Worth the Candle

by Alexander Wales

Original ONGOING Action Adventure Drama Fantasy GameLit High Fantasy LitRPG Magic Male Lead Portal Fantasy / Isekai
Warning This fiction contains:
  • Gore
  • Profanity
  • Sexual Content
  • Traumatising content

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.

The most complete version of this is posted on Archive of Our Own. Chapters will be posted here at roughly 13 hour intervals (which will rotate timezones) for the next two or three months until it's been caught up to current.

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binary_pineapple
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A must read rational litrpg

I am definitely going to regret reading this as it has probably cost me tens of thousands of dollars. More about that later; into the review.

I knew about this fiction since a very long time, especially since I was subscribed to the subreddit that it was posted on . Hpwever, the name didn't ring a bell, neither did the author seem familiar, so I gave it a pass. It was a mistake.

Fast forward to when the story was posted on royal road. It didn't have the author as cthuluraejepson, but Alexander Wales. The name seemed familiar, and I went on his website. He had made another nickname for himself, and was the same author that had written Shadows and Metropolitan Man, the same stories that I raved about to my friends. As I went through the list, it seemed that all his written stories were the ones that I had liked and stuck with me such as the Randi Prize. Oh, what a revelation.

I started binging through the novel and stormed through till the last chapter (161).  And what a ride it has been. Somehow, the story touches upon and coagulates widely dissimilar topics into a meta narrative. The "meta" aspect is something that is dealt with so regularly, that I felt that this story should have been the one named "Meta World" (Could we swap the titles?). It includes a range of topics spanning from economics to world building and therapy. 

It is one of the very few "system" litrpgs, where the character actually discloses everything about the mechanisms to his companions. Here, the world that he is transported to is one that highly mimics the ones that he created on Earth as a Dungeon Master. It meshes well into the story as the character and his companions figure how they all fit in to the "narrative" (a word that you will hear often).

The characters are actually what sets this story as the best charterizations I have ever read. The way the characters deal with situations is very realistic. The MC is not the smartest person, he is great in some aspects, poor at others, just how a normal guy would be. The others are not dumbed down either, and not everyone is overjoyed to throw themselves at the MC, with the females ready for a harem, unlike common webnovel tropes. The MC, other characters face a variety of issues from relationship issues, procrastination to depression.

The magic system is phenomenal and has a broad variety. Different species, different magics requiring different costs, just shows how much work has gone into creating it. While revealing too much would be a spoiler, it would not be and understatement to say that the world emerges as a land full of possibilities for the future. Truly makes me want to play D&D. And yeah, for all you flat earthers: rejoice!

Some of the critique would be some decisions taken by the characters that don't really seem optimal given the time they spend on decision making for even trivial stuff. Some world building or character interactions just seem to go on for much longer than what is needed. All of them being issues which can be solved with a bit of editing.

All in all, it is a work of fiction that is so addicting that you can't stop until you reach the last chapter. And this is a positive point unless you really don't have time (like me). As I write this review, I accept my fate that I am not going to clear my interview for Amazon as I have spent the last week just reading this novel instead of prepping for it and I am probably going to regret this for a long long time. Yes, addiction has an opportunity cost. (Interesting tidbit: the author is a former software engineer too.)

 

Fred
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Believable characters, incredible world building.

I can easily say this is one of my favorite stories ever, as it touches on a number of things I consider important.

The characters all feel very real, rather than just placeholders with a single defining character trait, each their own person, without falling into any trite cliches. 

 Speaking of cliches, this story does a great job of examining several common tropes of portal fantasy, tabletop rpgs and the like, deconstructing, reconstructing, subverting and sometimes playing them straight when you least expect. 

The grammar and overall spelling is excellent, with the author consistently correcting any slips that are pointed out. 

But more than anything, what truly gets me in this story is the world building. The breadth and depth of the world is truly fantastic. The hundreds of species, the dozens of magic systems, the way societies have organized themselves around the existence of magical items, everything the author reveals, just keeps showing more and more of how immense the world of Aerb truly is. If I have only one complaint is that there is no way this story will ever be long enough for us to see the full scope of what the author has created. 

Zimzimbadabim
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I've been following this for a while. It's nice to see it on another platform where it can get more exposure.

This is a pretty neat story. If you are a fan of DnD and other such dice-rolling adventure games that require a game master, you will probably really enjoy this. 

I think by far what keeps me reading this story is the characters. These are some of the most authentically crafted characters I have read in a fantasy story. This genre usually is more known for plot and worldbuilding than it is for nuanced characters. Not so with this story! I would argue that the characters are the real shining stars of this story.

The world building is good, don't misunderstand me. It can become a bit cluttered at times due to how complex the world is set up to be, but that is ok because it is merely the stage and props with which the characters bring the story to life. 

Continuity is good. Logical coherence is also good, and of critical importance considering the premise of the story, so kudos to the author on that.

This story has authentically portrayed romance with a twist that I will not spoil for you.

There is abundant action and adventure into new and interesting lands. There are a seemingly limitless number of species. So if you only want the classic human, elf, dwarf trio with maybe an allowance for a few others, this is not for you. All the races in this story are original to the author except for humans. So I hope that interests you. There are creatures inspired by those in other fictions, but none copied directly that I have found so far. 

Also, I know some really hate stories with a "person pulling strings behind the curtain" character that guides the journey of the MC, and this story does have that, BUT it does it in a way that I personally think adds to the story and is very directly and consistently addressed by the main characters such that it is a valuable plot point as well as a character development tool. 

I don't want to give too much away. It's a good story. I say give it a shot.

It does deal with some heavy and unsavory topics like canibalism, suicide, etc. So be ready for a not so light-hearted read. I personally do not reccomend for those under the age of 10.

You can find this story on https://archiveofourown.org/works/11478249/chapters/25740126

Marmoset Threat
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This story is great. Read it.

Unlike many 'portal fantasy' stories, this isn't a wish-fufillment-harem-builder-op-mc story. It's an actual narrative with complicated twists, turns and story arcs. The characters are probably where this story shines the most as they're all very deep and (although this sounds stupid to write) emotionally troubled. Character vs Self conflicts are difficult to do properly but when done well, they're fantastic. It's also important that this is not a feel-good story. Reading this will make you run across the entire emotional spectrum with everything from joy and knee-slapping amusement to deep sadness and anger. I think it's a sign of a good author that they're able to do this.

Also on a different note, the author does 'high INT' characters well, and this is even discussed in the story (it gets pretty meta sometimes). The way the characters act, respond, and plan things are smart and it's a testament to the author that (no offense) they can convincingly write characters that are smarter than themselves.

Gilgilad7
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Rational Take on Tabletop LitRPG

Review as of chapter 161:

Worth the Candle is a portal fantasy tabletop litRPG by a well known rational fiction author.  The story subverts as many tropes as it adheres to with expert execution of the plot.  You won't find a story on Royal Road with more comprehensive world building.  Even the bizarreness of the world starts to make so much sense as it continually intersects with the narrative and the wide variety of magic systems.

The world’s mystery is derived around the MC noticing many of people, creatures, and items that appear are directly related to RPG lore he invented himself in his own pen and paper games back on Earth. Unraveling this mystery keeps the narrative flowing. There are many flashback scenes to his games he played with friends in his old life and they tie into the plot of the story.

The world happens to be single player; only the MC has a character sheet.  So to put it in video game terms that many may be more familiar with than tabletop RPGs, it is like Skyrim with a mod to allow 5+ followers.  As he levels up, so do his followers and the difficulty of challenges thrown at them.  

The followers are NPCs in the loosest sense of the word, but in actuality they are highly complex real people with their own specializations.  His party works together as a team, each bringing their own skills to make a sum greater than its parts.  But their relationships with the MC and with each other are deeply explored and character growth happens to all of them, some for the better and some for the worse.  Even as we learn more about the MC's past, it changes our perspective of how we view other characters.  And they are so well written!  Character writing is probably one of the author's greatest strengths.

The author is also writing this story for the rational fiction genre and it really shows. The main character is highly logical and introspective as he questions the world he is transported to and the reasons he was brought there. He is a min-maxer and he studies his character sheet in depth, going so far to even do the in-depth math to min-max his build. The litRPG elements have more of a tabletop RPG influence as opposed to the genre’s more common video game RPG inspiration which is quite refreshing for the genre.

This is a meta story where the "narrative" of the story itself is part of the narrative which really is intriguing and lends a lot of credibility to the world and the character's actions and reactions. This isn't litRPG written just because stats are cool, the worldbuilding is logical from the ground up and the stats make sense in a narrative way that many other litRPG stories completely lack.

While the story is brilliant, it isn't for everyone though.  The readers who might not enjoy this story are those who don’t like stories with flashback scenes or just can’t get into the deep philosophical discussions.  There is a lot of subtext that is easy to miss and subtle foreshadowing that some may not pick up on.  If you are looking for a pulpy read without thought, then this is not the place to start.

But for those who want to read a litRPG story that actually strives to be rational, this is the closest you will likely get. 

The Wadapan
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Worth the candle a hundred times over

I've been following this story for a good while on AO3, but have never taken the time to write a proper review - an oversight which I intend to correct here, because I'd hate for anyone on this site to be missing out on what I think is easily one of the best pieces of web fiction of all time (certainly one of my favourite stories, period).

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hooked pretty much from the word go, but - fair warning - most people will tell you to stick with the story until at least its fourteenth chapter before drawing any conclusions. If you're not fundamentally enjoying it by then, it probably just isn't for you - but if you are, then I feel confident saying that it will surpass your expectations at every turn.

This isn't a story where progress is about unlocking new levels and skills and perks. Well, okay, it technically is, but - more importantly - it's about trying to do the right thing and becoming a better person.

Alexander Wales manages to deftly weave an impressive amount of introspection into the events at hand, thanks to clever use of dialogue, observations, asides, and (most notably) flashbacks - none of which negatively impact the story's strong pacing. The romantic elements of the narrative are handled with a astonishing level of depth and nuance - somehow managing to be simultaneously sincere and deconstructive. Truthfully, the same could be said for pretty much every aspect of the story: its prose, worldbuilding, conflicts and characters. You'll find a lot of twists on classic tropes and setpieces, but there are a wealth of original and evocative ideas to be found here too.

At every level, Worth the Candle feels like a labour of love - and you'll probably end up loving it too.

proton-
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Worth the Candle is probably my favorite piece of web fiction. AW blends excellent character writing and fantastic worldbuilding in his classic style, delivering a fantasy story that alternates between keeping you on the edge of your seat with its wonderful action and constantly thinking with its intrigue and deep characters.

 

Basically, READ IT!! The first book leans heavily into the game stuff but as it goes on the character writing just gets better and better. If you have the time I heavily recommend you read to the end of book 1 even if the game stuff isn't your thing, because the story is so much more than that.

Glaurung
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Phenomenally innovative and moving

As another immigrant from AO3, I've read all nine hundred thousand and change words of Worth the Candle that have yet to be released here, and there's one thing I feel comfortable spoiling: it's fucking great.

The worldbuilding is meticulous and expansive, reconciling a wide range of ideas into a coherent, interconnected whole. Part of the premise is that the setting is built from many worlds invented by the protagonist, and the depth of thought shows. There are throwaway lines that could serve as seeds for stories in their own right, dozens of species, and more forms of magic than you can shake a stick at. 

Worth the Candle is technically an isekai, but Juniper's relationship with the world he now inhabits is a crucial part of the story. Some parts are played straight, others subverted, but it's a more serious exploration of the genre than anything elsewhere. The characters themselves are all as compelling as they are flawed, and to paraphrase one of them, it's beautiful to watch the cast struggle against and overcome their weaknesses. 

Honestly, I wish I could forget everything and dive back in to experience the whole thing all over again, which is just about the highest compliment I can pay to fiction in any medium. That's unfortunately impossible, but fresh readers can and should savor this story.

Zerd
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A unique take on LitRPG

I've read a lot of LitRPGs, and Worth The Candle is the best of them.

 

The first chapters of Worth the Candle will be very familiar to most readers on this site, and seem very similar to other stories. The main character, Juniper, has a special ability that makes him grow stronger faster than everyone else.  There are standard blue menu boxes and skill pop-ups all over the place.

However, if you continue to read the story, the levels, skills and quests eventually take a backseat to excellent worldbuilding and lots of character development. 

Juniper travels to many different locations in Aerb throughout the story, and the author makes every city feel like a place where people actually live. There are explanations about how the local government works and descriptions about the most important parts of their economy. The side characters have distinct personalities, interesting backstories and motivations that exist independently of Juniper.

 If you are a fan of LitRPG, this story has everything that you enjoy in the genre. There are level ups, detailed and creative magic systems and awesome magical items. If you aren't a fan of LitRPG, I would still recommend you give Worth The Candle a shot. A complex plot, immersive worldbuilding and multifaceted characters are waiting for you if you do.

wassynossy
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This is by favourite book of 2018 and 2019

This is by favourite book of 2018 and 2019 and one of the few stories I've read twice.