This Used to be About Dungeons is a comfy slice-of-life adventuring story that occasionally features dungeons. Updates Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Mostly it's about walking in the woods with a friend, looking for mushrooms to put in your soup, or haggling with the guy selling squash, or taking care of a neglected garden. It's putting some jam on shortbread biscuits. And yes, sometimes you go down into the dungeons with your friends, and you kill monsters there, or disarm traps, but when you come out, you realize you've found the perfect magic item to give to one of the local kids that helped you out when your cat was sick. Look, the dungeons are always going to be there, and sometimes you need to make a journey to one of the Spirit Gates, or make a pilgrimage with the local Cleric of Symmetry to a holy shrine. Your tour through the local dungeons can wait. You'll have rivalries with other groups, and find some dungeon eggs that need to be carefully incubated in case they turn out to be something valuable, and help a friend to build a fishing weir. There's a big world out there, a mostly tame place with lots of magic, and even more to do and see. Join me, won't you?
The cover image is Morning Sunlight Effect, Eragny, by Camille Pissarro.
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When I was a kid my family had a very old sofa that was the comfiest thing in the world, which I miss dearly. This Used to be About Dungeons is about as comfy as that, I think.
If you've read any of Wales' work before, you know the drill—likable characters, good prose, and a real sense of magic. Wales makes worldbuilding look easy, whether it's evocative concepts dashed off as set-dressing, or the fundamental rules of the setting driving the characters' goals. I think the choice to eschew blatant LitRPG mechanics, instead placing those elements in the background, is indicative of Wales' justified confidence in his cast's motivations to drive the plot. It doesn't use gimmicks as a crutch; the closest thing it has is the "party" system, and it's unclear how prominent that element will wind up being.
Beyond that, there's a lot of promise in these opening chapters—it's plain that thought's gone into character backstories and I'm very interested to see that continuing to unfold on the page. There's realism in the writing, as typical of Wales, but no cynicism, and the result is something that I find myself looking forward to checking in on regularly. I'll try my best to keep this review updated as the story progresses.
There are three chapters out at present (though there's enough of a prewritten backlog to ensure regular updates for a while), which isn't a lot to pass judgment on. But Wales' previous works speak for themselves, and TUTBAD continues a tradition of compelling worldbuilding and characters. It's intended as a palate cleanser, with no meta-analysis looming over the plot and stakes that fall short of the fate of the world. Adventure without angst. And at that purpose, it succeeds.
TUTBAD's wholesome in the way catching up with a friend from your childhood over a hearty breakfast is, or hot soup on a winter day, or haring off into the woods over the weekend to get away from it all. It's already got good culinary scenes, and once the story develops further it'll hopefully have camaraderie as well. If that differs from RoyalRoad's usual fare, well, variety's said to be the spice of life. Try a bit; it might just be to your taste.
This is very good and I want more. The writing is 5/5, it's not overly tropey, the characters are fun and vibrant, and I enjoy the MC's perspective even if he's a bit strange. The dungeon delving is cool. Also the world sounds interesting so far, and is believable. Also author thanks for the long chapters, I appreciate them.
I wouldn't call this slice of life though, not even close. (Which is good, since I find slice of life boring. I like action, mystery, adventure, plot and intrigue)
So, ok. A bunch of pure 5 star reviews, from fans of the author's previous work. And a much lower review, from someone who thinks this isn't Slice of Life enough, apparently.
So, good stuff first. The grammar is good, I didn't go back looking for errors but don't remember any. And there aren't the weird turn of phrases you sometimes get with non-native English speakers.
I really like the worldbuilding. No need to go into detail, but if I ever want to run a tabletop rpg with some gamefied elements, I'm stealing some stuff.
Characters are well drawn out. But, I don't really sympathize with any of them. They've all got quirks, and probably all have secrets. And, ok, risking your life in a dungeon isn't for everyone.
Writing this, maybe the problem is that there aren't any surprises? The tank was able to bring a party together, some people easier than others. But they got through a dungeon, are now selling the loot, and I'll be shocked if they don't all do a second one.
The only thing I can think of that might make this more Slice of Life- there hasn't been much time passed. Not sure.
Anyway, good luck.
So this is what I want to read. Please write more! It's just starting and I am very happy with what it appears to be so far. Upturned expectiations, dungeon crawling, and all the slice of life that the Wandering Inn would scratch the itch for without having to read through 8 million words to get current.
Story starts off well, putting the party together, good world building. You can tell that that author just finished a 1.8 million word story with a strong ending as there is none of the fumbling that often shows up at the beginning of most stories on here.
Style is clean with the wry humor that was present in Worth the Candle without the metacomplexity.
Character's are a strength of this piece. There's five main characters right now and they all have a distinct voice and personality in the first three chapters which feels like an accomplishment in it's own right.
For the grammar, the author can write, and seems to have had this all edited before posting it or at least is good enough at self-editing that he did not need to do so.
Give it a read. Let's see how it develops.
I'm not much of a fan of slice of life stories, but I think AW could write a story about someone renewing their driver's license and I would find it compelling.
The characters are flawed enough to feel real and have mild interpersonal conflicts, but not so much that they're hard to like.
Each character has a good, distinct voice that gives insight into their character, both in their narration and their dialogue, but doesn't hit you over the head with it.
The world building is interesting, though largely in the background.
The plot is fine. Slow-moving, but that is, to all appearances, by design.
For me, personally, this story could probably never reach the heights of, for example, Worth the Candle, simply by virtue of what it is, but for what it is it's exemplary.
I've seen a couple reviews complaining about the party dynamics being annoying, which I don't really get. There is some conflict there, sure, but isn't that necessary for a compelling story? Especially for slice of life stories, where you would expect the main conflict(s) to be interpersonal. I guess don't read this if what you're looking for in your slice of life story is people sitting around getting along with absolutely no issues?
A very fun start, as well-written and -characterized as you'd expect from Alexander Wales. This Used to Be About Dungeons comes off as a very nice story, with a tight-knit cast of likeable characters, though Wales is capable of mixing that kind of vibe with more serious elements. It's definitely a litrpg (probably mostly of the tabletop variety), which people probably love or hate, and which in typical form for the author is done in a familiar yet creative way and without the lousy prose and over-focus on gameyness that might be expected from a typical entry in the genre.
It's unusual for me to be so easily hooked just after finishing something I liked, particularly if it was as long as Wale's excellent and recently-finished Worth the Candle; I've enoyed other serials without getting into the authors' others. Based on that WtC and on his shorter works, I look forward to a well-thought-out and satisfying story.
There will be regular updates for at least a while, and Wales produces a lot of output in general; this story seems like it might be easier to produce on a regular schedule, though it's a strength of Wales that he writes enough at one time to mitigate some of the downsides of serial publishing.
I'm guessing that TOTBAD will be a widely-loved serial. Forgive the straight five-star scores, but it's already clear to me that, like WtC, it will scratch certain itches about as well as they can be scratched.
Only 6 chapters in but this story made me check for extra chapters on Patreon. I am really enjoying the characters, who feel distinct and individually motivated. Wales's worldbuilding is top notch just like in his previous works and he is introducing terminology like entads and henlings that I hope becomes widespread. The bottom line is, this is worth your time.
A new tale from the master of rational dnd, Alexander Wales - This Used to be About Dungeons is an adventure of Alfric who gathers a group of local girls [healer, ranger, bard, sorcerer] to challenge a local dungeon and to possibly take on more dungeons nearby.
Alfric reassures his group that the dungeon is as dangerous as fighting 3 racoons which isn't the case as the main monster they face is quite dangerous, but he seems to be quite well prepared and has chosen his companions with wisdom and nice research, even if it only took him a couple of days of gathering intel about them.
So far the story is very wholesome and light, a fun reading for all ages. Alfric hides some of his backstory when trying to gather his party, it's a fun mystery to find out where he really came from and why he's in such a rush.
Grammar and spelling is absolutely superb, characters are unique and quirky and the style of writing is fun to absorb.
Some of the fundamental titles such as Entads are possibly references to worth the candle.
Overall: great reading so far, will update review when there are more chapters!
Sometimes I think about web serials as a format, compared to traditional books. Series like This Used to be About Dungeons really highlight the capabilities of the format, and is a masterclass in using the strengths of a serial while retaining the quality of traditionally published books.
Alexandar Wales continues to be one of my favorite writers, and has a penchant for creating tangents you just can't help but follow. It feels comfortable, it feels personal, it feels like a walk with your best friend.
While Worth the Candle had a very introspective, but cynical feel to it, This Used to be About Dungeons takes that same introspection and gives it a nice warm layer. This is a good book if you're feeling down, and want to find a cozy reading nook and dream the hours away.
Great on a technical level. Not much else to say.
What to say about this. So far, the story is intriguing, if being mostly carried by characters and world. Going by his previous works, I am not worried about this at all.
I will say that the pacing is slower (being more slice of life), and even with a very consistent schedule of sizeable updates, I constantly want more to read. Though that says more about the addictive qualities of this book than anything else.
I enjoy the characters. I like their quirks, their thoughts. The little ways that they see the world, and how they interact with others. It feels like all the characters are equal, despite Alfric nominally being the protagonist. It's a diverse cast, and I'm invested in them. Definitely some of the best characterization on Royal Road.
This Used to be About Dungeons is one of those things I look forward to every week. The world is fascinating, the characters are life-like and interesting, the prose is great, and the style is warm and inviting. The long, weekly updates really make this work, giving the story space to breathe and meander as it takes you through the world. Where even a hike to a neighboring town feels interesting.
When should you read this series?
If you enjoy good characters, and love fascinating and in-depth world-building, yes. If you enjoy unique magic, good fight scenes, and pleasant pitstops, yes. If you want to escape to a different place, and feel a sense of wonder, yes. There's so much I want to recommend about this series, but don't have space for, that it might just be better to think about the people who might NOT enjoy this series.
When should you NOT read this series?
If you want a straight power fantasy, faced-paced series, with a focus on mostly a single character. This might not be for you. I still suggest giving it a shot, but don't force yourself to read something you don't enjoy.
So yeah. Read it.