One day, a few weeks ago, I received a message from the incomparable Camdon Wright. Camdon asked me if I would be interested in looking at Thousand Year Old Vampire, a single player “journaling” RPG by Tim Hutchings, Kickstarted  in November of 2018.
When I started reading through the PDF, I was seized with a cold and compelling thought. My greatest regret is that I cannot always playtest the games I am reviewing. This thought clouded my brain, burrowing deep into my consciousness, and caused me to focus on a singular aspiration—I could play this game!
This is when I realized that I was doomed. Camdon had turned me into a vampire.
I’m not planning on spending too much time on the potentially problematic aspects of the questions in this game, but I did want to issue a warning up front. The game intentionally asks you some hard questions, and puts you in bad situations where your vampire is likely to do terrible things.
Because the prompts ask you pointed questions to determine your skills, resources, and contacts, when they reference these items that you have generated, you must resolve questions through the lens of the skills and resources you have. This often means that when all you have is a hammer, every mortal looks like a nail.
While I’m not planning on making the choices too detailed, the game does funnel you towards the consequences of immortality and losing touch with humanity, so it may touch on some issues like the cheapening of human life, resolving threats through violence, and other events in the vampire’s history.
How Does it Work?
The game asks you a number of questions to establish your character, including the generation of skills, resources, memories, mortals, and immortals in the story.
You can only have five total memories, with three experiences under each memory. Your experiences are essentially the answers to the questions that you generate from the prompts. Eventually, you start to lose memories. You can start a journal to save memories, but the journal is a physical object that you can lose, and those memories, once saved, aren’t really “part” of you anymore.
Various prompts will ask you to spend resources or check off skills to resolve a situation. That means that if you only have a specific skill to resolve something, you need to answer the prompt in a manner that incorporates that skill.
You roll d10 and subtract d6 from this, and this tells you how many prompts to jump ahead. The further forward in the prompts that you move, the closer you get to a question that essentially draws an end to the story of your vampire.
How did I come up with my starting point? If you know me, if you give me infinite options, I will spend infinite time trying to narrow down my options. To break this loop, I looked up an event exactly a thousand years from the date I was generating my vampire.
The event I found in 1019 was Yaroslav I becoming the Grand Prince of Kiev with the help of the Novgorodians and Varangian mercenaries. This particular event jumped out at me for one reason—Godbrand, the Viking vampire from the Castlevania animated series on Netflix (voiced by Peter Stormare) was one of my favorite characters in the series. Viking vampire it is!
We’re going to wrap things up by summarizing the vampire I created from the initial prompts in the game. As I answered questions, here is what developed:
- Killing with heavy weapons
- Enduring hardships on the road
- Knowing what business partners to trust
- My loyal troops
- My hoard of gold
- The goodwill of other Varangian mercenaries
- Ranssi—the broker that found our band and made us wealthy as mercenaries
- Anichka—the woman I have fallen in love with in Kiev, that my friends fear has made me soft
- Konstantin—the Novgorodian soldier that causes trouble and hates my men as outsiders
- The Black Wolf—a supernaturally large wolf that savaged me in the woods, and left me for dead. It is part of the local legends that all of us assumed was but a story to scare children.
- My fangs are always present
I am Jorgrimr, son of Julfir, come to Kiev to help the Great Prince secure his throne, for the promise of gold.
When my gold is delivered, I buy a lavish home in Kiev for Anichka, and possibly for myself.
After the city is secured, Konstantin’s troops threaten us, but Ranssi calms everyone with his words.
The mercenaries we saved last month come to our aid, and there is great friendship after the battle
I travel into the wilderness to duel with Konstantin, to rid myself of him. Instead, a huge black wolf savages me, and I inherit its fangs.
Future Installments I am already worried that the prompts are going to tear my heart out as I deal with my bonds to my fellow mercenaries and Anichka.
In this first article, I wanted to focus on just the creation of my vampire. I am already worried that the prompts are going to tear my heart out as I deal with my bonds to my fellow mercenaries and Anichka. I’m already hoping the people closest to me end up just . . . drifting away, rather than facing what I have become, and what that means for them. Tragedy right from the start!
While we’re talking about journaling games, have you ever played one before? Which one? Did you feel like sharing that journal, or was it something that felt deeply personal when you finished? Has playing a journaling game every given you ideas for other games that you might be playing or running?
As always, we would love to hear about this in the comments below. I’ll be looking for your responses. From the shadows. Hungrily. Are my teeth growing?