What Is Ruins of Symbaroum?
First printed in Swedish in 2014, the tabletop roleplaying game Symbaroum was translated into English and released worldwide in 2016. With the growth and success of the game, in 2021 Free League Publishing launched a Kickstarter campaign for Ruins of Symbaroum, which adapts the setting and special rules to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition OGL (open game license) ruleset. The initial offerings include a Player’s Guide, Gamemaster’s Guide, Bestiary, and Gamemaster’s Screen. The GM screen also comes with two short adventures, Where Darkness Dwells and The Gathering Storm, which are for player characters of levels 2 to 4. The Kickstarter campaign was recently fulfilled for backers, and now the books are available for retail purchase.
Mattias Johnsson Haake, Mattias Lilja, and Jacob Rodgers are Lead Game & Setting Designers. Illustrations are by Martin Grip. Free League Publishing publishes the game.
The Ruins of Symbaroum Player’s Guide retails for $44.99 and can be purchased on Amazon or at games stores. Both the Gamemaster’s Guide and the Bestiary also retail for $44.99, while the Gamemaster’s Screen is $29.99. Alternatively, you can purchase PDF copies of the books at DriveThruRPG.
The ancient civilization of Symbaroum had crumbled into oblivion approximately 1,000 years prior to the current day. And while there were events that mattered in the intervening years, none had so great an impact as the Great War.
In this 20-year struggle against the hordes of the Dark Lords, the kingdom of Alberetor faced great losses. Their young queen, Korinthia, was taken captive by the Dark Lords. Though eventually she was rescued, and the war won, death magic had ravaged Alberetor. Korinthia led her people north, to the region that was the legendary ancestral home of her people, and established the new realm of Ambria.
But these are not days of wine and roses for the Ambrians. They want to expand their territory and must contend with the eleven barbarian clans nearby. In addition to the barbarians, the enormous forest of Davokar lies to the north. This forest covers the ruins of old Symbaroum, and great mysteries lie within, as well as horrific monsters. According to the elf wardens of the Iron Pact, centuries in the past humans swore to never again enter Davokar. But the resources and riches are too great a temptation for the Ambrians to ignore. Despite both the Iron Pact, and the barbarian witches’ claims that if Davokar is disturbed, death and destruction will follow.
Within Ambria, there are several powerful factions. There are various noble houses, each with its own appointed dukes and land. The Queen is the commander of the Queen’s Army, a force with seven divisions, to match the seven duchies.
The Church of Prios has its own territory, as large as the other duchies, and with its own armed force, the Knights of the Dying Sun. The Church also has the Twilight Friars, aka the Black Cloaks, which are a monastic order which gathers intelligence within and without Ambria.
Finally, Ambria houses the Ordo Magica, which not only trains mystics but seeks to expand their knowledge of the natural world and so is interested in exploring Davokar and recovering artifacts from the bygone age of Sumbaroum.
There are also the eleven barbarian clans, which exist south of Davokar. The clans are each led by a chieftain, and over all of them is the Karvosti, or High Chieftain. The witches are the spiritual leaders of the barbarian clans.
The Iron Pact is an agreement supposedly formed in the past between humans and elves that left the forest to the elves. There are cloaked guardians that travel in Ambria, Davokar, and beyond, seeking to enforce the Iron Pact.
Corruption and Shadow
The key theme of Ruins of Symbaroum is that there is an inherent conflict in the world between nature and civilization. Nature responds to the encroachment of civilization by unleashing Corruption, blightmarks, abominations, and darkening the land.
The Corruption that nature unleashes is also a mechanic in the game. Every living creature in the world has a Shadow, which is somewhat analogous to a soul. As you gain Corruption, your Shadow darkens and becomes sickly. Should a character’s Shadow ever become completely black from Corruption, then that character becomes Thoroughly Corrupt and is lost to the darkness. If that happens to a player character, then that character becomes an NPC, effectively unplayable as they are overcome by the burdens they bear.
Characters might start the game with a certain amount of permanent Corruption, depending on their background. They will gain temporary Corruption through their actions, most often either by struggling against a foe with a dark Shadow or by using magic. Magic users are the most susceptible to Corruption, as they bend nature using their abilities.
Every character has a Corruption Threshold, based on their character scores. Any time that a character’s combined temporary and permanent Corruption exceeds that Threshold, the player must roll on the Marks of Corruption Table. That table can alter characters’ abilities and increase or decrease Corruption.
Some character classes, such as Artifact Crafter, are better able to mitigate Corruption than others.
Races and Classes
As opposed to Dungeons & Dragons, in Ruins of Symbaroum, the Hit Dice for a character are tied into their race, not their class. The vast majority of races have a 1d8 Hit Die, with the one notable exception being the weaker goblins. In comparison with D&D, you’ll find that effectively means that magic users will have a bit more hit points in Ruins of Symbaroum, while fighters will have a bit less.
While Symbaroum is a unique setting for the game, the races themselves are all recognizable… at least by name. While we see the familiar humans, dwarves, elves, etc. of a fantasy setting, they are handled in a way that brings a unique twist to those races. For example, in the game’s setting, the elves of Davokar have been abducting human children and replacing them with changelings, who look human initially but gradually develop elven features. So, you could choose to play a normal human or one that had been abducted as a child and was raised in elvish society. Or, conversely, an elvish changeling child that grew up in a human household, but then became ostracized when their true origin revealed itself.
Goblins have a distinctly different life cycle from the Tolkienesque origins that we are used to. They have a short lifespan, which culminates in them feeling the pull of the forest. While many goblins will die at a relatively young age, others will go into the forest and transform, becoming either trolls or ogres. These transformed races are themselves quite unique to Ruins of Symbaroum.
While most of the races are new twists on traditional fantasy races, others are less familiar. Somewhat reminiscent of the Forsaken in World of Warcraft, you can choose to play an undead, who are humans who have died and then mysteriously risen. These undead are thoroughly corrupt, and must try to hide their origins from others, lest they be exposed and killed again… permanently this time.
Importantly, each of the races in Ruins of Symbaroum has a compelling backstory, coupled with interesting and thematic backgrounds which you can choose to further develop your character.
As with the races, the classes of Ruins of Symbaroum fit well within the setting and further help players to build characters that are fun to play both narratively and mechanically. Each class is broken down into Approaches, which are essentially subclasses. For both the class entries and the Approaches, there are descriptions of how these roles work within the setting, and how they are viewed by the different factions.
Some of the classes and Approaches are almost identical to classes found in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. The Berserker, for example, is very similar to the D&D barbarian, with a Rage feature that is worded very closely to the one found in the D&D Player’s Handbook. Hunters are Ruins of Symbaroum‘s version of the ranger class.
Others are unique to the setting. While the scoundrel class is where you will find your typical rogues, you will also find them within the sapper and treasure hunter.
The sapper is a blacksmith who can use a firetube as their primary weapon. Think of a small cannon you carry on your shoulder and use to fire projectiles at your foes.
Meanwhile, the treasure hunter has a skill set designed to not only survive the dangers of Davokar but to actually make a huge profit on the sale of treasure found in the Symbaroum ruins.
Playing the Game
If you know how to play Dungeons & Dragons 5e, you pretty much know how to play Ruins of Symbaroum. The RPG largely uses the 5e ruleset, with a few additional basic rules. Besides the aforementioned Corruption mechanic, there are detailed guidelines for how to run Social Challenges, which in D&D are usually just basic opposed roles. These guidelines help to flesh out and enhance roleplaying encounters.
In Dungeons & Dragons, you have two different types of rests you can take, long and short. With Symbaroum, there is a third type, the extended rest. This one is actually closer to the D&D long rest and requires 24 hours in a safe place to recover. These rules reflect the danger of traveling out in the wilds.
But other than that, you’ll pretty much be using the 5e framework for playing the game.
Ruins of Symbaroum is GeekDad Approved!
Why You Should Play Ruins of Symbaroum
The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and the details in Ruins of Symbaroum make this tabletop roleplaying game stand out distinctly from Dungeons & Dragons as a compelling fantasy setting in its own right. The world that the designers have created is darker and more morally ambiguous than that of D&D’s Faerûn, and more deadly as well. Not only do warriors and the other usual TTRPG “meat shields” have lower hit points than you find in D&D, but there’s the constant threat of Corruption infecting the player characters.
The use of Corruption as a mechanic ties intrinsically with the setting of the game, providing an ever-present risk for those, like the mystics, who use powers that warp natural law. The more you use your powers, the more you risk changes to your character that could result in being completely overtaken by darkness.
The kingdom of Ambria and the sprawling Davokar forest are a relatively small part of the world as a whole, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to explore for the players and game masters. The rich detail in the backgrounds of the various factions, races, and classes provides a lot of meat to chew on for any roleplayer. And as Ruins of Symbaroum is based on a pre-existing tabletop roleplaying game with several expansions, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see said expansions adapted to the 5e ruleset as well.
For anyone that’s played Dungeons & Dragons 5e, Ruins of Symbaroum is easy to transition into. There are very few additional rules to learn, with the focus almost entirely on the setting and how the various races and classes fit into that world. This accessibility is a boon for players looking to try out a new game.
With Ruins of Symbaroum, Free League Publishing has taken a fully developed roleplaying game line that the average gamer may not have heard of and adapted it to the most-played roleplaying ruleset in the world. It’s a fascinating fantasy world that feels fully fleshed out but has room to grow and expand. The three books and introductory adventure are more than enough to last any game group quite a long time of adventuring. The only downside is that you also need the 5e rules to play. However, as you can find those rules online for free, that’s not really an impediment to enjoying Ruins of Symbaroum.
And best of all? If your game master will allow it (as it was originally an April Fool’s joke) you can play as a duck person.
For more information head to Free League Publishing’s Symbaroum website.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes. As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small commission on qualified purchases.