When I first picked up Symbaroum and started reading it, I started from the back of the book. I worked my way through the adventure first to get a general grip upon the style and approach. I then worked back through the chapters, working through the advice on running the game, the bestiary of adversaries, and all the way through the rules for both gamemaster and players alike. By the time I reached the 70-page setting section, I had a fair grasp of where I felt the game set itself.
The setting section – along with my exposure to the game’s fantastic illustrations and general themes – opened my eyes. The timeline, on page 18, near the start of this section – occupying only half a page – set my mind racing around where you could go and what you might see when you got there.
The default setting of the game places the characters in Ambria in the Year 21. The forces of Alberetor crossed the Titans mountains 21 years ago and forced a surrender from the Kadizar barbarian clan occupying Lindaros, the ruined capital. Since then, the extent of control by the conquerors has expanded, spreading between the mountains to the south and east to the fringes of the forest to the north. To the west, the bounds of Ambria press against contested clan lands.
Here and now, the characters in the game have all sorts of potential for play, extending way beyond the murder hobo career path of other well-known fantasy games. Yes, you could go the murder hobo route, but no such default exists. Treasure-seeking in Davokar has more in common with survival challenges than dungeon-crawling. Yes, you can expect to find twisted and claustrophobic passageways stuffed with bestial adversaries, corrupted monstrosities, and ancient treasures – but… each delve has more to do with grabbing a handful of something valuable and getting out alive.
Makes me think of movies like The Descent and The Cave. Explorers fighting for their existence in an environment that favors the attacker and threatens injury at every turn. Going into Davokar should be scary from start to finish.
War Against the Darkness
Back to the letter K, the Timeline states in Year –2:
Korinthia is taken captive by the Dark Lords
It takes two years to secure her rescue from the stronghold of the Dark Lords.
That’s a campaign, right there. In two short sentences, side by side, you have the seed for many adventures. There’s a roleplaying ‘thing’ at the moment around the theme of World War II, this could be your opportunity to pick up some adventures and convert them. Seriously.
Yes, you will need to make some adjustments – obviously – but, at heart, you have a two-year campaign to play out in episodic style, likely with a cast of changing characters. You have the opportunity to play out the slow push of Korinthia’s loyal soldiers and spies. The press to claw back territory. The careful scouting of enemy domains seeking out clues and plans.
You have potential for unit level gaming, wargaming even. Capture the flag, secure the plans, frustrate the foe – not to mention the whole business of defending settlements under evacuation, grabbing supplies and glean fragments of information about the location of Korinthia.
What the enemy did with the Queen for two years – that’s a big question in itself, and one with massive potential to steer the whole future path of your Symbaroum game. I know that the Järnringen team have their own campaign arc in mind, mapping out the progress of future adventures, but you can go any way you wish. Alberetor – right out of the core book – pretty much lies an open slate for you to do with as you will.
For me, it can easily be something like a hazy flashback, wreathed in smoke and stained with the blood of the fallen. You don’t need to know what Alberetor looks like at a macro level, just the micro-landscape around the adventure. Fog, smoke, screams, blood… the sound of battle in the distance, the squelch of mud under foot and the constant pounding of undying enemy forces against the defenses.
The campaign should have victories and defeats. The ebb and flow of fortunes mean that no player can come back to the gaming table certain of the fate of their character. Indeed, to truly emulate the harsh reality of war you need the sense that anyone could die. Symbaroum character generation means that you can create new character easily enough – but each loss should mean something. While you don’t want to walk away from every adventure under a cloud, players should get a feel for the senselessness of war and the unremitting hate of the enemy. Only by understanding the cost of war can the players get a real sense of victory in Korinthia release from captivity.
Year 0 (winter) – The Queen is rescued, the stronghold of the Dark Lords is stormed and the war is over