Welcome back to my series which currently only has one entry, Things to Steal From! This is where I go through an RPG system and pick out mechanics that I find interesting and perhaps get those homebrew thoughts going. Some of these are probably difficult to splice into another system, but the essence of them could give you ideas. Or just play the system! This time, its the Age of Sigmar RPG by Cubicle 7…Age of Sigmar: Soulbound.
To Be Soulbound
The title of the system is more than just a cool name – it’s the glue that holds the party together, and drives the narrative and the theme of your games. In your Soulbound campaign, every party goes through a ‘binding’ ritual, committing them to each other, to the pantheon of Good Guy gods, and to the goal of protecting the Mortal Realms. This can happen before the game starts, or you can play it out.
Being Soulbound is an honour to some, and a sentence for others, but it locks in your character to your task, until you or the rest of the party dies. This means that whatever your character’s personality or background, they are committed to the quest at hand. No more ‘I go the other way’, or ‘Nah I don’t wanna do that quest’. Players must build their characters origins around how they became Soulbound, and their attitude to it. Some see it as a great honour, like the Stormcast Eternals (they don’t even go through the binding because their existence is basically that anyway), and pride themselves on being chosen. Others see it as a way out of their current predicament or situation. And some will be sent to Sigmar’s call because it’s a veritable death sentence.
I really like this as a GM because of how it forces the players to think, and gets them in the critical TTRPG head-space where they must cooperate as a team to complete the quests, but they still have some space to have personal disagreements and that fun tension.
This is something I’ve experienced in C7’s adopted child Wrath and Glory, and previous 40k game systems: instead of unlocking set abilities as you level up, you can buy Talents with your earned XP. The Talents are great – they’re a few sentences each but are a tiny explosion of character development and personality. They can vary from simple buffs like ‘Crushing Blow’ that allow bludgeoning weapons the chance to smack enemies onto their backs, to ‘Intimidating Manner’, that gives you a bonus to all persuasive Opposed Tests.
Already, taking either of these traits is a big building block to creating an interesting and cool character. If your character is swinging a large hammer around, laying into foes, they can hit so hard they knock them back; and if you want them to be a scary, intimidating character in conversation, take the talent which gives you blanket bonuses. It allows you to do at least one cool thing from the get-go – something that all players of role-playing games want. And you don’t have to, say, wait until an arbitrary level. You want that sick bonus? You take that sick bonus!
Taking Damage and Healing
“You’ve just been ran through by a rusty cutlass, you’re dying! Oh, okay, you’ve had a good night’s sleep and you’re back to normal. Makes sense.”
This is one thing that really gets me about D&D, and it teaches the players that going to 0 health is…normal? Narrative-wise, this is terrible! In Soulbound it’s much less video-game-y: Each character has Toughness and Wounds. Characters take damage (reduced by their Armour) and remove their Toughness points. Toughness can be recovered by taking short rests that last less than an hour. This is your character taking blows, expending energy, getting bruised and tired out. If your Toughness runs to 0, you start taking Wounds.
As your ability to stop weapons reaching your body wanes, you start to take cuts, real hits and major wounds, and the more damage you take, the more deadly the wound. When you take a Long Rest, you restore only one wound on your Wound Tracker. Downtime is a much longer time period passing and so all your Wounds can heal.
See how much more realistic that is? Being wounded should be a big deal, because healing stab wounds shouldn’t take one day. Characters will try their best to keep all damage on their Toughness, and the best fighters will be able to take lots of action before suffering Wounds. Likewise if a less tough character gets hit, the damage will be more severe.
This is something that I believe took some inspiration from the Warhammer tabletop game, i.e. comparing your stat with the enemy stat on a ladder to work out what result is needed quickly and without any maths. In Soulbound your ability to hit something has a rating (Good, Average, Poor), and you can compare it to the opponent’s ability to block something. The amount of steps you are higher or lower, gives you the difficulty of hitting them. Easy!
This also opens up some cool design space for abilities and Talents, where things like ‘Bulwark’ give you an increase of one step up the ladder for your Defense if you are surrounded by two or more enemies, or ‘Underhanded’ that gives you an increase in melee for the same situation, as your character fights better at a disadvantage. The players should also enjoy the clarity and simplicity of this mechanic instead of ‘D20+ability modifier+proficiency modifier’ to beat an unknown AC.
I’ve seen this in other RPGs too and I’m a fan, particularly if your playing without a grid or props, which I tend to do when playing in person. You split the battlefield into Zones. Either side of a bridge are two Zones, for example, and the river in the middle is a third, and perhaps the ruins and treeline on the far side are two more. Each Zone is an area the players and other characters can occupy, and moving to an adjacent Zone costs your Move. However moving around your own Zone is free, so even if its 15-30ft across, you can either keep some distance or move in to strike without having to think in 5ft increments.
And it’s not just good for keeping track of the battle either, splitting the battlefield in Zones allows you to give each area its own feeling and theme. The ruins could give Partial or Total Cover, giving characters one or two steps higher Defence as they hide behind the old stonework, popping out to take shots at each other or into other Zones. One side of the bridge may have a barricade of wagons, which gives Cover but can also be set alight, turning the Zone into a Hazard where characters take damage. Perhaps the enemy is so big, that it occupies an entire Zone!
Bonus: Training and Focus
There’s loads of more mechanics I’d like to mention, but I’ll end on the simple way you rate your skills. You can have points in Training and in Focus per skill. Training points gives you extra d6s to add to your pool, whereas Focus lets you upgrade your results. Narratively, this is your character spending time learning a skill, and the Focus is there to show that this is really what the character does well, and is naturally gifted at. It’s nice having that three-dimensional way of showing your character is good at something rather than a flat bonus to roll. It will also reward characters that want to specialise in a handful of skills instead of taking a jack-of-all-trades approach.
And that’s it, and now I want to play Soulbound. Let me know what you think of the mechanics and how you’d rate them vs something like D&D.