Part 1 – An Old GM’s First Impressions
Symbaroum, by the publisher “Järnringen” (“The Iron Ring” in English) is a fantasy game that’s been about for a couple of years, but I only came across it for the first time a few months ago. I didn’t come across it through an impromptu game ran by a mate or at a convention: I came across it by the strength of its artwork! It just drew me into Symbaroum’s dense pages, evoking the setting and feel of the Symbaroum world so perfectly, I was just blown away. I mean, just look at this artwork, and I dare you to tell me it ain’t nothing short of brilliant.
I couldn’t wait to venture out into this world and, more importantly, push my players out into it. So I bought it, read it, created my bit of it, and played it!
Hot damn I love it.
But I guess that’s not enough! Let me explain…
I read through the Core Rulebook, and on that first read I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons that I’ve been playing down my local pub (I hadn’t played D&D (in fact AD&D) since about 1990, so was interested to get back into it as a game three decades on). Some of these parallels seem obvious on the face of it, but a more detailed look quickly reveals the reality:
- Yes, Symbaroum is a d20 game;
- Yes, Symbaroum has all the same tropes as D&D;
- And yes, the fantasy setting is – inevitably – similar to D&D and many, many other fantasy games (although it’s kinda impossible not to do a fantasy game without it evoking something from D&D).
- The basic rules of Symbaroum are really simple and straight-forward, in a solidly good way: there’s plenty of variety without the myriad options that D&D seems to offer (every time I play D&D I have to be reminded what my skills, abilities and talents can do – I’m not a spring chicken any more but I’m not so old and out of it that I’m ready for the padded room with as much mashed banana as I can eat!);
- For Symbaroum, with one quick skim read of the rules I was ready to give it a go;
- The game is “player-facing”, in that the players make all the dice rolls. All your skills tests are driven by your Attributes, and each roll uses a key attribute to give you the base target number. That target number is then modified up or down by the opponent’s opposed attribute – roll equal to or lower than the target to succeed. When I first read this I must have had a quizzical look on my face, as I didn’t really get how good it might be. But having played it I now see how this mechanic gives the GM enormous flexibility to consider any and every situation on its merits and decide which attributes are relevant. As GM it means you’re not limited by what your usual run-of-the-mill RPG offers you in their standard lists of skills. It means that there is no situation that cannot be covered, and then resolved quickly, with no break in the pace;
- As the game is “player-facing” it’s always the character that’s front and centre here, hence so is the player. The player always rolls the dice (against their most relevant Attribute) even if they are not the active participant in the situation. For example, the character is being stalked and obviously knows nothing about it, but the player will roll against their VIGILANT Attribute, modified by the NPC’s DISCREET or CUNNING attribute to spot the stalker (or not);
- Unless I’m missing a bunch of pages in the book, there aren’t over complicated and detailed rules for things like weapon ranges, power ranges and so forth. It might be a bit of a naus if you actually enjoy spending a lot of time searching the rule books for the right answers (and I do know some folks who loved D&D exactly because they were Rules Fascists, and would enjoy an evening of duelling rule books with their players or GM). But Rules Fascism is not for me, and this game lets me make a call on the spur of the moment for those sorts of detail and kept the game flowing;
- And the game flows so well – the game-feel was really goooooood. It’s fast paced and fun;
- Oh, and did I mention the rules are S I M P L E and the game is F A S T P A C E D ?
I haven’t even mentioned the setting yet, for which there is a mountain of rich setting material. I’d originally thought I’d set my campaign in Thistle Hold. I bought the supplement “Thistle Hold: The Wrath of the Warden” on the recommendation of my mate Rich: I don’t regret getting it for a minute, but I’m not using it (at the moment). The scale of the world and all its empty spaces were just begging me to create my own bit of it. So Granite Hold was born, the once prosperous outpost on the shores of the lake called Korinmere, that soon fell into decline and struggle, despite the hundreds of Ambrians and Goblins who’d planted roots this far north-east, and have no intention of giving up the lives they have carved for themselves…
Having played the game I’ve now picked up a few points that deserve greater examination… I’ll take a look at these in my next Symbaroum article, and cover the use of Powers and the dastardly influence of Corruption too…
Watch This Space!