Thousand Year Old Vampire: Session Report
The Tale of Saladin
By MARK WILSON
Thousand Year Old Vampire is a solo RPG intended for mature audiences. The maturity comes largely from dealing with heavy issues such as seeing the world change in strange ways, memory loss, the loss of loved ones, despair, rage and other dark emotions that can take hold of a life as it twists and turns. It is not intended to shock, but rather to inspire introspection amidst the darker realms of storytelling.
The game plays out over a series of prompts, and you jump forward and backward between them via dice rolls (d10 result minus d6 result). If you land on the same page twice, you go to a second or third prompt on the page that builds off of the first.
There are a few basic stats, mostly that track skills, NPCs and resources. But it’s very rules-lite.
RELATED: Thousand Year Old Vampire Review
Content Warning: this story contains murder, subjugation, and implied sexual abuse and is intended for mature audiences only. If these subjects may adversely affect you, I would caution against reading further.
Saladin, son of Yussef, a merchant of Huzuz.
The game assumes you’ll set your character in real-world history, but the premise works in fictional settings just as well. I used it as an opportunity to explore the Al-Qadim D&D setting, since I’m going to be GMing a campaign there starting later this year.
I may even use Saladin as an NPC, with backstory details based off of this session.
Samira – immortal vampire who turned Saladin into a vampire, and became an on/off lover and enemy
Seneca – Saladin’s best friend in Huzuz, turned by Saladin by accident.
Saffron – Girl who befriends Saladin as he’s trapped during the daytime under a store awning. They remain friends for the duration of her life.
Note: I didn’t plan on everyone important having a name start with “S.” Happened a bit by accident, with all the other NPCs having minor roles.
I’ve taken some liberties to tie things together narratively. While no major deviations exist in the writeup compared to my session, I had to eliminate various extraneous details and create minor transitions in order to maintain the story’s flow for a public audience.
I am Saladin, a young man of Huzuz. I work for my father, Yussef, a well-to-do merchant. Yussef, my father, taught me all the tricks of haggling and negotiation. He could strike a deal with any man or woman regardless of station.
I was young and naive, and Samira, an immortal vampire, was beautiful. This was my first error. I was turned in a blood ritual that was supposed to kill me, but I didn’t realize what it meant at the time. Traumatized from the experience, I accept a delivery job from Kalim, my friend and mentor, and merchant peer of my father.
Kalim takes me on my first journey to a different city, to deliver silks. He shows me how to identify and maintain paths, even in the unrelenting desert terrain. I get drunk for the first time on this journey as well, and lose my virginity in the next city. It is intoxicating in more ways than one. However, I begin to feel weak and strange even beyond the drink. I wake in a dream, and when I come to, I see that I’ve drained Kalim of life.
I now know what I am, and I flee toward Huzuz in terror.
Seneca and Samira: My Immortal Enemies
Heading back to the city, I instinctively seek out Seneca, my lifelong friend. As children, we’d climb the rooftops of the city and had many secret rendezvous points. I met him at one of these, fearing the gaze of others. But instead of talking, the hunger strikes me again and I attack him. Relenting due to my overwhelming guilt, I leave him barely alive.
A wizard spies me from her nearby tower, and captures me after the attack. I convince her that I am an unwilling victim, and she agrees to keep me as a prisoner to try to heal or reform me. The attempts are unsuccessful. Her compassion turns to indifference, and weeks turn into years as I am left alone for longer than I can recall.
My escape comes by chance, when an underling slips up and gives me an opening. I do not mourn their loss. As I return to the world, I find that nearly a century has passed, and all that I knew is dust.
Lacking a better plan, I seek out Samira, the vampire who turned me. Once found, I learn that she commands a sizable number of human thralls that do her bidding. She lives in an underground complex not far from Huzuz, and welcomes me in.
The warm welcome is short-lived. I am subjected to her capricious cruelty on a near-daily basis. Being immortal does not spare me. Her wrath is all. But I see no other path before me. On occasion, she takes me as a lover, but these moments are no more tender. I come to fear her touch.
One of the thralls, Zaina, begins attending me regularly, and following me as a master. I will not touch her, either in anger or in lust, so she trusts me.
Other than Zaina, the thralls are husks of what they must have once been. I do not mourn as I use them to feed, and I become accustomed to feasting on their weak and ephemeral forms.
Though I do not know why, Zaina betrays me as a vampire to some locals, and I am hunted. Investigating the matter, I learn that Samira put her up to this, and that her plan was to goad me into killing Zaina. I do not permit this.
However, the scrutiny brings with it someone from my past: Seneca, who I unknowingly turned into a vampire the night of my attack on him. Seneca finds Zaina and convinces her of my evil. While away from Samira’s hideout, I am ambushed. I am forced to kill Zaina, and only escape with my life by begging forgiveness to Seneca. I am not sure whether or not I meant the plea, or if I merely wished to live.
I flee, this time far, far away, to the outskirts of a jungle where I might find some solitude. For 50 years this lasts, until I grow restless.
The Friendship of Saffron
I return to Huzuz, hoping to start over. I learn that the city is now ruled by a cabal of Djinn, who overthrew their mortal masters a generation ago. I make a note of the power they wield openly.
Being more careful, I take up a skilled trade and attempt to embed myself into the populace. A criminal named Rafiq learns my secret, but in exchange for his life, he helps me stay hidden.
One day I am thoughtless and get stuck outside as daylight strikes. I take shelter under an awning, but am soon accosted by locals who know I should not be loitering in front of a strange house.
A young girl comes to my aid, claiming I am her uncle. She makes up savvy excuses for our presence under the awning, deflecting scrutiny with her charm and spirit. We spend the day talking to one another, and she learns what I am but is unafraid. Her name is Saffron.
Following this, we enjoy several years of close friendship. She teaches me to fish, and use my abilities and dark influence to acquire the means by which she and her family can grow a large fishing business. As Saffron grows and eventually takes over the business, her family becomes wealthy. As she ages, we speak less and less, but her family grows and I meet her children.
As if in the blink of an eye, her life is over, and I find myself standing over her grave. I thank her, but I do not know how I shall find such light in others.
Power & Influence
Deciding to take a page from the djinni who have used their power to gain influence, I use my powers to obtain a small band of mercenaries and a keep to call my own. I wish to dictate how my life is led, for the first time in centuries.
The power is mostly stable for a number of years. I only have to kill on occasion to quiet unrest or rumors that could reveal my true nature.
I am visited after some decades by none other than Samira. She is being hunted herself, and needs shelter. Against my better judgement, her sway over me holds true, even decades removed from our last correspondence. In time, I am once again hers. Her company is not exactly tender, but neither is it as icy as it was before. Has she begun to change?
She has not. Biding her time, she eventually reveals that she has taken command of my forces and drives me out of my own keep. The betrayal does not surprise me. I am merely left numb, having hoped for a brief moment that she might have been able to join me as an equal.
I travel once again, this time even taking a new name: Omar. I land in Halwa, the City of Solitude, hoping for respite. It is a holy city, and I am left alone.
The loneliness is not a boon. Rather, it is a chance to reflect on what I lack. The memory of Saffron lingers, but it stings because it is a constant reminder that I lack all connection. This despair leads me nearly to madness. I determine to forget Saffron to be rid of my pain. And in time, she is purged from my memory, and I am left only with hunger and emptiness. But at least I no longer recognize the emptiness for what it is.
I travel to Hiyal, City of Intrigue. There I set to the dark work of my kind, and bring myself up to a position of power. As a master of intrigue, I lose myself for nearly a century in its dark political and criminal webs.
During this time, a man visits me, claiming to be Yussef, my father. This is impossible, I tell myself, though he stands firm in his conviction. He claims to be allied with Seneca, and seeks a truce for us, great friends that we once were in our original lives.
I do not remember my father outside his name and profession. This man is not him, I decide. I use my connections to disappear from him, though I choose not to kill him. That life has long since passed. To believe I can return to it is folly.
I now know power, wealth and security. But something nags at me. Something that will never allow me to truly be free. Samira. I decide to end her.
I return to the keep under the auspices of a truce, but this time I am the one who has sprung the trap. She has brought me nothing but pain, and deserves her destruction. I do not give her a quick death.
Freedom From Samira
Like a weight lifted, I feel a tension in my being subside that had been there for as long as I can remember. I look upon life with newfound hope.
In my keep, I dismiss the mercenaries and decide to find a passion. I take up painting, and spend my nights creating works of art.
During this endeavor, a single image bubbles back to the surface of my mind: Saffron. I bring her to life in my paintings in a hundred different ways, a tribute to our friendship. This time, the memory is not bitter, and I find solace in my art. And I can once again see her face as clear as the moon in the night sky, despite the passing of centuries since her death.
Dark Travels and Old Friends
On a trip back to Huzuz, I find myself caught in a crowd by accident and am injured. Rushed to a healing center in the confusion, they learn what I am. My flight is swift as I am once again hunted.
I find refuge in a caravan of workers heading to build a pyramid for the city’s ruler. They are paid and free workers, but still largely untethered from family connections. No one misses the ones who disappear when I need to feed.
I aid in the pyramid’s construction, taking over as night shift leader as a cover. Several relics are brought in to occupy places of honor in the pyramid. I recognize one: a sword that belonged to Samira. It mirrored a vampire’s bite and could transfer the victim’s blood into the wielder, strengthening them.
I take it as a prize, remembering the thousands she slew with the sword. I have done well, I think to myself.
Returning to my keep eventually, I return to my art for a number of years. One day, I am visited by a man I do not know. His name is Abdul. He explains that he is a descendent of Saffron, and that she kept journals and told stories of her great vampire friend that were passed down through generations. He believed the stories, and sought me out.
The Djinn rulers stole the family’s wealth and business, and he begs for my aid. For her, I happily agree.
I find that I have forgotten everything I knew of the fishing business. Saffron would laugh. But I retain the mercantile spark of my original family, and help to establish Abdul and his family in a way that will not attract the attention of the Djinni. They are grateful, and Abdul becomes a friend.
I am also amused to learn that makeup that turns one’s skin pale is now a trendy fashion in Huzuz. With the proper physical and/or magical protections, I can walk around in the daylight and go unnoticed. It is surreal, but not unwelcome.
Passion and Purpose
Abdul encourages me to share my paintings with the world. I do so, but am mocked by the local art dealers. My methods have not been in style for many centuries, and they will have no buyers for my work.
However, one local merchant approaches me and suggests I travel to Gana, the City of Riches. They have merchants more receptive to my unorthodox artistry.
I do so, and am met with unexpected success. I take up residence as a reclusive artist whose works are valued beyond measure. I also take on students, and “invent” students every few decades so that I can pass the mantle of master painter to myself, but without arousing suspicion. For several decades I live as a famous recluse, enjoying anonymous jaunts around the city and the luxuries brought by fortune.
With no true enemies and a lifestyle that can sustain me indefinitely, I am content.
And my most famous painting, that of Saffron on the day I met her, continues to be sold among the nobility and is prized for its beauty and grace…
I’m a bit humbled by the story above, because at times it doesn’t feel like it came from me. That’s the power a good series of narrative prompts can have, though. If a prompt is inspiring and evocative, while still allowing for creative freedom, great things can happen.
To be clear, I don’t believe most sessions of this game will end on such a hopeful note. I got lucky with my last 10-12 rolls or so, and was able to bring back some lost memories and resolve earlier plot threads in ways that seemed unlikely. Stated differently, even with the evil acts detailed in the session, I was a couple stray rolls away from a much darker tale.
But I’m glad to have seen the light at the end, amidst so much (interesting) darkness.
Theme and Lessons
Friendship and personal connection seem to be at the heart of this. In many sessions, Saffron’s interlude would have been a brief aside in an otherwise violent and dark tale. With unlucky rolls, she might have also met an untimely end. Once I had a chance to recover a lost memory, it stuck out as an outlier, and therefore the most interesting narratively.
Solitude didn’t work for Saladin. Even in his time as a criminal overlord, there was connection and purpose. The lowest moments were away from any human connection. He spent most of his time running away from one thing or another. It was only when there was an opportunity to proactively craft a path for himself that he began to climb out of total darkness.