How To Play: Candela Obscura (Critical Role’s New RPG)

Spencer Starke introduces Candela Obscura both before the stream starts and then reiterates the design structures during intermission. He states that the system–Illuminated Worlds, which is designed by Stras Acimovic and Layla Adelman–is set up for “fast, easy-to-pick up, cinematic-style play.” In game design terms, “cinematic-style” is a very soft bit of onomastic wordplay that doesn’t mean much. But what this phrase does make clear is that it was always the intention of this game, and this system, to be played for an audience. The target demographic appears to be actors: Look how easy this is to play. Won’t your audiences love this? 


This is reiterated again and again throughout the episode. The Eduardian, postwar-occultist vibes; the setting that could be Rochester, or London, or even New Orleans if you squint; the ways that the game has been built to make it easy to riff on… because it is scaffolded to encircle beloved touchstones and derived from genre conventions that just about everyone understands. It’s Sherlock Holmes, X-Files, Supernatural, Grimm, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scooby-Doo. It is, essentially, Blades in the Dark. And who doesn’t love Blades in the Dark?

There is nothing wrong with Candela Obscura (the game), much like there is nothing wrong with Candela Obscura (the performance). But both are, disappointingly, not doing anything particularly novel. With lorebuilding that feels familiar, a horrorcore vibe that lacks any real investigation into the deep history of horror storytelling conventions, alongside a production that feels, at times, underwhelming considering this is a four-hour long first episode, and without any exceptionally cool mechanics, neither endeavor feels particularly innovative. It becomes rote.


The best part about this game, and this production, is the fact that it will introduce Critical Role fans to a new system, and likely encourage many gamers to play games outside of the D&D hegemony. Perhaps it will encourage actors to form their own Critical Role-esque troupes. Candela Obscura is, ultimately, a Forged in the Dark system that encourages storytelling as a group and introduces discovery as an improvisational process between the players and the GM. I’d encourage gamers to pick up the game, tell fans to tune into Critical Role, and then have a good time playing their own campaign. Just, maybe not on camera.

The Candela Obscura Quickstart is available now. Critical Role’s Candela Obscura campaign airs live on the last Thursday of the month. It will encompass four episodes and be available via podcast and YouTube after its initial Twitch airdate.


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