Symbaroum: Treasure Hunts in Davokar harkens back to early “box” editions of role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, adding the narrative and stylistic instincts of Free League (Publisher of Tales from the Loop among others) to produce a most attractive package. Indeed. This particular collection is quite enjoyable from a purely visual and textual standpoint.
The use of matte as opposed to gloss allows the box to stand out among similar works, and also serves the dark pallet quite well. The overall look of the box does serve well to reflect the contents, particularly the artistic direction, and allows it to sit well on a shelf with similar boxed games or a slipcase set of books.
A set of six dice, the requirement for the game, is included and the choice of a marbled green lends further to the ‘deluxe’ presentation. While the appeal of these on a pure aesthetic level is nice, the fact the contents are complete is always easy to appreciate.
The volumes themselves are gorgeous, frequent dark, moody illustrations of the characters and setting making the tone clear and each short volume enjoyable merely to flip through page by page. The first introduces the setting, detailing major historical points and the places that would be of current importance.
On the other hand the second volume, covers more details of specific locations and the stories one might easily run friends through in them when playing the game. For one whom enjoys such games it is an excellent primary of pre existing adventures. For a standard reader the less than unified narrative of each story would take some getting used to, but provide more than a few tantalizing ideas in a relatively brief volume.
Both feature wonderful illustrations ranging from small creature and character portraits all the way to glorious landscapes taking up more than a page. Indeed the visual style of the Symbaroum Starter set is without a doubt the strongest element, drawing a reader into the strange and slightly disturbing world.
Symbaroum’s setting is a dour world, not hopeless but certainly damaged. Many of the familiar creatures from Tolkien can be found, albeit in a noticeably different form. The elves have a more militaristic attitude, as well as a noticeable distian for humanity and the people travelling further into the wood. Human being of different cultures clash and disagree, their alliances feeling fragile at any moment. The great lurking evil of the world seems even harder to tame in some ways, a clear corruption spreading among thodd it has used. In spite of this there is no figurehead, and as a result antagonism among the various cultures can fester without a clear enemy to unite them.
Overall, if something like The Dungeons and Dragons Starter set is a first car, this would be one’s first car as a high performance vehicle. It is wonderful to look at, well constructed, well written, and easy to understand. While it is not a sure thing purchase for just any fantasy fan, it is effortless to recommend to gamers and worth more than a look even by those who doubt they would find the time to toss a few dice.
(Free League, 2021)