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Monday, 29 May 2017

A Symbaroum Duology

The pattern for the first few releases for the Swedish near-Dark Ages fantasy RPG, Symbaroum has been to include two scenarios in each book. For example, The Copper Crown contained two scenarios to complete a trilogy begun in the Symbaroum Core Rulebook, whilst Adventure Pack 1, which came packaged with the Symbaroum: Gamemaster Screen contained two single scenarios that could be slotted in an ongoing campaign. Published by Järnringen and distributed by Modiphius Entertainment, this trend continues with Adventure Pack 2 in presenting two scenarios. Their joint theme is the danger of digging too deeply and too greedily into the black soil of the past under Davokar’s canopy. In both scenarios this will unleash terrible secrets.

The first scenario is ‘The Fever of the Hunt’ which takes place at the  excavation site of Salindra’s Hope, a great muddy mound alone in the forest atop which stands a walled encampment. The local barbarian tribe has declared the region taboo and the only way in or out is by river, so the Game Master could easily run ‘The Curse of the River Goddess’ from Adventure Pack 1 before the player characters arrive at the frontier dig-site. Several reasons are suggested as to why they are making the journey. Most obviously they are treasure hunters themselves, but other options include being agents of the Iron Pact tasked to determine the threat the site represents, being hired to rescue a young noble with dreams of finding a great treasure, and being sent to find a fugitive.

The scenario is heavily plotted out with a series of events that start just before the player characters arrive. Now these events are what will happen if the player characters do nothing and allow the plot and the motivations of the NPCs to run their course. This is likely to have dire consequences for the surrounding region…  If on the other hand, the player characters do intervene, they have the chance to forestall these consequences and the scenario presents various potential outcomes. Ultimately what they may have to contend with is a fresh outbreak in a centuries old conflict, one they are unlikely to survive should they get caught up between the two combatants. Surviving this muddled, muddy situation will take good roleplaying rather than negotiation skills and then there are the all of the lesser entities—the treasure hunters, the interdicting barbarians, the oddly acting Ogre bailiff, and so on—to deal with. Although relatively short, this scenario has the capacity to build to an epic climax.

The second scenario is ‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’, which takes place in the town of Kastor, the alternative launching point to Thistle Hold for expeditions into the Davokar Forest. It is also the exit point too. This is because expeditions from the town are unregulated. The default reason for the player characters coming to the walled town is a message from an old friend or lover of the player characters—one fault with the scenario is this option is suggested several times rather than other reasons being given. As they arrive, the player characters find the town in uproar, several members of its council dead and extra guards on duty in the town after the new mayor has declared a state of emergency. Unfortunately, the player character’s contact is numbered among the dead.

‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’ is a murder mystery of a sort, but one in which the player characters will have to resort to subterfuge to solve. It is a complex mystery involving the undead, rival cults, goblin bands, a giant monster, and a strange artefact—the bell itself. Unlike ‘The Fever of the Hunt’, this scenario is less event and plot driven, and though it has ending, how the player characters get there is dependent upon their investigations. Like ‘The Fever of the Hunt’ though, this scenario also involves a dangerous creature from the past, and again, it can be reasoned with as much as it can be fought. ‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’ is said to take place after the events of ‘The Fever of the Hunt’ as several NPCs from the first scenario appear in the second, but not immediately after. That said, with some adjustment the scenario could be set up to do so.

Adventure Pack 2 comes with more than just the two adventures. Of course ‘The Bell Tolls for Kastor’ includes a description of town which can be used beyond its inclusion and there is a wealth of NPCs—several of them quite powerful—some of whom may make an appearance after the adventures have been played through. An appendix also adds new rules, including traits such as Bloodlust and Mirage, a new feature called Rituals, and descriptions of two artefacts, one of which, the Bell of Kastor, has the ability to soak up Corruption—a boon to any spell caster. Of course, it has limitations, one of which may become all too obvious if the scenario goes badly for the player characters. Notably, the appendix and thus Adventure Pack 2, references the Player’s Handbook. This includes material such as boons and burdens, ritual ceremonies, and so on. As yet, this book has not yet appeared in an English language edition. One other aspect of Symbaroum first made mention of here, is that of Dwarves as a race. They appear as NPCs, but given that there is yet no background on them, they do feel out of context in Symbaroum as currently presented.

Physically, Adventure Pack 2 is nicely presented. The artwork is both fantastic and oppressive, setting the mood for both scenarios and potentially working as visual aides for the Game Master. Where Adventure Pack 2 is disappointing is in the writing, or rather the translation and localisation. Neither are as clean as they could be and the book feels a little rushed in places. Certainly a closer edit would not have gone amiss.

Adventure Pack 2 presents two good scenarios that explore their theme of greed and curiosity very well. These are dark, gritty affairs that the Game Master will want to have for his Symbaroum campaign.

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Modiphius Entertainment will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.