All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG. Bring these games to your table!
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About a year and a half ago, I was in one of my local used book stores searching for ancient tomes. While perusing the shelves, I stumbled across a large collection of books by the same author: David Eddings. He hit it big in the 1980s and had quite a prolific career through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. During these decades, he was a staple for fantasy readers, and his books came highly recommended to me for this entire time.
However, somehow I’d missed the Eddings boat. I knew of his works and how highly people talked about them, but I never did delve into his lengthy catalog… until now. When I came across the solid row of David Eddings books on that shelf, I knew I had to have them. I picked up all of them before anyone else could snatch them from my grasp. A credit card transaction later, I had a paper bag packed with what I hoped would be wonderful fantasy tales.
I don’t regret the purchase. It took me a few months to finish up the current read, and then I dove headfirst into the Belgariad series. Five books later (and a year later), I came up for air from one of the greatest tales I’ve read in a very, very long time.
This spawned some ideas for me on the role playing front.
I’ve been a player in a few games that were “based on the book by <insert author here>” and we always seemed to have a blast living in those worlds. I’m not talking a direct translation of book-to-game (like The Dresden Files or similar games), but using a system to live out the events and times from a book. The key game I’m thinking about was run by a good friend of mine, Bill. He took a space opera game and setting and translated it into the Alternity RPG. We did our best to fight the Von Neumann machines that were eating our part of the galaxy. Along the way, we encountered key characters from the novel, came into contact with cultures and people that were taken whole-cloth from the book, and saw (and sometimes changed) events that occurred during the course of the original author’s story.
Even though we knew we were “living in a borrowed world,” we had a blast. I think there are some key take aways that I have from that lengthy space opera campaign that I could apply to emulating the events, people, places, and world of the Belgariad in a fantasy game I want to run.Leverage the Setting as a Character
I think to capture the true feel of a novel or series, the setting needs to feel like a character. It needs to feel lived in and experienced and ready to take action in response to the PCs actions. If the GM can give the flavor of the setting (or the parts the PCs will interact with), then the level of immersion for the players will increase exponentially.
In the Belgariad books, there are numerous maps of the different areas the characters move through. I’m pretty sure I could find those maps all stitched together in one large map. Even if I couldn’t find such a thing, I can easily put the maps in the books to use. My approach would be to pick a nation (I’d probably start in Sendar), and drop the PCs there as a starting point. I’d make Sendar as real as I could by borrowing flavor and text from Eddings to set things up and give the area that realistic texture that it needs.Bump into Key Characters
While in Sendar, I’d have the PCs travel through Faldor’s Farm (which is where the whole Belgariad series starts), but I wouldn’t make Garion or Aunt Pol or Durnik or any of the other Really Important People From The Book a focal point. Sure, they’d be there, but they’d be side characters to the main story.
To keep the spotlight off of these various main characters, I would amp up the focus on NPCs of my own creation that fit within the location. Of course, while at the inn at Faldor’s Farm, the PCs would see the scullery boy and his aunt with the white-striped, raven-black hair, but at this point the boy (Garion) is just a young lad who scrubs pots and makes messes. Likewise, Aunt Pol (aka; Polgara) is just the kitchen’s cook who has some mysterious past that no one is aware of.
By allowing the PCs to “bump into” the main characters of the story, the players who know the tale will get that Easter egg moment and that will increase their enjoyment. If a player hasn’t read the books yet, then if they do turn to the novels down the road, they’ll have their own sweet memories of how their character interacted, even if it was briefly, with Aunt Pol or Garion or Old Wolf or any number of other important characters from the stories.Witness Important Events
With the Belgariad being five books long, there are plenty of awe-inspiring events that come to be, and many of them happen in front of other people. What would happen if the PCs are in a place to witness, perhaps alter, a key event in the book? Would this change the story? Probably. Does it matter that your story is different from Edding’s efforts? Not one bit. This is your turn to play in the author’s playground. You and your group are not committed to marching lockstep with the author’s words.
This next bit is a tad spoilery, but the books have been out for decades, so I don’t feel compelled to hold back. In the fourth book (Castle of Wizardry), Ce’Nedra dons armor and raises an army. At this point Ce’Nedra is betrothed to Garion, but is still very much a spoiled young woman of noble descent. She’s demanding and hard to be around, but something changes in her during the course of this book that makes her quite a bit more admirable. If the PCs are nearby Ce’Nedra when she and Polgara work together to raise the army, they could witness (or even be swept up in) the building of a massive army that follows Ce’Nedra’s every move.Make It Your Own
I’m pretty sure I said this before when I talked about The Expanse and adopting the books and/or TV show to your own gaming table, but I feel it’s work expressing again. Make the world and characters your own. Put them to use at your gaming table and make them work for you. You’re not beholden to the tale Eddings has already put forth in the world.
Go out and tap a vein from an old story and see what gold you can mine from the mountain.
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Over the last two months, I’ve been looking at the game Thousand Year Old Vampire, by Tim Hutchings. It is a journaling game that you play by recording facts about your character, then rolling dice to answer prompts. These prompts may make you change some of those facts. You have a limited number of memories, and eventually, you have to fight to remember everything that you once were.
Camdon Wright, amazing fellow gnome and game designer extraordinaire, is the one that first asked if I would be interested in looking at this game, and as I’ve never played a journaling game like this before, I was very curious to see what would happen.Holding Back the Years
As a refresher, my vampire was Jorgrimr, a Viking mercenary who helped secure Kiev around 1000 CE. Jorgrimr was turned into a vampire by a mysterious black wolf, fled Kiev, moved to Germany, and adopted the name Wolfhart.
While he violently clashed with a rival’s troops and fed on them, in his new life, Wolfhart met a girl named Kisaiya, and found a cure for her blood ailment by researching the Blood of Czernobog. He’s feeling pretty human for the first time in about 50 years.
This is going to get messy.Content Warning
I don’t get too graphic in this chapter, but there is still a lot of violence, reference to severed body parts, and a general disdain for human compassion on the rise, so if that isn’t your thing, please continue accordingly.Prompt #13
This prompt tells me that I fall asleep for 100 years, and must strike out any mortal characters on my character sheet.
Wolfhart begins to chronicle who he is and what he has accomplished. Foremost on his mind is his arrival in Kiev, his family, Kisaiya, and his invention of the elixir that cured her. He is tired from his work with the mortals, but almost feels human again.
When he awakens, Kisaiya and his work, even who he was, is like a dream that he can only remember when he reads his diary. When he finds out how long he has slept, he realizes Kisaiya, Anichka, Ranssi, even Konstantine are all long gone.
He wants to mourn, but he doesn’t know why.
Wolfhart creates a Diary, and moves a memory to that Diary. All his mortal Characters are gone.Prompt #14
The prompt tells me that my Diary has been damaged, and I have to remove three nouns from the Diary.
Wolfhart spends another 100 years in a blur. Everything is like a dream. He feels nothing. He does the bare minimum to maintain what he has. He haunts Germany, and when he finally realizes how much time has passed, and what he must do to maintain his estate, he realizes he has neglected his Diary.
He cannot remember the girl he saved with the elixir. He cannot remember his father’s name. The ink is smudged in the diary. He does not even remember the city where he won his glory.
Why am I going through the motions of this long unlife?Prompt #15
This prompt tells me that generations have passed, and I wake up covered in dust. I lose a resource to determine how I escape.
The remnants of the house guard of Wolfhart’s estate, the children of his mercenary company, loot the estate that they once guarded. They set fire to the home under which Wolfhart was buried after an unfortunate rockslide trapped him in the caverns under the manor. After the fire burns away the passages, the rocks fall away, and he realizes that he has lost even more time to his carelessness. He must get control again. He must not let time keep sliding away like sand through his fingers.
He forgets everything about his old love. He knows she existed. Or maybe she was a dream. Has he ever known love?
Wolfhart strikes out his memory of Anichka and his earliest friends. Wolfhart strikes out “My Loyal Troops” as a resource.Prompt #16
This prompt tells me that I gain a creative skill based on a lost memory due to timeless introspection.
Wolfhart is sure he loved at one point in time. He reads poetry and stories of doomed lovers. He learns to write his own stories, and shares those stories with others. He feels the shadow of something he once knew, and he is even less sure that he ever truly knew love. Can the written word cast such a spell on the mind?
Wolfhart gains the Writer of Love Stories skill.Prompt #17
This prompt tells me to check a skill to avoid arrest, and if necessary, create a mortal character to take the blame for your crimes.
Gregor Langstrom is a “monster hunter,” using Karina Strausshammer’s inventions to fight the supernatural. He is getting closer to Wolfhart. Wolfhart does not want to feed on the people reading his books, but he can’t make himself care about the real people as much as he cares about the people he makes up in his stories.
The authorities close in on Wolfhart, so he manages to frame Langstrom as a crazed, obsessive zealot, killing people that were reading “perverse” books, and undermining society’s moral framework.Prompt #18
The prompt tells me to bond with an ancient enemy Character, checking a skill to become friends, and sharing a resource with them to gain a shared resource from them.
Wolfhart is increasingly annoyed with humans. They feel so ephemeral compared to the people he writes about. His stories speak of epic people that live life on purpose, not weak-willed folk that don’t appreciate beauty or the thrill of living. They might as well be dead.
Wolfhart decides to find his “origin,” to track down the Black Wolf. He uses his skill at ambushing others to trap the wolf, but he doesn’t kill it, as he once fantasized. Instead, he feeds it half the Heart of Czernobog, while eating the other half. He wants the Old Gods back in the world, and he wants to know if the Son can become the Father.
The Black Wolf feasts with him, and shares control of the Great Pack with Wolfhart.
Wolfhart checks the Ambush skill, and shares the Heart of Czernobog. He gains access to the Great Pack resource.Prompt #19 I don’t know that I will ever truly sleep again . . . I may only lie awake in the dark, in my mockery of a life, waiting to journal again. Share1Tweet1Reddit1Email
This prompt tells me that I am physically trapped in a place from which I can never be rescued, and asks me to come up with what I think about for the first thousand years. It informs me that the game is over.
Wolfhart feels no kinship with the mortals any longer. It has been too long since he had a friend. Wolfhart has the pack now, and he rampages, destroying Strosshammer’s new society that is spreading across Europe. He will single-handedly turn back the clock and make mortals live by the sword and their wits again.
Then, the Black Wolf turns on Wolfhart. This is a Europe rife with possible worshippers. Wolfhart has served his purpose, and the Black Wolf drops him into the Void of Czernobog, a place of darkness between worlds. Because Wolfhart shared the feast of Czernobog’s Heart, he will always have a feeling of what the world is like, moving on without him. For a thousand years, Wolfhart hears the prayers of the faithful in the Black Wolf’s ears, but Wolfhart shares the hunger that he obsesses over, unable to feed.
The Black Wolf thinks about Wolfhart’s hunger, and he becomes a mad god, one that demands as much sacrifice of flesh as of will. In this way, at least, Wolfhart knows he continues to shape the world from the void. Or does he?
Is this all a dream? Is this Niffelheim? Did you die all those years ago, when the wolf bit you? You are so hungry. You are so cold. But you must be still affecting the world. Surely you wouldn’t lie in the cold, eternal winter, having lost your greatest battle, unmourned and unremembered.
Why?Thoughts On An Unlife Well Lived
I really enjoyed this process. Now that I have a taste of journaling games, I think that I may have been transformed. I may have to feed on more of them. I don’t know that I will ever truly sleep again . . . I may only lie awake in the dark, in my mockery of a life, waiting to journal again.Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
This has been an unorthodox journey of a review process, but if you enjoy wondering exactly what you would do in challenging situations, I think you are going to find a lot of worth-while material in Thousand Year Old Vampire.
I’ll be honest, I’m kind of worn out after that roller coaster spiral that my vampire went into at the end. It took a lot out of me to try to do the story justice, but I also really enjoyed the process.
Do you have any other journaling games you would recommend? What was your experience with them, and what kind of emotional charge did you have after completing them? We want to hear about your experiences below!
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