Welcome back, dice fondlers! I have a special treat for you. This week, we’re delving deep into the dark, surrounded only by the light of a few flickering candles. That’s right, we’re talking about tragic horror RPG Ten Candles by Stephen Dewey, published by Cavalry Games.
Ten Candles came out in 2015 and is one of the finest horror games ever released. I’ll be very honest here— there’s a game with similar apocalyptic theming that came out within a couple years of Ten Candles that I was originally very much in love with. However, this game is significantly more elegant in its design and more evocative in its execution, and it isn’t made by a known serial abuser. If you play that game, try this one instead. I promise it will scratch itches that you didn’t know were left unscratched and handle the emotions of impending doom with far greater grace.
Zero Preparation Needed
Ten Candles is a zero (that’s right, ZERO) prep game that lasts 2-3 hours. Why does it last 2-3 hours? Because, dear reader, it is timed. The ten candles referenced in the name are ten literal tea light candles set up around the table and lit at various points of character creation. As they go out, the game’s scenes progress, until the final candle goes out and the characters’ lives are snuffed out.
Did I not mention that up–front? There is no “winning” Ten Candles. Every character in the game is doomed from the beginning.
Characters are played under the assumption that they will do everything they can to survive and that they have hope. However, whatever lurks in the darkness that has overtaken the world is too strong, and everyone loses eventually. It is for this reason that Ten Candles doesn’t label itself as a Survival Horror game, but as a Tragic Horror game. The journey from beginning to end — the hope, fear, camaraderie — are the point.
Don’t Blow Out the Candles
To accomplish the sense of impending dread, the game has several brilliant mechanics working for it.
For example, there are multiple “modules” for the GM to choose from in the appendices to provide the players a starting point, but these modules are half a page long at most. The players will be filling in the majority of the detail on the fly. Should they attempt risky behavior, the GM will call for a conflict, with the players rolling to succeed. If they fail, a candle is darkened, the GM narrates the failure, and the story progresses. If players succeed at their roll, they and the GM roll to see who has narrative control in telling the results of the conflict. However, any 1s rolled on the pool of 6-sided dice are removed from play for the duration of the scene, and any darkened candle shrinks the pool by one permanently.
Characters Engulfed in Flames
Player characters are composed of four index cards – two Traits (a Virtue and a Vice), a Moment, and a Brink. These elements are determined in game in a process that starts after the first three candles have been lit and the timer started. Each card has its own rules. Virtues solve more problems than they cause, Vices do the opposite, Moments are a specific time you draw hope from, and Brinks represent the darkness that shows itself when all else is lost. A player may “burn” these to help them succeed at conflicts. When I say burn, I’m not speaking metaphorically. In the center of the table, a fireproof bowl is required in which to immolate your characters’ cards as they are Burned. The fight against the dark exhausts the characters until they are nothing but the light left behind as they shed who they were.
There are a few more secrets hiding in this brilliant game, but those are best experienced firsthand by a GM who has read every section of the book. As I said, I highly recommend it for those who love their horror games and are willing to dive into a few hours of nerve-wracking, emotional exploration with a table of friends.
With that, dear dice fondlers, I leave you. Next week, I’ll
be back with another random game for us to discuss. Until then, remember to…
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