Expect huge amounts of derp and rage, punctuated by /tg/ extracting humor from it.
This article is a work in progress so just cool your engines. The game is written in a dead language called "Russian" that only 12 people on earth actually speak.
VTNL is a terribad Russian RPG. It, along with FATAL and RaHoWa, form the UnHoly ShiTrinity of Worst Fucking Roleplaying Games Ever Made. If FATAL is a hyperactive 13-year-old who takes hours to finish his attacks while constantly derailing the party with perverted tangents, and RaHoWa is a creepy skinhead who only showed up because his Klan rally got cancelled, then VTNL is the whiny rules lawyer who will spend five seconds copying the sample characters from the BRB, but twenty minutes bitching about the smallest house rule no matter how much the GM wants to let the other players move on. It's Russian, but the Nikita Khrushchev kind of Russian, not the vodka & hot chicks kind of Russian.
The game was made by some lunatic who goes by the name Elenorn Maethor on the interwebz. He claims he spent 14 years working on this piece of shit. Probably constipation; he should get that checked. VTNL is an acronym for Via The New Legends, whatever the fuck that means (and why is that AND ONLY THAT in english?). To give you a short glimpse into what this game is about, here's the translated excerpt from the book.
“An important feature of the game is its rather strict set of rules. To avoid breaking the game balance, several limitations to what the players can do in this game are in place, and actions outside these limitations will probably fail. For example, in this game, when the players visit a store, they cannot steal items from it, or attack the vendor, because the rules of VTNL do not describe such actions. Same goes with dice rolls. This game follows very strict rules for rolling dice, and if they are not followed exactly, the roll doesn't count.”
And this is just the beginning!
“Kreat – is a spherical planet rotated around the star called Norsa Loce which means Giant Dragon. At first there was only one continent on Kreat, surrounded by Great Ocean. And inside the continent there were a lot of small seas, lakes and rivers. By when time has come, the world was destroyed in a horrifying calamity. The devastating explosion inside the planet cracked mountains, burnt forests, boiled down seas and splinted the ground, creating the biggest volcano on the planet – World's Crater. His peak is touching the clouds and erupting endless waves lava and ashes. Priests use to say that it was a war of Great Creatures, capable to control Nature's elements and called themselves Creators of Kreat. The calamity has been lasting for centuries, and as the result most part of landmasses got under the water. This how continents and islands of modern Kreat were formed and new age – Age of Balance – began. Games starts after five and half centuries from the beginning of the Age of Balance.”
Congratulations, you've just read the entirety of this book's lore. The rest is implied, but even the stuff we've got is some of the most mind-numbingly generic fantasy garbage that ever was ripped directly from Lord of The Rings. Our lad Elenorn had the balls to say he was “inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's work”, and goes as far as dedicating this the game to The Professor.
Elenorn claims that he hasn't played in any tabletop RPGs. You see, this is a good thing, because such an auteur of game design can't have his artistic vision poisoned by trash like D&D or Pathfinder or shit like that. Apparently, he drew his moronicity – er, I mean – his inspiration from Diablo 1 and Heroes of Might and Magic 3.
Let's give you a nice meaty taste of what you're about to experience. The book contains two pages on rolling dice. Now hold on, let me be perfectly clear about this. When I say "two pages on rolling dice", I don't mean two pages about what to roll and how to interpret the dice. No no no, I mean two pages on how to physically pick the dice up and throw them. Two pages of mandatory rules regarding which dice you have to use, what kinds of throws are allowed, how many dice can be thrown at once, what happens if the die hits anything before it comes to rest. Here the list in its full translated glory.
- Classic 16mm six-sided dice should be used during the game.
- Each participant may use his own dice, but all his dice must be the same (colour variation is allowed)
- The usage of "loaded" dice (with wrong sides, shifted centre of mass, changed symbols and so on) is strictly prohibited!
- You are absolutely not allowed to give your diceroll to somebody else or ask them to roll for you.
- Dice must be thrown only on the Dicefield and only from the side without a border. Throws over the board of the Dicefield are forbidden. If there are too many participants, several Dicefields can be used.
- During the roll a surface of the Dicefield must be empty. If there was any foreign object (pencil or another die, for example) on the Dicefield during the roll, then the result is invalid. Foreign objects should be removed from the Dicefield before the new roll.
- Roll of 2d6 and 3d6 should be be performed with all dice thrown simultaneously. Any consecutive roll with two or more dice are invalid and should be re-rolled.
- Roll with incorrect amount of dice is invalid and should be re-rolled.
- After a dice roll all dice must remain on the Dicefield. If at least one die bounced away from the Dicefield, then the result is invalid and should be re-rolled.
- During a dice roll at least one die must touch any board of the Dicefield.
- During a dice roll at least one die must cross both lines on the Dicefield (by flying or by rolling over them).
- It's strictly forbidden to use "sliding roll", when dice doesn't roll and doesn’t bounce from boards of the Dicefield.
- If after a roll any die bounced from a foreign object back on the Dicefield, then the result is invalid and should be re-rolled.
- If after a roll any dice didn't fall on any of its sides or is on a border of the Dicefield or on top of another die then the result is invalid and should be re-rolled.
- Before rolling dice, a participant must declare exact action which would be determined by the roll. For example, "I'm counting the amount of items", "I'm striking with my sword", "I'm running away", and so on. Silent roll can be neglected by GM or disputed by other participants.
- During the game participant can't perform "blank roll" (aimless dice roll). Every roll has a purpose and is a part of the game plot! After first blank roll, GM should warn participant about the restriction. In the future GM may penalize participants for blank rolls by putting a Cursed condition on the participant's character. Every participant who made a blank roll should be stigmatized!
- Before rolling dice, a participant should shake them in his hand. Rolls without shaking are considered as suspicious. It's NOT recommended to use cups or other devices for shaking.
- After a dice roll all dice should be removed from the Dicefield keeping rolled sides up until the next roll.
- In some cases dice roll can be performed by several participants. For example, when two players attempt an escape from a battle, they may roll three dice simultaneously (one player would roll two dice and another player would roll a die).
- If participants are uncertain about the correctness of a dice roll, then GM decides the validity of the result.
- Only rolls which satisfy all the rules above are valid for the purpose of the game. Once the roll is considered as valid it can't be re-rolled or altered!
Then the rules define terminology for types of invalid rolls. Why? Who knows…
- Single Die Drop or Drop – When one die falls out of the Dicefield or misses it entirely.
- Double Drop – the fall of two dice.
- Full Drop or All Drop – the fall of all three dice.
- Shake Drop – the fall of one or more dice out of a hand during a shake and before the roll.
- Lost Drop – the fall and subsequent loss of one or more dice during the roll.
- Noob Die Losing – the fall and subsequent loss of one or more dice during the Shake Drop.
“In some cases participants may perform drops far too frequently or even on purpose. In order to maintain concentration on the game and to avoid unnecessary drops, it's recommended to use a rule: For each three consecutive drops of any kind the participant may be hit in a face…”
Ok, we have to address the Dicefield. Now, you might be wondering what the fuck a Dicefield is? Well, you're gonna be glad you asked. The Dicefield is a special block of wood with borders that's required to play VTNL. If you don't ping your dice off of the Dicefield, the roll didn't happen. What else is required? Well, in addition to the Dicefield, the official site says you'll need the book itself, dice, a laptop, a desk bell (called “Bekar Button”), notepads with grid paper, a calculator, pencils, and the battle board. Now let me explain why you would really need all these things to play.
You see, at first glance VTNL looks like 200 pages of well-illustrated roleplaying fare packed in a nice hardcover book. Players travel on a square grid, visiting towns, fighting monsters, seeking loot, and so on. Sounds like a hex crawler, right? You'd think that, but at the end of the day, the game is less a dungeon crawler and more an Excel spreadsheet that skinned a dungeon crawler alive and is walking around wearing its face in an attempt to blend in.
VTNL's game system has three main modes – Map mode, City mode, and Combat mode.
In Map mode, players travel from one square to another with a limited amount of movement points. They roll to see what they've encountered on their way and what awaits them in the square. Upon entering the square, if they've never visited this square before, the player gains experience points and proceeds according to the type of the square. However, when they leave a square, the location essentially vanishes into the void unless a player left there something valuable behind like “pets, a bicycle or a character's dead body”. This means that once a player discovers something like an abandoned hut in a square, they most likely won't find it again on the way back. Also, players can split off and move independently from one another to increase overall mindfuck on the map.
If a player finds a town, the game enters City Mode. The player rolls to see whom they will find in the town – quest givers, shopkeepers, innkeepers and trainers. Just like in Map mode, the player has a limited amount of movement points to visit the randomly generated NPCs and gain new items, skills, or quests. Naturally, the rest of the town is in the same place where the visited locations are – in the author's ignorance. A typical dialogue with a shopkeeper will look like this:
GM: Greeting, Traveller! I'm the Shopkeeper! I sell weapons. Currently, I have 1d6+3 swords in stock. Would you like to see them?
Player: Yes, show me your swords. (rolls to determine exact amount of swords)
GM: Alrighty then, I have 6 swords. Do you have enough money to buy any of them?
Player: Yes, show me the first sword. (rolls to determine a sword)
GM: (reads from laptop's screen) This simple common longsword…
Player: Next! (hits desk bell to skip the item and rolls to determine the next sword)
GM: (reads from laptop's screen) This is common short sword...
Player: Not interested! Next sword, please! (hits desk bell to skip the item and rolls to determine the next sword)
GM: (reads from laptop's screen) Oh, this one is rare longsword with…
Player: Yep, I would like to inspect this sword. (player rolls to determine more about the sword)…
The player keeps all his items in the Inventory, which looks like a paper doll from Heroes of Might and Magic with an additional set of numbered pockets. But most of the time character may hold only weapons in his hands. If he is on a horse, then he can't hold anything in his hands at all. And at the start of combat, he drops anything in his hands in order to draw his weapon. And speaking of combat...
If a visited square is not a town or the players encountered somebody on the way, then most likely the game will enter Combat mode. This mode uses a separate blank board with – you guessed it – squares! Again, players have several points to Move, Shoot, Slash or Flee. During the combat player performs listed actions with various rolls, from straightforward stuff like 2d6 to bullshit like ((1d6/2)+16)*10+(2d6-2), with additional bonus or penalty points thrown in. These points are computed by dividing your character's attribute by 20, rounded up. That's it. And I said “blank board” intentionally since there are no rules for terrain effects.
So, aside from these three main activities, players can't do anything else. There aren't even any generic action/task resolution mechanics. However, players go through all of this with constant bookkeeping of EVERYTHING! I mean literally EVERYTHING! The book has 24 pages with detailed explanations about how to record every single mind-rending step in a special log.
First of all, just so you know what kind of a time you're liable to have, VTNL considers role-play - you know, the thing that takes up two-thirds of the term "Role-Playing Game" - as being entirely optional.
“Roleplaying in the game is not a core component. Player can freely choose to formulate character's persona and the only thing that has minor impact on this is the player's chosen race. The roleplay and the immersion in the game world depend on player's style only. Innovative mechanics in VTNL generate adventures on their own and almost completely exclude any form of "GM's fiat". Nobody among participants knows what will happen next, which makes the game more exciting and compelling.”
Second, VTNL has less mechanical flexibility than an exhumed corpse. It's the kind of game where both the GM and the player literally can't do anything creative unless the rulebook has it in ink. Want to steal something in a shop? Fuck off with you and your interesting ideas! Want to visit a living district and, oh I don't know, speak with the locals and have some kind of enriching RPG experience? Nope, you can visit only specific areas, and talk to specific people in a specific way. Want to give players an interesting item as a reward? Nope, you can't, even if you are the GM! Various examples in the book with not tongue-in-cheek but middle-finger-in-a-butt humour only confirm the fact that the author somehow managed to dumb the tabletop roleplaying experience down to the level of a primitive roguelike. NPCs are never anything more than vending machines or glowing quest icons, monsters are only ever meant to be murdered with extreme prejudice, and items with locations are dictated by various tables called Registers instead of organically introduced into the game by the DM.
The game's rich character creation process is just as uninteresting. The player chooses their starting class (Warrior, Berserker, Athlete, Archer, Knight or Defender) and may choose a race. Each class grants bonuses to three out of eight attributes:
- Attack – proficiency in melee weapons.
- Strength – physical power.
- Archery – proficiency in ranged weapons.
- Dexterity – mobility which affects movement, combat initiative and wielding of some weapons.
- Defense – ability to dodge physical attacks.
- Vitality – amount of hit points.
- Wizardry – proficiency in spells.
- Spirituality – amount of magical power (mana, anyone?).
Since the book states that magic isn't quite there yet, this means only six attributes make mechanical sense. The player may take up to two classes during the game, but he can't change them. Each level will increase a character's attributes according to chosen class(-es). That's all the character's progression has to offer. Additionally, up to eight of Riding, Fighting, Special and Utility skills can be learned in cities, but only once per city. Skill can be levelled up with PTD points (the rules don't bother to explain what PTD stands for) or by using one-time guidebooks. I think your character simply eats them instead of reading.
But VTNL is an innovative game, remember? So, each character has birthday date and on this one day, he can gain (3d6+2)*10 experience points along with 1 PTD. Also, a character may have Followers, which also have birthday dates, attributes, skill, experience points, and inventory that you gotta keep track of. See, innovations!
The future is here!
Sarcasm aside, this game truly innovates in only one regard: it's the first commercial tabletop role-playing game that adopts the cutting-edge sales tactics of modern digital game publishers. You may notice that VTNL randomizes a lot of things (in fact, everything) for the players and the GM because it somehow “makes the game more exciting and compelling”. However, the tables required to actually play the game aren't inside the book or on any app you need to install on your laptop. This book is just a $30 instruction manual that gives you access to a (currently unavailable) section of the official site; that's where you'll actually find all the Registers you need to use, including a list of your character's skills. You also need to buy the Dicefield for $15, and don't forget to get a box of writing-books as well as a desk bell from nearest hotel. A preoccupation with randomization in the place of actual mechanics and mandatory external content that's required to play the game? Where have I seen innovation like that before?