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?