Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 2 June 2019

A Symbaroum Duology II

In the main, releases for Symbaroum, the near-Dark Ages fantasy roleplaying game from Swedish publisher, Free League, distributed in English by Modiphius Entertainment have been duologies, books containing two scenarios each. Thus, 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, and Adventure Pack 2 which explored the ongoing dangers of investigating too deeply into the Davokar Forest.
Adventure Pack 3 continues this trend by including two scenarios, but two scenarios set very far away from the Davokar Forest.

‘The Third Episode in the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns’, Yndaros – The Darkest Star highlighted the ongoing schism within the Sun Church since Prios, the Sun God, was adopted as the One in order to defeat the Dark Lords in lost Alberetor. On the one side of the schism are the Curia loyalists who are faithful to his role as Lawgiver and the one true god of Ambria. On the other are the Reformists who want to return to before Prios was adopted as the Lawgiver and worship in his role as the Lifegiver. The latter are viewed by the former as heretics and are hunted by an inquisition and both major role in Yndaros – The Darkest Star. Equally, they play a major role in Adventure Pack 3, whose two adventures can be run before or after the events of Yndaros – The Darkest Star, although neither take place in Yndaros, the Ambrian capital.

‘The Howling of Damned Gods’ takes the player characters back to the checkpoint on an island in the River Veloma and the refugee camp opposite which serves as the checkpoint and entry point into Ambria at the base of Prios Pass. It is likely that many of the player characters will have come through here as they fled Alberetor and into Ambria. Indeed, the Game Master could allow such characters to recall their first time to provide them with some familiarity, or if she has not run Symbaroum before and wants to run some experience of their arrival after their players have played through ‘The Promised Land’, the scenario in the core rulebook, then she could use the information included here. ‘The Howling of Damned Gods’ is not suitable to be run with beginning characters though, being written for characters with between seventy and hundred Experience Points.

At the beginning of ‘The Howling of Damned Gods’ , the player characters have come to Prios Pass after receiving a letter from a relative or friend who has only made the journey from Alberetor. Access is initially closed, but when several abominations appear and run amok, that friend or relative is likely to be in danger. It soon transpires that there is much more to this action packed opening than a simple attack by abominations—word spreads of a figure of near legend, the ‘Arch Witch’ of lost Alberetor having been spotted in the camp and there being at least two groups who are after her. The player characters, either intrigued or having been tasked with the job, will quickly be on their tail. After the initial flurry of combat and then the investigation, what follows is a chase back through the Titans, the mountains that separate Alberetor and Ambria, past a rather disgruntled troll, and to the Arch Witch’s hiding place, a bandit camp in a hidden valley. The player characters can approach the camp however they want and the scenario covers numerous options as well as the responses of the various factions to the reappearance of the Arch Witch.

Yndaros – The Darkest Star will be of useful reference for the Game Master when running ‘What’s Bred in the Bone’ as it takes place away from the Ambrian capital, but still in Ambria. Specifically, it takes place in and around the city of Revenia, the seat of the Duke of New Beretor, Ynedar, the nephew of Queen Korinthia. The city is different, if not unique, in the way that it accepts the presence of Barbarians living alongside Ambrians—much to the displeasure of the more militant factions in the Sun Church. Already suspicious of Ambrians and Barbarians living in the same city, the murder of one of their own is enough for them to act, and as the number of murders across the city grows, the player characters will have motive to investigate—either through personal links or by being engaged to do so. Initially, this is an investigative scenario, but it quickly becomes a chase again, and then at the end it does something different, which even the designers admit that the rules in Symbaroum are really designed to do, and that is, handle a pitched battle. Admittedly, it is against a relatively small force, so is really a pitched skirmish, but it requires some discussion of tactics upon the players’ part and their characters are likely to want to negotiate with various factions for their support in the battle.

Although different in plot, both of these adventures are decent affairs that highlight the widening religious schism in Ambria, with ‘What’s Bred in the Bone’ probably being the more personal in nature for the player characters. This scenario will, much like Yndaros – The Darkest Star, find the characters having dealings with the setting’s leading figures, but both force the players and their characters to make a choice when it comes down to which side of said schism they are on. This will definitely be much more challenging for any character who is loyal—or even dedicated—to the Curia and opposed to the Reformists. Other characters are less likely to be quite so conflicted. Much of this is covered in the extensive aftermath section which concludes each scenario with the likelihood being that the player characters will have made themselves some dangerous enemies.

Both scenarios are supported with more background about the world of Symbaroum. Thus ‘The Howling of Damned Gods’ presents the border checkpoint for Prios Pass in some detail along with a map, whilst ‘What’s Bred in the Bone’ does the same for Revenia. ‘The Howling of Damned Gods’ also gives a little more information about events before the fall of Alberetor, in particular, the establishment of the heretical Realm of Order. Adventure Pack 3’s Appendix also provides several new rules, such as the Earth Shot Mystical Power and the Whip Fighter Ability, the latter often combined with the use of the sword by Black Cloaks and Witch Hunters. Here also, Adventure Pack 3 expands upon the Young Gods, the pantheon of deities worshipped in Alberetor before the adoption of Prios as the one true god. There is background on each of the nine Young Gods, complete with the nature of their worship—now and then, so that a Game Master can bring their influence into her game.

Physically, Adventure Pack 3 is well presented, in full colour with atmospheric artwork and excellent maps. In particular, the painting of the troll in the first adventure is most eye-catching and it does feel as if better use is being made of the thumbnail portraits for the NPCs.

Both of the scenarios in Adventure Pack 3 highlight other locations across Ambria such that the Game Master can take her own adventures to either as well as adding more background and detail to the world of Symbaroum. The scenarios themselves are decent affairs for experienced players and their characters—as well as the Game Master who has some interesting NPCs to roleplay—with both possessing strong religious themes that make them bested suited to be run before or after the events of Yndaros – The Darkest Star. Whilst they do not directly support the campaign, they do highlight its ongoing themes in the wider world beyond the confines the developing plot of ‘The Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns’ and so are probably used in conjunction with the campaign.


Free League will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, I have run Howling of the Mad Gods a few times at various conventions, being on of those people that got an early version of it. I like it as a standalone game, and it does add to the depth of the world. I am trying to find a way to have my usual group play through it as different characters to who they normally play and use it as a "meanwhile at the gate to the Kingdom".

    I am planning on using the second scenario of this collection as I aged up Duke Ynedar (and pushed the starting year of the Campaign forward a little to make it all work) and low and behold one of my players decided he would make an interesting love interest. As I play Ynedar as a little unorthodox this has worked out quite well and I am certain the PCs will have something to say once I get deep into the plot.