Q & A: Whips and Chains

Approximate time to read: 5 minutes.   

What follows is a couple of recently asked questions about Symbaroum’s tangled mechanics, where I’ve come back with a solid response (though I’m not claiming I’m right, I at least feel some sense of security that I’m not necessarily wrong!)

In no way do I claim to have a degree in Symbaroum Rules, but I’m very much of the opinion that the answers you seek lie somewhere in the Core Book or Advanced Player’s Guide. Sometimes, you just have to work a little to extract the answer.

Rules as Written

Many gamers find Symbaroum‘s rules difficult to handle. It isn’t as complete or detailed as many older games, but at the same time is lacks the broad strokes that would make tables comfortable playing on-the-fly. When you think you have a reusable principle in hand, something comes up that spoils it.

Nevertheless, Symbaroum‘s strength isn’t the mechanics—we’re here for the rich settings, the powerful monsters, and the labyrinthine politics, right?

So, I recommend reading carefully and trying not to leave anything down to GM fiat. Better to opt for the decree of the whole table after due consideration has been given to the rules as written. Sometimes, you might have to root around for an answer, or cross-reference sections to come up with a viable and (reasonably) solid conclusion.

The questions and answers quotes and outlined, below, show the essentials of that principle for handling Symbaroum rules queries.

Unearthed Errata

Another thing to remember is that you get the Errata from DriveThruRPG and make certain that you cross-reference that against what you have in hand, especially where early editions of physical books are concerned.

Feint is a good example of an Ability that has confused many, but which has been clarified (in some measure) within the Errata. The narrative reference to advantage has been shifted into the description of the Ability levels. The confusing narrative reference of “gains the same advantage” has become clearer and distinctly mechanical “gains the same Advantage.”

Another example of this appears in the first Q&A below, although the reference to Advantage is a little different. In that instance, the reference is at a tangent to the Ability, a by-product of a possible outcome, rather than a specific benefit hidden away in the prose.

Feel the Burn

I’m using a whip which got upgraded with the ‘Flaming’ mystical upgrade from the APG.

If i use my Ensnare master ability (APG p.64), as an active action to ensnare my target, does this count as an attack (which adds the fire damage)? Normally you only do damage via strangling and only on the master level. Or do i need to make a non-ensnaring attack to add the flaming damage? It’s hard to imagine an enemy strangled by a flaming whip not being burned, but rules-wise it looks like that is what’s happening.

Also the Ensnare ability says “The character is trained in the ensnaring techniques used to gain Advantage in melee or to capture prey alive”. What does the Advantage part mean? I mean, i know what Advantage is, but does it generate some kind of Advantage on it’s own?

Posted on Symbaroum Reddit

Rules As Written, it’s worth noting that a Flaming weapon doesn’t damage from the flames in terms of searing heat; it damages by setting things on fire (“the target starts to burn – dealing 1d4 damage for 1d4 turns, starting THE TURN AFTER the initial hit.”) More a sort of spitting and sparking, than a flaming! [APG, p119]

So, using Ensnaring Master allows you to inflict 1d6 damage (strangling), then the following 1d4 turns the target burns for 1d4 damage unless they find a way to put the flames out. As Ensnaring “requires spending a combat action” to attempt to get free by making a [Accurate←Quick] test and then extinguishing a fire “uses a whole turn to roll on the ground and passes a Quick test,” you can probably expect the target to at least suffer 2 turns of fire damage (if you roll 2 or higher on the flame duration).

The reference to Advantage relates to the second Ensnaring effect [APG, p118]—trying to knock a target prone. If successful, the target would become subject to the negative effect of Advantage vs. melee attacks—All melee attacks against an enemy lying down.

[Core Book, p162] If your character has the Advantage in a combat situation, it receives a +2 modification to the relevant Attribute when making a Success test, and its attacks deal 1D4 extra damage.

Regarding poison, I would suggest that using Ensnaring Master and Poisoner Novice would suffice, requiring “a [Cunning←Strong] test … for the poison to take effect,” [Core Book, p119] and then duration and damage determined by the strength of the poison [per Symbaroum Errata]

Chain of Events

Symbaroum question. It’s a cracker. PC is a changeling witch with Regeneration and Bend Will (Adept). He is controlling someone but takes damage that takes him below 0 Toughness.

At the start of his turn he has to make the [Resolute←Resolute] test to maintain control, but he cannot do that until conscious. The question is … Does his Regeneration kick in before that test, bringing him back to consciousness, or not.

We cannot find anything in the book that says that if someone is knocked out their ongoing effects end.

Query sent through Facebook Messenger

The Quick Guide for Combat table [Core Book, pg 163 (book), 164/265 (pdf)] is your friend. The ongoing effect requires a test—and a “test is repeated every turn ON the character’s Initiative.” [Core Book, p130], which, if we read it literally, is the first phase of each combat round (first column on Combat table <1>).

If the character was unconscious without any Ability to bring them around, <1> would be the only element that triggers, so there’s relevance to its existence – they have a point in the initiative order and it passes immediately if they’re out cold, skipping <2A>, <2B>, <3> and <4>.

The Passive combat Abilities trigger at the same time as Active combat Abilities, which is the Combat Action phase of the combat round <2B>. However, other Passive Abilities—like, Regeneration—have a more nebulous “on-all-the-time” feel, though they absolutely must trigger at some point.

There’s wiggle room there, but the other facet of the test (to maintain control) is that it is a Free Action, which by its definition can be carried out at any time. I would be inclined, based on the explanation of Actions, that a Free Action, if it must trigger and the player has no control over it, would do so at the earliest opportunity in their turn.

Therefore, the Test comes before the Regeneration trigger, meaning that the Mystic fails to maintain Bend Will—being unconscious—and then recovers.

As I said in the introduction, there’s room for discussion and that discussion should be a table agreement rather than a GM-only one—something like this will, after all, have an impact on Player and Non-Player Characters alike.


While I don’t want to create unbelievable complexity in a game that doesn’t warrant its inclusion, the discussion around the chain of events led to a thought about how to order activity when in doubt:

  • Unconscious-independent (e.g. tests)
  • Unconscious-dependent (e,g, Free Actions, always-on Passive)
  • Conscious-independent (e.g. Reactive Actions)
  • Conscious-dependent (e.g. anything else, including Movement, Active Actions, and combat Passive Actions—in which case, actual Initiative order applies)

A Dependent roll is contingent upon the character only, whereas Independent isn’t solely tied to the character—a Reaction assumes an outside force, for example, to which the PC intuitively responds; whereas, a Test is an unconscious and disconnected mechanical effect.

(Even now, I realize that Unconscious and Conscious aren’t the best words…)

Admittedly, this supported my explanation, so it could be biased for that very reason! It might warrant pondering over as a basis for tie-breaking arguments or indecision.

Image by Zombienvy on Deviant Art. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a CC A-N-SA 3.0 License.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.