Monday, 11 October 2021

Guessing What Soulbound is About: Or, Is This Just Lanthanum Chromate?

There is an RPG for Age of Sigmar, called Soulbound, and it has a starter set. £22.99 seems like a lot to pay for something I will almost certainly never play (I shudder to imagine what the actual 'full' version costs). But it has previews. Let us peer into them, like witches around a scrying pool.

The Cover

Curiously stagey-looking and inert, lacking in dynamism for all the harum-scarum depicted, this is fantasy art in its least appealing guise - a poor pastiche of the D&D 5th edition cover art (which is itself also curiously stagey-looking and inert, and lacking in dynamism for all the harum-scarum depicted). Thematically, though, it is interesting: crusaders entering hell to smite demons - a touch of "A Paladin in Hell", even? - I am still just about in touch enough with my 12 year old self to understand the appeal.

The Character Sheet

What this reminds me of, somewhat unexpectedly, is the oWoD character sheet, and it implies (to my eye, at least), something to do with dice pools. Perhaps the most salient point to note is that this is fairly bog standard stuff; Soulbound is not going to revolutionise RPGs as we know them. It's also, let's be honest, pretty uninspiring - choosing from a small set of circumscribed "goals", "connections" and "secrets" for one's PC is profoundly boring, but that ship just seems to have sailed at this point; it appears to be absolutely standard for RPG rulebooks to adopt that kind of approach. The OSR has affected the mainstream not a jot.

Introductory Adventure

Much to lament here. Read-aloud text. Sharing of character portraits. Strict sequencing of events. Having the players repetitively roll dice to see if their characters know things. Have we fought and died in vain?'s definitely dice pools.

One-Page Adventures

There is much to lament here, too - not a railroad exactly, but close. With all that said, a large bunch of one-page adventures, serving as springboards/examples, is probably much more useful in a starter set than a Great Big Fucking Campaign, and what's here is at least relatively light-touch in terms of stats and infodump.

What intrigues me most about what is implied here, taken together with the previous screenshot. The setting for the starter set is Brightspear, a city recently reclaimed from the forces of Tzeentch, and teetering presumably on the brink of reconquest at any time. It also seems as though there is a 'Doom' mechanic - perhaps a kind of ticking clock - which results in the gradual accumulation of 'Doom' points, which at 5, or 10, or whatever, trigger an apocalypse or invasion or something of that kind.

That theme - a city permanently besieged by unrelentingly hostile enemies, and facing an ultimate and inevitable doom that can only be staved off but never defeated - pushes all the right Viriconium/Utolso Varos /Byzantium/Principality of Theodoro buttons, and in itself tempts me. But it also raises the question: have the Age of Sigmar guys been reading Lanthanum Chromate at all? Because if Soulbound seeks to adopt a tone, a city which is nightly confronted with invasions instigated by the King of Hell, but which is protected by crazy and eccentric guardians who throw back the forces of evil by dawn each day, does feel like it might be taken from the same broad palette.

In any event - what is wrong with me? - I do feel half-tempted to get this, if as nothing else a palate-cleanser after an awful lot of D&D megadungeon meatgrinding. Can I get behind a game in which the PCs are all mighty heroes charged with smiting chaos in the unholy hybrid Planescape-meets-Warhammer that is Age of Sigmar? No, but 12 year old me can, and he's still down there somewhere.


  1. On a somewhat kindred note, Green Ronin has a setting book called the Last Citadel: smallish by the book FRPG world chugs along, until suddenly magic drains away and the dead begin to rise. It’s built on 5e with some revisionist, but i found it quite good…..

    1. Interesting. As a rule I much prefer Demonic apocalypse to Zombie versions, but will take a look.

  2. I also found the concept here a lot more appealing than the game's mechanics (but Age of Sigmar started out as this ... meh ... thing, so a lot of the appeal was in the initial surprise that the setting has developed into something much more articulate, that deliberately moves in different directions from a lot of Warhammer stuff.

    At any rate: I had not been aware of Lanthanum Chromate until now. What an amazing idea; probably the most evocative 'Brighthammer' candidate I've read. Yeah, this Soulbound stuff might make an interesting pairing with that, just in terms of riffing for inspirational ideas for some other, 3rd campaign setting.

    1. I was predisposed to hate Age of Sigmar but I actually quite like the elements of it I've seen so far.

  3. You're looking at previews of a starter set, which is itself just a snapshot of the full game. Soulbound isn't my cup of tea (nor did I care for the excessively gonzo Lanthanum Chromate stuff), but it's certainly not a knockoff of the City With A Name Now and doesn't restrict itself to the fairly narrow gameplay style suggested by that micro-setting. From what little I've seen of the published adventures your party will out in the broader world most of the time, not squatting at Brightspear trying to keep the city from catching fire and falling over into a swamp. Whether that's a good thing or not is subjective and probably depends mostly on how much you like extremely high-magic fantasy superhero gaming.

    And what's your beef with dice pool systems? They're just another style of game engine, no better or worse than most OSR offerings and certainly familiar to younger folks who grew up with (say) Shadowrun or WoD. I can understand grousing about half a page of read-aloud text, mechanical straightjacketing of PC personalities, and an intro scenario that's stuck on a railroad schedule, but dice pools? That's on par with complaining about a game using more than one type of dice instead of sticking to six-siders.

    1. I wasn't grousing about dice pools. I quite like them. My only comment about that was that it was pretty bog-standard RPG fare.