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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- My boss and I went to the firing range one day, though I had attempted to do so to get into his good graces.
- 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.
Horrified at your new nature, you withdraw from society. Where do you hide? How do you feed? Create a stationary Resource which shelters you.
I couldn’t bare to see my wife for fear that she’d get infected from Cullen’s Disease, so I hid away at a homeless shelter. There, as I saw someone come in with a bleeding injury, I felt the urge to drink that blood. That night, I… ate him. I drank his blood, then consumed the body… No one will miss them. Nor will they miss the other people…
So, the rules state I need to make this a single sentence… However, at this point, I’ve kinda broken that rule. So, each paragraph will be an experience, each three will be a Memory. Next roll…
You murder someone you love or respect rather than let them expose you. Kill a Character. Check a Skill.
However, my wife found me and caught me right as I was about to feast on another homeless person… In the heat of the moment, I shot at her, then proceeded to devour her to be rid of the evidence. I cried the rest of the night, digesting the “food” I had made for myself…
… Dark. And that’s my character’s first memory complete and the first skill checked. I may need to look into getting a diary.
New laws or social mores make it harder for you to hide among the populace. How are you nearly caught and destroyed? Check a Skill. Create a Skill. Create a mortal criminal who assists you.
There was a law that was passed that ensured that those without homes end up immediately moving into newly made eco-houses where their first five years are paid off by the government. When it was time for me to get put into a home, I made up a tax report that told them that I wasn’t who I said I was. I was no longer Elijah Brown, but rather Eliot Yale. I thought I got away, but that’s when I saw Mr. Giovanni’s right hand man, Bruno, tell me how my fraudulence could help his family…
Things are looking rather well for Elija- Er… Eliot.
An enemy Character uses a lost Resource to turn your few friends against you. Check three Skills to regain the Resource, or check one Skill to barely survive. Which former friend did you kill? Where do you flee?
Ooooh snap… This is rough.
However, as I was to move into the criminal underworld with this skill, my boss dug up evidence that pinned me to the disappearance of Isabella by deducing that she disappeared after heading into the shelter and how I nearly exposed myself. I instead framed him for murdering Isabelle, for which the penalty would must assuredly be death. However, I am forced to flee this wretched city, closer to the den of thieves of which I shall remain with.
So, he has two characters killed off so far, the shelter biting him in the ass constantly, and he’s nowhere closer to finding where Dr. Cullen is. This hurts.
Generations of the same family serve you. This line starts from any living mortal Character, or from the descendants of a dead mortal Character. What bizarre rituals do they tie to their servitude? Lose a Resource and create a Servitors of the Lineage Resource.
Hmm… This is actually interesting.
As I entered the criminal underworld, Bruno had been assigned to be my servant, helping me with my duties. Though, there was the bizarre ritual of him cutting off his ring finger to swear loyalty to me. In secret, I slurped up the blood he left behind.
So, now I have two completed memories. I will need to make sure the next resource I make has to be a diary so I can keep those memories, lest my character forgets about his wife or the mafia he’s a part of.
How do you find solace from the raging hunger within you? You may lose one checked or unchecked Skill.
As my stomach began to beg for more and more blood, I found myself unable to attend church or even read the bible – as such, I lost my bible studying.
Now, if I have to check a skill that I have already checked, that’s game over, so what I’m doing is a heavy risk, but I feel like, with the life he’s currently living right now, it’s not going to be long before he’s forced to face the sunlight.
Your servants are numerous, enthusiastic, and sometimes useless. Create a Skill based on a Memory, this is the Skill you use to control them.
And we get our first back-up prompt and I like how it’s a sequel to a previous prompt.
I am the don of a vast mafia family. I know not how I entered it or how I became its master, but I now godfather over the mafia…
To reflect that I had to lose the memory of being with the Mafia, I decided to do a time skip to about ten years into the future (so now it’d be 2030) when my character has taken over the mafia. Bruno and Mr. Giovanni are dead, but in their place is another servitor named Blue.
There is a great shift in the way society moves goods. How does this work to your advantage? Check a Skill. Create a Skill based on a Memory.
I recall how Amazon uses drones to move and manipulate packages, and now it’s the norm. I used my men to go and gather as many drones, then repurpose them to become weapons… We can now operate drones.
I’m kinda cheating a little since I included Drones as a resource we have now.
Create a mortal Character. You have shaped them from infancy to be exactly what you want. Lose a Resource.
Azure was a fine assassin that I trained since the day he was born. I even handed him my pistol as a sign of respect…
To be fair, I could have used Blue for this, but it’s implied that he comes from a lineage of servants which means if he dies, another person takes his place.
A long dead mortal Character returns. What do they want from you? How have they survived death? You only recognize them if you still have a related Memory. Check a Skill.
This is interesting since I have four dead characters, I can revive here… Do I go for his wife, his boss, his mafia lord, or even Bruno?
I think the wife would be a fun scenario, so let’s go with that…
In the middle of the night, I puked out Isabella from my body. Even though she was long digested, she erupted from my body as a sludge-like entity. And, to confirm my fears, she was a living conduit of Cullen’s Disease, though she wants nothing to do with me…
So, this is going to be very interesting. Especially since I didn’t wipe his memory of Isabella.
You are forced to adopt a new name. Why?
Eventually, the name of Eliot Yale and even Elijah Brown felt stale for me. A don like me needed to be more intimidating… So, I decided on the name of Diavolo… The devil.
You are exposed as a monster and flee to a far-off land. Lose any stationary Resources. You do not know the language of this new place—how do you overcome this obstacle? What new name do you take?
My name is Diavolo… At least, that is the name I have chosen for myself. The sludge that was once my wife had exposed me for being a blood thirsty monster and sent a mob after me. I was forced to live in Italy where I learned the tongue through a book.
And another memory is forever gone to make room for a new one. Speaking of…
You disguise yourself with an entirely new persona. Take an old Memory and modify it to make it contemporary and bland. Create a Skill based on blending in.
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.
I couldn’t bare to see my wife for fear that she’d know about my affairs, so I hid away at a homeless shelter.
However, my wife found me and caught me right as I was about to cheat on her yet again… In the heat of the moment, I shot at her. I cried the rest of the night.
And now we get to a juicy bit where the vampire is slowly losing his overall goal. He now doesn’t remember why he left his wife or that he ate her. Now he just remembers that, overnight, he puked out someone who has the resemblance of his wife and happens to be a conduit of Cullen’s Disease. The skill he’s taking is Cheating.
I can say that another ten years has passed, so now we’re in 2040.
You encounter the descendant of an old foe and help them in some way. Why did you do this? Check a Skill. Create a mortal Character.
I met Mr. Stanley’s son, Dennis, as he was in Italy in a honeymoon that he didn’t sign up for. I had realized that my memory has faded a bit, but I recalled how I cheated on my wife a few times and, knowing he wanted out of it, I helped him by making it look like he cheated on his wife.
You fall into a deep slumber for a hundred years. Strike out any mortal Characters.
We’re now in the year 2140.
The deceptions you practice fool even yourself. Combine any three Traits to fabricate an Experience that you believe to be true.
I think Mr. Stanley is still alive and is operating the drones I had stolen oh so long ago via a neural network.
That’ll be interesting if it turns out to be true.
Your body is distant from human concerns. Lose a Memory slot. Erase your oldest extant name.
That would be Elijah Brown, so his introductory memory is gone. I mean, it makes sense, he began to call himself Diavolo now.
Punish someone because of this false Memory. You kill a or maim a Character. Check a Skill. Take the Skill I Know What’s Real.
… I’m going to cheat a little because I don’t have any checked skills so I check the skill “I Know What’s Real” and I’ll introduce Dennis’s grandson Fennis just to kill him off.
They repay your kindness by lashing out at those they perceive as your enemies. A Character is killed.
… Can Immortals die? I think so, because the game involves killing your character off… If so, I can have them kill off Dr. Cullen.
I have murdered Fennis, the great grandson of Mr. Stanley… Though I had realized too late that his grandfather, Dennis, had slain the infamous Dr. Cullen for me… All that’s left now… is to find the cure.
Things fall to dust. Lose a Resource for which you have no corresponding Memory. Do not create a new Experience for this Prompt, it simply happens as you stare in silence.
Since my character has forgotten about being a Godfather, he loses that, since the rules state that if I don’t have an item to cross off (I still have the Cross in my memory and everything else I already lost), I can lose a skill instead.
One of your real Memories turns out to be completely fabricated, a fever dream spun of cobwebs. Completely erase one Memory.
Actually, no, this is my chance to erase the memory of Isabelle, remove the cross, then keep the Godfather skill in case. This means now he has completely forgotten about Isabella.
The mortal is in grave peril. Check a Skill or lose a Resource to save them, otherwise they die a terrible death.
Erm… Okay? Don’t know what to do here… Well, technically my character was sleeping for a hundred years so perhaps they died killing Dr. Cullen.
And now, we get to the first prompt I get to completely skip onto the next prompt:
You are a creature with habits of unknown origin. Lose an unchecked Skill for which you have no corresponding Memory.
I… have none. All of my skills are checked, even the ones Diavolo has no memory of and the one that wasn’t was already lost. The prompt itself doesn’t put my character into immediate danger like the other ones.
Your thoughts are calcifying, your habits are tyrants. You are nearly captured by an enemy who has been studying your patterns over many years. Break a Resource and remake it into something new and surprising.
Such as this. I don’t have any resource to break because I lost them all, so I can say here that my character could just be captured by an enemy. I’ll introduce this person as a Neural Network, but Diavolo will believe that it’s Mr. Stanley.
Mr. Stanley had captured me with his drones and has me locked up for experimentations on how to cure Cullen’s Disease…
How do you conceal yourself while you sleep? What steps have you taken for protection? Check a Skill and create a Resource. Create a mortal servant Character, if you like.
To those thinking that I should have had Diavolo killed off a few prompts ago, this is where the buck stops. He can’t conceal himself for sleep because he’s being experimented on, so I can just say the following:
In the end, Elijah Brown, or as he was known in his twilight years, Diavolo, died after his organs were harvested to create a vaccine for Cullen’s Disease, which had spread across the globe after an outbreak in 2121 devastated a large chunk of the world. As the progenitor of the disease next to Dr. Cullen and the Sludge formerly known as Isabella Brown, he had the closest ties to the disease compared to everyone else.
2140 was the year in which Cullen’s Disease was driven to the brink of extinction, with only a few remaining strands left in either sentinel islands untouched by civilizations or in a lab to be toyed with even further…
This was a really great journaling game. Dare I say it, it’s the best one I’ve played.
The premise itself is easy to understand: it’s your character’s transformation into a vampire and the struggles they have to go through. While that already has a good Narrativist angle to the game, it also adds a Gamist element through the mechanics of Skills and Resources.
Over time, you accumulate skills and resources of which you can use and lose. It creates a timer for your character where, if they can’t check a skill or lose a resource, the game is just over and your vampire meets an untimely end. Survive long enough and roll high, however, and you’ll run into prompts that flat out tell you that the story ends and how it does so. So, there is an overall limit to how long the game can be played for.
By far the best mechanic, however, is the Memory system. As you answer more and more prompts, you create experiences of which to plug into five memories. When your memory has three experiences, the memory is “completed”, but if you need to add a new experience and there’s no room left, you have to delete a memory to make room. The only way to avoid this sort of thing is to get a Diary resource, which can hold an additional four memories, but they can’t be altered once put in and if they’re lost, the memories go with them.
Gameplay mechanics wise, this doesn’t affect the vampire much, but narratively, this adds a new level of depth to the story as the vampire slowly loses who he once was, old enemies become blurs in your mind and if you play long enough, you may even have created a character arc for your vampire to follow.
This, along with the additional concept of time advancing every handful of prompts, conveys a concept that Vampire: The Masquerade/Requiem had tried to implement through gameplay: the loss of humanity. In Vampire, this is done through a karma mechanic where, if you do a bad thing, you need to make a check in order to keep your humanity intact, lest your vampire slowly goes to 0 and become a mindless zombie. In Thousand-Year-Old Vampire, however, this is done through answering prompts and losing the earthly attachments you have. You end up feeling the pain that the vampire goes through and even feel pity for the vampire once and a while.
And then there’s the appendix. There’s quite a lot of content from the PDF that is quite surprising. The notable thing is having more prompts to use if you ever feel the need, leading to a total of 135 or so bonus prompts on top of the 222 prompts you get from the base section (well, 80, but 71 of those prompts come in threes in case you run into them again), allowing for a grand total of around 350-400 prompts. Now that’s some replay value.
Another interesting appendix is this flower tool that is a very unique kind of tool. At first, it feels like the X-Card in which it’s meant to be a sort of indicator of comfortableness by using pre-set phrases that express how you’re feeling but as I looked more into it, I realized it’s so much more than just a self-regulated “I’m uncomfortable, let me stop myself” tool. It keeps track of how your playstyle works so that, at the end of your game, you can see how often you entered the uncomfortable zones.
So, if I was playing the game and most of the time I’m thinking stuff like “I’m grinning like a fool” or “I’m curious about what happens next”, then I’m mostly having a green experience, but if I feel stuff like “I’m disconnected and disengaged” or “I got myself distracted”, then it’s a red experience. Yellow experiences like “I lost track of time” or “I feel sorry for this character” are more indicative of a deep investment and so, if you have an equal mix of yellow and green experiences, then overall, your playstyle is optimal. A lot of red experiences may result in you evaluating how you play or what you enjoy. It’s a really great tool to have and is possibly one of the best tools to have for solo play, as this may optimize enjoyment from solo gaming.
The other appendixes are stuff like random numbers for those who don’t have dice, interviews and designer’s notes, an obligatory sheet to keep track of (which I will post my filled out one below), and something odd…
Appendix VII is “what’s a roleplaying game”. Lots of games have this, especially those made to introduce new players to the hobby, such as licensed games (as they have the marque value to drag potential fans into the game) but… This is something I’m a little confused with.
The section is covered up with pictures and even some sentences end up being blurred out on the second page of the section. However, as I tinkered with the PDF, I noticed that there isn’t a lot of text that’s covered by the pictures, there’s distinguishable text at the bottom of the second page (below the blurred text) that clearly says “fold me”, and the text that I was able to select either gave a clear cut definition of what an RPG is to those with some experience in the hobby and a vague mention of something to do with St. Augustine being a precursor to events…
With those in mind, I have reason to believe this was deliberately made either as a clever way to say “you know how RPGs work by now, so here’s the brief skimmy” or some attempt at an ARG. Either way, this is pretty cool, albeit a little disorientating at first glance.
And that’s all I have to say about Thousand-Year-Old Vampire for now. It’s a really good storytelling game and is worth a play if you hadn’t tried it yet. I definitely recommend also trying out the Thousand-Year-Old Flower mechanic, as it can be a very handy tool to have.
However, this isn’t where I’m ending discussion of this game. I’m going to do a follow up post later in the month about how it compares to the other journaling games I’ve played. Until then, bon voyage, gamers!
EDIT: Forgot the sheet: