From watching numerous Symbaroum communities, there are a few topics that seem to arise naturally within every group – a few oddities of the system that players or GMs eventually notice and feel the need to question.
One such thing is how absolutely explosive the Corruption Threshold rules are.
In the background of Symbaroum, Corruption seems to be this insidious force that twists the mind and sours the spirit – eventually taking physical form before unhinging the character and forcing them to serve the unquenchable hunger and wrath of the world. But in the rules, it seems more to be a land mine which – one triggered – can annihilate someone in an instant.
The core rules for how Corruption works are not the easiest to parse, and there is one thing that triggers when you hit your Corruption Threshold that seems to make the entire system extremely punishing:
A character’s total Corruption reaches the character’s Corruption Threshold during a scene: 1D4 permanent Corruption.
– Page 176, third point under Permanent Corruption
When you hit your Corruption Threshold, you get an additional 1D4 corruption! That means that a character that has 8 Resolute (-2 from average) can be instantly turned into an abomination by eating a blighted berry! They eat the berry, take 1D4 Temporary Corruption, roll a 4, hit their Threshold, and then take 1D4 Permanent Corruption, which takes them up to their Corruption Limit and the character is out of play. To me, this seems like an incredibly cruel part of the system. I’m fine with magic being cursed and immensely dangerous to use, but the system doesn’t seem to match the way Corruption is described in the fiction of the game world. There are so many things in Symbaroum that can inflict 4(+4) points of corruption on someone that the entire system of magic becomes less like a balancing act of needs vs risks and more like a game of minesweeper.
If your character is four points under their Corruption Threshold, the values of Corruption they can suffer are: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Granted it’s a 75% chance you’ll get 1-3, but for poor Frullo the Ungifted there’s a 6.25% chance he will be annihilated by an accidental minor wash of Corruption.
The system of Symbaroum is a very sensitive one. The static nature of your attributes and the fact that your Toughness and Corruption Limit are very low numbers means that characters can very quickly be ruined. Every additional die of damage will be another forceful shove towards the pit of death, but Corruption can be an even swifter death than an axe to the face. I love Corruption but that just doesn’t sit right with me. You can instantly knocked unconscious by a massive attack but still survive – but a surprising wave of Corruption will explode in your face and your character is gone. Even if you feel like that fits the game world’s description of corruption, it definitely doesn’t seem like a fun part of the game.
I have a house rule that I feel mitigates the explosive feeling of the core rules corruption, while maintaining the danger and feeling that Corruption is something that stains a character.
House Rule: Temporary and Permanent Corruption
This rule has been tested and received well by several different communities.
Characters gain Temporary or Permanent Corruption from various sources just like normal – with one difference: Permanent Corruption is not added on top of your total corruption – when you take a point of Permanent Corruption it instead converts a point of Temporary Corruption into Permanent. If you don’t have any Temporary Corruption, or you have converted all your Temporary points into Permanent, then you take the Permanent Corruption as additional points like normal.
So a character with Resolute 8 can roll 4 Temporary Corruption, hit his Threshold, then roll 4 Permanent Corruption and instead of having 8 Total Corruption he converts his 4 Temporary Corruption into Permanent. He becomes permanently blighted, but survives the round and has an opportunity to attempt to escape the situation or perhaps not eat any more berries.
This way of tracking Permanent Corruption is easier to explain, easier to annotate (you can have a row of squares for your corruption limit, slash them for TC and cross them for PC), and opens up for new risk/reward decisions. Pushing over your Threshold or inviting a Permanent point usually won’t punish you immediately. Instead it effectively means that you are increasing your “Corruption Minimum” – the floor you go back down to when the scene is over. It feels more like suffering or inviting a stain on your soul that you will have to find a way to wash off, and less like a mystical explosive has blown your leg off.
It also sets up some interesting gameplay decisions for a player that is close to pushing over their threshold. A character that has few or no Temporary Points but an option or risk of gaining some Permanent Corruption may actually wish to push themselves to rack up some additional Temporary Corruption just to make use of those points before they become permanently fixed.