These Things Are True; The World is Dark - 10 Candles Review
Last night, 3 friends and I left the relative safety of our town hall shelter, crossed a shallow creek, blew up a campsite, traveled through a forest to a logging camp, and convinced a refugee family to join us down a grid road before we were ripped limb from limb by flying imps and a mind-controlling host. All while sitting in a dark room lit only by 10 tea light candles. And it was awesome.
I was unreasonably excited to try 10 Candles after reading the excellent review on Shut Up & Sit Down. I had been trying to get into the RPG scene for the last few months or so, starting with a deep dive into the End of the World Zombie RPG published by Fantasy Flight. That first attempt was stopped short because I felt I didn’t have enough time to craft the experience I wanted; this is something that is immediately addressed in 10 Candles and makes it an excellent noob-friendly way to dive into your first role playing game.
For most RPGs, it’s the responsibility for the Game Master (GM) to craft the scenes and situations in which the players will be playing, constrained only by the theme, universe, and/or system of the RPG you’re in. It’s almost as if you take on the role of game designer, crafting an experience you hope your players will enjoy. The level of involvement required for a GM varies on a case-by-case basis, but of the GMs I know there’s a few that have spent dozens of hours creating a world that will work for a half dozen game sessions (about 12 hours of actual gameplay).
This is where 10 Candles is different. As a GM you’re strongly advised to do no prep work whatsoever. As role playing games go, 10 Candles is generally considered a “lite” RPG - something with a lot less structure and number crunching than your normal dungeons & dragons or pathfinder style of game. In most lite RPGs, you simply roll a number of regular six-sided dice and hope for some level of success (generally rolling a 6); no addition or subtraction of your stats against a target’s stats or the like. 10 Candles has this system for “conflict resolution”, but the result of resolving the conflict is that the winning player controls the narrative of the story for a few paragraphs.
Player: “I look around the side of the building”
GM: “Alright, let’s do a conflict roll”
Player rolls 10 dice, gets absolutely no 6’s
GM: “You failed your roll. As you look around the side of the building you catch a glimpse of some… what look like shadows?… dancing around the generator outside, which is already sputtering from a lack of fuel. The shadows seem to be doing their best to pick away at the outer shell of the generator in what looks like an attempt to sabotage it”
GM extinguishes one of the lit candles, ending the scene
At its heart (and like most RPGs) 10 Candles is an improv game. Everyone at the table should feel comfortable spinning their own tale of what their character is doing in the scene. The beauty of it is that the players, not the GM, control most of the story at the beginning of the game; they get 10 dice to roll which dramatically increases their odds of success. As each scene rolls on the players slowly lose dice, and as the game progresses the GM slowly gains dice, which gradually shifts the control of the story from the protagonists to the antagonist. With each extinguished candle the hope and ability and ambition of the characters is ripped away and placed firmly in the hand of the GM controlling Them.
Another unique aspect which we appreciated was the “end of scene ritual”. At the end of every scene (of which there’s up to 10, one for each candle) there’s a phase of sorts where players around the table - including the GM, generally on the antagonists’ behalf - make statements that are true. These can be things as large as “we reached the outpost” or as small as “the batteries are dead”, but the key here is that it moves the story forward. It’s a great mechanic for preventing your party from being stuck in the same scenario for 10 scenes. The “truths” are also equal to the number of lit candles so as you approach the peak of the story and conflict there’s less sweeping changes you can make to the narrative, maintaining that idea of players losing control as the game progresses.
Also a twist with 10 Candles is that it’s a tragic horror RPG, not a survival horror RPG. Each of the player characters will be dead at the end of the 2 to 3 hour session. This adds a bit of an angle to the story; players are expected to play as if their characters will survive the scenario, but also challenge and ultimately kill them. This focus is important since the players themselves control such a large part of the story, it would be easy for them to craft winnable scenarios and give the GM a harder time than usual. Quite different from a standard RPG where the players are actively trying to achieve various forms of “victory”.
The candles themselves have a few roles in the game. They indicate how much of the game is left - a candle is extinguished after the end of every scene (which ends as soon as a player fails a roll). Playing in a dark room by candlelight really helps embrace the “world is dark” theme inherit in the scenarios. Also you set your character sheets on fire, representing the slow death of the individuality of your character as they shift towards their survival instincts in this dismal existence. (We didn’t actually burn anything as we were playing in our office and were unsure of the fire alarm situation).
If you have 10 tea light candles, a dozen dice, a few friends, and the $10 PDF of the game from Cavalry Games, you have all you need to enjoy this amazing light RPG.
These things are true; the world is dark, and we are alive.