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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Stat It: Savage Worlds

You know what? Let’s also do a Savage Worlds Stat It too! Now, for the setting, I was thinking it’d be set in the Oldlands, long after humans left it to head to the Ironlands, thus paving the way for new species, namely the non-human, non-standard fantasy races. These result in the Aquarians, Avions, Rakshashans and Saurians being the dominant races.

And our party will consist of four of them, one from each race. Originally, I was gonna make the characters on savaged.us for ease of creation, but importing them over to Foundry proved to be a tad clunky, that and I think I might be able to finely tune the characters better if I went over the process for each of them instead of clicking on stuff and seeing what happens. I’ll still use Savaged for calculating numbers, but this will mostly be done manually. I’ll add, as a house rule, that the group gets one free Background Edge.

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Stat It: Ironsworn

I keep hearing nothing but good things about Ironsworn. It seems like the game for soloists to play. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been sleeping on it for so long, perhaps it’s due to me being busy with other projects or even thinking that, since the game is tailor made for solo play, the need to review it wouldn’t be needed. Part of the reason why I do Solo RPG Voyages is to experiment with playing games meant to be played with other people.

However, after a breakdown by Trever Duvall where he and the creator of Ironsworn not only discuss the game but also stat up Arn Kalapunki for the journey, I figured “what’s the harm in statting up a character?”, and so, here we are.

Having heard of the setting for Ironsworn, it makes me think of John Wick if he was in Winterfell or if he was a Witcher, where the protagonist(s) are characters who have sworn iron vows and must accomplish them, not unlike how assassins in the film series are bound by their word to carry out their contracts. The Winterfell part comes in when you see the setting is a harsh environment where winters are longer and harvests are rougher.

There’s nine regions in the Ironlands, the setting of the RPG, and each one not only has unique features but also a quest starter that you could use as inspiration. I decided to start with the fishing-heavy region that is the Barrier Islands. The quest starter there mentions a spectral maiden who offered the hero safe passage at a heavy cost. Perhaps an iron vow?

Next, there are the Truths. These help set up the background of the Ironlands to give it a unique feel and I like this. It kinda reminds me of how setting up a setting for Spark worked, where you would create three truths based off the setting you (and friends) have made. Each of these truths also have their own quest starters. There’s a ton of them, so I’ll just make a list of the truths I picked for the game.

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