AoS: Soulbound – Encounter Design
Have you read these informative blog posts on Encounter Design by C7 line developer Elaine Lithgow? If you missed them, catch up on both parts below!
ENCOUNTER DESIGN EXPERIMENTS
Greetings once more, mortals and monsters! I’m Elaine, one of the staff writers at Cubicle 7. I am here to talk to you all once more about the dark arts of crafting encounters for Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Soulbound.
In my previous article, I painted some broad strokes about the themes and tone of Soulbound adventures and how you can make them feel uniquely Soulbound.
But with this article I wanted to give you all a special treat, or three treats to be more precise! Below are two separate combat encounters made specifically to show some of the versatility of the Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Soulbound system. In part 2 we’ll have the third (and biggest!) encounter.
We have also crammed these adventures with design notes and tips that really dive into the nitty-gritty details of how encounters are designed. This should give all you GMs out there a Gargant-sized helping of tips and tricks to help you design your own.
So grab your best smithing tools and let’s dive right in.
Blood in the Glass Canyon
(Design Note: Blood in the Glass Canyon was designed as a short-but-fun ambush encounter that can be thrown into almost any journey through the metallic wastelands of Chamon. It also doubles as a nice beginner encounter, as it teaches players about different kinds of hazardous terrain and enemy synergy.)
Read aloud to the players:
‘As the cart rumbles and crunches across the sharp blades of metallic grass, an ethereal shriek echoes off the canyon walls. Before your eyes, ghostly apparitions claw their way through the chromatic ground. With a crash, one of the wheels on the cart shatters under the blow of a rising spectre. The cart lurches to a halt and tips sideways. The dead have risen, and they seek blood.’
The ambush takes place in a narrow canyon overgrown with waist-high blades of razor sharp metallic grass, swaying in an unnatural breeze.
The grass covers the canyon floor in all Zones, and is a Major Hazard (Soulbound, page 138). There are three raised pillars of flattened metal which can offer a small respite and clear area to fight. One to the north, south, and southwest. Each raised pillar is its own small Zone that requires a DN 4:1 Body (Athletics) Test to climb onto. Flying characters, of course, can just fly right onto them.
(Design Note: Unless stated otherwise, Environmental Hazards do not ignore Armour! That means a character with heavy armour can walk through a Major Hazard like it’s nothing! This creates a very cool moment for them to shine. Always try to offer up opportunities to make your players feel like the heroes of the story.)
At the beginning of combat, any characters that are on the cart must make a DN 4:1 Body (Reflexes) Test or be hurled from the cart and into the grass. In addition, half of the cargo in the cart scatters across the grass, potentially damaging any fragile goods.
(Design Note: By damaging the cart and endangering civilians or cargo, we are forcing the party to stand their ground against the spirits, giving them a clear goal to rally around.)
There is one Chainrasp Dreadwarden (Soulbound, page 330) for every two members of the party. In addition, there are two Chainrasps for every member of the party (Soulbound, page 330).
(Design Note: Most of the time when designing encounters we build in scaling based on the number of members in the party, but this isn’t a fool-proof method of ensuring a challenging fight! Soulbound Producer Emmet Byrne made a great video about calculating enemy difficulty for your specific party, which you can find here.)
The Dreadwardens keep their distance — taunting the party with ethereal whispers — as the Chainrasps rush forward under the protection of the Dreadwarden’s Forlorn Light Trait.
The undead do not stop attacking until they have all been defeated, or have murdered all the living.
(Design Note: Try to figure out at least one interesting tactic or ability synergy that the enemies can use prior to running the encounter. This makes your encounters feel much more dynamic and offers important player choices during combat, as they try to figure out how to counter the enemy strategy.)
Once the undead have been defeated, the cart must be repaired with a DN 4:8 Mind (Crafting)Extended Test before it can be used again. One Test can be made each hour until the cart is repaired. If more than three hours pass and the cart has not been repaired, the party is attacked once more by two Chainrasps for every member of the party (Soulbound, page 330).
(Summary Now that we have the basics down, let’s move onto something more… deadly!)
Frost in the Deep
(Design Note: Frost in the Deep was designed to provide an example of how to take a creature from the bestiary and tweak it to create a unique and atmospheric monster hunt. In this adventure, we are descending into a Duardin crypt to eliminate a risen Magmadroth. Once the noble mount of a Duardin warrior laid to rest with its master, the Necroquake has twisted the beast into something far more dangerous…)
Read aloud to the players:
‘As you descend into the depths of the Duardin crypt, your ears can’t help but pick up a low shuffling and muffled footfall of something gargantuan in the darkness. The Magmadroth once known as Clepsyrian’s Bane stalks these halls. Once the noble mount for a Duardin Fyreslayer, it fell during a battle long ago and was laid to rest in the crypts alongside heroes of the Duardin. But with the Necroquake, the beast has risen again, twisted and wrong. Where once an unquenchable furnace burned at the heart of the beast, now only a vacuum of deathly chill exists, ready to freeze any who try to lay it to rest. Ice coats every surface and your breath freezes in the air, as an icy gaze watches your descent.’
Unless lit by magical means, the crypts count as Lightly Obscured (Soulbound, page 138–9) as mundane lights flicker and die in the unnatural cold. Dozens of frozen Duardin warriors litter the tight space, upright with weapons drawn — their dead faces forever locked in frozen screams.
These Duardin are the remains of an earlier attempt at removing the monster from the crypts. A DN 4:1 Mind (Medicine) Test confirms that the Duardin were frozen instantly by a single, powerful blast of ice.
A grand statue of a Duardin hero stands in the centre of the crypt, its stone encrusted in ice and defaced by the gouges of massive claws. At the foot of this statue lies a colossal stone sarcophagus, shattered from the inside.
(Design Note: Environmental storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool in building atmosphere, especially when dealing with monsters who can’t verbally communicate their history to the players. We can infer from the above, that the creature burst from the sarcophagus, defaced the statue, and has been fending off attempts to eliminate it so far, but it’s most effective if the players can come to that realisation themselves.)
The Undead Magmadroth stalks the shadows in the crypt, staying away from any magical light sources and only fighting if attacked. Once a character enters the same Zone as the statue or the sarcophagus, the Undead Magmadroth charges from the darkness and attacks in a cunning manner. It attempts to make various Called Shot Actions (Soulbound, page 142), to disarm, stun, or knock prone its attackers, and often uses one point of mettle each turn to take the Dodge Action.
(Design Note: Remember that enemies can use special Actions in combat too! Nothing makes a beast feel more cunning than when it disarms a character, dodges attacks, or uses the environment to their advantage. Champions and Chosen are great for adding character since they can use Mettle to grant them extra Actions each turn, while still putting the hurt on the player characters.)
The Undead Magmadroth uses the stat-block for a Magmadroth (Soulbound, page 310) with the following alterations.
Replace it’s Roaring Fyrestream with:
Grave Chill Torrent: The creature lets out a roar like cracking ice and unleashes a blast of flash freezing air that sucks the heat from your very bones. As an action, the Undead Magmadroth can choose a Zone within Medium range. Each target in that Zone must take a DN 4:3 Body (Reflexes)Test. On a failure, the target takes 4 Damage and are Restrained until the end of their next turn.
In addition, replace it’s Volcanic Blood with:
Deathly Aura: The undead beast saps the heat from all around it. Any Zone that the beast is in gains the Minor Hazard Trait. The Damage from this Hazard ignores Armour.
(Design Note: You can see that with just a few tweaks to an enemy stat-block you can achieve a vastly different foe! Deathly Aura is very similar to the Chainrasp Chill of the Grave Trait. Don’t be afraid to borrow, reskin, or add new abilities to notable enemies.)
Finally, add the Defensive Rime Trait:
Defensive Rime: If the Magmadroth loses 8 Toughness or more in one round, it immediately uses a Free Action to let out a bellowing roar as a ring of razor sharp icicles explodes from its body. Any characters in the same Zone as the Magmadroth must make a DN 6:2 Body (Reflexes) Test or take 5 Damage, be knocked into a random adjacent Zone and be Stunned until the end of their next turn. The Difficulty of this Test is reduced by 2 if this Trait is triggered again, as the bellowing roar gives away this attack.
(Design Note: Defensive Rime takes the Magmadroth and makes it a truly scary foe worthy of a monster hunt. You could consider rewarding the party for investigating the Undead Magmadroth before they enter the hunt by lowering the DN of the first check by 2.)
(Summary: Loot pinata bosses — where the boss is just one big damage sponge that the group surrounds and attacks till it dies — can be a bit boring and are often the death of fun monster hunts! Try using mobility, the environment, interesting Actions and specific powerful abilities that trigger on damage or round timers to keep the fight dynamic and evolving. Now on to our final encounter, let’s see if we can go… bigger!)
Part 2: The Mountain That Walks
(Design Note: This encounter is envisioned as a grand finale to a campaign and an example of just how epic in scale a Soulbound game can become. In The Mountain That Walks, Chaos cultists have been kidnapping mortals and sacrificing them to a living metal volcano in Chamon, slowly corrupting it and bringing it to life under their control. The party find themselves atop the Mountain That Walks as it stomps towards a nearby city to destroy it in the name of Chaos.)
Read aloud to the players:
‘The time has come. The ritual is complete. The mountain of corrupted living metal has uprooted itself from the horizon and begun to stomp towards the city under the control of Chaos. There is no time to mount an offensive. Only you can stop the Mountain That Walks.’
Fighting atop the Mountain That Walks provides a number of challenges.
Every second round of combat, all characters standing or climbing on the Mountain must make a DN 4:1 Body (Reflexes) Test or fall Prone as the ground beneath their feet quakes and lurches with the Mountain’s unnatural movement.
After four rounds of combat, the Mountain That Walks reaches the city and breaches the walls with ease. Every round after this, the Mountain destroys 2d6 buildings and the Doom track increases by 1, as countless lives are lost beneath the Mountain’s uncaring feet. If the Doom track reaches 10, the city is completely leveled.
(Design Note: The environment here is a character itself, so we want regular reminders to the players that it isn’t just another mountain they are fighting atop. We also add a nice big ticking clock to this final encounter by giving the party a bird’s eye view of the destruction.)
The Mountain That Walks will only cease its destructive rampage when three ritual sites are destroyed or cleansed. Each site is ten Zones away from each other site. The party will need to split up and prioritise the different sites if they are to prevent the entire city from being destroyed.
The ritual sites can be cleansed in a number of ways.
- Smashing or pouring one sphere of Aqua Ghyranis directly onto the runes.
- Succeeding in an DN 5:3 Mind (Arcana) Test while in contact with the runes to unbind them.
- Dealing 12 Damage to the runes to destroy them.
(Design Note: Always consider some different ways of completing an objective, especially if you are not sure of the party composition.)
The First Ritual Site
The first Zone is located at the top of the volcanic peak of the mountain. Here the Tzaangor Mountain Shaman commands the Mountain That Walks and his followers with braying cries to the Lord of Change. They use the Tzaangor Shaman (Soulbound, page 321) stat-block, but have a Channelling Skill of (3d6 +2)
The Tzaangor Mountain Shaman is accompanied by one Swarm of five Vulcharcs and one Tzaangor (Soulbound, page 321) per party member.
The Tzaangors act as bodyguards and violently attack any party members that approach the ritual site or approach the Shaman. Meanwhile, the Shaman stands atop the ritual site and uses ranged spells against the party.
Should the number of Tzaangors drop below half, the Shaman uses its turn to cast Boon of Mutation on the Vulcharc Swarms overhead. Each successful casting of this spell plucks one of the Vulcharcs from the Swarm and twists it into a single Tzaangor, which lands and attacks the party on its turn.
(Design Note: By having the Shaman use their Boon of Mutation on the Vulcharc, you are showing the effects of this devastating power before using it on the characters. It also adds a neat way of letting the boss summon more warriors!)
The Vulcharcs swarm around the Shaman and use the Defend Action on him each turn, forming a living shield of wings, beaks, and claws. If their numbers drop to one or fewer Swarms, a fresh Swarm of five Vulcharcs swoop down to bolster their numbers on the following round.
(Design Note: This gives our Shaman multiple fun interactions with his swarms of pet birds, and a pseudo-regenerating shield. To hurt the Shaman, the party need to clear out the birds and snatch damage between fresh swarms flocking in — making this relatively squishy Chosen much tougher to take down — perfectly suitable for an end-of-campaign boss and all from a few interesting Action and Trait synergies!)
If the ritual site is destroyed before the Shaman is defeated, or they drop below half their Toughness, they summon their Disc of Tzeentch and move at full speed to another active ritual site, taking their Vulcharcs with them. If there are no other ritual sites remaining, they fight to their last breath.
The Second Ritual Site
The second ritual site is located on the side of the Mountain, etched into a sheer cliff face of jagged rock. Any character wishing to reach the ritual site in this area must climb, or fly across three Zones.
The site is protected by two Swarms of five Vulcarchs per party member that approaches the site. Half the Swarms of Vulcarchs attack any characters that approach the ritual site, while the other half use the Shove Action (Soulbound, page 144) on any climbing characters in an attempt to make them fall. If a character falls, they fall 1d6 × 10 feet, taking Damage as normal (see Soulbound, page 140), before landing on a rocky outcrop, one Zone further away from the ritual site.
(Design Note: The idea for the second ritual site was to give characters with flight or exceptional athletic ability the chance to shine by making an environment that is incredibly difficult to traverse by normal means.)
The Third Ritual Site
The third ritual site is located in the heart of the volcanic mountain. The area counts as a Major Hazard to any creatures who enter, aside from the Kairic Acolytes and the Tzaangor enemies, who have complex heat resistance runes etched into their skin to protect them from the Mountain’s heart.
The ritual site is located on a small outcrop of metal in the centre of a wide pool of sloshing and swaying magma. The only way to reach it on foot is across a long and very narrow chain bridge four Zones long that hangs above the lava. The bridge is unstable and sways wildly with the Mountain’s footsteps, increasing the DN of Tests from the Mountain’s movement to DN 4:2 Body (Reflexes). Should any creature fall Prone while crossing the bridge or near the edge of the lava, they must make a DN 4:2 Body (Reflexes) Test or fall into the magma. The magma is a Deadly Hazard which ignores armour.
The site itself is protected by five Kairic Acolytes (Soulbound, page 320) per party member that approaches the ritual site. They attempt to hide behind stalagmites of rippling volcanic metal scattered across the outcrop and cast Arcane Bolt at any who approach.
(Design Note: This is a fairly simple one: Kairic Acolytes can be devastating magical artillery. The challenge for the party here is going to be crossing the bridge while under fire. Remind them about the Dodge Action!)
And there we have it folks, three separate encounters of increasing scale all made using the same design methods and the versatility of the base Soulbound mechanics. I hope you found something useful for designing your own encounters. Feel free to join us on the unofficial Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Soulbound Discord server and share with us your own wonderful and horrifying encounters.
Until next time, go make something epic!
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