Crunchy or creamy? How do you like it?

And no, I’m not talking about peanut butter.

I’m talking about LitRPG.

A post from a newer author on one of the LitRPG author groups on Facebook prompted me to put this little post together. For those of you outside the LitRPG genre question of creamy versus crunchy probably only applies to breakfast spreads. But within LitRPG, it can mean the difference between finding an audience and alienating them.

The difference is this: crunchy LitRPG is heavy on stats, whereas the creamier the litRPG, the fewer stats you’ll see.

An example of a creamy LitRPG would be Ready Player One. Sure, there is levelling and character growth, but you don’t actually see much of it written down on the page in prompts and notifications.

An example of an extremely crunchy LitRPG would be most of Jonathan Brooks’ Dungeon Core novels, which are filled with sizeable tables, monster and item info. Pretty much everything you need to see if you’re running a dungeon.

The Land is one of those series that everyone points to as being super crunchy, but it’s an example I wanted to highlight here too, because the last couple of books in that series got a crazy amount of negative reviews for being too stat heavy with too little focus on the story.

The Land is by far and away the most popular LitRPG series, but it just goes to show that unless you listen to your audience and give them what they want, you risk alienating them.

So what exactly does this all mean, and how can it risk your book finding his audience?

The readers of LitRPG are varied in taste. I often think that there are so many subgenres within LitRPG and GameLit that you can just stick to your chosen subgenre and still find a hungry audience for your books. But in saying that, you need to know what your readers want, and what they don’t want in order to succeed.

You will find some readers who will only read VRMMORPG stories, others who won’t touch VR stories with a ten foot pole, others who like cultivation and LitRPG blends, and others who focus on real world RPGs like Tao Wong’s system apocalypse series. There are even threads about people chasing stories that feature specific classes, weapons or monster MCs.

If you’re just looking at writing your very first that RPG novel, all of the varied options of what you can choose to write about might be completely overwhelming, and it might seem like the audience for these books is splintered into a number of different camps.

I haven’t found that to be the case.

I find the LitRPG community to be pretty open minded to new ideas within the genre, and very forgiving of some of the missteps that first time authors my take when learning the craft. But if you don’t meet their expectations, and of those there are quite a few, you may find it harder to find your audience.

For the most part, straight up LitRPGs tend to be pretty crunchy. The whole character progression model seems to favour crunch rather than cream. Make a LitRPG too creamy, and you might find that you’re not hitting the mark for those who want to see the characters levelling up and growing stronger through direct prompts and notifications.

However that’s not to say that both extremes can’t meet in the middle.

One of my favourite examples of a LitRPG that is neither crunchy nor creamy, but a smooth blend of both, is Kaiju: Battlefield Surgeon by Matt Dinniman. There’s enough crunch there to satisfy, but not enough to overwhelm, and it never takes centre stage over the unfolding drama of the story. I haven’t finished his Dungeon Crawler Carl series yet, but it’s much the same way.

How can you apply this to your writing?

Firstly, figure out what you enjoy writing. If math and stats make your head spin, then going full crunch might not be the right choice for you. But if the book you’re writing loses something from not having that level of crunch, then you might be writing the wrong book.

I couldn’t imagine a Dungeon Core novel without stats, tables, and sometimes even maps that show the layout of the dungeon. Writing one of those novels would lose something without that level of crunch.

It’s not to say that it’s impossible to write a great Dungeon Core novel without it, it just means that you risk alienating those readers who want that crunch as part of their experience.

To find out what readers of your particular style of story like, the best way is to read the most popular books. Take notice of how heavy they are with their stats, the way they present them, and read through the reviews of those books to see which ones praise the stats or crunch most.

Then, learn from that information.

How do I do it?

I personally don’t like tables, and the popular books in the VRMMORPG subgenre don’t skew towards using them heavily either, so my Crematoria Online series does not use them.

I consciously made the decision to not repeat information if I didn’t need to. So I’ll show what the loot table text looks like once or twice, and then after that I’ll just say something like ‘Lucas found another few weapons of low quality on the group of dead guards and passed them over for the gold and potions that would come in handy later.’

In my next series, the survival horror LitRPG EDGE Force, I’m taking a similar approach. No tables, but it’s deliberately going to be a little more crunchy than Crematoria Online, with more overt mentions of skill trees, skill lines, and different ranks between the skills.

But I’ll still be following my basic rule of not repeating anything that I don’t need to.

Published by Matthew J. Barbeler

Matthew J. Barbeler writes dark fiction to die for.

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