Approximate time to read: 5 minutes.
I’ve touched on the business of the Zero Level character before and the pleasures to be had in the process of taking players through the Symbaroum equivalent of a Funnel adventure (as popularised by Dungeon Crawl Classics).
Well, with the imminent release of the Symbaroum Playing Cards – featuring Abilities from across the core book and Advanced Player’s Guide – you have a fresh new range of options (although, note that these currently only come in Swedish with English versions hot on their heals as part of the Karvosti Kickstarter).
For the first couple of sections below, remove all Unique Cards. These are the new Abilities that appear in the Player’s Guide that provide specific expertise for certain archetypes. The character won’t have a chance to get into such a focused profession using this randomised process.
Low Experience Shuffle
Firstly, for a low-level game, like the Funnel, you can create basic characters with 10 experience using the following different methods:
The Hard Deal
If you’re feeling mean, hand the players at the table a single card. Their character starts with this ability at Novice. You’re likely to find this approach best suited to a one-off Funnel adventure with a minimum chance of survival and some brutal outcomes.
On the other hand, this isn’t called The Hard Deal for nothing – you might well chose to run something like Wheel of Misfortune and continue from there.
The Draw Three, Return Two
If you’re in a better mood, each player has the opportunity to draw three cards, review what they have in their hand – and then keep the one they prefer.
Much less brutal an option, it means a player has the chance to give some form to their character. It might remain a tough choice, but Symbaroum isn’t about taking it easy!
As a completely different take on the process, you can allow the players to draw three cards and have them generate a character for each.
This approach has a much greater connection with the classic Dungeon Crawl Classics Funnel adventure; the characters each have an ability at Novice and the player has the chance to run all three of them. At the end of the adventure, assuming any of them survive, the player can choose to develop the victorious soul into something more substantial.
If none of the player’s characters survive, another player can donate one of their survivors – or, in the worse case scenario, deal the player another random card and have them create a new character. In this instance, as everyone else will have Experience from the Funnel, gift the freshly dealt/rolled character with the Pariah Bane so they have 5 Experience in hand to spend on something nice…
Shuffled into Play
A second use for the Symbaroum Playing Cards, for a more standard game, is to use them to get things up and running quickly with a bunch of low prep characters. Admittedly, the characters can be a bit aimless in focus, but for a convention game or one-shot, that could very well be enough.
These approaches mean that you can get straight into the game in a few minutes without worrying too much about explaining the finer details of the game. It also helps avoid the group suffering the time-consuming pain of analysis paralysis as players flick endlessly through the Core Book micro-Munchkin-ing their Abilities.
Another Hard Deal
Deal out five cards to each player at the table. They can choose to either have all the Abilities handed to them at Novice, or choose to keep three of the cards and return two – in which case they have two Novice and one Adept Ability.
Complete the process as above, but any character who chooses to discard two cards places them in the middle of the table. Other players have the option of swapping one or two of their cards with those in the Spare Pool. A player can only do this swap once and then they have to commit to either five Noice or three Novice-Novice-Adept.
The most fun anyone can have before they have started player – deal five cards out to each player. Every player picks a card and passes the other four to their left. They then choose another card and pass the three remaining. The final two cards passed demand a final choice – and then the last card passes once more. With a selection of personally selected cards in hand, the players can then either keep five or choose just three and discard the other two.
A Kind of Magic
None of these approaches makes specific mention of magic. You should leave the Tradition cards in the mix of Abilities, but not include any Mystical Abilities. If the player wants to take a Tradition, they should do just that and continue with your chosen method. Once they have the Abilities they desire, they can trade a card for a Mystical Ability from their chosen Tradition.
At this point, you will need to have the Mystical Ability cards at the ready – and you can opt to either allow them to choose a specific one (BOO!) or choose one at random. If you’re feeling generous, allow them to use the Draw Three, Return Two approach.
If they want more than one Mystical Ability, you have a further choice to make. If they want two, use your preferred random approach twice. Or, allow them to Draw Three, Return One. If they have opted for an Adept Mystical Ability, definitely be less brutal and give them more choice – as they’re penalising themselves from the outset with a permanent point of Corruption.
Whichever of the options you choose to use, you will also need to choose the preferred generation process for Attributes – either spreading the standard scores of 5, 7, 9, 10, 10, 11, 13, 15 out or allowing point buy from a pool of 80 points, with only one score of 15 allowed.
The other alternative is to roll dice, which A is for Attributes covered in more detail.
Another use for the Symbaroum Playing Cards comes when you find yourself needing to generate a random passerby, street-dweller, traveller or some other NPC. Draw a card (or two) and use the Ability to give you an idea of their profession, their purpose, or how they might choose to interact.
It doesn’t even have be their Ability. If you draw a weapon-based talent, they might simply be ill-tempered, aggressive, or mercenary. If you draw Acrobatics, they might be evasive, flighty, or some form of entertainer. If you give the whole dark a hard old shuffle and mix, you could even opt for a Tarot-style reading and use cards drawn upside down as a reverse – so Leader reversed might be unconvincing or Poisoner reversed a healer or someone set with a mission to bring an antidote to someone.
Ability Quick Reference Cards
While you’re waiting for your Symbaroum Playing Cards to arrive, there is nothing to stop you using any of these approaches with the Ability Quick Reference Cards available in the Resource section on this web site. Yes, it isn’t as complete – lacking the Abilities from the Advanced Player’s Guide and the odd Mystical Ability; but, it should work at a pinch while you’re waiting for your order to arrive or Kickstarter to deliver!
Support the Patreon campaign for The Iron Pact to fund the time and space for more Symbaroum articles, encounters, monsters and more.