Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment
Authors: Emmet Byrne, Michael Duxbury, Cat Evans, Cody Faulk, Jordan Goldfarb, Elaine Lithgow, and KC Shi
Artists: Johan Genier, Álvaro Jiménez, Dániel Kovács, Sam Manley, Clara-Marie Morin, Rafael Teruel, and Siman Vlaisavljević
Genre: Player facing options book for the AOS Soulbound RPG
Pages: 144 pages
MSRP: Hardcover with PDF $39.99 or $19.99 for just the PDF at DriveThruRPG
I am a newcomer to Warhammer in general and Games Workshop’s fantasy Age of Sigmar property in particular, but in the last year or so I have become increasingly sucked into the world and its story. As someone whose craft skills are basically nil, getting into the miniatures game has been intimidating, but the lore of the setting is available in a number of places. Perhaps one of the best places is the excellent roleplaying line from Cubicle 7, entitled Age of Sigmar: Soulbound. Soulbound stands on its own as a well-crafted, rules light (ish) RPG even if you have no knowledge of or interest in the Age of Sigmar setting.
Champions of Death is an expansion book that, as the name suggests, covers the Death Grand Alliance (one of the four major factions in Age of Sigmar, alongside Order, Chaos, and Destruction). Led by the Supreme Necromancer Nagash, the Death faction consists primarily of different sorts of undead. Somewhat to my surprise, Champions of Death primarily focuses on the player and presumes that PCs will be undead themselves. The book contains rules for playing as a ghoul, vampire, wight, nighthaunt (ghost), and one of the Ossiarch Bone Reapers–manufactured warriors constructed of bones. To that end, the process of becoming part of a PC party (“soulbound”) grants the undead PC a measure of freedom from the mental compulsions of their undead state–a clever idea that not only makes the undead more playable, but creates many story-telling opportunities. Suggestions are provided for GMs to set up either an all-undead Death themed campaign, or to incorporate undead PCs into a party with the living.
After the character creation section, there are detailed descriptions of the four primary groupings within the Death Grand Alliance, which tracks the four Death armies in the Age of Sigmar miniatures game. On a surface look, these factions might seem pretty basic and generic, reducing down to ghouls, ghosts, the aforementioned skeleton warriors, and vampires. But the material in Champions of Death brings each faction to life (or, more accurately, “unlife”) and gives each a set of interesting hooks for use in a game. Standing out for me are the Flesh Eater Courts, ghouls laboring under the collective delusion that they are noble chivalrous knights and ladies, while covering up in their own minds their horrific cannibalism and brutality. On the flip side, the Ossiarch Bone Reapers are built to be the ultimate soldiers, stripped of emotion in order to achieve their ends, and thus know exactly what they are there to do. Prior to reading this book, I found Age of Sigmar’s Death factions to be the least intriguing group from a lore perspective, but Champions of Death has shown a depth and a nuance to these groups, and the wealth of possibilities for incorporating them into a campaign.
I also want to point out an excellent section toward the end of the book containing advice for GMs on running death-themed games. When thinking about content that can prove challenging for players and game masters, death and the undead don’t usually spring to mind (in part because of how common they are). But a game that takes seriously the themes inherent in the premise can quickly drift into difficult territory. The advice section in this book is very thoughtful, without being pushy or preachy, and it is one of the best such sections I have encountered in a ttrpg product.
Visually, Champions of Death is beautiful, consistent with the Soulbound and Age of Sigmar lines. The lay-out and visual design is clean and easily readable, and the art is evocative but not overwhelming the text. Really my only criticism is that, after 144 pages, I was definitely left wanting more content from Champions of Death, but that speaks to the quality of what is included.
Soulbound is, in my view, a criminally underrated and underappreciated RPG line, and Champions of Death shows why. It’s a book that takes what could be rather vanilla material, presents it in a unique manner, and makes it interesting and dynamic at the table. Even if you don’t play Soulbound or Age of Sigmar, the presentation of the undead as nuanced PCs with complex motivations can be ported into other fantasy settings, making Champions of Death worth a look. If you do play Soulbound, Champions of Death is a must own.