‘Candela Obscura’ Stars on Magic and Play in an Oppressive World

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RD: I think it speaks to how good Matt is at what he does, that we all get to contribute meaningfully, regardless of skill level—to the extent that people think what we’re doing is exhaustively planned.

MM: Thank you, Robbie. Yeah, when designing Candela, we wanted to build a system that was story-forward and had options for customization that fit the genre of occult detective and gothic-horror experiences. In every character sheet, you have both the class and the role, all your selectable capabilities. That means you don’t need to refer to books to figure out how your stuff works, it’s all right there in front of you.

Laura Bailey: It was nice as a player in Candela to feel like an expert in under an hour. As we gained momentum moving through the world and navigating obstacles, it started to feel more and more natural, until the mechanics felt so much less visible behind the theater we were in.

MM: I will say that as a GM who’s grown up on D&D, having a system that requires me to roll pretty much no dice at all allows me to be entirely present with the players. I wasn’t sure if I would like that at first, but it turns out that having the players define the action gives them an extra aspect of immersion.

RD: When combat did show up, it felt fresh, exciting, and high-stakes. Since it’s a horror game, combat is often dire and can be punishing, although it’s clear that care has been taken to avoid that feeling disheartening.

AB: It’s very cool that you explore the consequences of actions beyond hit points going up and down. Walking away from big incidents with lasting repercussions adds a huge point of character definition. But there are still ways to persevere, which makes vital room for hope.

MM: I think you touched on something really important Anjali—embracing the lesson of failure. For so long, games have been obsessed with winning. Tabletop game experiences are starting to reimagine failure as the opportunity for a pivotal moment. That makes the rest of the experience more memorable and provocative. That’s something we often try to push forward, that rolling low on the dice can be more exciting than rolling high. In confronting failure, you’ll often find so much more meaning in victory.

What’s your impression of Candela Obscura’s themes of hope in the darkness?

MM: Beyond a celebration of horror, Candela is about confronting evil with ingenuity and learning the mistakes of the past in hopes of a better future. Through spooky adventures, we learn that even in the direst of times we always have the power to change things for the better.

LB: The world feels oppressive sometimes. We have so much access to these sensational developments all around the world, that everything can feel like it’s spinning out of control. That’s why it feels so affirming to face something at the tabletop with your friends or family that you know you can deal with.

AB: I love dark worlds where there’s a way to shine a light. Even if much of the tale is tragic. Tragedy is a big part of the real world, and I don’t want it sanitized from play, but when there’s enough hope left that I can leave a session feeling empowered, that’s a beautiful thing, and that’s exactly what Candela and the wonderful friends I played it with did for me.

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