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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.