I’ve often been frustrated with solo RPGs, they never quite manage to do what I want them to do, and that’s to empower me with the feeling that I can do whatever I want, but all that’s about to change.
Thousand Year Old Vampire is different to anything I’ve played before, much different, and at the moment I still haven’t really made my mind up whether this is really a game or an exercise for budding novelists.
Written by Tim Hutchings, Thousand Year Old Vampire is a single book that features character creation and a series of prompts, which are used to drive the story along. There are also a series of additional prompts in the appendices, just to spice things up in further play-throughs, and multiplayer rules, which I haven’t explored myself.
The general basis of the game is that you are creating memories. These memories belong to your vampire and tell of the experiences he or she has endured during the long life of being an immortal.
So, who is this vampire?
Character creation is simple – you make it up! There are no tables to consult, no races to select, no character classes to conform to and no restrictive alignments to keep you in check.
Instead the game suggests you, ‘Start by imagining a person in the distant past… This person will become your vampire.’ And so, you begin the journey into your own imagination.
My vampire, Felix, was an orphan born into the Roman army, who, with time, had risen to the rank of Optio Centuriae.
Your vampire has 5 active memories at any one time, and each memory holds three experiences. For your first experience you are told to encapsulate the vampire’s history before they became undead, and so, I added that I my mother died during childbirth, and that my father was unknown to me – I now had a brief experience of who I was, how I came to be on this earth, and where I’d progressed to.
The next part of character generation is to create at least three mortals who have some relationship with your vampire, describing each in a few words. One of mine was Sabine, my lover and soul mate – an orphan like me.
Three skills need to be given to your vampire, and again you have free rein on what to choose, but they should be fitting for your vampire. Literacy (he’s an Optio), Killer with the Gladius, and master of the dice, were Felix’s three skills.
In the same manner three resources get added, and they can be anything from personal effects to structures and land, any assets you wish to choose, and again they should fit with the image of your vampire. Lucky dice, a scarab broach that apparently belonged to my father, and a bag containing 500 sesterce – my winnings – were the simple belongings of mine.
Then things start to get a little more creative as you have to add three more experiences, each to be entered in a separate memory – more about this shortly – and each should combine two of your vampire’s traits (characters/resources). Throughout the game you are encouraged to push your boundaries and not to overthink things – be creative and instinctive; don’t be afraid to put your vampire in uncomfortable situations, both to your character and yourself.
Experiences should be written in the manner one might write in a diary, and that is how lost memories get stored – ‘Sabine came to me in the night and gave herself to me; I gave her the scarab broach to wear.’
Finally, you create an immortal, the one who turned you into an undead vampire. Along with this you must generate an experience – how you became a vampire – and give yourself a mark, which is a distinguishing feature that sets you apart and indicates you aren’t quite what you seem.
My immortal was, ‘Marius Vinicius – A cunning old man, at least in appearance; a man of power in Rome and yet content to follow this army around’.
The experience – ‘I was summoned to Marius Vinicius, a foul breathed man with a vulgar disposition. He demanded that I make a gift of my broach (why?) and hand it to him; he threatened the life of my lover and we fought. His strength was that of an ox, his speed almost snake like – he won. He blew his foul odour into my eyes and for some time I was unable to see, but that wasn’t all that he did…’
And my mark – ‘My eyes glow in the dark, causing anything that I stare at to shrink away in fear.’
That is character generation. There are plenty of examples to lead you along the right path and the only restriction is that of your own imagination. You are also encouraged to use the Internet and add factual occurrences into your story.
It certainly is a different and somewhat refreshing way of creating a character, though it takes a bit of getting used to. Once you’re up and running, though, as you become more familiar with your creation, you soon start expanding on your entries.
Over time memories will be lost, each can only hold three experiences, and when you lose them they get transferred to a diary; they become just writing, things that happened to your vampire in the past, but now you have moved on and they have become inconsequential to the now – forgotten.
This avoids things getting stuck in a rut later on; you are gaining new experiences all the time and it enables you to take things in a new direction without worrying about continuity. The story also covers a large passing of time, so things can jump ahead by decades, even centuries, and so those mortals you create will wither and die, also to be forgotten.
So, you have your vampire, what now?
There are two ways to approach the ‘game’: The Quick Game or the Journaling Game.
The quick sees you restricting your answers to short sentences aimed at keeping the game fast and furious. The journaling, on the other hand, is about writing your answers to the prompts in a longer, more descriptive format, doing research and building a story around your vampire.
Once you’ve decided which way to approach the game you read and answer prompt 1.
I’ll give you this one, but from here on in I won’t be revealing any more of the story…
Prompt 1 – In your blood-hunger you destroy someone close to you. Kill a mortal character… Take the skill Bloodthirsty.
My answer for this: I woke back in my tent (after being made a vampire by Marius), Sabine looking on, distraught, concerned, all her emotions written across her face. My head pounded. I pushed her away and left the camp to roam the woods, to clear my head from tormented images (the blood); foolishly, she followed. I could hear her (heart) as she approached, could taste her (blood) scent. Couldn’t control the rage, couldn’t control myself; I tore into her, fulfilling the need to feed (to drink). In my violence (bloodlust) I almost tore her head from her body, and I drank heavily of her life’s liquid – I Killed Her!
As you can probably guess, I went for the Journaling option.
After answering prompt 1 you roll two dice, a d10 and a d6. You take the d6 result from that of the d10 and then advance that many prompts forward (or backwards if it’s negative). Some prompts have a number of entries, so if you revisit one you move down the list and read the next prompt. You can never go further back than prompt 1.
Obviously, things should slowly move forward, and you keep on going until you reach your demise. Memories get moved to your diary and slowly they dwindle away into the dark domains of your mind, to become forgotten and meaningless to your modern(ish) day vampire, who has lived centuries within the world you have created.
And that’s about it; such a simple concept really, so let’s move to my thoughts on, Thousand Year Old Vampire.
Firstly, is it really a game?
My first thoughts were, no, it’s an exercise for creating stories, for learning to use your imagination and honing your writing skills. But after giving it further consideration – second, third, and even fourth thoughts – I’ve plumbed for, yes, it most definitely is a game.
Think of solo, ‘choose your own path’ games, where you’re presented with a page of text followed by a number of options for you to choose from. This is exactly the same, except here you can choose to answer the prompts in any way you want, as long as you fulfil the requests. And it works!
The prompts cleverly steer your story along and I was surprised just how well things progressed. Things never got bogged down in uncertainty; by the time you’ve created your character and answered the first couple of prompts, you and your vampire become very familiar, both for good and bad.
At times I loved my creation; sometimes I felt sorry for him, and then there were the times when I loathed what he’d become. The game wants to push you into uncomfortable situations, ‘Characters might engage in self-harm or drug abuse, illness, debilitation, and body horror…’, and there is a welcome appendix covering safe play at the back of the book.
From my full play-through it appeared that you only engage in these types of activity if you actively pursue them through your own writing. The prompts are suggestive but other than chaos, murder and the killing of a fair amount of characters, there was nothing that specifically pushed too far, so it would seem to be that the player is in full control of where they wish the game to go.
A lot of people will, though, be turned off because of its dark and, at times, violent undercurrents, and I would certainly advise caution if you’re unsure about approaching and pursuing these things.
Out of the two suggested ways to approach the game, I thought journaling game was definitely the way forward. By choosing the quick game you’ll be missing out on so much – the attachment to your character doesn’t reach the same level of intensity, the places you go and the characters you create don’t have the depth they deserve, and I found the experience to be a bit unrewarding, but that was after playing the journaling game.
The journaling game enables one to delve into history, maybe you’ll have your vampire meet the kings and queens of times past, or influence historic events, possibly changing the world as we know it. The possibilities are endless, but it does take work, some research, an active imagination, and the want to write.
When all is done, though, you’ll have the life of your vampire all laid out before you – your creation – with its memories laid out in some form of order. Memories will have been forgotten, literally crossed off as though they never happened, and a few more twists and turns that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
I must quickly mention the artwork and format of the book – or PDF in my case. A lot of the pages are made to replicate a scrap book, but I found it distracting and it didn’t really appeal to me at all. There are, however, some good pieces of art here and there, and they deserve a good gander at as not everything is as it first appears.
Character creation is well presented, with lots of examples – there’s a couple of pages featuring example experiences – but it may take a couple of readings before the penny drops on exactly how the game works, but when it does things are pretty straightforward.
The pages with the prompts feature enough space for anyone playing the quick game to write their retort underneath, though I felt this was unnecessarily wasted space (especially if you print out the PDF version to play), and I can’t imagine anyone writing in their hard-backed version of the book, there is also a character sheet, but I paid it no attention and used my own version written in a note pad.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that the best way to keep track of everything is to use a computer. Entering your experiences into your memories is so much easier on a word processor, where you can create space wherever you need it rather than trying to squeeze your latest feeding session in the area of a postage stamp.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game, and I did take my time, usually answering one or two prompts a day. I would read a prompt and then go away, think it over, just me and my vampire – what would he do? I might do a little research into the period he was currently hunting in, and I would mull over the consequences of his actions. To get the best from this game you want to take your time, savour every memory, form attachments to the other characters you create, it makes it all the more meaningful when you decide to end their life.
If you like writing stories, or enjoy the role-playing aspect of games, then this may well interest you, as long as you don’t mind the idea of being led along a dark and often chaotic path, that is.
Play the journalistic version, become emotionally attached to your creation, push your own boundaries, and this can prove to be a very rewarding, and at times mentally draining, experience, one that I’m glad I made.
As far as solo RPGs go, this one is unique, at least to me, and the system works solidly. You do have to make a few mental swerves when putting the experiences into a logical place within your limited memories, and the story can falter very slightly if you end up rolling a few negatives in succession – you end up on second or third entries for a particular prompt, but find you have forgotten the original memory already, and so it can be awkward getting things to fit in coherently within your story. But it is your story and so you can do whatever you like, and I did tailor a few old memories to give things greater continuity, but I was happy doing so, so who cares!
It isn’t something that I would immediately replay but give it time and I might want to dabble again. There are, after all, limitless options when one really engages their imagination, and I have a feeling my next vampire might live to see our future, feeding within the immersive world of video games, or hunting lone hover car drivers as they make their way through the seedy streets of some distant planet – the paths are endless, just like my lust for… blood!
Thousand Year Vampire is available to purchase HERE, both in hard copy ($43.55) and downloadable PDF (the one I have, currently $10.05)