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Ruins of Symbaroum [5E] - The Promised Land: An Interview With Free League Publishing

Free League is converting their award-winning dark fantasy tabletop RPG, Symbaroum, to use the Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition system. To start a conversation about the conversion, they’re offering a free, 92-page preview and offered to speak with me about the project. What follows is my conversation with Mattias Johnsson Haake, Mattias Lilja, and Jacob Rodgers about the mechanics, community feedback, and what’s next for this project.

Symbaroum - Core Rulebook.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for reaching out to discuss this. You’re bringing Free League’s award-winning Symbaroum to the Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition ruleset. However, instead of jumping off with a full conversion and crowdfunding, you’re offering a free preview. There’s a lot to setup so let’s start with, what is Symbaroum?
MATTIAS JOHNSSON HAAKE (MJH)
: Symbaroum is a fantasy tabletop RPG, often described as dark, gritty and deadly. It was first released in Swedish in 2014, then translated into English for a worldwide release in 2016. Since then, we are happy to say that the game has captured the imagination of an ever-growing number of gamers and that the game-line today encompasses a dozen hardcover books, along with several support products in the form of card sets, maps and more.

EGG: Symbaroum originated with another Swedish publisher before they merged with Free League, correct? The game does not use the Year Zero Engine. For the original game, can you talk about the original system?
MJH
: Yes, the game was designed by a game studio called Järnringen, that merged with Free League in 2018, bringing along Symbaroum and its core team of creatives, including two of us who are involved in the 5E conversion. The Symbaroum rule set is a d20, roll under, fully player-facing system, designed to be quick, punishing, and easy to get into. Also, it is highly flexible and modular, so those who want more complexity are offered numerous optional rules, or can easily introduce their own house rules.

Symbaroum - Monster Codex.jpg

EGG: Symbaroum uses a solid system, has won awards - Symbaroum Monster Codex won Best Art, Interior (2019 Silver ENnie) and Best Layout and Design (2019 Gold ENnie) - and has a following. Why redesign the game for 5e?
MATTIAS LILJA (ML)
: 5e is the world’s largest system and we want Symbaroum to reach as many players as possible, of course. We have played 5e a lot ourselves and realized that a conversion could do the Symbaroum setting justice, as well as offer some new class variants to tickle players used to 5e. So, we decided to give it a go.
JACOB RODGERS (JR): Really, I think many folks underestimate the mutability of the 5e core system. There are very few assumptions actually built into the system and we’ve been able to make choices about how we build things mechanically to represent the dark and gritty feel of Symbaroum.
MJH: It should be added that this conversion is partly done in response to questions from GM’s, raised at conventions and on social media. From what we gather, many Gamemasters who love the original Symbaroum game still have a hard time convincing their gaming groups to learn a new rule set. With Ruins of Symbaroum, we want to invite those and others to explore the game’s setting, using a familiar system.

EGG: What design challenges have you encountered as you’ve converted this from the original system to 5e?
ML
: Mechanically it’s not such a stretch as it might first seem to be. Many of the rules used in the original Symbaroum game are mirrored in 5e or are easily recreated within that rule set. The core Symbaroum mechanic of Corruption ties in nicely to leveled spells and attunement of magic items, for instance. Symbaroum does not use a leveling system as such, but still gauges player power and matches challenges to that, so it’s not that much of an issue. Some things are different, like how 5e aims to balance things more than the original Symbaroum system, which instead has a lot of freedom and thus opens up for system mastery; in original Symbaroum you can create a PC that really sucks, which is way harder in 5e. Creating Symbaroum classes in 5e that capture the Symbaroum vibe and also match the d20 expectation on classes being balanced was fun and challenging. I think Jacob really has pulled this off in a great way.
JR: Thank you! Of course, there are always certain challenges, for example building the class structures such that players have nearly as much choice about character progression as they do in the original system. 5e’s subclasses have done a lot of the heavy lifting there — a Ruins of Symbaroum character might have many of the same abilities as a Symbaroum character, the subclass just provides a guided path for certain character archetypes.

EGG: Will the 5e version incorporate any Symbaroum mechanics or other new-to-5e systems?
ML
: Yes, the Corruption mechanic is key to the Symbaroum setting, as seen in the free preview. We’re also tinkering with an influence system to capture the interplay between PCs and the various factions of Symbaroum - we are still trying that out. We also have an innovative rest mechanic for 5e, that we think matches the treasure-hunting in Davokar forest better than the 5e standard system.
JR: Yep, we’re having fun exploring how to bring the mechanics of the two systems together and also offer something exciting for 5e players with some new class options. Also, the resting and Hit Die mechanics are built to reinforce the feeling of the setting. A higher-level character in Ruins of Symbaroum has more options and abilities than a lower-level character, but, due to the resting mechanics and how difficult it is to recover Hit Dice, can easily overextend themselves and be in very real danger.

Ruins of Symbaroum [5E] - The Promised Land.jpg

EGG: Let’s talk about the free PDF on DriveThruRPG, Ruins of Symbaroum [5E] - The Promised Land. This is “a proof of concept, or a trial-balloon – meant to provoke a reaction from you, the potential players, from within the established Symbaroum community as well as from the broader family of tabletop roleplaying gamers.” Why trial this instead of leap right into a full conversion?
MJH
: There are many benefits to be gained from reaching out to the community, as we have learned after working with games for over two decades. Aside from receiving helpful suggestions and general feedback on works-in-progress, it involves and engages those who are going to play the game, making them more eager to spread word and help make the community grow.
ML: Yes, there is nothing automatic in converting a game from one system to another, and we need to be humble about 5e being a very well established and well tested system. We got Jacob Rodgers on board to merge the Symbaroum setting with 5e, and he has proven very well suited for the task, and with early feedback from knowledgeable and passionate fans we stand a way better chance of succeeding here.
MJH: Also, not to be underestimated – getting feedback and constructive criticism is a real energy boost; knowing that people care about what you are creating is extremely rewarding.
JR: I agree, it is extraordinarily rewarding to get feedback, especially from the fans of the original system who are best placed to judge how well we did in the conversion. But we also expect the trial product to be evergreen: it provides a full six levels for three major archetypes for both of the human groups and the goblins, so it will always be a good way to dip your toes into the Ruins of Symbaroum waters, even if the Gamemaster wants to run additional scenarios.

EGG: In terms of content, what parts of Symbaroum did you choose to share in the preview? What are the important details of this world that you’re shining a light on with this preview?
MJH
: The preview is first and foremost composed to provoke feedback on whether or not we are succeeding in capturing the feel and style of the Symbaroum setting within the limits set by the open game license. That said, the core conflicts and themes of the game world shines throughout the preview PDF, in the additional rules, in the suggestion to leave alignment out, in the new character classes, and not least in the tutorial adventure called The Promised Land.
JR: Exactly. It was important to us to make sure it wasn’t just a single adventure with pregenerated characters, we wanted everyone to have a taste of the setting, a direct look at the mechanics and bring everything together in the adventure. That way we could get an accurate assessment from folks about whether or not we were on the right path and, so far, we’re very excited by that feedback.

EGG: Assuming this gets the positive response I expect from any Free League product (you do amazing work), what comes next?
MJH
: Thanks for saying so. Based on what we have heard from the community so far, we certainly feel confident enough to continue according to plan – the plan being a full conversion, starting with a Player’s Guide, a Game Master’s Guide and a Monster Codex. If those books are well received, there is a wealth of supplements and adventures awaiting the same treatment, not least the six-part, epic adventure chronicle The Throne of Thorns.

EGG: Beyond this project, what else are you working on?
MJH
: There are always lots of pots seething or boiling at the Free League studio. In regards to Symbaroum, we are working on a boxed starter set which will hopefully hit the shelves before the turn of the year; also, episode five in the Throne of Thorns series is currently being written, set to launch next year. Other than that we are in the midst of running a Kickstarter for a new version of the classic TTRPG Twilight: 2000, and there are several releases planned for the second part of 2020 – including a boxed starter set and a cinematic scenario for the Alien RPG, and a massive adventure supplement for our sci-fi RPG Coriolis.

EGG: I really appreciate your time and talking to you about this. For fans interested in more information, where can they follow you?
MJH
: For information and discussions about Ruins of Symbaroum, you should find your way to the Free League forum. Other than that, there is a lively Symbaroum community on reddit, a steadily growing Discord channel, and several Facebook pages for various languages. Facebook is also where you should look for news from Free League in general, if you don’t head directly for the horse’s mouth: the Free League website where you can subscribe to our newsletter.

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Amazon.
 

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

GlassJaw

Hero
I have no previous knowledge of this setting but looks really cool. I really like some of the rules changes they've made!

Don't mean to derail the thread but I'm curious how they are getting around the 5E license. They are reprinting a lot of content, like class abilities (although they have changed some ability names). I was under the impression you couldn't do that.
 

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zedturtle

Jacob Rodgers
I have no previous knowledge of this setting but looks really cool. I really like some of the rules changes they've made!

Don't mean to derail the thread but I'm curious how they are getting around the 5E license. They are reprinting a lot of content, like class abilities (although they have changed some ability names). I was under the impression you couldn't do that.

In 2016, WotC released a System Reference Document (SRD) for 5e under the Open Gaming License. That is how all of the various different third party publishers release settings and rule books for Fifth Edition. As long as it is in the SRD it is fair game.
 
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GlassJaw

Hero
In 2016, WotC released a System Reference Document (SRD) for 5e under the Open Gaming License. That is how all of the various different third party publishers release various settings and rule books for Fifth Edition. As long as it is the SRD it is fair game.

HOW DID I MISS THIS?!
 

zedturtle

Jacob Rodgers
Free League is having their showcase this weekend and, as part of that, Mattias Johnsson Hakke spent some time talking about the future possibilities for Ruins of Symbaroum and also previewed a bunch of releases for the core system as well.

 


AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
I’m glad I checked that out. I don’t get much gaming time anymore so I limit to a few D&D sessions, but this looks extremely gorgeous. Oh man that art! I look forward to a full conversion, just the preview is giving me inspiration.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Since we have some Symbaroum people here, will we ever see setting material for beyond the core region, that is, a world book of some kind?
 

Shardstone

Adventurer
Since we have some Symbaroum people here, will we ever see setting material for beyond the core region, that is, a world book of some kind?
No. Next book we're getting stuff on the homeland of Lystara, which is a haunted wasteland now because of the Dark Lords. WE got some stuff in the new Gamemaster's Guide too. But there's only one more place in the world, and that's West, as East is also all wasteland of an ancient civilization predating Symbar. To the west you have the original elves, and to the southwest you have a human kingdom having abomination issues.
 

Lycurgon

Villager
Since we have some Symbaroum people here, will we ever see setting material for beyond the core region, that is, a world book of some kind?
They have produced a PDF that gives a little of what is outside the Ambria/Davokar core area, including a map of the surrounding areas, although it has few details.

The answer is, we don't know what might come in the future. From what they have done so far, I would say a World book isn't likely at all, but books that explore other regions might happen, 1 region at a time.
 

zedturtle

Jacob Rodgers
Adventure Pack 4 sends the characters south of the Titan Mountains for the first time since The Promised Land, into northern Alberetor.
 

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