Now with more trolls
Genre: Tabletop RPG
Publisher: Free League
Release date: 1 July, 2017
Player’s guides are pretty ubiquitous for pen & paper RPGs. Almost every RPG that receives a couple of expansion books will inevitably end up with a player’s handbook of some kind that adds more options for the player characters, be it new skills, equipment, professions or anything of that nature.
The Symbaroum Advanced Player’s guide is just such a book, it adds a slew of new stuff for the player characters, including new races, abilities, spells and also introduces boons & burdens (basically merits and flaws) to give some more options for personalizing a character. On top of that there are some optional advanced rules, new equipment and elite professions that players are not meant to start with, but rather build up to.
This review is based on the Swedish version of the Symbaroum: Advanced Player’s guide and a few terms might differ in the English translation, but other than that it should be the same.
New Character Options
The brunt of the book is taken up by new options for creating and improving your character, some of these options are more advanced and should probably not be used by a first-time player or unless you talk to your GM about it, while others fit right in with the rest.
Most interesting are probably the new races. Elves, Trolls, Dwarfs, Undead and Abducted Humans. The last of those might not be a brand new race in its own right, but they are different from regular humans in that they were raised by elves. There’s also some information about the non-human races from the core rulebook here that answers some questions about them, like where do ogres come from? Apart from the dwarfs and abducted humans these new races can be pretty hard to fit into a regular group, as they’re not exactly welcome in most parts of Ambria, but in the right group they can offer some nice variety and open up new kinds of adventures. Imagine a group of trolls trying to sneak through Ambria unseen while looking for something, or a group of barbarians and elves who are forced to team up to prevent the Ambrians from doing something foolish.
What will see more use than the new races are probably the new abilities, that brings up the total number of abilities to over 65, although a fare few of the new abilities are linked to the new elite professions, more on those later, as well as to archetype. There’s for an example one for warriors that make them tougher and more dangerous as they get hurt. Other abilities include the ability to lay and disarm traps, siegecraft, wrestling and smithing.
Boons & burdens are what Symbaroum calls its advantages & disadvantages, or merits & flaws. These are small advantages or disadvantages that tend to only come into play during specific situations, or are otherwise limited in their scope. The character might be very good at picking up on or spreading gossip, they might have a fiercely loyal pet or know how to communicate with (not not necessarily befriend) animals. As for burdens pariah from the main book has been moved here, and there are a few fun ones like impulsive, which makes it so that as soon as the player says that the character might do something, it does it, and the ever popular flaw “dark secret” is also here which implies that the character has some kind of dark secret which, if it were to come to light, could get them into serious trouble. Boons & burdens are a nice way to give a character a bit more personality, and the book wisely recommends that players should not take too many of these (anyone who’s ever had to play an RPG with someone who’s made a character who has a dozen flaws knows how disruptive this can get).
There are three new traditions to play with, Staff magic, Symbolism and Troll Song that fit in well with the ones that were in the base game, and there’s also a slew of new mystical powers and rituals. Much like with the abilities there are some that are locked behind specific elite professions, but most are not. There’s some interesting new mystical powers here, like one from the troll song tradition which distracts the enemy so much that your allies can re-roll their defense rolls, the ability to corrupt “pure” creatures and heal the corrupted ones and so on. People who are magically inclined should find a lot to like in this section.
Then there are the archetypes. Before we get to the elite professions it’s worth pointing out that there’s been a slight change in the classifications here. Warriors and Mystics are still the same, but Thieves have been split into two groups, Thieves and Hunters, the former being more melee focused and sneaky-stabby, while the later prefers to stay at a range and have abilities that fit an outdoorsman. The ranger from the core rulebook would be an example of a hunter. But more interesting than this split are the elite professions. Where most professions act as a starting point for your character, the elite ones are a goal to reach. In order to become one of these you must have all the listed abilities, and at least one need to be at level 3. Only then are you allowed to become one, and for roleplaying purposes you might also need to do something more, because many of these represents established organizations, like the templars. But in exchange for reaching this goal you’ll get access to new abilities and/or mystic powers, some of which are very powerful. Demonologists for an example can rip a hole through reality and teleport themselves, and if the power is at level 3, an ally, a short distance, but there’s a risk that they’ll unleash a daemon upon the world while doing so. Not all things are as flashy as this though, but they are still potentially game changing. Artifact makers might not be as flashy, but they can create mystical artifacts that can then be used by the players, or sold for a profit, which can have a big impact on how well a party performs. Who does not like to be given some fancy new magic items?
There are a few new rules for Symbaroum in the Advanced Player’s Guide that deal either with very specific situations that might come up during play, or add more depth and complexity to what’s already there. These rules are optional and players and the GM should not feel like they need to include everything, as the added complexity does slow down the game a bit (not that there’s such a thing as a non-optional rule in an RPG, some are just more optional than others). At the same time they might also make combat more interesting. There are a lot of small rule additions here, so it’s hard to sum it up in a neat and concise way, but many of these small rule additions can make a big difference on the game.
The first thing though are alchemical weapons. These are basically very early gunpowder weapons, the way they were made at the dawn of the 14th century in Europe, mixed with Greek fire. They’re loud, dangerous, can hit a lot of targets at once and an untrained person can easily lose a few fingers (or worse) if they try to use them.
After that is a slew of miscellaneous rules, like the choice to let players perform heroic actions at the cost of experience points, encumbrance rules, rules for range modifiers when using bows and crossbows, the chance of players turning into undead if they die as well as rules for looking through archives and libraries for information (for those who need some Call of Cthulhu in their Symbaroum).
As the ability to lay and disarm traps was introduced as an ability there’s now rules for traps. These are short and concise and details both how to arm and disarm them, as well as how to spot and avoid them.
The biggest change comes with the combat maneuvers and hit locations. Combat maneuvers involve actions such as disarming, grappling and tackling your opponent. Using these can slow down combat considerably, but it also gives characters who enjoy melee combat far more options at their disposal and makes combat more tactical. Going along with this are also rules for hitting people in different places, and the effects of that, which makes combat less abstract. Also, as siegecraft was introduced as an ability there are also rules for damaging structures and the effect of siege engines on them. These rules are not overly complex or detailed, but cover both what would happen if the players were to try and start hacking at a building with an axe and if they would somehow find a catapult (never underestimate player ingenuity, particularly not when it comes to causing unwarranted destruction) and would try to bring the building down with that.
New Equipment and Stuff
There’s a lot of new equipment in the Advanced Player’s guide, with some being more variants on things that already existed, like new regular weapons and armour, but there are also a some things that have no counterparts in the main rulebook.
The earlier mentioned alchemical weapons are here and they are devastating. They shoot out large cones of flammable material that can hit everything around them, but they also come with the disadvantage that unless a person is trained to use them. Then there are siege weapons, catapults, ballistae, trebuchets and so on that are not really practical to bring with you into Davokar, but crafty players might find other uses for them…
There’s a number of more practical weapons as well, such as lances, whips, pikes and so on and more weapon properties to go along with those. These are not game changing in how different they are, but many still bring something new to the table. Like the whip which deals reduced damage, or the executioner’s axe which is so massive that the person using it can’t move and attack in the same round, but they’re allowed to roll twice for damage and pick the best result. Another interesting addition are the specialized arrows and crossbow bolts. These includes things like flaming arrows, noisemakers and so on that give archers a few more options, though they are considerably more expensive than regular arrows.
As artifact crafting is now an option there’s now also a slew of artifacts added to the game that players can make or buy. These generally have a narrow use (unless players are being crafty), like a figurine of a toad that will make a loud noise if any intruders are getting close, or a small stone that can be sent as an invitation, and when someone who has some mystical powers touches it they’ll know where the sender is and that they want to meet them or a runic staff that protects its wearer from harm. For alchemists there are also a bunch more elixirs for them to make and use.
At the very end of the book is something very useful and that’s a list of prices for a lot of common goods and foodstuff. Like how much does a bottle of mulled wine cost? Quite a lot it turns out. How about a cabbage stew? Hardly anything. There’s also a note on the difference in food culture between the barbarians and Ambrians that gives players and GMs an idea of what food is appropriate to serve in different locations.
Layout, Art and Quality
Much like the core rulebook the art in the Advanced Player’s Guide is outstanding, and follows the same style as that of the main book. Most of it is also new art, though not all of it. There’s a bit less of it than in the core rulebook, and fewer of the pictures are showing scenes from the world, so it’s not as fun to flip through as the core book.
Most of the content in the book is made up of new rules, and these are grouped together in a logical way, so it’s easy to find what you need. Most of the tables also list things that were in the core book, so you’ve got everything in one place, and thus if you need to look at weapon stats, or what abilities are available you don’t need to flip between books, though the rules for the abilities in the main book are not repeated.
The book itself is once more sturdy and feel like it can take a lot of use before it starts breaking. The print quality is excellent and the paper is equally thick as that of the main book. Overall this is yet another quality book.
It’s pretty hard to sum up the content in a meaningful for a book like this as there’s really a lot of different stuff in it, and different things will be useful to different players. For my group I can with some certainty say that we won’t be using the more advanced combat rules beyond our test session with them, as we enjoy how fast the game is normally, but for another group that stuff will be great. But the new abilities and mystic powers on the other hand will see a lot of use going forward.
The Advanced Player’s guide for Symbaroum is a really good example of a player’s guide and does exactly what it should: Giving players a lot more options. It does not make the game feel bloated though, which is an issue I’ve had with some other player’s guides, nor is it full of stuff that will not see much practical use (I’m looking at you, Inquisitor’s Handbook for Dark Heresy). At the same time this is not something that feels necessary to play Symbaroum (unlike the Shadowrun Companion for 3rd edition Shadowrun). It should be noted that both the Monster Codex and Game Master’s guide assumes that you have the player’s guide, so if you intend to get those, this one is worth getting first. Though more on how necessary the Advanced Player’s Guide is for those books in their reviews.