Game Title: Symbaroum – Thistle Hold – Wrath of the Warden
Publisher: Free League Publishing
Author: Mattias Johnsson
Artists: Martin Bergström and Johan Nohr
Genre: Opening chapter of a grand adventure campaign, Throne of Thorns, for the Symbaroum dark fantasy roleplaying game
Pages: 176 pages
MSRP: $39.99 for the hardcover (with PDF) or $14.99 in PDF at DriveThruRPG
Cataclysm strikes Thistle Hold as an offer from a stranger heralds disaster in Wrath of the Warden, the opening adventure in Symbarorum’s The Throne of Thorns campaign.
It’s worth noting that even for players and GMs familiar with Paizo’s Adventure Path system for Pathfinder and Starfinder, or D&D’s campaigns, Wrath of the Warden —and, by extent, the subsequent scenarios— is something of a different beast.
Symbarorum embraces “goal-oriented” roleplaying, in which players steer the narrative towards their self-defined goals while the game master reacts, furthering the narrative while furnishing various compelling challenges for players to overcome. By flipping the traditional actor/re-actor paradigm, Symbarorum simultaneously centers the authorial role of the players while reducing the preparation burden on GMs.
For this to work, however, players must be as knowledgeable about the setting as the GM. As such, Wrath of the Warden supplies a nearly 40 page opener of lore and worldbuilding, in addition to the material on the setting presented in the core rule book. Mattias Johnsson has done a fantastic job creating a sense of living, breathing place, one ready to support robust backstories and provide an infinite source of personal and party goals. Thistle Hold feels less like the setting for a tabletop roleplaying game and more like one for a fantasy epic.
Which introduces some wrinkles.
Symbarorum demands players pay attention, that they take the time to read and remember. It is not enough to simply know your character; you must also know their relationship to the world and the characters who populate it. There is a level of dedication required here, making it a distinct change of pace for those accustomed to worrying only about the contents of their character sheets. This makes Symbarorum’s brand of roleplay a particular treat for those interested in a narratively sophisticated experience, but a poor introduction for newcomers to the concept of a tabletop roleplaying game.
Following this introduction is a dedicated resource for GMs, including a handy guide to the secrets bubbling beneath the surface and additional rules relevant to the events at hand.
The adventure itself is also presented in somewhat atypical fashion. The Symbarorum team acknowledges that, by design, various game tables may experience Wrath of the Warden very differently. The purpose of the adventure is also somewhat unusual as its true goal is to familiarize players with the competing and allied factions they will encounter throughout The Throne of Thorns campaign.
Wrath of the Warden provides both GMs and players a near embarrassment of riches, but it can feel like information overload at times. The adventure’s designers have done a tremendous job structurally, presenting information in a format that is digestible and easily referenced; they even go so far as to provide a sample timeline, demonstrating how various scenes might fit together in order to tell the story. Even so, the seemingly “simple” adventure may take some time for even experienced GMs to grasp.
The adventure as a whole is certainly compelling, but in isolation, it’s difficult to judge as the first chapter to a campaign as narratively ambitious as The Throne of Thorns. Given the built-in variability, it’s likely that every table will draw its own conclusions. For players ready to commit to a rich and engaging world and a narrative framework that centers character agency as the driving force of adventure, Wrath of the Warden is an exciting tale that sets the table for a much greater conflict to come. For those who prefer their adventures with a little more guaranteed structure and significantly less pre-table preparation, this one might be a tougher sell.
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