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SYMBAROUM, by Järnringen:  Part 2 – Musings Of An Experienced GM’s First Game

Following our fab trip to Stockholm, and the special edition of The Coriolis Effect podcast – The Symbaroum Effect – I thought I’d talk a bit more about my growing impressions of this RPG.  It’s been a few weeks since I played the first scenario in my first Symbaroum campaign.  Since then I’ve had time to think over a few things, and had the chance to discuss some points with friends, other gamers and (most brilliantly) the creators of the game, Mattias Lilja and Martin Grip from Järnringen itself (see The Coriolis Effect podcast episode 12, as well as the Symbaroum Effect special programme!).

So here are a few more of my musings on this game that holds such a lot of potential.

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Player Facing: players rolling ALL the dice – is this always a good thing? 

Well, I really like the “player-facing” principle but I’m not so sure.  The principle of having the players front and centre for everything is great, but it does drive a certain approach to the game.  For example, games can involve some NPC vs NPC activity that the players will witness.  Often this may be for a very specific reason (to help set the atmosphere, drive the plot, offer the players the opportunity to intervene), but this specific reason might not dictate what actually happens to the NPCs, or the result of the NPC interaction.  So, should you as GM just narrate the outcome, or can you roll some dice?  I like the idea of – even as the GM – not knowing what the outcome might be, so rolling some dice to show what happens is attractive.  But then in a player facing game should the players roll every roll, even those where they are just observers?  In my first scenario I had the players roll the NPC dice but that didn’t feel right to me.  I think next time I will either just narrate or, if I fancy rolling a few dice (and even as GM I like rolling dice sometimes!) I’ll roll and then narrate the outcome that the dice give me.

Set stats for NPCs – by this I particularly mean the set numbers that Symbaroum gives you for the damage that NPCs do when they hit.

In a similar vein to the player facing idea, this principle is both good and less good for me.  In Symbaroum the NPC damage stat is, in effect, the average damage that the NPC or beast might do.  It does fulfil the principle of the GM not wasting time rolling dice, but the fact that the number is set means that you know an Ogre, say, will kill a PC in two hits – no questions.  If you randomise the damage you run the risk that a PC could get swiped in one hit, but you also offer the chance that a hit might not be as bad as you first thought, if the damage roll comes out low.  That said, the game doesn’t need anything else to make fighting more dangerous – drawing your sword in anger is a very risky thing to do in the world of Symbaroum!  So I’m still in two minds on this one: for my next game I will continue with the RAW, but watch this space for my future thoughts!

Things I’m Not Sure I Got Right. . .

Well, there’s a few of them, but for now here’s the top two!

–     Firstly, the Defence statistic.  Both characters in my first scenario have quite low QUICKNESS scores, and with a bit of armour ended up with Defence stats of 5 or less (I think one of them has 3!).  So combat was going to be troublesome for them!  In one way it’s great – not only the danger of combat in Symbaroum, but how easy they are to hit has (and will) drive their behaviour away from fighting to resolve a situation (even though one of them is a tough-as-old-leather-boots Ogre!).  But I was surprised about how vulnerable they felt!

–     Second, I allowed one character to “channel” his power (Radomaromei is a Changeling with Brimstone Cascade – a fall of fiery bad-stuff).  So, he cast it once then could maintain an attack each turn thereafter by spending a free action – I think this allows him to do other stuff with his other actions (and in the scenario I allowed him to use his Movement and Combat actions to kite the Ogres trying to kill him and fire his crossbow).  I think this is right: I have had a hard look and can’t see anything to tell me otherwise.  It feels about right in relation to Corruption too: if Rado had to cast it – and suffer the Temporary Corruption that comes with casting –  every turn he would immediately fall foul of Corruption, so I think I have it right!  It seemed to play out well in the game!

XP in Symbaroum

One element of the game is the mechanic that allows players to re-roll dice rolls if they feel the need.  But to do this they have to pay for it, either by taking a point of Corruption (something my players seemed very reluctant to do in our first game – probably wisely!) or by burning an Experience Point.  The Symbaroum XP system is pretty standard and familiar, and as with other games you’re expected to dish out XP rewards at the end of each scenario or game session.  But I thought it was a bit unfair to prevent my players from spending XP to re-roll if they wanted to for the whole length of the first scenario.  I didn’t want to let them go into “XP debt”, and didn’t want to give them some “up-front” before they had done anything to earn it.  So I decided to award XP as we went!  I’d offer up an XP per scene if they successfully came through it, and dish out points for particularly good play.  This way I didn’t deny them the chance to re-roll for XP.  As it happened they were very wary of wasting XP for re-rolls, but I’m sure the day will come when they feel the need!  For me as GM it makes balancing XP awards slightly harder, but I think I simply need to be Scrooge McScrooge to start, and even it out as the session proceeds if I’ve been too stingy!


I’ll be running Episode 2 of The Inn of the Lonesome Ogre campaign at the end of November, so will be back with more musings and thoughts in a later blog (oh, and watch out of the Symbaroum Actual Play special podcasts we will be putting out over the next few weeks!).

Keep watching this space!

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