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Sebastian D'Auvergne: 600 Year Old Vampire

Over the last couple of days I played the solo game Thousand Year Old Vampire. Attached to this post you will find two documents. The first document represents what the character looked like after setup. The second document contains what the character looked like by the time the game was over. The second document is highly annotated so you can see what happened when.

Briefly, the game is played as a series of turns. Each turn you roll a d10 and a d6 and subtract the two.  This generates a number from -5 to 9 including zero. The book contains 80 prompts.  Based on the die roll you move either forward or backwards (or repeat the entry for zero) from your current prompt. You answer the prompt in concrete fictional terms and incorporate and apply any mandated mechanical effects. Most prompts contain 3 entries so that if you repeat a prompt you move to the next one on the list. Prompt 72 and above are all game enders.

Each prompt generates an Experience and each Experience must be stored in a Memory. You have 5 Memories and each Memory can hold 3 Experiences. You must group Experiences thematically in the Memories but the criteria for grouping is up to you. If you can’t place an Experience in a Memory either because they are all full, or it doesn’t fit thematically where you may have openings, you must strike out a Memory and create a new empty one. This means your vampire forgets those Experiences. You’re allowed to move up to 4 Memories into a Diary but you may only have 1 Diary at a time.  A Diary may be lost or destroyed.

The game says you could play the game very slowly and write full journal entries for each prompt. I decided I do not have the dedication for that and instead did what the game suggests, which is to summarize each Experience in the following format: <event description>;<what I felt and did about it>. It still pretty much took me two full days of playing frequently to finish it. It could easily be spread out over a week.

In my play document you will see check marks next to Skills. That means those Skills were used to solve a problem presented by a prompt and can’t be used again. Some Resources are struck out and that means I had to lose them to solve a problem presented by a prompt. A LOT of Characters are struck out and that is because they are mostly mortal and died, usually by the passage of time. Violet is the only immortal on the list.

Each experience is annotated like this: (x:y:z) where x is the turn number, y is the die result and z is the prompt number from the book. A + symbol means that it’s the second time I’m visiting the prompt. So, if you own the game you can look up the entries if you like. Any Experience that starts with an oddly specific historical year is a real event I pulled from Wikipedia. 

Additionally, there are italicized comments under each Experience that list the game changes that were made that turn. “Voluntary” changes mean that the prompt didn’t require that I do that but I chose to. These are mostly me striking out Memories, moving Memories to the Diary, or striking out mortal Characters because I had decided too much time had passed for them to still be alive.

My game lasted 25 turns and spanned the 12th to the 18th century. The setup was highly influenced by Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne stories. Here are some takeaways:

Mortals are super fragile. Even though the player is (mostly) responsible for managing the passage of time based on how the prompts are making them feel, I felt time moving swiftly and most mortals lasted for only a prompt or two before I decided they had to have died. Notable exceptions are Joelle, who stalked me for most of her life, and then her descendent Valerie, who became my companion at the end. This is only because I happened to roll a series of very tightly linked prompts. In fact, you’ll notice those Memories basically fill up with sequential turn numbers.

Occasionally, I ran into some prompts that triggered a kind of “my guy wouldn’t do that” response. This usually happened when the prompt mandated that I get involved in major politics. My guy was a bored libertine who does not give a shit about society. This was particularly noticeable when the prompt said that I had somehow manipulated “Social Law” to my advantage. That’s the Experience where I personally start The Hundred Years War.

The game suggests occasionally doing a bit of light research into whatever historical period you find yourself working with at any moment in the game. I am admittedly a C (minus) student of history and figured I would not be doing this much. I was wrong! In fact this is how I resolved most prompts I didn’t have good instinctual answers for. I just googled some related concept, found a matching historical event, and said “I was involved in this.”

Finally the game is an exercise in creative honesty. You decide how to answer the prompts, you decide whether they thematically fit in a Memory, you decide what Skills and Resources are consumed, you decide what Memories to dump, you decide the passage of time and you decide when mortals’ lives have expired. But those decisions are not made in a vacuum. Between the contents of the prompts and the history you are writing, you will know when you are cheating.

A good example of this in my document is Memory 5. You’ll notice that a few words are crossed out. That’s because the memory was damaged rather than lost. I got to choose the Memory. I had other choices but I knew the other choices were cheap choices. Crossing out those words hurt and to pick any other memory would have been a copout. The game is filled with little decision points like that. Are you playing this game for real or not?

Department: 
Actual Play
Tags: 
solo play

Comments

PedroPereira's picture

Went over your gameplay pdfs. Great stuff, thanks for sharing. I have my kickstart copy but I haven't mustered the will to play it yet. Reading these experiences makes me closer to doing so.

What's your overall opinion of the game?

Jesse Burneko's picture

It was the posting here about the Ironsworn game and the Skull-Takers game that finally kicked me over the edge to finally play this. Out of all the solo games that have been floating around lately, it's the one that has most captured my interest.

I really liked the game and would even play it again. I was very happy that it wasn't just a daily writing prompt exercise. There were mandated mechanical effects with every entry (that I encountered). I also think some care was put into the order of the prompts. Like I can't help but notice that prompt 68 which allowed me recover my earliest memory of who I was and where I came from is well within striking distance of my NEXT prompt being a game ender. It seems perfectly positioned for the sharp drop from Moment of Clarity to GAME OVER but not guaranteed to be so.

I think it's very telling that I had orignally planned to limit myself to like 3-6 turns a day.  But as long as I had the time I really couldn't stop.  I always wanted to do "just one more".  So I ended up doing about 10 prompts the first day and 15 the next.

PedroPereira's picture

Your opinion aligns very well with every single review and playthrough I've seen. Reviews are extremely positive across the board for this game, including across very disparate gaming communitites. I usually don't take that to mean much by itself for obvious reasons, but in the case of this game it seems to be well founded.

Ironsworn has not captured my interest that much given it's built-in setting assumptions, and I'm quite sensitive to that, but it has contributed to my interest in solo games. It's something I'd like to see taking a life of it's own in the hobby, given that there's a lot of potential there that can be explored in terms of design. Both of these games are pushing the envelope in terms of solo-game design beyond stuff like Quill, De Profundis, etc. It's a design space I'm curious about.

Jesse Burneko's picture

This addendum was inspired by this post which is partially about established gamers avoiding change.

There was this point just after I finished setup where I suddenly didn't want to play. I really liked Sebastian the way he was and part of me wanted some way to just play him exactly as he was. Part of that was informed by the fact that I knew Thousand Year Old Vampire was about rapid change over decades and centuries but part of it was also just an unexpected emotion. I wasn't expected to have that feeling and it was a notable moment of almost anxiety level concern I had to focus and move past to get into play. I wanted to protect Sebastion from the game.

PedroPereira's picture

That's quite an interesting observation.

Hans's picture

For me, solo role-playing games are attracting and perplexing in equal measure. In my grumpier moments I get persnickety about taxonomy, i.e., "that's not a game, it's a fiction-writing exercise!". That useless impulse put behind us, it's clear to me why they attract me: I write fiction, so it stands to reason that a curated fiction-writing exercise approached through the lens of play would be something I enjoy. But perplexing because, like, why not just work on my fiction, then.

That's a preamble to explain my context for this:

Finally the game is an exercise in creative honesty. You decide how to answer the prompts, you decide whether they thematically fit in a Memory, you decide what Skills and Resources are consumed, you decide what Memories to dump, you decide the passage of time and you decide when mortals’ lives have expired. But those decisions are not made in a vacuum. Between the contents of the prompts and the history you are writing, you will know when you are cheating.

A good example of this in my document is Memory 5. You’ll notice that a few words are crossed out. That’s because the memory was damaged rather than lost. I got to choose the Memory. I had other choices but I knew the other choices were cheap choices. Crossing out those words hurt and to pick any other memory would have been a copout. The game is filled with little decision points like that. Are you playing this game for real or not?

All I can say to that is that it makes me want to play. Solo role-playing as a creative writing exercise with some pushback from the void, so even though you're doing it alone it's not really alone.

Ron Edwards's picture

I like the way you've put this. I'll try to say it my way for sharing/comparison.

First, that I was extremely skeptical, regarding solitary play, to the point of being dismissive, except for these reasons.

  • The old Fighting Fantasy books - specifically and only the four-book Crown of Kings - had surprised me in that how you conceived of your character, what things they considered right or wrong, actually made a difference in the experience and had different consequences at different times.
  • Related, I'd noted that in a few of the old Tunnels & Trolls solo adventures, the events and choices also relied on "discovering," or better, simply playing a character according to how you wanted to play them. These typically were the ones written by Mike Stackpole and influenced by Liz Danforth, not by St. Andre or Peters; a conversation with Mike confirmed that this trend was intentional.
  • I'd been similarly skeptical of two-player play, but publications and play-experiences beginning about 2007 completely rocked that presumption.

Second, it's precisely this "writing" thing which the good solo designs deny. It's not merely journaling with dice, or a series of prompts. You can't "do what you want," and what you do does matter, it can't be just passed by or overturned.

When the procedures for the authorities switch them up in an organized way, you find yourself bounced by yourself of a few moments ago, in a way that neither that past person nor you right now could see coming.

Comparing the rules for Swords of the Skull-Takers vs. Alone Among the Stars illustrates the point immediately. The former is a role-playing game. The latter is a wretched exercise in a not-very-good writing class.

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