Ten Candles – An RPG System Review

For the last month or so, I came to know about a little RPG system called Ten Candles.  It is a Tragic Horror system, where before the game even begins, the players know that, in the end, their character is going to die.  This isn’t a game about surviving against the odds.  This is a game about telling a story of hope and despair in the last hours of the characters’ lives.

The game is thematic and plays quickly.  Including character creation (which is done at game time), the game wraps up in under 4 hours.  Some might call the mechanics of the game a gimmick, but I think it helps set the atmosphere and tone for the game quite nicely.

Setting – The setting for Ten Candles can really be anything you want.  The core concept of the game is that ten days ago the sky went dark; the sun, moon and stars vanished.  Satellites went dead.  The whole planet was plunged into absolute darkness.  In the next few days, power grids burned out under the strain.  Five days ago, They showed up.  No one knows what they are, but two things are certain… they are hunting us and they hate the light.

The game is a sort of post-apocalyptic vibe, with untold horrors in the dark.  The unnamed creatures, known only as Them, can be whatever you want.  The location can be whatever you want.  In my initial playtest, I asked my players for a submission each and we randomly drew one at the time the game began.

Mechanics – The system is mechanically simple, but thematic.  The game is a zero-prep (low-prep) system that rolls a diminishing pool of dice as hope fades away.  The entire game is an experiment in improvisation and shared narrative.  If the players beat the GM on the roll, the players control the narrative.  Otherwise the GM controls the narrative.  The game is played in a dark room, lit only by 10 candles in a circle on the table.  When the players fail a test, a candle is darkened.  When all the candles go out, everyone is dead.  The character sheet in this game consists of a stack of index cards with personality traits written on them.  To re-roll a failed roll, the player physically burns their character sheet, card by card.  If you run out of cards, the character has lost all hope and succumbs to the hysteria that is pervasive in the world.

In Practice – If your players are more interested in rolling dice than they are telling a good story, the system won’t be enjoyed by them.  Players who love a good story and can help tell a good story of hope and loss will excel at this game.  One of the elements of the game is the voice recording of the characters final words… in a sort of “If someone should find this message…” recording, I had my players record their messages in private and when everyone had narrated their own death and the room was fully in darkness, they were played back.  It was a cool reminder of the story we had just collectively told and served (mostly) as a confessional for these characters.

While in our Halloween play test there wasn’t a pervasive sense of horror throughout the game, there was a definite sense of tension as dice rolls failed and candles were darkened.  As the room grew dim, in a game about unspeakable horrors in the darkness, there were moments of panic as the characters neared their destination and realized that help wasn’t coming.  It was a fun night of story telling and as the recordings played at the end, one of my players recorded their message last and it ended up capping the night off perfectly…

One of his character’s traits was “Gullible” and his recording reflected that.  It started with the words “So, I gave some money to a Nigerian Prince…” and told his friends to check his mailbox for the money.  In light of all of us just experiencing the deaths of these characters in horror movie fashion, it immediately lifted the mood and had us all in stitches.  Would this be the way I want all the games to end?  Probably not.  But for our first experiment with the system, it was hilarious and immediately memorable.

So, the bottom line is:  would I recommend Ten Candles as a fun system?  Absolutely.  It won’t be a game for every group, but if you enjoy narrative shared story telling with a unique countdown mechanic, the game is fun and thematic.  Our test game (by random draw) was within a hospital in the US Midwest, but we had such a spread of settings to try out that no game should be the same twice.  We may have played this on Halloween/Samhain (in costume, no less), but I can see this seeing a semi-regular place in rotation with my group.

~ by 1nsomniac on November 5, 2019.

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