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Opinions on Symbaroum?

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Hi,

I recently splurged some money at my local gamestore and bought Modiphius's Conan core rulebook, but I also snatched a copy of Free League's Symbaroum core rulebook.

They're two very different systems and I've been enjoying reading through them. But I think Symbaroum is the most intriguing one of the two. The rules are very lightweight and inviting. The art is gorgeous, the book design is top-notch and the setting is really interesting.

I've convinced a few friends to give it a short try to test the system. I don't think I'll invest in the Advanced Player's Guide right now. I've been thinking either/or the Gamemaster's Guide, Monster Codex and an adventure.

So my questions are something like:
  • Does the system runs as easily as it reads?
  • Is the Core Rulebook plenty to run a first run; would you recommend investing in the Gamemaster's Guide and/or Monster Codex?
  • Did you have a good experience with one of the official adventures? Any recommendation?
  • Any tips, warnings or appreciation about the system? It's surprisingly difficult to find much online.
Thank you!
 

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Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
The Gamemaster's Guide has some very good rules, tips and tables for expeditions, including lots of stuff for randomly generated encounters and ruins.

The Monster Codex is already very cool, though it might seem pretty sparse compared to similar books for other games. But the adventure hooks for each monster add real value.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Haven't played yet but we are in the process of creating characters. Should play in a few weeks. I did a few solitary combat simulations by myself. It works really well.

You certainly can play with just the Core Book using the two adventures at the back of the book. The system can be lethal from what I was told on the Symbaroum FB group. If players charge in like D&D they will probably die very often. Skilled Play (avoiding combat) is important in this game.
 



Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
For me the appeal is the 'relative' simplicity of the system compared to the d20 systems. Also it includes an easy to grasp and serviceable setting. It has the gritty feel I prefer for my campaigns.

I also bought the starter set which comes with 5 pre-gen characters, a rules book and a setting book (with two short missions), dice and two maps. Which gives me a total of 4 adventures to test out the system. The starter rules includes a random system to do hex crawls.
 


Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
The setting is awesome. I think I'm going to hack it for Trophy rather than using the original mechanics, but it's evocative as all heck.
Yeah I’m using the setting right now with a totally different system (since the game was already going before they wound up plane-hopping to Ambria). It’s a great setting, and pulling into the art for VTT purposes has been really effective.

I think my only gripe with it is that it feels a little small for me—I can’t imagine running a super-long Symbaroum campaign, and while the full plot arc for the Throne of Thorns series sounds great, it’s going to take a really long time for the final book to publish.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
For me the appeal is the 'relative' simplicity of the system compared to the d20 systems. Also it includes an easy to grasp and serviceable setting. It has the gritty feel I prefer for my campaigns.
That's also my appeal. It really seems to be simple, there's few rule pages. But it also seem to be powerful enough to give the game some granularity as opposed to purely narrative systems.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I caved in and bought the Game Master's Guide and Advanced Player's Guide. I spent two more hours digging in the first book and I'm loving almost everything I see. And as usual, Free League prove that they're in a class of their own when it comes to product quality and presentation; the books feel sturdy, of high quality, the colors are wonderful, the binding is strong and the visual design is sumptuous.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
I caved in and bought the Game Master's Guide and Advanced Player's Guide. I spent two more hours digging in the first book and I'm loving almost everything I see. And as usual, Free League prove that they're in a class of their own when it comes to product quality and presentation; the books feel sturdy, of high quality, the colors are wonderful, the binding is strong and the visual design is sumptuous.
Welcome to the club! After reading the starter set I bought the Core and after reading it I went over board!

DGIISXM.jpg


Since then I'be added the part one of the Chronicle adventure path. Trying to locate a GM screen.
 


Willie the Duck

Adventurer
  • Any tips, warnings or appreciation about the system? It's surprisingly difficult to find much online.
Thank you!
The Pros:
  • The artwork is go-ho-horrr-ggg-gi-ous (and the books overall are well designed and well made).
  • The setting is evocative (it is grim and perilous without being grimdark. It sells the notion that the world is dangerous and leaving the protective walls of civilization is a risk well before any supernatural monstrosities rear their ugly heads).
  • The rules are simple, player-facing, and have just enough knobs and levers and dials (both at the character-build level and during play) to keep something like a WotC-era D&D player or similar happy
  • There are a number of adventure paths already produced, and more on the way

The Cons:
  • There is some tonal mismatch between the rules and the imagery. First and foremost in that the game thematically sells itself as going out into the big foreboding woods and surviving, with adventure paths involving lots of diplomacy and negotiation with the powers that be amongst the two main societies of the area -- but then have almost no wilderness survival or social interaction rules structures, particularly if limiting oneself to the core books. Secondly, the game suggest that the world is big and bad and scary and that the PCs will need to be extra careful and cautious and such, yet the power curve quickly ramps up to Big Damn Heroes levels, where most enemies won't last more than a round against a well-made character (the biggest enemies equally ramp up, such that high-'level' play can be a race to win initiative, which is a challenge of it's own right, but still doesn't really capture the feel the game sells itself as).
  • The character creation sub-game is incredibly gameable. There are Abilities (the main component of character build mechanics, other than attributes) which can combine for optimal synergies that add X to something and then add it again, or ways to push all your attribute points into a few of them and then make all of your checks (initiative, defense, attack, etc.) key off of whichever attribute you prefer. It's easy to make yourself good at everything you intend to do, and unless your dagger-fighter is forced to pick up a great-club or similar, most of the weaknesses you left open likely won't come up. Since everyone has the same opportunities in this regard, it might not be that big of a deal, but there certainly is a big power-level difference between a naïve gamer coming in fresh and taking what looks interesting and what even a casual optimizer would come up with.
  • One of the games mechanics doesn't (IMO) work as intended. A major character quality (and the one limiting magic use) is something called Corruption. You gain permanent corruption by learning spells and temporary corruption by casting them (among other things in both cases). The amount gained is random, but there are certain Abilities which turn each of those into non-random amounts. Get corruption past a certain point and the local inquisition/paladin-analogs will start hunting you, get it past another point and you become an NPC monster. That's one of those threats that's so threatening that it circles round to not being threatening again.If you (for instance) got your Corruption meter up to within 6 points of your 'permanently lose your character and have them become a dangerous opponent for the party to have to deal with' threshold, would you ever cast a spell that would make you add 1d6 to your total (especially if there was an option to take ahead of time which instead made it a flat 1)? So instead of being a major threat and risk-taking endeavor for casters, it instead becomes a plain old magic meter with a total of just shy of your danger threshold. The only people who cast spells are the ones who have all the Corruption mitigators because you don't bother investing in learning spells until you've taken those abilities (or at least that is an optimal playstyle that would quickly become apparent)
  • The metaplot coming out with each adventure module does things to the game world, and sometimes retroactively influences how various races or groups exist in the world. These could cause divergence between the evolving official gameworld and what happens at an actual table. That of course isn't a problem if you don't treat it as canon, but then if you wanted to use the newer adventures, there would be reconciliation that would have to happen.
In a way, the game reminds me of a combination of 3E D&D and 90s era White Wolf World of Darkness games -- both in terms of its/their strengths and weaknesses. Interesting metaplot which can accidentally trample your plans (player or GM/Storyteller), fun character build minigame which can be unbalanced and make high levels into rocket tag, and sells the game as X but has rules which incentivize Y. Just like 3e D&D and WoD, however, it is imminently playable and fun to play and so on, so long as your aware of the issues and your table can work past them.
 

Is that the Copper Crown? I've been looking for that but it's out of print.
Hey I was looking to complete my collection as well and the Crown was near impossible to find. Good News! The content from the Copper Crown is included in the Adventure Collection.


Picked up along with the Haunted Waste. Symbaroum has some of the most evocative art of any rpg. The mood and atmosphere are awesome!
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Hey I was looking to complete my collection as well and the Crown was near impossible to find. Good News! The content from the Copper Crown is included in the Adventure Collection.
I just read about this collection after my last post! However, I'm unsure if it includes everything. It's 226p long, and it says in the description that it includes six adventures in total (two from Copper Crown, and four from Adventure Packs) which gives 37p per adventure. I wonder if they cut anything or if there's any material that was put aside when they arranged this collection. Or maybe the adventure packs were just really small books (sub 100 pages)?
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Is that the Copper Crown? I've been looking for that but it's out of print.
It's called Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns: Wrath of the Warden. The Chronicles are a long term campaign.

Not to be confused with the Adventure Packs 1, 2, 3 and 4, which are unrelated regular adventures you can use as you want.
 

I just read about this collection after my last post! However, I'm unsure if it includes everything. It's 226p long, and it says in the description that it includes six adventures in total (two from Copper Crown, and four from Adventure Packs) which gives 37p per adventure. I wonder if they cut anything or if there's any material that was put aside when they arranged this collection. Or maybe the adventure packs were just really small books (sub 100 pages)?
The adventure packs were softcover (except for pack 3 & 4). The Copper Crown is listed as 80pg long, if that helps and Pack 2 was 60pg so that leaves 66pg for the contents of Pack 3. Pack 4 was hard cover and came in at 99pg.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
but then have almost no wilderness survival
First of all, thank you for your fleshed out answer. If made me scour my books looking at the points you raised. The one that worried me the most was the lack of exploration rules or wilderness survival, because the setting and premise really does sell that.

I didn't find much in the Core Rulebook, but the Game Master's Guide did have quite a few rules describing traveling, the time it takes, optional rules for starvation, etc. I'm not super familiar with exploration rules, I tend to wing it. So I don't know if these rules are solid or too thin to really support some serious gameplay.

Were you aware of these rules?
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
I didn't find much in the Core Rulebook, but the Game Master's Guide did have quite a few rules describing traveling, the time it takes, optional rules for starvation, etc. I'm not super familiar with exploration rules, I tend to wing it. So I don't know if these rules are solid or too thin to really support some serious gameplay.

Were you aware of these rules?
Yeah I was a bit confused by the post you're responding to. The expedition rules in the GM's Guide are really extensive, I thought. I just used them to build out some really interesting encounters.

Maybe they meant really zoomed-in stuff about exactly how much food you get from hunting, how to build shelter, etc.? That would seem excessive in a game like Symbaroum (or most games, really).
 

Willie the Duck

Adventurer
First of all, thank you for your fleshed out answer. If made me scour my books looking at the points you raised. The one that worried me the most was the lack of exploration rules or wilderness survival, because the setting and premise really does sell that.

I didn't find much in the Core Rulebook, but the Game Master's Guide did have quite a few rules describing traveling, the time it takes, optional rules for starvation, etc. I'm not super familiar with exploration rules, I tend to wing it. So I don't know if these rules are solid or too thin to really support some serious gameplay.

Were you aware of these rules?
Oh, hey, I forgot those were coming (I guess already have come now). Clearly I stopped following the release schedule before this release. Looking at a friend's copy, these rules seem clearly to be an attempt to address these holes in the system (I've found several reviews indicating that I'm not a lone voice on this--although, man, some of these reviewers need to stop grinding those axes). For me it is too little (actually they look fine for what they are trying to do) way too late (and this kind of stuff should have been core, as opposed to in a $35 supplemental book given how much the tone presented seemed to suggest this would be a major game focus), but you are correct, these rules now exist.
Yeah I was a bit confused by the post you're responding to. The expedition rules in the GM's Guide are really extensive, I thought. I just used them to build out some really interesting encounters.

Maybe they meant really zoomed-in stuff about exactly how much food you get from hunting, how to build shelter, etc.? That would seem excessive in a game like Symbaroum (or most games, really).
I guess I disagree. The tone and atmosphere presented in the game suggest to me that it would be a perfect opportunity to make a hexcrawl*/endurance game, where survival, exhaustion, and morale could be used as ways to influence how ready the PCs are to fight the next abomination from the depths or negotiate between barbarian cities or save the goblins from the local petty tyrant or whatnot. And that was the long and short of my point -- the game can be anything the designers want it to be, but I saw a tonal mismatch between what I felt the setting and artwork suggested would be the central gameplay loops and upon what was primarily focused (obviously moreso when looking core-only).
*which we know Free League can and has the interest in doing.
 

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