Ten Candles and I have a brief but passionate history: I have written about it twice before (at KantCon and when I ran my own variant), I barely missed a chance for a pickup game of it with some friends a few weeks ago, I’m quoted on the Ten Candles website and have emailed back and forth with Stephen Dewey about my Running on Empty build.
I’m super into this game, is what I’m saying. So it makes sense that when I had the chance to jump into another session at Midwest that I would do it. This might be my last time writing about it for a bit, but it definitely won’t be my last experience with it. Let’s get to the session, shall we?
The brief form of this game is a zero-prep horror experience with shared authorship between players and GM, based on a setting where the sun was blotted out ten days ago and five days ago They started preying on humanity. Your characters, situation, and the nature of Them will change each time you play, so it is possible to repeat modules with a different group and have a radically different experience from the same prompt.
In our case, we played the published module “Adrift” which puts the PCs on a cruise ship that lost power in the darkness a few days ago and has just recently spun up its engine and changed course while we hide from Them somewhere on board. Who is responsible for us moving again, and where are we headed?
We built a party primarily of passengers, with a hen-pecked accountant, an ice cold elementary teacher, a high stakes entrepreneur who finally retired, and a member of the crew: a good-hearted, somewhat simple technician named Leroy who became the star of the show.
We started huddled in the business guy’s suite having depleted the minibar, vitamins, and protein powder he had stored in his room. Few of us volunteered to have light sources, so we spent most of the first three or so scenes with a dimmed headlamp and a cell phone flashlight at 10% battery. It makes sense, given how stripped down what most of us would pack for vacation, but it was nerve-wracking in the first few scenes hunting for rescue flares and the flashing rescue badges on a life vest, all while being pursued by a massive velociraptor-like avian menace that dragged away living victims and could claw into the sheet metal structures of the deck of the ship.
The real strength of this session (outside of our GMs reliably visceral descriptions) was how willing our players were to escalate their situation. One of the biggest strengths, and conversely one of the biggest hurdles, in Ten Candles is the method for generating new information in the narrative. At the end of each scene, determined via poor die rolls or the guttering out of one of your remaining candles, each player creates a number of truths about the situation. Our cast of players were not shy about deepening the threat against us or ratcheting up the tension of the situation (smoke filling ship hallways, the ship listing badly and taking on water, NPC survivors pledging themselves to Them) and that made for increasingly tense moments as we narrowed our options.
Speaking of narrowed options, this was one of the most hopeful sessions of Ten Candles I’ve been a part of. We started off thinking we were going to regain control of the ship. We amended that to just firing up the radio and warning the mainland the ship was overrun with monsters. We amended that to just getting power restored. And we ended the last scene or two with just wanting to sink the boat and keep the evil contained, since the shadowy puppet masters of the raptor monsters (and later a pony-sized werewolf Chihuahua) were apparently as concerned as we were about the ship sinking. We got some good facetime with one after it took over the accountant’s wife and we buried an axe in her head, but it used her to deliver some appropriately chilling pronouncements about their future plans that convinced us to take it down with us.
The nature of Ten Candles is it gets harder and harder to get stuff done the later the game goes on, so our last big push to scuttle the ship came down to two of us rolling a single die and hoping for a 6 apiece. The odds were against us, but all of the deceased PCs were holding their breath watching Leroy roll the final die to take these monsters out with us. In terms of hope and drama, this was a moral victory (though a decisive failure to contain Them, and thus the end of human civilization as we know it.) Win some, lose some.
When we chat next time, we’ll be discussing the diceless, GM-less, PC-less post apocalypse world builder The Quiet Year. Break out your colored pencils and follow along!