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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If you're already familiar with Alexander Wales's other story, this one is different out the gate. As dire and serious as Worth the Candle was, like a car careening downhill, This Used to be About Dungeons is more like stroll through a forest meadow. Going from 'chosen one needs to save the world' level of stakes to 'person trying to gather some friends to explore/adventure' is a large shift but it isn't made lesser for the focus.
The characters are dynamic and feel distinctly different, the setting strikes a good balance between fantasy but not overloading with exotic terminology. Explainations and worldbuilding never feel like a character turns to the reader to talk about something which anyone native would already know or never care to ask. The magic system is interesting, especially the quirk with Sorcerer using other existing magic rather than just naturally manifesting compared to the Wizard which studies (as the traditional D&D difference.) Add in a skeptical, but lyrically talented Bard, a taciturn Ranger, an eager country Cleric, and the stiff by-the-book big city Warrior and mix until shennanigans ensue.
My only complaint is that there are only a few hundred pages to read so far- I need more!
So, all in all, my thoughts on the story after a hundred chapters can be summed up as: it's a pretty decent slice of life, but the characters are simply TOO flawed. Which is funny, because most of the time characters fail because they're too perfect. Too clinical... Not realistic enough. But here the characters are simply too 'human' and flawed.
The author is either an English native speaker/writer or as good as one. There are likely mistakes, but they're small and rare enough to not be a bother.
My general impression is that the whole dungeoneering party is essentially Alfric running a daycare for problem children. Oh, and it's really for children, not the (quasi-)adults that the story presents them as age-wise. I'm not trying to offend anybody with these generalisations, even though I doubtlessly will, but you have:
Mizuki: the ADHD kid who isn't capable of thinking anything through or having an attention span longer than five minutes. Boys? She flits through them like a butterfly looking for nectar. Authority? Nah, following rules is for boring 'bricks', even when those rules are perfectly understandable and have an actual reason to be there. Look, somebody who berates you for jaywalking when there's literally no car in sight is a stick in the mud. Somebody who asks you not to fly high up in the air when there's been dragon sightings and disappearances is just being logical... She isn't just negative of course. She's capable of caring for people... when she wants to and is feeling lonely... or not if she doesn't... She's just pretty selfish about it. That would be a human characteristic. Hell, I'm like that. Adding another heaping of faults on top of that makes her a pretty annoying problem child though.
Isra: a literal child. She's eighteen, but let's be honest, her wood-hermit life has essentially rendered her a child. She's getting baby's first love, baby's first friends, baby's first family, baby's first everything. It's kind of funny that she was one of the more 'okay' and less frustrating characters before. She wanted to learn about her place in the world, find out what knowledge she's missed, make up for lost time. All fun things for the readers to go through with her together. Now she's found out what love is and is going full angsty first-love teen all over it. Every single reader knows it's probably going to be a drama-filled shitstorm and I honestly don't want to read yet another YA-novel first romance story... It just seems so typical and it's annoying that a character is being lessened through such a stupid 'plot'. Then again, I've read enough YA to be sick of this stuff, so maybe somebody who hasn't read that kind of literature yet wouldn't mind. I'm just getting the same old alarm bells of the same old tropes for the same old results...
Verity: Honestly one of the more normal characters. She's 'flawed' in the way that she's thirstier than a dried-out camel in the Gobi desert and an utter doormat that anybody can wipe their feet off on, but that's still okay. For the rest she seems rather normal. She can understand logic, she can follow some rules, she doesn't feel the need to test every single boundary or learn about them anew like she's twelve (or one of the previous characters). She still needs Mr. Overguard, his teacher-colleagues call him Alfric, to lead her around a bit because she has the initiative of a dead rat, but she doesn't seem irredeemable without another 200 chapters of growth like the rest. I feel like her growth will actually be interesting instead of filled with stupidity and annoyance.
Hannah: Even though I utterly dislike her character, she might be the most functional besides Alfric. Maybe she's like the class-president in the daycare/school metaphor. Or maybe a beginning teacher? She's really damned arrogant and has a way too high opinion about herself and her capabilities, but at least she has some... you know, capabilities. Her moralizing can get really repetitive and her whole 'Will I, won't I' love thing with Marsh is typical YA-drama, but she's capable of thinking things through, seeing things from other people's perspectives, being helpful, etc. In short, she's capable of being a functional human being.
Alfric: Mr. Overguard is the only reason the story is a story and also why it feels like a daycare. Without him to give some kind of direction, the rest of the cast would still be stuck doing whatever useless escapism they were doing before. He's prepared, understanding and knowledgeable. He's pretty damned good I'd say. That doesn't mean he doesn't have problems though. He's cautious, maybe too cautious sometimes, is understanding while having trouble truly understanding some of the emotional things his teammates go through and obviously there's the whole 'I don't want to use my family's copious resources to make things easier'. The thing is though, he ,once again, seems functional. He could do something on his own, go be himself and still be better off for it. Hannah could too in some way, but for Verity, Mizuki and Isra I don't see them amounting to anything but sad escapists if Alfric hadn't appeared. They'd likely still be stewing in their own issues.
Maybe the best way to put it is that we know Alfric had a difficult year after what Lola did to him. But he's already had that year. He seems to have bounced back somewhat by the beginning of the story, while the other characters haven't had that year yet. What we're seeing is kind of Alfric guiding the characters through his 'first year' that we readers didn't get to see. Seeing one 'template' for how that looks Interacting with such problem children does make it kind of frustrating though. Like, you get an example of an end result, or somebody who's well on their way, but then he needs to deal with brats that you'll likely have to wait actual IRL months or years on.
Repetitia est mater studiorum - Repetition is the mother of learning
That's essentially the style. If you read the author's other story, I have, you'll realize that they don't do 'short'. You get sprawling chapters with heaps of text, but sometimes you really just get needless filler. I think that's also some of the problem I have with the characters. Their flaws aren't just stated and shown once or twice. No. Every single chapter one or more of the characters' flaws and/or positive characteristics get highlighted. Always. I understand slice of life lives and dies with the characters, their thoughts and actions, but there is a limit. Just, please, stop repeating the same thing slightly differently...
I'll be using both worldbuilding and the actual 'plot' as factors here. For worldbuilding 5/5. Not because it's perfect, nothing really is, but because it's really damned good. We have an interesting world that is well thought out, follows its own set of rules, has 'agency' outside of the main characters and provides a good backdrop for the story. It's pretty great. What kind of sucks though, is the story itself.
Now, slice of life is already kind of a 'non-story' kind of fiction. You're just following characters going through their day. Getting a slice out of their daily lives. There is, however, a need for an overarching plot. Any slice of life can follow some characters, but if nothing happens to them it just gets boring and repetitive. As of this review I'm probably about one third through the 'second' book. That means only one story has really finished, book one. The story there was subpar. Not what happened during it, but the main 'crux'. No spoilers, but what happened to the main antagonist was kind of an anticlimax. Gets built up as this manipulative villain with powers that could lead to some interesting shenanigans, but in the end the villain is also just a really flawed and incompetent character... It kind of fits with how flawed and 'human' most other characters are, but dear god is it kind of 'meh' as payoff.
All in all, it seems like the characters were just made TOO flawed while one character has already been through a lot of growth. It feels like the others have just too much to get through and grow, which will perhaps take literal years of writing to get through. The author's other book took around four years to write I think. This one is already a year old. You kind of have to ask yourself: do I potentially want to spend another couple years following this story and its characters in the hopes that they get less frustrating? I might come back to it once it's finished, but by that time I might've also already forgotten it.
Maybe I'm just getting too old for YA novels? Oh god.
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.
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.
It's a fun series of development slowly and in time of well described characters. There is repeated rather boring obsession of symmetry and how this has to do with medieval and classical ideas of homophilic desire, without any of that happening or relevant to the story. Not even if you are considering the stereotype of 'useless lesbian'. There's lots of worldbuilding with what the real world effects of certain odd role playing game conventions without doing any of the endless blue boxes and the author failing repeatedly at the math. There is dungeon delving even if the story says it isn't. The dungeons are every bit as peculiar as you would expect in such a situation.
While there was some checkov gun mention of time travel being a possible thing up until chapter 27 it didn't seem to be part of the story. But now it appears that it's going to be. I just don't like time travel stories.
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.
I really like this, especially later on, but it's not for everyone! This is exactly the kind of story I imagine reading on a rainy Sunday morning with a cup of tea, a blanket, and a cat.
I think the author's synopsis above is one of the best, and most accurate (as of EOY22), I've ever seen. Read it seriously to see if this is for you; it's telling you exactly what you're in for here. But it'll take awhile to get there!
It starts out very talky. Very, very talky. Almost like the author didn't have/use any other techniques for showing personal interactions even tho the story is very focused on that. Initially very limited use of body language, timing, expression, action, etc etc; just talking (at first!). Over time, tho, that improves greatly and the later chapters are much more lifelike and interesting (for certain values of interesting!).
There is action, periodically, but overall it's very introspective and relationship/interaction focused. Which I love. And which, eventually, it does quite well. There's something neat about the tone, presentation, and focus here that I enjoy but it certainly isn't for everyone. Like a victorian era story w/o all the sex (looking at u, regency novels) or the rigid society (the society here is uncommonly modern for being fantasy based); it's a particular lens into social drama as much as a laid back style of a slower life and unhurried storytelling that I'm trying to convey.
If you're mostly into action, this probably isn't for you long term.
Pacing; well, I like it, but it's on the slow side and more time is spent in 1v1 convos than anything else. But it's broken up with humor, romance, mystery, melancholy, occasional action, etc., so for me the pacing is just fine for this type of story. It's not *just* talking; it's a bunch of people orbiting each other as they drift thru life. The author is critical of the pacing of one long arc, but I thought the pacing was fine (it's essentially a mystery, and it seems right that it doesn't resolve in 2 easy pages).
There are quite a few characters, and they're plausible & lifelike but imho we only get to a limited depth with each (whether because there are many, or that's as deep as they were created, or just the story the author wants to tell). So, think 5-12 recurring chars, but we don't get terribly deep into most (any?) of them. The relationships are mostly quiet friendship of young adults figuring things out, only better behaved than in most stories. There is a little hearbreak, some yearning, some confusion, comeradery. More like a polite BBC social drama than a hollywood action flick, is one way to sum it up.
As of Chapter 36:
Decent story with great character development, but suffers from the constant world building, info dumps, and lack of plot.
Positives: The concept of the story is nice, AKA more to life than just dungeons. Amazing character development and personalities for all of the characters. All of the characters have a lot of depth. I consider this story as a shining example to all authors of how to write characters. Decently planned out world, with a fresh outlook on the familar dungeon theme. Written extremely well, with no obvious grammatical problems. Interesting ideas and unique terminology for familar things. I personally dislike repeatedly changing POVs, but the author writes it well. Props to the writer for never commiting the worst POV taboo, which is repeating the same events from a different POV and not moving the story forward.
Also, if there is one, I would recommend an LGBTQ Tag. The author writes it well, but it may put off some readers. The one thing that does bother me about it is how they are so secretive and tiptoe around having others know about their inclinations, as if it really matters. Of course, that's a part of the whole drama I guess.
Negatives: The story/plot feels a bit aimless and directionless, and feels like it lacks purpose. It is definitely a slice of life story, and very slow burn at that. I don't know about other people, but I've definitely skipped numerous paragraphs in this story without feeling like I missed out on knowing something important. Author/characters tend to ramble on forever.
In addition, Alfric appears to have less character development and depth compared to the other members of the party. He's awfully obsessed with dungeons for a story that is not focused on dungeons. Also wish there was another male in the group to even it out a bit. I feel like there's a lot of girl time in the story, without any male bonding.
Honestly, if this story had an actual 'goal' or 'purpose', it would be perfect. I feel like writing a story that 'has to do with dungeons, but focusing on everything else other than dungeons' is probably one of the fundamental problems the writer has with adding plot to the story. The story can have amazing writing, world building, and character development, but it doesn't matter if the plot itself is a bit boring. I'm talking about the long paragraphs on gardening, fixing roof tiles, or whatever the task is. The plainess of it all both adds and detracts from the story. Even if the story isn't about dungeons, perhaps the author could still have other events happen to the group that they need to deal with or something.
That being said, I hope the author isn't discouraged at all by my review and continues to write and grow. Good luck!
I'll be quick
This story switch POV between the main cast, which is a group of five characters, and i think it did it well. In the event the party is together, the next POV switch continue on with the story, while if the party is split, the POV explained the event that happened around the same time in different places, and i do like having everyone's take on the event because it made it feel more complete for me, personally.
I don't have complains, to my everyday english skill i don't think i spotted a misspelled word yet, though maybe i did miss some, but even if there are i didn't notice
It start with a guy going to the countryside recruiting people for his team, to go and run some dungeons. Dungeon is this magical place of randomly generated magic place that- you know what, better let the story explain. With the beginning, you think that it will focus on the dungeon, but no. The dungeon take approximately 10-15% of the story, conflict outside the dungeon maybe 10%, but the rest is slice of life. That doesn't make it boring, it's genuinely well written, but the slice of life take the star here. You will see these people, originally brought together by a guy to run a few dungeon, gradually knowing each other, growing as a character, trying to overcome a personal hurdle while talking to each other, getting comfortable to become something akin to a family. There's romance, but it feels like something that an actual young adult went through, not something fabricated that we all cringe while reading. And it ultimately happened because of what i think is the greatest part of this story.
They're real. They're flawed. They have feelings. They have opinions. The main cast doesn't always agree with each other. They have falling outs. They have their own baggage. Everything that made me feel like i'm reading about the life of actually real people is there. They have strenuous relationship with their old acquaintances, sometime even downright hostile, and they're trying to solve it while taking advice from the people in the group. The romance, it felt real too. Sometimes it didn't work out, the relationship strained because they didn't understand each other. Sometimes both of them are too scared to take the leap because of past relationships. Sometimes it worked better than expected.
Anyway it's great, and i do recommend wholeheartedly that you start reading it, because there's all this talk about the story coming to an end, and i invite you to join the cliffhanger club.
Also for anyone that have read the story and the previous one, Worth the Candle. Did you ever feel that this world is just someone's civ game being translated to D&D? And is there a connection from this world to Aerb? Idk, i'm just drawing a dubious pararel.
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?