The prospect of having a game that embraces nihilistic behaviour isn’t too far from the core of Symbaroum. From the get go, the situation looks pretty grim and the meaninglessness of existence – given the flickering and guttering flame of Prios – looms large. In the past twenty-six years, the old beliefs have been swept aside by this upstart faith and then, in the wake of the war against the Dark Lords, all that was Alberetor fell into decline.
The Circle of Life
In the real world, any player who reads through some of the background material about Symbaroum will likely come across the tale of Wyrhta, Wielda, and Wratha – the three greater forces: of nature, cultivation, and industry (destruction). The forces constantly cycle, one leading into another time and time again, bring ruin in the end to whatever race chose to follow the ultimate path. Why worry too much about the campaign world when you know that your actions will come to nothing? If the Symbaroum Empire and the city-state of Lindaros fell into nothingness, why would the Ambrians go any other way?
And the fatality of the combat system! Pah! Live in the moment, for next Scene we die. What is your character but a transient mix of a standard Characteristic array and a fixed Archetype set against a cold, unfeeling and unyielding twenty-sided die? Maybe you can take Mal-Rogan down the second time around? Perhaps with a Hunter instead of a Warrior you’ll last a little longer in the wilds around Ambra, before the Faceless Hordes tear you limb from limb?
When you’re not fighting, you’re opening yourself up to the inherent corruption that permeates everything. The “real world” lies sandwiched at the heart of a triptych of ruin, between the Spirit and the Yonder World (seasoned with the condiment of the Ever Realm). Those with the Sight perceive something of what that means, but all too many of those go mad or become corrupted in the midst of the revelation.
Who is the character even fighting for? Since the people of Alberetor moved north across the Titans into Ambria, forced by both the necessity of survival and the imperative of the Queen’s command, most find themselves trapped in a life of economic serfdom.
Forty years ago, before the Great War, the people of Alberetor worked hard in the fields growing crops and raising cattle, finding their place in the community through trade and building strong relationships with the skilled and the strong.
Now, in Ambria, many live hand-to-mouth in refugee camps and shanty towns, or await their transferal to distant new territories. Many people, once self-sufficient, now find themselves forced into crime, begging, or some form of slavery, from enforced service in the army to gladiatorial combat in the arena circuit.
Goals Without Value
Well, truth be told, as Symbaroum players you have some chance to make a difference and establish a new path – indeed, by participating in The Throne of Thorns campaign you have the potential to shape the future, align with the “right side”, and bring about a genuine change. The Game Master needs to keep an eye on the goal – actually have a goal in mind, so that the endgame can have some significance and impact. However, the cycle of Wyrhta, Wielda, and Wratha has turned time and time again – so, why not embrace the darkness and enjoy it while it lasts?
Truth be told, The Iron Pact has pushed the idea of ensemble play from the start – and therein lies the greatest potential for influencing the whole campaign world. Symbaroum can (and maybe should) be about something other than the constant levelling seen in other games (with levels!). By interacting with the wider story through an array of characters with different lines of influence and connection, the players can see the whole story unfold and have many parts to play, even as the world cascades into ruin about them.
Yes, they will remain as vulnerable as ever and not every character will see the campaign through to a conclusion; but, by taking on many roles and travelling many paths, whether in Ambria or Ambra, you might achieve a meaningful end. Even if all you leave behind are tales and dire warnings that trickle down to the next generation (who will likely ignore them), you’ll have left something, right?