The first Tabletop Roleplaying Game from Darrington Press and Critical Role, Candela Obscura, is about to be released. This horror TTRPG, set in a turn-of-the-century city called Newfaire, will present horrific situations and entities to test players. Designed by Spenser Starke and Rowan Hall, and originally concepted by Talisen Jaffe and Chris Lockey, there's a lot here for horror fans.
Unlike other TTRPGs where you might need multiple resources to get to playing, all that is needed is this one book and the free character sheet and circle resources available on the Candela Obscura official website.
The Candela Obscura Core Rulebook is 204 pages long and filled with all the information players will need to create their characters and for a Game Master (GM) to run the game. These GM resources include the different factions of Candela Obscura, details on the city of Newfaire and Oldfaire beneath it, and even example Assignments. Players familiar with Blades In The Dark will also probably find a lot of familiarity in Candela Obscura.
Candela Obscura - The Structure Of An Assignment
In a nutshell, the game of Candela Obscura is played out in a bite-sized Assignment. One or two session mysteries where players will investigate a new otherworldly threat that is posing a serious danger to the lands.
The structure of each Assignment is simple enough; there's a hook that will introduce the players to the dangers affecting Newfaire, the player's actions will dictate their investigation and travel to hunt down whatever artifact, person, or creature is causing the evil. Once resolved the Circle wraps up their duties or prepares for their next Assignment.
Even if you're playing two or three Assignments as the same Circle you should still only expect one or two sessions per Assignment. Candela Obscura makes itself extremely accessible to those who don't have the time for a long-form TTRPG campaign or simply only want a short adventure.
Take A Chance Roll The Dice
The game is built on a d6 system where once players decide what action they want to take the GM will prompt them to roll.
The player rolls a number of d6 determined by their Action Points on their character sheet and depending on the best die roll could mean the difference between getting to tell the GM what happens, to suffering catastrophic failure.
Some of the actions that a player might take include Move - which is used to run, dodge, or navigate - or Hide if you're trying to sneak, distract, or utilize sleight of hand. There are nine of these Actions in total.
Interestingly in Candela Obscura, the GM never rolls any dice. They facilitate the telling of the story, roleplaying NPC, and dictating the actions of others. If an enemy or monster attempts to grapple or swing at the PC it's always the player that rolls to determine the path the story takes.
There are three excellent benefits from all rolls being conducted by the player. The first of which is that players feel like when they're hit or something goes wrong it's fair because it was based on their stats and rolls and not because something else was too powerful. If you got hit by something because your hide wasn't good enough it might inform how you avoid danger going forward.
Secondly, it keeps the players always engaged, there's no downtime for the players as the GM needs to locate dice or look something up.
With players always rolling dice in Candela Obscura the action is always occurring right in front of them
The last benefit is that aside from the story there's nothing the GM needs to keep track of. There's no monster health, abilities, or stats to keep referencing and if the GM introduces a random NPC they don't need any accompanying mechanical information.
Induction Into The Order of Candela Obscura - Player Creation
In Candela Obscua players take on the role of members of the titular organization. Candela Obscura has dedicated itself to the protection of the world from the negative effects of Magick and from the otherworldly abominations that enter our world from The Flare, an extradimensional plane.
The party, known as a Circle in the Candela Obscura nomenclature, is a group of characters who wish to uphold the ideals of the organization by putting their lives on the line to investigate when something unexplained occurs.
Mechanically a player is built upon what Role and Speciality they play. There are five Roles in Candela Obscura and each Role has two Specialties that can be selected from. These 10 base character types are further expanded by Role and Speciality skills as well as additional Action Points to be allocated.
For the Face Role you can pick from the Journalist or Magician Speciality, the Scholar Role has the Doctor and Professor, and the Weird Role is for the Medium and Occultist. Each of these roles offers players deep narrative roots to ground their characters in, as well as to build relationships from.
Together wide range of Specialities allows players to explore every facet of the world. If you want to be a shell-shocked Soldier recovering from the War or an Occultist who has been keenly aware of the monsters that share the world with us there's a wealth of history to learn.
Mechanics selected character creation turns to the roleplay-important decisions. A large number of pages within character creation are dedicated to creating the personality of your character and to the establishment of relationships between Circle members.
As each assignment is only meant to be a few hours' worth of gameplay and not half a year these questions help to establish the ground rules of their relationships speeding up the creation of bonds that feel more natural.
These questions aren't just about the family lineage or whether you knew each other growing up but ask if they are family then "what was their role in your life, and how did it make you into the person you are today?" or if they're only 'like' family then "Why does this person affirm your believe that chosen family is more important than blood?"
None of the character creation choices are a matter of checking a box. Instead, the player is tested to think about their character through a series of open-ended questions. These questions do an incredible job of facilitating deeper thought into what choices led your character to be who they are today.
For Candela Obscura's short-form adventures, these thought exercises jump-start the kind of development that might take months for other systems to develop. I'm looking forward to using these kinds of prompts and questions the next time I sit down at any TTRPG system table.
Character creation also includes the creation of your Circle. Not only will you pick your Circle's name and reason to be together, but will pick Circle-specific abilities and allocate Resource Points. Resource Points can be spent between Assignments to help clear up damage, refill individual character stats, or add a d6 that can be used on a roll in the next assignment.
Candela Obscura Core Rulebook Resources For The Game Master
For a Game Master ready to dive into the world of Newfaire and create a bone-chilling experience for their players you'll be very happy to see the amount of resources that have been made available to you.
Depending on whether you want to gain full awareness of the world and craft a story from scratch or be playing with friends in under an hour you'll be met with relevant resources.
Before you even start making any decisions about what creature you want to be at the center of your assignment there are a full 70 pages of information on the world of Candela Obscura for you to read up on. You'll become an expert on Newfaire, Oldfaire beneath it, and all of the surrounding landmarks.
The inhabitants of the world are also a large part of the Candela Obscura Core Rulebook. Candela Obscura isn't the only organization out there with awareness of hidden Magicks. If it isn't a monster from The Flare that is the focus of your investigation it could also be the actions of one of these groups.
The Exoteric Order of New Sciences is a science-led group that wants to use Magick to improve the world at any cost, Office of Unexplained Phenomena that are the magick branch of the police, and even a cult of assassins known as the Pyre.
Core concepts to keep in mind while you run your game are heavily expanded upon. Important lessons reiterated include leading a "fiction-first" story with the narrative actions in mind before you think about what roll a player might take, in-depth examples for each Action type a player might need, and even a transcript of an example game.
There are a full seven pages of an example Circle known as the Circle of Salt and Cinders, the exploits and conclusion of their Assignment, their post-assignment conversation, and even questions posed to the reader about how a GM might have handled the situation differently based on altered rolls.
GMs will also receive a large number of prompts for assignment ideas as they're reading through the books. Each organization has its own 2-3 sentence Assignment prompt, creature examples in the back of the book that have a paragraph worth of ideas, and even four fully fleshed-out Assignments for you to run directly from.
Horror Might Not Mean Cozy, But It Doesn't Mean Unsafe
Two themes are prevalent throughout the Candela Obscura Core Rulebook. The first of these themes is to highlight the collaborative nature of improvisation while roleplaying. As the book opens and how to play the game is explained there's a key section included to highlight the importance of "yes and-ing".
This theme of collaboration in roleplay is continued as an important tenant through the character creation section, picking out relationships between the Circle Members, and abilities that might assist others in their own pursuits.
The second theme, and one of extreme importance in a game centered around various forms of horror is that of safety tools in RPGs. As soon as page five you're greeted with a link to the TTRPG Safety Toolkit by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk. This is not a way to shy away from any horror elements, but to understand your player's comfortability so that you can experience horror safely together.
The idea that Horror can be scary, but not unsafe/uncomfortable is reiterated throughout the whole book. When discussing scars that your characters can take on it's very explicitly reiterated to players that "disability and mental illness are facets of the human experience and are not convenient narrative beats behind evil actions, or "evil people".
Establishing a safe table culture is also important as stated in the Session Zero guide and understanding the different soft and hard limits of your players. Each of the example assignments has clear warnings for what types of horrors may be within including Body Horror, Animal Violence or the Death of a Spouse, and even spiders.
In a horror game where elements that incite horror are far more likely to appear a lot of work has been put into Candela Obscura Core Rulebook to best equip the GM and the table to create a tense and spooky experience, that is still fun.
Should You Buy The Candela Obscura Core Rulebook?
Getting into a new RPG system can be a difficult thing. Candela Obscura takes heavy inspiration from Blades in the Dark, and Darrington Press has done a lot to assist in helping players understand how to play the game via a tutorial video and six episodes of Candeal Obscura Actual Plays.
If you want a short TTRPG to play with a group of horror-minded friends this is an easy purchase to justify. The book is dense with knowledge but you only need to understand the core mechanics, create characters, and pull out an example assignment to immediately get into a game.
Candela Obscura Core Rulebook Review | Final Thoughts
The Candela Obscura Core Rulebook gives you everything you would want for a new TTRPG. This book does everything it can to support the GM as they go about running the game regardless of whether it's their first session or fiftieth. That support of the GM then allows the GM to support their players in crafting a collaborative story.
Starting in the shallow end of difficulty a GM can pull out an example Assignment to run through, with a bit more difficulty a GM can use the different Assignment prompts around the book, or can pull from their own knowledge of the occult and the wealth of information about Newfaire to craft the perfect horror adventure.
Candela Obscura being as story-forward as it is lends itself to be easy to learn for new TTRPG players focusing on remaining rules lite. It doesn't let the mechanics of the game get in the way of the collaborative storytelling.
The copy of Candela Obscura Core Rulebook used to produce this review was provided by the Publisher. All photos were taken by the reviewer over the course of the review.
- A wealth of knowledge for GMs
- Simple player setup and action examples
- Plenty of example adventures and prompts
- Clear explanations of Safety Tools and resources