First time playing: Symbaroum


Sue Savage

I picked up the Symbaroum PDF when Fria Ligan were doing a one-day free giveaway, but hadn't actually got round to looking at it. Then our Coriolis GM asked if anyone was interested in a one-shot.

We were offered a selection of pre-gen characters. I picked up Magdala, the barbarian witch, because she was a witch. Last time I played a witch it was in Pathfinder, when the APG came out and we wanted to try out the new classes. She was an early casualty of the Player Massacre of 2010. But back to Symbaroum.

I love dark Germanic flavour fantasy, and I've played Warhammer FRP a couple of times, but I always feel like it suffers a bit from the fundamentally comic nature of some of the races. Mohawk-wearing dwarves and pie-obsessed halflings don't make for a dark and gritty game. (See Diversity Hires for what the last game of WFRP I played was like.) Symbaroum gives me the same flavour but without the comic elements. The playable races are humans, changelings, ogres and goblins, who feel far more like they wandered out of some ancient fairy tale than the standard Lord of the Rings style party. The world feels smaller, and a little claustrobic, but there's certainly room for a campaign in there.

The system is uncomplicated - just a row of stats to roll under, and a few special abilities - but still feels flexible. My first level witch has only one spell, but each spell can be cast at three different levels with different effects. There are no spell slots. The only limitation is that each spell cast gives her an amount of temporary corruption, and with that amount being rolled it can vary wildly. With a threshold to avoid crossing, each spell becomes a gamble. In one stroke, the game has both done away with Vancian magic and given magic more thematic flavour. I love it.

Besides magic, I'm also enjoying the fact that the monsters don't roll to attack - the players roll to defend. This is a mechanic I've only recently encountered in games (The d6 Hack, specifically) and I like it a lot - just as much fun for the players but with fewer dice rolls. Some of the mechanics are being slightly hidden from us by the VTT (Fantasygrounds appear to have excellent support for Symbaroum) but I can see enough to know I'd be just as happy playing this on a real table.

Like everything else I've seen from Järnringen / Fria Ligan, the art is gorgeous and evocative. No surprise to see there's an art book available, and a bunch of it has made it onto All Rolled Up products as well.

We played the one-shot introductory adventure, The Promised Land, and enjoyed it so much we agreed to come back for more. So we're now diving into The Copper Crown, and I eagerly look forward to what terrible places it will take us to.

Pretty much the only criticism I've seen of Symbaroum is that there's not a lot to it, and that's all from early reviews. There's a bunch of extra stuff available from Modiphius, which hopefully fills in any gaps.

In short, if you like dark fantasy and aren't wedded to WFRP, this is definitely worth playing. Especially if you managed to pick it up for free.

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