Glorious news: yesterday my roleplaying group and I finished Shadows in the Mist, an adventure set within the Age of Sigmar RPG, Soulbound! As a group of 5 and playing almost every week, we started 1st December 2021 and finished 26th July 2022, averaging about 4 or 5 sessions per episode. (Psst: You can watch them all on my YouTube channel!)
This is a review of the adventure, but more importantly some ‘things I wish I knew before playing’ tips for those considering running the adventure from the start! Let’s dive in.
Enter the Mists
Overall I very much enjoyed my time with Soulbound, as well as running through the adventure. So much so that I would happily continue running the system and narrative (which will be possible with the upcoming ‘Blackened Earth‘ adventure). If I had to pick, I’d say I enjoyed Soulbound as a system more than the adventure itself, but for me and my group, Soulbound is as close to a perfect system as we’ve had. The adventure was fun and very well written, with the caveat that the theme and setting is specific and needed certain player buy-in (more on that later).
Shadows in the Mist is an episodic adventure where groups can take on the individual missions in isolation, or they can play them through as a campaign. I would say half the missions would work as a one-off dip into the world, but the value-add of continuing a narrative with recurring characters and enemies is well worth running the whole thing for. Some missions feel more stand-alone than others (Petrified Wood), whereas others seem to work best when the party has built up time and history in Anvilgard (Aqua Nurglis). The final episode is a straight-up war with everything coming back into play – think Avengers: End Game levels of emotional payoff if done right.
Tips for GM’ing the adventure
There’s only so many ways I can write ‘yes, I whole-heartedly recommend this’, so let’s move onto some tips for any prospective GMs out there; these are things I have learned the hard way, and may be relevant to you and your group, or not. Have a read and find out!
Discuss the theme of the adventure
The adventure begins with this text:
Shadows in the Mist takes inspiration from two main genres: noir investigations and pulp adventure stories. Anvilgard itself is a city of corruption and vice, a place so corrupt at every level that trust is almost impossible to gain. Anyone you meet could be a Blackscale Coil spy or assassin. Good people are framed for crimes they didn’t commit, and murders are a common occurrence that rarely end in justice.Soulbound – Shadows in the Mist – Page 5
‘Trust is impossible to gain’ is an interesting concept for a roleplaying game. What this translated to in my experience was 2 things: One, players who got slightly frustrated at not knowing who to trust, and what the ‘correct’ choices were when having to make them, and two, players who said ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, defaulting to video-game logic that whatever is in front of them must be the ‘correct’ path.
Now this is definitely a player problem, but once I started to reinforce the idea that both the Conclave and Coil were made up of both Good and Evil characters, and characters who are doing their best to survive or make their own way in such a city (really not that hard to imagine given the state of our own world’s politics), then the players began to see the factions as sides to be played, rather than the Good Bureaucracy and the Bad Criminals. As the book says, there are moments of hope and good in Anvilgard that are worth fighting for.
The party will get its fair share of Good vs Evil, with Skaven and Daemon enemies abound, but if your party contains some dyed-in-the-wool Lawful Good characters (Stormcast especially), then extra measures may be needed to get their buy-in to the missions, whether that’s an out-of-character briefing, a Lord-Castellant quest giver instead of the Conclave, or helping the players pick a more jaded and individual character (lean into the Noir tropes) rather than those who will run to the Black Nexus at the first sign of corruption. Consider even showcasing a Coil member doing an act of good, and being genuinely friendly with the party, to make them doubt their assumptions.
Hook them in
Beginning of adventures are usually kept very vague, typically to accommodate all types of groups: those who are starting with the adventure, those who are continuing on from something else, or groups that are picking it up for a one-shot or side adventure. The hooks in this adventure can be either a bit too vague, or quite specific, and I would work on what would really fit for your group.
I like the idea that they have been tasked to find out whether Anvilgard is worth saving, but the transition into doing the Conclave’s odd jobs for them was a bit wonky, and one player in particular kept coming back to the original brief as they tried to tie it into what they were doing, mission to mission.
I would suggest instead that the players are sent as a Binding – and therefore a body doing Sigmar’s work – to clean up Anvilgard’s corruption, to get close to the ruling factions, and get to the bottom of the whole mess. This would encourage the group to do two things: work closely with the Conclave and the Coil when possible, and investigate certain unusual happenings on their own steam. They will notice that the defoliant is a constant source of corruption, but by whom? There are those who want to control Anvilgard, as well as those who want to destroy it, but how far will certain factions go to see their goals complete? What price is worth paying?
Mystery is one of the hardest themes to play in TTRPGs for a good reason, but SitM has done a bang-up job with it and with some improvisation and tweaks you can get it to work for your group. Listen to what questions they have and what their instincts tell them to believe, to make sure you’re on the right track, then change tack accordingly.
An episodic structure gives you an excellent platform for playing with endeavours, as every 4th or 5th session will give the players a few in-game weeks to pursue their own goals! SitM comes with Anvilgard specific Endeavours which are great, and the Champions of Order book also provides some faction-specific ones as well. Endeavours are really a chance for the group to pause and reflect on what is happening in Anvilgard without the immediacy of a current mission, and take on personal projects and development.
But don’t let the above make you think its time to sit back and relax, GM! Use that time between missions to double-down on any relationships with NPCs or lasting consequences from previous episodes. If a character is repairing their armour, have them be visited or run into someone they know. Our Khainite Shadowstalker player was sought out by another Daughter of Khaine they’d met who worked for the Coil, because they were subtly aiming to gain their trust for Morathi’s invasion. The rest of the party had no interest in pit fighting or blood sacrificing, so this player started getting closer to the Coil without really noticing it. And at the end of the adventure? She picked a side – and it wasn’t the side of Sigmar. Just one example of the power of Endeavours!
This is not SitM specific, but is worth mentioning regardless: Pay attention to your party’s strengths and weaknesses. My players were a very strong combat party (2 stormcast, shadowstalker, stoneguard) who mostly levelled up their combat abilities throughout the game, but had glaring gaps in the skills: Crafting, Lore, Survival, Nature, that came into play often. Mostly this just provided a unique spin on their missions – in Crucible of Life, the party failed quite a few checks to get through the jungle and had to battle their way through most of the encounters, falling back on their main strength. This meant when combat encounters were supposed to be more deadly, I would up the difficulty for them. Soulbound combat goes very quickly, and most enemies will not see Round 2.
If your group are looking a bit like this, I would forewarn them, as the book does, that there are certain Skills they should probably check off as a group: Crafting, Stealth, Channeling, Survival, Leadership. I would also spread out damage types, to make sure you have melee, ranged, spells, and Rend, if you want to have balance.
Shadows in the Mist is an excellent adventure, and I recommend it as a first taste of Soulbound, or something to pick up if you don’t fancy a homebrew adventure! Just keep in mind the theme, stay on your toes and don’t be afraid to deviate from the book to suit your group. You’re there to have fun and so are they, but if you do drop too many elements of the game you will take away from the pay-offs at the end. And I will reiterate how fun it was to have that End Game moment as allies from the last 7 months of campaign joined the party at the end to save Anvilgard. On your left….
Let me know what you think of Shadows in the Mist if you’ve run it, or if you found these tips useful! You can pick it up yourself on Cubicle 7’s website, and if you want to watch any particular mission run, you can find those all on my YouTube channel.