Wildcards: Book One - The Dread Pirate

by James Northman

Warning This fiction contains:
  • Profanity

At the District One Invitational, a rookie eSports team defied all odds and reached the finals. Their underdog story and humble beginnings elevated them to worldwide acclaim. Media corporations dubbed them, The Paragons. With their main competition eliminated from the tournament during the semifinals, the rookie team sailed through the live finals and won by a landslide. Their prize was to become the first ever players in the most exclusive VR game yet, Abidden

The Paragons never celebrated that semi-final victory. They lost a friend in that match, who never appeared online again. Ten years later, the gaming landscape has changed and Abidden with it. Helena is the last remaining Paragon. Her team now consists of celebrities, influencers and musicians. Abidden has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory, but is the most streamed and viewed game in the world, despite having only a handful of players.

None of this matters to James Sylvester. Finally out of hospital, things aren't good for James. He's found himself crippled with medical debt, his gaming licence has been revoked and he's permanently lost his place in society. He now spends his days competing in illegal slum arcades to manage the repayments. When a high-profile job comes along, James gets temporary backdoor access to his blacklisted gaming account. After reactivating it for the first time in ten years, James receives an invitation that could change his life forever.



Disclaimer: This story is in no way or form associated with the works of George R. R. Martin and has no link to the popularised series, Wild Cards. This is a LitRPG story of my own creation that shares that name.   

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James Northman

James Northman

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Table of Contents
Chapter Name Release Date
Chapter 1: Every Credit Counts (Revised Version) ago
Chapter 2: State of Play ago
Chapter 3: Enter the Villain ago
Chapter 4: Always Pay Your Debts ago
Chapter 5: A Platinum Opportunity ago
Chapter 6: The Truth of Travesty ago
Chapter 7: Reunion ago
Chapter 8: Building A Team ago
Chapter 9: Fall From C-Class ago
Chapter 10: Fire Meadows ago
Chapter 11: New Digs ago
Chapter 12: Evictor ago
Chapter 13: The Briefing ago
Chapter 14: The Rig ago
Chapter 15: The Jackal ago
Chapter 16: The Chessmaster ago
Chapter 17: Meet The Sponsors (Part 1) ago
Chapter 17: Meet The Sponsors (Part 2) ago
Chapter 17: Meet The Sponsors (Part 3) ago
Chapter 18: Entering Abidden - Character Creation ago
Chapter 19: The Dread Pirate ago
Chapter 20: Demonic Partner ago
Chapter 21: Villainous ago
Chapter 22: The Follower ago
Chapter 23: The Trial ago
Chapter 24: Raid Night ago
Chapter 25: Prime Evil ago
Chapter 26: First Reveal ago
Chapter 27: Press Conference ago
Chapter 28: Realisation ago
Chapter 29: Blessing of the Vampire God ago
Chapter 30: Welcome to Rayth ago
Chapter 31: The Butcher ago
Chapter 32: Establish the Lair ago
Chapter 33: A Moment of Clarity ago
Chapter 34: Industry in Motion ago
Chapter 35: Paragons in Action ago
Chapter 36: Relativity ago
Schedule Update - Christmas Break ago
Chapter 37: That's My Ship ago
Chapter 38: New Direction ago
Chapter 39: End Scene! ago
Chapter 40: Dread Faction Advances ago
Chapter 41: You have Chosen... Legendary! ago
Chapter 42: A Kraken Plan ago
Chapter 43: Discovery ago
Chapter 44: Remember Me? Part 1 ago
Chapter 45: A Night to Remember ago
Chapter 46: Remember Me? - Part 2 ago
Chapter 47: Remember Me? - Part 3 ago
Chapter 48: There Can Be Only One! ago

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sir_reads_a_lot
Overall
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It's pretty rare that you run into a webnovel with VRMMO gaming that has such excellent outside of the game world building.  While that is usually the weakest part of these types of stories, that is where this story excels. 

The characters and world are interesting and diverse (even though there are some pretty big early story plot holes/gaffes) and the world building is good outside of the game.  The idea of streaming games becoming entertainment is founded in our current reality, and the pros and cons that come along with mainstream media and money are well thought out and create an interesting dynamic.  And while a socio-economic caste system in a dystpoian future is nothing new, the story does a good job of retreading this familiar ground.

The problem comes with the other part of this novel.  Outside of the character creation, I consider the game world itself to be very blah.  The action scenes are written without consideration for balance, game mechanics, or fairness (ex: infinite ammo at night that one shots enemies); while the world itself is fairly generic and bland.  And in an inverse of the out of game world, the author just relies on info dumps rather than taking the time to flesh out the game world and mechanics.

Overall, I would recommend this story to those who are more interested in character interaction, rather than readers who prefer "realistic" LITRPGs or game worlds.  While it isn't a great story, it is entertaining and I hope the author keeps writing!

CrimsonEclipse18
Overall

Man, I wasn't expecting to like this. I thought it was gonna be an edgy revenge litfic, oh boy was I mistaken, and I'm glad for that. 

Summercat
Overall

There's nothing to spoil yet. The MC is a pro gamer with pro gamer skills banned from playing because his shrink is an arse.

Although we don't know what caused the situation in the past to spiral out of control, thus far we actually... Don't really need to know for the story to work. The author is doing a good amount of showing for the society as it exists, which is... Depressingly realistic.

Unlike my first thought this has nothing to do with the more famous WildCards by GRRM. 

I found it on the front page as a recently updated chapter, decided to give it a go out of boredom, and unlike half of what I see I didn't cringe at the writing.

In technical terms, it's well written. We'll see how the characters become, but I look forward to it so far. Instant follow when I caught up to the latest chapter (5).

 

Ps this does not include otters at this time but it's early enough that it might still.

Mythril
Overall

I was thinking this would burn a couple hours. Another "he plays the game" "he finds a cheat and wrecks $hit" JOYFULLY wrong!! Great storytelling. Very fun characters. ACTUAL backstory OMG. No overdone 3 chapter long exposition on how "things came to be". Just a "this is what is", from here we move forward. If you keep writing it I'll keep reading it. A very refreshing find. Thank you in advance for all possible future chapters. MOAR muhahaha..cough

 

 

Aluma
Overall
Style
Story
Grammar
Character

Exciting, well made, makes sense, and info is at the level where if you don't know what is going on then you are still fine, and knowing the laws or other details based of of intuition makes it just that much more satisfying. This book ,it has great plot development and also you can feel the characters personality based on how they act, their title or something similar, and also how they react to other characters. This is an amazing story and I love it.

PeteySD
Overall
Style
Story
Grammar
Character

This is a great debut from a new author, and I can't wait to read Book 2. I tore through the first 40 something chapters in a day or two. 

The story is compelling, and the world building is solid. I like the balance of in game and out of game action. It takes a bit for the story to get to the in-game part, but I really enjoy the out of hand parts, so I don't mind the delay.

The cast of characters is diverse and interesting. I like that the story isn't told from a single viewpoint. We get to see the story develop from the eyes of several different characters. 

The blurb doesn't do this story justice. Give it a few chapters and I promise you'll be hooked. 

I've given 4 of 5 stars for grammar because of the extra lines after all quoted dialogue. But the author has said that he'll be taking another pass through the text to correct it soon. Other than that, the text is very clean and error free.

The author is super responsive and appreciative of all feedback, which is nice to see. There's also a discord for fans of the author. 

As I said, this is a good debut, and it's been fun to see the writing get even stronger with each new chapter. 

LiterallyGoose
Overall
Style
Story
Grammar
Character

Very High Quality and Immersive VRMMO LitRPG

Reviewed at: Chapter 46: Remember Me? - Part 2

If you are going to write a VRMMO LitRPG then, like a VR game, to be successful it needs to be immersive. What sets this web serial apart from others in the genre is the level of immersion, the pacing and the dramatic tension. When you run out of words to read at the end of each chapter, it is like taking a VR headset off and rejoining the real world. 

The series is based around a near future that borrows heavily from the Ready Player One vibe. E-Sports have become globally popular and have legions of fans who congregate in bars and clubs to watch main events and classic matches. Society has been split into 'class tiers' and famous players can play their way to the top of society. 

One game in particular is the market leader (think WoW at it's most popular) and draws audiences from around the world for weekly streams, tuning in to watch the limited number of superstar players taking on new raids or advancing their characters. 

This is the setting for the MC - scratching a living as an 'E-Class' citizen competing in black market E-Sports tournaments to earn enough money to pay off his debts. 

There is a great deal to like about this series but I have tried to sum it up by highlighting the things that have been done exceptionally well in my opinion. 


Main Character:
MC has a classic rags to riches to rags story line thus far. Our protagonist is eking out a living and through view point changes and time skips we soon learn how his fall from grace happened. As a reader, you quickly become invested in the character - he is struggling and you empathize very easily with his pain. He fights hard for every gain he makes, he doesnt make OOC decisions and is consistant throughout. 

View Point Shifts:
We go backwards in time a few years quite regularly. We shift to peripheral characters. We get snippets of other peoples conversations. But the author does all this very well. It is never jarring and always adds to the flow without making you want to skip back to other parts. You barely notice the change in tone when it happens. I can't stress enough that this stands out as a noticable facet of this series - the change in viewpoints is almost always welcome rather than annoying.

High Stakes:
VR is ultimately virtual. Other series in this genre struggle to generate meaningful dramatic tension - how can what happens in a video game really matter? It does here - the game matters. It is hugely important to both the MC and the wider audience. 

VR vs Real Life:
A complaint we all have as readers often with this genre is that either the real world feels fake and annoying and we want to see the game exclusively, or the game isn't exciting enough and we want to go back to real life. This isn't the case here, the author has created enough dramatic tension, likability of characters, and plot devices for both parts of MC's life to be important and readable. 


Room for Improvement?

There isn't much to criticize here in all honestly. The authors release schedule has been haphazard, although he has explained why. In terms of the prose / grammar, there is the very occasional typo, but none that have really thrown me out of the story. 

The pacing wont be for everyone - the MC has a mountain to climb, but the journey on this one will be worth it, as will the hopeful eventual pay off. 

For me - this series shows all the signs of being a genre defining story, the author takes the traditional tropes and handles them very innovatively, producing characters you care about and a genuine, palpable excitement for the MC's progression that I haven't often felt in other works on RR. 

Zethuron
Overall
Style
Story
Grammar
Character

There is just so much i want to talk about here, as this story is actually good for a Virtual Reality story, this story starts off strong with an excellent action filled chapter, and it gets only better after that as the story explores both worlds.

 The story starts off with James Sylvester, a professional VR gamer who has fallen from grace due to mounting medical debt stemming from an hospitalization, with his only hope to eventually pay it off is to compete in dark, illegal arcades. But then everything changes as his old identity is revealed to people in power and his old friends due to an happenstance invitation during a high risk job.

I like how well written and realistic the characters are in this story, and how relatable they can be. Especially with James who is also the MC of this book. Having fallen from grace due to debts, a situation which sadly many in our days can find themselves in. And surviving through such a hell, which was made even worse by those with malicious intentions, make James stronger as a character, and makes it even more satisfying when he climbs out of that pit, with some help though! Though as another reviewer has said, he adapts quite quick to the changes in his situation, including his personality undergoing a complete change after he officially enters Abidden, and they do have sort of a point here, though it is not that unlikely for a person to change so much when presented with a massive shakeup in their life in my opinion.

Hell as said the other characters are well written, and that’s not an understatement for this story, the author has also written realistic and conceivable side characters, such as Lilania, Quentin, the Paragons (though some could use more screentime) and even those S-Class sponsors. Seriously a great job here.

 

The setting here is sort of a dystopian cyberpunk future where your class decides what kind of life you can have, with people competing for the chance to get a higher rank in society, and then with those of the S Class loftily above it all, far removed from the lower classes, with the worst off being those of the E class who are stuck in their miserable living conditions with barely any hope of being able to climb the societal ladder.

A minor point here is that quite some details about the setting are left untold, though that could be by choice, to not let the story be derailed by such details by keeping the past of the setting a background detail with barely any importance.

I like what the author has done with the game Abidden, it is a fairly interesting concept to make it limited access as an e-sports game only for the very best who compete with eachother in the game for recognition, fame and money. With the Heroes of the game being sponsored by Major Corporations and Investors, who have the power to decide the course their chosen Heroes take in regards to their character and actions, which is all streamed on channels to a massive worldwide viewership.

Abidden itself is not that much of an original game, beyond the  whole e-sports scene surrounding it all and its exclusivity, but that also could be due to the fact we haven’t seen much of Abidden yet as the story only recently moved to focus on Sylvian in Abidden, thus it is likely to see the world of Abidden and its mechanics be massively expanded on, and then there is the NPC side of it all, who take a part in the overall story themselves, with the potentional to be just as capable as the players themselves, I quite expect the NPC’s to take a role in how the events in Abidden develop, which will be interesting to read.

Grammar is completely flawless and much better than the average for this site, this story seems to be very well edited, I have no complaints here beyond some minor formatting errors which are easily fixed and can be overlooked.

The style reads well, with scenes being fairly easy to visualize. The story features multiple characters, which can be handled badly with swapping between viewpoints, here however it flows just seamlessly between the multiple viewpoints. The worldbuilding here at a reasonable pace, as the story does progress, without any major infodumps which could be a chore to read through, so that’s also good. No complaints either with how the story is paced, it just reads perfectly in my opinion.

Also this story is quite satisfying to read, due to how certain events develop, including some very good examples of overdue vengeance, which were just glorious. I do expect this story to be quite epic at times with its action scenes which are as said well written.

 

This story has real potentional, and so far the author has fully capitalized on that, making for a story that was a much better read than I had anticipated. With the skill the author has shown so far with writing the story, I am thus quite confident that he will be able to write it to a satisfying conclusion.

Anyone looking for a VR story, look no further and start reading this one, it is fully worth the time spent reading through it all until the latest chapter and then to start asking why there are no more.

 

3558
Overall

Preliminary review : Good start but I fear for the worldbuilding

Reviewed at: Chapter 22: The Follower

This is a preliminary review, my note will be subject to change over time. I prefer to give a full review 1000 pages in (RR novels tend to be long so I can do that) or when I drop the novel.

 

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It feels really weird, all these 5 stars review so early in the story. Anyway, here’s my preliminary review.

 

Wildcards begin nicely and have the potential to become a very good read. James and the rest of the cast  are believable and sympathetic. The writing flows effortlessly and from what we have seen the fights are well written.

If I had to nitpick a little, James is described as possessing a lot of wits, while it’s true in earlier chapters, like the first fight scene, in the laters not so much. In chapter 18 he repeatedly speaks without thinking, putting himself in a bad situation, and in chapter 20 he jumps into a trap that I think he should have avoided considering his backstory. Still, just minor things for now.

 

But I wanted to write this early review because of what I believe could go very wrong very fast.

 

The worldbuilding is seconds away to becoming a complete shitshow. Right now it’s holding up but a little push in the wrong direction and it’s all over. Here’s a few points of concern based on what we read so far that I have noted. If you want to avoid any spoiler jump after the enumeration.

// Spoiler begin //

1) The whole sponsor part felt very strange for me. James is dropped in it without anyone even mentioning it beforehand so he could prepare himself and do some research about the potential sponsors. He doesn’t even have an agent assigned to him to help him along the way, just a 30 seconds talk at the beginning with a random dude. And it’s not only him, every other member of Paragon also doesn’t have an agent. Same for the sponsors, why were almost all the chairman here in person ? And all things considered, there were very few sponsors present. It’s not how it would have gone on earth.

2) Abidden is very strange for a game as it has so few players/heroes. In fact it works more like a reality tv show than a game for the general public since they can’t play and every hero is broadcasted. It’s also strange how little James knows of Abidden and its mechanics considering how popular the game is (it can be partly explained by James being E-class). It’s not how things work on earth.

3) The legal part chapter 12 is once again very strange. Quentin managed to immediately evict one of the major shareholders of the room, without going to court, with an argument that fits on a single line of paper :  Frederick Hargreaves is better than Ethan Davenport. And this argument doesn’t even take into account all perspectives, like for example viewership statistics. It’s not how it would have gone on earth.

4) The rig. So here how the story goes. Quentin is like : “James, ma boy, I’m interested in you and I will invest in you !” Ok, no problem. Then it goes like : “James, ma boy, a gaming rig will be delivered to your house. Top of the line, don’t worry, it will be great !” Ok, no problem. Finally it goes like : “James, ma boy, remember the rig ? Well, it will cost you $600,000 now plus $125,000 in monthly expense. Now give the money.” Not ok, problem. Quentin should have paid for James rig, it shouldn’t be a problem as he is loaded from being the creator of Abidden. It’s how investment works, sometimes you gain money, sometimes you lose.

Basically, they break into your house, give you the most expensive car, and then tell you to pay for it. Is it a scam ? Because it feels like a scam to me.

If you want to be cynical you can go the way of “slave contract” like in k-pop. Basically, k-pop trainees (who can be as young as 12) sign a contract that says that they will have to refund the entirety of their training (as long as 10 years) and their plastic surgery while suffering draconian training. This means that the trainee will not gain any money even years after his/her first appearance on stage. For James you could say it’s worst since the money is asked now. Anyway, it’s not how it would have gone on earth.

5) At chapter 13 Quentin decided to create this huge expansion. At chapter 18 the expansion is online and kicking. This is not how it works. Let’s make a direct comparison with World of Warcraft. For WoW, it takes two years and a team of more than 100 to release a major expansion. For Abidden, it seemingly takes one week and a team of five put together at the last moment to do the same. I don’t even know if “it would not have worked on earth” is enough.

// Spoiler end //

I don’t understand why every other review fails to put into evidence even one of these points.

I think you have found a trend in what I just said. It would not have been possible on earth. The author now needs to make their society as alien to us as possible. Their entertainment industry needs to be incredibly different. No movies, no games like we know it, no everything. Maybe go half dystopian, we already got the class system in place.

Because if their society is even just somewhat close to ours, then everything that I have listed become plot holes, some of them big ones. I can accept comportement that I find strange in a society that is completely foreign to me. This will make or break the series for me.

 

l wrote all of this because I care. I really hope the author hears my concern and answers it in a good way.

 

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This part is not in direct relation with the review. It’s to explain how I rate books.

I don’t like the 5 stars rating system. Every site that relies on this system tends to heavily overrate, whatsoever the media (book, movie, series, video games…). I largely prefer notation on 10.

I also don’t like the advanced review system. In my opinion, different books should be noted on different criteria. If I take an example, if an extreme one, why should I rate poetry based on character score ? Make no sense. Moreover, as a reader, I put a lot of importance in worldbuilding, and there is no score on this particular criterion.

 

Here is how I score out of 10 :

- 10 : Masterpiece

- 9 : Favorite

- 8 : Highly recommended

- 7 : Recommended

- 6 : Enjoyable

- 5 : Readable

- 4 : Painful

- 3 and below : level of garbage (I rarely rate this low because I am mostly smart enough to not read them to begin with)

I rate softly on RR, meaning that if I have a doubt between two notes I will take the highest of the two.

 

So, how does this translate on the 5 stars system ?

- 5 stars : 8 and above. As you can see, the full five stars cover a lot of range quality wise.

- 4,5 stars : 7 (Recommended)

- 4 stars : 6 (Enjoyable)

- 3 stars : 5 (Readable)

- 2 stars : 4 (Painful)

Here you go. You now know how I rate novels.

lineheart
Overall

Well written. With interesting characters. Developing story. Only complaint is I wish some of it was a bit more fleshed out before things got moving but so far the story has barely begin.