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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Wow. I was a huge fan of AW's previous story Worth the Candle, so I was pretty excited to see how TUTBAD turned out.
Anyway, after catching up, I can conclude that this story, while tonally very different, is amazing. It lets AW's incredibly worldbuilding shine, and the characters are just incredibly fun to read about and get attached to.
Style: 5/5 Incredible. I'm not gonna lie, it could very well be a straight up published novel. Style is, of course, subjective, but I really like how the author does his descriptions. Just incredibly smooth to read.
Story: 5/5 There is no Demon Lord, no overarching world-ending threat that the party needs to defeat, but there are familly issues, logistics, and interpersonal relations that need to be resolved. It's a cozy slice-of-life that actually has stakes, fights, and character progression, and I am absolutely here for it.
Also, have I mentioned the worldbuilding? It's so different from our world and yet everything is so well thought out, from the magic system to the mythos to the institutions. Fantastic.
Grammar: 5/5 Literally have not noticed a single error.
Character: 5/5 Probably the strongest part about this story. What a joy to read about. In your average fantasy novel, having the MC be a dude with 4 women in his party would be a recipe for a really boring harem, but AW not only dodges that issue, he creates a living, breathing cast, each of them with their distinct characteristics and all of them feeling like real, flawed people. Legitimately incredible.
By the way, if the author happens to actually read this: hey AW, I really appreciate your work :D It's a large part of what inspired me to start writing again and posting to RR, and it's been a great ride following along with the story. Keep up the great work!
This is probably the best story I have read on Royal Road, at least so far, and with many chapters apparently to go. It's exactly what the author says in the story blurb: A slice-of-life day-to-day social story in a fantasy setting that blends classic tropes, new takes on classic tropes, and original ideas.
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.
Full disclosure: I'm a hardcore fan of this creator. Regardless, I was incredibly, incredibly skeptical when the idea was brought up in the author's Discord.
Paraphrasing, "a story about adventurers but focusing on the downtime between the adventures". It sounded like slice-of-life, and not a particularly interesting one.
This changed once I actually started reading it.
Interim's world is filled with cool magic items that characters will spend scenes and scenes figuring out, low-key worldbuilding derived from some of the most minor changes you could imagine, exactly the kind of thing people enjoy but rarely get to read an entire story about.
The stand-out character is definitely Mizuki. Alexander Wales has been criticized in the past for writing samey characters, and he tackled this flaw with a vengeance, designing the uniquely airheaded sorcerer. Her viewpoints are a joy to read, she keeps the plot from descending into depressing messes, something Wales had trouble avoiding in his previous work Worth the Candle. She isn't even the heart of the group, she is more mature than my description of her might make her sound, and yet simultaneously a gremlin. The other four characters are cool too I guess...
Despite the title, about 10% of the work is dedicated to delving dungeons, and while I'd actually call it the weaker part of the work, it's not by any means boring or bad. It just helps demonstrate how well the slice-of-life elements are being handled.
Rumors say this work is ending soon. Pick it up while you have a chance.
The writing is pretty good, the characters all have thier own distinct personalities and the dungeons are interesting. The author's focus is obviously on everything but the dungeons, but I don't actually mind that.
What I do mind though is that we're treated to the exact same 5-6 conversations in almost every chapter. One character will mention that they're gay/bi in every chapter. The priest character will remind everyone that her order is known for being down with the gays, in every chapter, regardless of if it makes any sense or not. One character will mention that they're not too sure about the party leader in every chapter. Every time the party makes any casual plan, like 'we should come back here next week' one of the members will say they're not even sure they're going to be in the party next week. Any time they talk about doing a dungeon, a party member will say they're not sure they want to do anymore dungeons.
I could go on but the point is that fifty percent of each chapter is made up of these filler statements that we've heard 40 times already. I have no idea why it is so monotonously repetitive but after awhile I just don't want to read it anymore. Any given chapter is fine but hearing the same stock conversations over and over is just too annoying for me to stick with it.
I wish the writer would have a little faith in the audience to remember this stuff instead of beating us over the head with it at every opportunity.
So a lot of the other reviews discuss why the novel is good and I generally agree with them. The writing is excellent, the pacing is great, the world seems well thought out, and it has a very homey, comfortable feel.
That said, I'm not getting into it nearly as much as Worth the Candle, and I think the biggest issue is the group dynamic so far - though it's still early days.
Thr group consists of Alfric, who has trained his whole life to do dungeoneering, and four people he tries to interest in the endeavor. Alfric is the party warrior, knowledge base, and organizer. He takes almost all the of the risks, but he spends most of his time worried about getting his party invested in continuing to do the dungeons with him.
Two of other members are fine - one is actively interested, another is along from the ride because she needs friends - but the other two are actively selfish and recalcitrant, which leads to a really annoying group dynamic. He's spending all his time attending to the groups needs, while the dilettantes are a drag.
This reminds me a lot of D&D games where a couple of people didn't really feel like playing, and had to be bribed with good loot, special GM favors, and/or had someone else do the work of filling out thier character sheets and reminding them of the plot - which is just an obnoxious memory and not one I enjoy reading renacted in the context of in-world storytelling.
Is it an accurate picture of real table top game group dynamics? Yes. But it's not the one I want to read about chapter after chapter.
It also doesn't fit the world - dungeoneering is just too easy and provides too much wealth, especially given Alfrics knowledge and training, for how disinterested the rest of the party is, even if they don't care for the task itself. It's like a rockstar coming up to you and saying 'hey you wanna make 10 grand to play in my band for a set' and half of the musicians he asks turning up thier nose or needing more convincing to sweeten the deal, even though they've got nothing better to do - it just doesn't track.
You know how sometimes the slice of life moments are the most magical and satisfying in a progression fantasy? Well this story is 90% that, punctuated by brief chapters of dungeon delving and combat. It's about the rest and repose between dungeons and how the dungeon delvers or "dungeoneers" fit into the wider world, what their daily lives are like as dungeoneers in a world *with* dungeons and magic. Following the small personal interactions of the main cast, we get to see what life would be like, with a level of detail that's a testament to the author's worldbuilding. Mixing the magical and mundane is something that I enjoy in well-thought-out fantasy worlds and this story scratches that itch. The dungeons are still the primary draw, of course, but the sedate pacing of adventures far and few between (in terms of word count, not in-story time) is living up to the story title. Like the main character's vocational or existential dilemma, the story fills me with a yearning for a world that's a little less tame, a little more strange and magical.
Thanks for writing a wonderful story.
P.S. I have critiques that don't really matter, but the one I feel compelled to mention is too much dialogue starting with "Well"
P.P.S. The album "Flying Blind" by Jef Martens was a lovely accompaniment to reading.
I've read literally dozens of fics in this genre, and this one is already looking to be S tier for the whole genre. The characters have actual conflicts and motivations, the danger feels real, and there isn't a single excel spreedsheet in sight. I love everything about This Used to be About Dungeons. A+ , would read again.
Im sure Im not the only one who think the About Dungeons world is delightful. The adventures are intriguing, Pucklechurch is homely, and there's nothing like a good system for magic and worldbuilding (conveyed without too many large dumps) to intrigue a reader. I admit, in my head I spent like 10 chapters giggling and going "hexagons are the bestagons" (a la youtuber CGP Grey) everytime the hex-related quirks of reality would pop up, and that may have colored my fondness. But that doesn't change the fact that it's well done and exciting despite the coziness of the vibes.
I think the biggest struggle to picking up any new story is the dimensions of the characters. There's something thoughtful and human about AW's crafting of each cast member. Not just MCs, or frequent characters, but everyone in the About Dungeons world.
I think I appreciate it even more so considering the large cast of female characters, since usually it's an alarm bell for cringe and 2-dimensionality. There's a lot of people who never understood that "Stong Female Character" was never about how "girl boss" an fMC could be, or about how like a generic mMC a female in a story could be, but about how realized she is as a character, displaying it to the reader through what she faces.
I'm well into Bk2. This has to be the HIGHEST praise I can offer without spoiling or going in depth: there is no character, male or female or otherwise, who made me embarrassed for the author.
Kudos to Alexander Wales for making me think "This is what I want to write someday." It's rare that I encounter something that sparks both admiration and craving... I'm green with envy, but mostly delighted and impressed!