I will never play this game. 

Well never is a long time. But I honestly can’t see ever bringing it to the table. Maybe if MadJay Brown runs it — he talked it up, I blame him! — I’ll give it a go. 

I picked up Symbaroum as a lark. Had a little slush fund cash, I totally dig most everything else Mophidius has put out (specifically Mutant: Year Zero), and it is pretty. Phew. I’m a huge sucker for the Dark Swede school of fantasy art, problematic monoculture or not. 

There’s nothing specifically wrong with Symbaroum. Let me just say that up front. Mechanically it seems sound. The setting sounds interesting. But, like, it doesn’t actually bring anything new to the table as far as I can tell. Nobody has published this setting before but it’s an awful lot like other fantasy settings. Nobody has published this system before but it doesn’t do anything new or special. It can’t answer the question of the ages: “Why not just play D&D?” 

It is a classic fantasy heartbreaker, a throwback to a simpler time. 

I’m sort of amazed they keep coming out, to be honest. But then again here I am, spending money. 

Dunno…maybe I missed something. There might be something in the way the character’s faction and talents and little widgets come together. Maybe the little hero point economy (called Corruption, I think?) is more robust than it looks. But I don’t think so.

If anyone else has picked this up, hit me over the head about all the things I got wrong about it.

0 thoughts on “Symbaroum”

  1. The more I looked at the die mechanic, the less I liked it. It seems more awkward than what it’s replacing (WotC-era D&D).

    About ten years ago, this would have been a kick-ass d20 setting.

  2. starts tap dancing SO, you’re not missing anything Paul Beakley, IMHO.

    I would chose to run Symbaroum instead of D&D because the XP cycle is more to my liking than D&Ds. That’s a big deal to me. I’ve ranted on this before tl;dr: I don’t want to be the decider about when folks ‘level up’.
    That right there turns me cold. I’ve become spoiled by DW, BW where the players are responsible for their characters advancement. I also don’t like to drift games.

    I’m running D&D now and gnash my teeth when I prep because I already know the outcome. I’ve made some compromises to make it go down easier. I adopted AGEs method for awarding Xp. Symbaroum will be the game I counter-offer D&D with…if I’m DM.

    And I’ll happily buy your copy Paul!

  3. I’ll happily sell it to you! Sweet.

    That’s interesting about the XP scheme, and super interesting that it’s such a showstopper for you in D&D. Because, like lots of my small-press buddies, I’m kind of thinking about giving it a look. 

    So in Symbaroum it’s uh…one XP per roll, right? No matter the outcome, you touch the dice you’re getting an XP? I might have forgotten how they define “a challenge” tho.

  4. 1 Xp per challenge, some social challenges may not have dice rolls.
    If PCs got XPs in D&D like they earn faction checks or corruption points in
    Urban Shadows… I’d be fine.
    The rest of D&D 5E is pretty good stuff. I just got that XP monkey on my

  5. I actually thought the idea they pose — “Just look at the characters and imagine how it would turn out” — was sort of interesting, though fraught with peril.

  6. That 500XPs (or whatever) in D&D took some calculus to get to. I think the expectation is to pre-build the encounters to suit the party. Factors include number of folks in the party(and their levels), number of monsters and CR levels…for starters. There’s even an Adventuring Day XP chart in the DMG!

    Challenges are more narrative. Avoid detection by the castle guards, steal the dragon egg, sneak away into the night. 3 XP.

    I should be clearer, XPs in D&D feels like a pacing tool. I don’t like that tool in my hands as the GM/DM. I want to hand it off to the players.

  7. Waaaaait a second. Who is it that’s presenting the challenges to players in Symbaroum?

    Worst case scenario, you end up with a perverse incentive for players to atomize their efforts into as many “challenges” as possible.

  8. Also: I didn’t intend to whip the countryside into an angry mob! Although I sort of love imagining Jay lurching across the countryside with torches and pitchforks in the distance. Get him!

  9. Okay so…if the GM is the one presenting challenges, and you get xps for challenges, it’s in the gm’s hands.

    This comment is in my skeptical font.

    You’ve nearly made it to Castle Brown! The gate is in view!

  10. It would make more sense to me if characters received xp for accomplishing their stated goals, and the GM’s job is simply to thwart them. I.e., do it BWHQ style.

    Aside: the included starter scenario is pretty mundane (get sent on a mission, fight some creatures), which is always a bad sign in my book.

  11. I had this feeling after I backed a French RPG with amazing art a while back. Shadows of Esteren. Like, really pretty, decent worldbuilding, but totally bland, mechanically. They have apparently put out a series of stunning hardcover books and maybe even some paperback supplements, but I know for a fact I’ll never bring them to the table, though I might print out some of the game art to use for other games.

  12. /sub, ’cause I got the same feeling off of the Esteren books, and now wonder what Symbaorum brings to the table, setting wise… Neither will hit my table as published, but I might steal some stuff to use with BW, if it’s evocative and interesting (again, setting stuff).

  13. I am sure I will buy this game, when I can get it from a US source. Still, I wish there were stronger arguments for its unique offerings to support purchasing it!

  14. _sorry, work stuff interfering _

    I’d say the goals have teeth. GM challenges are aimed at goals, Xps awarded for challenges. Advancement requires Xp to be spent. What am I missing Ara Kooser?

    +Paul Beakley, yes, but the player defined the goals where the challenges are being aimed at. This gives it a BW belief feel to me.
    GM presents challenges to Player goals. Player addresses goal, gets paid. I’m arguing, the player has set the goal first and is setting a focus of the game, and rewarded for engaging it. I feel like in D&D as GM, I’ve stocked the session, I know where everything is and how you/PCs get paid. I don’t like this.

    I did say Symbaroum isn’t the new Black, right? 😉 There is some funky business with the mechanics as I read them, but I haven’t gotten it on the table yet and I want too. I do like the premise and the playable races.

  15. Wait seriously? There’s a hexcrawl system, or some of one, in a supplement? Interesting. I was kind of surprised they didn’t build that out tighter when I read the core rulebook because it seems very much like a grindy crawly kind of game once you’re going into the forest.

  16. Oh man, that whole thing sounds like it should have been in the core rulebook. :-/

    Oh well! Still selling it! But now Jay has to run it for me, show me what’s what.

  17. I will also say: this thread, and Ara Kooser’s outstanding breakdown, makes me feel like I didn’t bring 100% to the table this time around. Usually I can read through and figure out games pretty well! And I just didn’t suss any of this out. 

    I still don’t think it’s an exceptional game. Dunno that I’d really get much out of it. But there’s more going on than I gave it credit for. 

    What scares me about that is that I may have dismissed Mutant: Year Zero in a similar way if it had come across my desk now and if I’d read it with the same eyes. And what a shame that would have been; it’s my  2015 GOTY.

    Maybe I’m burned out. Maybe it’s time for a little rest. Maybe my design head and my analysis head are mutually incompatible! My brain is packed to capacity on Misfortune stuff right now. 

    Hm hm hm. 

    Sure glad I have all y’all around to keep me company.

  18. I bought this because you told me to buy it. You did me wrong, Beakley.

    Like you, I’m a sucker for the Dark Nordic art direction. The presentation is top-notch. It’s in the same quality ballpark as Mouse Guard.

    I like the rules that connect directly to building your character. Blending the Abilities and Powers together using the same design principles (Novice/Adept/Master) reminds me of Heroquest somehow and that’s not too bad a thing. Well, I like the broad principles. It doesn’t really seem like there’s too much depth in the different choices, but D&D 5e isn’t necessarily that deep on the character building front.

    Once I got to the actual rules underlying the game itself, I kept wondering why I wouldn’t just play 5e. Symbaroum’s combat and adventuring rules aren’t complex by any stretch, but they aren’t simple either. They’re a dilution of D&D that doesn’t go far enough. It’s timid or perhaps perfunctory.

    The XP rules are very broad. You”re right, Paul, when you say that players get 1xp every time they face a challenge. Pass or fail, you get 1xp. If you don’t roll any dice, you can still get 1xp. Could it be shortened to “Say ‘Yes’, or Award XP”? 😉

    But it’s very pretty!

  19. I feel the same way about Shadows of Esteren : Though the infectious enthusiasm of the design team and my friend Thomas G. has me buying it up: It comes from the French tradition of incredible detail to fantastical setting, some stereotypical things alongside wild new things, gorgeous “how the fuck did they afford this???” art dripping on every page, all held together by a system that really doesn’t do anything exciting (tho, to be honest, Esteren’s character generation and focus on non-typical stats IS kinda exciting).


    If you look at the sourcebooks like you do artbooks like on Parkablogs, they are incredible resources (Esteren crew knows this to the point they put out pretty much an “art-only” words-light setting book in their lineup), I would say that they are better at conveying setting, garnering buy-in and assisting in starting play far more than any “big new setting” RPG that was ever produced in N America over the 80s, 90s, 2000s, etc. 

    7th Sea/L5R/Tribe 8/Blue Rose: Okay here’s some art, but let me tell you about the world for 30 minutes to get you started; or else you can borrow the book and read 50-200 pages of setting to become familiar with it.

    Symbaroum and other games in the Euro (what I label above as French) tradition: “Flip through this book and look at the pictures. {waits two minutes] Got it? Yeah, you got it. You’re locked in. You viscerally understand the setting, and have already honed in on a character type and things in the setting that excite you. It’s been 120 seconds. Let’s play.”
    Cohesive. Inspiring. Brilliant. In regards to the setting and the ability to convey it quickly to the reader, that is.
    (Sure there’s hundreds of pages of text to go with it as well, but they stand above as art books on their own)

    It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.

  20. <>
    Did somebody say Esteren? 🙂

    More seriously, I understand that feeling whether it’s towards Esteren, Symbaroum or any other RPG with a unique setting. No matter how cool the art looks, it can be daunting to absorb a new world/ruleset that’s similar-yet-slightly-different from another game/genre you’ve already explored (in this case traditional Horror/Dark Fantasy). I feel like the more you’re into this hobby, the more you gravitate towards “broad setting/make shit up as you go” kind of games.

    If there is a “French tradition” (besides the great quality books), in my opinion, it’s the “theater of the mind” approach to RPGs. I can’t think of a single French game that uses minis/maps. That might explain why people find Esteren’s system “bland”: it was always the authors’ intention to keep it simple (1d10+skill) to put the emphasis on the evocative setting and character development. Pretty much like the way they used to play Ravenloft back in high school (low power, low magic, extra sanity rules).

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