Writing power curves in LitRPG/GameLit

I’m knee-deep in Crematoria Online book two at the moment, and one of the main concerns I had was making sure that the progression of statistics was consistent, meaningful, and fun. Making them foolproof on the author’s part was also important, because he is an accomplished fool.

So I put my Excel-fu to good use and made a spreadsheet.

I’m sharing my learnings, because I feel like the math/stats aspect of writing GameLit/LitRPG is not something narrative-focused writers come to easily. So this might help.

You can automate your statistics in a way that makes sure your characters will always be getting level-appropriate gear. It’s as easy as putting your character’s level into a cell, choosing the rarity, and boom – your spreadsheet will pop out appropriate stats for that piece of gear.

The best part? Once you’ve set this up, you can use it for your entire series. I wish I’d done this before publishing Rise of the Crimson Order!

First up, you need to esatblish three elements in a single worksheet:

A table of levels and default stat growth

For thes above dummy stats (none of these are what I used for Crematoria Online), I chose an arbitrary formula: Primary Stat = Level*2.5. You can choose absolutely any formula that fits with your intended power curve.

Next, you need a table of gear rarities and the effects those rarities have on the stats of the items

Once again, these values are arbitrary. Choose your own values that will work for your world.

Lastly, you need a table of equipment slots and their gear weightings

A piece of chest armor won’t have the same stats as a pair of gloves, or a necklace, or a pair of boots. These stat weightings are designed to give some variance in the actual stats on the items, so they feel more appropriate.

Once you’ve set all of these tables up with your own data, now you can create your gear generator. You could do it on the same worksheet as your stat tables, but I like to keep them separate. It’s much cleaner.

Here’s where the fun starts.

You’re going to need to harness the power of VLookup to get this working. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll realise just how powerful Microsoft Excel is even without getting into the realm of macros. Here’s the Microsoft page on the function, but there are heaps of resources out there that will help you learn it.

There are four main elements to your gear generator that you need to understand before proceeding:

  • Blue – These cells require Data Validation. Set these up as a drop-down list, so that values from your table of gear rarities and table of equipment slots are selectable.
  • Grey – this is free text, but you’ll only be putting your numeric level numbers in here
  • Yellow – VLookup. These cells are there to grab the modifiers and stat weightings you’ve put into your raw data tables so you can use them in formulas here.
  • Green – formulas. This is the nuts and bolts of how your stat score will be generated. Without the above three types of cells set up, the formulas won’t work.

The VLookup can get a little tricky, so I’ll break down what I’ve done. For the yellow cell next to Weighting I want my spreadsheet to automatically change the weighting whenever I choose an equipment slot.

This is the formula: =VLOOKUP(C2, Ref!N2:O14, 2, 0)

Double dutch, right?

Let me break it down.

  • C2 is our reference cell. This is what the VLookup function looks at to determine what other value is should display. In this case, it’s looking at the cell containing Head.
  • Ref!N2:O14 is an absolute reference to a table selection. It encompasses two columns – N & O, and continues from row 2 to row 14.
  • 2 refers to which column in the defined table we want our VLookup to display once it finds the value in C2. The cell values such as Head, Chest etc are column 1. Our stat weightings are column 2, and the weighting is what we want to display.
  • 0 refers to whether we want an approximate match, or an exact match. We want to be exact, so we choose 0 = FALSE.

For the modifier VLookups, I have directed my spreadsheet to look at the cell next to Rarity instead of the gear slot cell. You should be able to set this up yourself now.

If you get those working, your spreadsheet is going to sing.

Once your drop-down lists have been set up, and your VLookups are working, you can now start on the formulas to calculate your gear attributes.

=((LEVEL*2.5)*MODIFIER)*WEIGHTING

The 2.5 in the above formula matches the *2.5 I used in my original table of levels and primary stat calculations. If your stats grow at different rates (eg, health grows faster or has a more complex calculation behind it) then you’ll need to alter this final formula to suit.

These calculations are subjective, and the ones I’ve used in these examples are just examples. Play around a bit and make sure your math matches your story!

So now that it’s all done, here’s a couple of examples of the output.

A pair of max-level Rare legs

A pair of max-level Epic legs

Once the gear is generated, I play around with the stats a little before putting them in the book.

Placeholder Rare Legs
Requires Level 20
Armor: 60
Stamina: 54
Strength: 45
Block: 28
Thorns: 15

or

Placeholder Epic Legs
Requires Level 20
Armor: 75
Stamina: 57
Strength: 54
Block: 36
Thorns: 19

As you can see there, the stats don’t exactly match the output of the spreadsheet, and I’ve done this intentionally. There’s always a level of randomness to stat generation in most games, and I like to make sure there’s an element of variance in my books too.

So there you have it. Go forth and create your own power curve spreadsheets if you like, share it around, and let’s demystify this element of GameLit/LitRPG writing!

Cheers,
Matthew

September 2019 update

So you know how I said I’ve been pretty bad at updating my blog? Well, September’s update is coming 6 days into October… whoops!

Crematoria Online

I’ve spent most of September working through beta reader feedback of Crematoria Online Book 2. I’m happy to say that those who have finished it so far have thoroughly enjoyed it. But like with any beta reading process, there are some bumps to smooth off, and some places to focus on to make the story even better.

This book came out to be about 138k, which is roughly 490 pages. I’ve got another couple of scenes to add, and some rearranging to do, and I’ve got a feeling it’s going to end up breaking the 500 page mark. It’s going to be a whopper.

My beta reading team are superstars. If you want to join the team, please get in contact with me. There’s still time to read a sneak peak of book two before it goes to publishing, and book three will be going out for beta reader early next year some time.

You know how I said that the title Legacy of the Bloodreaver was locked in? Well, I’m rethinking that. I should probably learn to shut my mouth until things are finalised, hey?

BUT IT’S ALL SO EXCITING AND I LIKE TALKING ABOUT MY WORK.

There’s another in-universe short story, similar(ish) in length to Thirty to Fifty Feral Hogs coming for Halloween, too.

There’s some other things I want to talk about re: Crematoria Online right now, but they’re not set in stone, so I’m going to listen to my own advice and shut the fuck up.

Other Fiction

So many ideas, so little time. I’m enjoying writing LitRPG at the moment, but there’s a straight up horror novel festering away in my grey matter demanding to be written too. After Crematoria Online Book 2 is published, I might sate that urge. We’ll see how I feel after book two launches.

I might want to get straight into Crematoria Online book 3 and finish the trilogy off, or I might want a break. We shall see.

Real Life

Bub’s nursery is built. We’re stocked up with baby wipes and nappies. I’ve finished my swaddling training. We had the baby shower last weekend, and it was a lovely time. Thank you to everyone who came. ❤

We’re drowning in dinosaur paraphernalia, which is a wonderful state to be in. I hope our little boy is going to love dinosaurs as much as his Dad.

I started my new job this month, and it’s been great. I’m working back in the city now, which means I’m able to get back into my exercise routine. I’ve dropped 5kgs already, and I’ve only been back 3 weeks. I feel so, so much better.

Toxic workplaces are a hell of a thing. If you’re in one, get out at all costs!

Books

This month I re-read The Outsider by Stephen King. I very rarely re-read books, but I made time for this one. It was even better the second time around. Check out my review on Goodreads.

Games

Borderlands 3 came out this month, and so did The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch. I’ve been waiting for both of these since they were announced.

Borderlands is one of my absolute favourite series, and I’ve been have a blast with Borderlands 3. I’m not a young man anymore though, so my gaming time is limited. I love how wholesome FL4K’s relationships with their pets are. I also dig that FL4K is intentionally non-binary, and the language used in all of their dialogue and text reflects that.

I finished Borderlands 3 last weekend, and it was a really satisfying campaign. I won’t delve into spoiler territory, but I was really happy with it.

Link’s Awakening DX was one of my very favourite games on my GBA Color. I remember playing through Link’s Awakening (non-DX) on a regular Gameboy, and the colour of the DX version just blew my freaking mind. Now seeing it in glorious 3D with lovely current-gen animations is a treat. I’m also surprised at all of the old memories firing off in my mind about it.

After not playing that game for like 20 years, I still remembered about the hidden bottle at the bottom of the fish pond and how to get it.

Movies

I went and saw It Chapter 2 this month, and wrote some thoughts about it. Spoilers inside!

That’s about it from me this month. If you’ve got any questions, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads, and I’ll answer those questions here.

Cheers,

Matthew

August 2019 Update

I’ve been historically pretty bad at updating my blog, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to at least do monthly updates.

Crematoria Online

Earlier in the month I released a standalone story set in the Crematoria Online universe – Thirty to Fifty Feral Hogs. It was a bit of an experiment for me. I wanted to see if I could write and edit a story, design a cover, and publish it in two days, and I did it. I’m happy with the result. It got a glowing review from the LitRPG Podcast, which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling like a feral hog waiting to burst out of my skin.

The sequel to Rise of the Crimson Order is almost done. I’ve written almost 120k words in two months, and I think that’s a testament to how much I love this story. It’s just poured out of me. The scope is bigger, the new characters are just wonderful, the monsters are crazier, and I just can’t wait to share it with you.

This is the fastest I’ve ever written a book. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like I kind of know what I’m doing, and it’s really blowing my mind to think that this is the ninth book I’ve written.

Even writing those words blows my mind.

A note on the title of the Rise sequel; It’s gone through a couple of permutations. Initially it was Rage of the Lightless Depths, which I liked but didn’t love. Then, it was Wrath of the Sanguine Scourge, which I was hoping to keep up my sleeve for when a specific event takes place… Then, it was Legacy of the Blood Queen, which I also liked but didn’t love. Now, it’s Legacy of the Bloodreaver, which I love, and that’s the final title.

If you’d like to be a beta reader for Legacy of the Bloodreaver and think you could get through a 500-page novel in a month, please get in contact with me.

Other Fiction

Crematoria Online is my focus at the moment, but I’m also planning on what comes next for 2020. I don’t have much to announce right now, but low-key? There’s a new trilogy just begging to be written, and it’s going to be big.

Rise of the Crimson Order paperback fuck-up

Sometimes you have to lean into your fuck-ups.

My pal JoAnn messaged me early one morning this month and said “Hey Matt so I came across something a bit weird in your book… first page of chapter 26 seems like it’s actually from chapter 26 of Metropolis 7” with an accompanying screenshot.

Cue the absolute terror of having fucked up so bad.

I went and checked my own version of Rise of the Crimson Order and yep, sure enough, almost half a page of the wrong book was there.

What happened was that I’d used the Fallen Metropolis Omnibus paperback file to prepare the Rise of the Crimson Order paperback file. Paste & Match Style is a lifesaver when it comes to making sure you have consistent internal formatting.

But if you’re a dickhead like me you might forget to delete a section of another book that you should have deleted…

It’s been fixed now, and every paperback version of Crimson Order from here on won’t have a random snippet of Fallen Metropolis at the beginning of the chapter twenty-six.

Seven copies were printed and shipped by Amazon containing the print error. If you’re one of these people and you want a replacement copy, please let me know. I’ll send you an unfucked copy at my expense.

Real Life

I’ve got lots of stuff going on in real life at the moment. In a couple of months I’m going to have a newborn son arriving on the scene. So I’m trying to stock up on writing and sleeping time now. When he comes, it’s going to be all about him, and I can’t wait.

I’ve been miserable pretty miserable over the last couple of months. (Toxic workplaces are draining in the worst kind of way). I’ve put on weight when I should be losing it. I’ve been in a pretty dark place mentally, but I’ve been converting all that negative emotional energy into creative energy and using it to get the next book finished.

Everyone is afraid of the black dog. I know I was for years, but as I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve realised that he’s not so bad. The black dog wants you to run, and it’s up to you to choose whether you run away from your goals or towards them.

The Future

As I’m sure some of you have noticed, I launched nervousmonkeys.com earlier this year and you might be wondering just what the fuck that’s all about. TL;DR, there are heaps of plans, but not much I’m ready to talk about just yet.

One exception…

It’s my intention to start narrating audiobooks in the very near future, and Nervous Monkeys will be the vessel for that. I’ve got my fingers crossed that ACX will be opening its doors to Australians in 2020. If not, there are other avenues, and I’ll have more news on this front later.

Aside from that, my lips are sealed until things are more solid.

If you’ve got any questions, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Goodreads, and I’ll answer those questions here in next month’s update!

Cheers,
Matthew

K’gari

Well, here’s something I never thought I’d see. SBS has created an interactive documentary about the land of my people, the Butchulla, called K’gari.

What does K’gari mean?

Well, in the Butchulla language it means paradise. It’s the traditional name of the island known as Fraser Island. Before this piece done by SBS, I have to admit, I didn’t know the nitty gritty details of why it was called Fraser Island. I knew it was named because of a white woman, but I didn’t know the depth of the story that went along with it.

I had no idea the story had been so twisted by white panic, but I’m not surprised.

Clear 10 minutes out of your schedule to have a look at the presentation by SBS. Especially if you’ve got teenage kids who are just trying to get their heads around how to tell the difference between truth and untruth in a world where fake news (aka propaganda) is set to change the course of history.

Now for a personal tangent.

I didn’t know I was part of the Butchulla people until my great grandmother, one of the Butchulla elders, came to my primary school to talk about the dreamtime. She asked me “You’re Steven’s boy, aren’t you?” and back then I didn’t know my Dad. But I knew that was his name. She told me she was my grandmother, and the realisation hit me.

“If you’re aboriginal, then so am I!”

She told me that even though her skin was dark, and mine was white, we were still family. That was a bond that nothing could break.

I learned about my culture late, and I’m still learning every day.

Her name was Olga Miller, and along with her brother Wilf Reeves they wrote and illustrated the first Australian Aboriginal children’s book – The Legend of Moonie Jarl, which was originally published in 1964.

In 2014, it was reprinted for the 50th anniversary by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and I was lucky enough to get a copy.

I doubt anyone caught it, but in my Crematoria Online series, there’s an island-based seafaring race called the Kigarians, that hail from the Kigari Isles. I know that’s not how you pronounce K’gari, but it was my way of putting a little bit of my culture into my fictional world.

A small celebration, if you will.

New Release – Fallen Metropolis: Omnibus Edition

Fallen Metropolis: Omnibus Edition brings together three stories in the Galactic Waste universe in one package! It includes the full-length scifi horror novel Fallen Metropolis, its prequel novella The Fall of Metropolis Seven, and the short story The Traveler!

Remastered and ready to take over the galaxy, the Fallen Metropolis Omnibus is a relentless thrill ride that takes hold from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last.

Draco Goldwing and his crew of intrepid space marines detect a distress signal in unfriendly space. The Metropolis Seven, a long-vacationer starship on a ten-year cruise around the galaxy, is floating adrift in the crushing gravity of a binary star system. The 100,000 passengers and crew on board are set to roast unless Draco and the crew intervene.

The massive ship is as silent as a crypt. The ship has been taken over by something not seen before in the entire galaxy’s history. Something hungry.

Captain Goldwing leads a mission aboard the Metropolis Seven while the remaining crew members of the Icarus play babysitter with a psychotic madman who will stop at nothing to reclaim his freedom.

Find out more.

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.

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp

We’re approaching the end of October, and my skin seems to prickle with anticipation as I consider subjecting myself to another 30 days of literary abandon in the madhouse that is NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the aim is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That is roughly 1,667 words per day.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo almost every year since 2006, with various levels of commitment and success. My two published novels, Metro 7 and Carnifex, were both started during previous NaNoWriMos. Hopefully, you’ll find something in these tips and tricks to help you reach your lofty goal.Continue reading “NaNoWriMo Boot Camp”

Author Interview: Lee Murray

Today I’ve got something pretty special for you all – military horror author Lee Murray is here to talk about her new book Into the Sounds!Continue reading “Author Interview: Lee Murray”