The Alexandrian

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Ten Candles: The Dig – 1939

November 16th, 2016

Ten Candles

THE DIG: 1939

In 1868 Frederick August Klein discovered the Mesha Stelae at the site of ancient Dibon. One of the stelae told of the anger of Chemosh, god of Moab, who returned to his people in a time of trouble in order to overthrow the Israelites who had oppressed them. The other told of the bleak artifact which Chemosh – the squamous, aquatic destroyer who had raped the goddess Ishtar and pillaged Mesha Steleher flesh; who had feasted upon the flesh of children given as molk fire sacrifices in the valley of Topheth; whose blood flowed through the abominations of the children of Ammon – left behind to crush the Jews if they should ever threaten his people again.

When the Bani Hamida – the local Bedouin tribe – discovered that the stelae had been recovered they seized them. When the Ottomans ordered them to be turned over to the German consulate, they heated the stelae in a fire, threw cold water upon them, and broke them into pieces with boulders.

Fortunately, just before their destruction, Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau – the noted French orientalist and archaeologist – had manged to obtain papier-mâché impressions of the stelae. So deeply disturbed was he by the content of the second stele, however, that he secreted it away, reporting only the existence of the first to the wider world in a paper written for the Revue de l’Instruction Publique. (He might not have done even so much if George Grove of the Palestine Exploration Fund had not announced the find in a letter to the The Times.)

The second stele was recovered by the Ahnenerbe in 1936. After it was translated in early 1937, Heinrich Himmler decreed that the recovery of the artifact it described was of the utmost importance. A number of subsequent investigations – following the clues contained in the ancient stele – were undertaken.

It is now the summer of 1939. As Nazi agents of the SS, you have been hand-chosen to lead an archaeological expedition into the Middle East and conduct a dig near the ancient city of D’Khesh where it is believed the artifact was interred. Upon arrival in the region, you obtained the necessary permits, organized a crew of native diggers (mongrel half-breeds and the like), established your site, and commenced work.

Initial results have been promising, but the telegrams coming from Berlin have grown increasingly urgent and demanding. It seems that there is some great undertaking afoot in Germany, and the bane of Chemosh would be of untold benefit to the ultimate undertaking of the Aryan race.

Areas of Note: Officers’ tents, native labor encampment, the latrine, vehicle pool, supply tent, the dig site, the acacia tree, the endless dunes of sand, the seal of black stone, the crypt beneath

Goal: Retrieve the bane of Chemosh

Special Note: The scenario starts normally, but when the vault of Chemosh is breached the Sun, Stars, and Moon are blotted out by the Dark. Shortly thereafter, They will arrive.

Thule Society

Ten Candles: Apocalypse Dark

November 7th, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

APOCALYPSE DARK

The world ended awhile ago. At least, the world as you knew it: Famine and drought created desperation. Governments crumbled. Cities turned into wastelands. Marauders roamed the countryside.

But you survived. And you weren’t alone. You and a small group of others formed a compound. You secured it. You rebuilt your own little corner of civilization and for the first time in a long time each year was a little better than the last.

Then the darkness came. Those on watch that night said that the stars swam before their eyes. The moon winked out. The sun never rose. The scavenged solar panels became worthless silicate, of course. It was decided that the gas for the generators would be conserved, but that changed when They came.

Your friends. Your family. Those you saved and those who have saved you. One by one they’ve been taken by something out there in the dark. Now only a handful of you remain. The walls haven’t kept your safe, but they’re the only defense you have. Can they be reinforced? Or would it be better to abandon them and hole up in one of the buildings? You’ll figure it out. After all, if the Apocalypse couldn’t kill you, then you can find a way to survive this, too.

Areas of Note: Ramparts, the locked armory, barracks, the cornfields, the solarium

Goal: Hold the fort

Fortifications

Ten Candles: Aurora Australis

October 31st, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

Earlier this year I reviewed Stephen Dewey’s Ten Candles. Since then, it has easily become my most-played and most-demanded game of 2016. Everyone who experiences it falls in love with it. I want to help keep boosting the signal for this wonderful game, so as a special Halloween treat I’m offering a new module for the game. (For those unfamiliar with the game, each module offers a unique initial scenario. The game comes with 25 modules included, most of which can easily be used over and over again with radically different results each time.)

AURORA AUSTRALIS

Aurora Borealis

Dr. McMannus had said that there was something wrong with the aurora australis. That’s why he’d come down to Antarctica – to study fluctuations in the electromagnetic field of the planet. He’d taken a snowcat out onto the ice when the Dark came. You haven’t seen him since.

Your satellite uplinks went down when the Sun went out, but you were able to hear the world fall apart through the scratchy audio of your shortwave radios. There’s been some sort of interference (and it’s been getting worse), and when you’re trying to stay positive you can mostly convince yourself that’s why you’ve lost contact with everyone else, their signals vanishing into the night one by one.

All that’s left now is the harsh glare of the camp’s spotlights and the endless, icy expanse which surrounds you in every direction. Here, at least, the Darkness is not absolute: From time to time, the spectral arcs of the aurora still dance green and crimson across the sky above, casting their strange hues across the scintillating snows below.

Someone has activated a navigational beacon at Paradise Harbor. It might be that evacuation ship they kept promising to send. But this morning you also picked up a second signal, this one from Dr. McMannus’ snowcat. What you’re hearing doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s possible he’s still alive out there.

Areas of Note: pod habitats, prefab storage containers, snowcat hanger, radio tower, science lab, the endless fields of ice

Goal: Cross the ice and investigate the radio signals

Antarctica Snowcat

Review: Ten Candles

May 19th, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

Ten days ago something, or someone, blotted out the sky. Now no stars can be seen, all communication with satellites has been lost, and the sun no longer lights up the sky. Five days ago, They came. No one knows who or what They are, but two very important things are clear:

They fear the light.

They’re coming for you.

Ten Candles is a masterful storytelling game by Stephen Dewey. The basic premise of the game remains the same every time you play: The sun and stars went out. They came. You and a handful of other survivors are clinging to flickering sources of light and trying to find a safe haven. But the mechanics of the game vary the identity, nature, and goals They possess, and this can be combined with an almost endless variety of starting conditions (which the book amply demonstrates by including twenty-five radically different modules) to create something unique and special every time you play.

Your characters will die. The story we’re going to tell today is not one of survival, but one of hope and loss. This is a story about what happens in the dark and the final few hours in the lives of a group of survivors fighting against it, losing themselves within it, and inevitably being consumed by it. Though their endeavor may be doomed to fail, it is our duty to make this story of their struggle as meaningful as possible.

During character creation, two major things will happen: First, your character will be defined by a Vice, a Virtue, a Hope (a moment which will give your character hope if it occurs during the game), and a Brink (the place to which your character can be pushed when things become desperate; and a place to which one of the other characters at the table has seen you go before). Second, ten candles are lit in the middle of the table.

Once character creation is completed, the first scene begins. The players receive a communal pool of 10 six-sided dice (equal to the number of lit dice). Whenever a conflict roll needs to be made, the character initiating the conflict rolls the communal dice pool:

  • As long as you roll at least one 6, the conflict is successful.
  • Any dice that roll 1 are lost and discarded for the rest of the scene.

If the roll results in failure, a candle is darkened and the scene comes to an end. At that point, the communal dice pool is restored to the now reduced number of lit candles, and the GM gets a pool of dice equal to the number of darkened candles which can be rolled in order to seize narrative control of successful conflict rolls away from the players.

The major wrinkle to this simple resolution mechanic is that players can choose to burn their character traits: Each trait is written on a card and placed in a stack when the game begins, allowing each player to burn the top card of their stack. Literally burn it: Light it on a candle’s flame and toss it into a burn pot in the middle of the table. (This doesn’t destroy the character trait in the sense that it still defines who your character is, but it does force each trait of your character to be placed in the spotlight as the game proceeds.) Vices and Virtues can be burned to reroll 1’s. You can attempt to achieve your Hope by staging the moment and making a conflict roll. And your Brink, which is always a character’s last card, can be used to reroll all dice in a check repeatedly… until a check ultimately fails, at which point the Brink card is lost.

Once only one candle remains, unsuccessful conflict rolls now result in the death of the character attempting them. When the last character dies or the last candle burns out, the game concludes.

PERFECT PACING

The atmospheric effect of playing Ten Candles in a darkened room is tremendously effective: The candles going out one by one. The ritualistic elements of burning the cards. It all greatly heightens the mood of horror, suspense, and fatal tragedy engendered by the game’s premise.

But what makes Ten Candles a great game is its perfect control over pacing: Each scene builds in tension as the dice pool dwindles… and dwindles… and dwindles until failure seems absolutely certain and a candle is darkened forever. The restoration of the dice pool relieves this tension, but now the path to desperation is shorter. And so each scene generally becomes shorter, more intense, and more desperate creating an ever-escalating cycle of tension and release.

This simple pacing pattern is expertly disrupted, however, by the Brink mechanics: As the game nears its end, more and more of the characters will be pushed to the edge. And because each Brink survives until a roll is failed, at the very end of the game — as things reach their most desperate level — there is a momentary suspension of hope.

All of this is then thematically colored by the GM’s growing dice pool, allowing the GM to seize narrative control more and more frequently and viscerally creating in the mechanics the loss of control being experienced by the characters.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

A few years back I talked about how the fundamental failure of Dread — despite the strength of its core novelty — was the fact that the mechanics of the game ultimately created pacing that was deeply and irrevocably flawed: The collapsing Jenga tower created a similar “rising tension” to the Ten Candles scene mechanics, but on a scale of time which combines poorly with early player elimination and which lacks a satisfying conclusion. Although Ten Candles uses a completely different set of mechanics, I’ve repeatedly found myself comparing the two games because of the similar pacing hard-coded into their mechanics.

And, at the end of the day, I feel like Ten Candles basically just kills Dread and takes its stuff.

The only limitation of Ten Candles is that it’s tied to the central conceit of the sun going out and Them appearing. But I don’t think the ties are particularly tight: Although you might lose the thematic connection which exists between the candles and the loss-of-light premise, there’s really only one step in the character creation process which would need to be adapted for other premises. (There’s one card during Brink phase on which a player writes the Brink for Them. You would need to shift the nature of that card to match whatever survival horror scenario you were running.)

In any case, Ten Candles is great. I’ve only had the game for a couple of weeks and it’s already hit my table multiple times, which is a strong testament to its quality. An even stronger testament, perhaps, is that multiple players have bought copies of their own and are either planning to run or have already run their own sessions. That only happens when a game is getting something very, very right.

In short, Ten Candles nails it.

THESE THINGS ARE TRUE.

THE WORLD IS DARK.

AND WE ARE ALIVE.

Style: 5
Substance: 5

Author: Stephen Dewey
Publisher: Cavalry Games
Print Cost: $28.00
PDF Cost: $10.00
Page Count: 90

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