Out in the woods - a Mephisto review
Symbaroum Starter Set - Treasure Hunts in Davokar
Starter sets for role-playing games are almost standard nowadays. Still, for Symbaroum, the appearance of this starter set is relatively late since the rulebook was published several years ago and has already been expanded with a large-scale campaign in the meantime. Nevertheless, Treasure Hunts in Davokar offers an excellent introduction to the world of Symbaroum.
The set consists of two books and pre-made characters. The first book introduces the rules and the setting in a compact form. The central element in Symbaroum is the forest Davokar. Where the dark and mysterious forest stands today, there used to be a highly advanced empire that perished. Only a few barbarian tribes live on the edge of the forest. However, the forest itself is a kind of forbidden zone, where the elves do not want anyone to enter and where dangerous monsters dwell. However, when the dark rulers of Alberetor were defeated just over 20 years ago, the land was so devastated that the humans moved north and founded a new kingdom of Ambria on the edge of the forest. The kingdom conquered the plain south of the forest and defeated some of the barbarian tribes. However, it soon became clear that the forest held ancient ruins, treasures, valuable secrets, and resources. Thus, the Davokar became the destination of adventurers searching for riches and valuable secrets.
However, the forest is a dangerous place. On the one hand, the elves do not tolerate any intruders there; on the other hand, a menacing darkness lurks here, trying to corrupt everything. Some terrible creatures that have fallen to the darkness are an additional threat. At the edge of the forest, however, there is the small town of Thistle Hold, founded by a former treasure hunter, which serves as a base for adventurers who venture into the forest.
Symbaroum's rules system is a typical d20 derivative. Characters are defined by eight attributes, from which derived stats are calculated. In the starter set, character creation is kept simple in that eight predefined values must be distributed among these game values. More important than the game values themselves are the modifiers calculated from them, which are obtained by subtracting them by the average value of 10. Values higher than 10 mean positive modifiers, values lower than 10 mean negative modifiers. Several professions are available for the characters, covering the usual suspects and providing some variants. Thus, in the starter set there are warriors in the form of Knights, hunters in the variant of the Witch Hunter, mystics as the Theurg and Wizard and rogues in the form of the Treasure Hunter. What differentiates the characters are their abilities, which can be acquired at up to three ranks. They either confer bonuses or, for example, also enable ritual magic or similar abilities. The starter set thus offers an exemplary cross-section but does without the third level of abilities. Of course, there are also different races from the humans to the goblins to the ogres. Magic is also presented only in parts. The idea with magic in Symbaroum is that it causes corruption and thus (like other things) can ruin the character.
Of course, the combat rules are briefly described, which work with the usual elements, and the rulebook introduces some other basic rules.
A unique feature of Symbaroum is that the dice system is completely player-centric, meaning that only the player characters roll dice in the game. This means that, on the one hand, they actively use their abilities rolling dice against their opponent's defenses when attacking. On the other hand, they must actively defend themselves against their opponents' fixed attacks with a dice roll. Equipment, artifacts, and the pre-made characters connected by a few common backgrounds round out the book.
Even though the basics of the setting are already explained in the first volume, the second volume focuses on playing adventures. Basically, it is the game master volume of this small set because the role of the game master is also explained. The book introduces the village of Thistle Hold in more detail and provides a brief overview, but unlike the basic rulebook, it does not introduce several other locations. An essential part of the book describes expeditions into the forest. Here, rules for orientation and events are provided, tables for treasure are presented, and of course, there are some selected enemies and monsters to confront players. Somewhat surprisingly, all of these monsters have basically the same stats, only distributed differently in each case. The distinction then comes from the derived stats and additional abilities. Two adventures provide straightforward game material. In the first adventure, the player characters find an old graveyard that promises treasure but offers danger. In the second adventure, the characters discover an old abandoned tower. This setting confronts them with several other parties at once. Thus, they may find allies or even opponents.
The rule system is a coherent variant of the d20 system, here with the peculiarity that only the players roll dice and all NPCs use passive stats. This puts the action entirely in the hands of the player characters. The setting of Symbaroum is exciting, and the basic idea of providing a huge exploration area with the forest is a similar approach to Forbidden Lands, except that the setting here seems to be a bit more compact and distinctly defined. What I liked most about the starter set is that the included chapters are relatively complete. Here, for example, many places are not introduced only very briefly, but the book focuses on a few aspects but takes over virtually the entire chapter from the basic rulebook. Therefore, the reader gets a good impression of the depth of the individual contents. From my point of view Treasure Hunts in Davokar chooses an excellent approach to get a taste of the system and actually run several adventures. For me, this starter set has incited interest for more, especially since there is a comprehensive campaign for Symbaroum that is supposed to encompass several volumes.