Approximate time to read: 4 minutes.
I don’t think you can read Symbaroum and not come away without questions.
Indeed, I think some of the strength of the game comes from the offering of just enough information to draw curiosity but not enough answers to fill most of the gaps. In the 70-or-so pages of setting material, you get information about the general physical state of the realm, some of the politics, the factions – both Ambrian and not, and the key locations – Thistle Hold, Blackmoor, Yndaros and Karvosti, the seat of the barbarian High Chieftain. In the space available, the opportunity exists to skim the surface.
The Järnringen team has just released their campaign overview for the Symbaroum, The Throne of Thorns, which not only charts the key factions in their current state but where they’re going and why. It answers a few more questions but still doesn’t offer all the answers. I urge you to read it – and give a little too, despite the Pay What You Want price tag – because it contains information that should allow you to either run the campaign as written or plan to work with it. While you might choose to go off in a completely different direction with a range of antagonists at odds with the arc, the faction, and setting material will remain useful.
Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever you believe and think you are able to accomplish – none of it matters!
I believe players should remain in the dark as much as possible. However much they pump you for more information, you shouldn’t give in to them. The less they know, the greater the disquiet. While not setting out specifically to instil fear, I believe that the game really benefits from it. Ambria isn’t a nice place, never mind Davokar. Just read back through the first few pages of history and ask yourself, are the Ambrians really any better than the Dark Lord they faced and vanquished. When they put the Jezora clan to the sword and enslaved the Kadizar, was that a positive act grounded in goodness and light? In fact, perhaps the Ambrians embraced Prios precisely to feel they could bathe in the reflected light of this Sun God and dissipate the shadow upon their bruised souls.
Before and After
I have run several adventures now, all based on some element of the lore contained in the Core Book no matter how obscure. However, by the close of each adventure, I expect to have one or more elements of new lore to record and consider – and each time I have explained a little of what impact the characters had on events in the longer term without necessarily explaining everything.
Too often dungeon-crawling murderhobo adventurers blaze paths of destruction and death without a thought. They don’t consider the effect they have on the people, the location, the environment, their families or the politics of a region. I can’t claim to consider each of these at the close of every adventure, but I strongly suggest you make notes and bullet a few questions to consider later. You could do worse than to establish a separate notebook for your thoughts and fill it with your random scribbles.
The good example of this would be the last adventure I ran, where a new force arose in southern Davokar close to the path three days east of Thistle Hold. While the player controlled characters managed to fight to the conclusion and score themselves a minor victory in their survival, what does that mean in broader terms?
How does the presence of this new force impact trade between Thistle Hold and Kastor? Given the pressure on Duke Gadramei to protect the north-eastern borders of Ambria, how would he react to a strengthening of the incursions from the north? Would the raising more military power cause disturbances in the capital given Gadramei’s potential claims to the throne? How would the presence of supernatural forces impact the manpower of the Sleepless Path – would Duke Junio Berakka increase the number of Sleepless in service against the wishes of the Church? And where (as my players asked me) has Junio been recruiting all these dead soldiers from anyway?
Questions, questions, questions – and each of them warrants consideration. An answer, for the moment, perhaps not. However, with each question you provide yourself with fresh material for future adventures, plot hooks, and flavorful background rumors.
Welcome to Davokar
For me, the other big draw in Symbaroum is the map. Davokar lies uncharted, a great swathe of green. On paper (or playmat) you can see Davokar spattered and punctuated with names, open spots and ruins – but the Core Book hardly mentions them at all – like the Earth Towers.
I think considerable power comes from the illustrations and marginalia of the Core Book in this regard, charting what might lie out there in imagery and vague references to the Symbaroum Empire. It doesn’t provide any answers, but it does raise a pile of questions. With those in hand, I think a GM can easily run with the setting and use the rough framework of Throne of Thorns as a guide. I wouldn’t have been posting so enthusiastically on The Iron Pact if the content of the Core Book wasn’t just enough to get the creative juices flowing.
Ask questions. Note others down. And don’t answer them too readily, as a question unanswered sounds like an adventure to me!
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