341 Symbaroum

Brett has the game and has dived into it. We talk about it on episode 341, being recorded tonight 5/10.


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Dudes. I’m looking forward to your ongoing deep dive into Free League’s pool of slick products. I own or have owned a few of these. “Symbaroum” looks cool as shit and I’m eager to hear your initial impressions.

There’s a strange thing about Free League’s books, and I’m curious whether I’m alone in this. I love the books. I love owning them and looking at them. But as I’ve found, after getting the “Alien” book and subsequent Beginner Box, I realized I’d rather play and create Alien content using a lower-fidelity analog like “Mothership” or “White Star.” And I can say that’s true for a number of their books. I’d rather run “Tales from the Loop” using “Kids on Bikes”. I’d rather prep “Mutant Crawl Classics” or “Gamma World” for a dystopian game than “Mutant Year Zero” from Free League. And I’m far more intrigued by the Mork Borg compatible, third-party skirmish rules I found on DriveThru than slogging through a full Mork Borg role-playing experience.

Is that weird?

I can’t think of any low-fi analogs for “Symbaroum” or “Forbidden Lands” but curious whether you had the same temptation to ditch the Ferraris you’re driving for a Ford Tempo.

Either way - I appreciate you putting “Symbaroum,” “Forbidden Lands” and many other new products under the microscope for all of us.

Your friend from Philly, Beerleaguer

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Dug the Symbaroum episode, @Fafhrd and @sean, and I’m glad Brett shares some of the opinions I voiced about the game all those months ago when he first was poking at it. From the incredibly evocative art (it’s what grabbed me first as well) to the dark, very moody and very focused setting, I hold the game in pretty high esteem.

One thing to emphasize if it wasn’t clear in the episode is that the characters can come from all walks of life, not just from the recently arrived Ambrians, who have come to the area after winning a war with dark forces that cost them their homeland. The players could all be members of the decimated barbarian tribe that the Ambrians displaced, or one of the various tribes that are now adjusting to the new status quo and the continued expansion of the militant and battle-hardened Ambrians. There are religious dissenters within the Ambrians’ ranks, there are independent communities who have thrown off the yoke of the Queen, there are royal relatives with axes to grind, there are refugees from the terrible war, years ago, who are still arriving… and who are being shunted into the Davokar, the dark forest because all the good land is already gone. There are multiple factions within the Ambrian nation… frankly there are juicy campaign and story hooks on virtually every page, and I think anyone who enjoys dark, gritty, grounded and mysterious fantasy would dig the game, whether they play the original or the forthcoming 5e version.

Hoping you guys both run this at some point!

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Good additional info, @Harrigan. I should have called that out in the discussion - it’s a masterful, IMO, approach in integration of Lore into System and Adventure Ideas.

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Finished listening to 341 Symbaroum. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts on this game. I think there is something positive to be said for games that feature mechanics tailored specifically for a niche style of gameplay or a particular theme. I liked what I heard during the episode so I’ve grabbed the Quickstart to give it a shakedown myself.

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The Quickstart was, for me anyway, the best way to get some insight into it - I think the did a great job with it. It also gave me time to think about “Do I really want to buy another fantasy game?” because I didn’t have to spend the $ on a new core book just to see if I liked the concepts.

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I had originally picked up the core rules for free on some event but never got a chance to look through them. After hearing the discussion on the game I am definitely more interested it overall.

The use of evocative words for stats are something that I really think I would enjoy and I also think it helps from an adjudication standpoint where you can say oh that sounds like something you’re trying to be vigilant on or Resolute does that make sense to you? Instead of having very black and white rules on this is clearly strength this is clearly dexterity. I feel like in games where there is more room for negotiation on resolution you get more interesting results and it creates more creative gameplay in my opinion.

The one thing that kind of stuck out to me though as a curiosity was how the monster stat blocks use player stats and you have to do some quick math to adjust the player modifiers. I think it would be easier, and even though it’s on the GM side of things, if they just listed the monster status + 2 - 2 etc for the various things. Is there another rule or mechanic that I will see in the book that requires the monsters to have the same stats as the player characters? The more I play games that the monster stat block is either just hit Dice and damage or some other simple numbers the more I like it.

Al the + and - info is in the block for the critters.

Awesome. That speeds up the reference for sure. Seems like a reasonably sized stat block to me.

I am not sure if it was mentioned in the show and I will read it eventually but I dont recall hearing what adept, master, etc bought you from a rolling standpoint.

It gives you access to unlock more/greater things within the skill. Sometimes this unlocking equals more and better dice to roll, or simply greater effect and impact.

Totally agree, and really enjoyed the episode. I also think that the limited scope of factions, of geography, even of terrains types, makes it easier for the GM to internalize a lot of that stuff and really bring it to life at the table.

Working on a campaign framework now, which involves the Queen sending refugees led by her Rangers and Ordo Magicka mages into the Dark Davokar, where they are to found a new settlement. The inclusion of local barbarian guides / scouts, a handful of ogre mercenaries, and a Theurge of Prios accompanied by a few Knights of the Dying Sun should make for some nice faction play inside the group moving into the forest…

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Eric wrote:

The one thing that kind of stuck out to me though as a curiosity was how the monster stat blocks use player stats and you have to do some quick math to adjust the player modifiers. I think it would be easier, and even though it’s on the GM side of things, if they just listed the monster status + 2 - 2 etc for the various things.


The more I play games that the monster stat block is either just hit Dice and damage or some other simple numbers the more I like it.

I too love tiny stat blocks, or even single ratings, for most of the opposition in my games. Symbaroum is a little heavier than I like in that regard – haven’t yet thought through whether I would run it as-is, or Black-Hackify it somewhat. (Very doable.)

I will say this on the stat modifiers – just treat them like those in SotDL – the table they include isn’t needed… contested rolls, like those in combat, just require very simple math.

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Nice work with the follow-on Symbaroum discussion in the podcast tonight, @Fafhrd and @sean. Right on point that Symbaroum gives you just enough without going overboard. It’s not overwhelming to read through, a bunch of parts can safely be ignored, etc. I really struggle with giant books of lore, and this is absolutely not that. Hoping one or both of you get it to the table. I’m weighing whether I run it live, or as a play-by-post.


I have become fascinated by this game. I jumped on the humble bundle blindly and as of today I am still intrigued. As a rule, I do not like other peoples worlds/published settings. They tend not to fascinate and I can never remember half of what I need too, but not so much with this game. Maybe, it’s the amazing art, but I want to know more. Now, I have a ton of their books and is a blast to explore their setting.

I however, hoping the play facing rules work for me. Just recently, I have become luke warm on the player facing game mechs. I do not l Ike being the arbiter of when and how much is done to the player characters. Hopefully, that does not wreck the beautiful setting for me.


Dredging this up because I missed it before and I’m like that.

What is it about player-facing rolls you don’t like?

I do not enjoy dishing out damage or consequences with only vague suggestions on how to do it. Currently, I am running it a Blades in the Dark game which as you know is “player facing.” And there are rules that help, but it feels like I am just making stuff up, And I am, but It’s role playing after all, it’s what we do. However, I find it hard to make thrilling. Now when I originally started that game it was with the Fantasy Trip which was too deadly/thrilling so I ported it over to Blades in the Dark. For the most part it has gone swimmingly. That said, I feel like a fake or someone who is just making stuff up. I HATE feeling like I am railroading everything to my story. We have all played in those games. I do not want to that ref, and I not, but the feeling persists. I guess that is what I really dislike! The feeling that I control everything and everyone.

Huh, I did not realize that until now. Thank you, for asking me to think about this.

I need to read Symbaroum, I think. The only player-facing game I’ve run is Cypher, and it isn’t what you are describing with Blades in the Dark. In that game, player-facing did not equate to vagueness or GM improvisation for effects and damage; it meant only that the GM makes no rolls so that the GM can focus on the narrative.

I like the idea, but I also like to roll dice. And I really like to use random event tables and dice rolls as an oracle. Of course no one is saying that I can’t do that with a player-facing game too.

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With me running a large table of DCC coming up (I have 10 sets of DCC dice, and I’m not afraid to let them all but used at the same table) I’ll probably have a good number of player facing rolls. This weekend I had a player roll a reflex save, then the damage herself, while I was addressing another player. Player facing rolls can be a huge convenience for the GM.


Rock on! I have come to love and enjoy player facing die rolls! (Especially when they resolve both the player and NPC actions at once (FitD).

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One interesting thing with the history of D&D versions, 4e moved saving-throws (defensive rolls) to be attack rolls. In effect, every PC aggression against a target was a player-facing roll. A lot of folks didn’t like it. They didn’t like it so much that the 5e designers put saving-throws back in.

I kinda liked it the 4e way, it made my life as DM a bit easier sometimes. Eh, it’s all good.