Symbaroum is a dark and gritty fantasy roleplaying game by the Swedish publisher Järnringen. In Symbaroum you take on the roles of explorers and adventurers, in the lands of the dark Davokar forest. In this game the players roll every single die and the game master only serves the role of a storyteller.
Symbaroum is one of the many great Swedish roleplaying games that have been taking the world by storm in the last few years. Symbaroum is a dark and gritty fantasy setting that has been well received and has many fans. The game was released in Sweden in 2014 and was translated and published in English in November 2015. Following the release Järnringen, Symbaroum’s developers and publishers, has successfully used Kickstarter to fund sourcebooks and campaigns.
Järnringen was founded in 2013. An older company, with the same name, had been founded in 2002 by a group of childhood friends to create and release a new version of the Swedish roleplaying game Mutant. The older Järnringen also started developing the sci-fi roleplaying game Coriolis, but the company was disbanded in 2011. Two years later Järnringen was reformed by mostly the same crew and started developing Symbaroum.
Symbaroum’s core rulebook is divided in three different parts: setting, player’s guide and game master’s guide. Finally a single module is included in the book. The book is over 260 pages long, with numerous images and I have to say, the artwork and layout of the book is incredible beautiful and conveys the game’s atmosphere perfectly.
Symbaroum is in many ways unlike any other fantasy settings and unique in its own way. The game is designed as a dark fantasy setting where you are in the role of an explorer, not necessarily the standard fantasy hero, in a land that has just been recently conquered, but has a rich but in many ways undiscovered history.
Symbaroum’s recent history is a relatively short one. A little over two decades have passed since the The Great War against the hordes of the Dark Lords ended, a war that left the old country in ruins and dying. The young queen, Korinthia who had been captured by the Dark Lords, decided to move her people northwards, north over the mountain range called the Titans. There a new kingdom would be formed and was called Ambria.
In this new region the young queen’s emissaries encountered barbarian clans, goblins, ogres and elves. Dealing with these took both time, a great deal of diplomacy and, of course, battles and skirmishes against the unruly barbarians. The elves weren’t too keen on these new folk, the Ambrians, and were convinced that their coming and colonisation of the lands north of the Titans was a breach of the Iron Pact, an agreement that allowed the elves to slay any human that broke the treaty.
What’s more, as people started to explore both the land and the Davokar forest beyond they quickly found out that there was so much more about the region than first met their eye.
In the forest the explorers found the ruins of an old kingdom, one they called Symbaroum. The colonists quickly discovered that the ruins held many artifacts and valuable items.
Seven years after the colonization of Ambria queen Korinthia moved there, to a city called Yndaros, in honour of her father, King Ynedar. Villages and towns have formed and now the nobles of Ambria are planning more conquests in the north, where the mighty and dark Davokar forests go on for miles and miles, and in the west where the barbarians rule.
This is where the player characters come in. It’s their role to explore, colonise and go on quests in this unforgiving land.
Ambria is marked by two massive mountain ranges, The Ravens to the east and the Titans in the south. But the most prominent feature of Ambria is the Davokar forest, a dark and forbidding woodland where once the mighty kingdom of Symbaroum stood.
The Davokar is vast and no one has seen it all. The Ambrians divide the forest in two, the Bright Davokar and the Dark Davokar, based on whether the sunlight manages to pierce the leaves and reach the forest floor.
The Bright Davokar is strikingly beautiful and lush. In summer it is a sylvan wonderland, the autumn brings even more colours and the winter has also its share of admirers. The Dark Davokar however is not for the faint of heart and should only be traversed with a score of sword wielding companions. The vegetation is wild and dense and it’s not easy to travel through the dark region of the forest. Much of the game evolves around exploring the woods, surviving its dangers and in the wilderness.
Ever since the colonisation of Ambria a few villages and towns have formed, the most notable one being Thistle Hold. This town is the starting point of many expeditions into the Davokar forest, though many will never be seen again. Thistle Hold is ruled by Lasifor Nightpitch, a hero who saved Queen Korintha in her illness after the Great War. As a reward for his effort he claimed lordship over a region once ruled by the warlord Haloban, and that is were Thistle Hold is now.
Yndaros is the seat of the queen, a great bustling city built on the ruins of the city-state of Lindaros. Over 100,000 people live in the city, something that many believed would be impossible, since it’s only been 14 years since the queen arrived. The Ambrian capital, which is a three day ride north of the Titans, has many prominent features, such as the Cathedral of Martyrs and the Ordo Magica’s three spired tower.
Five days ride northeast of Thistle Hold is Karvosti, a plateau revered by the barbarians and where the Shrine of the Setting Sun, a temple sacred to the church of Prios, stands. Karvosti stands deep in the Davokar forest and standing on the plateau you see nothing but forest wherever you turn.
The four locations described in this part of the rulebook are detailed and offer many adventure hooks. Still, none of the locations are over the top or too fleshed out and game masters have many opportunities to add their own NPC’s, locations and other attractions.
In almost all fantasy roleplaying games you have almost what you could call a standard array of playable races, elves, humans and dwarves. In Symbaroum you have humans, who are divided into Ambrians and barbarians, changelings, goblins and ogres. Changelings are humanoids that the elves have swapped for human infants, stolen from cribs (much like the Icelandic mythical creature umskiptingur). Goblins are short lived creatures with fiery tempers. Ogres are large humanoids that have wandered out of the forest and adapted to living in human society.
The Ambrian culture is one of spirituality and mysticism. The Church of the sun god Prios is a political powerhouse, just as the Ordo Magica. The barbarians do not follow the same tenets as the Ambrians, they look to their witches for spiritual guidance.
The Ambrian nobles squabble and fight for power, just as the leaders of the Ordo Magica and the many different factions of the Church of Prios. The barbarians are divided into many clans, many who don’t share the same view on the Ambrian conquests. These political powerhouses along with the Queen’s army are described but I guess that those game masters who are more inclined to use politics, intrigue and shadow-dealings in their narratives would’ve liked to see more.
Not much is written about the goblin or ogre culture, which is a shame, because both races look very interesting.
The setting of Symbaroum is unique and well worth the read. I really like the fact that the designers decided to focus on few locations and do it well rather than going for describing many places and do it poorly. This means that the game master can both use a developed location, like Thistle Hold or write a new one.
However, there are some parts where more information would’ve been appreciated. The information on the playable races is rather scarce, save for humans, and I would’ve loved to know more about the goblin or ogre culture, not to mention the changelings.
If you like different approaches to fantasy settings and like to have enough room to fit your own stories and narratives, the Symbaroum setting should fit perfectly.
If you like highly developed settings where you get both NPC’s with stats and numerous pre-designed locations, or you prefer settings where you have your standard fantasy races, Symbaroum is probably not your cup of tea.
All in all, Symbaroum totally lives up to being a dark and gritty fantasy setting of exploration and survival. The book is beautiful and the setting really good, unique and fun.
Stay tuned for our part II of Symbaroum review, The System.