Mechanically Sybaroum is a pretty simple game, with pretty straight forward and functional rules. There isn't a lot of math and modifiers going on, it certainly isn't simulationist, as far as complexity goes it comparable to 5e D&D if not slightly less complex. There are 3 Archetypes (Warrior, Rogue, and Mystic), and 5 Occupations within each of them (15 total) that comprise the "classes" in the game. Archetypes and Occupations are really just suggestions, you don't need to use them at all, though they do point towards effective and thematic packages of Attributes and Abilities. The Abilities you choose give you your special powers, and it is entirely up to you which ones you choose, you can follow the templates they suggest or make your own unique character that bucks the suggestions of the standard Occupations to fill a unique niche.The greatest strength of this game is the world it is set in and the beautiful illustrations which help to set the tone of the story. They made an good choice not be yet another dime-a-dozen generic fantasy system, this is a system tailored for telling stories in a very specific setting and tone, focusing on detail over breadth. The young kingdom of Ambria, newly built by the refugees of a devastating war, lies in the shadow of Davokar, an immense and ancient forest inhabited by barbarians, elves, and much darker things. The Ambrians through military might have subjugated the barbarians, and now move to exploit the bounty of Davokar, but they are met with resistance from the elves who believe they risk waking ancient curses and threats with their trespasses. The world has a tone of traditional fantasy that is edging into more pagan European folklore and even horror. Wild beasts, ancient trolls, vengeful undead, and even more eldritch horrors can be found in the deepest reaches of the forest, stalking the ancient ruins that some believe hide great treasures. The plentiful illustrations in the book are all done by a single artist, Martin Bergström, and this lends a very unified feeling to the book as a whole. His shadowy pastel palette and loose brushwork give the impression of a world shrouded in fog and frost, the scale of his illustrations sells the Scandinavian landscapes and primordial forests.What appeals to me most about this game is that it is so clearly designed with a singular goal, a story and tone to set. I think too many systems today try to be a toolbox to tell any kind of story, but end up making too many sacrifices in their quest to do everything. Symbaroum feels more complete than any rpg core book I have seen in years, it gives you the tools you need to tell stories in the Duchies of Ambria and among the glades of Davokar and that is enough for the system, it doesn't stretch itself thin by catering to every genre, it knows what it is supposed to be and put all its focus on doing that well.
I like the system a lot. It's very easy to use and has a sort of modular type feel to it with the way class building goes. But classes also have archetypes that you can choose for a quick selection if you dont want to spend time building one. Arguably the best selling point to me is the world/flavor. It reminds me a lot of the dark and dreariness of the Witcher series from the feel they capture in the art, design and lore. There is a corruption mechanic that supports this as well, because magic is inherently in harmony with the way corruption works. Casters tend to take on bits of corruption with each cast and there are two levels to juggle; permanent corruption and temporary. Going over these lines causes some pretty dark things to happen but they are all fluff/flavorful that can lead your character into some very unsettling RP. I come from systems like 3.5, 2nd edition, 5e, Iron Kingdoms, Edge of the Empire, etc and this system is very easy to learn in comparison to those. It took my group around 30-45 minutes to roll up a quick guy and spit out some quick encounters. Combat is fast and brutal, with extra components/optional rules to make them even more fierce (instant kills/criticals/critical fumbles,etc). Overall I say that I love the book purely from the setting alone. It's written in such a way that keeps an open-ended interpretation of their fluff so GM's have plenty of fuel and players have tons of interesting ways to add flavor to their Witch-Hunters and Ogre Sellswords. I give it a 4/5 because despite my love of the flavor, there are some design choices (such as the open-endedness) that leak into the mechanics. There are rules that pretty much give you a small sentence or two on what it is, but its so vague that it's almost like they're saying -shrug- "just figure it out!". While that's cool for some; its not for me. An example of this is the way they treat experience points. They say to give +1 EXP to someone when they do something like an obstacle or an encounter, but then their examples lead to the design that they deliver EXP in bulk. There is no way to tell, beyond playing, how too much or too little experience points can impact the balance, or how a normal game should flow. They do this throughout the book a lot, such as monster encounters. They say a party of 4 people should be able to take X, Y, XY, and XYZ but don't offer any insight into larger groups and the book pretty much says "you'll figure it out once you do it a lot". Monsters are given an arbitrary challenge like Weak, Ordinary, Challenging, Tough and Strong...but what exp level can they take on certain things? What if i want an encounter that has 10 minions and a boss? The boss can mow over a single player with the way the mechanics work. It's all very strange but then again..I've only ran one 9-10 hour session on it so maybe it will get better. Balancing combat is not a deal breaker to me, hence the 4/5 on my score; but i can see how this could be an issue to others and I think it needs to be said in the grand review of things. In conclusion, I feel like they hit the nail on the head with the lore/fluff/art. It's the strongest point of the book by far. The mechanics are easy to use after a bit of practice, you can make some modular characters and its very easy to make exactly what you envision in this wonderfully dark and corrupted world. If you can do some patch work and just side step beyond its open-ended mechanics, you can find a solid foundation for some great adventures. I know I have! My group has already purchased 3 PDF's +2 Hardcover books for this little gem.
Here are my humble thoughts about the Symbaroum core book, a RPG product which left a grand impression on me.
The first thing that caught my attention is obviously the artwork. In perfect harmony with the atmosphere and mood of the dark fantasy setting, the pictures, as well as the general visual presentation of the book, are breathtaking. Without the stunning artwork, I doubt that I would have taken the plunge and bothered to invest in yet another fantasy RPG, a segment of RPGs that is being obscured by the recent success of the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The paintings and their ambiance made me immediately think of the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim game. Not the cute, heroic high fantasy and whimsical depictions of generic D&D settings. No jolly hobbits singing and dancing on tables from Tolkien novels. This is a dark, mysterious world, filled with perils, where ancient threats lurk just outside of any attempts at the civilization of the untamed wilderness. So hooking us up with fantastic visuals was a perfect gateway to the actual setting.
The world of Symbaroum is both a narrow/tight/localized sandbox, as well as an incredibly vast and rich campaign setting. It focuses on a particular area, with a short historical overview, and a few races and factions to populate this environment. Nevertheless, I can already think of hundreds of ways to make it work for years of play. It has incredibly compelling depth, texture, and atmosphere. The authors mentioned inspirations such as Princess Mononoke’s animism/shintoism and narrative about the conflict between nature and civilization, the aesthetics of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy’s fantasy horror, and Swedish fairytale folklore as inspirations, among other sources. I concur. It is a beautiful mariage of grim, dark fantasy, echoes of European fairytales about nature and mystical powers, Japanese ubiquity of spiritual essentialism in all things natural, Scandinavian primeval nature and tribal folklore, and twisted horror tales which conjure Lovecraft and Moorcock’s work to the mind. This isn’t your cookie cutter Tolkien-esque epic fantasy, nor the high fantasy worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. More Warhammer fantasy than the Forgotten Realms.
The rules are a great compromise between highly narrative games and highly simulationist/tactical games. They are crunchier than Cypher System games and Dungeon World, and tidier than Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder (I may have too few modern references to compare with, apologies). There are obviously some confusions and questions that immediately come to mind, but some of the ambiguities have already been addressed by the erratas issued by the developers. Character generation is neat, the abilities, traits, and powers are all interesting. There is no filling with rubbish material. The rules are tight. There are no overpowering options to put your characters on a pedestal. This world is deadly. Accordingly, the combat rules are deadly. You will not come out of the Forest of Davokar unharmed or un-tained. You will bear scars and wounds. Some of which are not physical. Magic is mighty, yet it comes at high personal costs.
I won’t go for a quantitative assessment. If I say 10/10, am I comparing this to the mainstream stuff, the few games I’ve played over the last decade, or the many games I’ve played back in the 80s and 90s, mostly? All of this matters not. For me, Symbaroum build up my enthusiasm from the Fall of 2015, when it was announced that a translation would be undertaken through crowdfunding, but being very busy, I only managed to read the core book from cover to cover during the holidays season. Then we started playing last weekend, finally. I’ll tell you this: I love this game. It is my favourite thing to come out in a long time. I think it looks fantastic. I think it reads fantastically. I think it plays very well. I am literally oozing with enthusiasm about Symbaroum, and my five players, with whom I have played and GM-ed D&D 5e over the last two years, are being contaminated by my sheer enthusiasm. I will happily purchase, read, and play every single product that the Järnringen team can translate. Hear that, Järnringen? You better put some of your designers and translators to work And please sell more of the artwork as posters. It is the most beautiful RPG artwork I have seen in decades.
tl;dr version: I f$$king love Symbaroum. Stunning, unparalleled and original artwork + a focused, atmospheric and immersive setting of dark fantasy themed around the concepts of the untameable and unfathomable power of nature versus the inexorable yet corrupting race towards civilisation + great low maintenance character creation and rules = awesome.
A welcome addition to my role-playing collection; Jarnringen have balanced a simple system with an engaging setting in a single volume. Fantastic and evocative artwork.I have found the system comes across really well with newcomers. Running Symbaroum at conventions has been a breeze and players have come away with good impressions of the game - to the extent they have later confirmed a purchase of the core book for themselves.
...or at least half or it as there isn't much world,really. It has a dark, mystic feel, but you will need to make up a lot on your own if you want to use it for more than a short campaign. However, the rules are easy to learn, quick to put to use and thus the provided world is merely an add on to me.
the book is divided into small manageable chunks with easy to understand rules that show great depth and versatility. while the rules are really really good, its the setting that shines. from the descriptions of the regions to the artwork to the workings of magic, this game is up with the best of them
What a terrific product - this is no fantasy heartbreaker, no Tolkien or D&D clone. Symbaroum is a fully realized fantasy game that has its own flavor, which mixes dark fantasy with European myths, especially Nordic and Celtic. The game itself is very much a sandbox, with a relatively small region in high detail. This is the type of book that you enjoy owning just to browse and glean ideas from, even if you never play it. Highly recommended for fantasy and setting aficionados.