Thousand Year Old Vampire – Solo RPG Playtest 1

Thousand Year Old Vampire is a lonely solo role-playing game in which you chronicle the unlife of a vampire over the many centuries of their existence, beginning with the loss of mortality and ending with their inevitable destruction.

This vampire will surprise you as they do things that are unexpected, unpleasant, and sometimes tragic. Making gut-churning decisions, performing irreconcilable acts, and resolving difficult narrative threads are what this game is about as you explore the vampire’s human failings, villainous acts, and surprising victories.

Game mechanics are simple and intuitive. Play progresses semi-randomly through the Prompts section of this book. Answer Prompts to learn about your vampire’s wants and needs, to learn what challenges they face, and to chart their decline into senescence. Build up a character record of Memories and then lose them to the inexorable crush of time. See everyone you’ve loved and hated grow old and die, then turn to dust.

— From the first page of the “Thousand Year Old Vampire” RPG book by Tim Hutchings

I’ve left the book to speak for itself in summarizing what it’s about, because I strongly doubt I can do any better than that elegant synopsis.

There are about 6000 community copies left on the Itch.IO page as of this writing, so there is pretty much no excuse for not giving it a look, even if one is currently not able or willing to pay $15 USD for the PDF.

It is… intriguing. It is equal parts meta decision-making game, writing prompt exercise, daydream enabler and will send you off down Wikipedia history searches as if one was reading TV Tropes.

What is recorded is only part of the story. Sometimes it’s more interesting to consider the things left unspoken, the memories deliberately or inadvertently forgotten.

I gave it a test drive the other day.

Disclaimer: I got fairly loose with historical research after a while and started just chasing the “what would happen next” story aspect, handwaving a layer of standard medieval and supernatural urban fantasy tropes as plot scaffolding instead.

Still, it was pretty fun. You end up creating a character and taking them through eventful moments in their (un)life, generating a cast of attendant characters they knew along the way.

It’s not at all comprehensive, just snippets and fragments of memory and emotions and experiences, but enough to have a grasp of this strange being’s journey through time.

Below, on the left is the play record as I progressed through the game. Strikethroughs symbolize things written off – memories that should be forgotten, as instructed by the game, or mortals that have long since died, as dictated by one’s personal hunch after one senses the passing of time after various prompts.

On the right, I add a summary of what happened, post game commentary and reflections, a more meta discussion of what went on that did not get recorded. I find that impact on the player equally interesting.


Origin – I was Tigran, son of Petros (a musician), born in Antioch in the late 11th century (~1080); I was apprenticed to a fisherman who plied the river.

Mortal Characters:

  • Davit the fisherman – aloof, prejudiced, ready to make life a living hell
  • Petros, my father – a cultured musician with an air of mystery, a drifter 
  • Erik, my friend and rival – apprenticed to a knifesmith, impatient, argumentative
  • Tamar, my mother – a laundress who died of an illness when I was very young
  • Robert – a pious Christian soldier who discovered one of my roadside victims
  • Mark, descendant of Robert – a scholar historian
  • William, a calm rational smuggling captain
  • Sophia, descendant of Mark – secret society member / vampire hunter
  • Tarik, apprentice of the Arab trader Juliana and I killed. Executed for the crime.
  • Giuseppe, an Italian government minister

Immortal Characters:

  • Unnamed knight – my creator
  • Maria – an abbess aka Larisa an adventurer / treasure hunter
  • Jihan – a Turkish girl goatherd
  • Juliana – a noblewoman in love with me

Skills:

  • X Boat Handling
  • Fishery
  • X Amateur Piper
  • X Bloodthirsty
  • X The Eyes Hypnotize
  • Submerged swimmer
  • X Hider of Corpses
  • X Snake Charmer’s Tongue (verbal hypnosis)
  • X I Know What’s Real
  • Stillness of the Grave
  • X Record-Keeping Scribe
  • X Visionary
  • Woodcarving
  • It’s None of my Concern
  • Basic Chemistry
  • Guvnor, You’re in My Debt
  • A Short Call Away

Resources:

  • A well-made fishing knife
  • A true historical treatise on the Crusades and the Ottoman Empire
  • A reed pipe I carved myself
  • Shop of Crusade antiquities
  • An ornate gold bracelet that was tangled up in the nets that I found and hid
  • Political clout via Giuseppe
  • Chemistry lab
  • Electrical arc light

Marks:

  • My left lip and ear are rat-gnawed; I must shade that side of my face to pass in public.
  • My eyes are bleached white, I look unnerving and have been confused as a blind man on occasion.

Memories & Experiences I Still Remember:

  • I show my father my reed pipe when he comes by on one of his rare sporadic visits, in a boyish attempt to make him proud of me; all I can remember is his wincing grimace that he doesn’t bother to hide and his quick dismissal – I am disappointed but I hide it equally quickly in sullen rebellious anger
    • One day, I misjudge traveling distances and am caught out in the open when the sun is almost about to rise. I hide in a goatherd’s shelter and there, Jihan, a young girl discovers me. Thinking I am a blind beggar, she doesn’t panic and offers me kindness and food. I play my reed pipe for her – we are both mesmerized, her with the music and me with nostalgia.
    • Her closeness undid me and the vampire had to feed. I did not wish to kill her and she swallowed some of my blood when she weakly struggled and bit me. When she woke as an undead, I realized I had turned her.
  • It is the 19th century and I have married into a noblewoman’s household – Juliana. Within a month, I have turned her. Between her fortune and my knowledge of old, we are wealthy and able to afford loyal retainers and private covered carriages. I re-created my shop of antiquities trade and one of the prime artifacts (on loan, never sold) is a historical treatise on the Crusades retrieved from my ‘time capsule.’
    • An Arab trader had the gall to swindle me on a clothing deal; Juliana was furious. I caught him before he left and charmed him with my tongue; I let her kill him while he was helpless.
    • We arranged it such that his apprentice Tarik was arrested for his murder. He was hanged two days later; I stayed home and carved a beautiful wooden fox for Juliana as a gift.
  • I am approached by an immortality-seeker. Apparently, one of his ancestors had met me briefly before he was imprisoned and wrote in his journal about the scoundrel with white eyes who left him to rot. He put two-and-two together and found me. I have told him I will consider it. In the meantime, a governor under my heel is a valuable and willing servant.
    • I allow Giuseppe to drink periodically of my blood. It does not turn him, not without me draining him first, but it seems to protect him from disease and extend his life and health. In return, he is aware that he owes me greatly and keeps me a private matter, a secret away from nosy politicians.
  • Walking by the great whaling ships docked in the harbor, I reflect that I barely recognize all the implements the sailors are using to unload their massive hauls of meat. Technology has certainly changed over the centuries.
    • The alchemists of this age speak even more in tongues than of old. “Atoms” and “ions.” It is no longer something understandable like mixing gunpowder. They conjure lightning out of strange metal and glass contraptions, trap it and call it electricity. They write numbers and symbols and equations and declare they have found universal truths of the world. I hire a tutor for Juliana and me, to teach us the basic sciences as they call it. Chemistry is fascinating, I create a small lab and dabble with experiments in an amateur fashion.
    • I sold my fishing knife to generate enough cash to supply the chemistry lab, and I bought a new ‘electric light’ as well. The burning of magnesium and the flare of the arc lamp are such different -colors- than fire and candelight – it is like wondrous daylight.
  • I attacked Larisa with a sword and cut off her left hand. I was in a rage. I had forgotten something important to me and was telling her my vague hunches on what it could have been, when she dared to suggest that I might have been mistaken and confused a story for the humans with one of my actual memories. How dare she. I know what’s real. She escaped, hissing with anger herself. I think we are no longer friends again.
    • Jihan finds me in my shop and telephones me and tells me I owe her for heading off Larisa’s plan of revenge to burn down the shop with me inside it. She’s changed. She still looks so young, but her eyes are no longer innocent. Guilt takes me. I play the reed pipe for her one last time and give it to her, along with the shop. She’s right, I need to leave, I am too easily found and Larisa will give up burning the shop down if I am no longer in it.
    • One night, just before dawn, as I leave the shop to head home, Larisa finds me. She sneers at my cushy comfortable situation and mocks my ‘complete lack of sense’ as she calls it, to run the same antiques shop gimmick of old. Trapped away from my modern gadgets and allies, she overpowers me and stakes me, leaving me out to greet the sun. In the minutes away from my destruction, I can only hope and pray that Juliana might escape or be spared.

My Diary – a folio with four sheets of parchment contained within:

  • ______, a Christian soldier, comes across one of my _______ in their shallow grave. He rouses some of his comrades to hunt me. I hide from them under one of the ______, they do not realize that I do not need to breathe.
  • The hunters are resolute trackers and pick up my trail again. Robert brandishes a cross at me, which flares up in a blinding light that bleaches my eyes. I am forced to flee and only lose them in the floodplains. In my time spent hiding, the Turkish name for the yellowlegs birds give me an idea to change my identity and become Saribacak, a Turk.
  • Two decades later, I chance across Robert in an inn. He does not recognize me, but the pain of my unsated vengeance and logical reasoning drives me to bloodthirsty murder. It closes a loose end and keeps me safe.
  • Erik gives me my fishing knife after I won a bet with him; he claims he made it but it’s too well-made, I suspect he stole it from his master, so I keep it hidden on land and use it only while on the boat.
    • I walked into a trap intended to catch brigands when I took advantage of a stopped caravan to feed on a sentry. They execute me for highway robbery, having mistaken my fishing knife as evidence of violent intent, with my own blade. Lying there, faking my death as a corpse, I contemplate my folly – I would be suspicious of too good to be true circumstances from now on.
  • I survived the siege of Antioch, though many others died, but it was during the plague which followed that one of the minor knights, stuck in the city due to his squabbling leaders, cornered me in one of the city’s darker alleys one night – I never knew his name, nor stood a chance.
  • Her name was Maria, she was an abbess. I made the mistake of gazing into her eyes, sinking into pools of abyssal midnight. When I next came to myself, she was gone, along with my bracelet, leaving me with the bitter lesson about the eyes of a vampire.
  • With Constantinople’s fall, I became a Turk again, a treasure hunter of old antiquities. I set up a shop and pointed adventurous folk to various historical battlegrounds to retrieve potential items of value. One night, -she- walked in. Maria. No longer an abbess. No longer Maria. Larisa. She knew me, and I her. After a brief exchange, where she offered me some old coins, we parted on… less hostile terms.
  • I am forced to flee Florence when a vampire hunter named Sophia, apparently a descendant from someone I  had met once long ago, locates me by the mark of my white eyes. She had traced me through history using that as a clue, a marker that I was the same person. I let her feel the cobra gaze of it for a moment, stunning her and leaving her vulnerable, but I sensed others converging and fled before I had time to do more.
  • My last vision of Florence was the city’s skyline, domes, grand architecture and all, tinged pink with false dawn, before I sank down in my coffin and pretended to be a corpse, awaiting shipment to Prato.

Forgotten Memories:

  • I narrowly escaped being arrested as a smuggler while paying for board and passage on a smuggler’s boat. I had to commandeer the boat and sail it downriver myself, while the owner and captain, William, was being detained on the docks by law enforcement.
  • One night, sitting by the firelight, I pick up a stray piece of broken firewood and find myself absent mindedly carving a small wooden goat with my fishing knife. It’s surprisingly good for a first attempt.
  • During the Renaissance, I wrote a historical, scholarly manuscript examining in detail other scribes’ records of the Crusades and the Ottoman empire, relentlessly demarcating the line between fact and fiction. I should know. I was there. I know what was real.
    • I hire a reputable architect to create a copycat of the Brunelleschi Dome, in miniature form, in stone and marble, underground in as cold and dry a location as I can find. I leave my manuscript inside, and seal it up.
  • Someone I knew once was a scholar of some repute, it strikes me as a worthwhile path to follow; I convert to Christianity and learn Latin and record-keeping at a monastery.
  • A scholar historian named Mark visited my shop of antiquities, he had a family tree of his ancestors from the first and second Crusades and was trying to trace their path. One of them was a soldier named Robert, whom I recognize from my diary. I remember. I remember those days and wanted to prove it. So I showed him the page and told him it was written by a Muslim who lived in those times and who probably was a murderer and criminal.
  • The endless Crusades provide a supply of too many holy warriors keen to expose a monster, a vampire. I flee in search of more peaceful lands, to Greece. I am not familiar with the Greek tongue but it is not dissimilar to my native Armenian,  except a century or two past since I last spoke it. I call myself Aram, and pretend to be a blind, half-deaf woodcarver and slur my words and speak slowly.
  • All night, I tell my shop visitors of the times I spent out on a boat at sea, deep sea diving for old wrecks and retrieving many of the treasures that now stock my shop.

Memories I Tried to Remember On Paper But Discarded Eventually:

I prey on the leavings of the Crusades – pilgrims, refugees, travelers of the road, the odd wounded soldier. Their bodies I hide in shallow cairns off the roads.

It was a particularly miserable rainy day where I suffered earfuls of abuse from Davit forcing me to haul the nets up in the wet soaking weather while he retreated back to the shelter of the boat’s cabin; seeing the sudden gleam of gold amidst the struggling smelly fish was a shock at first – later, I rationalized it as a private gift from God or one of His angels to balance out the scales of the day and hid it with Davit none the wiser.

When I wake up after the knight’s attack, I am confused and distressed. I stumble back to the boat and when Davit begins his usual tirade, I am suddenly filled with rage and hunger. He is no match for me and dies, his throat shredded.

I made my vampire an Armenian after deciding I wanted to start in the era of the Crusades.

Antioch was sacked by the crusaders when an Armenian let them in, whereby they promptly slaughtered Armenian Christian and Muslims alike, not being able to tell them apart. It seemed a particularly ironic backdrop; though I ended up telling a smaller scale peasant’s tale to avoid too much history reading.

Much of the initial characters’ occupations were random rolled on the first list of medieval occupations I googled.

The vampire began in humble beginnings, a mortal boy born of a musician and laudress. He was apprenticed out to a surly fisherman by his layabout musician father.

His treasured possessions were a fishing knife his friend Erik, an apprentice knifesmith, gave him, and a reed pipe he had carved, in the hopes of impressing his father (it didn’t.)

He became a vampire after he was attacked by an unnamed knight crusader and left for dead in an alley. He promptly murdered his fisherman master on returning to the boat full of bloodthirst. (Not much loss there, thought the player. Better than losing his father or his friend – though the father was also considered. A dice roll decided.)

He soon took to the roads to seek his prey. The Crusades were a backdrop and the cities filled with too much violent conflict.

Along the way, he has some encounters:

He meets another vampire, an abbess named Maria, who promptly hypnotizes him and steals a golden bracelet from him.

He makes another vampire, a young goatherd girl named Jihan. (This was inadvertent yet tragic – the first prompt instructed to create a positive memory meeting a young child, hence I threw in innocent reed pipe playing. The very next prompt said I had created a vampire, and I only had so many mortal characters to choose from, aka none except her. Well. Oops.)

He is caught as a brigand and executed with his own knife. He learns that it is easy to fake being a corpse as a vampire.

He is chased and confronted by a Christian soldier who is more savvy of the supernatural occult, and in our first dash of fantasy, we zap our vampire with a new scar that will linger to the end of his days. Decades later, he will kill the soldier in cold blood, for revenge and to tie up a loose end.

He changes his identity and becomes different people. A Turk. A vagrant Armenian woodcarver beggar, when he leaves the war torn country for Greece.

A Turk again a century later, when he returns to the continent to set up an antiquities shop. He is found by both Jihan and Maria (now named Larisa), immortals in their own right, having their own lives.

(It is interesting that I as the player did my best to cling on to memories of both vampires, choosing to forget mortals over losing track of them. I had a subconscious sense they might be more significant as I might have greater chances encountering them over the centuries. In so doing, I recreated the trope of the immortal vampire that thinks very little of brief mortal human lives.)

He makes up with Larisa, briefly. For a short time, they will be friends. Perhaps even lovers in the night. Then one night he loses control of himself when reminded of his tendency to forget and confuse memories and makes a mortal enemy of her. It will eventually be his undoing.

He meets his end in the 19th century in Italy, just as fortune and fate seemed to be finally going right for him. He met and made a new immortal love, was filthy rich, with hooks into a government official. He embraced the modern technology of that age and was getting a second wind of enthusiast fascination, when Larisa finally takes him out.

(His ending was a little surprisingly abrupt, but somehow satisfying. As if vampiric machinations behind the scenes finally catch up to him while he’s off being careless in romantic lala-land.)

Diary-wise, it was a bit of a challenge to decide what to store within. They were memories I kinda wanted to keep, but also knew I might have to be okay with losing, if I ran into a Prompt that made me lose the Diary.

So they ended up being semi-significant events. I escaped Diary loss for the most part, only rolled one prompt that asked me to take out three nouns from the earliest entry. Whichever nouns I took out, I felt like the overall meaning was still not really lost.

I feel like I got quite lucky this round with the Memory discards. Many were no longer useful by the time it came to make room for newer Experiences and Memories.

I was told to make up a fake memory – the deep sea diving one – and then in the next couple of prompts, it was time to toss out a memory, and it certainly seemed unimportant to cling on to.

I had to alter one memory to introduce an anachronistic device. I used the shared theme of the antiquities shop. Jihan actually came to him in the first shop. I tweaked the memory to make it a telephone call in the second shop.

In retrospect, it seems almost like a prophecy of forewarning. It could very well have been that his slightly warped memory made him exit his second shop in a hurry, yet carelessly enough that Larisa catches him unawares.

Mildly surprising was this theme of woodcarving that ran through his life, that he kept forgetting consciously, though his hands remembered.

He was first a woodcarver in his Greece vagrant days, which he promptly forgot because, eh, why would you want to remember a hard life of being a beggar anyway?

Then a prompt asks for him to give rise to a positive memory of “creative expression” and I make up this vague memory of “first time” woodcarving. It’s not, but he doesn’t remember. So his result surprises him.

…Then he promptly forgets that -that- ever happened as well.

Yet he’s still woodcarving as a hobby by the 19th century – though it’s now to the sinister backdrop of him being soullessly uncaring about having framed some innocent apprentice for a murder he and his wife committed.

I got lucky with Prompts and managed a grand history heist with Skills and Resources. He takes up scholarly pursuits after meeting a scholar descendant of the Chrstian soldier who pursued him (he promptly forgets most of these mortals over time as well.)

He gets a I Know What Is Real and Visionary skills from various prompts, and I tie that to his antiquities and scholarly stuff to have him essentially create a time capsule to preserve a valuable historical treatise that he wrote.

Over several lucky prompts, he retrieves the treatise a century or two later, and uses it to start his second shop, before he promptly forgets the source of where it all came from. (Presumably he just thinks he owns a super valuable historical treatise now, and forgot that he himself wrote it.)

Another interesting object to trace through time is his fishing knife. He clings on to it for -ages-, presumably polishing and taking significant care of it through the centuries.

I am finally forced to let it go with a valuable antique Prompt that demands the exchange of the vampire’s oldest Resource for two conventional Resources. Undeniably, that’s what it is.

So he finally parts with that old part of himself, and trades its value for two modern fascinations – a chem lab for his new hobby-academic pursuit, and an electric arc lamp that is bright enough to simulate daylight – which he probably hasn’t seen for centuries. Fair deal, as it goes, I think.

Sophia, by the way, is descended from William, the smuggler captain he screwed over by making off with his boat and leaving him to get imprisoned. He has no idea about this, as he has quite forgotten it ever happened. In any case, he probably outlived her.

He just couldn’t outlive the wrath of an immortal woman scorned. Such is life. Or undeath.

(Edit: Oh, hang it all and confound it. I, the player, have confused myself. Sophia is the descendant of Mark, the scholar historian, descended from Robert the soldier. Giuseppe is the one related to William the smuggler. Little wonder why vampires forget. I, the player, can’t even keep my stories straight two days later… What does this tell us about memory, the unreliable narrator?)

I wonder if Thousand Year Old Vampire would work again if I swapped characters to one of the other immortals and traced -them- through time?

3 thoughts on “Thousand Year Old Vampire – Solo RPG Playtest 1

  1. “there is pretty much no excuse for not giving it a look”
    I’ll give you one.
    “Making gut-churning decisions, performing irreconcilable acts… are what this game is about”.
    Hard pass.

    Like

    1. I’m sorry – that came across a bit sharper than I expected. I’d just restrained myself from commenting on a truly irritating blog post by someone else and I kind of lost my grip. What I should have said was “sounds interesting but probably not my kind of thing”… and also nice to you posting again after your recent hiatus.

      Like

    2. Reading the book and giving it a look is not even the same as giving a game of it a go though! One can read the book and admire the systems and mechanics without even playing a single game of Thousand Year Old Vampire.

      Besides, it’s a solo game, where one is player, arbiter and storyteller all in one. So if one does end up in a gut-churning decision or performing an irreconcilable act, one only has their own imagination and pen to blame…That and the theme of fictional vampires generally not being nice people by dint of their existential curse.

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