Approximate time to read: 6 minutes.
Run your game with confidence. If nothing else, you should come at it with a certainty that belies any self-doubt you might have about the consistency of the campaign or your stance in respect of canon. Set that doubt aside, because none of us can inhabit the minds of the authors of the core campaign and nor should we worry. I have had the honour and pleasure of writing for Symbaroum, as part of the Kickstarter for the Symbaroum Monster Codex, and while I had to keep a weather eye on some of the details around locations, I couldn’t spend all my time worrying about whether or not something would fit with the canon.
I’m certain that Jarnringen will have tweaked some of the content that I submitted as part of the Glimmer, the Stinger, and two Adventure Locations – but when you run your game, the same will not be true. Therefore, why run the game with that level of concern? This isn’t an exam – no one will be red-marking your adventure notes at the session to tell you what went wrong, nor should you ever need to back-pedal to retcon the events of your adventures because you later discover some hidden significance in a marginal personality.
Another Person’s Game
No one should take you up on your approach mid-game. If you feel that you have the sort of group or a player that might do that, explain to them from the outset that you set the tone and paint the colours of your Symbaroum campaign. It doesn’t matter how much game material they have read, you run your game – and they might choose to run their own if they insist on perfection.
Be clear in that regard. In the heart of every adventure, you have player characters and those characters fall to the players to expand and adapt within the bounds of your world. Each player can inject as much background and fine detail as they wish in expanding the depth and colour of their character, but they should not expect to change the detail of the world anymore than you would tell them what their character says or thinks.
There’s an invisible line in the sand that should not be crossed; by all means, you might parley across that line, but don’t step over it. If you have a player creating a character utterly un-Symbaroum in their outlook or background, that’s in your interest to discuss with the player and guide it back on course.
At the same time, a player can ask questions – preferably after the game, unless it’s a real deal breaker – if they think you might have refereed a rule the wrong way or referenced a character completely out of canon context. Maybe, in your world or home brewed approach that’s the right way; maybe the player has a point and you did make a mistake.
You should never let it slam the brakes on your game – I suggest a discussion at the end of the session for exactly that reason, unless the mistake puts the characters in dire peril – but all sides should remain open to this sort of discourse to support a level of consistency and understanding.
Heart of Darkness
As a gaming group, you have the sole authority to set the tone of the Symbaroum game you run. The degrees of grimdark should lie within your grasp and you have final say, as a group, as to what you feel comfortable with.
When I ran the one-shot toward the end of the last Kickstarter with Mattias Johnsson in the mix as a player, I knew that my take on the world would vary from his own (as did my choice to allow an Ambrian access to the Robust trait). When I run this adventure, I make the violence, the hardship, the struggle and the doubt clear and central to the themes of the game.
The terrible events leading up to The Promised Land adventure have filled the landscape with desperate but hopeful people, a society with the drive to survive tempered with a sense of unwarranted entitlement and suspicion. The Ambrians have been invaded and become the invader, fought for freedom and yet became the slaver of barbarian kind in Yndaros and beyond. While the walls of the Queen’s Palace glitter and gleam, refugees wallow, outside the eastern walls of the royal residence, in a pit of desperation, depravity and squalor.
You have the choice to twist the dials and make Symbaroum what you will. The campaign works on certain assumptions, but you have the option to turn up the brightness or allow the shadow to drift in. It must be a choice of the group to find a common ground and agree a baseline, because the environment within the game must support the enjoyment of all concerned. To that end, you should have an open discussion and reach a point of compromise, then build from there. That might mean discussing wider details around crime, punishment, violence, respect, diversity and other areas – but in doing this groundwork you can ensure that the whole group has fun and then you can build the tone and flavour of your Symbaroum around it.
Don’t fear the canon that lies beneath the skin of your campaign. The Throne of Thorns has set the Jarnringen intent in respect to the arc of the campaign, but even they are not beholden to their own plans (I think we had a suggestion of seven books at the outset, but the last conversation I had – I think in a live interview – indicated that this might now come down to six, which means we’re halfway through!). From the very first book – the core book itself – the scene was set that you should play the game without too much attention focused on the lives and existence of individuals. Personalities will come and go – and you cannot set them all in aspic expecting them to survive until Book 6 in the campaign, just because they might have a pivotal role.
My recollection could be apocryphal, but I think we have about 200+ named characters scattered across the existing supplements, adventures and campaign material. Are you willing to exercise GM fiat to keep them all out of harms way, inviolable to the progression, protestation and provocation of your player characters, until the end of the published campaign?
In reality, every GM who chooses to follow the path of the core campaign will not only have these core named characters, but they will also have their own skein of hand drawn personalities that have become a part of their Symbaroum.
Also, as a GM you have every right to introduce elements that feel canon, that fits the theme, tone and feel of the game but that don’t strictly come from the core books. Examples of this might be material from Ordo Magica or here on The Iron Pact, for example, or perhaps fragments and ideas from Scandinavian myth that by their very nature suit the setting. That isn’t wrong; in the quantum thread of your own Symbaroum world, it should be a fact if you choose to use it.
I have found lately that the blurring of lines between fan and canon material no longer worries me and certainly I can’t tell the difference anymore – dropping elements that other have used into the heart of my game. For my part, the Sleepless Path isn’t canon – but, it will now and forever figure in my version of Ambria. I genuinely couldn’t envisage thinking that it wasn’t there, even if I didn’t refer to it by name in the course of my game.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Use the richness of the setting and illustrations to make your own world a tangible and exhilarating place to adventure. In creating my own adventures and playtesting material for this site, part of the joy of running Symbaroum comes in expounding upon the lore at the heart of the game. When I have run games in the past, I have featured Colossi without worrying about their stats or included sub-orders of the Ordo Magica without nitpicking their position in the organisational structure.
Symbaroum has too much potential to sweat the small stuff – and I hope you will will find that approach makes all the difference as you search the fields of Ambria or scour the dark depths of Davokar.