The Quiet Year Post-Mortem

My overall thoughts on The Quiet Year are that this is a pretty great map-making game. So long as you have a good idea in mind for the setting, you can pretty much make a fun story out of it. As a solo game, however, it is rather difficult to figure out a way to play this solo without betraying the core rules of the game.

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A Quiet Year To Close Out SGAM 2020

For this year’s Solo Gaming Appreciation Month, I decided to do what I usually do and roll three of the challenges into one: try out a new game that involves map-making (possibly analog) and then review it. Well, turns out there’s a game I heard that is basically that: The Quiet Year. I heard quite a bit about this game and I feel like this would be a good time to finally play it.

It’s one of those games that have physical properties to them. In this case, a deck of cards and tokens are needed alongside the rules and dice. There’s also, as the above paragraph implies, paper and an index card required. I’ll be drawing the map on GIMP and will have a separate document for the index card.

So, the plot for this game is that, after warring with a group called the Jackals, a village is given one quiet year (hehe) to themselves before winter comes. When it comes, it will bring with it things called the Frost Shepherds. I imagine these would be akin to the White Walkers from a Song of Ice and Fire or, if we want to be obscure with the references, the Ice Jester’s forces from Feast of Legends.

Right out of the gate, the small rulebook I can keep in my pocket is a really nice, step-by-step guide for learning how to play the game. Easily a good way to help get the ball rolling for solo play. One section was very thought provoking, as it tells people to “dispassionately introduce dilemma”. This basically tells me that there’s more to this game than “hehe, draw stuff” like I had originally thought.

Speaking of, my instruction is to now draw the map based off details and already, we’re gonna need to do a variant because there’s no group, just the solo. Rather than “each player adds a detail”, I’ll instead apply it as “four details about your map”.

So, here are my four: The village is inside a naturally made crater. Man-made stairs were placed to get to the surface, alongside aural shields to protect them. The last detail is that, each house contains ten people. So, already we have protection from predators as an Abundance, perhaps what powers it is a Scarcity. Food and water, I think it might be normal levels.

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Tales of the Winter Pyro

Reflecting on the past journal games made me realize that Winter, while a fun game, needed some improving, especially having played Thousand-Year-Old Vampire. So, I decided to hack the game to make it a little more automated. You can read the rules here. It’s slightly more expanded than the previous hack I did of Winter and I’ll get into those details when possible and if not, I’ll explain more in the end.

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Storyline: The Witch’s Downfall

For Halloween, I’m going to play the Scary Tales variant of Storyline. Spooky, I know. Before we begin this session, however, we have some new tokens that are different from the old tokens, so, I’ll break down the rules for those:

  • The Grave: This character is already dead. Introduce them as a posthumous character like a ghost.
  • The Magic Hat: This character knows magic.
  • The Rose: This NPC also has a [Place], [Action], or [Object]. Counts as a 2.
  • The Bones: This character is doomed to die. Their death is mandatory for the story to conclude. Counts as a 3.

With that out of the way, let us begin the Scary Storyline.

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Thousand Year Old Vampire Post-Mortem

While not truly RPGs in a traditional sense, journaling games seem to have a large place in my heart, as some good stories can be told with just a prompt and a few gameplay mechanics to drive the narrative further. I had earlier said how Thousand-Year-Old Vampire was one of the best, if not the best, journaling games I have ever played. I’m going to expand on that by comparing it to the other journal games I have played, as I feel like Thousand-Year-Old Vampire fixed the holes I had with those games.

Now, I shall start with a disclaimer. Obviously, no RPG is created equal (even those that share the same system will have their differences), especially in the terms of quality, as some of these games were made for Jams. I love all these games evenly, as they each hold a place in my heart. However, it’s through comparing do we see how a game mechanic makes the game enjoyable, especially in examining through a solo lens. With that out of the way, let’s begin with…

Winter: A Vampire Does Not Choose Their Path

Winter is an interesting game about surviving in the trench during WWI. It serves as a nice introduction to journaling games, though upon examination, there’s a bit of a flaw with it. You’re able to freely choose which scene you can do. This doesn’t sound bad at first, especially when other journal games just randomly decide the scenes for you, but there’s a problem.

There’s no real incentive to pick the scenes. Any of them, actually. Now, I can kinda see how the game can be polished in a way where each scene contributes to something, such as Camaraderie scenes restoring hope or Survival scenes recovering health. However, rules as written, there’s no real benefit to them. Especially since Volunteer scenes, one of the four options, is an almost guaranteed game over with zero reward.

The only thing that is close to something that is forced on the player’s path are the Violence scenes, in which they have to occur at least every five scenes. With how it is written, the optimal way to play the game is to pick Camaraderie scene after Camaraderie scene, since you won’t lose hope, then pick a Violence scene when the time comes, rinse and repeat until you end up succeeding in rolling for relief.

The game is Narrativist in nature, but it’s easy to see how you can get into this with a gameplay mindset and cheese the game. However, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire doesn’t have the same luxury that Winter does. You roll for the prompt and that prompt challenges you and makes you fight to keep your resources. Mechanics wise, if you run out of skills to check and items to lose, you get a game over, but narratively, each loss your vampire has is a loss for their overall humanity.

Both games are about trying to survive in a harsh world, but Thousand-Year-Old Vampire has it that you can’t just take the easy path, for a vampire doesn’t chose their path…

Beloved: A Narrow Peek to The Sky

Beloved is purely narration heavy, to the point where my game is just a story. Its premise is a simple “rescue the damsel in distress” style story where it never truly ends, as each time you beat the gauntlet of monsters, it’s revealed that your titular beloved isn’t the actual beloved and that they’re held somewhere else, and it’s up to you on whether you want to continue.

The cool thing is that everything is determined by you. What does the Beloved look like? Up to you! What are the monsters that have them captive? Up to you! How do you beat the monsters? Up to you! However, as you might tell with the infinite nature of the game, you’re bound to run out of ideas unless you use an external force like random image dice.

Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is similar in that a lot of the matters are left up to you to decide. Who is your vampire? Who are their friends and rivals? When does the story take place? However, the prompts are there to guide you along, asking questions like “how did you manage to survive almost getting caught that one time” or even “hey, you slept for this long, so now you’re in a new era!”

Despite the game being slightly more restrictive than Beloved, it gives the player leash on how to play their game and tell their story. While the sky is the limit, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire offers you a narrow peak at it…

Plot Armor: A Thousand Memories

Plot Armor’s concept is excellent. Play out a Tomino-style mecha anime where the protagonist is doomed to die at the very end. However, its execution can be odd, as the prompts used to generate each episode were limiting and its wording implies it only has one shot before it loses its impact.

I went into detail over in my game of Plot Armor, but the long story short is that you roll on two D6 tables to describe what happened in the episode. You would then roll on those over and over, no matter how many times you get the same result. The trick that makes Plot Armor enjoyable, however, is that with a combination of high dice rolls, creativity in interpreting the prompts, and maybe even implementing an optimization rule that makes the final episode #24 instead of #32, you won’t end up repeating your rolls.

However, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire ups the ante and has prepared the gamer in case they get a rerolled prompt. Each prompt is actually a mini-arc where a plot line is followed, offering three mini prompts that build up on the main prompt. If you were to revisit the prompt after answering the first one, you just move down the prompt and be asked a follow up question to the earlier prompt you’ve answered, having a theme that tied to said prompt.

And if you’ve exhausted all three mini-prompts? You’re advised to skip to the next immediate prompt. This, along with many different prompts to utilize, including alternative prompts in the appendix if you feel dicey, means that you won’t be running into the same prompts repeatedly.

The Beast/Holidays: Bonds Do Not Last

One thing about the Beast and Holidays that can’t be replicated in Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is the concept of creating a bond between yourself and another character. The Beast follows the story of a protagonist and their romantic, even sexual bond with an otherworldly creature while Holidays is more wholesome, where you spend a vacation with a partner. Their prompts are limited, but you’re also expected to play the game randomly rolling a handful of prompts (Holiday) or by seeding the deck (Beast) which means you won’t end up running into the same prompts.

Upon retrospect, these two games are practically second place in terms of best journal games I’ve played, as they invite a completely different play experience. This isn’t just your story, it’s also the story of another person you’re with, be it some sort of monster or even a loved one. Thousand-Year-Old Vampire doesn’t have that sort of bond creating process…

Since the entire point is that bonds do not last. Aside from the Immortal characters, every few prompts will see a passage of time that will mean the deaths of friends and family for your vampire, as well as any potential allies and enemies. And that’s if the prompt doesn’t tell you to kill them off personally. Not even the memories that the vampire has with them will last forever, as they too fade with time.

But, that’s the overall point of Thousand-Year-Old Vampire and what seems to be the antithesis of the Beast and Holidays. The protagonists of those games I’ve played will remember their time with Bowsette and a humanized Alolan Ninetails, but Elijah “Diavolo” Brown will never remember his wife as he used to, just a delusion that he cheated on her one night, killed her in a night of fury, and that a blob that’s the spitting image of her just came up one day… Instead of the brutal truth that he murdered her to conceal the secret that he was a vampire and proceeded to eat her corpse to dispose of the evidence only to regurgitate the blobby remnants years later.

Beast and Holidays are about the bonds one has for a few days, but Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is about the isolation of an immortal being living out a millennium. Out of the journal games I’ve played, Beast and Holidays doesn’t have any flaws that Thousand-Year-Old Vampire does better.

Conclusion: What Makes A Vampire Human?

In conclusion, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire takes what I found lacking in other journal games and heavily improves upon them with innovative ideas, all while taking a theme from one of them and turned it on its head. Looking back at the other games made me realize what sets Thousand-Year-Old Vampire apart from the others and reinforces the thought I had of it being one of the best journal games I’ve played.

If you haven’t already, I absolutely recommend Thousand-Year-Old Vampire. It is an absolute treat to play it through. Well, happy Halloween and bon voyage, Gamers.

Thousand-Year-Old Businessman

I realized that, as Halloween approaches, I should do a little more than a simple spooky variant of a story-telling game I already played. And so, I figured it was time to break out the solo gaming darling: Thousand-Year-Old Vampire.

Released earlier this year, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is about, well, a thousand-year-old vampire. Its premise is similar to Plot Armor in that it’s a journaling game that will end with your character’s death, but now, you’re a vampire instead of a pilot and you’re in a millennium-spanning historic instead of a short-lived mecha anime. 

However, there’s a lot more bells and whistles to Thousand-Year-Old Vampire in contrast to Plot Armor, such as setting up the character. So, for instance:

My name is Elijah Brown. I am a businessman working at one of Amazon’s offices. I was recently laid off due to circumstances beyond my control.

I figured to do a modern to sci-fi story here. Next will be his three Mortals.

Isabella is my wife. She’s a devout Christian and managed to convert me. Mr. Stanley was my former boss who fired me, cheap son of a bitch. Then, there’s Mr. Giovanni, my… ahem, loaner. Someone who expects me to pay him back in full by the end of next year.

And his three Skills and Resources.

As a result of my conversion, I had been skilled in bible studies and have a cross on me. While I had been laid off of my job at accounting, I was given a “severance package” for a large sum of moneyfrom Mr. Giovanni. In the off time, I practiced my right to bear arms by going to the firing range and testing out a pistol I had recently bought with my boss.

And lastly, an immortal.

One day, I found myself feeling sick from a disease that had been undiscovered. There were rumors that this disease was prominently during the days of the Spanish Influenza, but to my end, all I could find was the remnants of a doctor who tried to cure the disease: Dr. Cullen. Overnight, it seemed he had disappeared… And I was stuck with what seems to be the sequel to the Spanish Influenza, to which I nickname Cullen’s Disease.

Now to make five memories:

  1. My name is Elijah Brown. I am a businessman working at one of Amazon’s offices. I was recently laid off due to circumstances beyond my control.
  2. Isabella is my wife. She’s a devout Christian and managed to convert me. As a result of my conversion, I had been skilled in bible studies and have a cross on me.
  3. While I had been laid off of my job at accounting, I was given a “severance package” for a large sum of money from Mr. Giovanni. He expects me to pay at the end of the fiscal year or else.
  4. My boss and I went to the firing range one day, though I had attempted to do so to get into his good graces.
  5. I have been infected with Cullen’s Disease, which makes my skin pale, almost translucent in the daylight to the point where it can easily burn my skin. The most I know is that it was made by Dr. Cullen a hundred years ago.

Right out of the gate, we have ourselves a protagonist, some NPCs, and even an overall goal of finding and ridding myself of Cullen’s Disease. Now, we may properly begin our game by rolling for a prompt.

What sets this apart from Plot Armor is that not only are there a ton of prompts, but also that each prompt has its own back up prompt in case you ever come across it again. It looks at the problem that Plot Armor presented and found a means to improve upon it. Now, I shouldn’t really compare Thousand-Year-Old Vampire to Plot Armor, as Plot Armor was a one page made for a game jam while Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is close to two hundred pages and was not made for any event in mind.

However, the two are similar in the premise I had brought up earlier: they chronicle the events of a doomed protagonist and the dangerous world they have been placed in. A comparison is sort of inevitable, especially if more games like these two (or the Beast and Holidays, which also does a similar “roll for a prompt” gameplay mechanic) come out. But that’s enough banter from me, let’s get to the prompting.

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A Review of Alice Black: Blood Tribute

A couple of years ago, I purchased a Gamebook at a convention that uses the Fate Engine. I had been meaning to play it on this blog for some time and now, I feel like this is the right time. This is Alice Black: Blood Tribute (it’s also on Lulu). It is a pretty thick book at around 250 pages with a small enough pocket book size. One cool feature to note is that the game doesn’t go by pages but rather by sections. So, if you make some sort of choice, you instead go to a different chapter rather than a page.

Now, normally I would be playing through this as though this was an adventure, but I’m iffy on posting spoilers. I originally had the actual play written up to the end of the prologue (where it introduces you to the story and the premise of the gamebook), but I decided to use my better judgement and give a spoiler-free review instead in the same manner that board game reviewers do their reviews of Legacy games.

This may sound a little hypocritical, since I have tackled these kinds of gamebooks before and have spoiled the lot of them to the point where I gutted a few of them and broke down all possible routes, but allow me to explain: most of those game books were not only free to play (or pay-what-you-want), but were roughly twenty five pages at most. Barbarian Prince was also free to play and was old enough that, chances are, unless you’re new to the hobby like I am, you might have played it at some point.

While I have played a few pre-written adventures, the key difference is that those adventures are often just scripts for how certain aspects of the game would work. It’s mostly up to the GM’s discretion to figure out how those pieces worked and each story can be radically different depending on the GM, the players, the party make up, the rolls, and dozens of other variables. A CYOA Gamebook, however, doesn’t have this luxury. It gives you the story, asks you what to do, and then you read the result. It’s why I haven’t done a session on Welcome to Sand Hands.

Read more, though be warned that this may ruin your chance of playing this completely blind

How I Use CRGE Kai

This is going to explain how I use my go-to engine: CRGE-Kai.

Really, it’s just CRGE, but with Mythic and Ursa Minor attached, but I feel as though I should bring up how the process of how this works in this post so we’re all on the same page.

So, the game begins with the three factors set up: Chaos, Surge, and Turmoil. Chaos is Mythic’s Factor where it changes depending on how in control things are. Surge is CRGE’s Factor where it tracks how many vanilla Yes/No questions are asked, so as to swing the next question asked to a spicier result. And Turmoil is Ursa Minor’s Factor where it tracks uncertainty.

To give an example, the game starts at a Chaos Factor of 5, a Surge Factor of 0, and a Turmoil Factor of 2. The scene ends with the hero attracting a lot of unwanted attention from villagers and townsguard, but otherwise had the situation under control. There were also quite a lot of Yes/No answers that were vanilla, and, as a result, the Chaos Factor goes down to 4, Surge Factor goes up to 3 (as there were three vanilla yesses in a row), and the Turmoil Factor goes up to 4.

For the most part, CRGE answers the questions. When a double is rolled, either naturally or if with modifiers added, it triggers a random event, which Mythic handles. Modifiers are basically either the Surge Factor and the “odds”, which are modifiers of increments of 5 depending on how high those odds are. For example, “Has To Be” and “Impossible” are a 25 and a -25 respectively, while “Likely” and “Unlikely” are 10 and -10.

Ursa Minor activates when I either need to use something that makes long processes that require multiple rolls (i.e. combat or travel) into one single roll or when I roll an altered scene. Usually I don’t have a good idea for altered scenes, so I instead see if it triggers an incident from Ursa Minor, to which I use the incident rolls.

And… That’s roughly it. It’s simple, but at first glance, it’s understandably complex.

Storyline: The Cat and the Hen

We’re finally gonna play Storyline after about eight months… Life can be difficult sometimes.

Using the rules I discussed earlier, I will test out how the rules apply. Any tweaks will go into a later game I will play for Halloween.

The first thing I notice is that there’s two Stories to play out, as indicated by the unique backs and the numbers that dictate a set progress. I also have limited table space, so this will be a bit awkward. I will be using CRGE-Kai for these games.

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