Lushly presented, we have here a rich fantasy world that is Arabian in style. In this world, certain individuals are born with a birthmark on their backs shaped like a dragon's claw. It is belived - and expected - that these individuals are capable of great heroism, of achieving great renown... or notoriety, should their astonishing feats tend to the evil rather than the good. The player-characters are all marked thus: what will they accomplish? What songs will be sung about them, or stories told?
Colourful adventures, political, military, and magical intrigues await the characters in the land of Jazirat, once annexed by a crumbling Empire that itself was built on the remains of the Republic of Agalanthia. Jazirat is a vast peninsula with a big desert in the middle and Capharnaum to the north, regarded as the centre of the world, while the nation of Kh'saaba is found to the south. Many peoples with their own traditions and beliefs mix here, sometimes at peace, often not.
Scene set, we move on to the Quickstart Rules, a cut-down version of the full Capharnaum rules. The GM here is called Al-Rawi, which is the Arabic for 'storyteller', and task resolution is by rolling handfulls of d6s... you'll need a lot of them. The number rolled depends on your score in the appropriate attribute (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence or Charisma) and where appropriate you add in the number of points you have in an apposite skill. Most attributes and skills are rated 1-5, so normally you'll be rolling up to ten dice at a time. You then add up the best rolls, using the number of dice derived from your attribute - these are your Result dice, and you want as high a result as possible. This is compared against a target or against what someone else rolled if it's an opposed task. Sounds simple, huh? But there's more. Every time you roll, one die is designated the Dragon Die and if you roll a 6 on that, you keep that 6 and reroll, adding that result in as well... and so on until it rolls something other than 6. Only the Dragon Marked get to rill a Dragon Die. There are also extra effects if you roll three dice the same, called a 'Constellation'... and there are other bits as well. It sounds complex but once you have got your head around it, you'll find it works quite well, even if it makes the die-rolling a bit intrusive into the flow of the game.
The rules bit then goes into great detail about combat. It's a round-based system with everyone involved rolling initiative each round, then taking their actions in turn. Needless to say, there are a lot of different actions to choose from. There are also different classes of opponents from Champions (who give even the Dragon Marked a run for their money) to the hordes of 'Babouche-Draggers' who fall over at a harsh look and are there for local colour rather than real opposition. It's all intended to create a cinematic feel for combat, and flamboyant moves are encouraged. This is followed by a brief look at magic, which is supposedly flexible and profound; here it's limited to discussion of a single improvisational style practised by both of the magic-using pre-generated characters provided. In this, to cast a spell the player states which 'Sacred Word' (Create, Destroy, or Transform) is to be used, then describes the effect they are trying to create and then roll for the success (or otherwise) of your spell.
Next comes the adventure The Tears of Ampharool, which begins with the party travelling in a caravan across the desert when a sandstorm hits. Eventually an opportunity opens up, rather neatly it doesn't matter whether or not the party take up the offer, Whether or not they decide to explore a mirage palace that appears before them, there's plenty to do in the desert. It is all well constructed and hangs together neatly, leaving the party with the impression that the choices they may really do make a difference.
Finally, there are five pre-generated characters to choose from. Each is well-rounded and detailed, complete with charming illustrations.
Perpare to be swept away on a magic carpet of adventure. The game mechanics seem complex when you read through them, but become less clunky as you get to know them, with the magic system lending itself to some spectactular results if you are prepared to put the effort into designing your spells. There's a glorious immersive feel as this rich setting takes over and embraces you.
[5 of 5 Stars!]