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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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). Sure, the pace isn't fast, but it doesn't have to be.
Edit: still going strong. Elements of romance and mystery started appearing.
This is an interesting, thoughtful, and unique novel, but it's not for everyone so a review may help match audience to offering.
The world is quite unique, and the author has put a lot of thought into all sorts of things that often are treated shallowly or completely overlooked.
It is labeled as slice of life, but I'd argue it's more specific than that; this is primarily a social novel. In fact, as of Ch. 35 it seems to be almost like a nighttime soap opera (90201, Felicity, etc). While routine tasks crop up, they're just background for the talking. So much talking. And, often, with so little progress. There really isn't one MC, although one has a fairly central role. The POV hops frequently, giving about equal time to the core party members. The chars are, fortunately, both plausible and individual.
It might be that the author figures "social story" therefore "progress must be via dialog" (which, ofc, leaves out a whole lot of other techniques). The dialog is generally both clear and lifelike, and (overly? more on that) thoughtful but not snappy, funny, or particularly remarkable. But it is competently done.
Ever known someone who overthought everything, and couldn't stop going over and over something in their head? OK, imagine a world like that.
I appreciate the chance to see a story like this, and to study the writing, enough that I've been sub'd on patreon for awhile. The author really focuses on decomposing personal interactions into near atomic bits, which seems a consequence of a SoL social story expressed almost entirely via dialog.
Is this for everyone (or even the typical RR reader)? no. But it's quite creative, competently written, and a niche that some of us enjoy. It would be worth reading (to some) just for the clever and well thought-out world, or the plausible and lifelike characters, or the careful and detailed interactions.
My apologies if this seems a little like "tough love"; it is one of the few I didn't drop. A lot of RR stories are dark, action-oriented, and a bit too traumatic for my personal prefs, but everyone has different tastes.
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.
We'll start with the great, which is almost everything. Grammar is impeccable and the style is compelling, with multiple povs telling the story in a fascinating spiral of events. Povs don't exactly overlap, but there is a lot of reflection on prior events so that each character gets to share how they feel about certain events and other characters in an entirely natural and organic way.
The single best aspect of this story is the characters. They are exceptional. They are exceptional because I don't particularly like most of them but am delighted to see how they view the world.
Each and every main character is nuanced and fleshed out, with positive and negative personality aspects, which make them some of the most real characters I've read in fantasy, let alone on RR. Each is distinct, with unique let overlapping cultural, ethnic, religious, and personal aspects.
The weakest part of the story is the story, but even then it is still at the low end of great rather than anything bad. The story combines slice-of-life with a linear, time-sensitive plot which allows for the story to flow but is mainly focused on character development and interaction. This is not a bad thing, especially when the characters are so well written, but it should be clear that the title is perhaps a little too subtle, it might be more straightforward if it were titled "This Is Not About Dungeons".
Ultimately, this story is compelling for its exceptional characters, professional grammar and style, and a slow-burning but clearly progressing plot, topped by unique and subtle world-building.
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.
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.
I'm enjoying everything about this book, from the world building, to the characters, to the food! I love how the magic items work, and I can't wait to read more of it as time goes on. There are a number of compelling plot points that I CAN'T wait to see the end of!
5/5 stars you should absolutely check this book out.
Gotta say, it is really weird that that last two reviews are "not enough slice of life" and "too much slice of life"
I will agree that this isn't what I would have expected from a "slice of life" novel, but eh. It is mostly about what happens in between the dungeon instances and is almost always focused on the dungeon. Case and point, there is a gap between when the party is formed and when the -party gets access to the party chat feature. The author time skips like 4-5 days. Slice of life would focus so much on those 5 days. Oddly, most of the characters are living together at this point, but then show no development in their relationships. Very odd really.
All in all, I really enjoy it, but it isn't really a slice of life story at this point. Just a slow burn and character driven dungeon crawler.
This is one of the best written stories on RR right now.
- Excellent characterization: every character feels unique and has their own style of thinking, speaking, and approaching problems. Interactions between the characters are also distinct. Hannah and Isra have a clearly different relationship than Alfric and Hannah or Alfirc and Isra. Each character has their own motivations and are aware of the differences between them. The characters feel deep and well thought out.
- Worldbuilding: Alexander Wales is again displaying his skills as a creator. The world is interesting and the author has clearly spent time considering the implications of magic, magic items, and dungeons in society. New terminology is introduced and the world is explained via characters in a way that doesnt seem like an exposition dump.
- Pacing: This is a slice of life story with brief dungeoneering expedition. There are at least as many chapters with discussions about how to move loot from the dungeon or how to split loot, or how to turn a profit as there are chapters set in the dungeon.
In summary, while I might prefer a little more dungeoneering, this is a thoughtful and sweet slice of life story.
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.