With all of my Dark Eras posts lately, I was excited to see that A Thousand Years of Night was finally released by Onyx Path. This book is about elder vampires, creatures that have lived for centuries and been smart, adaptable, and ruthless enough to resist the grind of time. Obviously, Dark Eras and Dark Eras Companion are excellent resources for vampiric elders, it even says so in the book’s introduction. On the other hand, it would be great to have a book that was more than just “here’s how to make super-deadly vampires!” and actually addressed the themes of the matter. Is this that book? Let’s see!
I’ll go through this book chapter by chapter, starting with the Introduction then on to a chapter on creating an elder. Chapter two is about creating centuries-long histories, chapter four is about Devotions, Attributes, and Skills, and chapter four deals with Touchstones and creating groups of elders. The last chapter details elder NPCs, as well as other long-lived threats.
This includes most of the aspects of World of Darkness and Chronicle of Darkness books, which is a fantastic thing. It’s got three themes (turned up to eleven, man), a guide to “How to Use This Book,” inspirational media, and other White Wolf books you might want to use with this. I know it’s not a lot, but I just really like CoD intros so I like to stop and appreciate them.
Chapter One: Opening Movement
Elders are creatures of legend but the process laid out here is pretty straightforward. Refreshingly so, in fact, there’s no need to make this into Scion. As the book puts it, “don’t worry about establishing the centuries of background up front. Instead, figure out first who she was at the beginning, in her mortal life and in the first few years of her unlife.” It may seem odd to focus on so small a part of the character’s existence but this is (literally) her formative years and they continue to shape the vampire’s psyche into their many centuries of living. If you’ve read or seen Interview With the Vampire, you’ve seen this play out and it also makes character creation simpler (by which I mean “possible”).
The revised process goes through concept, Aspirations, Attributes, and Skills and Specialties from the character creation steps in Vampire: The Requiem Second Edition with some tips for elder vamps but not many changes (five Specialties instead of three… that’s pretty much it). Clan and Covenant are important choices and it’s possible that elders have switched covenants in the past (maybe several times) so there are guidelines for having out-of-covenant Disciplines as well as eschewing covenants altogether. Some new archetypes for the elder’s Mask and Dirge but the first real change comes with Touchstones.
The mortal Touchstones that remind elders of their humanity are definitely dead. They create new Touchstones like other vampire characters but they also add in faded Touchstones to mirror their modern ones. Mechanically, elders can use these once per story as a “bonus Touchstone” when they remember their brother’s laugh or their wife’s perfume and they can only lose these if they get to zero Humanity. Together with the elder’s chosen Anachronism (an outdated behavior that can earn you Willpower when indulged) the elder characters should definitely have their pasts hanging over them.
Mechanical stuff like Disciplines, Devotions, Blood Potency, and Merits come next and generally work the same (although this book promises many new options). Determining Humanity gets a little different since you can’t just assume that a centuries-old elder has any shred of their former self left. Instead of starting at 7 you prompting questions about the character’s interaction with mortals to generate a Humanity between 3 and 6: an excellent way to build the character as well as determine this important feature.
Next you spend Experiences to make them truly devastating predators; this works like the campaign tiers for other books but runs from rank elders that are 200-500 years old (25 Experiences) to Methuselahs that are more than a millennia old (100 Experiences). To help you spend this, you can pick from various “arcs” that represent time periods about equal to a human lifetime when the elder lived under one mask and gained certain skills. Maybe the character lived as a Brute enforcer during the 1920s, bouncing people from speakeasies owned by older vamps, and before that was a Traitor who did a lot of damage to vampire society. This helps you build the story and also use up your large chunk of Experiences, though you can also freestyle either one.
The chapter ends with a look at clans and covenants. The section on clans outlines each of the five vampire clans from the core book and looks at how they cope with change and how the clan banes intensify in elder vampires. Since we’re talking about creature that have been around for centuries, though, there are also those lost clans mentioned in Vampire: The Requiem Second Edition that are available: the Akhud (originally detailed in the VII book), the Julii (originally from Requiem for Rome), and the Pijavica (brand-new for the Second Edition). There’s also the Hollow Mekhet, whom I hadn’t heard about and which aren’t in the Second Edition rulebook, but who are an awesome, soulless version of the Mekhet from pharaonic Egypt. For covenants we get a similar discussion of each of the five covenants and the roles of elders there, but just one new “lost” covenant: the Cerberus Pact which I interpret as a guardian sect from the Camarilla that fights against the Strix threat.
Chapter Two: The Long Solo
This chapter is all about developing your own character’s backstory. The character creation process already has the skeleton of a story (especially if you made use of the arcs for spending Experiences) but you don’t really know what happened. They were a scholar during the latter half of the 19th century, sure, but what did they study? Where did they study it? Did they have apprentices, colleagues, a household of servants? All of that is waiting to be developed and there are some great bits of advice here. If you don’t want to do that all up front, though, you can use flashbacks instead.
Much like the flashes of memory seen in Mummy: The Curse, these fill in backstory and can have important implications for the future. The book recommends them as prelude scenes but I would use them as cut-scenes into the past. For instance, you might run into a previous ally in the present and wonder how you left things with her in the past. With a flashback scene where the other players take on NPCs to play it out, then you jump back to the present knowing how it all went down. To help with this process, the chapter offers 25 different flashback scene outlines for the Storyteller from the elder’s first Embrace to coming through wartime to making an important discovery.
Chapter Three: What We’ve Learned Along the Way
While Chapter One outlined how to build a character that is an ultra-powerful vampire, this chapter discusses what that’s actually like. Each Attribute is discussed in turn and tips (both roleplaying and mechanical) are provided for dealing with a character that is supernaturally Intelligent, Strong, or Composed. Likewise, Skills and Specialties get some attention, including a sidebar for Archery, Ride, and Enigmas as pre-modern Skills (familiar to fans of Dark Eras, Dark Eras Companion, and other historical books).
The chapter also discusses waking from torpor and the discovering new power of the vitae. To that end, it has a list of eleven new Devotions, three new Crúac rites, three new Theban Sorcery Miracles, a new Coil of the Dragon (the Coil of Quintessence) with a full set of five powers, and a new Carthian Law. There’s also a big list of elder Merits including Call the Beast (use Animalism to control revenants), Mentor in Immortality (gain a vampire protegé who will do whatever you like), Prima Donna (the elder rejects the covenants and can use Willpower to circumvent their squabbling politics), and Undeniable Aura (easily bait others into releasing their Beast). There are also a pair of Dynastic Merits which are for Invictus members that are part of a group sharing authority (reminds me of the situation in Constantinople from Vampire: The Dark Ages).
Chapter Four: The Company We Keep
This chapter connects the elder with other characters and is probably my favorite in the book. The crux of it is a process that they’re calling Spinning the Web and it’s the elder equivalent of Climbing the Ladder (VtR Second Edition, p. 282-287) where you explore your character a little and get rewarded with experience. Whereas neonates explore things like dealing with their sire, accepting their undead existence, or confronting their lingering human frailties, elders have much bigger veins to drain.
They still answer an internal prompt and then an external prompt to connect with other characters, both PCs and NPCs. This means that you can talk about that time when you saw mortal society making the same, catastrophic mistakes all over again and tell the other players about the pain of watching history repeat, as well as what group in the setting you blame for that episode. On the other side you can talk about some institution you started way back when that fills you with pride, as well as some fixture in the city that grounds you. There are ten of these just like with the neonates so plenty of chances to leave your mark and build your character.
The last part of the chapter details ways for you to bring mortals, ghouls, revenants, and other Kindred into your story. This isn’t some secondary throw-away part of the chapter either: each group gets 3-5 pages of info so you have plenty to work with. If you’re still short on inspiration, there’s always the next chapter…
Chapter Five: Wolves at the Gate
This chapter of NPCs has fifteen ready-to-go elder characters for your game split into several groups. Inamorata are lost loves, seemingly reborn but actually out to destroy a particular Kindred. Draugr (from the core book) are vampires who have lost all Humanity and are now ruled by their Beasts. Empusa and Lamia (from the legend) are rival blood-drinkers, demons that kill Kindred out of a sense of territoriality. Two impressive Methuselahs from previous millennia are ready to stalk into your chronicle, while three vampires from lost clans (two Julii and one Pijavica) are also ready to add different colors.
A long-standing alliance of vampires called Body of a Nation, which formed during the founding of the United States, adds three more vampire elders to the mix. There are two ancient and vengeful figures of legend: Deborah (yep, that Deborah) who kills vampires that threaten the faithful and the King Kitamba from a nameless African land who still rules as a king in these modern nights. An updated Sons of Phobos (from Blood Sorcery) is represented by a particularly nasty sorcerer ready to be a rival or a devil to cut a deal with.
Last of all is a section of four pages with information on crossover games with Mage: The Awakening, Promethean: The Created, Changeling: The Lost, Beast: The Primordial, Geist: The Sin-Eaters, and Demon: The Descent (notably missing immortal mummies and all of the options from Immortals, both of which fit so perfectly that it seems a shame to skip them). Crossovers work especially well if you start weaving in historical settings and can draw on all the other game lines’ material. In the end, though, there is a lot of information for making characters in this book but you’ll need to use all of these resources to flesh out the actual history of those characters.