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Solo RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

RPG actual play: Thousand Year Old Vampire

I was going to do a Twitter thread while playing through Thousand Year Old Vampire (TYOV), a solo RPG by Tim Hutchings in which you’re an awful, awful vampire, but couldn’t figure out how to provide a meaningful content warning that would 1) persist and 2) allow people to avoid the whole thread while 3) still making it comprehensible. So here we are!

Content warning: violence, allusions to self-harm, gore, torture. Intended for a mature audience.

Also, this game is stunningly gorgeous and I highly recommend it. I posted about its beauty here on Yore; you can buy a copy from Tim on itch.io.

In this post I’m going to try to preserve the rapid-fire delivery of a Twitter thread because it suits the Quick Game for TYOV (one of its two modes of play) and my own inclinations.

Character creation

Your vampire is a collection of Memories, Experiences, Resources, Skills, other Characters, and the trait which identifies you as a vampire, your Mark. My first Experience is a character summary:

  • I am Garnier, son of Roland and Isabeau, born in southern Brittany in 14th Century France; I became a monk to avoid poverty but found strength in my faith

It’s around 1340 at the start of this playthrough; the Black Plague is just starting its grim march through Europe.

I also came up with three Skills, three Resources, and Characters — and four more Experiences, each tied to those people/things. Here are my starting Characters:

  • Melisende, a beautiful young woman in the village of R├ęconfort near the abbey; she visits regularly to transport wine made by the monks (mortal)
  • Brother Eudes, a beautiful young monk who is secretly my lover; he loathes himself for straying from God (mortal)
  • Abbot Roul, iron-fisted ruler of our abbey; he believes in harsh punishment for all offenses, no matter how minor (mortal)
  • Qadir, an ancient, withered, stick-like vampire who haunts the abbey’s library, feeding on the monks; it illuminates manuscripts in blood (immortal)

Resources are a secret copy of the key to the abbey’s forbidden book room, a love letter from Brother Eudes, and my personal Bible I am illuminating for the abbey’s collection. Skills are Conceal My True Feelings, True Prayer, Skulking About. My other four Experiences are:

  • Brother Eudes, at great personal risk, slips me a love letter during Mass; I feel truly alive for the first time
  • I press the abbot’s key to the forbidden book room into a bar of wax and carve a copy; my visits there are frequent
  • Melisende, to whom I am drawn, asks to see my illuminated Bible; I feel more strongly about my faith in God than I do about her
  • I sneak into the abbey’s forbidden book room for the first time and encounter Qadir, its eyes coal-black; it mocks my prayers and delicately slits each of my wrists

And finally, my Mark — Garnier’s “vampire tell”: The wounds in my wrists never heal, and must always be bound or blotted with cloth; I cover them with my sleeves and change the dressings often.

This is a game about surprising yourself, and forgetting

As you move through the game’s prompts (with die rolls determining where you land), each will fuel a new bit of your story and require you to create an Experience. Some will prompt you to check off a Skill or Resource; the game ends when you must do that and cannot.

You’re not in complete control of your character. You make many of their decisions, but not all of them; it’s intended to make you uncomfortable, and it works.

When you gain enough Experiences, you’re forced to discard your Memories — flitting through the centuries, you cease to be who you were. Although, cruelly, you may retain legacies of those memories: people you used to know, skills you still possess despite having forgotten how you gained them, etc.

I’m not going to write out a whole journal here, nor give away Tim’s farm — rather, I’ll try to give you a sense for how the game plays and feels by sharing what came of the prompts I encountered on Garnier’s journey.

Prompt me, baby

The first prompt is always the same supposed to be rolled, but I picked prompt #1: you kill a mortal Character close to you, and gain the Bloodthirsty skill. (Updated because Tim mentioned on Twitter that the first prompt is the result of a die roll, like all the others.)

I kill Melisende the next time she comes to the abbey to collect the wine, drinking the blood from her wrists the way Qadir taught me; I feel nothing

Garnier

From there, die rolls lead you forward or back through the prompts — and each prompt is layered, so if you land on it again you can pick a new layer to explore.

My second was about being exposed:

I am found out to be a killer, and convince Eudes to run away with me, lying to him about everything; we pose as itinerant monks — I am now Roland

Garnier, now called Roland

I put that one under my Memory about my beloved Eudes. Unfortunately, he got the next prompt as well:

Unable to live with our many sins, my beloved Eudes threatens to reveal me; I kill him, and drink because I hunger

Roland (Garnier)

At this point I have 2/4 Skills checked and 0/3 Resources checked. These are still Garnier’s salad days.

Decades later, Garnier has forgotten all about the abbey’s forbidden book room (although not about Qadir) and the Plague has largely ended. He blends in for many years. Until:

I sneak into a monastery and drain every last monk; I leave the last one alive for days, draining him and watching, and then steal all their gold

Garnier

A couple observations

In solo games I tend to create the biggest piece of shit I can think of and then see what it’s like to live their life. I want to be uncomfortable, yet also delighted — in a slasher movie sort of way — at my character’s awfulness. TYOV is very much my jam.

TYOV is also an evil game. It fucks with you. It fucks with itself. It fucks with its own rules. It places you in discomfiting situations and makes you proceed.

For example: A century or more has passed and Garnier is now on his fourth name. He has fled to a foreign land, a place where he knows no one and doesn’t speak the language. I have to write an Experience for that . . . but if I fill up my first Memory, the one which appears first in this post, that will put me perilously close to forgetting who I am.

I don’t want to fill that slot.

Which, of course, is exactly the kind of gleefully wicked friction TYOV is designed to create.

Checking in with Garnier

A couple of centuries have passed. Garnier now lives in Greece. He has renounced God, discarding his 200-year-old personally illuminated Bible — which I chose to destroy over the letter from Brother Eudes.

One: holy shit, that’s making me feel things.

Two: how did Garnier preserve any faith for 200 years of being as evil as he is?

By the 17th Century, I no longer remember being Garnier at all. I strive to live an unremarkable mortal existence to avoid detection. In addition to my suppurating wrist wounds, I walk in an animal crouch and see Melisende — my first victim, who I no longer recall — in half the people I meet. I have been ground down by what feels like the inevitability of time, the curse of immortality weighing on me.

I’ve been happy precisely twice in 400 years: When Brother Eudes (who I later killed) confessed his love, and when I slipped into a 200-year torpor and felt nothing.

As fate and chance would have it, my last remaining skill is True Prayer. I’ve met my progenitor, the impossibly ancient vampire Qadir, and found in him now a kindred spirit. Little more than Qadir’s protection (which I’ve taken as a Resource) stands between me and the final death.

TYOV’s mechanics are deceptively simple. The natural probability of the roll you make every turn tends to drive you deeper into the book (though you do backtrack as well, just less often). The deeper you go, the more the prompts trend towards an ending — or an Ending, if you prefer.

I hit my final prompt and said aloud, “Holy shit, this is it.” And I knew instantly just what shitty, terrible form this ending would take for Theodorus — the name Garnier adopted in the 1600s and will now keep, eternally in the thrall of Qadir, the vampire who made him what he is.

My final Experience was this:

I am Qadir’s thrall, only his protection, his care, can stave off the final death; I live only to live, feeling nothing save the desire to continue being, forever

Theodorus

Fuuuuuuuuuuck that’s bleak.

Friends, Thousand Year Old Vampire is extraordinary. I’ve played a ton of solo RPGs, and this one does things I’ve never seen before. It lays out its goals and accomplishes all of them; it’s rewarding and moving and disturbing to play; and at the end of my first playthrough I feel wrung out.

This game rocks.

Categories
Solo RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

Thousand Year Old Vampire is one of the most gorgeous RPG books I’ve ever seen

My copy of Tim Hutchings’ Thousand Year Old Vampire came in the mail, and daaaaaaaaaamn this book slaps.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!

That spot foil — the gold bits — looks like kintsugi. The stamps look so real I want to peel them off.

So subtle, yet so convincing

I opened the front cover and literally went, “What the hell, why did Tim write in this and why does it say $125 . . . OHHHHHH.”

Interior page spread

Every page is a work of art. The whole is a work of art. Thousand Year Old Vampire is a master class in how to make a print RPG book 1) look and feel amazing and 2) look like an artifact from the world it contains.

I’ve seen some gorgeous gaming books in the past, but very, very few are in this one’s league. If you want to know more, or buy a copy, hit up Tim’s itch.io page for the book.

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Solo RPGs Tabletop RPGs

die heart’s wonderful list of solo RPGs

This list of solo RPGs over on Sophia Brandt’s excellent die heart blog is marvelous.

I’ve never done any “GM emulator”-style solo roleplaying, but I’ve played my fair share of gamebooks, solo roleplaying poems, and card-driven solo story games. This list is packed with stuff I’ve never heard of, much of it free.

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Solo RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

The solo RPG Seppuku: Fury of the Samurai is splendid

I love solo RPGs and samurai drama, so I was excited to come across Emanuele Galletto‘s Seppuku: Fury of the Samurai.

It’s a short solo RPG (5-10 minutes, depending on whether you write anything apart from your death poem), but surprisingly melancholy and impactful.

The only peace my bold but headstrong samurai found was with his male lover, Takeshi, who would have been my kaishakunin — affording me a final moment of solace — had I not blamed my lord for the rise to power of the vile Goro. Instead Goro was my second, and I regained my honor in death.

This was my death poem:

The blade is sheathed, now
Takeshi
The sparrow wages war against the wind
But Summer grows weary
And Spring follows Winter

Categories
Board games Solo RPGs Tabletop RPGs

A snapshot of my RPG and board game plays, 2009-2017

Around the end of the year, I usually take a look back at my gaming over the previous 12 months.[1] This time around, I decided to graph my board game and RPG sessions for every year for which I have complete data: 2009-2017.[2]

Here’s a graph comparing RPG and board game plays for these years, with solo and group RPG sessions broken out:

And here’s the raw data:

I love tracking this stuff, in part because what emerges from the data isn’t always what I thought would emerge. For example, I knew 2016 was on fire in terms of playing RPGs with my two groups, which the data supports, but 2017 felt just as RPG-packed to me — which the data doesn’t support. (Or rather, it supports that conclusion in terms of overall sessions, but not group play; I did a ton of solo gaming in 2017.)

I’ve also felt like my board gaming dropped off since I moved to Seattle, where my gaming group plays board games maybe once every 2-3 months, rather than roughly twice a month back in Utah . . . but the data doesn’t really support that gut feeling. Ignoring 2013, with its +50% spike, I’ve averaged 174 board game plays every year from 2012-2017.[3]

The data doesn’t lie about 2017, though — and the data and my feelings on the matter align perfectly: Gaming-wise, it’s been a great year. I’m in my happy place, playing and running sandboxes and zero-prep RPGs, and still fitting in a solid amount of board gaming along the way.

Here’s to 2018!

[1] See My 51 in 15 for 2015 and My 2014 in games for that year. I thought I’d done one of these for 2016, but I guess I didn’t.

[2] I started logging board games in early 2008, but didn’t start logging RPGs until almost the end of 2008.

[3] The chart also shows a pretty clear swap that took place in 2016: It was a low year for board games but a massively high year for group RPG play; time for one, broadly, comes from the other.

Categories
Free RPGs Solo RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

The Thief

I hadn’t planned to enter the 200 Word RPG Challenge, but then an idea popped into my head, followed closely by another, and one spilled out of me.

The Thief is a solitaire RPG that takes a few minutes to play. You need a handful of coins and possibly something to write on.

The Thief was inspired by the TV series The Wire and the video game Papers, Please; the Prince Valiant RPG, which uses coin-tossing; and current events. It’s not what the title makes it sound like it might be, but it’s not subtle about what it actually is.

I love nanogames, roleplaying poems, whatever you want to call them — short-form games, as a form, are fascinating. To date, my favorite is Stoke-Birmingham 0-0, in which you play the most boring people possible with the most boring lives possible and, over the course of (if memory serves) fifteen minutes, attempt to say absolutely nothing of interest. It’s hilarious.

200 words is a brutal constraint. I struggled to strike a balance between brevity, clarity, and the tone I was after. It required multiple drafts to get it down to 200 words, which was a surprisingly enjoyable process — I dig creativity with constraints. (And I played it conservative and counted the title, byline, and copyright language against my 200.)

The Thief took me about five hours to produce: one hour for the first draft, another to find the woodcut and header font, and three hours to rewrite, redesign, playtest, and proofread. The mechanics went through several iterations, three of which I playtested, until I found the mix I wanted. For about five minutes, the game took an abrupt dogleg and was about time travel, but it didn’t take me long to see that that wasn’t right for it.

I played the final version before submitting it to the challenge, and it did what I wanted it to. If you try it, I hope you get something out of it.