You might have noticed that the prolific Järnringen team has got a new Kickstarter up and running, to translate the third chapter in the Throne of Thorns campaign, Yndaros: The Darkest Star, into English. On top of that campaign book, the Kickstarter brings the opportunity to pick up many of the existing books in the series – so, you can get up to date for less.
But, whether you pick it up from this event or if you’ve already got the Core Book – where should you start?
Why, you should start with The Promised Land.
Backward It Read
When I got the Core Book in hand I found reading all the background material straight up something of an experience that didn’t work just in that moment. I might have been busy or reading a couple of other books at the same time. I don’t recall, but I know that starting in on Symbaroum was a stop-start read.
And then I discovered the back of the book.
Odd as it might seem, it occurred to me that the best way to understand a new game might be to read the introductory adventure first. Some games have them, others have a Quickstart. I figured that reading the adventure would encapsulate the whole game neatly – including story, background, mechanics, style of play, characters and so forth. Why not start at the back of the book and then follow the trail from there.
And it worked.
The Promised Land gave me the flavour and the overview I needed to get Symbaroum in context. After that I read Monsters, the Adventures, before carrying on through the Game Master’s Guide to the Player’s Guide and, finally, The World of Symbaroum. You can hear more about my experience on The Smart Party podcast – where I discuss a whole lot more beyond Symbaroum; I have stuck by this principle ever since for all new core books I pick up (and I pick up a few).
Are you not certain how you should play or run Symbaroum? Well, you could do worse than to watch the video of the excellent team taking on The Promised Land under the guiding hand of @unMadeGaming.
Now this isn’t the standard approach for the adventure, but it’s once that I have tried and it works very well. Instead of coming across the Titans from the south, travelling the hazardous pass toward Ambria, you start the action in the wilds of New Berendoria in the far west.
I had this area sold to the players as the rough edge of colonisation, the new frontier as the Ambrians continue to expand. The characters in this instance are travelling back to civilisation after spending time in these wild lands, having made some money from working the land, building new settlements, or protecting the colonies. The travellers still need to depend on the caravans to support their relative safe return – but you travel across the open wilds and close to the forests.
I think it offers a solid experience that, perhaps, hangs the story much closer to the ongoing campaign. By having encounters happen in the forest here – like the tower and the meeting with the wolves – you can hint at the dangers of Davokar to come.
Getting the Gang Together
The premise of The Promised Land invites the player characters to convince a caravan master of their capability to assure their position on the trip into Ambria. Whether you opt for the Titans or another route, the adventure provides an interesting opportunity for character development and group team-building.
I touched on this before, earlier this year, in Trust in a Promised Land. The actual setup for the adventure provides a perfect backdrop for storytelling about how the characters came to know and trust one another, huddled in around a roaring campfire. Without running an overt prologue, you can set the scene and allow the players to explain why they’re sat here.
Who do you trust and why? Did one of the other characters mentor you? Did they save you from harm? Did they guide you north? Who helped you give bandits the slip or healed you from a sickness? Who offered you sage advice over a beer or gave you a room when you lost your way? Who shares your faith or belief? Who do you owe a favour to?
As a GM, you can ask the questions of someone and see where it leads, or perhaps you have players who will be happy to ask themselves. You’re best to make that call – and once the answers start to flow, you should make a point of keeping notes, because what the players say will prove useful later in tying them into the plot and spinning off new adventures.
The tighter the team and their connections, the better. Connection matters a lot in Symbaroum.
It’s Grim Up North
The whole setup for The Promised Land provides a fair opportunity to introduce themes. Tough conditions, terrible weather, distrust, Elves, corruption, undeath – it’s all in there.
Take the adventure at the pace that works for you and use every opportunity to enhance and develop the colour of the setting. Expand the journey where you can – use encounters like those presented in On The Road or the testing conditions outlined in Travel through the Titans – to give the players more time to appreciate what makes Symbaroum different.
Symbaroum is about a nation put in a terrible position, seeking to make its own destiny and yet possibly just fulfilling a cycle of change experienced by many before. In fleeing their ancestral home, wrecked by the Dark Lords, they kill, enslave, uproot and trespass in pursuit of a future. As Queen Korinthia carves up the lands once occupied by ‘civilised’ barbarians, her people struggle – in lands dotted with refugee camps, plagued by banditry, threatened by inhumans and scarred by ancient corruption.
And yet, there is hope. The adventurous delve treasure-laced depths, scholars uncover revelations of ages past, and the people find new faith in seeking fresh beginnings in the abundance of the untapped wilderlands.
Backing Yndaros: The Darkest Star would be a good place to start. You can also pick up:
- The Throne of Thorns – an overview of the seven part campaign
- On the Nature of Davokar – a condensed, scholarly treatise on the dangers and potential present in the forest of Davokar
- Report 22:01:08 – a leaked intelligence report composed by one of the agents of Queen Korinthia
All of these offer tantalising glimpse of the setting, many suitable for drip-feeding to the players.
Rumours around the fireside, perhaps?