Thousand Year Old Vampire
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an ancient vampire? The things they’ve experienced and the people who’ve crossed their path? With Thousand Year Old Vampire you get to answer those questions. This three-time 2020 ENnie Award-winning game, Best Production Values (Gold), Best Rules (Gold), and Product of the Year (Silver) is all the rage, but what makes it stand out as one of the best solitaire RPGs? Let’s find out.
Thousand Year Old Vampire is the latest entry in the ever-growing genre of solitaire roleplaying games. Like many of the games in this genre, it heavily features journaling as part of the play experience. Before we get to the mechanical aspects and play experience, we must first understand what the premise of the game is and what it’s trying to accomplish.
The game is designed to tell the story of a single vampire and their life (or unlife) over the centuries. Beginning at their unlife birth up to their destruction. Chronicling its progress through the centuries as it adapts to a new way of life with unexpected narrative twists revealed through the game’s semi-random prompt system.
Mechanically, the game is rather simplistic in its design. As a player, you will be provided prompts, through which, you come to learn what your vampire wants and needs, what challenges they will face, and ultimately details of their decline into senescence. As the vampire continues to live, those around them, those they’ve loved and hated, will grow old and die, and eventually, turn to dust, but the vampire’s story continues on.
The vampire is represented by five traits: Memories, Skills, Resources, Characters, and Marks.
- Memories & Experiences – Important moments that make up the core of the vampire’s self—the things they know and care about. An Experience is a particular event; a Memory is an arc of Experiences tied together by a theme(s). Almost every prompt will create an Experience, a single sentence that describes the resolution of the prompt. Three Experiences form a memory, but there is only space enough for five memories. Older memories will be lost throughout the game unless recorded into a Diary, a Resource, and can no longer be modified by new Experiences and may still disappear.
- Skills – Describes the capabilities and characteristics of your vampire. They indicate what your vampire can or might do. Examples of skills from the book include: Swordplay, Relaxing Banter, Operate Heavy Machinery, I Do Not Blink The Sand Away, and I Teach the Nanissáanah. When instructed to record a new Skill, it should relate to the Prompt.
- Resources – Are items and structures that your vampire values. Resources can be gained or lost as directed by the Prompts. When a Prompt instructs you to gain a Resource, you create a contextually appropriate resource and add it to the character sheet. Conversely, some Prompts may direct you to lose a Resource, in this case, strike it out.
- Characters – The people with whom your vampire has a relationship. Each character most important within the vampire’s unlife should be named and described. Characters can be mortal or immortal based on the prompt. Every four or five prompts, a mortal character will die of old age.
- Marks – These are visible indications of your vampire’s undying state or any other thing that sets them apart from mortal people. For example, an ever-bleeding wound on the throat, eyes that are blank and white, a trailing specter, a ferocious scar, or a hollow abdomen full of rats. A Mark is something your vampire carries for their entire existence.
As noted above, nearly every time a prompt is encountered, one of the traits will be modified. Modifications can take a number of forms. One prompt may instruct you to check a Skill, while another may instruct you to lose a Skill. In the former, you place a checkmark next to the Skill, and in the latter, you physically strike out the lost Skill. Other prompts may instruct to gain or lose Resources, add or remove Characters from the narrative, etc.
Creating your vampire is a simple process, but like the game itself, it requires you to become invested in the narrative from the start. The process begins with the player imagining a person from the distant past—pick an era that you connect with. This imagined person becomes your vampire. They start with one Memory containing one Experience, but this Experience is written in very broad strokes. Next, add three mortal Characters (briefly described) who have a relationship with your vampire. To this, add three Skills befitting their lot in life, and follow that up by adding three Resources. Once the previous steps have been completed, you will create three new Experiences, each of which must incorporate two of the vampire’s traits; add each to a new Memory. Lastly, create an Immortal character, the one who gifted or cursed you; with them, you will also create both a Mark and an Experience. When finished, your vampire will have three Skills, three Resources, at least three Mortals, one Immortal, and one Experience in each of their five Memories.
Thousand Year Old Vampire has two modes of play—Quick Game and Journaling Game—players are bound to fit a style that works best for them. Before we look at these styles, let’s take a quick look at how playing the game actually works.
The game is played by answering a series of prompts, each of which has multiple entries. Through those answers, you will learn about your vampire, their trials, and tribulations through the centuries. Answering each prompt in a meaningful way is very much part of the experience of the game. The very process of answering the prompts will require you to create, lose, and alter your vampire’s traits. Every time you answer a prompt, you create an Experience and add it to a Memory, unless directed otherwise. Moving from one prompt to the next is determined by rolling the dice (d6 subtracted from a d10). If the result is positive, move forward the result and back if negative. A result of zero requires you to repeat the prompt again. When you need to repeat a prompt, simply move down to the next entry for that specific prompt. As a part of reviewing, I played through a portion of the prompts to get a feel for how things worked, and I was quite taken by the simplicity and smoothness of it all. The game comes to an end when you cannot check a Skill, lose a Resource, or when prompted to.
As the game plays out, you will need to either answer the prompts out loud or journal them. The book provides ample space for journaling, or you can use a word processor. Returning back to the two styles of play, the Quick Game contains everything to the Memories sections of the character sheet. It’s short, sweet, and doesn’t account for creating a Diary… Memories will be lost. The Journaling Game is more robust in that it allows Memories to be moved to a Diary, limiting the number of Memories lost over time. It also allows for players that want to expand their writing from short, concise sentences to longer responses, typically in the form of short paragraphs. In my opinion, the Quick Game is more akin to reading a comic book with short one-liners, whereas the Journaling Game is more like reading a novella.
Depending on your game style, games can be as short as an hour or two. If you prefer to take your time and opt for the Journaling Game, you can easily play for a while, set it aside, and return to it when the mood strikes—thus, stretching out the game experience. There is no right or wrong way to play, meaning you can complete a game in one sitting or play it out as your time permits.
Thousand Year Old Vampire is available in three different formats: PDF, Print on Demand (POD), and offset printing. Readers should note that the POD version is printed in the UK and shipped worldwide. While the content between the two print versions is identical, there are numerous differences. The POD version does not include metallic ink, foil treatment, interior ribbons, endpapers, higher quality paper, and high-end cover treatment. The POD cover also has “Thousand Year Old Vampire” written on it in numerous languages. For this review, I was provided a copy of the PDF from the publisher, and therefore, I am unable to comment on the quality of the physical books.
While I only had access to the PDF, I want to comment on the production value as I feel there are several aspects worth noting. First, Tim Hutchings went all out on the layout. The PDF is beautiful! It feels as if I am reading through someone’s old scrapbook. It adds to the overall experience in ways that are hard to articulate. Strangely, the page embellishments are not as distracting as one might think (see inset above). Second, the flow of the rules is intuitive, and the font choice in this section is very easy on the eyes. Third, There is ample writing space provided in the Prompts section. Readers should note that the Prompts section uses a gothic style font
, that some may have a hard time reading. Lastly, while the overall presentation is beautiful, I do have one complaint. My only gripe, and it’s relatively minor, is the use of a two-page spread (as seen below), instead of single pages. Which is fine for reading on a computer screen or for printing (which is intended), but reading on a tablet (Samsung Tab A) was a little more difficult.
Does it hold up to winning Best Production Values (Gold), Best Rules (Gold), and Product of the Year (Silver)? As to Production Value, I think the award is well earned. If the PDF is any indication of what the physical book, particularly the offset printed version with its over the top embellishments, represents, then yes! Now, as far as Best Rules and Product of the Year are concerned, that’s going to be a personal preference, and each gamer is different. Personally, I think Thousand Year Old Vampire is very well written; the rules are concise, yet intuitive. I only needed to read through the rules once and did not need to refer back to them during gameplay. Both awards are well earned.
If you’re a solo gamer or perhaps one that enjoys the art of narrative writing, Thousand Year Old Vampire should be a game at the top of your list to check out. It will have you creatively thinking, internally exploring, and emotionally driving the narrative forward at all times. This game is also very approachable for those new to roleplaying. As a solo game, it has the added benefit of allowing new players to explore narrative development in the privacy of their own homes. Letting them get comfortable telling tales and creating vivid descriptions before engaging with a group of players. As with other games in the genre, it’s also a fantastic way for gamers of all experience levels to hone their creativity. An all-around winner!
If you have played Thousand Year Old Vampire, be sure to comment below and tell us your thoughts and experiences.
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