is that challenging but comparatively straightforward tests, like tricking some suspicious guards with a quick lie, might require high rolls but only one or two successes. An easier but rather more complex task, such as trying to spread that same lie through an entire settlement, might have a lower target number but require several successes if it’s to work effectively.

It’s a rather clever little system that flows easily in most situations, especially in its streamlined combat encounters. However, there are a few fringe cases where it behaves a little weirdly.

For one thing, most characters will have only one or two dice in their pool for the skills they haven’t explicitly focused on, often making more complex rolls virtually - or entirely - impossible. On the other end of the scale, characters who do excel in certain areas can soon find that they stroll through all but the hardest of low-complexity tasks. Even a brand new Battlemage can very easily stack things so they have less than a one-in-ten chance of failing a “very hard” arcana check.

Honestly, though, this quirk doesn’t feel too out-of-character for a game where the heroes are so pointedly talented. In many ways it makes sense that a bulky Fyreslayer can haul himself up a cliff with little apparent effort, or that the Wych assassin can casually slip her way by a pair of sleepy bandits with such skill that only the worst of bad luck might cause her to fail. They are, after all, powerful heroes.

And just to be clear, unless you take the time to fiddle with character creation you are going to be playing as powerful heroes. If you head into Soulbound in the hopes of finding something even remotely similar to the long-running Warhammer Fantasy RPG series, where you had a fair chance of running a game where the most martially-inclined member of the party was the rat-catcher, you’re likely to be disappointed.

For those who like their Warhammer experiences dirty and bloody this might be a mark against Soulbound. However, if you approach it from the perspective of an over-the-top exploration of high-fantasy nonsense it has the opportunity to be hellishly good fun.

If you get to the end of a session and haven’t done at least one thing totally badass, you’re probably playing it wrong. Really, that might be all we need to say about it.
 
Richard Jansen-Parkes

Comments

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
I like the sound of this, I don't think I could run a campaign in it, but for the occasional one off it sounds good.

Are the classes powers on a suitably epic scale too?
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
This is mostly a classless game. You have a starting pool of XP to spend on attributes and skills and the example Archetypes are only frameworks that suggest how you can spend those points. And this isn't a situation where there are build points with different values than advancement points, it is all XP.

So far the abilities seem solid. The scope of the game isn't exactly epic as is normally used in gaming. As much as reading the book feels like Warhammer and Exalted put in a blender, the Soulbound characters aren't demigods.

They are capable, durable as hell, and dangerous, but not immortal and they don't wield powers out of scale of their fellow mortals. Death is not the primary threat, but mission failure is.

There are minion rules, so PCs can wade through a horde of chittering Skaven if necessary.

There is a divide between Toughness as hit points that come and go with remarkable speed, but Wounds that stay around to worry the characters. It gives the game a solid Die Hard level of endurance, but still leaves a battered party in danger.

Divine and Arcane magic actually work differently and either of them have healing options that can just keep Toughness replenished after every fight. Wounds don't heal easily or cheaply, though.

Miracles just work, no fuss. You spend a replenishing resource called Mettle to fuel them and there is no roll or risk, but the powers have very set effects. There are common miracles, but also deity specific miracles, so you can have a whole God Squad of priests that all do genuinely different things.

Spells you have to roll for and there is a price for failure, but they also work better the better your roll is and you get more flexibility than Miracles. Again, there are common spells and Lore specific spells so a whole party of mages can all feel very different too.

Mundane skills are very broad in scope, but Talents seem to actually specialize a character instead of being feat taxes to make somebody competent at a basic task. A sneaky fighter, a dual wielder, a two handed specialist, and somebody focused in a one handed weapon and a shield can all be rolling the same dice with the same target number but also all feel different.

For that matter, it is easy to build a party where all the people have the same pool of Weapon Skill dice, warriors and mages and priests alike, but they all work a bit differently swinging the stabby things around.

People who want to Focus on a certain skill can also buy the ability to alter the dice up to three times, turning a three into a six or three fours into three fives.

So dedicated warriors can still be hitting more often than other characters even if they are chucking the same number of cubes. It might sound fiddly when I say it, but it reads rather elegantly.

One thing I really like is that your Accuracy ( the stat that determines your target number for shooting ) is based on Mind and Ballistic Skill while the actual dice pool for shooting things is based on Body and Ballistic Skill.

It is probably easiest for a gunslinger to have both Body and Mind equal, but I do like that somebody with a keen eye and a mind that can work trajectories quickly will be a better shot than just somebody who can spin a pistol about all fancy.
 
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Stone Dog

Explorer
As a more specific example, somebody with Mind 1 and Ballistic Skill 3 has an Average Accuracy. Against somebody with an Average Defense they need to roll 4+.

Somebody with a Mind 3 and a Ballistic Skill 3 has a Good Accuracy and against somebody with an Average Defense they need to roll a 3+.

The Ladder of description is easily transferred to numbers though and the comparisons are only equal to each other, better or worse by one, and better or worse by two.
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
Doomseekers (Slayers) sound REALLY fun too. Their core Talent is the Doom Oath. When a Doomseeker is at zero toughness, their damage is doubled.

Walking around at zero toughness means they will be making Death Tests pretty often and anything that is better vs a Wounded target is going to be on them faster, but it still sounds like great fun for a high risk, high reward type player.
 

I'm reading the novel "Soul Wars" the tie-in for the latest edition of WH: Age of Sigmar... and it fantastic! This makes me want to try this game out a lot more.
 

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