This Used to be About Dungeons is a comfy slice-of-life adventuring story that occasionally features dungeons. Updates Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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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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.
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.
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—very likable characters with genuine depth of personality, good prose, and a sense of magic that suffuses every aspect of the story. 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. The choice to eschew blatant LitRPG mechanics (those elements are present, but as subtle background flourishes) is indicative of Wales' justified confidence in his cast's motivations to drive the plot.
The story's slice-of-life chapters are enthralling, flitting between perspectives and inner conflicts with natural ease. The interspersed dungeon sequences draw fascinating inspiration from AI-generated art, creating a genuinely offbeat atmosphere, and play host to some great action setpieces). This is a consistently fun low-stakes story—in a way which feels genuinely unusual to see in the fantasy genre—but I guarantee one character interaction or other will ring achingly true to an experience of yours, and that'll be what sticks with you. There's realism in the writing, as typical of Wales, but no cynicism, and at a time when it feels like so much of current pop culture is focused on deconstruction, this is a real breath of fresh air.
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.
Alright, I had this huge ramble on this, but I deleted it cause nobody wants to hear all that.
The conversations repeat without the issues underlying them not having been resolved hundreds of pages after it's clear it needs to be addressed. This is realistic, but not fun to read.
The group dynamics change, except they somehow also don't. it's as though some characters are allowed to grow and become better people, while others...aren't. Some characters get to have deep, personal stories that change later dynamics, while others pour out their heart only to have later interactions make them feel like strangers. At least in my opinion.
World building=great. Characters=mostly great. Writing style=fantastic.
Try it. If you feel like you see the problems I've presented, well, at least you got to read something unique. For that reason alone I'd suggest this to people. It's still better than many other stories, just that the lack of actual stories means that these character interactions need to be really good, and I'm not sure it is. For me, anyways.
This story is shaping up to be very comfy and cozy. I like that. I'm definitely feeling like this is a chill out, sip some metaphorical hot chocolate kind of story, and I don't have enough of those.
Also, the three raccoons is the best analogue ever. I want them to have a trenchcoat.
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.
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.
Much less grimm than WTC, but still with the depth and quality of both characters and world that Wales is known for.
The magic system is well rounded out and put a unique spin on many tropes. It focuses more on narrative and the details of it are not yet fully given, but especially the sorcery branch of magic with its rules of opposition is quite a refreshing take.
Wales continued use of entands and the addition of entacts is great. they and their origin in dungeons gives the whole world building a nice touch which explains people's need to go into dungeons and keep at it, despite the danger.
The pantheon of TUTBAD is quite unique with gods focused around abstract concepts, i have never seen done before. Instead of going the clichéd route of tropey elements/weather phenomenon or professions, these gods stand for symmetry, infinity or even sets. Great background stuff.
I also really like how the author can juxtapose rational world building with obvious tabletop/game like elements like the hexes and forms of fast travel, without breaking immersion.
Also the focus on whimsy and intercharacter interaction is great. The characters all have their very unique voices and traits, their interaction seems natural and never forced.
All in all a very delightful read, i would recommend to everyone who wants something more lighthearted after WTC.