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Sunday 16 September 2018

The Symbaroum Campaign I

In comparison to many other roleplaying games, the pattern of support for 
Symbaroum, the near-Dark Ages fantasy roleplaying game from Swedish publisher, Järnringen, distributed in English by Modiphius Entertainment, has been to focus primarily on scenarios. The Copper Crown, Adventure Pack 1 in the Symbaroum: Gamemaster Screen, and Adventure Pack 2 have supported the roleplaying game with an array of interesting and challenging scenarios. The exception to this is, of course, Symbaroum’s only supplement, Advanced Player’s Guide, but the amount of content to play ramps up with the release of Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is actually the inaugurial part of Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns, a seven-part campaign! In actuality, not all of the book is devoted to the campaign itself. It is divided into three sections. The first provides a description of Thistle Hold and its unhappy neighbour, Blackmoor; the second an expanded section for the Game Master on a variety of matters; and the third the start of campaign in full. It should be noted that the first section, devoted to Thistle Hold and Blackmoor, is designed to be accessed by the players, especially those players with characters who have been moving in and out of Thistlehold for a while and got to know their way around and a little of people’s attitudes (and in the process, have earned the fifty Experience Points needed to play the campaign). The rest of the book is very much for the Game Master’s eyes, for not does it contain the first part of the campaign, it also reveals secrets about Thistle Hold—and beyond!

The first section is ‘The Hunter’s Harbour’, which expands upon the description of Thistle Hold in the core rulebook, which focuses upon the fortified town’s taverns, inns, places of entertainment, and the like as well as various trading establishments. This focus is intentional, since it reflects life for many in the town, for most go out to eat and drink rather than do so at home. Certainly this is the case for the many treasure hunters who have struck it lucky with a find in the Davokar forest and want to enjoy their new found wealth instead of spending time in their rented rooms. So, there is a range of malted beers to be had at the Brew and you can eat cheaply and tastily from the offal menu at the Slaughterhouse; games of chance and strategy can be played and bet upon at Benego’s and bets can also be placed on Fight Day at the Abomitorium where fights between gladiators and beasts dragged from Davokar are staged; the wealthy and the well-behaved can stay the Court and Harp where Queen Korinthia stayed or if you are lucky and wealthy, stay at the Winged Ladle, the inn built into the crown of a tree! Establishments where the welcome matches the price are also available. Also detailed are the important organisations and factions in town—the Sun Temple, the Merchants’ House, the Monastery of the Twilight Friars, the town seat from where Mayor Lasifor Nightpitch and staff govern Thistle Hold and access to Davokar, and so on. Many of these factions and organisations have a role to play in the Wrath Of The Warden campaign.

Where the description of Thistle Hold adds to and builds upon material contained in the core rulebook, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden expands beyond the frontier town’s palisades to gives details about Blackmoor. This is essentially a suburb of Thistle Hold, a tent town where those who cannot afford to live or trade behind its wooden walls. Without Thistle Hold’s regulations, Blackmoor has a deserved reputation for lawlessness and a higher turnover of residents, but there are some sections where order is kept. The description of both Thistle Hold and Blackmoor runs to just over twenty pages, but this is only the publicly available information, including updated maps of both locations. There is more information in the Game Master’s section—‘In the Shadow of the Beacon’—which reveals the secrets of each of the new locations, mostly minor secrets, and mostly tied up in Thistle Hold’s relatively short past, but included are one or two major secrets to Symbaroum and its setting that should be all but impossible for the players and their characters to ever learn. The players and their characters may encounter some of these secrets, certainly some of the mysteries to Symbaroum in the course of the campaign.

The other two parts of the Game Master’s Section discuss ‘Goal Orientated Roleplaying’ and provide a host of supplementary mechanics. The latter, whether the monstrous trait of Fire Breath, the Raise Undead ritual, an array of artefacts, or the rules for conducting research or handling fleeing and following, are not actually new. They previously appeared in Adventure Pack 1, but are reprinted here because they pertain to the Wrath of the Warden part of the campaign. If the Game Master does not have Adventure Pack 1, then their inclusion is undeniably useful, but if she does, there is an undeniable redundancy to this section. ‘Goal Orientated Roleplaying’ is new though, and looks at the type of adventure or scenarios where the players and their characters set out to achieve objectives such as establishing outposts and going on expeditions into the Davokar Forest. Five steps—or phases—are discussed for each and these are designed to work with the suggestions and tables found in Adventure Pack 1 for going on treasure hunts. To accompany these new guidelines, two sets of ruins are included as possible goals or objectives for the player characters. One is a former villa, the other small castle and estate, both quite rich in terms of the loot to be found, but both nasty pockets of corruptions and danger. Of the two, the castle is more involving and presents more opportunities for roleplaying, but both are easy to drop into an ongoing campaign. Like the start of the campaign which follows the Game Master’s Section, neither is designed for inexperienced characters. That said neither is suited for inclusion in Wrath of the Warden, but could be used prior to the Game Master starting the campaign.

The last section in Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is the start of the campaign proper. As the opening part of the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns campaign, Wrath Of The Warden has some requirements. First, it is not designed for new characters. Instead, they should have at least fifty Experience Points each. Second, they should have the reputation of being prepared to deal with the evils of the Davokar Forest that sometimes beset the town. Third, they should have played through the scenario, ‘The Mark of the Beast’, from The Copper Crown. If successful, this should have favourably established their reputation. In fact, playing through the whole of ‘The Chronicle of the Copper Crown’—consisting of ‘The Promised Land’ from Symbaroum Core Rulebook and ‘The Mark of the Beast’ and ‘Tomb of Dying Dreams’ would go some way to providing the fifty Experience Points needed to be ready to play Wrath Of The Warden.

More than half of Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is dedicated to the first part of the campaign. Like the previous two sections, it is divided into three parts, in this case, three acts. Of these, the first and third are quite linear in structure, the second and middle much more open with the player characters being left to decide what actions they want to take, lines of enquiry they want to follow, and who they want to speak to. Although there are several diversions and plot threads which will take them outside of Thistle Hold, for the most part, the bulk of the action takes place within its wooden walls. At its most basic, this part of the campaign concerns itself with the fate of a potential new patron who promises much if the player characters come to work for her. Unfortunately, a great disaster strikes Thistle Hold and this patron goes missing. Finding her will lead the player characters to come into contact with the great and good, the greedy and the ambitious, and the dissolute and the driven of Thistle Hold, many of them the town’s notables. The good news is that many are willing to help, though they might have a task for the adventurers in the meantime, which leads to a wide variety of tasks to undertake and things to do. The bad news is there are factions in the town who do not want them to succeed. 

Even during the linear acts of Wrath of the Warden, there is a good mix of action and roleplaying, but this really ramps during the middle act, combining it with a strong investigative thread. The Game Master should have fun too, as she will have a good sized cast to portray from all walks of life. The campaign also fairly detailed, it will require no little preparation upon the Game Master’s part, especially the second act, which makes very good use of the content presented earlier in the book. To facilitate the investigation, the campaign also comes with a handful of very nicely produced handouts, though it will probably be a good idea if one of the players takes notes the campaign proceeds.

With so many NPCs to be found in the campaign, it might have been useful for there to have been a set of portraits to show the players. The other thing which is missing is a good clue tree. There is a flow chart, but this feels clumsy and linear, not really effective as it needs to be to support the sandbox aspect of the otherwise strong middle act. The advice could have been stronger for what the Game Master needs to do should her players take their characters deviate wildly from the linear flow chart.

Physically, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden manages to both impress and depress. Impressively, the book is laid out in Symbarom’s house style in full colour and illustrated with some stunning pieces of art. Not all of this art is new, but as it does provide superb depictions of Thistle Hold, this is less of an issue that it might have been. A nice physical touch is that it includes two bound bookmarks, which makes marking important information a little easier. Depressingly, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is not so badly edited as dreadfully localised. There are some very clumsy turns of phrase in the supplement’s writing, which are highly indicative of the publisher’s need for a professional English language editor.

Even at its most basic, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden expands greatly upon the settings of Thistle Hold and Blackmoor and there are secrets here enough for the Game Master to weave into her campaign and add mystery aplenty. The material also provides solid support, in conjunction the content in the core rulebook, for Wrath of the Warden which follows. Wrath of the Warden is rich and meaty in terms of content, grim and perilous in terms of tone, providing multiple sessions of roleplaying as well as setting everything up for the next part of the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns.

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