I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.
Solo play has been a part of the world of roleplaying from early on. I first started playing with the D&D red box and it introduces mechanics and game concepts via a solo adventure. As the designer of Thousand Year Old Vampire Tim Hutchings notes in the book, solo play was also a feature of the wargames from which roleplaying games developed.
Thousand Year Old Vampire is a solo journaling game where you play an ancient vampire existing through the centuries. As you play, you accumulate experiences and memories but there’s only a limited amount of space for these. Eventually you’ll be forced to forget memories so that you can adjust to the new world in which you move. Choosing which memories to lose is a key part of the experience.
You can also write a diary, consigning some memories to the page to avoid losing them. However, the trouble is that a diary is a physical object and can be lost. The game is based on a series of prompts that require you to decide what happens to your vampire. Some of these deal with the character’s diary, and evoked particular terror in me since I’m an archivally minded person. The idea of losing records is scary!
There’s a lot of mood packed into the game. The prompts evoke a very specific lonely existence but at the same time they offer a lot of latitude in terms of how to interpret them with each playthrough. The vampire of this game feels more like the sad alienated predator of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr than the enticing aristocrat of Bram Stoker.
You roll dice that can take you forward or backward on the list of prompts. You’re more likely to go forward but revisiting a prompt you already had is possible. This means that you’ll get to the second stage of that prompt.
There are a total of three stages, with the weirdest outcomes reserved for the last stage. The probabilities of the mechanic mean that you’re unlikely to get very many of these third stage prompts during a single playthrough.
Thousand Year Old Vampire is one of the strongest solo journaling games out there, a benchmark for the whole genre.