My friends and I were planning a twenty year reunion for our group last year, but it got delayed due to COVID. Once we were all vaccinated we rescheduled our twenty year reunion to be a twenty-one year reunion! Not all of us could make it, but we got together, hung out all night and into the next morning, ate, drank, and played some games.
We played a lot of games, but the highlight of the night for all of us was the roleplaying game, Ten Candles.
Ten Candles is an improv tragic horror game best played in absolute darkness. Within the space of 3-4 hours you can learn the rules, design your characters, and play them through until their certain doom.
At the helm, guiding the improvisational story, is the Storyteller, just like the DM in D&D. As I had the book and read the rules ahead of time, I took on that guiding role for when me and my friends played.
Ten Candles starts off with character creation. All the players have four character traits written on note cards, a Virtue, a Vice, a Moment, and a Brink.
The players start by writing a Virtue and a Vice, a positive and a negative character trait. Then the Virtues are passed to the right and the Vices are passed to the left. Each player gets a character with a Virtue and Vice that they didn’t design.
The Storyteller then reads the setup for the horror story. Zombies, Vampires, Cabin in the Woods, Wendigos, Aliens, whatever. After the setup, each player writes a brief description of their character.
Next up in character creation is Moments. Each character has a goal, called a Moment. The Moments are framed as, “I will find hope…” and the player fills in the end of the sentence.
Finally the players write Brinks for the player to their left. The Brinks represent what a character will do when pushed to the limit. Lie, steal, kill, etc. They are framed as, “I have seen you…”
The Storyteller is involved in writing Brinks as well. The player to the left of the Storyteller receives a Brink written as, “They have seen you…” The player to the right of the Storyteller writes a Brink framed as, “I have seen them…” That player uses this Brink to establish a strength for “Them,” the monsters. In our game They got the power to turn invisible.
Until this moment They are not defined. They become described and fleshed out while playing.
Each player now has a Virtue, Vice, Moment, and Brink. These are arranged into a stack with the Brink on the bottom. The cards must be used in the order they’re stacked in. The rules refer to using a card as “burning” it.
During the character creation process the Storyteller lights candles at specific steps. At this point nine candles are lit.
The final step is the players recording a short message about their characters’ position, feelings, hopes, and goals. At the end of the message, the final candle is lit.
The players resolve conflicts in the game by rolling a number of dice equal to the number of lit candles. If they fail a roll, one of the candles is snuffed out.
Failed rolls can be altered or attempted again by burning a character trait. A player takes the top card of their stack, sets it on fire using the candles, sets the burning card in a fire-safe dish, and then gets to reroll some dice.
Each time a candle goes out, the story transitions to the next scene. When we played all ten candles went out due to failed rolls, but they can go out on their own as well to move the story forward.
As the game progresses the players’ dice pool shrinks, and the dice pool for the Storyteller grows. The Storyteller rolls dice for every conflict as well. If the Storyteller rolls better, then he gets to control the narrative of the players “success.” Thus as the game proceeds, the Storyteller is more and more likely to control the narrative while the players are more and more likely to fail.
In the final scene of Ten Candles, a failed roll results in the character’s death. The characters are removed from the game one by one. Finally when the last one dies and his final note card is burned, the Storyteller blows out the final candle. The Storyteller then plays the recording made at the end of character creation. As the light of the last burning card goes out, the players hear what was going through their characters’ minds at the start of their story.
In our playthrough, a nasty virus was turning people into monsters. Society had collapsed, but a team of researchers were working on a cure. The three players in my group played a Russian scientist, a soldier working security for the research team, and a mechanic who kept the lab running. They’d found a possible cure, but needed to move to a new lab location to finish it.
Along the way they met the mechanic’s ex-wife. She accompanied them on the journey towards the second research location. When they arrived they captured one of Them and used the machines at the other location to extract the DNA sequence of the virus. Unfortunately, they’d attracted the attention of a horde of Them in the process.
Desperate, the Russian scientist embraced his Brink. He injected himself with a modified version of the virus and turned himself into a thinking version of one of the monsters. He used his strength to allow the others to escape to a nearby firetruck. Unfortunately it was already too late. Rather than try in vain to escape, the soldier drove the truck straight into a mass of Them in an attempt to take as many of them down as he could. The mechanic and his ex-wife died first, followed soon after by the soldier.
Super solid horror game. It’s definitely something fun for at least a one-shot. I’d love to play it again. I feel like I’d do a better job next time bringing in more horror scene descriptions and utilizing the monsters’ Brink (they barely turned invisible during the whole game).
If you’re interested in Ten Candles you can learn more about it here: