Call of the Dark Expansion Review for Ruins of Symbaroum
Free League Publishing released a new game module in early 2023 for Ruins of Symbaroum: The Call of the Dark expansion, set in the Kingdom of Ambria, and Retribution, set in the city of Kurun. This is a 94-page hardcover book designed by Mattias Johnsson Haake, Mattias Lilja, and Jacob Rodgers where the main theme revolves around Nature and its struggle with Civilization.
Symbaroum got released in 2014 in Swedish, and the English version came in 2016. Ruins of Symbaroum 5E was released last October 2022, and as a set, it included three full-color hardback books: Player’s Guide, a Bestiary, and Gamemaster’s Guide. Today, the game series is made up of twelve hardcover books, along with numerous card sets, maps, and more.
Overview of Ruins of Symbaroum
In Ruins of Symbaroum, we are introduced to a mythical medieval setting where Dark Lords attack the human civilization of Alberetor. The Dark Lord’s magic is so corrupted it raises people from death and poisons the land, forcing Queen Korinthia’s kingdom to march towards the old land of Lindaros.
The new kingdom received the name of Ambria, and its community took settlement bordering the forest of Davokar, home of goblins, ogres, and other unwelcoming magic creatures. After the war, religion became a huge part of the Ambrian kingdom. Most humans worshiped the sun god Prios. In one of the Prios church expeditions to Davokar, they came across the remains of a temple from the long-fallen empire of Symbaroum. Queen Korinthia decided to make a peace pact with the forest creatures in order to be allowed access to the old temple.
In a recent interview,  Mattias Johnson described the Ruins of Symbaroum as a “Game of Thrones meets Princess Mononoke” adventure. Game of Thrones in reference to the Dark Lords and the creatures they have awakened, and Princess Mononoke because of the main element of Nature and its juxtaposition with the invasion of Civilization.
This is an adult-themed, dark horror fantasy adventure that combines a grim and death-like scenario with carefully detailed mythical adventure landscapes. The players get to explore the forest of Devokar and search for ruins, treasures, lost wisdom, and fame. The different characters, the detailed world-building, and the complexity of the lore are exactly what fantasy enthusiasts will enjoy and what has brought the attention of reviewers who compare Ruins of Symbaroum to Dungeons & Dragons. So, it’s fitting that a 5E adaptation now exists.
The well-known reviewer Wargamer recently commented : “…for fans of gritty settings, corrupt storylines, and a constant struggle for survival, Ruins of Symbaroum might be one of the best 5e adaptations that’s come around for a long time.”
A sneak peek into Call of the Dark Expansion
The Call of the Dark expansion is the latest adventure for medium-level players that have already experienced all or most scenarios of the Ruins of Symbaroum Adventure Compendium. For this adventure, you will need access to the Ruins of Symbaroum Core Setting: The Player’s Guide, Gamemaster’s Guide, and Bestiary from Free League Publishing.
This new module relates in many ways to the internal divisions in the Ambrian realm. It deals with the effects of the postwar period, where Queen Korinthia’s people are still living their day-to-day lives while death and the shadow are eating their way from the South as well as the East. Call of the Dark is set in northern Alberetor, on the border between Civilization and the dark, not too far from the Cliff of Korinda but abandoned by both humans and wildlife. The dead creatures are out there, in the darkness, in the silence.
In Call of the Dark, we meet Irena Sarli, a lowborn noble whose family is landless. House Karnak is plotting to have them removed from the list of nobles, only to anger House Argone. Irena then embarks on a journey to her family’s lost barony in Alberetor to prove her House’s status. The players follow Irena on her journey either as a traveling companion, as a trusted friend, or as a contracted escort.
In a recent interview, Mattias Johnsson Haake also referred to the heroic element of the adventure, meaning that there are no true “heroes” in the story, but humans making human mistakes: “They are people, not heroes.” The colors used for the illustrations in the book are both light and dark, a clear contrast of both sides: the creatures of light and the creatures of shadow.
There are three different acts in The Call of the Dark Expansion: Light Fades, Shadows Gather, and Darkness Calls. Through the three acts, we follow the journey to the Sarli family’s old barony in Alberetor, the consequences and challenges that follow the search and finding of the crypt of House Sarli, and the player’s creativity in creating a solution to these consequences.
There are many different characters and occupations to choose from and many new establishments where player characters can visit and interact. If you enjoy a fully player-facing system in a classic dark fantasy setting that encourages your creativity, negotiation, and decision-making, then Ruins of Symbaroum with the Call of the Dark Expansion is for you!
“Heed the warnings spoken by the wardens of the forest – do not disturb the ruins of old, for an ancient evil stirs in its sleep. The horrors of Davokar are about to awaken…”
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