Varnoth: The Black Blade (A LitRPG Story)
Book One is now on Amazon, you can purchase here or read as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription -- https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07VB2933J
Varnoth’s journey through the lush fantasy world of Albattara continues. After the defeat of the Derelict Gang’s crime boss, Atlas, all seems well for the countryside. However, a horrific event occurs that forces the shadow panther into leading a massive group of diverse refugees as they search desperately for a safe haven. This time around Varnoth is not alone. Interesting, fleshed-out side characters join the fight alongside the Black Blade. Varnoth will battle terrifying monsters and go on amazing quests as he grows into one of the most powerful heroes in all the land. Will this power be enough when retribution knocks on Varnoth's door? Will he be able to keep his people safe?
Disclaimer -- This story contains graphic violence and mild profanity
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This is a summary of all my comments I posted on chapter 18, it worked pretty well as a review though so I copy and pasted it here and just kept adding to it, mostly so people like me who see three vague 5-star reviews will have some warning before reading the story. There aren't any real spoilers cuz I don't get too specific (except when I do), but it is mostly just a list of complaints from the 18 released chapters, and it is not brief.
Amnesia vs gaming knowledge
- He acts far too familiar with the gaming elements if he is actually an amnesiac. Knowing how to apply his stats and for what purpose. Looting animals. Questgivers. Leveling before dungeons. Recipes and inventory. Towns and money and conventions of speech. Classes. His lack of curiosity about where he is, or why he woke up crucified with no memories of his past. Either he's an amnesiac and needs these things explained to him (or at least show him figuring them out), or he has basic knowledge of RPG mechanics, it can't be both.
Real world vs a game world
- If this is a real world, it can't present itself like a game. Things like inventory and loot and and critical hits and damage notifications and cool downs and weapons doing set damage aren't things a real world would have, you'd need to invent aspects of a game that are also applicable in a real world. I may be generalizing about what you can and can't get away with in a "real world" litRPG, but this reads exactly like VRRPG except we're told it's not.
- The quest system is bizarre, he gets quests from people to do random stuff, something he just instinctively knows to do I guess, but the quests have arbitrary completion milestones that sometimes trigger when the system says so and sometimes when the guestgiver says so. Sometimes someone will say something and he'll get a quest not based on what they're actually saying, but just some of the information they said. Sometimes he doesn't even need another person to get the quest. With herbalism, he needed the guy to somehow mind meld with him to get the skill, and sometimes it seems like an automatic process. Sometimes a man will say "I'll never do it again", and he'll get the quest reward like the system can read the future, like it knows the NPC won't change its programming. It's kind of a system problem, is it omnipotent, sentient, or just a computer? Some of the blurbs seem very personal and very convenient.
- Items in general behave like they're game drops, but shouldn't. Things stack in his limitless bag, items are received as soon as he spots them, everything fits even if he just pulled it off a corpse. Deers leave corpses which also separate themselves in neat pelts and gold coins.
- This is kinda related to above, but everyone's levels are wack. If it's a real world that's been ticking along since before he woke up on it, why is everyone level one? It's as if he's started in a games world's newbie zone, and nobodies leveling but him.
- It also takes some tension out of the story if every situation is handled with one neck slice cuz he's 6 times stronger than everyone else.
- When he sees people, sometimes he'll identify them and it'll say "bandit lvl 1". First, that makes the bandit seem like an npc without a name. Second, presumably everyone else has the same ability, so why are so many bandits talking smack to a level 6 shadow panther (or whatever his title would say)? Some people can see his herbalism skill level, and one guy even looked at his whole character sheet. This should be more consistent.
- Every level he gains one more free stat point (gained 10 stat points from lvl 1 to lvl 2, gained 11 stat points from lvl 2 to lvl 3). This just seems like a bad idea to me, especially since he's already one shotting people and no one else seems to level, as well as his rapid growth speed.
- The skills and skill usage are inconsistent, I don't think he's actually used or improved a skill since maybe chapter 10.
- He gains skills immediately and without effort. This is kind of a real vs game point, but just holding two swords shouldn't allow him to effortlessly USE two swords. He's just a master combatant after waking up knowing nothing. Spinning in a circle gave him a specific skill, but all his throat slitting and back stabbing doesn't, nor does kicking or pawing.
- Skill levels- what's the point of raising levels in things like dual weilding if he's never had an problems since he got the skill. He's not awkward with two weapons, he doesnt get bonus damage. Same with herbalism, he can already identify every plant he sees.
- Skills don't have descriptions, we don't know what they do or how leveling helps them.
- He doesn't have any interactions with his character beyond stat points, cant choose or adjust his skills at all. Maybe that changes when he gets a class, but it'd be a departure if he starts being proactive with his character sheet all of the sudden. He never got a character creation moment and doesn't really seem to be in charge of how his character develops.
- The characters act like NPCs, and the dialogue is often wooden. Someone walking into a bar and asking "hey you need me to do anything for you?" shouldn't make the bartender reply "yeah go escort my booze to me". The dialogue is usually just thinly veiled exposition, or will directly state a characters mood or thoughts. Everyone is very direct, almost robotic, and it's usually done without any movement of any kind.
- The merchants are all either very honest or he's just getting fleeced everytime he makes a purchase. He has never once questioned a price, and a merchant has never been hinted to be greedy. It reads like this "How much is this?" "Ten coins." "Here you go."
- I cannot stress enough how stilted and unnatural the dialogue is
- They're kinda cool, but they're often just "this then this then this", I think it's starting to get better in the later chapters tho.
- The fights are pretty brutal, this isn't a complaint it's got a a real Punisher vibe to it. Although sometimes he seems to do things just to look cool, like putting an apple in someone's mouth before uppercuts, stuff like that. That's why I gave it a higher style score though, guys got flair.
- Despite the above, they're all really tension free, he just walks around easily killing people. He got hit once by the bear and twice by the bandit boss (one of which was an arrow), I think that's it so far. By "that's it", I mean in 18 chapters of near constant fighting those are the only three times he's even been hit.
- I would say 99% of his attacks are critical hits, I'd go with a higher percentage but sometimes there aren't damage notifications. Not only does that take the noteworthiness out of it, it's an unexplained mechanic in this world, a world where a dagger does 20 points of damage but no one's health is visible (not even the MCs).
- The prices of things is kinda all over the place, 2 coins for an apple 3 coins for a room 10 coins for a healing potion 20 coins for a simple cloak 350 coins for a bottomless herb jar 500 coins for a growing table.
- Distances between places, seems like he's walking from village to village each day, dunno how far things are from each other.
- People should show signs of noticing levels, it's part of their daily lives.
- It doesn't seem like a world where everyone has skills and powers, so far the MC is the only who uses them. It seems like a guy immediately lost his memory and forgot he was playing a VRRPG solo on easy mode.
- He kind of just wanders from small scale quest to small quest, that would be fine if the characters introduced were intresting but instead they are all very one dimensional, and the MC himself has no character traits beyond an occasional propensity for violence. Sometimes he does nice things for good people, but mostly he does fetch or escort quests. This makes for a total lack of story.
- No idea what places really look like, cities are a city forest is a forest field is field, could prob be a little more descriptive.
- This new world is apparently about 10 villages of unknown size or purpose within a days walk of each other, then all of then within a days walk of a giant city, and every person in between is a bandit or about to get murdered by a bandit.
- People mention God's, no one really goes into detail about that, but a random farmer girl turns into a badass Archer so I'd assume the God's are even scarier.
- Since this became a full blown review, I think the only rating my ranting doesn't account for is the grammar rating; the grammar is good, a few small mistakes another commenter points out that I'm sure will get fixed, and a few pretty turns of phrase. 4 stars.
There is probably more but I can't think of it and even my capacity for nagging has a limit. I think I got most of my main points here, might have missed some from snarkier comments on other chapters. I hope this and every other comment I had count as constructive criticism, I hope it helps you, even if it's just to spite me. Good luck on your story going forward. There's good stuff in there, it's just way easier to point out the negative than it is to praise the positive.
Of my two general big pieces of advice, the first would be rework your dialogue, that alone will greatly improve the story, making it flow better as a whole and giving you deeper and more animated characters. Gotta get rid of the weirdly unprompted expositional rants, and try to make the characters seem like they're actually talking to each other cuz the situation demands it or they want to, not cuz they're reading off a cue card. Chuck in facial expressions, eye movements, actions and especially body language between the sentences they speak. You know, stuff people do when talking, unless they're bombing an audition for a bad soap opera.
The second would be to embrace it being a super advanced game world, maybe write some stuff about him frying his brain as he plugged in his futuristic VR headset, which would kind of give you the best of both options. He'd be an amnesiac in a game world, that he thinks is real, with a gamers instincts for what to do in some situations. It'd also fix the inconsistency of how "real" the world is (levels, and skills, and damage, and items, and his relative power, and the quests, and the merchants, and the way some characters act like NPCs). I'm just spittballing here, there are just so many elements in your story that work better in a game world, rather than a game-like world. Try taking a peek at "The Perks of Immortality" if you need an idea of what I'm even talking about, your story is less realistic than that one and that's a VR game world.
I guess a third suggestion would be try to have an actual plot, one that happens within a story that has real characters in it. That sounds meaner than it is, here's what I mean:
Actual spoliers ahead:
As it is, he wakes up on a cross, gets cut down and then takes a nap. He finds some girls and gets an escort quest. He walks with them. He finds a bow and gets a delivery quest, clears a dungeon. Finds some goblins. Fails the escort quest. Is apparently so full of rage that his first step is to... Walk into town and ask a shop keeper if he needs any help. Gets an intimidation quest and another escort quest. Kills some bandits. Have some very specific advice chucked out by the random wagon driver. Wander to the city, get some more exposition along the way.
He just keeps wandering in a non linear path doing shitty side quests for no reason, what's his goal? He needs more than "I woke up, saw people being bad, I killed them." You kind of have the avenge the girls murder sorta thing going, but it's not really there, neither the MC nor the girls have enough characterization or emotional impact to make it stick. And literally everything he's encountered has just been side quests, and usually fetch and escort quests. Those aren't usually the fun ones. And having random villagers shout timely advice or information again just proves they're NPCs. Make it so it makes sense for them to know things, and make sense for them to drop that knowledge. Make it so he's not just wandering around finding random treasure boxes and bandit camps and asking bartenders if they need help, that's what a player in a game would do not what a person would do. Telling a guy you just met that you want a bully killed or need your wagon escorted is what an NPC would do, not a person. Yelling "You should be a Black Blade" at the guy you've known for half a day and had a very terse conversation with isn't something a person would do, and it isn't something a person would listen to.
The "plot" so far is more like a string of unrelated events, mostly happening to the MC rather than because of the MC. He doesn't seem to have a whole lot of agency in his life.
That's all I got for ya I think most of this is pretty constructive, definitely at least highlighting some areas you could work on. My reviews always spiral out of control as I add more and more stuff. Hopefully there's something usefull in here and you don't just think I'm a jerk, and the low score hasn't hurt your feelings. The way I see it though, you're not getting anything out of those 5 star reviews because this definitely isn't a 5 star story (yet!), 5 star means it's the best of the best, who's gonna hit a home run the first time they step to the plate?
- Overall Score
DNF (Did Not Finish) at Chapter 17. The bulk of this review is from my comment on that chapter, and contains most of my gripes and issues with the story as a whole. Minor spoilers ahead!
[My comment from Chapter 17]
I am utterly baffled by this. Is Varnoth not going to go after Atlas at all to avenge Isabella and Geneva?? He is just doing random side quests for anyone with a mouth at this point. I was expecting him to at least feel some hatred and anger and malice towards the man who literally beat one of his friends to a pulp and cut out the eyeballs of the other, but NOPE! Gotta help Mrs. Canterbury now!
What is the main questline of this story? Do you have a clear direction where you want this story to go? Or are you just writing blind and hoping things will work out in the end. It seems to me like you just created this character, threw him in this world, and are letting him run wild.
Also, the endless Critical Hits have made me abandon this. At this point Varnoth is never going to be in any danger of dying or having his health bar depleted below halfway. He is super OP, the enemies are super under-leveled, and I just can't get invested in anything here. He still hasn't questioned how or why he is in Albatarra, if Albatarra is a game or an actual world, or how to return home. He has no personality except for saying Friggers whenever things go bad.
I think the main issue with this story is the lack of focus. It needs a main plotline. The idea of him hunting down Atlas was a good change of pace because he actually had a goal in mind, but then you seemed to just abandon that in favor of more fetch quests.
The dialogue can be very stilted and cringy at times, as well. You keep forgetting about the relationship point mechanic you introduced a while back.
I think you should focus on trying to piece this all together with a main questline. Who crucified Varnoth? Have him go looking for answers. Introduce powerful NPCs and heroes and bosses and villains. And for God's sake have him avenge those two dead girls!!!
For those who want a spoiler free review, I will say this. If you don't mind pointless fetch quests, an OP as hell MC, cringy dialogue, Critical Hits every 30 seconds, an MC lacking a personality or backstory of any kind, hollow NPCs, and a plotless story where things just kind of happen, then give this a read. It's the kind or story you can turn your brain off and enjoy without thinking too far into it. Besides, who doesn't want to read about a Shadow Panther ripping a guy's throat out??
EDIT: I did end up finishing Book 1, and am currently reading the updates for Book 2. The story somehow keeps me coming back. I must give the author his dues for keeping things entertaining, at least.
- Overall Score
Currently at chapter 6 , quite the addictive story even if a little hurried in my opinion. 5 stars for the big black cat .
- Overall Score
It's addictive, and you can't wait for more. Even though it doesn't end in cliff hangers. You still want to read more, and anticipate the next chapter!
- Overall Score
This is my first review but I've been around this site for quite some time now. I fancy myself as a lover of fantasy if anyone one has followed the same stories I follow, so we all love a good start to a story with a character build up.
For Varnoth, he is essentially an isekai hero placed into a world he is unknown to. The start of the story keeps you focused on the character and not so much as to the why but this simply the start to a worldly adventure. He isn't quite the overpowered MC as one would expect but he does fall into a couple of cliches that the author quickly hashes out but introduces some minor cliches which are acceptable in a grand adventure. The characters don't quite feel 2D and bland as they are developed through the chapters.
Although the chapters are short the story is only beginning so I would highly recommend giving Varnoth a shot and maybe his tale can attract you enough to stay and join the journey to find out when he truly earns his title and why.
- Overall Score
This is exactly what I look for in a web novel: non-stop action and no annoying characters/sideplots. I dislike constantly switching POVs, I hate sycophantic side characters, and I absolutely loathe harems. If you feel the same way, give this story a try.
- Overall Score
Good story so far. It has a neat quest for a unique class, good MC, lots of action, and the MC has a different race, to boot. Well written and well worth reading.