Thousand Year Old Vampire – Intro to actual play

The indie RPG scene is doing some really amazing things lately. Just a cursory search will show that the OSR (Old School Revival) is in full swing, new PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) games come out almost every week, and websites like allow indie designers to take risks and try things that are experimental, counter-intuitive, and just plain weird.

One thing that I’m attracted to as a writer is the solo journaling RPG. These are games that you typically play solo, though there are ways to turn some of them into a two-player, epistolary experience. These typically have a series of prompts, randomized by playing cards or dice, that guide your story. The goal, like many RPGs, isn’t necessarily to win, but rather to tell an interesting story. One such game that has gotten a lot of buzz recently is Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings.

Now, I could play through this game by myself and review it, but I have a better idea. If I’m going to play this game, and the gameplay is recorded word-for-word in a journal, why not record the play through on this site?

So that’s what we’re doing. Starting next week, as a new Friday Feature, I’m posting fragments of the journal of Nathaniel Salsbury: advisor to Lord Tomkin, astrologer, occultist, Vampire.

I don’t want to give a complete how-to in this post; if you really want to know how to play, I’d ask that you check out Hutchings’ site. However, to appreciate what will happen in my future posts, a brief explanation is necessary.

Your character in Thousand Year Old Vampire is made up of a series of memories, skills, resources, characters, and marks.

Memories are the events that drive your Vampire. Each memory is expanded over the course of the game by Experiences, or moments that relate back to those memories. Each experience is a single sentence (though I make no promises that I’ll stick to that) that connects the event to the memory. The book says to think about Memories as containers for Experiences.

The tricky thing is that the Vampire cab only have five Memories, each Memory can only have three Experiences. If there is a new experience that must be placed, but there’s no Memory in which to place it, the Vampire forgets one of their memories and all experiences associated with it. (There are ways to preserve memories beyond this limit, but we’ll handle that if it comes up.) As you see, the longer the Vampire lives, and the more experiences they survive, the more of themselves they lose to the ages.

Skills are abilities the Vampire has. Once they use a skill, it’s gone. The game doesn’t tell you what skill to use, so it’s up to the player to figure out how a skill might be useful in any prompt. Resources work much the same way, and provide flavor to your Memories and Experiences. Characters also work this way, and are divided into Mortal and Immortal characters. Mortal characters will come and go throughout the Vampire’s life, while immortals may stick with the character, or may pop up throughout various points in history, living an unlife parallel to the Vampire’s. Marks are the tangible ways in which the Vampire is not human, and these may give the character’s identity away if not concealed.

From “Two Bats Flying” by Hokusai Katsushika, 1760-1849.

The player runs through a series of prompts (provided in the rulebook) by rolling a d10 and a d6. They subtract the d6 from the d10, and move ahead or behind on the series of numbered prompts by the difference of the dice. Then, they answer the prompts, describing how the Vampire resolves the event and crossing off any skills or resources required to answer the prompt.

If, at any time, the player must check off a skill or resource and cannot, the game ends. Likewise, some prompts will just end the story, though that leads to a long-lived Vampire.

I haven’t played though this game yet, so it’ll be a learning experience, but I hop it will be fun! For the purposes of the playthrough, I will be recording my game as the in-character journal of my Vampire, followed by out-of-character notes. There are two ways to play: a short game where the player records key words and short sentences, and long game, which is completely written out. I’m going with the long game, so buckle up.

One note: though the game does deal with dark themes, including murder, diablerie, and other crimes against humanity, I’m going to keep my reporting PG-13. This means that particularly heinous things that happen in my playthough on paper may only be alluded to on this site.

With that out of the way, check back next week for our Dramatis Personae, then a week later for the first steps of our journey.

*note: I received Thousand Year Old Vampire in a bundle of games I bought during a charity event over at This means that I did not pay full price, though the reduced price has no bearing on my coverage of the game. Also, keep an eye out on for those bundles…I’ve gotten some good deals on some games I may not have otherwise even known about.

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