I invite you to join me. To survive, to reign, to cower for a thousand years; nothing more. And after that? I care not. Make your own destiny, and leave me to mine. This is our lot; the path of we the lost, the weary, the broken… And the eternal.
Thousand Year Old Vampire is a single player, pen and paper role playing game about the “life” of a vampire. At the beginning of the game you’ll create a character, craft their story, assign some skills and possessions- all standard RPG stuff. After that, you’ll begin their diary. At it’s core, TYOV is essentially a series of prompts, each of which provides a loose description of something your vampire has experienced. Your task is to write a journal entry describing each experience from your vampire’s perspective. Once finished, your next prompt will decided by the results of a D10 subtracted from those of a D6. Your goal is to survive these events with the skills, possessions, and knowledge your vampire has.
Unfortunately, all of this is twisted up by one primary challenge: Loss. Throughout the game your vampire will lose skills, items, allies, time, and even memories. Even the dice that drive you through the book are more likely to pull you backwards than propel you forward. And your vampire’s struggle with memory will prove to be the most compelling game villain you will ever face, as you may have to deal with the consequences of choices that your vampire no longer remembers making. And despite what you might otherwise expect, all of this adds up to an odd and incredibly satisfying experience.
To be fair, this book isn’t for everyone. In a way, it might be better described as a highly entertaining excercice in creative writing rather than a game; even though the system and mechanisms present most definitely make it one. Because of this, it takes some mental effort and a fair share of creativity; which may leave it a bit of a challenge for some. Further, you and your vampire will endure events, make choices, and experience emotions that players may find difficult. For this reason in particular, the game has been given a trigger warning label by the author, which I find important enough to echo here.
All that said, Thousand Year Old Vampire is sublime. It is without a question the single most impactful game I have ever played. Yes, it’s really that good; and no, this is not hyperbole. The journey you create, the path you follow will be uniquely yours, the choices and consequences all left for you to craft. Every moment is filled by meaning and agency, written and told by you. These journal entries can be a sentence, or an entire paragraph- whatever works for you. Despite the prompt system being effectively the text based version of “procedurally generated,” these events are anything but the dry cookie cutter experience you might then expect. Because the prompt system is so skeletal in nature, it leaves room for a fair amount of interpretation by the player. This means that you and I might look at a given prompt (and heck, by random and unlikely chance follow the exact same path through the book), and still produce wildly different stories and outcomes. As a result of all of this, the game is extensively replayable, as long as your starting character is fairly different from game to game, and you are willing to show some initiative in how you craft your story.
Despite my enthusiasm, the truth is that your response to this review may very well inform your feelings on the game itself. If anything you’ve read gives you pause for concern, Thousand Year Old Vampire probably isn’t for you. But if you’re even the least bit curious, I highly recommend giving this one a shot, even if it doesn’t seem to reside within your regular wheelhouse. It’s available as an affordable PDF; but the physical volume will make an absolutely gorgeous addition to your bookshelf, even if it’ll take some explaining to your friends when they inevitably pick it up. Thousand Year Old Vampire is deserving of the very highest acclimations that I can imagine. I hope you give it a try.