Edited by Jordan Rocke
On October 22nd, 2022, a decent cross-section of the population of Ehime JETs and former JETs turned up to sleepy little Hojo to try their best not to set fire to my unsuspecting tatami. Specifically, we all played a homebrew horror game named 10 Candles. We split into three groups in different parts of my house. Fueled by top-tier Hojoan pizza and Andrew’s amazing brownies, all our flavours of madness were bound to come out. As such, I asked players from each of the three groups to write a short summary of their experiences in the game. Please enjoy, thank you again to everyone who attended, and I appreciate that my house remains intact despite all the candles we burned through!
Peng’s Kitchen of Khaos
By Charles Marshall
“These things are true: the world is dark, and we are alive.”
Those words began our session of Ten Candles, a tabletop story-telling game of horror, tragedy, and also unintentional comedy. This was my first time playing a tabletop game system like this one, one where the goal is explicitly to find hope in a hopeless situation that will inevitably end with your character’s death. The set up and prep for the game is incredibly atmospheric, the only light to see by being ten candles is great for setting the mood. The dread and worry only gets greater as each candle goes out.
We gathered in Hojo at the house of our host for the evening, Jordan, and after setting up in our groups and getting interrupted by the pizzas that were ordered for us we began. In my group was our Narrator, Peng, who I think did an excellent job balancing giving us narrative freedom with keeping us from going too off the rails. I did have to joke that Peng being our group’s narrator was revenge for Peng’s cleric of a harvest god dying when I ran him through Dungeon World earlier this year. All in good fun. The other players besides myself were Adam, Michaela, and Apphia. They all had wonderful characters and really got into the story. I had such a great time playing this game with them, especially since I hadn’t seen many of them in a long time.
My character, Cormac MacCready, ended up in a leadership role which was honestly a new experience for me. His whole deal was he was a firefighter/EMT, so his entire priority this time was to keep everyone else safe and to save them. This also ended up with Apphia’s character, Rheese, developing an obsession with Cormac, which Cormac definitely was not reading the room on. With all his efforts focused on trying to save them all he was very bad at reading the room. In the end this failure resulted in a tragic and horrible end, but one that was very poetic. I have to give so much praise to Apphia for her roleplaying and investment. She, as well as Michaela and Adam, performed wonderfully, from Rheese’s mounting obsession/mania to Addy’s (Michaela) scenes with the apple orchard and her bravery, to Jethro’s (Adam) backfiring attempts to be of use to the party that slowly spiraled into madness. Everyone bounced off each other so well. We laughed and cried and told a wonderfully tragic story heightened by the slow descent into all of our inevitable dooms, even if Michaela’s dice rolls refused to let her die even at the end for quite a few minutes. It was honestly incredibly funny.
Overall, this event was an absolute blast to participate in. Everyone was friendly and fun to engage with, it was well planned and organized and it was incredibly fun, which is the most important aspect to any event like this. Whenever I’m involved with tabletop games I tend to be in Peng’s shoes: the DM or Narrator, the one who guides the flow of the story and generally knows what’s happening and the general outline of events. So being a player character for once was so fun and engaging, and I was invested in finding out how exactly Cormac’s story would end in tragedy. The collaborative story elements of Ten Candles was at times a tad chaotic, but the stories we heard of the other two group’s adventures actually made us realize we were pretty tame, but those stories also sounded hilarious and amazing. That collaborative story telling allowed us to build on each other’s ideas that made for a great conclusion. The simple and easy to grasp rules of the system played a great part in this; providing narrative freedom in frameworks that allowed us to explore our characters in fun and satisfying ways. I have to once again thank all our game Narrators, Peng, Jordan and Sage, for taking the time to organize and plan this, doubly so for Jordan hosting the event at his place. And thank you once again to Adam, Michaela, and Apphia for sharing this story with me. It was a great time and I hope to do this again with all of you soon.
Jordan’s Ghoulish Guest Bedroom
By Allison Simko
“These things are real. The world is dark and we are alive….” or something like that, right? Anyways, I think that phrase will be burned in the back of my mind for the rest of my life, thanks to 10 Candles. This roleplaying game was like no other roleplaying game I’ve played before. However, thanks to the fun group of people who showed up, delicious pizza, and the hilarious gameplay, I had a great time.
The evening started with everyone convening at Jordan’s house and getting into smaller groups to start the gameplay. I had the unfortunate luck of being placed in the upstairs group. I say unfortunate for the sole reason that Jordan lives in a house with a staircase the approximate width of my big toe. So, whoever put us up there was probably conducting some elaborate real life murder plot against us. But despite contemplating my own mortality every time I climbed up or down those stairs, I had an amazing time with my group.
As for the game itself, I loved the structure. The characters we came up with were interesting, but the game set up was easy enough that we didn’t have to spend half the time writing down/remembering who we were. The concept of ending a chapter with blowing out a candle was the perfect addition to the game, making the atmosphere increasingly creepier and Halloweenier. Even though my group unintentionally blew through our first few chapters exceptionally fast due to a mishap with some fireflies in the forest, incorporating the candles into the game was by far my favorite part.
Another highlight of the game was the joint narration. I’ve never had the freedom to world-build in DnD before, so I loved the fact that at every chapter’s end, everyone was able to say something to alter our characters’ world/story in some way. Of course, our narration took some unexpected turns along the way. The most notable was my group’s penchant for architecture. We were only able to add one fact per person each turn, and that number dwindled as the game went on, so what did we spend our precious turns on? That’s right, architecture! How many buildings were on the property? What century was the farm house built and how did that affect one’s ability to open and close the windows? How many windows were in the guest house for that matter? What kind of tile was in the bathroom? Ask me any of those questions right now and I will have an answer for you.
Overall, my group’s DnD-meets-the Sims-meets-Halloween-meets-pizza party was a smash hit. Thank you Jordan, Peng, and Sage for making this happen!
Sage’s Living Room of Lies
By Zeke Fagan
As someone who is more used to playing more bog-standard RPG’s, like Dungeons & Dragons or maybe something like Monster of the Week, 10 Candles provided me with something completely new. The setup, importance of atmosphere to an extreme degree, and unique approach to collaborative storytelling make for a fresh, albeit intense, experience. The second the doors to our room closed us in, the lights dimmed and the candles lit up. I was soon drawn into the world, and much like the setting of our game, the rest of the world faded around us, and this was all there was. 10 candles certainly is an immersive game. I have to give credit to our GM Sage and to Peng who put the event together and gave us a fun hook; one which was baited with an actual recording found in game by our characters and played for us in person to start the game.
This brings me to another interesting aspect of 10 Candles: the way it develops characters. The process involves writing some character traits, motivations and dark secrets on note cards, and then keeping some of the cards and passing the others to the person next to you. In a way, your character is one that you have to make your own. You have a lot of control over what your character’s motivations and personality are, but fate throws a wrench by giving you demons that you may not have been prepared for. In my case, this was more literal, as I sat next to Sage, who also played as the monster and told me a thing the monster knew about my character.
As for the actual gameplay itself, 10 Candles feels like an exciting but flawed system. The fact that as the candles are put out, the game itself grows darker and more sinister is a cool idea. But if a the candle goes out for any reason, the game must progress to its next stage. This seems more fun as a concept rather than an actual in-game mechanic. If anyone were to spill their drink and put out all of the candles, the game would just end. While I suppose the feeling of walking on eggshells does add some tension, unless you are well-prepared as a GM or just really good at winging it, this could make for a sudden and deflating end to the game. The steadily decreasing dice pool caused by removing dice as you roll ones also seems like another attempt to heighten tension that in reality makes the game get bogged down. We set a minimum number of dice at a certain point in the game, and that seemed to do the trick.
I’ve never considered myself to have much ability for acting. I don’t really know how to think from a character’s point of view, especially on the fly. That and being pretty shy means my characters tend to be pretty subdued. The added randomness of traits determined by someone else presented me some extra issues, but overall it was a fun challenge to overcome.
I don’t know how the game would impact me a second time now that I know about the basic structure and premise, but as a one-shot it was a genuinely pleasant experience that I’d recommend to others, especially on a dark night in late October.