U is for Undead

Approximate time to read: 6 minutes.   

sleeplessDeath is not an option.

Or, at least, sometimes you don’t want it to be something thrust upon a player when you’re only an hour into your carefully crafted session.

One of those nightmare scenarios, as a GM you might find the interaction between characters and events leads to a situation where a player dies through no fault of their own.

Symbaroum happens to be one of those harsh and unforgiving games where the foolish or ill-advised can all too easily fall to the sword or jaws of the enemy. In that case, what can you do with the player for the rest of the session.


In truth, Symbaroum has a fast-paced character generation system and you shouldn’t need more than 5–10 minutes to create a replacement. If you’re running with pre-generated characters and you have fewer players than character options, you can just hand them whatever remains and ask them to choose a replacement.

That said, Symbaroum includes a very clear option for those who have died but refused sleep – the trait Undead. In the Player’s Handbook, the option exists to start the game as one of the dead, but for the purposes of this article, I’m suggesting you can use this optional condition as a way to avoid downtime mid-session.

For reference, undeath and corruption do not overlap automatically. Corruption does not walk hand-in-hand with the state of undeath – it just so happens that all those undead listed in the Core Book have committed acts that accrue corruption or have been exposed to a strong source. A dead character will look different to someone using Witchsight, but their level of corruption remains as in life, as does their vulnerability to it. A dead spellcaster still accrues temporary and permanent corruption, as does a character walking into an area of strong ambient corruption.


They do not sleep, starve or thirst; they cannot drown, cannot be poisoned by any conventional poison and cannot be afflicted by any ordinary disease.

The Undead Trait appears in the GM section of the Core Book as a monstrous trait for adversaries. The basic ‘novice’ level version conforms to the quoted attributes above. Poison, disease, drowning, pain – the dead do not suffer from any of them.

Mechanically, an undead character does not have a Pain Threshold. Pain and shock do not affect their dead flesh, but that has issues in itself. A character without sensation does not realise the extent of their injuries – in the heat of battle, a dead character might sustain an injury sufficient to disable a limb or disfigure them.

I’m not inclined to create some arbitrary mechanical way to handle this – as GM and player you should discuss what this means. In battle, the dead character will rarely fall back – even when not gripped with the hunger – and may suffer obviously grievous wounds that require the attentions of a skilled medicus to repair. They might compound bad reactions from non-player characters by clearly horrific wounds.

I would be loathe to apply any permanent negative modifier to characteristics, but you might agree that penalties apply in specific circumstances. For example, for any wound that equals or exceeds Pain Threshold, roll 1D8 and apply a –1 penalty to any Tests with that characteristic (Accurate, Cunning, Discreet, Persuasive, Quick, Resolute, Strong, Vigilant) for the rest of the adventure or until they spend time in civilisation with a willing and able practitioner of medicine. Such attention might require a cost or favor to secure.

Undead can only heal Toughness lost to injury through consumption of the living – or the recently living. To heal, the undead must eat raw meat (living or recently killed) or drink blood, regaining 2 points of Toughness for each point of Toughness the creature consumes. Any non-player character witnessing this act of ‘healing’ will have a permanent reaction set – probably a negative one, but that’s down to the GM to decide (a Cultist might actually find the prospect of a undead creature exciting, alluring or worthy of worship).


Essentially, a undead character must avoid undue attention in the company of those likely to react poorly toward them [Discreet ← Vigilant] and the same test applies when faced by someone gifted with Witchsight. Much of the time the character will need to adopt excessive dressing activities, wearing coats, cloaks, scarves and headgear when such might not seem appropriate or desirable.

A GM should decide for his game, and in cooperation with the players, whether undeath means corpse-like. Do they smell in hot weather or attract flies? Or does the strange force that animates them preserve their form in some way, like a desiccated mummy?

Given the nature of the state, a player should not feel victimised for choosing to play the dead. Don’t opt for easy swipes − Queen Korinthia, like it or not, must depend on the dead to expand her labour pool. If all the dead reek, I doubt people would tolerate the decision of the Queen for long. I suggest that people treat the dead like others treat snakes, frogs or pet rodents – they assume a stench, a weird texture, or horrible character flaws. When the character enters a room, people might stare, pass rude comment or walk away – but they do so out of intolerance.


Just handing out the Undead trait does not work well for balance, so the player will need to offset the cost of the Trait with an appropriate disadvantage. I haven’t tested this out in play to determine whether Undead warrants one or two disadvantages. In practice, a clever player could use death as a very handy tool for handling difficult situations.


You can never spare an enemy once you’ve seen blood spilled. Indeed, the only way the character CAN stop is to spend 1 point of Experience. The sight of blood in combat will cause you to drive home a relentless attack, even if you have to battle empty handed with tooth and nail. Outside combat, the sight of blood triggers your hunger for warm flesh, launching you into a feeding frenzy until restrained, sated, or you expend an Experience point. Restraint will likely involve combat versus your own colleagues. To be sated, you must consume Toughness equal to your (now defunct) Pain Threshold.


You don’t sleep anymore, but that isn’t to say that you’re not plagued by nightmares or horrific visions. Take a marker, counter or just keep a note – once per game session the GM can call in that marker to make you automatically fail a test that you have rolled a success for, overcome by nightmarish flashbacks. Counters do not carry over from one session to the next. If you play long game sessions, take a new counter after completing four Scenes.


Your transition to undeath left you scarred, with obvious injuries, exposed bone or similar signs of a horrible demise. When taking on a social challenge, the player has to roll twice and pick the worst result to decide the outcome of the test. When interacting with any member of the dead not immediately hostile in nature, you do not suffer this penalty but roll normally. The way you died ruined one or more items of equipment – a sword might have slashed armor, poison might have caused you to cough up blood that ruined clothes or a delicate keepsake shattered beneath the leaden weight of your corpse. Immediately discard 5 thalers worth of gear. If you don’t have that much gear, discard everything you do have – and you have a debt for the remainder which will become obvious in a later adventure somehow.


The dead do not live forever and once you’ve been hacked to pieces, the lack of natural healing means you’ll never be right again. For whatever reason, your hold on life seems more tenuous. When you’re forced to make Death Tests (Toughness reaches zero), roll two dice instead of one and take the least favorable outcome. You can spend 1 point of Experience to skip a Death Test and automatically get a result of 2–10 (The character remains at death’s threshold). You need to roll a 1 to stop the Tests or have someone minister to your needs with fresh meat or blood to bring your Toughness back to a positive number.

1 Comment

  1. Undead as a character option certainly fits your dark world well.

    I might have to give this game a run one weekend.
    Actually……I think what I will do is this. I will take the D&D5 characters my group is now playing, make Symbaroum versions of them (or at least as close as I can) and then run them through an adventure as if they had entered a nightmare like world. Yeah…I like this idea!

    Tim Brannan, The Other Side Blog
    2015 A to Z of Adventure!


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