Critical Role remains the big mover and shaker in the actual play space. Organizations know that changing things up can be a big risk even if you’re at the top of your game. Not everyone will make the leap and some of those who do won’t like the new product.
Many folks were surprised when the company announced that the first role playing game from Darrington Press was not going to be compatible with Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. They made the choice to go with a new game built for a new show that emphasised cinematic elements and more of a stage play feel. The rules for Candela Obscura are coming on November 14th to allow fans to tell their own stories in this murky world, of which a new season premieres on November 30th.
Darrington Press sent along a review copy for me to check out. The game uses the Illuminated Worlds rules set designed by Stras Acimovic and Layla Adelman. This setting was co-designed by Spenser Starke and Rowan Hall.
What Is Candela Obscura?
Candela Obscura is a fantasy horror role playing game. Players take on the roles of secret society members who have been touched by the horrors of their world. Each episode, the leader of their cell, known as the Lightkeeper, assembles the investigators to look into an unusual occurence.
The Fairelands are a world much like our own. The city of Newfair is built atop the empire of Oldfaire, an alchemical empire that fell hundreds of years ago. The world is going through another big change by moving through industrialization to what we would recognize as a more modern era.
Designers Starke and Hall said this was a deliberate choice to allow players to pick and choose what parts of the turn of the 20th century aesthetic to embrace. Playing in a historical setting can be fun but it can also get bogged down in arguments of accuracy and being true to concrete dates and times. It also gives tables a chance to discuss more challenging elements of the era and whether to include them such as racism and sexism.
How Does Candela Obscura Play?
Players roll small pools of six sided dice when they want characters to take dramatic action. The choose the dice out of the pool that’s usuall highest to determine whether or not their action succeeds. A six means it’s a full, clean success, a 1-3 means the action fails and a 4 or 5 means the players gets what they wants but it’s colored by some minor setback or complicaton.
In addition to their base attributes players have pools to spend to add dice for important roles. Some rolls also include a gilded die, which, if chosen for resolution, gives resources back to the player at the risk of potentially not picking the best die rolled. This adds a little bit of tactical choice to a heavily narrative system.
Each character is comprised of a role and speciality. These function like class and subclass in Fifth Edition, with players initially choosing an ability from each to start. These abilities offer some small narrative control that fit the character, such as being able to use a magician’s ability to slip out of a binding or a journalist knowing when someone is lying.
Candela Obscura Influences
Starke and Hall cite two huge influences in creating Candela Obscura. The first is Blades In The Dark, which shares a dice mechanic and a similar industrial age meets magic setting, though Blades is much darker. Blades creator John Harper even helped design the limited edition cover of the book.
The second main influence is Vaesen from Free League Publishing. This game features players as members of a secret society investigating mysteries involving faerie beings, ghosts and other supernatural creaures in a turn of the centry Europe. I also see some Cortex Plus influence in the game with the guilded dice and pote tially choosing a weaker outcome for more game resources.
Candela Obscura Impressions
I feel like Candela Obscura is built to run quickly at tables. It makes sense as a design choice for the audience. They wanted something that plays quickly on camera, which seems like a first as a game designed with streaming in mind.
I also think it’s a choice for the main customer base. Most of the peple curious about this game are Critters who likely have little exposure to RPGs beyond Dungeons & Dragons and whatever other games the show has features. Experienced gamers might see this as a lack of depth, but I see it as a gateway to other games that makes exploring games beyond Candela Obscura more appealing.
Candela Obscura Core Rulebook will be available on November 14th. The first two Candela Obscura stories can be watched on Critical Role’s YouTube page.