Tag Archive | reviews

Thousand Year Old Vampire: Thoughts and Impressions

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I’ve done a couple of play-throughs now of the game Thousand Year Old Vampire and thought I’d put my impressions down here.

This isn’t quite a review, just thoughts and reactions, and I’m dividing it into two posts, this one with my impressions, and another post with the write-ups of the stories the game created. That one screams of “Let me tell you all about my D&D character” and no one who doesn’t want that needs to experience that.

A tl;dr review would  Thousand Year Old Vampire is good. Is it a game or is it an activity? I don’t know and I don’t care. I liked it and thought it a great way to simultaneously create and enjoy a story.

For folks who don’t know  Thousand Year Old Vampire is a beautiful little game-book by Tim Hutchings of numbered entries that each contain a writing prompt that allows you to live the many centuries long life of a vampire. The way the game works is you create a character with a limited number of traits, connections, and memories. Then you become immortal and you roll dice to discover what happens to you. Events unfold mimicking the passing years and decades, each roll causing you to gain and lose memories until you’re making desperate choices about what to forget and what to remember. Soon the game becomes about whether it’s possible to retain any aspect of your original humanity as you slowly succumb to your vampirism and the toll of years.

It can be sad. It can be enlightening. It can be comical. Whatever it is, it’s certainly emotional.

And it’s random, so the story that emerges is at best messy and at worst incoherent.

You don’t get to choose what happens to you. What might seem like a cool foundation for a grand narrative early-on becomes a dead-end that never gets developed. This was the case in my first play-through, and while the experience was still fun, it didn’t feel coherent like a good book or movie would. What I did feel was like I was creating a living breathing character with a rich history, and certainly someone who could be useful in another situation. For example, Waldemar the Wolf has the makings of at least three different RPG villains depending on what stage of his incarnation you took him: the bandit wolf, the mercenary captain, or the sinister opera fanatic.

One thing I loved about it was that it’s backwards story telling: you tumble forward at random, but can craft a narrative by looking back and seeing the connection points. Do you nudge it and shape it? Yes, probably. Or I should say, it’s fine to give in to the temptation to nudge, because the game invites that just as much as it invites not doing that by churning up a series of unrelated random events.

Overall, each game took about 90 minutes or so, and at the end I felt like I had watched a pretty good horror movie either in its own right, or because it suggested other stories. When I played I went back and forth between two word documents: my vampire’s character sheet and the journal of their life while consulting wikipedia to create the concrete details.

Is it sort of like homework?

Kinda.

But so is Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and I love that game. If you like vampires and story-telling, this game is well-worth checking out. While I did get the book via the kickstarter, there’s a PDF available at DrivethruRPG.

And here’s another link to the second part where I tell you all about my vampires Waldemar and Antonio.

You have been warned!

Thousand Year Old Vampire: A Tale of Two Vampires

Read this post for my overall thoughts on Thousand Year Old Vampire.

Continue reading here to learn all about the much checkered careers of Waldemar the Wolf and Antonio the Alchemist.

When I played I used two word documents. One was a character sheet. The other was a timeline where I recorded the events of their lives. I also had a few wikipedia pages open dealing with whatever epoch and area my vampires found themselves. For most of it I stuck to Italy starting in the Roman era and going forward as far as the game allowed. Waldemar died wretched and inhuman sometime in the 17th century, while Antonio made it all the way into the early half of the 20th century before he died a hero fighting against Mussolini’s Blackshirts. Read on to learn the particulars…

Waldemar the Wolf

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Waldemar started life as a Visigoth slave in the latter days of the Roman Empire. He had a gift for canines and a charming smile. He was also having an affair with his master’s concubine. All that ended when he gets attacked by a vampire (a decadent Roman senator) and changes. His first victim proves to be his lover, only she’s transformed into a vampire, and the two end up at odds with each other. She betrays him to the authorities and Waldemar flees into the Alps where he spends so much time among the wolves that he starts to resemble them. His vampire marks take the form of sharp teeth and a whispering voice. Eventually an avalanche buries his lair and he spends centuries entombed in a cave.

It’s not until the Middle Ages that Waldemar emerges to join the mercenary free companies. Over time he attracts many followers and gains a reputation for ruthless brutality. The whole while he’s pillaging and amassing a vast fortune that he hides in the countryside near Venice. But in time, the other mercenary captains grow jealous of him and denounce him as a satanic monster. This sends him packing for Germany where he returns to more wolfish banditry, preying upon the unwary.

It’s in Germany that he gains a new mark: gnarled claws for hands. And it’s also there that he falls in love with classical music and opera.

At some point in the 16th century he remembers his hidden fortune and returns to Italy. There in a Venetian villa he starts to take a keen interest in the theater. Meanwhile, his hands become more painful, and he hires a shady doctor to inject narcotized blood into his knuckles. He’s also keeping an old crone around to look after him, because she reminds him of his mother.

He tries to write an opera and it fails catastrophically. He takes to brooding in his villa.

It is there one day that he first espies the doctor’s daughter. And so would begin a new obsession, but the doctor realizes what’s happening and kills Waldemar by injecting him with toxic blood.

So long, Waldemar.

Antonio the Alchemist

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I pretty much stuck with the Rome theme and had Antonio be another young man made into a vampire by a decadent Roman senator (the same one that would go on to bite Waldemar a century or two later).

Antonio’s an urban youth, caught between his petty criminal brother, an early Christian street preacher, and a noblewoman lover. The one with the strongest pull over him is the preacher, who will unfortunately become Antonio’s first victim when he’s turned into a vampire. Antonio will take the preacher’s place and establish himself as a messianic figure in the early church. His brother and lover will join him and the three will use the cult to benefit themselves. However, when the Emperor passes some anti-Christian laws, Antonio’s cult collapses leaving only the most fanatical behind. These he preys upon until a betrayal by his brother sees Antonio entombed alive.

There he waits out the centuries, until a priest unseals his tomb and returns him to life. Antonio bends the priest to his will and takes up once more feeding upon a Christian congregation. He might have gone on this way, if not for the arrival of a powerful wizard known simply as the Woman From Across the Sea. She takes Antonio with her on a mystic quest where their fates become bound. In the end, she claims a favor from him.

The experience somewhat unhinges Antonio’s mind and he heavily rewrites his journal to hide his more atrocious crimes. Yet, guilt plagues him and he becomes obsessed with the question of salvation. This makes him take actual religious vows.

In the Church, he gains a reputation as an alchemist and scholar, but he no longer remembers his brother, his lover, or even how he became a vampire.

At this point the Woman From Across the Sea returns claiming her favor: a vial of Antonio’s blood. She uses it to create an elixir that satisfies his blood cravings.

Meanwhile, Antonio’s skills as an alchemist have earned him many patrons and he has no problem taking money trying to transform lead into gold. This makes him wealthy and disliked. But his enemies are no match for his quick-wits.

Alchemy gives way to astrology which gives way to astronomy. Antonio becomes obsessed with the stars and starts experimenting with telescopes. He wants to see the sun again. This leads him to study solar eclipses. Despite it being the 16th century, he starts constructing a device with which he might view the sun’s corona during an eclipse. This gets him in trouble with the church and denounced as a heretic. But it doesn’t stop him from making the attempt. This ends in failure, and leaves him almost blind. But his reputation as an expert on optics remains. His next attempt succeeds, and he manages to capture an image of the sun’s corona.

And for a generation Antonio’s the darling of the scientific world. It’s only later when a new generation unearths his alchemical poetry that his reputation falters, and he gets viewed out as a quack.

This sends Antonio into seclusion, where the Woman From Across the Sea finds him again. They speak of many thing, the nature of transformation being the most prominent. Something in Antonio once more stirs.

It’s around here that Antonio takes up poetry, using it to veil his esoteric ideas.

By now it’s the 19th century, and Antonio’s poetry has come into favor with a new generation. He once more has disciples and devotees. But he’s a little bit more wary, knowing how fickle fashion can be. He establishes a school for metaphysical research, and it’s there that the Woman From Across the Sea finds him one last time. Together they manage to conceive a child.

Before long, it’s the 1920s, and Antonio’s Metaphysical Institute is viewed as subversive by the Fascist government. The Blackshirts arrive in the dead of night ready to do their worst, but Antonio is there ready for them. He fights them singlehandedly allowing his disciples enough time to escape. He dies, burned to death by the Fascists, but future generations remember him as a hero.

The End.

Each story was a wild ride, full of unpredictable twists and turns. Waldemar met three other vampires early in his life, but never interacted with them again. Antonio had a weird relationship with the immortal Woman From Across the Sea. That came about quite nicely, and whenever the story prompted me for an immortal character I had her appear again.

Here’s the link again to my other post on my impressions of the overall game. 

 

 

Favorite Reads March 2019

Some things I read or listened to this past March that I loved.

embers of war

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell: Sometimes I want to read a book that’s as straight forward as a well put together cheese burger. This was such a book. Trouble Dog is a sentient warship that commits a war crime, but renounces violence after the war by becoming a emergency rescue ship. This story’s about what happens then.

prophet

Prophet by Brandon Graham and various: I read through this all series in a week and it was delirious fun. The whole story feels emergent in a way that might be annoying to some, but which I liked. The overall impression is of an anthology book set in a single creator’s loosely outlined universe. That it’s all inherited from a very different earlier creator is just part of the fun.

roadtown cover

Roadtown by Edgar Chambless: I wrote this up as a Yesterweird post over on my Patreon page. My plan is to make all the Yesterweird posts free once I get over the 50USD mark. Maybe you’d like to help make that happen.

akhnaten

Akhnaten by Philip Glass. This has been on repeat for at least a week. Give the first fifteen minutes a listen. It’s a trip.

Ager-Sonus-Mithra

Mithra by Ager Sonus. I like cinematic ambient drone as much as the next weirdo, but this album stands out from the usual air conditioner hum and whistles. Here’s a link to it on Bandcamp.

Favorite Reads February 2019

morien

Morien by Jessie L. Weston: A 14th century Dutch poem about Sir Morien, the Moorish knight of the Round Table. I wrote it up on my Yesterweird patreon. Short version: I recommend it!

ash and red

City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun: This is a very Thomas Ligotti sort of book and I am not a Thomas Ligotti fan, so I didn’t really like it, but maybe you will. A stranger comes to a hellish city to do an unpleasant job and paranoia, misery, and degradation ensues. One thing I couldn’t shake while reading this is that Hye-Young Pyun was imagining what it must feel like to be an expat living in Korea, except she can’t shake a tendency for self-loathing and making misery porn.

digger's game

Digger’s Game by George Higgins: A quarter of the way into this I realized I’d read it before, which is fine, it’s a quick read. Higgins wrote about Boston’s criminal underworld like an anthropologist and it’s fascinating to dip into that worldview. Although if you’re only going to read one thing by him The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the one.

 

Favorite Reads January 2019

Crawling out of my crypt for a bit. Here are the books that lit my wick last month.

Yes, this is late, but new job and all that.

5-12ths

Five-Twelfths of Heaven by Melissa Scott: Super fun Space Opera where FTL is achieved by alchemy, tarot cards, and harmonic engines that tap as close as possible to the literal music of the spheres. Plus group marriages of convenience, conniving relatives, space pirates, and an “evil empire”. Like I said, super fun.

thief

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: A fantasy novel without wars or big events or an entire cohort of characters to keep track of. Instead, it’s a story of a thief press-ganged into assisting a king’s “magus” in recovering a fabulous treasure that’s more valuable as a symbol than for any monetary value. The world building’s rich and deftly done, and the handful of characters fully realized. Recommended.

outside

Outside the Gates by Molly Gloss: That 2019 will see all of Molly Gloss’s novels back in print is a great thing, and while I didn’t enjoy this early novel by her as much as her later work, it was still a treat to read – a bit like Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea. Vren is a young boy with strange powers exiled from his home and forced to live in the haunted woods outside the gates. There he finds friends, but also a rising threat he must confront.

The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton: I hadn’t read Andre Norton before now and I absolutely wish I had. Her stuff is absolutely delightful in a pulpy greasy kids stuff sort of way. Murdoc Jern is a galactic gem trader who inherits a magical ring from his murdered father. What secrets does the ring hold and why would people kill for it? Murdoc decides to find out, and ends up on a quest that sees him wandering the space ways with an assorted bunch of companions including Eet, a mutant space cat that bears more than a little resemblance to HR Giger’s Alien.

Plague Ship by Andre Norton: You can read about this one on my Patreon.

 

Favorite Reads November 2018

Chuggachug-chugging along towards 2019… who knows what awaits?

Anywho…

Here’s my favorite reads from November.

auctioneer

The Auctioneer by Joan Samson: This was scary as all hell. Unrelenting and harrowing where the entropy dial is twisted all the way to 11 and the bad stuff keeps happening and the stakes keep ratcheting upward. To be honest I had to put the book down for a bit because I found it too unrelenting. The story’s about a New Hampshire town that finds itself falling under the influence of an out of town auctioneer with big plans for the community, but first he just needs to make some changes to the place. This was Samson’s only novel before she died from cancer. I’m happy to see it back in print.

apple tree

The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed: A weird secondary world novel set in the aftermath of what feels to be the equivalent of the Great War. Lt. Benjamin Braddock managed to survive the war that saw so many of his companions dead, but the ghost of his commanding officer and friend still haunts him. Even more so when Braddock starts taking over that friend’s life. What I liked about this book was that Braddock’s a nobody and his predicament is completely personal. As his friend’s family begins to groom him to replace their dead son, Braddock starts seeing the ways honor can be a curse as much as a gift. That in the end Mohamed zags when I wishes she would have zigged doesn’t take away from how fun the trip was.

black god's drum

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark: This is a swashbuckling adventure story set in an alternate 1880s where the Civil War ended in a stalemate, New Orleans is a free state, airships ply the skies, and several Caribbean nations gained their independence by harnessing the powers of the former slave population’s African gods and goddesses.  If it had only half those things I might have skipped it, but since it had all those things (and more!) I was hooked.

When a young pickpocket overhears a group of confederate terrorists conspiring to kidnap the Haitian scientist who harnessed the storm god’s power, she sets out on a mission to save the scientist.

provenance

Provenance by Ann Leckie: I eventually warmed to Leckie’s Imperial Radch series despite the amount of hype that had accumulated around them, which isn’t the books’ fault at all. In particular the second one, Ancillary Sword, was a fascinating example of military SF, except focusing on all the boring parts of the military like doing garrison duty in a peaceful allied nation. Provenance calls to mind that book. It’s a stand alone novel about history and identity and being from somewhere It’s also filled with quirky little details like how every human culture has their preferred drink and complains when they go to another culture and have to accept other drinks. Like think how much people argue about pizza today, now imagine if every planet in the solar system had multiple styles of pizza. There’s also a good bit in this about parenting, bad parenting in particular.

When Ingray frees a convict from prison to pretty much impress her adoptive mother, it sets in motion events that will see her having to stop the invasion of her planet.

vera kelly

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht: A spy novel! A lesbian coming of age novel! A story of imperialism and disillusionment. How exciting! Vera Kelly’s a CIA operative in mid-1960s Argentina monitoring student activists and suspected communists. Vera’s also a teenage girl in 1950s Maryland coming to terms with her crush on a classmate and her failed suicide attempt.

When a coup occurs and one of her contacts betrays her, Vera finds herself trapped without any way of coming home, but also unsure where her home is. This was smart like a good Graham Greene novel mashed up with a Nancy Drew novel.

vanisher

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard: A science fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in a post-apocalyptic world inspired by vietnamese cultures legends. Yên’s a failed scholar bartered away to the dragon Vu Côn by her elders in order to pay for the dragon’s intervention in healing a higher class child’s illness. Yên expects nothing but death at Vu Côn’s hands, but instead the dragon has a job for her, to tutor her two unruly children.

A lot’s made about sense of wonder in speculative fiction and how there’s a lot less of it now than before, to which I have to ask what the hell people are reading, because I find no end of examples of it. And this book would be a go-to example of it. De Bodard’s descriptions are vivid, not simply lush, but dazzling. Wonder (and terror and yearning) abound in this book.

… and that’s all until next time.

Favorite Reads October 2018

Reading is as much about the books as the journey inside your own head or out of it as the case may be.

Often times when I recall a book to mind I’m not just remembering the book and its events, but my state of mind at the time and the places where I read it. Needless to say this makes parting with books a bit difficult, which certainly plays hell with the notion of ever moving again.

cities

Other Cities by Benjamin Rosenbaum: The obvious comparison is to Calvino’s Invisible Cities since Rosenbaum’s operating in the same mode: writing short vignettes describing fantastic cityscapes and societies.  There’s the city of detectives, the city of forgotten pleasures, the city of the two sisters, the city that is actually a monster. It’s a mode I quite like, so no surprise that I enjoyed this.

trail

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: Urban Fantasy Monster Hunter novel set in a post-apocalyptic American South West heavily steeped in the mythology and spiritual traditions of the local Tribal Nations. It’s a bit more gun-porny than I like, but the milieu more than makes up for that and those bits of standard Urban Fantasy tropes that annoy me. (Traumatized heroine? Check! Pit fighting? Check!) I’m curious to see where this series goes and how much of the wider world beyond the South West will we be shown.

Ports of Call and Lurulu by Jack Vance: Two of the last books Jack Vance had published. I have lots of feelings about Jack Vance, most of them conflicting. On one hand I think he was a phenomenally imaginative writer, on the other hand I feel like for all his ability creating weird and wondrous societies they often don’t really rise above that joke New Yorker cartoon caption of “Would you look at these assholes?” Not to mention that he’s hard pressed to write a woman character that isn’t an object of derision. Yet, I enjoyed these books. They’re both picaresque space opera following Myron Tany as he sets forth into the galaxy, first on board his Aunt Hester’s yacht, second on board the tramp space freighter the Glicca. Yet… well… okay, imagine Harry Mudd, that sleazy merchant/conman character from Star Trek, now imagine if that guy ran the Federation. That would very much be a Jack Vance universe.

old

The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane: Another entry in the Brit Takes A Walk subgenre I enjoy. This one is a lively and engaging example of the type. In fact if your social media footprint at all resembles mine you probably already either follow Robert MacFarlane or have him retweeted into your thread multiple times a week. That’s not a bad thing, and should likely give you some idea what to expect here: an interest in the way landscape intersects with language, memory, and the way we think about our world. And here the way MacFarlane takes us into the landscape is by recounting a series of long excursion walks he took, mostly in the United Kingdom, but also in Nepal and the Middle East. I definitely recommend this if you enjoy the books about walking subgenre.