Skip to main content
  1. Posts/

Too Many Games 2024 Retrospective

·1516 words·8 mins·
Nick Dumas
Table of Contents


Driving there

My packing checklist made sure I didn’t miss anything I needed so as soon as I got on the road it was an exceptionally enjoyable trip. I had a bunch of artificially flavored sports drinks, beef jerky, raisins, I was good to go.

It took about six and a half hours but in light of the multiple 10-14 hour white-knuckle hauls I’ve had to undertake it was a dream. The weather was warm but not sweltering and frequent cloud cover and light rain kept the temperature mostly within reason. The real highlight of the drive was a really tiny boat on a trailer named “Toot Toot”. Good luck out there, Toot Toot.

The Lodgings

I thought my friends booked an AirBnB but they just booked a regular BnB, some secluded farmhouse well into the rural outskirts of Philadelphia. The farmhouse has wireless, hot water, a fridge, and air conditioning so I can’t complain. We picked up our badges and got some food, nothing interesting to note.

just around dusk I saw a deer, I think a white tail doe, which was a real treat.

A blurry image of a white tail doe grazing on bushes and small trees at the edge of the property line.
She ran away pretty quickly, I don’t remember what spooked her.


The tabletop offerings didn’t really line up with my schedule, I wanted to spend the evening mostly with my friends while we had the time and all the interesting games stretched well past 6PM. I signed up for one game which was pitched to me as “everybody dies at the end”: Ten Candles.

After that, we rocked around the merch hall, I grabbed a few gifts, and we killed a little time before the one Friday panel that caught my eye.

Character Study, Writing, and Creation

This panel was hosted by panelists who introduced themselves as Rachel and Guinevere. I wasn’t fast enough to catch all of their social media details but you can find Guinevere here.

The panel was really solid. Rachel and Guinevere were enthusiastic and knowledgeable and made a point of treating writing and narrative-building as an exercise in fun that anyone can engage in which I found refreshing.

The core thesis ended up being very straightforward: learn your character. The most important detail is motivation: what do they what, why, what are they willing to do to get it? Only marginally less important, and now in no particular order:

  • Who are their allies? What (dis)qualifies someone for this status?
  • Background/upbringing.
  • Who is in their life? Friends? Family? Lovers?
  • What kind of world do they inhabit?

Guinevere led a practical demonstration by analyzing two characters to identify these attributes in Astarion of Baldur’s Gate 3 and Trilla Suduri from some Star Wars games I never bothered paying any attention to. Quick breakdowns of their motivations and important relationships and a contrast between the two: Astarion’s need for freedom remains steady throughout his arc while Trilla eventually sets aside her vengeance and reaches some sort of peace.

They closed out the panel with a short discussion on ways to get in tune with your character, including but not limited to:

  • pinterest board
  • playlist
  • collage
  • find an aesthetic that suits them
  • list of inspiration sources
  • pick out a birthday
  • likes and dislikes
  • draw, make a paper doll, visualize the character

The Q&A was funny, two of the three questions I heard were just monologues about personal experiences with bad roleplay which does legitimately suck but also isn’t really a question. All in all, excellent panel.


My agenda for Saturday was pretty light: the character writing panel was the only talk that really set my heart on fire, I wasn’t going to compete in any tournaments, and I absolutely did not want to spend more time in the merch hall than necessary.

I woke up early and saw a white-tail buck grazing down by the stream on the edge of the property. I kept myself busy until around 10 when I left for the Audobon Museum.

An even blurrier image of a white tail buck grazing on shrubs and trees.
I couldn’t count clearly, but this one was at least a 4 pointer, possibly 6.
Another photo of a white tail buck grazing through shrubs and small trees.
This one didn’t get scared at any point, he just grazed himself into the forest and out of sight.

The Audubon Museum

I did a bit of shopping for museums and the bummer was that most of the big ones are in the city center proper meaning parking and ticket prices were exorbitant. To my absolute delight, I saw that the Audubon museum and estate were closer to the lodgings than even the convention center, had free parking, and a $7 dollar admission. Sold.

A purple-pink and red flower in the foreground with dense green foliage behind.
I don’t know what this is, I just thought the colors were so pretty.

The museum was relatively small but really well done. The exhibits were not overloaded with jargon, the artwork on display was incredible, and the estate was lovely to visit and walk around. I only took one picture of this gorgeous pink/fuschia flower I didn’t recognize:


Lunch was a real gift. I went to a place called Baba’s and got a chicken sandwich that was absolutely sublime. Definitely going to go back next year.

Ten Candles

Ten Candles is an improvised horror storytelling game with some really interesting mechanics. A full reproduction would be in bad form, so I’ll stick to the highlights:

  • everybody dies at the end
  • fully improvised
  • lots of dice!
  • set stuff on fire
Character Creation

What I loved most about character creation was Vice, Virtue, and Brink. Each player writes one virtue and one vice on separate index cards. Virtue is handed to the player to the left, Vice to the right. Brink describes an action taken by a character (based on their vice), and is handed to the same player who received the Vice you wrote.

You also write down a brief character bio and a Moment which describes a moment that gives your character Hope, capitalized because it becomes a mechanic when the Moment is activated. All your cards are stacked in front of you in one pile. Their order cannot be changed once the game begins.


Gameplay revolves around two systems: the dice pool and the candles. The dice pool is equal to the number of lit candles and you start with ten.

When a character takes an action, they roll the dice pool. The presence of any number of sixes indicates that the player who rolled may narrate the results of their action. It does not signify that the action must succeed or turn out positively for the character, just who narrates.

The presence of a one is significantly more serious; all ones are removed from the dice pool unless the roller sacrifices one of their four cards: Vice, Virtue, Character, or Brink. If a card is sacrificed, you can reroll the ones. If you get any ones, the sacrifice was in vain and the dice are not returned to the pool. Otherwise, the dice return to the pool.

Moment is unique in that it can be activated at will if it’s at the top of your stack. You activate your Moment, describe an action you take to express the Moment, and roll the dice pool. If you succeed, you earn a Hope die. Hope die are per-player. Your Hope die counts as a success on 5 and 6, and is never removed from your personal pool.

If your roll has no sixes and you do not reroll, you fail. A candle is extinguished.

The core gameplay loops boils down to this:

  • A character takes an action
  • They roll the dice pool
  • The dice pool either shrinks ( ones were not rerolled by a card sacrifice ) or remains the same ( no ones were rolled to begin with)
  • The action succeeds or it fails which results in the snuffing of a candle

There’s more details, like a process after a candle is extinguished by which players take turns making new, true statements about the world and its occupants, but I think the important parts are here.

Mystery Shed

I found out that this creepy stone shed was the source of a pool of water that fed a rivulet connected to the larger stream running through the property. Was it built on a spring? I don’t know enough about hydrogeology to even begin to speculate.


Sunday was thankfully extremely uneventful. Packing and checking out was smooth, nobody forgot anything, and we all got to hug before we went our separate ways. The drive home was smooth and straightforward, and I was unpacked by dinner time.

I didn’t spend as much time at the convention as I expected, the board game sessions were all extremely long and a lot of them would’ve had me at the convention center well past 8 or 9 in the evening. I’m really glad I got to play Ten Candles and to cook on an open fire with my friend Lyssa. The trip ended up being more of a nature retreat but that’s kinda what I needed. I feel pretty refreshed and definitely appreciative of what I’ve got at home.


How to find that one volume you're pretty sure you didn't lose
·440 words·3 mins
Docker volumes can be opaque, so I wrote a small bash script to help you troubleshoot.
Stamping Builds with Bazel
·667 words·4 mins
Versioning is a critical part of delivering software to users. With bazel, you can derive per-build values and inject them anywhere in your build process.
Non-mechanical Tabletop Gaming Fundamentals
·639 words·3 mins
A non-exhaustive list of tips and rules that elevate my tabletop gaming.