The GM Guide of Symbaroum is broken up into several chapters, each one geared to helping the Game Master better run games set in the dark fantasy world of Symbaroum.
Game Master’s Rules
This covers some basic rules that haven’t been explained in the Player’s Rules from the prior book. One particularly important spot would be the Corruption rules. I suppose it’s up to the Game Master to determine just how transparent he’d like to be about how Corruption works in his world, but some might feel that it enforces the horror of the setting to just hold back on the details and let their players figure it out in play.
This section deals with the rules governing travel and random encounters in areas in Davokar. The economy and some rules with Artifacts are also given some attention here.
This is more of an advice chapter than a rules one, with handy bits of good-to-know information with regards to how to run adventures in Symbaroum, using two “modes”: The Classic Adventure, which is more structured around a story, and the “Landscape” which is a sandbox where various elements are let loose and the player characters are free to interact (and meddle) with them however they will.
Monsters & Adversaries
This is the bestiary of the game, and reveals quite a few of the nasties found in Davokar, as well as having stats for more “mundane” threats in the cities. Monsters have their own special Traits, from Poisonous to Corrupted Blood. I’m actually a little worried about what kind of threats to send my players. Certainly a team of four adventurers can handle a lot, but something like a Blight Beast could very well take a few of them with it!
The Promised Land
This is a sample adventure that could be used to open a campaign of Symbaroum. As an opening, it does tend to favor playing Ambrian humans quite a bit, so the GM will have to work with players to justify Changeling, Ogre or Goblin characters, as well as having a Barbarian in the team.
That said, it’s a sound opening, and I do plan to run this as the beginning of my own adventures for Symbaroum.
Where other games look to try to make their dark fantasy repulsive by adding more gore, Symbaroum manages to get away by being Romantic (in the literary sense of the word.) It doesn’t go for the gross out, but rather delves into the implied horrors of the past, and how it echoes into the present.
In many ways, this careful treatment of the entire feel of the game is Symbaroum’s greatest achievement, as adventurers seek fame and fortune knowing that their journey is one doomed to suffering. It’s not that people can’t win, it’s just that they have to be prepared to understand what winning will cost them.
The systems in Symbaroum are easy to learn, and cover all the things you need to feel like a competent adventurer. The lack of actual classes, and the freedom to choose your abilities is a big plus, as every character is unique.
Combat is quick and deadly, and getting hurt feels like a major risk. While player characters might have their own advantages over the enemy, it rarely feels like they’re always going to win.
Layout and Artwork
The game is gorgeous, featuring superb artwork, each one of which is an inspiration for a scene in a game. The layout is friendly and easy to read, and breaking things down into three books makes it readable and easy to digest.
I suppose my only concerns would be that some of the rules are tucked away at odd spaces. Reading it from cover-to-cover mitigates this, but sometimes it’s hard to quickly look things up. Thankfully the simplicity of the system means you don’t really miss out on too much.
In a hobby already oversaturated with grimdark fantasy, Symbaroum manages to weave together a compelling setting with stunning visuals and a seamless, easy to learn system and come up with a product that doesn’t just work, it sings.