December 12, 2020 10:00 AM   Subscribe

What is LitRPG and why does it exist? When MMOs become fantasy novels, stats and all. As Wikipedia puts it: "LitRPG, short for Literary Role Playing Game, is a literary genre combining the conventions of computer RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels... [I]n LitRPG, games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the story, and visible RPG statistics... are a significant part of the reading experience... Typically, the main character in a LitRPG novel is consciously interacting with the game or game-like world and attempting to progress within it." Below the fold is a bit about the few LitRPG stories I've read part or all of so far: Azarinth Healer, Delve, Skyclad, Vainqueur The Dragon and The Wandering Inn.

As I understand it, the difference between LitRPG and GameLit is that GameLit stories are set in game universes in which the entire reality is a game but may or may not have game-like mechanics, while LitRPG stories take place in universes that may be considered real and complete worlds in themselves but always have properties which mirror the mechanics in RPG games in our world, like gaining classes and class skills, stats and attributes, experience and leveling, etc. In most of these stories the main characters are transported to the game-like world from our world, so the genre overlaps with Isekai, which is essentially a type of portal fantasy (previously.) A lot of them are also progression fantasies which focus on characters increasing in power and skill over time.

The genre is relatively young (about 30 years old) and has been increasing in popularity for the last 10. I'd been vaguely aware of the genre for awhile, but I only started reading it about a year ago so there are bound to be many good stories I don't know about yet. I've found it to be a pleasant substitute for the real world, which I can no longer stomach. I'm not sure how many MeFites read this stuff; I could only find one reference for 'LitRPG' and one for 'Gamelit' by searching MeFi: forbiddencabinet's comment about pirateaba and SenescentSoul (both of whom are mentioned below) in the recent thread about Ready Player Two, and Blue Genie's recommendation for Threadbare, a LitRPG web serial about a teddy bear golem and a little girl (I've got to check that one out.)

Royal Road is a community website for people to share their writing (web novels, fan fictions, fan artwork, etc) and there's a lot of LitRPG there. You can find a lot of stories just by browsing there, and all the stories below are available there and can be read for free there or on their own sites, but you can also use the authors' Patreon accounts to contribute and get early access for the ongoing stories if so inclined.

The Wandering Inn by pirateaba (ongoing, Wiki, also on Royal Road.)

This is my favorite LitRPG so far, and has become one of my favorite fantasy stories ever. It's a serialized web novel that's nearing the end of its 7th volume and so far has a word count of 6,780,356. It's updated on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It's a portal fantasy in which a young woman from Earth named Erin suddenly finds herself running for her life in a fantasy world. She happens upon, and takes refuge in, an abandoned inn, and after doing a little cleaning she gets the [Innkeeper] class. She's not the great warrior or mage whose heroic deeds are sung by bards (at first), rather she's the owner of an inn where the heroes hang out in between adventures. But a good innkeeper (especially one without the historic prejudices which the various species of her new world have) makes a lot of friends, and there's power in that. She's also a chess prodigy and the game plays an important part in the story, so people who like stories about chess should enjoy this. From the overview:
An inn is a place to rest, a place to talk and share stories, or a place to find adventures, a starting ground for quests and legends.

In this world, at least. To Erin Solstice, an inn seems like a medieval relic from the past. But here she is, running from Goblins and trying to survive in a world full of monsters and magic. She’d be more excited about all of this if everything wasn’t trying to kill her.

But an inn is what she found, and so that’s what she becomes. An innkeeper who serves drinks to heroes and monsters–

Actually, mostly monsters. But it’s a living, right?

This is the story of the Wandering Inn.
The narrative is a mix of slice-of-life and action, and the pacing keeps the action sequences engaging, and often downright riveting. The author's writing style can get repetitive at times, but pirateaba has a great talent for creating new characters and pursuing character development. Many stories suffer when the writer keeps introducing new characters, but pirateaba's characters are almost always quite creatively thought out and have really engaging arcs. And they've inspired a lot of fan artwork: Fanworks on pirateaba's site & fanworks on the wiki.

Skyclad by a_man_in_black (complete.)

This story is the first LitRPG I read. It's a portal fantasy, but where in most such stories the protagonist(s) happen to be conveniently dressed when they're transported to a new world, this character wasn't so lucky:
Morgan Mackenzie had a very bad day. First at work, then at home, and then her bathtub fell through a portal to another world, with her in it. Now she's stuck thousands of miles from any sort of civilization with nothing but the bathtub and a lace puffball scrubby. But she learned magic, so that's sorta nice. Now if only she could find some clothes...

DISCLAIMER: This story has multiple characters and different points of view. Morgan is the main protagonist but she does not move through an empty world. This is a bigger story than just one main character fighting the monster of the week.
I stumbled across this story while I was trying to find information on what is historically known about Celtic warriors who sometimes went into battle 'skyclad': naked except for warpaint (nsfw.) The author started Skyclad as a challenge - "naked main character can't wear clothes" - and the nudity isn't lewd or played for titillation, it just makes life more difficult. The story evolved into a series called Fate's Anvil, with a second volume, Skybound, in progress and ongoing. The story has a dozen characters from Earth (broadly introduced in chapter 4), my favorite of whom is the bilateral leg amputee Army Corps of Engineers vet who applies her engineering talents to golemcraft, and who is introduced in this interlude between chapters 18 & 19 (I think it's fine to read these two chapters out of order.) Besides the gimmick it started with, Skyclad isn't terribly original; if you read a lot of fantasy once upon a time, much of it will feel familiar, but it's not bad and I did enjoy it. And it has possibly the most adorable magical companion to a character of any story I've read: Lulu the sentient loofah! She may be cute, but her anger is a terrifying thing to behold (exfoliate!)

Vainqueur The Dragon by Void Herald (complete, Wiki, also on Royal Road.)

Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of His Name and Great Calamity of the Age, is a 60-foot long dragon, and thanks to to a conversation with a thief he caught in his cave, he is the first of his kind to learn how to gain classes and start leveling. So of course he decides to become an adventurer, with the thief as his lackey.
Vainqueur Knightsbane is your average red dragon: a giant, fire-breathing lizard who loves to take a nap on his hoard of stolen gold, kidnap princesses for fun, and make the life of adventurers miserable. Vainqueur’s only pleasure in life is to watch his treasure get bigger, one coin at a time.

So when a would-be thief turned unwilling minion tells him about “classes,” “levels,” and “quests,” Vainqueur wonders if maybe, just maybe, he should consider a career change.

After all, why bother hunting monsters for free when you can get paid for it?
This story is a comedy, and it's alot of fun. I haven't finished it yet so it may bog down eventually, but so far I've enjoyed it. Vainqueur's human sidekick is from Earth, of course; no native of his world would ever have considered having a conversation with a dragon, much less explaining how classes and levels work to him.

Delve by SenescentSoul (ongoing, Wiki.)

This one will appeal to people who love character min-maxing in rpg games.
Delve is an isekai litrpg that follows an average guy who just happened to wake up in a forest one day. He wasn’t summoned to defeat the demon lord or to save the world or anything like that, at least as far as he can tell. The only creature there to greet him was a regular old squirrel.

Soon enough, he meets other people, only to discover that he can’t speak the language, and that not everybody immediately trusts random pajama-wearing strangers they met in the middle of the wilderness. Things generally go downhill from there, at least until the blue boxes start appearing.

Delve is a story about finding your way in a new, strange, and dangerous world. It’s about avoiding death, figuring out what the heck is going on, and trying to make some friends along the way. It’s not about getting home, so much as finding a new one.

Did I mention that there will be math?
There is indeed a lot of math, at least for a fantasy story. The protagonist spends most of his time tweaking his interface, tweaking his stats and calculating optimal combinations to maximize the efficiency of his class, granting him abilities which the natives find astonishing. His class is a type of support class, so he isn't an overpowered destroyer, and the story is light on action compared to others. Character arcs and intriguing plotlines are not this story's strengths, but Delve excels in its numbers niche, so if you enjoy that then you'll probably like it.

Azarinth Healer by G. Harthane (ongoing, Wiki.)

This one should appeal to action fans. The protagonist is a battle maniac who is obsessed with leveling and getting stronger. She gets a rare class which allows her to heal herself and proceeds to hunt every insane monster she can find. Unlike the character in Delve, she is an overpowered destroyer.
A new world with nearly unlimited possibilities. A status, classes, magic and monsters. Sounds good? Well, for Ilea it didn't come quite as expected as for some other protagonists, nor was there a king or god to welcome her.

The grand quest? Well, she might figure that out someday but for now, a new world with new food is prize enough. Her fists at the ready, she's prepared to punch and get punched, however long it takes and however many limbs she might have to regrow.

A story I've started writing now quite a while ago. Transported to another world, somewhat standard fantasy setting with my beginner attempts to make it dark but funny. There are Litrpg elements here but I do hope it's not too heavy and annoying. The fights should be interesting and aren't just numbers vs numbers. Contrary to the title the protagonist will be quite an offensive fighter.

Ilea Spears is your average sarcastic kick-boxing fast food worker and soon to be student. She will be transported to another world rather conventionally and will be confronted with survival in the wild.

Give it a shot and let me know what you think. My experience is incredibly lacking. If you find yourself hating it early on, do convey your anger in a detailed comment or review :) I want to get better but without any feedback it's simply quite difficult.
It's not the most original premise, but there are some creative story elements I like, like the portrayal of elves and some recent additions I won't spoil here. If you're a fantasy battle junkie then you may enjoy it. I've

There are three other stories which I haven't read yet but they sound good and I plan to check them out soon:

Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic (complete, Wiki, story-related worldbuilding site, also on Royal Road.) I've read this one described as not strictly LitRPG but more LitRPG adjacent, but good regardless. Repetitio est mater studiorum.
Zorian is a teenage mage of humble birth and slightly above-average skill, attending his third year of education at Cyoria's magical academy. He is a driven and irritable young man, consumed by a desire to ensure his own future and free himself of the influence of his family, whom he resents for favoring his brothers over him. Consequently, he has no time for pointless distractions or paying attention to other people's problems. As it happens, time is something he is about to get plenty of. On the eve of the Cyoria's annual summer festival, he is killed and brought back to the beginning of the month, just before he was about to take a train to Cyoria. Suddenly trapped in a time loop with no clear end or exit, Zorian will have to look both within and without to unravel the mystery before him. And he does have to unravel it, for the time loop hadn't been made for his sake and dangers lurk everywhere... Repetition is the mother of learning, but Zorian will have to first make sure he survives to try again - in a world of magic, even a time traveler isn't safe from those who wish him ill.

Worth the Candle by Alexander Wales (ongoing, Wiki, also on Royal Road.)
A teenager struggling after the death of his best friend finds himself in a fantasy world - one which seems to be an amalgamation of every Dungeons and Dragons campaign they ever played together. Now he's stuck trying to find the answers to why he's there and what this world is trying to say. The most terrifying answer might be that this world is an expression of the person he was back on Earth.

Note that this work follows a slightly different update schedule than most, posting several chapters at once every month or two in big batches, which helps me maintain quality and not burn out trying to push out words about as fast as I can.

There is no Epic Loot here, Only Puns by stewart92 (ongoing.)
She became a dungeon core.

Everything pointed Delta to murdering her way to success. People were just mana farms, right?

No, that was wrong. Delta refused. Then everything became odd.

If anyone has any other recommendations, please share.
posted by homunculus (54 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I had no idea. There is considerable overlap here with the isekai meta-genre of Japanese light novels.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:09 AM on December 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Interesting. I recently learned about Itsekai after stumbling upon "All Routes Lead to Doom." There was something incredibly refreshing about a show where the protagonist, acting out of self-interest, chooses to be nice to other characters.
posted by ®@ at 10:22 AM on December 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've read and enjoyed Sufficiently Advanced Magic and its first sequel. It's another title that appeals to any D&D player who enjoys thinking about how to stretch the rules, but it has sort of a JRPG vibe in other respects. By chance I wondered earlier this week if the third book were out, and this post made me check--and it came out less than a week ago! Evidently the author brought out a short parody LitRPG recently as well. I haven't actually read a lot of LitRPG, just enough to stumble onto other stuff with terrible content/politics, so I appreciate seeing a Mefite's take on what's best.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:52 AM on December 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thanks homunculus. Wonderful, exactly the background stuff I need to read. I never thought a story from an RPG game could be so hard to write let alone conceive.
posted by clavdivs at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2020

LitRPG is so wonderful. Thank you for the recommendations. For whatever reason, I've found that often the best work in the genre is in translation. I'll second the recommendation of "My Next Life As a Villainess", and point out that it originated as a light novel series which is a fantastic read.

If you like crafting mechanics, I really like the series "Legendary Moonlight Sculptor", and " Way of the Shaman ".

They're comic book series, but I think it's also worth mentioning " 1/2 Prince " and " iD_eNTITY " as standouts for the genre.

One unfortunate thing about the LitRPG genre: a lot of the most popular series are, frankly, misogynist in how they depict women. I've dropped a lot of series because of this, and I've done my best to read past it in others (like even Legendary Moonlight Sculptor, recommended above), but I really wish I didn't have to. The imagined reader of most books in the genre seems to be "young male gamer who wants wish fulfillment", which is fine I guess, but why do so many of these series feel the need to lean into the most problematic tropes associated with gamer subculture?
posted by sidek at 11:06 AM on December 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is fantastic, thanks – very helpful for a book I'm writing about gamification!
posted by adrianhon at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2020

Needs a "HeyLookADungeons&DragonsRide" tag.
posted by howfar at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

posted by homunculus at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Trigger warning: there's an attempted murder and rape in TWI Chapter 1.16, but the attempt fails. I can't recall any rape scenes in AH, though there is a side character who refers to having been tortured and raped in the recent past, but I don't remember which chapter that's in. I don't remember any rape scenes in the other stories.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2020

When I first glanced at this post I thought it was going to be combining literature and RPGs going the other direction -- role-playing games set in literary universes. For example, I know someone who I believe is playing in a game called Good Society, based on the milieu of Jane Austen's work. Is there a term for that style of game? Are there even any others, outside of various popular SF and fantasy properties?
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love this genre so much! I've been a video game addict since my family got our first home computer that ran games on cassette tapes. When I have to tear myself away from the computer to do something else, like housework, I listen to audiobooks. So LitRPG audiobooks are like being able to still be in a game while doing something productive. The stories are usually pretty easy to follow, so I only need to pay half attention while listening.

That being said, I haven't actually listened to that many different series, partly because I only recently became aware of the genre myself, and partly because other issues with the genre make finding the good books difficult (sexism, bad self published writers, etc.) If you are NOT an uncouth adolescent male, you will want to look at reviews and get recommendations from somewhere you trust to screen out the books with sexism and other unacceptable stuff.

The Wandering Inn is the best! The author is really prolific and imaginitive. The characters have a wide range of personalities and motivations. It's mostly entertaining. There are lots of female characters. (I concur with the trigger warning above. There is also some (off-screen) rape of tertiary characters in at least one of the latter books.)

I also liked Occultist by Oliver Mayes. It's supposed to be a series, but there is only one book so far.
It's a pretty generic white teenage boy with female sidekick LitRPG (non-romantic so far). There is a small amount of mildly sexist stuff. It had better writing than the average LitRPG with some ok humor and I liked the main character and sidekick.

A gamelit series that I like is the Spells, Swords, & Stealth series by Drew Hayes (4 books so far).
It's about some non player characters in a Dungeons and Dragons-like world who have to disguise themselves as an adventuring group. The books also follow a group of players from our world who are playing the game.
posted by Blue Genie at 1:50 PM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

> (I concur with the trigger warning above. There is also some (off-screen) rape of tertiary characters in at least one of the latter books.)

I vaguely recall that, though not the specifics. I also just remembered there's another case early in Azarinth Healer where the main character rescues a traumatized teenage girl who was abducted and heavily implied to have been raped. I might be forgetting other off-page examples like that.
posted by homunculus at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2020

I can recall reading a couple of short stories in this vein when I was a teenager, in one or another of those big compendiums of SF & fantasy stories that came out all the time. I guess it didn't catch on at the time, but it is interesting to see that there is now a fairly vibrant fan and publishing communities around this.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:39 PM on December 12, 2020

Re: warnings, Royal Road has warnings for Azarinth Healer, Skyclad and The Wandering Inn for sexual content. In case anyone (parents, perhaps) is concerned (or enticed) here's what I remember:

Azarinth Healer has a couple of explicit sex scenes, one of which I remember is in Chapter 46 because it has the memorable title: "I feel like my titles are boring." I recall one other but don't remember where, though I think it's between ch. 46 and the early 100's. All other sex in the story happens off-page, so I think the author stopped writing those scenes (violence, OTOH, still abounds in graphic detail.)

Skyclad has some sexual content in an interlude about a side character who runs a brothel. On of the other recurring side characters is a succubus, but her appetites are fulfilled off-page.

The Wandering Inn has some explicit sexual content, but it's restricted to a couple of side stories titled "Mating Rituals" and "Mating Rituals Pt. 2" which have clear warnings above the story. They're also very funny. There are some references to sex in the rest of the story, but nothing else is portrayed explicitly.

I don't recall any sex scenes in the other stories, but maybe they just weren't that memorable.
posted by homunculus at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2020

It is sometimes said that a mark of success is when your work inspires porn, and TWI has inspired artist Pkay (nsfw): here are M.E. and O.S. and here are R.G. and R.G. (NSFW! Character names withheld because Spoilers!)

Pkay (Ko-fi account) doesn't do sexypics only: here are SFW (and Spoiler-free) portraits of: Erin, Ryoka, Gazi and Grimalkin.

Here are more that are SFW but are Spoilers! because they depict character evolutions: Ceria, Yvlon, Numbtongue and another one of Gazi (Total Spoiler!) And here's a downright wholesome pic of HtG and Ps.

Here's a nice (somewhat Spoilerish) piece by illustrator Bobo Plushie (Ko-fi account) of Trey, Fetohep and the Quarass.

Enuryn_Illustrations (Ko-fiaccount) does lovely environment and world-building artwork for TWI. Here are (Spoiler-free, I think) Wistram Academy, rock crabs, blue fruit trees, crelers and an interior vista of A'ctelios Salesh. There are more on Enuryn's Twitter and Ko-fi accounts but they're more spoilerish than these.
posted by homunculus at 4:12 PM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been trying to find a good LitRPG book to jump in to, but have come up empty. Usually, a cursory glance at the descriptions reveal the stuff Amazon pushes at me to be Harem lit, which I guess is a judgment on my character? I just want something that captures my nostalgic memories of The Guardians of the Flame which has been around since the early 80s and the Landover books that started soon after that. Both those series don't exactly age well, so hoping for something more on the up and up.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:58 PM on December 12, 2020

There was a "LitRPG" square in the r/fantasy book bingo last year, and I didn't think I'd be able to do it (I had some very negative preconceptions about the quality of the genre overall). I poured through lists of recommendations for works that would be considered "conventionally good" (I saw one strong recommendation for the Wandering Inn that started "the prose is pretty rough for the first couple hundred thousand words or so" -- so that was a big nope for me). Eventually, however, I decided I was being a snob and found "Way of the Shaman" at the library -- it seems to be one of the very first true LitRPG series. It was definitely an addictive distraction and I can see the appeal. But, ultimately it's a bit more peanut butter in my chocolate than I prefer.
posted by 3j0hn at 5:02 PM on December 12, 2020

Blue Genie, in hindsight do you still recommend Threadbare? And if so, could you describe it a little bit more?
posted by homunculus at 6:09 PM on December 12, 2020

Hot damn homunculus, what a post! Great job!
posted by JHarris at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2020

> I've been trying to find a good LitRPG book to jump in to, but have come up empty. Usually, a cursory glance at the descriptions reveal the stuff Amazon pushes at me to be Harem lit, which I guess is a judgment on my character? I just want something that captures my nostalgic memories of The Guardians of the Flame
Guardians of the Flame is a long-running series by author Joel Rosenberg and is arguably his best-known work. The series is about a group of college students who participate in a fantasy role-playing game, and are magically transported to the world of the game by their gamemaster.

The first book, The Sleeping Dragon, focuses on the former students struggling to survive in the world of the game. The series progresses with the students choosing to live in the 'game world' and forming their own community, which is in part based on opposition to the ubiquitous slave trade.
Actually, Skyclad and more so its sequel Skybound have a similar premise, in which the several of the worldwalkers are opposed to a slave empire, which is the story's big bad. I wonder if the author was influenced by The Guardians of the Flame.

I can at least say that none of the books I mentioned in the OP are Harem Lit, assuming that genre is exactly what it sounds like.
posted by homunculus at 6:34 PM on December 12, 2020

I still would recommend the Threadbare series. It's a fantasy series with RPG statistics and leveling rules. The RPG rules have only existed for a few decades in the world, so the older characters can remember a time before, but no one seems to know what caused the leveling system to come into being or even how some parts of it work.

The first in the trilogy of books is mostly told from the point of view of a newly created golem teddy bear named Threadbare. He starts out with literally no knowlege of anything and becomes attached to Celia, the daughter of his creator. He slowly figures things out as he levels up and gains skills and jobs. Most of the first book is about Threadbare and Celia learning how the world works while making friends and having adventures. I'm not sure what to say about the overall plot without giving spoilers.

It's free to read at Royal Road.

Here is the blurb of the first book "Stuff and Nonsense" from Amazon:

Meet Threadbare. He is 12 inches tall, full of fluff, and really, really bad at being a hero. 

Magically animated and discarded by his maker as a failed experiment, he is saved by a little girl. But she's got problems of her own, and he might not be able to help her.

Fortunately for the little golem, he's quick to find allies, learn skills, gain levels, and survive horrible predicaments. Which is good, because his creator has a whole lot of enemies …

Warning: Contains profanity and violence.
posted by Blue Genie at 8:33 PM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the description!
posted by homunculus at 9:16 PM on December 12, 2020

This is such an interesting subgenre to watch grow. People are absolutely right to call out the sexism and misogyny that is rampant in the genre. There is also a bizarre undercurrent of capitalism and Randian style libertarianism that I don't think a lot of the authors even realize they are doing. It is fascinating to watch writers brush up against systemic problems of capitalism and not realize that they are doing so because they are doing so accidentally by exploring the repercussions of universes built on top of appropriated RPG mechanics.

A lot of these problems I think can be attributed to amateur writing, copying formulas from other stories that worked, pure narrative laziness (for example, using slavery to paint a group as "bad" without considering the greater implications it has on their world and how their characters are interacting with it.) I'm going to list some of the problematic cliches that are rampant in the genre, but please do keep in mind the above context.

This is a young genre and many of the writers are coming into it from fanfic communities or by way of translated Chinese/Japanese/Korean lite novels. A good chunk of the writing is from amateurs and it seems apparent to me that many of them aren't deliberately baking in themes. Thematic content is often accidental, either unintended or exists because it was lifted from another source. Another interesting thing about this is that, even though many of these people are western authors writing in English, they have pulled turns of phrase, cliches, and even syntax and narrative conventions from translated Asian novels.

There don't seem to be a lot of authors writing in the genre yet that seem to be consciously engaging and challenging some of the accidental themes. One that definitely is doing so is Sarah Lin. Of her stories, only New Game Minus is unquestionably LitRPG, but it does engage with the genre conventions in a more thoughtful way than is usual. Her later works, Street Cultivation and The Weirkey Chronicles, fall more on the cultivation end of the genre (not explicitly gamelit, but shares a lot of the same tropes.) Street Cultivation engages with capitalist themes while Weirkey looks to be challenging the idea that these universes would become militaristic and cutthroat. In general, these stories seem to be viewed through an entirely capitalist lens and then exaggerated, so someone attempting to explore progression fantasy in societies that are more community-minded is downright subversive.

I have a lot to say about this genre's themes and tropes from a more critical lens that is kind of pent up because the fan communities are not... prepared for upper case "C" criticism and analysis. Trying to have a conversation about how some of these works can be read as accidental slavery apologia just isn't possible in these spaces yet. I am excited to watch the genre grow and it is actually very exciting to watch some of the amateur writers noticeably grow with each chapter they write.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 9:32 PM on December 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Some recommendations:

A Lonely Dungeon - Subversive dungeon core story. Enjoyment may rely on how many dungeon core stories you have read.

Tower of Somnus - This is a virtual reality one where the LitRPG bleeds into real life in a cyberpunk society. Really strong character work.

Arkendrithyst - This one is kind of interesting because the main POV character has a background in harm reduction and applies their experiences and ethics to a fantasy world. I should note that I, personally, think the author is playing a long game with this story to actually be an argument AGAINST those socialist and pacifist ideas. I know that sounds a bit 4-D chess, so it might just be that they bit off more than they could chew as a writer and things got a bit muddled. In any case, this makes it an interesting entry in the genre.

He Who Fights With Monsters - This one is particularly strong with the game mechanics side of things while not being Delve level mathy.

For those with Kindle Unlimited I recommend:

The System Apocalypse by Tao Wong - (sub)genre-defining for western LitRpg. The author is also Chinese-Canadian and that does color things a little differently. The system apocalypse subgenre within litrpg tends to be the most right-wing and libertarian of all the gamelit genres so author's default centrist Canadian values make it feel a little less like a gun nut prepper fantasy. This is also one of the few stories in the genre to feature a queer protagonist (main character is a bisexual male).

The Good Guys and The Bad Guys by Eric Ugland. - These are connected series in the same gamelit world. The Good Guys features an ex-hitman trying to do better in a new world. The Bad Guys is about someone trying to be Robin Hood. The books in general steer clear of a lot of the more problematic tropes while still being a rollicking good time. Ugland seems to be very genre-savvy and neither of his protagonists are the default twenty-something white guy with some kind of computer science or engineering background.

Forever Fantasy Online - Obligatory stung in a video game story. That said, this one is by Rachel Aaron who some people might recognize as the person behind Heartstrikers, one of the rare fantasy novel series featuring a genuinely kind protagonist that solves problems with compassion and empathy instead of violence.

posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:31 PM on December 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ugh. On review:
I'm going to list some of the problematic cliches that are rampant in the genre, but please do keep in mind the above context.
I ate my list. Sorry folks. Anyways, here it is

- POV character endears themselves to female characters by treating them like actual, thinking humans when the rest of the fantasy world treats them as property. This makes them appear progressive, but they actually espouse or demonstrate regressive patriarchal beliefs rather than true egalitarianism

- Sexual assault and slavery used as narrative tools to establish someone as bad wrong. Frequently. Like you remember "time to crate" from the early days of Internet video game reviews? You could apply the same kind of metric to LitRPG. Problematic shit aside, this is just lazy writing. It's just shorthand for a writer that can't be bothered to actually develop a villain.

- Fridgeing

- POV character with trust/abandonment issues due to having wife/girlfriend cheat on them. Zero introspection.

- Lawrence of Arabia/Dances with Wolves/white savior problem. Perhaps not entirely fair to call it a white savior trope since you see this same thing come up in the translated eastern fiction as well. Anyways, person shows up in a "primitive" society and uses the science/math/video game knowledge to outperform all of the people that have been living in that universe for generations. Sometimes this is subverted, but not often.

- Might makes right. The phrase even shows up frequently. This general idea that there is a cutthroat foodchain and the people at the top oppress those at the bottom be it financially, politically, or via the game system. This ties back to those capitalist themes and systemic issues I mentioned up in comment #1. Of course, this is never tackled systemically. Our protagonist instead has to level up so that they are on top, but surely they will be kinder /more compassionate/more responsible to the masses. I really, really want to see more authors try to address this. Sarah Lin is the only one that really seems to.

- Accidental argument in favor of slavery. I could write an essay on this weird trope. The short of it is that due to circumstances the protagonist is forced to take of ownership of someone because magic or whatever. They will repeatedly attempt to free the slave, but the slave will rebuff them saying it is better this way for whatever inane reason. Through these interactions (and often collecting more slaves) the story ends up demonstrating that the problem with slavery is not the act itself but irresponsible and cruel slave owners. There will often be cultural justifications that the protagonist must learn and matters of honor or whatever. It is really insidious. Shows up more frequently in translated writing, but I've seen plenty of it from western authors as well.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:55 PM on December 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

OMG, I just had to pop back into this thread to say thank you, thank you, thank you for posting Delve!

I was immersed in it all last night and all this morning and just now starting chapter 62. Fantastic story, and every time I finish a chapter, I’m anxious that it’s the last one. I plan on kicking in a donation to the author when I’m done.

Thanks again!
posted by darkstar at 9:43 AM on December 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, I didn’t see it mentioned above, but Amazon Prime has a series called “AFK” in which mundane people are teleported into a fantasy game setting and begin to unlock skills. The production values are “fair” but it’s quite watchable.
posted by darkstar at 9:47 AM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yes, Bwithh. LitRPG/Gamelit is a little misleading because you might think they are interactive gamebooks when what they really are is fiction where characters interact with some kind of game system. Usually that is going to be a video gamey level up mechanics or players literally playing in some kind of MMO, but there are also titles like CivCEO where the game system is based on 4X strategy games.

FWIW, this genre is also connected with "Quest" writing where the author writes each chapter with an audience decision at the end that they vote on. There are a few stories on Royal Road that are actually edited rewrites of quests. The most popular being Forge of Destiny. So if gamebooks are your thing you might want to check out a Quest forum like Sufficient Velocity and get involved with voting.

If anyone is disappointed in not having some new gamebook suggestions then I've got you!

- Destiny Quest
- Midnight Legion
- Legacy of Dragonholt

If you don't mind going back to the '90s then the Critical IF books are some of the best ever written in this very niche genre. Dave Morris also wrote Fabled Lands, which most gamebook fans likely already know.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:22 AM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Heh. I wrote a Quest adventure about 20 years ago on the now defunct website LinkFilter. The campaign was called The Silver Pool.

Each chapter ended with a poll that site members could take to choose among several likely action choices, with the option to come up with an inventive option of their own. They could discuss it in the poll comments before voting.

Several people participated in it through about thirty or forty “episodes”. It was a lot of fun to write, and scratched the itch for a DND campaign when I was overseas and unable to game regularly.
posted by darkstar at 12:14 PM on December 13, 2020

Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman is also really entertaining.

A man. His ex-girlfriend's cat. A sadistic game show unlike anything in the universe: a dungeon crawl where survival depends on killing your prey in the most entertaining way possible.

In a flash, every human-erected construction on Earth—from Buckingham Palace to the tiniest of sheds—collapses in a heap, sinking into the ground.

The buildings and all the people inside have all been atomized and transformed into the dungeon: an 18-level labyrinth filled with traps, monsters, and loot. A dungeon so enormous, it circles the entire globe.

Only a few dare venture inside. But once you're in, you can't get out. And what's worse, each level has a time limit. You have but days to find a staircase to the next level down, or it's game over. In this game, it's not about your strength or your dexterity. It's about your followers, your views. Your clout. It's about building an audience and killing those goblins with style.

You can't just survive here. You gotta survive big.

You gotta fight with vigor, with excitement. You gotta make them stand up and cheer. And if you do have that "it" factor, you may just find yourself with a following. That's the only way to truly survive in this game—with the help of the loot boxes dropped upon you by the generous benefactors watching from across the galaxy.
posted by Iax at 1:49 AM on December 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I reached Chapter 125 of Delve, and wanted to keep reading, so joined Patreon just so I could donate $5 to the author and unlock the advance reading of the next eight chapters.

Looking forward to the next one! (They come out every Sunday!)
posted by darkstar at 2:56 PM on December 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Patreon gets you 8 chapters? I've been reading it on Royal Road and I'm up to chapter 125. I already give him $2.50 a month... and there it is, up to chapter 133. I just forgot to check once I got caught up (it's the one I started most recently.) Thanks for the head's up!
posted by homunculus at 10:14 PM on December 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

> - Accidental argument in favor of slavery.

There was a point early in Azarinth Healer where I feared it might go that direction, but thankfully I was wrong and the protagonist has become a full-on abolitionist. Most of the stories I recommended in the OP include slavery and a slave state in the new world, though their significance varies.

A slave empire is the main antagonist in Skyclad/Skybound, and the protagonist's powers make her uniquely suited to fighting the slavers. And a slave empire in Delve has already been presented as the most likely main antagonist unless the author decides to go in a different direction. There's a slave state in The Wandering Inn but it's only been referred to in secondary arcs so far, and moral arguments about slavery has shaped one of the tertiary character's arc.
posted by homunculus at 10:39 PM on December 16, 2020

Also, one of the reasons I really dig Delve (heh) is because it’s one of my personal power fantasies to be able to pull up extensively diagnostic and status screens for myself and assess, tweak and optimize parameters.

Another is to gain magical powers. And a third is to use them rescue the oppressed. So yeah.
posted by darkstar at 10:54 PM on December 16, 2020

There are three other stories which I haven't read yet but they sound good and I plan to check them out soon: Mother of Learning, There is no Epic Loot here, Only Puns and Worth the Candle.

Oops, I should have specified in the OP: these three are highly recommended by fans of LitRPG. As I looked for recommendations for more, these three in particular popped up a lot. The title of the first is taken from the latin phrase "repetitio est mater studiorum" which means "repetition is the mother of learning."
posted by homunculus at 5:52 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

TWI readers, if you haven't read the latest chapter yet ("Solstice Pt. 2"), know that the link ("Luan Khumalo sat in the single scull") is a sound file timed to coincide with events later in the chapter, particularly the second-to-last section which begins with "It was done. The cheering that erupted afterwards was matched only by the roar of fury from..."

Also, you might want to reread Interlude 4 and chapters 7.22 D and 7.29 B as a refresher before this chapter, but only if you've already read the previous chapter ("Solstice Pt 1"), otherwise that grouping itself will be a Spoiler! for the current story arc.


I never cease to be amazed at how imaginative pirateaba is, even after all the writing already done. The story is so endlessly rich in detail.

Most mornings I wake up with music already playing in my head, and this morning it was Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore". A perfect fit!
posted by homunculus at 1:06 PM on December 20, 2020

And new TWI art by Bobo of Apista, Erin, Lyonette, Mrsha and Numbtongue.
posted by homunculus at 1:46 PM on December 20, 2020

I have to say now that it is agonizing waiting for the next chapter of Delve to post.

I got spoiled, being able to read the first 133 chapters in three days, and now I have to wait a week for each of the new ones? 😩
posted by darkstar at 7:42 PM on December 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. One of the reasons I keep checking out different LitRPGs is to fill that void. But re: Delve, I think D. is going to be okay. That little slimeball has become almost as adorable as Lulu from Skyclad, imo.

The Wandering Inn concluded Vol. 7 with a bang. Anyone reading it, be sure to follow the links at the bottom of each chapter until you reach "End of Volume 7."
posted by homunculus at 5:16 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Heh, yeah. I’m not usually a fan of schmaltzy comic relief, but D. on me. :)

I’m just thinking of all the folks who participated in that fight, however ineffectually, and the resulting aftereffects...
posted by darkstar at 5:30 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, A. & R. got pretty battered up, but A. can heal R. once she's recovered. Thank the Stag King for T.

Speaking of T., do you remember if any other sapient species besides humans and cervidians have been shown or mentioned? I can't recall any off the top of my head.
posted by homunculus at 6:12 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hmm...I can’t think of any, other than the developing sapience of normally mundane creatures, as the result of proximity to the Winter effect.

***SPOILER if you haven’t read through Chapter 134:

RE aftereffects, I was particularly thinking of the possibility of the resulting Awakenings, if it can occur when fighting other Awakened. And if so, then which of the noob party members just won the jackpot, given the bad guys’ level. They have to be well over 20.

I also imagine myself as a mundane in that crowd, wanting to throw a rock at the bad guys or something, just to get in on the after-party effects. :D
posted by darkstar at 6:27 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

***SPOILER if you haven’t read through Chapter 134:

RE aftereffects, I was particularly thinking of the possibility of the resulting Awakenings, if it can occur when fighting other Awakened. And if so, then which of the noob party members just won the jackpot, given the bad guys’ level. They have to be well over 20.

Huh, I assumed those already awakened would level, but I assumed that it wouldn't cause new awakenings because I don't recall anyone ever mentioning that defeating an awakened was a sufficient condition for creating new awakenings. I hope you're right because that would make things more interesting. Also, I hope the third opponent, the mage who was far more reasonable than the two assholes, eventually ends up joining the company. I always like it when opponents become allies, or even better, friends.
posted by homunculus at 7:40 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite] may be right, RE only Awakeneds benefiting. Otherwise, crowds of mundanes would certainly be conspiring to murder Awakeneds, in order to gain the benefit!
posted by darkstar at 7:43 PM on December 24, 2020

Well, so much for my idea.
posted by homunculus at 10:33 AM on December 28, 2020

And mine! Lol!

A little disappointed if he doesn’t share.
posted by darkstar at 2:42 PM on December 28, 2020

Yeah, I hope this isn't the beginning of a Grimdark Antihero arc.
posted by homunculus at 3:28 PM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Spoiler for 136:

A couple of items in praise and one in criticism of Rain’s judgment (not of the writing, but of the character).

First, I appreciated the nod to his responsibilities to the Watch, in deciding that those accolades go back to them. It’s the upstanding thing to do, and also politically savvy. Second, I like the decision to retain the accolades to enable Ascension’s leadership to level up. It’s needed, and justifiable, given that they just helped several members become Awakened. Level up the members, level up the leaders — perfectly reasonable.

The criticism is with the way he claimed rights to all of the accolades for such a small group of people. That’s a bad call on two levels, I think. 1. It violates the “game logic” in how the world treats even ineffectual participants in an encounter (e.g., Rain’s own initial encounter that Awakened him), and 2. it violates the spirit of their collective group to suggest that only those few were “part” of that encounter when clearly there were others at risk and taking part.

Although he’s an obnoxious jerk, Kettel had a point, and not addressing it in a more politic and magnanimous way would create the kind of wedge that would destroy unit cohesion and morale. I hope that Rain, once he levels up from his upcoming adventures, rethinks how these accolades are strategic opportunities beyond his own level-up.

Aside from that, it’s just incredibly tone deaf to make a complete statement of all accolades and their bonuses, until the point that everyone is slavering over them, and then deny them all the possibility of getting one. Not to mention the heavy-handed gesture of threatening to penalize someone raising objection to that (admittedly disrupting as it was), without offering some other forum in which to discuss it.

Some of this may be intentional on the writer’s part, but it may also be the result of blind spots in understanding where the pitfalls in leadership are. Still, looking forward to the adventures in the Depths!
posted by darkstar at 12:00 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

Ultimately, I have to assume he’s going to share some of those accolades with others.

Yes, let the Watch have theirs back. And sure, let the short-listed leadership folks get their pick of the most useful ones to boost their resilience. But I have to imagine that at least a few accolades will be shared out to other Ascension members, eventually.

Otherwise, there’s going to be some serious bad blood as a result, and rightly so.
posted by darkstar at 4:27 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I agree. I also don't get why he wouldn't bring Carten, Jamus and maybe Mahria and Val with them to the Depths, seeing as how they've all been adventuring longer than he has, and the story would be more fun with some of them included.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

The first chapter of Volume 8 of The Wandering Inn went up for subscribers last night. It looks like the Horns of Hammerad are finally going on the Heartflame quest for Selys we've been waiting for since Vol 5 (links = spoilers.)
posted by homunculus at 12:11 PM on January 10

Also, one of the reasons I really dig Delve (heh) is because it’s one of my personal power fantasies to be able to pull up extensively diagnostic and status screens for myself and assess, tweak and optimize parameters.

Another is to gain magical powers. And a third is to use them rescue the oppressed. So yeah.

I have to say now that it is agonizing waiting for the next chapter of Delve to post.

You know, while Azarinth Healer doesn't have as much number crunching as Delve, the protagonist does spend a lot of time working on her class upgrades and optimizing her bonuses and resistances. The system in that story has a lot more class customization and high level characters get unique class options. If you haven't given it a try yet, you might give it a chance. The writing is wonkier in the beginning but it improves over time. My main complaint is that all the combat gets monotonous.

Here are two pics of the protagonist, Ilea, with armor and without (she's the human.)
posted by homunculus at 6:23 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

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