Symbaroum by Wrestlepig
IntroOriginal SA post
In the ruins of Symbaroum a dream sight revealed
a well, a cauldron, a sinkhole.
Out of its depth a blightling came sidling,
filth forged in flesh, cruelty carved in bone,
a decoction of the World Serpent’s marrow.
The blight beast ogled me hungrily
and in its burning eyes I saw the death of all.
Symbaroum is an rpg from swedish developer Järnringen, released in 2015 and translated into english after a series of kickstarters. The game's a mostly traditional fantasy rpg centered around conflict between the giant forest of Davokar, the lost kingdom of Symbaroum and the new nation of Ambria. The setting is perfectly designed for roleplaying, and is a good model for exploring how to create an evocative place with clear themes and obvious hooks for players. The core system is also interesting to talk about, but less of an unqualified recommendation.
the system is fairly traditonal it's a good model for doing a D&D style game as mostly gridless and with some modern elements. The system lists a variety of different and surprising influences. The core dice system is adapted from Basic D&D's d20 roll under an Attribute, and the character design and Corruption system draws from Warhammer FRP. The structure of abilities and powers was inspired by White Wolf, and it takes Rituals from 4th edition D&D, of all things. There's also a couple ideas from Apocalypse World on the Gming side, but it's not specific to PBTA. I'm overall down with the system although it has a couple of issues I'll get into when the time's right. Surprisingly it's one of the few rpgs where the balance issues favor the players, and the enemy design causes some issues. When I was asking around about this game before my campaign started, somebody said they switched to Shadow of the Demon Lord, which would work well, but I also think The One Ring would be a great option with the rules for Journeys, Despair and Social conflict.
theres probably a bunch of cursed candles in here I can sell for hundreds of dollars
The setting of the game is very well executed, although my understanding is limited because they try to hide stuff from players for the sake of mystery, and I'm not going to spoil my campaign to make this overview work better. The game setting revolves around recent attempts to forge a nation and conquer the giant forest of Davokar that covers what was once the fallen kingdom of Symbaroum. The principle theme of the game is the conflict between nature and civilization, and there's room for a variety of different campaigns ranging from Treasure Hunting, political machinations and defending the forest. Although the setting is very European, there's lots influences from Shinto spiritualism, as well as other regions such as Africa and south America. It's a mix of Medieval Dark Fantasy and Princess Mononoke, and it all works really well.
Also with this review I'll be incorporating content from the Advanced Players Guide, because it's interesting and gives me some setting stuff to work with.
Collosus-riding witches are frequent art choices but they aren't written up in this book. buy adventure module 3 or whatever to learn their deal!
Setting part 1:The Founding of AmbriaOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
“... and the day dawned, when the spawn of the Serpent took to arms, when the crimes of countless days must be counted and atoned for, horn by horn, fang by fang. And the sinners wept with blinded eyes, they moaned with severed throats, they fled on fractured limbs. And Symbaroum fell, into dreamless sleep ...”
Setting part 1:The Founding of Ambria
Although the history of the setting started a thousand years ago, when Symbaroum fell to it's decadence and corruption, the story as presented started around 20 years ago. The Kingdom of Arboretor had finally won a nightmarish and brutal 20 year war against the Dark Lords, powerful necromancers with dark magic and hordes of the undead, but the land was utterly ruined. The sheer amount of dark Sorcery had caused so much death and corruption that crops could no longer grow, children could not be born and the dead would return to life and go through the motions of their old lives. Their Queen, Korinthia, had been rescued from her captivity, but she was disfigured and left a shadow of her former self, always wearing a porcelain mask from that day onwards. She declared that Old Arboretor was lost, and they would found a new kingdom across the Titan Mountains.
There are implications that something more sinister is going on, and that Korinthia has her own reasons to travel towards where Symbaroum sleeps under the shade of the forest.
The Royal Procession. I don't know about you but I'm starting to think the Queen might not be a good guy
The lands surrounding the great forest of Davokar were already inhabited by a loose confederation of Barbarian clans, who will get their own focus later. Korinthia's expeditionary force found the empty city of Lindaros, abandoned for 200 years since a plague of 'Bleeder's Disease', Lindaros was rebuilt with the labour of desperate refugees and barbarian prisoners of war from the army's further conquests. Korinthia named the city Yndaros after her dead father Ynedar, and proclaimed it the capital of the new nation of Ambria. The conquest of the north and creation of Ambria was brutal as barbarians were subjugated under Ambria's military might and settlers dealt with starvation, poverty and discovering the dangers of their new home, but their results were undeniable. With Yndaros established, they were ready to begin adventuring in the Dark Forest of Davokar.
AmbriaOriginal SA post
... and the search goes on forever, for the hidden Ambal Seba, where the truth is spelled in gold, where the keys to the primal power are etched in circles, round and round the thirteen pillars. See, the mists will never fade. Not even Fofar the Destroyer can dispel the veil over a valley that does not exist.
The new nation of Ambria is dominated by the forest of Davokar, which will get it's own post later. The Ambrians can't exert much power over the forest itself beyond treasure hunting, exploring and a few outposts. The untamed wild of the forest counteract the Ambrian military advantage against enemy barbarians, the unnatural threats of the forest and the Elven guardians. The plains between the Forest and the mountain ranges of the Titans and the Ravens have been taken over and divided between different noble families and the church. The plains have been converted into fields, leaving some abundant groves of natural beauty and shelter. The weather is colder than the Ambrians would like, with harsh winters devastating the many refugee camps. The mountains are desolate, inhabited only by a few mining colonies, the dread Monastery-Prison of the Twilight Friars, bandits and a city of aloof Dwarves.
The Ambrian people were created under harsh conditions of total war against the undead, and have become disciplined, practical and desperate. They try not to discuss the horrors of their last war, where they had to slaughter the same enemies over and over again, that were once their countrymen. They try to look forward, and make Ambria powerful enough that nothing like that will ever happen again. Their mindset is defined by a desire for control and ownership: they lost everything and always seek more and better. They see nature as another resource to harvest from, and it's no wonder why treasure hunting has become such a prominent activity.
probably dead on the inside
These attitudes are reflected in their newly formed religion, centered around sole worship of the Sun God Prios. Although they used to worship many gods, the war led to a rise in his prominence until Prios was officially declared the one true God. He is worshipped as the Sun, and the Giver of Laws and Civilization. His church preaches that mankind's role is to cultivate his creation and tame nature, and that men have neglected this duty which has led to him slowly dying. Davokar is seen as the perfect example of untamed nature, and Ambria must conquer and cleanse the forest. Davokar does get pretty nasty, so they might be onto something.
The Church of Prios is obviously modeled on medieval Christianity and is divided into 3 main groups: The regular priests, the Knights of the Dying Sun who distinguished themselves by their heroism in the Great War, and the Twilight Friars, who are a mixture of inquisitors, monster hunters and researchers into dark magic. Aside from the anti-nature attitudes, they're your standard Lawful Church you've seen a bunch.
The other gods are somewhat present. They don't receive anything official from Ambrians, but occasionally worshiped in secret or their traditions continue in some form. They also bear some resemblance to the great spirits many barbarians worship, although the different clans vary a lot in their traditions. Some small settler communities left after Prios was instated as the state religion and maintain polytheistic views. The non-human people tend to respect spirits over gods, like Shinto or animist faiths. When asked about their views, the Elven envoy to the queen was quoted as saying
Envoy Elori, who is both a spy and a huge asshole posted:
It is a vain presumption to think that the world would care about being worshiped or that it would listen to prayers; it is a presumption which mirrors man’s own desire to be worshiped and his expectation that he can force his will upon the world
Elves are dicks.
Ambria's divided into a few regions, each headed by a different duke aside from one given to the church. They're all pretty standard fiefdoms that have political conflicts with each other and within themselves. They also have a standing army under control of the queen, with orders of knights, affiliated Theurges of Prios and Wizards and an order of Rangers that patrols the forest. The current Field Marshal is 76 years old and still at his physical peak, possibly because of dark magic. If he dies, the Head Ranger will probably take his spot, which could cause problems with their closer ties to non-Ambrians and distance from the military heirarchy.
this is what being ambrian does to you
Ambrians are fairly standard Humans for a fantasy rpg, but they're well executed and give you a lot of options for different gameplay and characters. It's not hard to justify being a guy with skills and a history going treasure hunting.
Next time: The other, cooler groups
The BarbariansOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
... and deep down the world was violated, because the shell is suited for the force within; to add power to power without bracing the hide is as inexcusable as it is inconsiderate. For when the shell ruptures the force released is multiplied by the thousands, from anger and shame.
even if there is no prios or earth-mother there is always Kamen Raider
The barbarian clans are a loose confederation of semi-nomadic people that claim descent from the lost kingdom of Symbaroum. Their lifestyle is built around surviving in the safer parts of Davokar, and follow the teachings of the Witches, who have established a series of Taboos to protect people from the Darkness of Davokar, as well as leading the barbarian's diverse faiths and handling unnatural threats. The clans became a lot more co-operative when Ambria popped up, although many conflicts haven't been settled. They have a sort of capital city in Karvosti, where the High Chieftain presides (although he doesn't have much power aside from being a neutral arbiter between clans) and where the Chief Witch or Huldra organises other Witches and hosts their conclaves.
There are currently 11 different clans of Barbarians. There used to be 13, but the Ambrians assimilated one and destroyed the other. There are rumors about a mysterious Beast Clan, but they aren't substantiated by anyone, even the barbarians.
- the Gaoians are aloof and primitive by barbarian standards. They are rumored to worship a Lindworm (Snake Wyvern) called Grandfather Lint and have witches that can turn into giant snakes.
- the Enoians live in treehouses or inside giant trees.
- The Godinja claim to be descended from Symbaroum Aristocracy, are very good at making votive masks, and are closely tied to the Elves, even saying their chief, Vikomer, has some elven ancestors.
- Yedesa has impressive permanent settlements and most of the high chieftains have come from there.
- the Baiaga tame Bear-like creatures called Baiagorns, and use them in fights.
- the Zareks really hated the clan that the Ambrians wiped out and have good relations with them.
- The Odaiovans control the land between Karvosti and the border town of Thistlehold, and have got real rich from trade.
- The clan of Karohar had some of the first-targeted ruins that treasure hunters hit, and get really sick of all the assholes wandering in and stealing things.
- the remote Vajvod clan have decent relationships with the Ambrians who have started setting up in their territory. Also they have a unique form of magic based on glyphs that stems from ancient immigrants from the mythical first city of humans, who travelled across the mountains from the blasted desert, near where humans first arrived on the continent or planet, it's not clear. That's only in the advanced players guide though, the core book just says they're chill about Ambrians.
- the Saar-Khan are a bunch of psychos that live in an ancient fortress and worship something called the Blood Daughter. They consider themselves the true heirs of Symbaroum.
- the Varakko ride the plains in big wagons and get raided constantly by the Saar-Khan.
seriously why aren't you in the corebook
The other major player is the Elves, and the mysterious Iron Pact. The Elves claim that when Symbaroum fell, humans swore to abandon the forest of Davokar, newly grown to protect the world from its metaphysical Corruption. They also claim that human rulers of the time swore to do so, and gifted them with six thousand iron rings to seal the pact. The Barbarians have some legends that correlate this story and have taboos that prevent disturbing many ruins, but the Ambrian nobility chooses to believe that those are based on elven lies. Either way, the elves attempt to kill people who enter the wrong parts of Davokar, which is probably going to include the players.
if this guy rolls up to you and tells you he told your great great great grandfather not to take cool axes from a ruin what would you do
There are other races around, like the Goblins, Ogres and Dwarves, but they aren't major players in the central conflict, at least on a surface level. There are more secretive factions, like the rumored non-crazy Trolls, the Staff Mages that once served Symbaroum's King, and most importantly, the cancerous darkness deep in the Forest. I don't really have much to tell you about those yet. There's a free pdf on jarnrigen's site that goes over the Secret Lore stuff, and because I'm a player in a campaign following the modules I'm not touching this stuff aside from what's in the advanced players guide. look it up yourself for once instead of living vicariously through overviews by bored australians who are done with uni
Although the Factions seem like they have clear lines of conflict, there's a lot more room for nuance and atypical groupings. There's many people with special interests that don't match their ordinary people. Many barbarians see opportunities with the Ambrians or find work as specialists, the Church of Prios does missionary work, and many Ambrians have decided to protect the forest, even going so far as to join the Iron Pact in rare instances. And of course, if Symbaroum awakens, unlikely alliances will be formed very quickly. The book notes it's a little tricky to fit in devout Sun-worshipers, but aside from that it's not hard to have a diverse group.
DAVOKAROriginal SA post
... and as Eregan foretold: ‘the wise man’s road is long, twice as long through murky woods; the foolish man’s road is short, half as long through murky woods, cut short by folly and bloody bashings’.
nice place, wouldn't want to live there
The Great Forest of Davokar is difficult to summarise. Its vast size, varied environments and many dangers make it difficult to break down into neat segments. Nevertheless, the book relies on an in-setting text called the Duality Principle, created by a Wizard called Mallioanos, that divides the forest into Bright and Dark Davokar. The definition isn't perfect, and was designed to be wrong in interesting ways. The text mentions issues with the text, including Mallioanos's close friendship with many theurges of Prios, which adds a lot of flavour.
Bright Davokar refers to the outskirts of the forest, reaching for about 4 days march towards the centre. It's described as strikingly beautiful. Summer and Spring have beams of light shining down through the treetops, supplemented with the gentle buzzing of insects. Autumn brings a fiery redesplendance, and Winter a peaceful calm. Despite the beauty, there is still great danger: poisoned fruits, predators like Etterherds, Marecats and Jakaars, hidden marshes, hostile barbarians and elves, and for the unluckiest, famished Rage Trolls and displaced Abominations from the Dark heart of the forest. The barbarians make their home here, but the Witches cultivate ignorance of the forest's dangers and secrets with a series of Taboos against trespassing many ruins or regions. The Ambrians don't give a shit, and have plundered a lot of the best sites in here already, but there's always more, especially up north or hidden underground.
Dark Davokar refers to the inner heart of the Forest, where sunlight doesn't breach the canopy. Well, it sometimes does, but the theory came from devout sun-worshipers trying to encourage a crusade mindset, so that's the term they use. The Deep Heart of the forest is incredibly dangerous, with nature warped into cruelty by whatever destroyed Symbaroum. Although most explorers that survive come back a little crazy or traumatised, there are reports of bottomless streams, carnivorous plants, parasites and curses that drive you insane, rabid or undead, living nightmares, possessed Mastodons, incredibly hardcore Elven wardens, undead and mindless survivors of Symbaroum's fall, a clan of monstrous barbarians, packs of Trolls lead by giant and intelligent masters, and Dragons. Many Barbarian myths speak of wrathful and powerful godlike beings like Lord Bog or the Hawthorn Hag. Of course, the dangers of the forest mean that the Symbar ruins are untouched and plentiful, and if you're crazy and powerful enough like most player characters, you can get very rich if you get out.
theres also a lot of spiders
There's a page discussing Explorer's Licenses that regulate who can explore Davokar. If you're caught by the Queen's Rangers on patrol in the Bright side of the forest, you'll have to pay a heavy fine, or worse. The costs are prohibitive enough to stop any random idiot to enter the forest: after the basic cost there are increased prices for the size of the group, reason for travelling, an extra payment if the authorities think you're incompetent or up to something, and a couple of fuck you fees if they don't like you. This serves to push adventuring parties into wider conflicts: allying with larger organisations to cover expenses, shady money-making work or just avoiding authorities and smuggling themselves around. A successful expedition will be enough to cover further expenses, but early on it's a good challenge to justify involvement in broader conflicts.
HUB REGIONSOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
.. and troll-mother Vouax’s cauldron, lined with the words of the weaver, smeared with the fat of the wardens, fell down the abyss, fell into
oblivion. The vessel brewing the downfall of all may never again be heated, not by fire, not by the dark of the Abyss...
Thistlehold is a fortress-city built on the edge of the Forest. It was created by the current Mayor, Lasifor Nightpitch, with the massive fortune he earned from the Queen when he delved deep into the forest and found rare medicinal herbs that cured the Queen Mother's sickness. The town's economy is centered around treasure-hunting in the forest: it functions as starting point for expeditions, many auction houses and appraisers to sort out incoming artefacts in a cold-blooded turf war, and many different bars, brothels and hostels to waste away the proceeds. The mayor is a lot more liberal, giving the city a high presence of barbarians, goblin laborers and dissidents, like the outspoken Father Sarvola who preaches equality and sends missionaries to the Goblins. It's a wild west style town, but with a giant Toad skeleton with a bell around it's neck.
truly a land of opportunity
Yndaros is the capital of Ambria, and built on multiple layers of ruins by prisoners of war and immigrants. It was once the Barbarian city of Lindaros, but it was wiped clean by plague years ago in what many barbarians say was divine punishment. Queen Korinthia and her court reside here, and much of the city is dedicated to her. Most of the refugees coming from Old Arboretor across the mountains flock to the city, which has led to desperate overcrowding, and the city is surrounded by refugee camps. As well as the standard political turmoil, the city is host to other strangeness, like Dwarven criminal gangs, a strange troupe of dancers liberated from the Dark Lords who may know strange dance-magic, the Vivisectory that conducts scientific experiments on the beings of Davokar, and the mysterious and always masked Executioner that appeared and volunteered to kill prisoners on the Queen's orders about a decade ago.
slave labour helps a lot
Karvosti is the barbarian capital, as far as they can have one. It's situated on a giant plateau in the forest, and was possibly used as a refuge by fleeing citizens of Symbaroum, who built a temple there. The barbarians chose it as their centre of operations when they united to fight the Spider King and his armies flowing forth from the heart of Davokar. They built a stead for the High Chieftain to reside in, and drafted an order of hardcore warriors called the Wrathguard to protect it. The Witches also adopted it as the centre of their circles, and do all sorts of Witch Stuff there. The Ambrians are very interested in the temple, and when they discovered it was ancient and dedicated to Prios, they attacked, and then hashed out a deal after meeting stiff resistance. There's also a grove cultivated by a godlike being called Aloena, who has been there forever and may be either a very old elf or something even more powerful. Fortunately, she rarely treats humans with any attention, as we would to a passing flock of birds.
you may have noticed there's a lot of masks in the art. they pop up in the game a bit later on, possibly because of all the pics, but the guy can do portraits pretty well so I think it's a stylistic choice rather than just a dodge
All three cities are really well-executed. They're drowning in plot hooks and suit a variety of player activities, while still leaving lots of room for exploration. The setting of the game is incredibly well exectuted, with clear themes, conflicts and aesthetics, and it's a model of how to design a setting towards being practical for a role-playing game, unusual in the european scene.
when Aloena came towards the party in our campaign we had one guy flee. He might have made a wise choice.
Next time, we start the Players Guide on page 72 and I get more room to be flippant
CHARACTER CREATIONOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
.. and Gorameios filled his lair with gold and jewels, stolen from the dark vaults of Saar-Atman; so infected by taint were the treasures, that the serpent was suffocated into an early death and the spirit of the conjuror won back the riches. In the nest of Gorameios does Saar-Atman forever brood.
The players rules start with creating characters, with a little overview of the rules mixed in. They're simple enough that I don't really mind that as I do with most rpgs that sequence everything poorly for reference. It's mostly traditional in how you approach everything. The system is classless but in that shadowrun style where you have archetypes established that you want to consider. The first step is to pick a broad category, which is divided into the classic trio of Warrior, Rogue or Mystic, the catchall category for magic users. The Advanced Player guide splits off Rogue with an additional Hunter archetype, focused more on ranged attacks and awareness abilities. There's a list of good archetypal builds to work with, which are well-designed but have a little room to maneuver. You then need to pick your ability scores, which have a few problems.
- Accurate is just used to roll to hit. You probably shouldn't invest in this because you can replace it outright with abilities easily.
- Cunning is the non-magical aspects of intelligence and wisdom. Still quite useful for somebody to have and is tied into a lot of abilities.
- Discreet is Stealth and general Roguish stuff like pickpocketing.
- Persuasive is pretty obvious
- Quick is your dexterity, used for initiative, dodging and in chases.
- Strength is constitution, and your HP is derived from it. Almost every warrior will also make it their accuracy replacement.
- Resolute is the magic stat for casting and managing your Corruption, as well as for Will saves.
- Vigilant is your general awareness and perception. Very useful in a spooky dark forest. Many Hunters will use it to replace accuracy for ranged attacks.
There's also a few derived stats.
- Toughness is HP and is calculated from Strength, but has a minimum of 10.
- Pain Threshold is half of strength, rounded up. Taking this in a single attack can do bad things to your guy.
- Defence is your Quick, but is reduced by your armor. Armor is damage reduction in this system, and committing to armor is very effective, but not everyone will want to do that.
- Corruption Threshold is half your Resolute, rounded up. This is the amount of Corruption you can take before it starts manifesting or becoming permanent, possibly even turning into an Abomination. It's more manageable than you'd expect, but it means nobody will ever dump resolute.
interrupting Numbers with Cool Dude
The basic mechanic of the game is rolling under your stats on a d20. You can either use 80 bits of point buy to get your stats or use the premade array. There's a maximum of 15 for starting out. Either way there's too many stats you really want to have high: Strength and Resolute are vital, and a decent vigilant and quick are always useful since they're defensive. Accuracy is a surprising dump stat since you can get substitutes with abilities easily, so you tend to pick between the remaining 3 for the middle range unless you have a build in mind. There's a note about how having low stats is good for defining your character, which rubs me the wrong way all of those notes do.
After that, there's races to pick.
Humans are divided up into Ambrians and Barbarians, although they're pretty similar. They both get a choice between two traits. Both can get Contacts with a particular group, and Ambrians can choose Privileged for a lot more starting money and Advantage on social checks within their community. Barbarians can take Bushcraft for reliable food-gathering while in Davokar or other wildernesses. They're both probably better than Contacts.
those 50 thaler go a long way
Changelings are the replacements the Elves leave when they steal human children. Nobody's exactly sure why they leave anything behind, but Changelings tend to be disliked and have little connection to the elves beyond a physical resemblence in their natural form. They get the Pariah trait, which gives disadvantage on social checks but advantage when it's other people of your kind. They get the ability to buy the Shapeshifter trait as an exchange, and it's what you'd expect.
dunno why they have pariah I bet a lot of people would like to smooch that blue
Goblins are strange little wierdos who come from the forest. They tend to be bombastic and wildly emotional, with a strange sense of humour, with hard to watch games like Hide the Boot, Tame the Ogre, Trim the Thistle, Tighten the Temple and Want a Smack, Molok? They're short lived: when they get to around 30 years old, they feel a calling to enter the deep forest, and they never return. Probably. They also get Pariah as a trait, despite their popularity in Thistlehold as day-laborers. In exchange, they get access to the ridiculously good Survival Instinct ability, that gives them an extra movement action, and at higher levels gives free armor and the ability to swap Movement for an extra Combat Action.
Always Consume Goblin Content
Ogres are big brutish creatures that wander out from the forest, with no memories or name. This tends to lead to them being adopted by whoever finds them, introducing them to whatever culture they have and instilling some identity. They aren't stupid or anything like that, although they tend towards taciturn calm many mistake for it. They get Pariah as well, but can take the Robust ability, which is ridiculously good and gives you free armor and damage in exchange for no non-light armor and reduced Defense.
the famous scout Vitreona and her Ogre friend Deterror are the subject of many songs and tales
The Advanced Players guide offers a few options that are rooted a little deeper into the lore and aren't as suited to new players, but are pretty cool.
The Elves that are encountered in most games aren't the entirety of the race, they're an order of Warriors committed to defending the world from Symbaroum. Most have never been to their homelands in the west and are born into Guerilla War with hellish monsters and the humans that may provoke it. Their initiation ceremony is mostly Elders begging them for forgiveness. The elves have a life-cycle of increasing Elfness, starting at Spring Elves that are basically fairies, and rolling through the seasons with increasing power. Nobody's quite sure what's after winter, but the Elven Prince and Commander is close. Elves are Pariahs as well but can take a special trait for accessing the Elve's Ancestral Memories and temporarily getting a non-magical Ability.
Abducted Humans are the people swapped for changelings, used as conscripts and spies. Although the elves would never admit it, but they really like their company. They get Bushcraft like barbarians, and can speak Elvish but not read it.
I wish my shitty Elf dad would tell me whats going on
Dwarves are fucking weird and I'm here for it. They emerged as worms from the body of the World Serpent and were shaped by Symbaroum's Sorcerors into a labour force. Their birth tied them to the fate of the world, and could never be truly controlled, and developed an extreme sense of community and complex coded speech that is basically cockney rhyming slang mixed with a book of proverbs, and never wrote anything in case their Symbar masters would read it. They moved to a fortress city in the mountains, and most of the dwarves in human communities are ex-nobles who were kicked out after a bloody rebellion. They get the perks of Perfect Memory (which means nothing in rpgs) and Earthbound, which means they take physical damage instead of Corruption, because they don't have a soul in the usual sense. Their semi-magic language also lets them take a Curse ability as if it wasn't magical.
The Trolls that aren't hungry monsters live in underground kingdoms, holding court in halls festooned with their artefacts and decorations. They have a fairly brutal culture built upon how much you can contribute, and leadership goes to whoever is willing to fight and scheme for it. They see conflict as a way to improve themselves and their community, and don't show mercy to those who refuse it. Trolls get access to a few abilities usually reserved for monsters, and probably shouldn't because that would be overpowered. In exchange they get pariah again and the GM's expected to be harsh about it.
The Undead are caused by the incoming twilight of the world: some people who die come back afterwards. You get access to a bunch of abilities made for Undead enemies, which are pretty powerful, but the undead really aren't popular and you'll probably have an angry mob appearing if you can't hide it. A small price to pay for total immunity to corruption, half-damge from non-magic effects and a chilling aura that stuns people. Their art is pretty boring and this post is too long so just imagine a zombie dude.
It's a good spread of races overall. the main book fits adventurers without special knowledge of the setting, and despite balance issues and the overuse of Pariah, they're all interesting choices.
Next time: Abilities. So many Abilities
AbilitiesOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
“... and he who was called ‘first among equals’ was nevertheless the fastest, the toughest and the most skilled with the spear; he was Maiesticar, the pillager who thrust Spiderbane at the heart of the Spider King, and all the way through.”
Your character's abilities are the meat of how your guy is built, and the majority of your character's advancement. There's a lot of them, but they all follow roughly the same structure. Each ability comes at 3 ranks, Novice, Adept and Master, and cost 10, 20 and 30 points respectively. You start with 1 adept ability and 3 novice ones. The game's action economy is 1 Movement and 1 Combat Action, and you can only use 1 Active ability per combat action, so stacking more dramatic effects doesn't work. There's also Free actions that are mostly for passive buffs, and Reactions that have their own trigger. Some abilities (mostly magic ones) require you have invested in a single archetype, or qualify as a Profession, a prestige class with a bad name for the more heavy duty combatants in the setting. There's too many abilities to go through each one, so I'll do a brief overview.
It's criminal that there's no Witcher knockoffs in the game
Non-Combat ones are pretty rare. Most end up giving you some utility stuff in some sense, but anything really oriented towards non-combat is a minor boon you can take (which aren't interesting and I can't be bothered discussing), or a magic Ritual. The main ones are Loremaster, which helps a bit with artefacts but mainly allows you to ask the GM for setting info or speak more esoteric languages like elven or Symbaroum, which is very handy. Beast Lore wraps up every D&D ranger class feature into one, also boosting other player's damage against your favored enemy (in a very broad category). There's a couple crafting abilities that can be fun if you fuck with the core book. There's also Witch Sight that lets you see people's alignment and Corruption, which saves time.
Useful Passives are always handy, since they get around poor stats and the limited action economy. Everybody will want to get into these and focus their good aspects, or increase survivability. Every warrior that went for Strength will have Iron Fist, which replaces Accuracy with Strength for melee attacks and gives extra damage later, for instance. At some point, everybody's going to grab Rerolls against mind-affecting magic, increased stats and They're often kind of boring on paper, but when you can reliably do your fundamentals you can get in and out of very interesting situations.
This is apparently a Gentleman Thief. says a lot about the state Yndaros is in.
Fighting Styles are a big part of most character's investment. It tends to increase damage and offer an active ability as a capstone. Two-Handed Force lets you ignore armor at Master Level, Polearm Master is defensively powerful and gives you free attacks when you approach enemies and at Master, stop people from attacking you if you hit them with a free attack, and the rest give stuff like extra attacks and other benefits. The Advanced Players guide gave new abilities for different sorts of weapons, so if you're using that you'll take one for as many categories as you can get.
It's a pretty simple system that works out well, although there's things that are fundamental enough everybody in an archetype will get it.
Next up: Magic Abilities
Magic and TraditionsOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
”...and the beings from beyond tore Symbaroum apart, with claws and fangs, horns and spikes; invited but not welcome, called but not wanted; they were the guests who in insatiable hunger ate and drank till there was nothing left to devour ...”
Magic and Traditions
The magic system of Symbaroum is pretty simple. It divides up magic spells into two categories: Powers and Rituals. Powers are structured like abilities, and rituals only have one level and take a while to cast. The main difference between them and regular abilities is that learning and using Mystical Powers causes Corruption. Corruption is a physical representation of the contest between nature and the unnatural upon you. As you break the rules of reality, it tends to bite back. If you learn a mystic power, it gives you a permanent point of corruption, and casting causes 1d4 temporary points for the scene. If you go over your Corruption Threshold, you get 1d4 permanent points and start manifesting with a Blight Mark, like blackened blood or your eyesight getting subsumed by other senses.. If you ever get over your Resolute score in Corruption, you turn into an Abomination and lose your character for good.
you don't want that to happen
The main way mystics avoid corruption is by having a tradition, a regimented philosophy and community of spellcasters. You get it like an ability, and it reduces the corruption you take in as long as the power is part of the tradition. They also give a few extra benefits.
Theurges are holy priests of Prios who channel their magic through their faith. They're considered blessed by Prios, with power shining from the Sun at the heart of the human spirit. They get a standard Cleric spread of spells, like healing and anti-Corrupt abilities, as well as a spread of interrogation and investigation spells for the inquisitors. They consider corruption to be the result of untamed nature striking back, considering corruption to come from the chaos of nature. If they do suffer corruption, they have access to a ritual where they burn the impurity away.
Witches are the spiritual leaders and shepherds of the barbarians. They consider themselves to travel three paths: The white path of wind and howling spirits, the green path of overgrown roots and thorns, and the red river of blood. It's generally considered to be the oldest tradition, although the theurges dispute this and think it's foolish to worship trees instead of the Sun. The witches have an eclectic spread of magic, like druidic spells like Entangling Vines, shapeshifting, turning people into Frogs and rituals that grow plants quickly, spiritual spells like healing or talking to the dead, and nasty spells like mind control, curses, throwing arrows into the air and having the winds shoot them at enemies, and making larvae grow inside people's stomachs. They consider Corruption as a form of karma, and carefully consider how much is worth taking in. They can manage it by transferring it to their familiar, which can cause them to turn into abominations but may be necessary.
witches always win headgear competitions, driving much of the underlying occult tensions of the game
Wizards use arcane magic built from scientific principles. This is considered heretical by the theurges because of the distance it takes from religion, but the wizards are powerful enough it hasn't mattered. Their magic roughly breaks down into 3 categories: Fire, Illusion and general psychic tricks. They consider Corruption as a purely physical issue rather than a moral one, and can reduce it with an altered version of a lich phylactery.
not interesting outside of some real fun powers
There's also Sorcery, which is evil magic that embraces corruption. It's probably not for player characters, but you can make it work. The spells are really nasty stuff that isn't really useful for Pcs, like rituals that permanently enslave people or hide your corruption, but they get a bunch of new stuff in the advanced guide like bolts of evil energy, forcing corruption onto other people or monsterfying somebody, which was apparently quite popular in Symbaroum. Their tradition works differently from the others, giving no protection against permanent corruption from learning spells but letting you leverage your current amount and reduce temporary point intake, and it isn't specific to Sorcery so you can branch out easily or dabble in it as a different tradition. They tend to consider corruption as inevitable for both them and everybody with standard villian nihilism.
probably not for PCs
The Advanced Players Guide offers 3 new traditions that have surprisingly different mechanics, along with a lot of professions for Mystics looking to specialise in a particular approach to magic that allow upgraded versions of a few spells. If you want to be a Fire-focused wizard or a Necromancy- Sorceror, you can get a few neat powers along those lines, but they aren't worth totally breaking down.
Symbolists were born in the deserts of the east, from mystics fleeing the downfall of the mythical First City (not symbaroum, before/after that), near where humanity arrived on great stone ships according to tattered legends. They established themselves in the lands now owned by the barbarian Vajvod clan, and their scattered practicioners gather at their great azure temple to explore their art. They developed a unique magic based on glyphs that takes time to prepare like a ritual and is activated later, but causes a lot less temporary corruption. After creating a massive desert that's a pretty solid priority. Once you get to adept and Master level in the tradition, that preparation aspect gets downplayed and you realise they have a lot of area-of-effect abilities and built-in contingency effects, and even the ability to store other tradition's spells with a ritual for endless fun.
magic tattoos are cool
Troll Singing is the ancient art of the Trolls, recalling their history and culture. Troll myth states they were born from hte songs of the world, hummed by the air and dust in the rhythm of the World Serpent drumming its tail on the bedrock. The trolls consider the songs of their skalds, the beating of hammers on forges and the clawing of warriors at the stone walls of the abyss to be a great hymn of life. Their main abilities are buffing songs that work as free actions, along with a cursing effect and a dancing weapon that ties your attack and defence to Resolute, making a very effective hybrid. They get a couple of rituals for repairing stuff and finding lost objects, which are neat but nothing to write home about. They don't have any good way to handle corruption though, so they'll need to watch for that.
the book notes most troll songs are kauking, or high-pitched warbling designed to go long distance. this guy is probably annoying, which is better than most things trolls are
Staff Mages are a prestige class for an order of warrior-monks that were once the guardians and advisors to the Emperor of Symbaroum. They consider themselves to have really fucked that one up bad, and attempt to atone for their failure by living in a castle in Davokar and searching for the true heir to the Throne of Thorns. They believe that the loss of the Emperor was the cause of the corruption and fall of Symbaroum, unlike the Elves who say he was the root of the evil. They're mostly secret although they're known to scholars and loremasters. They're a little awkward to join with their mix of required combat and magic abilities on top of finding them, but they're rewarded with quarterstaffs connected to their soul that soak corruption and strike with elemental force, and spells like throwing their staves like projectiles or having them spin and protect from attacks, as well as special rituals that get loaded into the staff and unleashed later, like Blood Storm. Definitely somebody you want on your side, especially since then they might tell you where Symbaroum is.
of course you'd take Blood Storm
Related to all the magic, your character also has a Shadow, which is a lot like Alignment. They're roughly divided into 3 categories: Nature, Civilisation (which correspond to Law and Chaos in a few ways) and Corruption, which is a tainting and darkening effect on the others. You describe the colors of your shadow, which are green red and white for nature, metallic colors for Civilisation and sickly black stripes and blots of increasing size for Corruption. It doesn't do much aside from letting people detect corruption, but the divide's less contrite than D&D alignment and plays into the factional conflicts.
With all the abilities out of the way, you get whatever gear is necessary to use an ability, camping gear, basic weaponry and 5 thaler (gold pieces), along with a name, character and group goal and useless but fun trinkets.
Next Time: Sample builds, from the gimmicky to the busted
CHARACTER BUILDSOriginal SA post
There's not really any synergy between goblin and casters so I can't really do much with it, but
I’d like to see what an ogre fighter type would look like.
Add troll bard to that.
have some interesting things we can do.
We start with picking an archetype to work with, which in this case is already done. There's more outlined suggestions that tell you thematic abilities, and we take the Skald one for our Troll, and the Ogre's special trait Robust only works with light armor, so we take Tattooed Warrior, which synergises well and we can get started on some bullshit. As a Mystic Tradition, Troll Singing kind of writes itself.
I give the Ogre Robust because it's what you do, and take Adept Berserker because it matches with the theme of an angry monster guy and Novice Iron Fist because nearly every Fighter will want that. As well as all those reasons, those abilities allow me to stack armor so I reduce 3d4 damage from every single attack, which is enough to no-sell most attacks for a while. Berserk also gives me +d6 damage in exchange for tanking my dodge, but who needs to dodge. I don't think anyone's really concerned about my exact stat spread but I invest in Strength, then cover my bases with a solid Resolute, Persuasive and Vigilant. Cunning's good but I'm hoping somebody else can cover it, and I dump Accuracy and Discreet. Ogres tend to pick up names from whoever adopts them, so I go with Beefy. I'll say he was found by clan Vajvod, who do the magic tattoo stuff, and was made into a warrior. I don't actually have the tattoo yet, but I plan on picking it up as soon as possible, maybe saying I have it but it hasn't kicked in so the GM can't put barriers in front of it. For an alternative take, get Wrestler from the Advanced Players Guide, which has explicit boosts from Robust so you can pull off sick wrestling moves on undead servitors of a dead empire.
The Troll Singer takes Troll Singing as an Adept, the Heroic Hymn Trollsong and Dominate novice. Heroic Hymn is a song that gives a stat-boosting aura to either Resolute, Persuasive or Cunning while Dominate substitutes Persuasive for Accuracy in melee combat. This gives us a really solid basis for a Fighter-Mage: Most of the Trollsongs don't require an action so you can beat people while singing. I'd plan to get Leader Novice at some point, which lets you use Persuasive for your spellcasting. We get a good Persuasive, as well as a decent Strength and Resolute because even though we don't roll them, they're important derived stats. We also want Discreet to be pretty good, because people tend to freak out about Trolls. We no longer need accuracy outside of edge cases, so that goes out the window. We pick a name from the list, which divides between young and old trolls, of Riomata, and say that they're adventuring to learn new human songs and expand their reportoire, which other trolls may or may not like.
We tie together our two big monster people with a group goal. Riomata has a stronger one than Beef, so I'd make Beef subordinate to that as a mercenary and have them begin their journey in Thistlehold like everyone else, as two giant dudes trying to find seats that'll fit them in the local theatre.
OTHER FUN BUILDS
Get a good Quick and Strength score, and take Polearm Master Adept and Acrobatics Novice. Polearms, instead of having a reach distance, give you a free attack if anyone moves to engage you. Polearm Mastery gives all attacks with polearms better damage, removes the 1 per turn free attack limit and gives free attacks when you engage enemies. Acrobatics gives you the ability to ignore attacks of opportunity when you disengage on a successful Quick roll, so you can disengage and re-engage with melee attackers easily. Very effective on large numbers of enemies, especially when you get higher damage from other sources and Master Polearm, which stops things from attacking you if you hit with the reaction. Doesn't work against other enemies with Reach though, so watch out. This is the one I went with for my character, and it's very effective in certain situations but you do need an edge for fighting larger monsters. I supplemented it with Rune Tattoo for extra defense and Berserk for extreme Glass Cannon setups, which might not be so wise but I really shred mobs.
Take Alchemist Adept, Two-Handed Force and Man At Arms. Alchemy gives you a lot of utility if you're willing to prepare stuff, as well as access to Grenades. If you're using grenades you'll probably not want to dump accuracy since the stat substitutions don't cover both melee and ranged attacks, but you could pick up Sixth Sense and Iron Fist at some point. Mainly you'll want to get max Two-Handed Force for the sweet sweet armor penetration. Eventually you should pick up Beast Lore for the theming. It's basically Favored Enemy from Rangers, but at least there's only 4 categories and all of them are about equally as important, and the extra damage goes to everyone in the party. There isn't really a good race for this, so probably go Ambrian for Priviledged and get 2 swords to start with.
a character with Iron Fist Adept, berserker and Equestrian deals 1d10+2d6+1d4 damage on a charge. Advanced Equestrian lets you do hit and run tactics so you can easily loop it. However it's dependent on having a horse for the real dramatic effects, so you'll want to pick up heavy armor and Man-at-arms at some point. Horses don't handle the depths of Davokar well anyway. Thought of elves and died
The God of Arrows
This build is built around having the most attacks possible. You take Rapid Fire Adept, Storm Arrow Novice and Marksman novice. Rapid Fire lets you trade a movement action away to shoot an extra arrow, and shoot two arrows at once with a combat action, for 3 arrows. Storm Arrow is a witchcraft spell that lets you have arrows floating around you that you shoot out, and novice gives lets you shoot out one as a free action, so at this point you can shoot 4 arrows a turn if you have that activated. Marksman increases bow damage to 1d8, although not the storm arrows. To expand on this you can go full Witchcraft for less corruption and entangling spells to stop people engaging you at melee. You can also invest in goofy trick arrows and be an insane green arrow guy. Run away from anything in armor though.
Pokemon trainer, possibly the most busted build in Symbaroum
Most mystical traditions each have a ritual that gives you a magical companion that works like an extra player character, even leveling up like one. Yeah it surprised me as well. Take Ritual Adept for Flaming Servant, Familiar and a Patron Saint. If you're using the Advanced players guide, swap out the familiar for the symbolist Rune Guardian because it's better. You are now in control of four player characters. This ramps up permanent Corruption and the best way to get rid of corruption is other Rituals, and it'd be a big investment to get Ritualist to Master, so take decent Resolute and maybe a bow or something. You've still got 2 novice abilities to take care of.
Symbaroum's character creation lets you do some interesting stuff: It's flexible and easy to manage. There's also clearly superior options and they really needed a balance pass, although that's a discussion for another day.
GM SECTION: THEIR RULESOriginal SA post
is back, after all the clamouring. I remember the PMs, begging me for more updates. "Please Wrestlepig," they all said. "Please tell us about a roleplaying game I will never play. I picked it up in a humble bundle one time and I really want to know what a stranger thinks of it. Please put a lot of effort into making it look like you aren't putting in much effort in a cool way. I'll read it and think that it's pretty neat in between posts about samurai and rifts, and other subjects I either feel good about contributing to or actually like, you'll never be able to tell."
Well, let nobody say I'm not susceptible to peer pressure. or regular boredom anxiety.
Grandmother Aledra of Yndaros posted:
Do you remember Alberetor, the way it was before the hordes of darkness poured out from the East? I do. I remember the Bay of Beredoria, sparkling green. I remember the rich and murky gloom of the Felan Forest. And every time I close my eyes, I can summon the image of House Kohinoor’s palace in Kandoria. So mark my words – to adventurous fortune-seekers, our new homeland is more than Alberetor ever was.
Surely, I understand the allure of the forest. Davokar has it all: the mystique, the excitement, layers upon layers of ancient secrets. There's wealth and riches to be salvaged, if not in the form of precious metals and artifacts, then in the form of valuable treasures of nature. Yet, to he who keeps an open mind our Queen’s promised land has a lot more than that to offer. The rigid structures of Alberetor are shattered. Power, wealth and influence no longer have to be inherited or presented as gifts from the ones already in power. Ambria is full of conflict, problems and tension, merely waiting for the involvement of ambitious people. Therefore, I say it again: Davokar may be alluring, but in Ambria there are countless ways to reach the same goal, whether you seek wealth, knowledge or fame!
GM SECTION: THEIR RULES
The gm section is probably the most telling part of Symbaroum's quality. It's a mixture of neat modern ideas and 90s ass design that fuck everything up, with a permutation of ideas from everywhere. I'll condense a lot of it down since there's actually very few GM-focused rules.
They establish some principles that the developers think are key to good GMing. Most of them are fairly standard to modern games such as Say Yes as much as you can, some are restatements of what a gm's role like Prepare Challenges or Describe the World, but the most interesting is the last one. It says to 'Leave Evil Unexplained' and is key to hitting the desired themes.
The darkness lurking at the roots of Davokar is beyond human. Maybe the darkness hates all things living; maybe the darkness feeds off the life force of others; or maybe it simply regards all living beings as playthings. The allies of evil, its servants, those who transform into blight beasts and hunger for life can be described, and sometimes explained, but the source of the darkness is nigh unexplainable.
As was mentioned by a commenter a while ago, this game has a dark-souls feel of mystery at it's peak. In my campaign, we've been to haunted cities stuck in liminal spaces, with a vortex of ghosts calmed into dance by an eternally singing elf, had a character nearly get dragged into the dirt of hell by burrowed hands, desperately sworn to serve forces we barely understand, and echoed a god's dying moments. Very few ttrpgs can manage a strong sense of mystery like that, but if you can with Symbaroum, the setting works unbelivably well. There isn't really any mechanical enforcement, and there's a Loremaster Ability that counteracts it a bit, but the developers have been pretty good about avoiding Timelines and 60% Lore stuff taking up the book like the 90s stuff that plagues the System Mastery Podcast, so it'll happen fairly naturally if the gm keeps that principle in mind.
very easy to have mysteries if everybody wears masks all the time
After the principles we get into the GM rules, which there are very few. All tests are d20 roll under, with a modifier to the roll based on the difficulty, ranging from +5 for easy stuff to +5 for very hard, or [relevant Enemy Stat -10]. The GM only rolls for rare abilities that don't have a modifier, in almost all cases the players will make a defensive roll. Enemy Damage and Armor roll for enemies is averaged out, and modified by the player's armor or damage. It's an elegant system that should be familiar to most players, and the odds are pretty clear. No complaints for me, it's not the part that fucks up everything.
There's a breakdown of a few different subsystems that should really be under the player-facing stuff. A lot of it is explaining super basic concepts like game time, not worth detailing. They talk about the game's Corruption and Shadow system, which is a combination of Mana, Alignment and SAN. Every living creature has an invisible aura of colors that vary based on their worldview, focused on the Nature vs Civilisation conflict underlying the game. Nature tends to be white, red and green, while civilisation tends to be metallic. However, Power Corrupts, especially mystics who warp the world by their will, and it has a way of reacting. The world itself is damaged enough that all magic carries this threat now. Corruption is cut into 2 forms: Temporary and Permanent Corruption. Temporary Corruption happens whenever you cast a spell or are exposed to something seriously tainted. Permanent Corruption happens whenever you learn a spell, are exposed to extreme amounts of corruption or reach your Corruption threshold (Half your Resolute value). If you've got points of corruption under your threshold, it can be detected in your Shadow by abilities such as Witchsight or theurgy rituals. Once you go over your threshold, it starts to manifest as a Blight-Mark, an unpleasant mutation like a thirst for raw flesh, some monsterism or your eyesight fading to be replaced by other enhanced senses. Once you reach your Resolute, you character turns into an Abomination. Fortunately the mystic Traditions cut back on corruption a lot with some investment, and some artefacts and rituals can heal permanent corruption. It's a decent system but it's pretty easy to avoid, especially with later options like the Strong Gift power, and temporary corruption goes away at the end of a scene so it really doesn't matter outside of combat.
now ya fucked up
There's also rules for artifacts, which are very important for a game about treasure hunting. To properly make use of an artifact, you need to bind yourself to it with a point of experience or permanent corruption. You can also find out what it does before you do that with Witchsight or Loremaster rolls, which is probably a good idea considering where you'll find most of these things. They tend to have powerful abilities, although there's only a couple listed in the book. The first is Water of the Dusk, which is blessed by Prios to have a lot of incredibly useful anti-corruption and healing powers. It can cure permanent corruption, buff theurgy or blow up corrupt beings for huge amounts of damage. The other is a Serpent-Staff that once belonged to a Staff Mage friend of Mayor Nightpitch of Thistlehold, and can it can bite and wrap around people. The Advanced Players Guide creates Lesser Artifacts that have less effects in exchange for less to deal with. It's also worth mentioning they're all worth a shitton of money, and if you get some major artifacts you don't need, you can make bank.
Actually making artifacts was a troll secret once symbaroum fell. They later taught the elves and had their secrets either stolen or traded to the humans. typical really
Next Time: Monsters and Symbaroum's biggest mistep
MONSTERSOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
... and under moss and roots, under the trails of crawlers and wrigglers, there are caverns basking in the gloom of the underworld; there thrive implings and the bone pale; there the blight grows on rocky walls and abominable shells; there the weepers walk in the Halls of a Thousand Tears, round and round a well about to overflow ..
If the spooky giant forest wasn't enough of a threat, it is infested with terrifying monsters and dread beings of death and darkness, and the peoples around it are tough and desperate. Unfortunately they made a real bad decision about how to do this and made enemies build like PCs on pretty much every level. This really fucks up enemy and encounter design badly. It's common to have enemies designed like PCs, and the issues that causes are well known. They have different economies in all aspects, and different values. The worst part is that they have the same statistical rules: they're in a range between 5 and 15, and have the same derived stats like their HP, so enemies have very few hit points like the players do. It doesn't really let the game do the classic trick of the 90s games that made this mistake and inflate the numbers to get around it. They do have access to different abilities most players won't have, but none of them in the core book are able to inflate their health beyond 18, so they stack armor, which makes armor ignoring abilities ridiculously useful compared to a lot of the multiple attack abilities or most mystical blasts.* At the higher end, most monsters look pretty much the same because there's only a few ways to inflate the numbers, so everything feels like it's kludged together. It just warps the balance of the game, and it's bizarre that they had this weird simulationist setup while they also made it so the GM doesn't roll.
This has 13 hit points. I've read that post about dungeon world too but that game doesn't have Two Handed Force Master on it
Monsters don't totally follow the same rules as humans though. They get access to special Monstrous Abilities, to represent physical features like acid blood, a ghostly form, wings or general number increases like Robust. The amount of experience you give enemies is based on their desired strength with a pretty basic CR system. This also brings up another issue with the ability system where every ability costs the same despite varied power levels. The Raw number increases like Robust and Berserk cost the same as flavorful abilities that don't synergise with other abilities like Poison Spit. It's at least easy enough to upgrade and customize them.
That said, the actual monsters are very cool. There's a Monster manual with some crazy stuff in it as well as the super high-powered monsters, but I don't have it and it's probably full of spoilers, but the book has some great sample monsters to threaten your players with, along with a lot of good plot hooks.
Elves, are said to have arrived in Davokar at the creation of the forest, and are committed to guarding it at all costs with the Iron Pact. They have forms that correspond with the seasons: They are born as mischievous Spring Elves that people often call faeries, and then fall into dormancy to awaken as Summer Elves, who are your most standard ones. If they survive constant guerilla warfare in an evil forest for a couple of centuries, they sleep and awaken as Autumn Elves, who work as leaders and start making use of witchcraft. There are very few Winter Elves that exist, mainly their Prince Eneano, and there are theories about godlike beings beyond that. They're really nasty ranged attackers that are vulnerable to getting rushed, but if you get ambushed you're in serious trouble.
Trolls are big scary humanoids at least ten feet tall. Although there are stories about (aka Are) troll civilizations under Davokar with all sorts of stuff going on, most people only see the starved and mindless Rage Trolls. These can be a threat, but sometimes older and smarter Liege Trolls form them into gangs. Worse than that are the Arch-Trolls, which are huge, violent and intelligent, with mystic powers and alchemy. Fortunately, these ones are more sane, and can often be dealt with like people, or beaten by tricks or a competition
The barbarian legends about Troll-Mother Ognyx are very popular. They are thrilling, frightening and always end with the vicious and violent death of the taboo-breaking human.
Human Adversaries are common. There's writeups for cultists, criminals, rangers, treasure hunters, inquisitors (both official and self-taught maniacs) and barbarians. This shows an interesting problem where the game assumes sometimes that you're playing as Ambrians, since there's no rules for knights or anything. The enemies around are pretty typical, but the absence of enemies not as associated with the forest are indicative of a trend that pops up in the adventures more. I'll get to that later since it's not relevant, and each of these has a good bit of flavor in the description so it's not really fair. I also really like the note on different setups from different barbarian clans, like tribes that tame bears and trolls, or the Gaioans who love poison and throw spiders at people.
We make up many names for those we love; the same is true for the ones we detest. Call them treasure-hunters, fortune-hunters, explorers or grave robbers – many are the Ambrians who put their lives at risk in the hope of finding riches in the ruins of old Symbaroum. Nowadays most people have realized the foolishness in challenging Davokar singlehandedly, which is why almost everyone travels with at least four companions. But the composition of the groupings may of course vary considerably, from being made up of a handful of former peasants scratching for precious metals in the forest outskirts to disciplined expeditions led by Ordo Magica or some ambitious nobleman. The plunderers described below are of the brutish kind – groups of individuals who have managed to scrape together enough coin to buy an Explorer’s License and ventured into the woods hoping to find the mother lode. As they have risked everything they own, and maybe even taken loans from some shady moneylender, they are not likely to abandon their dig-site without a fight. For that reason it is probably true that in the outskirts of Davokar treasure-hunters are killed by competitors as often as they are by beasts, elves or local barbarians.
Spiders are one of the greatest threats of Davokar. Even the Ambrians have legends about the war against the Spider King and his host of monstrous spider-people, and giant spiders and toad monsters descended from the bestial monarch. Their threat was so great the barbarian clans united and drove them into the darkest parts of the forest. There's lots of spiders, but they rarely get bigger than a human and aren't organized, although their territories are spreading outwards. They have a lot of venom and web-related abilities, which makes them a threat to PCs of any power level.
There's a few normal-ish Predators listed as well. Mare-Cats are pack-hunting hairless felines with poisonous bites that sneak into villages and attack people, and the Baiagorn are big angry bear-like creatures that some barbarians tame as war animals. Greatest of all listed is the Aboar, a semi-mythical piglike being some say is related to Trolls. There's stories about it attacking villages, but even more accounts of it watching people from a distance with a calm intelligence. The Vajvodi barbarians hunt it every winter in a heroic quest, and I'd put my money on the Aboar's tusks. There's also scary flying creatures like swarms of Violings, said to be made when crows feast on Abomination corpses and are imbued with malice and cunning, or man-sized Dragon-flies that can swallow a goblin whole and impersonate the cries of a human child Interestingly, most forest creatures are afflicted with some corruption from the darkness of the forest.
There's no confirmed existence of Dragons beyond barbarian legends, crazy people who went really deep into the forest, and designs on symbar artifacts, but there are great serpents people say are related somewhat. Most common are the Kanaran, great snakes that constrict their prey and use them as a shield, and the Lindworm pictured above, which is a terrifying and intelligent Wyrm that can enthrall people or tear them apart in it's mouth. the Gaioan barbarians are said to worship an especially old one called Grandfather Lint, and refuse any invitations by Ambrian scholars to meet him. I'm sure they're not up to anything.
Next time: We get Metal with Abominations and the Undead
*spells that don't target defense are still very good. for instance, the witch can reliably defeat a primal blight beast by turning it into a frog and having the ogre smash it because they forgot to put on an enemy stat modifier for that spell. maybe its the translation but the game needs an edit pass
FORCES OF CORRUPTIONOriginal SA post
I am running out of these things, aroleta please speak again posted:
“... and remember from which roots this verdant beauty springs; even the richest crop feeds on decay, and never before has any harvest been as lush, or any soil as black, as the one in the shadowy halls of Davokar.”
FORCES OF CORRUPTION
Many say the world of Symbaroum is dying. Some mutter it in street corners and church-prisons, some scream it from the pulpit as the sun sets, and some say it with a smile at heroes who presume to stand against it. Despite the best efforts of some who claim to know why, whatever affliction the world is suffering from is growing stronger. Corruption twists the living into monstrosity and the laws of life and death break down, sending nations fleeing. Symbaroum was the greatest source of this, and whatever they did may have doomed everyone.
I like the pseudo impressionist Paint/sketchy art the game does, and it's perfect for making the abominations look unreal
There are two categories of monster defined by Corruption: Abominations and the Undead. Abominations, also known as Blight Beasts by every non-ambrian, are what happens when a living being is overloaded with corruption and turns into a monster, driven entirely by dark, destructive impulses. Although the wizards and inquisition research whatever abominations they can find, the only common thread beyond corruption is that they want to hurt humans. they wish for humans to ache, to suffer, preferably to die. And they wish this with such a passion that nothing else matters. You cannot reason or communicate with an abomination. The abomination lives for the destruction of mankind, one individual at a time. Most Blight Beasts are twisted forms of animals and people, and manage to retain some of their nature. Although most of them rampage and kill everything it can find, some human-sourced ones retain enough intelligence to form cults around themselves and hide out in society. The worst abominations are the Primal Blight Beasts, which are known only in scarce reports of pure Abominations, birthed from the Corruption itself, that so alien and hateful that they embody the opposite of nature. The theories about them state that they are born from puddles of acidic magic in the most corrupt places, or the marrow of the World Serpent that either formed Symbaroum or was defiled by its emperor. As the antithesis of Existence, I don't think they care. They're terrifying mechanically with every big numbers ability, acid blood and corrupting attacks, and could easily kill an unprepared higher-level party.
Death is not as absolute as it once was. The lands Ambria left are plagued with mindless corpses that stood up again and pathetically echoed their actions in life, farming barren fields and wandering empty streets, and even in Ambria and Davokar the dead rise again. The undead of the region are not mindless, and can often be talked to or reasoned with. The grand-master of the wizards categorically denies accusations from the inquisitors that they have specialists trying to do so, but thanked them for the idea, since an undead Symbar wizard would know some incredible secrets.* The most common undead are Dragouls, semi-sentient zombies driven by a hunger for flesh and blood. The Barbarians are not used to this new sort of undead but the Ambrians slaughtered thousands of them in the war, so dragoul threats cause both alliances and tension as barbarians either ask for help or blame the southerners for them. another common form of undead are Frostlights, deathly cold wisps said to be stillborn children looking for warmth.
Less common are the Necromages, improperly buried sorcerers from the times of Symbaroum. They're spectral shapeshifters that can overpower the minds of weak-willed beings and attack your Resolute stat instead of health. The book states that they often appear as colorless reflections of the person looking at them. There's also Cryptwalkers: Your standard Barrow-wight or Mummy that hunts down those who disturb its rest. They're actually not that scary because they dual-wield and that sucks against armor, but they take no damage from non-magical sources and can paralyse you with the chill of the grave.
Symbaroum haunts everything in the forest. sometimes more obviously than others.
One point worth noting is that the undead are all super-corrupt, but can still be sentient. This fact has not gone unnoticed in the setting.
Next time: The Introductory Adventure
*we actually got close to pulling this off but liches are notorious for disliking people stealing from them, her brain had rotted and nobody spoke her language. well we have loremaster master now so better luck this time
THE PROMISED LANDOriginal SA post
Thus Spoke Aroaleta posted:
... and king upon king sent his people to die, in wave upon wave over rolling plains; men and women on whose broken hulls, an imposing realm was built. Such was the foundation of Symbaroum: built with flesh and blood.
THE PROMISED LAND
not many of the pics are going to be super appropriate so there's just going to be cool scenery stuff
The book closes with a pre-written adventure module, designed to introduce people to the setting and system. It does a pretty good job of it, covering a lot of ground and setting up for further adventures with plot hooks (that all get covered in the extensive campaign material released later).
There's a few pregenerated characters to draw from. I'd recommenced not giving them to player characters, since they're not optimized, but their personalities are good to crib. The ones they recommend are all from the south, but there's also a few barbarians and some monster-race people to cover those bases. Those are all designed to not be in a position to know much. When we did the adventure, we made our own characters who were less ignorant in general, which made a few things work differently.
The adventure starts far to the south of the forest, in the mountains of Old Alberetor, where the Ambrians came from. Everyone is situated near each other, sitting around a fire during a harsh winter night. Around them are a mess of tents and wagons, with throngs of stoic refugees around them. Although the backstories of individuals have little set in stone, the land behind them is blasted by apocalyptic war with necromancers two decades ago, and the column of refugees are likely the last who could ever make it out. It's a good setup for imbuing some degree of competency and history: either you're a veteran of two decades of war against the dead, have been adventuring far away from home or at the very least traveling hard.
Player characters who have been raised in some part of Alberetor or have been there some time all carry dark and haunting memories from the journey to the camp. South of the camp the ground has still vigor enough to nourish vegetation, but the crops soon to be harvested are not what they once were. The fields are sparsely vegetated by pale stalks with shrunken ears of grain; the orchards that used to be full of apples, lemons and sweet plums are all but naked; and scrawny cattle can be seen everywhere, grazing in the all but naked fields, roaming wild after being left adrift by their previous owners and caretakers.The ones who come from a place further south or out east have witnessed even darker scenes. In those places the soil is blackened and completely lifeless, often transformed into dusty deserts incapable of absorbing water from either rains or rivers. Abandoned cities, deserted residencies and castles, ghostly farms whose livestock enclosures are occupied by nothing other than carcasses – Alberetor is dead and all but gone. All that is left is what the people of Queen Korinthia carry with them on the journey over the mountains.
As well as the Pcs around the fire, there's a coachman named Telk, flanked with a couple barbarian pathfinders named Belun and Ludo. Telk is a curious and talkative guy, and gives an opportunity to get people talking about their characters. We all love doing that shit, admit it. There's not much else to do than talk at this point, since the winter's so bad it's too dangerous to travel, even though the snow will block the mountain passes soon. After the chatting's over, Telk's mate Keler whispers something in his ear, and Telk gets excited, leading the players over to a still-rich man named Argasto. He's planning on making the trip, and is filling his few remaining spots with whoever is going to improve his chances. Convenient for the players. He gets them to prove their merit with a quick combat to first blood against his current guards or similar display of competence. If they lose, they get put on anyway for a good showing and because it'd be a very stupid adventure otherwise.
After a short timeskip of caravan travel in surprisingly good sun, everyone is thrown back into playing with screaming about a thief. One of the people on the adventure and a possible pregen, an apprentice wizard named Bartolom, had a magical artifact called a Sun-Stone stolen from him. This is bad news, not only for him: the sunstone has fire-magic powers in case of emergency, and it's the only reason the trip could get made. It's not so much a mystery as a way to learn basic problem solving. Almost any investigation at all tells you Keler did it and he's traceable to a ruined tower with a vigilant test or two. Aside from a bear trap he's easy to take out. Keler starts blustering about how someone called Mal-Rogan is coming, in a clever literary flourish known as Foreshadowing, and the Pcs end up with the deciding vote on what to do with the thief (he's pretty fucked unless you totally forgive him, and he's too craven for that to be a good idea)
the game doesn't need a gridmap as much as D&D but it helps, and they supply a few for key scenes. We haven't really used them and we've managed alright thanks to less AOE and strict range rules than other games
Mal-Rogan turns up if the players hang around the tower at all, along with a crew of fellow robbers. He's a pretty scary undead nobleman-turned bandit with his severed hand hanging around his neck and veins full of black pus. The fight can be very tough: Mal-Rogan hits hard and has a nasty magic curse ability, along with a bandit with a crossbow for each PC, but with the tower on your side you'll probably be OK. Mal-Rogan's severed hand is an artifact with a couple of nice powers, but he'll always come back from the dead while it's around, so it's probably not worth it.
The Real Symbaroum starts with the adventure's final leg. The players are all out gathering firewood, along with the two barbarian pathfinders mentioned before, and a Black Cloak (witch-hunter) called Lestra, who wasn't mentioned. I'm sure there's a casting list somewhere but I can't find it, so maybe it's just assuming you aren't hobnobbing with the other wagons. Suddenly there's a great howling and a big wolf with a pack of smaller Jakaars (basically forest Jackals) behind, and it charges towards the barbarians. It's weaker than you'd expect, and goes down easily against all the numbers. Unfortunately, the wolf's corpse changes into that of a young, battered elf woman with an iron bracelet on her arm. Anyone with any knowledge about the forest recognises this is a warrior of the Iron Pact. Now you've got a body to dispose of, and that's the least of your worries. Everyone who has any sense at all gets nervous, especially the barbarians. The southerners are less bothered, with Lestra musing about why and Bartolom making patronising remarks about witchcraft.
There's an intermediary scene of the weather getting really bad and the wagons get circled. Somebody with Witchsight can tell that it's magical in origin, and observers may hear singing in the distance. Generally if somebody is singing in symbaroum, it's not good for you, so this is a good learning experience. That morning, two more elves appear at the camp and make a proclamation.
The boss Elf posted:
We want the ones called Belun and Ludo. They have violated the treaties; they have tunneled too deep into the soil of old Davokar. They are blight-stricken and must be purged.
The two elves whisper something to each other in elvish, and if anyone can understand the language, there's a translation where they argue about whether to just kill everyone, but the relatively peaceful option wins. Maybe the Iron Pact is as fractured as everything else. They end up with an ultimatum: Give them the barbarian pathfinders by sundown, and everything will go peacefully. The only objectors are the barbarians, obviously, but Lestra says the Church has a fortress-temple nearby that researches corruption, and says to dump them there instead. The Pcs have the deciding votes.
The Monastery of the Twilight Friars is in the nearby mountains, far enough from Ambria that it poses no threat. Here, experiments and dissections are done to discover the truth about corruption and abominations by very dedicated priests. It's not a terrible idea to take them there, although I wouldn't hope for them to be cured
If you manage to get Belun and Ludo to spill the beans, they reveal their little story. Before getting on the caravan, they were hired on a treasure-hunting expedition by a suspicious man named Gorak. They should have declined after hearing the name, it's got too many harsh consonants. They found the tomb of some barbarian lord with a copper crown merged into its skull. He remembered Gorak passing it around the campfire for everyone to play with. After living like kings off the haul, members of the expedition started disappearing or changing. They got worried about being watched and fled south. A fairly standard story in Ambria.
This wasn't a hard choice for our group at the table. We had a couple barbarians, including a witch, and they know the score well enough with this shit. We basically just went "you broke the taboos real bad. Ya fucked up and you're probably going to turn into a monster. Like half our culture is built on not doing the thing you just did." This might be more complicated with some Theurge Pcs, but really the elves are probably right. Symbaroum is one of the few settings where Elves being arrogant Dickheads works: They have a good reason to be and mix in the 'woe is me' stuff at a reasonable level. Just give them the poor fucks.
The adventure splits for the final encounter based on whether you side with the elves or not. If you plan to hand over the barbarians, they panic and try to fight back, which is quickly interrupted by a monstrosity bursting out of Belun's skin: An abomination with bare muscle, knives of bone for fingers and bony spikes growing from its skull. It's a very nasty attacker that just goes berserk immediately tries to rip everything apart. If it gets some hits in, it can very easily kill a character, but it's outnumbered and won't last too long. If you go up against the elves instead, one of them is a very mobile archer and the other turns into a bear. They'd fuck you up but they only care about stopping the abominations. As a GM I'd angle for a three-way fight where Belun and Ludo turn midway through, although I think most people would side with the Elves.
Once that's wrapped up, the storm dies down and the caravan travels onwards. Congratulations, get like 8 xp points. This introduction leads straight into the main adventure line, so you can touch the crown and go all crazy too. I'm not going to write up the index, so the book is over.
The perils of this journey are nothing compared to what is to come
NEXT TIME: FINAL THOUGHTS
FINAL THOUGHTSOriginal SA post
A Hymn to the Leafy Deep, by Taubio posted:
Shimmering curtains of golden rays,
a heavenly scent in the air,
everything dressed in a misty haze,
a realm so remarkably fair.
Butterflies soaring on wings so frail,
a fox cub is trailing a deer.
That squirrel is slumbering nose in tail,
so sure there is nothing to fear.
But close by the squirrel, mere leaps away,
all beauty is withered and dead.
There ravenous beings are stalking their prey,
with cravings too great to be fed.
Murderous creatures are everywhere
molded like phantom or beast.
And flowers as deadly as they are rare,
are welcoming you to their feast.
Oh Davokar, take me and hold me tight,
I’m yielding my being to you.
To die in your arms on some starlit night
is all that I long to do.
Symbaroum is an interesting example of an emergent European RPG style. There hasn't been much comment on it, but Europe has been producing a few interesting games with an approach like we saw in the 90s. I'm fascinated that games like Symbaroum or even Degenesis exist. Despite language barriers, they put out a really high production value series of books and succeed while American equivalents with larger IPs collapse on themselves. There's also publishers like Cubicle 7 or Modiphus that are quietly publishing lots of great stuff. Must be the social safety nets. I hope Brexit doesn't fuck them up. Anyway, Symbaroum is a great example of this sort of AA rpg: influences from all over the place with a strong voice and a simple core system. It has its flaws, but it's definitely something I'd say to give a look at.
I've grown to like the mechanics more as I play the game, but they definitely have issues. The main one everyone points to is the Armor and Damage stacking as an arms race because of how abilities and stats work. It screws over a lot of approaches and abilities that don't put out lots of raw damage, like multi-attack stuff or a lot of the spells. The stats are also out of whack, like how accuracy is almost always substituted out and everybody needs Resolute and probably Strength. There's little mechanical support for important out of combat stuff, such as journeys or diplomacy (most people say they want abilities for it, I'd say give me dedicated subsystems). There's also stuff I don't like, such as permanent corruption hurting casters bad long-term, but those are personal taste things. I like the relative flatness of the curve in some ways, but if you didn't realize how almost every melee fighter should take Iron Fist to adept, you're really not going to manage the real nastier stuff. The system's issues are definitely known by the devs, judging from how they try to patch it with later abilities. If you're going to play this, there's a house rule to replace Accuracy with (Strength +Quick)/2 for melee and (Vigilant+Quick)/2 for ranged that I'd consider mandatory. A lot of people convert the setting over to Shadow of the Demon Lord, which fits very well. Personally I think a hack of The One Ring would be amazing, and you could probably be fine with OSR stuff. Maybe even Burning Wheel if you're a maniac who can do custom lifepaths. I think there's going to be a d20 version at some point, but who cares.
I'm a sucker for a good rpg setting, and this is one I'd unequivocally recommend. It's thematically clear, has lots of meaningful conflict and it enables a lot of different narratives and adventures. Dark Fantasy is an underserved genre for RPGs: There are a lot of them, but most of them are either an absurd farce, a veneer over discrimination, or a way to justify cruelty and power-tripping GMs. A good work of dark fantasy is humanistic, and shows oppression and sorrow because it cares about the struggles of those who withstand it. Symbaroum, rare among rpgs, manages to have an air of mystery and melancholy, and gets closer than anything to that Dark Souls vibe of intruding on the fragments of a dead civilization. It's even got those item descriptions for artifacts. My time with the main adventure has been the best campaign I've played in (although a gm might have more quibbles). It's one of those campaigns with energy that goes beyond the table. Maybe it's just that I've started an office job, but I often feel my mind drift towards Davokar.
artwork of my Symbaroum character, Adela, that I commissioned at a con. Self indulgent of me, but so was this whole writeup, and I can't divide the two. I'm going to miss her when her saga ends, even though she really needs to get over herself