(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”
“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”
“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.
“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.
“I guess so-”
“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)
I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to exercise my imagination – ideal for any would-be writer. (What’s an RPG? You can find out more here.)
A while back I bought a tabletop RPG called Symbaroum. It’s a dark-edged fantasy set in a kingdom on the edge of Davokar, a massive forest consumed with corruption, wherein lies ruins of the ancient kingdom of Symbaroum. Adventurers based in border towns like Thistle Hold, venture warily into the dark forest to loot the ancient ruins, battle elves, trolls and blight beasts. This often ends in madness and hideous death. Yeah! Sounds like good times all round.
Symbaroum is the brainchild of Mattias Johnson and Mattias Lilja, of the Swedish games company Jarnringen. Symbaroum is big in Sweden, and is slowly breaking ground around the rest of the world. Modiphius Games distribute the English-translation of the game.
The game uses some interesting RPG mechanics, a few of which I’ve listed below:
- Whilst there are archetypes to create base characters (Warrior, Mystic, Rogue, each with multiple occupations), and five races, players can elect to build their characters from scratch, selecting abilities (skills) they believe relevant, up to the limit of the build.
- The eight attribute values that underscore each character range between 5 and 15. To succeed at an action, the player rolls a D20, with success below the tested attribute value. Traits, abilities, weapons and conditions provide positive or negative modifiers. Tests compare one of your character’s attributes against another character’s/monster’s attributes.
- Players roll all the dice in the game. This includes defending against attacks. The Games Master (GM) never rolls at all.
- Magic and artifacts can cause corruption in characters, turning them into blight-stricken abominations, if they’re not careful.
- Battles are hard. More often than not, players may run from conflict. That doesn’t mean they don’t fight at all, but battles can be deadly.
An adventure, The Promised Land, is included in the rule book to introduce players to the systems used.
The campaign background is very detailed, focussing on the country of Ambria and the nearby Forest of Davokar – a small section of the overall game world. The location and background establishes the flavour of the setting – it’s very dark, dank and mysterious, full of horror, manipulative factions, layered history and deep secrets.
The art in this game is by Martin Bergstrom, and it is phenomenal (see the image above for a teaser). Never before have I seen such evocative, haunting and awe-inspiring artwork in an RPG. It really helps to set the scene and emphasise the dark nature of the game.
There are a number of supplements that have been released, with the latest being Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden, the first in a grand campaign called Throne of Thorns.
Symbaroum is a great role playing game. It’s well worth your attention. Even if you’ve never played a role playing game before.
(“Hah!” cries Alpha Girl. “I killed you! You’re dead! DEAD!” She’s dancing in her seat.
Beta Max and I look at each other bemusedly. Beta Max whispers in my ear: “I think she’s getting into this game a little too much.”)
* Disclaimer: I never said playing RPGs would give you ‘magical math powers’. For more on that, click here.
You can order Symbaroum online from the Modiphius Games website at http://www.modiphius.com
Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden is available in print/PDF from Modiphius, or PDF from DriveThruRPG at http://www.drivethrurpg.com
To find out more about Jarnringen, visit their site at http://www.jarnringen.com (in Swedish, Google will translate the page for you)