Running on Empty: Tales from the Road (Ten Candles)

I’m working on a new project for the One-Shots which implements the Running on Empty setting as its background. Since Ten Candles happens in the dark, and Running on Empty is a survival horror setting where the sun never comes up, it made sense to me to figure out how they fit together.

I’ll release this project in a little while, but in the meantime here’s the pitch: When roadies gather, they swap stories to pass along information, wow the populace, and scare the young ‘uns. These exaggerated road tales are often gruesome and never feature survivors. This collection will prompt stories in this vein: grim tales of desperate survival out in the Dark. Only mad men and children would accept every story as the gospel truth, but it is true that strange things happen out on the road.

My intention is that Tales from the Road would complement an existing RoE campaign, either serving as a session for an off night when not all their players are there, or as an alternate to break up the campaign and plant some seeds for future adventures in their Savage World campaign. Folks who are into the setting but don’t want to commit to a full campaign could also dip their toes in by killing off a bunch of PCs and experience the post-apocalypse darkness that way.

My test run was over the weekend, and a few things were clear: learning both setting and system in a session where you do a lot of your own writing is a bit much. None of my players had done Ten Candles previously (though some had read my post about it, been to the website, watched a video, etc. My people prepare) and some had heard of the setting. It’s hard not to since I have rambled about it quite a bit over the last 12 years. I don’t think any had read the novella.

Short version, it was a lot to take in, and since the setting isn’t as second nature to them as to me, there was a double learning curve. My players were unclear or uncomfortable with the telling of truths, seemingly because they weren’t sure if they were supposed to reinforce things that had been previously stated (i. e. were actually true) or if they were creating new statements. I think I will adjust my phrasing of that phase of the game as establishing or creating truths, which is less elegant a term but more accurate to what the player does in that moment.

From a story standpoint, I think the modules I’ve written frame a diverse set of stories that come down to “resource scarcity in permanent darkness with a vehicle featuring prominently”, which is par for the course. My players selected the one that might be the trickiest to run: a car broken down within a few miles of their destination, either having to make the rest of the way on foot or to beg, borrow, or scavenge a ride to get them the rest of the way through who-knows-what to get to safety. I want it to feel desperate and frustrating (You can see your destination! It’s right there!) but in practice it is hard to get the helplessness without it feeling pointless.

I needed to put the threat in closer and raise the stakes earlier, and being stuck in the car for most of it makes players who aren’t driving feel bored or at a loss to help. That said I think some tweaks in wording could help guide a GM past some of that and of course a different set of players and a GM may have a different experience. I’ll clean up my document and run it past Stephen Dewey (creator of Ten Candles) and get it out there in time for Halloween.