Recently I got my first chance as a GM running a game of Ten Candles with some friends. Now, this was my first time running a game, so I wanted to start off with something easy. No way was I committing to a multi-session campaign for my first run, so why not play a one-shot?
Ten Candles is a dice-rolling co-op tragic horror storytelling game that uses light as one of the game mechanics. Each player makes a character “sheet” in the form of 4 trait note cards: virtue, vice, moment, and brink. Ten d6 dice are prepared for rolling conflicts, where outcomes are unknown. A setting is chosen, rules are explained, and lights are switched off, all while 10 (preferably) small candles are lit. The GM sets up a voice recorder to document the characters’ last call out to the world. As the game progresses and scenes end, a candle will be darkened, until the final candle is left burning during the Last Stand.
This is when the players are tasked with killing their characters.
And when the last candle is darkened, the GM replays the final message from the start of the game. And the players are left in silence.
THAT’S the good stuff right there.
Light Feeling of Dread
One of the biggest draws to Ten Candles, at least for me, was the idea of using light as a game mechanic. While most scary stories are best enjoyed with the lights out, there’s a canon reason for the darkness: Them. The enemy is left intentionally vague for the players to construct themselves, with only two defining features set in the game’s rules. To quote the rulebook:
“Ten days ago something, or someone, blotted out the sky. Now no stars can be seen, all communication with satellites has been lost, and the sun no longer lights up the sky. Five days after this anomaly occurred, They came. No on knows who or what They are, but two very important things are clear. They fear the light. They’re coming for you.”
It’s one thing to conceptualize darkness in a horror world, and another to feel it.
Another element this adds comes in with the character cards. During an encounter, the player has to option to physically burn away one of their traits for another chance. For example, Regina could use her virtue of “resourcefulness” to retry unlocking a door ingame. She would have to describe how her resourcefulness helped get her group through the door, building the story and her character. Then she would take her virtue card and set it aflame in the middle of the candles on the table (in a bowl or a tray, please don’t set your homes on fire). And from that burst of light, the players take hope. Maybe we’ll get through this, the characters think. Maybe we’ll survive.
Recommendations for Running
A few bits of advice if you want to run your own game of Ten Candles. First and foremost, don’t plan anything ahead of time. Seriously. The story should develop as the players build it and as it’s shaped through conflicts. Let it happen organically. There’s only one potential ending, so no pressure to plan for one. Dovetailing off of that, encourage roleplaying. The goal of the game is to create an interesting story, so let people tell that story through their characters. How would bullheaded and protective Dante react to being in this world? What would Tahani do against Them? Let your players figure that out.
Second, encourage your players to use their traits early and often. Cashing them in allows for a reroll that could drastically change the story. Also, as they say, you can’t take ’em with you. When burning the note cards, fold them like a fan, stand them up in a bowl or baking tray, and light the corners. Here’s a video showing what I mean. Dry ash, no smoke, easy cleanup.
Lastly, work together on building the story. That is the goal of the game, at the end of the day. Help build the story towards your characters’ moments. Have fun with it, get scary with it. When your players get to the end and you’re all sitting in the silent darkness, remembering the story you just created…
… that’s the good stuff.
I fully recommend checking out Ten Candles and giving it a try. Down below is some gameplay so you can get an idea of how an actual game works. I absolutely recommend it.
These things are true: The world is dark. And we are alive.