Sympathy and Science

Recently, I ran a game of Ten Candles for David, Robbie and Manu after Manu had expressed an interest in the game on the Adept Play Discord. It’s a tricky game to run online but I managed to assemble all the technical pieces to pull it off. I also went out of my way to record the game because I’ve run Ten Candles before and I think it sits at an interesting intersection of many topics discussed here.

Part I: Ten Candles In Brief (Skip this if you know the game)

Ten Candles is intended to be played in a dark room with ten actual candles providing the only light. The basic premise is always the same: Recently the world was blanketed in total darkness and initially undefined entities known as THEM lurk out there. It is also known up front that the PCs will not survive the story.

There is a shared die pool of initially ten dice. Whenever a character attempts something, the player rolls all the dice in the pool and needs only a single six to succeed. Narration authority defaults to a succeeding player. However, all dice that roll a one are discarded from the pool, shrinking it in size. There are various limited use mechanisms for a player to reroll ones or their entire die pool as well as the potential to gain a semi-permanent bonus die that succeeds on a five as well as a six.

When a player fails, a candle is extinguished and the pool refills but only up to the remaining number of lit candles. The GM then gains dice equal to the number of darkened candles. The GM always has narration authority over failures, however as soon as they gain dice and start rolling if they roll more sixes than the player, they gain narration authority over the player’s success as well.

When a candle is extinguished the current scene ends there is a ritual process where players (including the GM) take turns establishing Truths. The group establishes one truth per remaining lit candle. These truths can extend well into both situation and backstory authority.

One particular bit of theatricality is worth noting. At the beginning of play the GM records a “final message” that each of the players speaks in character. At the end of the game after the final candle is extinguished, all the characters are dead, and the group is ostensibly sitting in total darkness the GM plays back the recording.

Part II: Our Game From My Perspective

Here are some things I was particularly attentive to during play:

I started less aggressively than I have in the past, allowing the players to establish their own characters’ agendas in the general unease of the basic premise rather than establishing an immediate crisis or problem to address. On reflection, I was perhaps a bit too hands off early on and will think about tuning the degree of starting context in future plays.

What I call “narration authority” in my summary above, the text refers to as “narrative control”.  However, the text is also clear that the dice do yield success/failure outcomes and not just aportion talking. But I do think what a player narrates can extend a bit more deeply into “situation authority” than say Ron’s application of The Pool.

Therefore, I was highly attentive that when the player had narration it was treated a bit like a “Yes, and” result and when I had narration it was treated a bit like a “Yes, but”. Or perhaps a bit analogous to a 10+ vs. a 7-9 result in Apocalypse World. In either case, always being sure the “success” was respected and then applying either extended effect (including establishing new situation details) or consequential cost depending on who was narrating.

Finally, I’ve observed in the past that the Truths that get established between scenes can get lost if they are not immediately brought into the situation. So, I made sure that when framing the next scene I placed all the new truths concretely into context.  When I couldn’t do it in the framing, I brought it in as soon as possible through some other situational element.

Part III: Observations And Questions

An interesting thing to note about this particular game is a couple of outlier situations. Statistically, each scene should be slightly shorter than the previous scene due to the reduction in maximum starting dice and the expenditure of opportunities for re-rolls. Similarly, the GM’s role in establishing the consequences of outcomes statistically increases as they gain more dice.

It’s intended to produce an acceleration effect with each scene growing shorter (and consequently decreasing the gap between failures) and increased danger as the GM is able to tack on more and more consequences to success. However, in this game Scene 1 ended on the very first die roll with an unlikely die outcome. Similarly, Scene 6 is statistically elongated via not only a sequence of surprising successes but also the GM not acquiring narration. It is my belief that this outlier run of dice is why the game didn’t end at the Radio Station and had to extend into the Military Base sequences beyond.

Since everyone knows at the outset their character is going to die, the point of the game is to see what you accomplish along the way. I personally felt the middle section of the game was highly consequential, but there was an open question at the end if there isn’t a tipping point where rolling dice becomes a little too pro forma.

Finally, a question I ask myself a lot about Ten Candles: Is this an example of intuitive continuity? Looking at this question was my primary motive for recording the sessions. I sort-of intellectually understand what intuitive continuity is, but I’m not sure I can recognize it, even when I might be doing it.  With Ten Candles, I honestly don’t know.

One response to “Sympathy and Science”

  1. Intuitive. Continuity it Ain’t

    Hi Jesse! Thanks again for running this game, I think you did a great job. 

    Regarding intuitive continuity, if I were to describe it using my own words, it's basically railroading – just "softer" because the GM may not have the final destination in mind, but they do know what they want to have happen in the next scene or after the next few rolls, and will arrange things so that it happens, regardless of player choices and actions. Ron, please jump in if I'm off the mark or you can help clarify. 

    I won't say that intuitive continuity is completely impossible with Ten Candles, but it seems to me that the structure of the game is such that it makes it very unlikely, or at least difficult to pull off. For one thing, players often get narration authority, so as GM you have to respect their contribution and reincorporate it, in ways you can't anticipate or control. If you really tried, you could still force players in a particular direction, but you'd have to go out of your way to do it. Secondly, players even have the opportunity to add to the backstory, which again as GM you need to reincorporate in ways you could not have anticipated. In this game, the characters in the observatory, the existence of the radio station and police station, were mostly created by others, so you could not plan in advance that the PCs would go there or control what would happen there. 

    I didn't get any impression at all that you were doing any railroading – what it seemed like was you adjudicated rolls, and occasionally had to work pretty hard at coming up with NPCs and their motivations on the fly, as well as other backstory, but I really didn't feel that you tried to force us in any particular direction, at any time. Do you feel differently? Is there any particular  reason you were concerned about intuitive continuity here?

    On a tangential topic: my impression is that this game is not kind to the GM: it asks you to do a lot, and doesn't give you a lot of creative fodder or material to do it. 

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