RPG Review: Symbaroum
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Author:  Cynical Cat [ Fri Dec 22, 2017 3:53 am ]
Post subject:  RPG Review: Symbaroum

Symbaroum is a Swedish Dark Fantasy RPG that is also published in English (as I write the latest product for the line is slated for simultaneous release in both languages).

What's it about? The Great War is over and the Dark Lords are dead. The generation long struggle has marked the people and their queen as well as tainting the land. The nation was slowly dying. So they went North, across the Titans, to seize the land around the fallen city-state of Lindaros from the barbarian tribes and begin again. The barbarians could not prevail against the war machine that threw down the Dark Lords and the new kingdom of Ambria was forged with bloodied steel on the bones of a fallen city, on land taken at sword point, and with conscript labour from prisoners of war and destitute immigrants under conditions only a little better than slavery.

Over two decades Ambria has farmed new lands and raised new towns. It trades with some barbarian tribes, wars with others, enslaves the conquered, and has integrated an allied tribe as a new duchy. The barbarians, people descended from the ancient Kingdom of Symbaroum that once dominated the area and who were also the ancestors of the Ambrians, have their own friendships and feuds, but the arrival of the Ambrians have strengthened the most of the ties the remaining tribes have to each other. They know they ways of the land, most especially that of the great, haunted forest of Davokar that dominates the region and enshrouds the ruins of Symbaroum.

The darkness in Davokar is said to be wakening. The forest hides great dangers, dangers the elves of the Iron Pact and the barbarian tribes have long experience in dealing with. Davokar also hides great wealth, from its rich flora and fauna to alchemical ingrediants to the lost treasures and wealth of Symbaroum. Ambria fears the forest as well as coveting its wealth while the Sun Priest of Prios teach that it is man's duty to tame the wild. Who dares brave Davokar's depths?

Presentation? We live in the age of hardbound RPGs with glossy pages and gorgeous illustration and Symbaroum is no exception. The art is somber, slightly stylized, and fits in the haunted forest mood. Behold the glory of a google image search: ... 66&bih=656

Contents? It's 260 well used pages. The gear list is good, the character development and world background section is good, the monster section is good sized, and so forth. The book is a little short on how the economy works/coingage details as well as explaining what kind of tasks people typically get hired to do in Davokar and the magic item section should have been a little larger. That being said much can be deduced from what has actually been provided, these are areas where the game fall short, not areas where it fails completely.

How does it work? There are 8 attributes: Accurate, Cunning, Discreet, Persuasive, Quick, Resolute, Strong, and Vigilant. You have 80 points to spend, with each stat having to be between 5 and 15. Tests are rolled with a d20 with the goal to roll equal to or under the appropriate attribute. Then there are Abilities and they are rated Novice, Adept, and Master. Each character starts with 5 Novice or 2 Novice and 1 Adept Ability (same xp cost). Advanced skills like Alchemy and Medicine as well as sophisticated fighting techniques and magical traditions and spells are all Abilities.

Doing the math, you can see the points given isn't that generous. That's intentional. The game assumes that you are min-maxing and there are Abilities that work to enable that. Tactician allows you to substitute Cunning for some other stats when it comes down to combat and Sixth Sense allows something similar with Vigilance, meaning that with the right build options you can maximize the advantages of your min-maxing and cover up the weaknesses. This does make the otherwise simple character creation less newbie friendly as you need to be familiar with the Abilities to really make the most out of it. That said, getting familiar with the abilities isn't hard and the example archetypes give good build advice.

Quirks? The PCs do most, if not all, of the rolling. Under attack? Roll Defense, modified by circumstances of the attack. Trying to sneak around? Roll Discreet, with modifiers based on conditions and the NPCs Vigilance. Standing guard? Roll Vigilance and so forth. NPC damage is usually a set number with armour being a roll while NPC armour tends to be a set number with PC damage being a roll. The GM can roll dice and these set numbers do translate to die rolls, but the game is very much set up for the PCs to be the ones throwing dice.

Also, while its possible to build a monster tank, the game tends to be lethal. Getting flanked by a guy with a two handed sword who knows his business is lethal in this game. PCs tend to have a little more wiggle room than NPCs, but this game has Warhammer Fantasy in its DNA.

Starting PCs aren't demigods or mighty heroes, but they tend to know their business and have adequate equipment or better. It's not hard to build a melee or ranged combatant who is seriously dangerous or a Face character who knows how to stab faces and the rookie spellcasters can sling some useful magic.

Other points?The game includes three nonhuman races (more in the Advance Players Guide, but that's a supplement): goblins, ogres, and changelings. Goblins and ogres are decidedly second class citizens in Ambria, used and exploited as cheap labour. Changelings are slightly more complex: they're what's left behind when elves steal children. They're not quite humans, not quite elves and generally outcasts. All three races have a racial Ability to represent their racial talents: goblins being speedy, ogres being strong, and changelings having shape shifting.

Secondly, magic is balanced and bounded by Corruption. Spells, magic items, and powerful alchemy can all generate temporary corruption and enough temporary corruption and it becomes permanent corruption. Enough permanent corruption and we're talking mutations and being an NPC with a hollowed out soul.

Lastly, the game has the ongoing theme of colonization. Ambria is a young nation, carved out of the wilderness and out of land seized at sword point. The Ambrians are sympathetic, they aren't just taking the land out of greed, but they can be brutal and they are upsetting the balance that was there before them. They are interlopers who don't fit in, but they are strong and they are trying to remake what they control in their image. It's rare that you find an RPG that deals with stuff once you add the religious angle and the nonhuman races, you have an RPG that has social issues as a major theme as well as chopping up corrupt mutants spat out from the depths of Davokar.

Overall? I'm not the biggest fan of the mechanics, but they are easy to use and effective. For me, the setting is the biggest draw and they did a superb job on that.

Author:  frigidmagi [ Fri Dec 29, 2017 5:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

That does sound like an interesting setting.

Author:  Cynical Cat [ Fri Dec 29, 2017 5:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

frigidmagi wrote:
That does sound like an interesting setting.

We can talk about it if you want, as this is, as you know, a discussion board. Is there anything in particular you're interested in?

Author:  frigidmagi [ Fri Dec 29, 2017 6:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

I like the political friction and the colonial feel you mentioned. My feeling is that a lot of games don't touch stuff like that. Iron Kingdoms comes close with the conflict between the human nations and the Trollkin but it's not focused on a lot (to be fair battling back the NotRussian Empire is kinda more urgent) and frankly the relationship between humanity and trollkin is post colonial in a lot of ways. The DnD settings don't touch this with a 10 ft pole.

This feels like North America 1710, where Iron Kingdoms feels like America in 1880 if you will in that regard. Also it sounds like they made the forest very dark and menacing, which is interesting in it's own right.

Another thing is the post-dark lord time frame. So we've beat the Dark Lord, his legions are scattered but now what? That's another thing games don't tackle very well, if at all. Nor do that many fantasy novels.

Author:  Cynical Cat [ Fri Dec 29, 2017 6:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

The mid-colonization time frame is unique. The various barbarian tribes have semi-religious ceremonial leader who has acted as warleader in mythic times, but are riven with their own divisions. One, for example, has gone over completely to the Ambrians (in part because the Ambrians kicked the shit out of an enemy tribe) with their territory incorporated as a Duchy and their chieftain as a Duke. Another trades extensively with everyone. Another wars with everyone on its borders. There's a semi-truce now, but who knows if it will last?

It's also nicely not black and white. The Ambrians can be brutal, basically conscripting their own people who lack wealth or valuable skills as near slave labour and doing the same to prisoners of war. Goblins and ogres are used as cheap and expendable labour. It's not done out of malice, but something closer to desperation. Their old land is poisoned. They were all going to die if they didn't move and North was the best option. They are trying to rebuild something like that what they lost on a foreign land, stolen at sword point from people who are their distant relatives. They believe their god is slowly dying and while they have overcome the horror of the Dark Lords, they might have woken the growing darkness of the forest.

And yes, Davokar really dominate the setting. The elves of the Iron Pact claim rights relating to it based on an ancient treaty struck with men. Their fierce, but not equal in numbers to men and the darkness and danger of the forest seems to grow year by year. Undead and corrupted beasts are seen more frequently and within lie the lost strongholds and cities of Symbaroum and the ancient magics and treasures of that mighty civilization.

Author:  Lys [ Fri Jan 05, 2018 9:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

You can tell i like a setting when even a short synopsis inspires a character concept.

"Listen bro, my mother wanted a changeling child. She took her baby to the forest, called the elves, made a free trade. I'm everything mom ever wanted, the twinkle in her eye, as they say. And the rest of the village, well, they kind of got used to it, ya know? 'Specially after they knew that mom didn't just arrange herself a changling baby, but also protection for everyone else's babies. So all that shit you just said? That ain't me. I know I gotta be the luckiest changeling ever, I'm grateful for it, but I'm not on your level, okay? The shit you've gone through, that ain't fair, so I ain't gonna stop ya, but I ain't gonna help ya neither."

Author:  Cynical Cat [ Sat Jan 13, 2018 2:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

The Advanced Players Guide

It's a pretty good book. New gear, new talents, new magic, new alchemy, new magic items. Cool shit, very useful right? Even a new archetype (Hunter) and a special advanced archetype only talent for every archetype (that you don't need to be awesome at that shit because this is the only mechanical difference between the archetypes but helps you be good at the kind of stuff you generally build a character of the archetype to do). All good right?

Almost. The book also includes sections on other playable races and that section splatters spoilers everywhere. Want to know what the real deal is with trolls? The troll section will totally ruin that mystery and collaterally take out some more atmospheric ignorance. The elf and dwarf sections aren't so bad, but if you do get the book for the love of Prios either don't read those sections or keep the info on the down low.

Author:  frigidmagi [ Fri Jan 26, 2018 2:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

Silly question, were the Elves allies against the dark lord and now they're annoyed that we're raiding their forest?

Author:  Cynical Cat [ Fri Jan 26, 2018 3:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

frigidmagi wrote:
Silly question, were the Elves allies against the dark lord and now they're annoyed that we're raiding their forest?

No. The elves have lived in the forest and claim ancient treaties (the Iron Pact) grant them power and authority over the wood. The also claim that the Ambrians are stirring up the ancient darkness that destroyed Symbaroum and thus aren't keen on human interlopers.

Author:  Lys [ Sat Jan 27, 2018 2:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: RPG Review: Symbaroum

The elves aren't even originally from the Davokar, they have their own realm to the west of it. The implication is that just after Symbaroum was destroyed by whatever evil corruption it afflicts it, none of the survivors knew what the hell to do about it, so the elves volunteered to become guardians of the forest, on the condition that no humans set foot in its heart.

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