WTF is LitRPG?

Most of the time I can’t shut up about my books as I’m writing them. One of the most common questions I’ve gotten about my new book Rise of the Crimson Order: A Crematoria Online LitRPG Novel is this: “WTF is LitRPG?”

I hope this post will help clarify things.

Imagine for a second that you’re reading Lord of the Rings, and you’ve reached the part where Bilbo Baggins passes on the sword Sting to young Frodo Baggins, along with the Mithril shirt destined to stop Frodo from being skewered by a cave troll. Spoilers, sorry.

When Frodo receives these items, imagine getting to see the stats associated with the equipment, just like you would in a video game.

Bilbo handed Frodo a sword in a scabbard. To the big folk, the weapon was barely bigger than a dagger, but when Frodo held it, it felt like a mighty sword. Frodo drew the sword from its sheath. An ornate Elvish design wound up the side of the blade like a creeping vine.

As Frodo appraised this exotic weapon, an information panel appeared in front of him.

Weapon: Sting
12 damage (+8  DAM when attacking Orcs or Goblins)
Effect: Glows blue when Orcs or Goblins are within a 100 yard radius.
A wondrous weapon crafted by the Elves, well suited for Hobbits. Not so well suited for the big folk, unless they’re opening letters.

“I found that weapon in a troll hoard on my way to Rivendell, and it’s time I passed it on to you,” Bilbo said. Then he held up a glimmering silver shirt made of intricate interconnected rings. “This was gifted to me by Thorin Oakenshield. A mithril shirt of Dwarven make. Here, take it.”

Frodo took the glimmering shirt. The rings were so delicate that it felt like water flowing through his hands.

“Light as a feather,” Bilbo said. “But as hard as dragon scale!”

Mithril shirt
Race restriction: Hobbit
+50 Armor
Resists piercing and slashing attacks made by edged weapons.
This small mithril shirt is perfectly Hobbit sized. Made of the hardest substance in Middle-Earth by the Dwarves.

“Thank you,” Frodo said.

He equipped Sting and placed the Mithril shirt into his inventory as he joined Bilbo on a walk through the verdant streets of Rivendell.

If J.R.R. Tolkien had written Lord of the Rings as a LitRPG, it might have looked a little something like that.

So just what is LitRPG exactly?

First, let me explain the umbrella genre under which LitRPG falls: GameLit.

GameLit encompasses any literature in which the characters engage with a world shaped by game mechanics. The book that spawned the recent Ready Player One movie is one of the most popular examples of GameLit and uses one of the most popular vessels to do so; a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Otherwise known as an MMORPG.

But GameLit novels don’t need to be set in a video game to be GameLit. Other GameLit novels, and by extension LitRPG novels, can use other types of game worlds controlled by game mechanics. Dungeons & Dragons inspired worlds are popular. If someone wrote a story from the perspective of a chess piece, it would technically be GameLit.

In my opinion, the difference between GameLit and LitRPG is simple, but distinct.

GameLit can get away with having light gamified elements. LitRPG cannot.

LitRPG requires the satisfying crunch of mechanics and character progression. Some readers like their LitRPGs super crunchy. The more stats and game mechanics the better! Others don’t. Just like the difference in crunch between McDonald’s french fries and a KFC chip, everyone has their own taste.

Everyone also has a different definition and tolerance level for what a LitRPG should be, and what separates it from GameLit. Try out a bunch of different LitRPG and GameLit novels and see what works for you! There’s hundreds of worlds worth of adventure to discover.

You can start with giving my novel Rise of the Crimson Order: A Crematoria Online LitRPG novel a try by downloading a sample from Amazon’s Kindle store.

Published by Matthew J. Barbeler

Matthew J. Barbeler writes dark fiction to die for.

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