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Play the RPG behind Critical Role’s newest show with a free quickstart for Candela Obscura

The quickstart contains an introductory assignment and five pregenerated characters.

Screaming skeleton woman art from RPG Candela Obscura's quickstart guide
Image credit: Darrington Press

Critical Role’s new monthly actual play show, Candela Obscura, premieres May 25th, but excited fans can check out the tabletop RPG system behind the occult narrative thanks to a free quickstart guide now available online.

Candela Obscura is one of several projects Critical Role and its production company, Darrington Press, announced earlier this year. Featuring a cast of new and returning faces, the monthly show will follow investigators of the eponymous order as they unveil mysteries and occult disturbances in the Fairelands, a setting closely resembling our real-world 1920s if it were suffused with magic and the paranormal.

Candela Obscura is the first official tabletop RPG title created using the Illuminated World System, which is built around six-sided dice pools and was designed to focus on narrative play over contained arcs, as opposed to Dungeons & Dragons’ open-ended, character progression-minded play. Dice pools care first that a successful roll shows up, while multiple successes often increase the degree of achievement or add a little bonus to the character’s action.

More actual play tabletop RPG series to watch after Critical Role.Watch on YouTube

Characters in this system fall into one of five roles (think classes) - Face, Muscle, Scholar, Slink and Weird. These are broad strokes archetypes and are designed to hold a vast breadth of more specific tradeskills, professions, lifepaths or preoccupations. For example, a Slink might be a career criminal adept at using guile and the shadows to pull off their heists, or they can just as easily be a beat detective with the gumption and street smarts to stay one step ahead of any would-be criminals.

Investigators will also maintain a Circle sheet alongside their individual character sheets. This represents the organisation they all share and tracks progress towards character advance and downtime resources that will allow them to heal, refresh their drives or gain temporary bonuses. Much like Blades in the Dark, the Circle will grow and change over time to reflect the members’ exploits throughout the city and its environs.

Play is structured around assignments, small mystery arcs that take anywhere between one and three sessions to resolve. Investigating an assignment follows a relatively structured path, starting with the arrival of Candela Obscura followed by searches for clues, escalations and twists and finally culminating in a final reveal and conclusion. The assignment included in the quickstart document walks through the intent of each phase and how a facilitator might lead players through them to create a story together.

Lead designer Spenser Starke teaches the basics of Candela Obscura.Watch on YouTube

Overall, the quickstart guide offers a thin but comprehensive look at the system, alongside a several-page gazetter on the Fairelands and its dominant factions and alliances. There’s information on how characters should react to magic and the paranormal, and several discussion on sensitively handling the depiction of material in a horror or horror-adjacent game - lead designers Spenser Starke (Alice is Missing) and Rowan Hall explicitly try to curtail some of the worst assumption often trafficked in with this genre.

The 26-page quickstart guide is available on Darrington Press’ website and can be downloaded for free, along with a Circle sheet, character sheets and five pregenerated characters - one for each role. The actual play, starring Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Robbie Daymond, Anjali Bhimani, Matt Mercer and featuring Taliesin Jaffe, premieres on Critical Role’s Twitch and YouTube channels at 7 p.m. Pacific on May 25th. Candela Obscura’s full core rulebook is currently planned to release later in 2023.

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