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Investing In: Ten Candles

These Things Are True…

The world is dark. A couple weeks ago the light went away. Day was gone and night was forever. There was some immediate panic but more surprise and confusion. Social media brightened every face that wandered in the streets. They told us not to panic and for a few days, things went on as they might as fear crept in… Then They came. Chaos erupted, the power went out, and the beach is covered in blood. Now your generator is starting to fail.

And we are alive.

ten candles circle

Ten Candles

Great way to start a game right? A couple weeks ago I sat down with my friend Rich Brownell and a collection of other friends to play Ten Candles from Cavalry Games. He’d teased us with the idea for a few weeks, noting it had been a successful kickstarter and allow for quick pop up games with almost no prep or set up time. It was a game of tragic horror that required you to flex your improv skills while telling a story collaboratively. He was right, and it made for an excellent evening with friends!

The Basics

The Game Master (GM) will likely have a story or basic premise in mind before gathering their group. You use 10 candles to help you with Character Creation, lighting them as you determine your traits. You start with 10 dice but as you fail to perform actions or “resolve conflicts,” you lose a candle and a die. The scene changes as the entire group speaks some truths of what happens between scenes. The final truth: you are alive.

You’ll want to be wary of any candles going out accidentally too! One accidental jostle or just bad luck and the scene ends. Oh and that die you lost? It goes to the GM. As your party gets weaker, they get stronger when their non player denizens attempt actions or to win conflicts. Struggle as you might to win, to survive but know that inevitably that last candle will go out. Maybe you won’t die, but survival will likely not be to your characters’ liking. In fact, you should approach your storytelling for your character and contributions to the game to encourage the tragic horror you and the others’ face.

This Player’s Perspective

I was anxious to try this game considering the improv element. The story was provoking, not that we knew it until we had sat down to make characters there in the dark. Continuing on that teaser above, we were each at a resort on an island trying to survive this dark, mysterious panic. A mix of employees and guests we managed to find our rescue only to be undone by the rescuers’ sense of nobility. 

What a ride it was! We struggled at first with the rather rules-free system and some very poor rolls, but we found our footing and a great deal of luck in the middle of our adventure. I found it interesting that the surprising succeed pushed us along but with curious concern at challenges, especially when balancing the realism of how our characters would act with the fear of the dangers in the dark and what was truly attacking people.

Proudly my athletic instructor Candy adventured through the darkness to find respect and empowerment much like the Vampire Slayer she secretly idolized. Alas, even she found her light snuffed out. There was hope in survival but we knew the end would come. I was thrilled to see how our improvisation balanced against the rolls and the challenges Rich presented to us, everything from a helicopter blown apart to a madman on the road and eventually our monstrous threatens literally taunted us from the darkness.

the dark fairytale by gustavs

The GM’s Perspective

I wanted to provide our GM’s perspective as well, especially as he’d discovered the game and brought it to our attention!

RobHow did you learn about 10 Candles?

RichI was browsing the Paizo forums and found a thread with people nervous about whether to play the new Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Paizo designer Mark Seifer mentioned some very different alternatives including 10 Candles.

RobIt was a great recommendation to flex our roleplaying muscles. Mark was also just announced as the Design Manager for Paizo, bringing consistency to the design, tone, and aesthetic of the game as well as outreach to other groups. Perhaps we’ll see some 10 Candles influence! In this case what drew your interest in 10 Candles?

RichThe name grabbed me most. Naming things is hard. 10 Candles had the right amount of “why would they name it that?” for me to find out what it was. The tragic horror premise grabbed me immediately. It reminded me of some Stephen King stories and Lovecraft Mythos. The idea that no matter what happens, everything will go wrong for the characters is compelling.

RobIt is and I know that can be difficult for some, including some of our friends who are interested in that win condition. We strove to survive and did a fairly good job, though the luck of the dice was certainly with us after those early failures. What impressed you most about our 10 Candles game?

RichI was most pleased with commitment to the narrative. The folks I play with tend to stray into off topic during our years long D&D/Pathfinder games, but our 4ish hour night stayed almost perfectly on track. Sure, some humor made it into the mix, but that’s to be expected with our group.

RobAnd what do you want to do differently the next time you run 10 Candles?

RichNext time, I need to explain the rules more clearly and concisely. Those words are always a challenge for me. In the case of the first session, I made a GM cheat sheet for me. Next time I’ll have one for players as well.

RobPerhaps that’ll help between the scenes as well. There seemed to be some hesitancy in “declaring truths” at first. What truths do you think help the game most? Did any particularly impress or excite you?

RichDeclaring truths could have gone better. I emphasized the freedom to establish essentially any truth. We ended up deviating from tragic horror as some players were too eager to use truths to get closer to a win condition. None of my players had any experience with GM-less TTRPGs so the power may have been intimidating. As with all things, more experience will help.

RobIt was interesting to have more power as a player to influence the story. Certainly it felt collaborative with you as the GM. I was glad a few used their truths to darken the tale. Moving the story along doesn’t always have to be in a successful state after all. There are many tragic tales to be told. What kind of stories do you want to tell or see told with 10 Candles?

RichThe book has a number of great suggestions for deviations from the traditional story. The ideas of playing dogs in a kennel or students in a magic school experiencing the dark apocalypse are great. There isn’t anything limiting the system to telling the story of the world going dark. One could just as easily weave their own threats as the steadily diminishing dice pool, and therefore the chances of successful rolls, is mechanically simulating the tragic horror fate. But next on my plate is to run another of the standard modules, and to discover more one-shot/short form game systems to try out.

RobAnd I’m looking forward to it! Thanks Rich!

Ten Candles Book

Investing In:

I highly encourage you seek out new and different games that challenge you, your friends, and put all your creative, improvisational skills to use while being fun all the same. If you’re interested in purchasing Ten Candles you can buy a softcover copy (with or without a PDF) as well as a digital PDF separately at Cavalry Games. You can find a wealth of reviews, instructional videos, and story ideas on Calvalry Games’ site, YouTube, and across the internet. These things are true…

And I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!

About Investing In

I wasn’t sure quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!


Banner – Ten Candles, Cavalry Games, https://cavalrygames.com/ten-candles

  1. Ten Candles, Cavalry Games
  2. The Dark Fairy Tale, Creative Commons Credit, Gustavs
  3. Ten Candles product image, Cavalry Games

Rob Pontious

You may know Rob Pontious from Order of the Amber Die or Gehenna Gaming's first series of Monster Hearts 2. He currently writes Know Direction's Investing In blog as well as a player for the Valiant podcast and Roll for Combat's Three Ring Adventure. He's been a lover of TTRPGs for over three decades, as a gamer, and a GAYMER. You can find him on social media as @silentinfinity.