A breath of fresh, desert air
Capharnaum’s blend of Arabian tales featuring deserts, djinn and swashbuckling adventure is a welcome twist on traditional fantasy RPG tropes but, while the worldbuilding is on point, a few clunky areas in the ruleset itself can drag down the energetic pace it’s focused on building elsewhere.
The game has actually been around in French for many years, but the translators at Mindjammer Press have now managed to bring the Inner Sea setting to life in English. Everything from the art to the snippets of story drip with a distinct style of Arabian fantasy; even the GM is dubbed the Al-Rawi, apparently an Arabic term for ‘storyteller’.
Capharnaum makes it clear from the very beginning that the party will be playing as larger-than-life heroes, as every single player character begins the game with a mystical mark somewhere on the body that denotes them as something special.
The way they go about performing their extraordinary deeds is handled by a neat little mechanic based around rolling a number of d6s. As with many other systems, the amount you get to throw depends on both innate attributes and trained skills, but the twist is that you can only keep an amount equal to your skill rating. This increases the importance of good training and specialisation, while still allowing characters to get lucky every now and then.
However, there are several petty niggles that keep getting in the way at the most inopportune moments. Every other roll or check seems to come with minor bookkeeping; none of it is particularly boring or complicated, but it just adds extra distractions that take you away from the madcap excitement for a few vital moments.
While it’s not without a few problems, Capharnaum is certainly a breath of fresh, desert air amidst the confines of traditional western fantasy gaming.
Designer: Raphaël Bardas, François Cedelle, Sarah Newton et al.
This review originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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