Approximate time to read: 5 minutes.
It’s dangerous to go alone… Take this bit of advice and work with it. The lands of Ambria might seem settled and welcoming, but nothing could be further from the truth. If Symbaroum has anything to offer as a game, it’s the grim reality of struggle and back-breaking hard work that comes of transporting an entire people from their home to another place. Alberetor lies dead, tortured and corrupted by dark magic – but Ambria holds the same heritage, a lingering taint forgotten by most except the eldest of the elder races.
When characters travel across the lands between settlements they should do so with careful preparation. To forge out into these unforgiving lands without caution and a well-provisioned pack suggests little expectation for long-term survival.
Hiring help can be expensive, but it does away with the complexity of looking to fate alone as a means to a safe journey. The cost of hirelings might seem prohibitive, but without them, a party of explorers and treasure-seekers must rely on their expertise and vigilance alone.
The following hirelings would prove useful for any group seeking to head out from the urban centres of Ambria, whether across open terrain, into the mountains or through the treescape of Davokar:
- Wayfarer (navigation, language, attitude of strangers) [Cunning]
- Scout (weather, terrain, route options) [Vigilant]
- Look-out (hazards, encounters, unsafe camp) [Resolute]
- Venator/Hunter (predators, fresh food, clear passage) [Accurate]
- Porter/Squire (luggage, animal care, travel routine) [Strong]
- Sutler/Chapman (equipment, preserved rations, repairs) [Persuasive]
All but the last will accompany the group on their journey. The listed occupations are not exhaustive but based on the simple requirements of a common traveler seeking to ease their journey.
The members of a noble House might bring along a whole retinue, including cooks, heralds, messengers, ewerers, priests and servants – but this certainly goes beyond the needs of the average adventurer’s purse.
The Symbaroum – Adventure Pack 1 covers the business of hiring a Guide to seek out new sites for raids and artifacts. Such individuals offer little value as run-of-the-mill travel companions – your hard-earned thaler pays for their specific and valuable knowledge, and their keen eye.
Across the board, all listed roles, above, cost 5 ortegs per day, plus they require food which likely costs the same again – making it a shilling a day to hire on non-combatant assistance. And they all require payment in advance.
The Game of Boons
As with items of equipment, ‘seekers might look for hirelings with Qualities. In people, these amount to Abilities and Boons. In practice, a hireling with talents as significant as this will charge more per day – x2.5 (round up) for one with a Boon, x5 for one with an Ability. The hireling will use their talents to order, though never in a situation where it risks their life by placing them in harms way.
Of the Boons presented in the Advanced Player’s Guide, the following seem to offer the greatest advantages for travel across the rough terrain of Ambria and Davokar. In each case, the note in brackets highlights the type of hireling likely to possess that Boon. For clarity, a hireling cannot fulfil two roles if you happen to acquire one with a Boon appropriate to another type. So, a Porter with Green Thumb does not spontaneously fulfil the role of Look-out!
- Archivist (Wayfarer)
- Beast Tongue (Look-out, Porter)
- Bushcraft (Scout, Venator)
- Cartographer (Scout, Wayfarer)
- Contacts (Sutler)
- Bloodhound (Look-out)
- Green Thumb (Venator, Look-out)
- Pathfinder (Scout, Venator)
- Pack Mule (Porter)
- Telltale (Wayfarer)
No Taste for Danger
None of these individuals will fight except to defend themselves; if you want a Sellsword it will cost you a shilling a day minimum and they’ll need feeding as well. If you want a capable and dependable companion to serve alongside you in battle a share of the wealth would likely prove necessary, as well as a base wage.
Equal to their dislike for danger, hired help do not take lightly to exhaustion and death from fatigue. A hireling will not willingly engage in a Death March and will Forced March under duress – a soothing word and a [Persuasive―1] test will keep them in order, but not for long. For each additional day of Forced March increase the penalty by ―2. Each complete day of rest will reduce this penalty by one.
For example, faced with the prospect of not reaching a ruin before a competing party, the characters engage in Forced March pace. On the first day, they test at [Persuasive―1] to keep the hirelings in order and [Persuasive―3] the next. It will take three days of normal travel before this penalty reduces to zero – the porter signed on for packing and carrying the luggage, not working like a mule!
A character in possession of Enduring March/Marschvana (Advanced Player’s Guide p53, Spelarens Handbok p54) can offset some of the disquiet amongst hirelings while at Forced March, starting with a [Persuasive+1] test, then applying a penalty of ―1 to the test for each additional day. Simple hirelings will still refuse to Death March, though Sellswords will and benefit from the second chance offered by the Boon/Fördelar.
Mechanics of Travel
Where a party DO NOT hire someone to fill a role, one of them will have to claim responsibility – and one alone. A group would assign no more than one individual as the wayfarer, for example – else the journey might descend into more arguments than progress. Without anyone filling a role, travel becomes more complicated and the GM should adjust events and encounters accordingly. The information after the hireling indicates what responsibilities they take and the Attribute test associated with their actions.
If you’re a GM who likes to roll dice or simply want some uncertainty and have the players roll for non-player characters, hirelings succeed in their tasks, associated with a week of travel (or part thereof), on a roll of 15 or less. A 16-19 means they come short of their responsibilities, which might mean an unexpected late night encounter, a day without fresh food or slow progress due to blocked paths and backtracking. A roll of 20 means they desert, sicken or die – unless a member of the party cares to expend a point of Experience or permanent Corruption to save them.
If you stick to the letter of the mechanics and you don’t want to roll dice, all but one of the hirelings will automatically succeed in their tasks. You should give the players the option to choose which of the hirelings fails (sort of like a partial success in Powered by the Apocalypse games where you choose the focus of your success and failure).
For example, travelling with a Wayfarer, a Lookout and a Porter, after a weeks journey the characters come to the grave realisation that a key piece of equipment, vital to their ease of progress in the adventure, has not been packed in their luggage!
Without a hireling, whoever takes up the role will need to complete a test EACH DAY – and you should focus on storytelling the rough nature of travel, the hard-going route, the coarse provisions and so forth. Failed tests will result in delay, misadventure, undesirable encounters, thirst, starvation, lost animals or damaged supplies – again, with as much storytelling as you feel it warrants. Any roll of 20 on these rolls should certainly result in physical harm, loss of equipment and animals, alternative damage (lost Resolute from stress or sleeplessness, loss of Strong from food poisoning, lost Persuasive from filth and poor sleep, and so on).
I haven’t used these rules in anger and suggest you consider them and adapt them if they work for you. I have unashamedly been influenced by The One Ring in putting these notes together; you could do yourself a service by picking up a copy of the game (or at least taking the chance to play a session or two) if you’re interested in a satisfying narrative and mechanical approach to arduous journeys.