Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#1
By that I mean, when is LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

If a story only had status screens for aesthetic purposes and to easily show the characters progression would that still be a LitRPG?

I'm asking as I am writing my own LitRPG and do not want it to seem like a tacked on Gimmick. On the other hand, I prefer when the LitRPG elements are light and realistic.

How would you try to find the balance?

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#2
I think you have to ask yourself a set of questions, both as the author and in-universe:
  • Why am I including LitRPG elements?
  • Is there a simpler alternative that could accomplish the same? (E.g., if you only need to register magic capacity, or whatever, can you give the protagonist a magic stone that does so?)
  • How does it affect the plot or characters?
  • How does it affect the world, both as it is and its history? 
  • Why do LitRPG elements exist within the world? 

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#3

luda305 Wrote: Why do LitRPG elements exist within the world?

To me, this is the most important element. I really like the litRPG concept, but I have problems with the prevalence of stories that use a system as a crutch to avoid real worldbuilding. You can't have a system without someone that wrote it; who or what was the programmer? Why was it created? How does it continue to monitor itself and its users? If the answer to any of those can be expressed as "because reasons," then I get bored. 

The typical counter-argument is that most readers don't care about the origin of magic itself; but that doesn't cover a litRPG system. Even then, in most successful fantasy stories, magic gets far more development than in most isekai or integration litRPGs I've read. We often hear about the history of magic, how spells were developed, and the differences between schools of wizardry. In almost all litRPGs, there's only one system, and it seems as though it's either always been there or is entirely arbitrary for each person. 

The information doesn't have to be there in the beginning, but there should be a sense of it. I may write a non-VR litRPG after I'm done with my initial stories, and I've got a prologue written already (I wrote it on my phone on a recent plane flight). It's not an isekai or integration story; it's a system set up by beings I'm basing on the Greek Primordials in order to continue their efforts to fight each other without destroying their prize: Earth itself. All the great heroes and gods of myth are products of the Great Game, and the system has gotten more complex over time. The explanation for why it's so much like a video game is that both computer and tabletop RPGs are based on what people have learned about the Great Game. The reason why it's not publicly accessed is that you have to be specifically recruited into the system. The reason why it's not public knowledge is that each Primordial's faction are attempting to keep their opponents from knowing their moves, and so their subordinate gods and heroes have all reduced their open behavior in the last few centuries as communication and records have become easier for humans to manage. 

Webnomicon's Only Villains Do That isn't a litRPG, but it has progression elements that overlap. In there, the system of magic (referred to in-world as "shaped" magic) was set up by two bored goddesses who are playing a game of Hero versus Dark Lord in order to stave off boredom. This is shown in chapter one, and that would have been enough to justify a litRPG system if the author had wanted one. 

Blind Watcher's Ogre Tyrant uses litRPG, and while it's not been explained yet it feels like he's moving toward one with all his hints about the nature of the Labyrinth and its intentions. 

The Korean manhwa The Gamer, by contrast, has an explanation that is summed up as "because reasons," and while it was an influential litRPG and initially very interesting, I just couldn't stand its arbitrary nature with no mystery attached. 

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#6
I disagree because I think litRPG organizes and helps the readers comprehend a fantasy world.  It's very similar to why wuxia is popular with cultivators having stages and realms or whatever you wanna call them.  It helps the author convey the protagonists advancement.  The only way for it to be irrelevant is if the system makes the story more confusing.  

There are a LOT of litRPGs that are overdone.  I remember people used to show off their 50 stat character sheets and it just looked horrible.  Just keep it simple, maybe 5 stats to start, add-on a few as the story progresses.  

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#7

DarkD Wrote: I disagree because I think litRPG organizes and helps the readers comprehend a fantasy world.  It's very similar to why wuxia is popular with cultivators having stages and realms or whatever you wanna call them.  It helps the author convey the protagonists advancement.  The only way for it to be irrelevant is if the system makes the story more confusing.

Traditional fantasy accomplishes this without boring the readers with numbers.

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#8

meteoraguy Wrote:
DarkD Wrote: I disagree because I think litRPG organizes and helps the readers comprehend a fantasy world.  It's very similar to why wuxia is popular with cultivators having stages and realms or whatever you wanna call them.  It helps the author convey the protagonists advancement.  The only way for it to be irrelevant is if the system makes the story more confusing.

Traditional fantasy accomplishes this without boring the readers with numbers.

Precisely; therefore, the proper question is "Why use a system?" 

Starting from the observably true, litRPG (and all other forms of gamelit) obviously provide something for a subset of readers that is not provided by other types of story. For many that I've seen here and elsewhere, the system itself is justified from the beginning, and only the rest must be established. For these readers, the draw is the concrete aspects of the system; I was told when I first arrived here that the point of litRPG is that all the numbers provide "well-defined character growth." Now, I take some issues with that definition of character growth, mostly because it treats the growth of a person the same as said person's power. That's an extremely limited view of not just writing but also the underlying philosophy of human interaction. 

However, to be perfectly fair, there IS an advantage when it comes to web novels. The weakness of the web novel format is the slow reveal of the story, which means that it can be very hard to keep up with all the events. This only gets harder if you're following multiple stories each week. The stats page can provide a framework that's easy to remember from update to update. 

Another major draw is the audience insert; this happens all the time with traditional fantasy, but the feel of most litRPGs have the character more of a blank slate than anything else. That lets the audience insert themselves into the story by asking "What would I do?" and comparing that to the story at hand. 

I don't like coming to either of the above conclusions, because I feel it's insulting to a wide swath of both readers and writers. However, there remain a significant number of authors, and therefore their fans, who are attracted to litRPG stories that use the system as a backdrop. It's a stage upon which to run a drama that could not be told any other way. 

Taken from that perspective, we can treat the system of a litRPG as merely one element in a toolbox. It is its own genre, but all genres are collections of tools for crafting entertainment. However, it is different from tools such as dragons, orcs, or even traditional magic systems, because unless you're writing a story where the system is the only given, then the characters must confront the fact that the system is crafted by an intelligent being. It cannot be random. If it is created, then it has a beginning and a purpose. 

These issues are different for VR stories, of course. There, the given is not that the system simply exists; the very premise rests on it being created, after all. The usual "just because" that I've noticed in VR stories is that the characters are playing for no other reason than they are playing, or with a thinly-veiled SAO-style deadly consequence for failure. To bring the genre to life, ask why the characters are playing, and also who they are outside VR. If it's an MMO, then there need to be plenty of other players to interact with. 

For example, let's say we want to create a litRPG story where the system has an intelligence behind it and a true purpose for its creation. No isekai, no system apocalypse. The unusual aspect is just the litRPG. A main character wakes up one day with stats and quests a la The Gamer. Why is the character chosen? What is the character going to do? Where is the system and its abilities coming from? What is the purpose of the system? How was it created? And very importantly, what are the system's consequences and limits

Fantasy is the usual fallback, though the non-isekais usually have some kind of sci-fi justification. Let's roll with that. The system is sci-fi-based, but uses fantasy motifs. It was created by a group of aliens -- let's say okay to some of the cliches; they're Greys -- and they want to literally play with humans. A group of them have selected humans at random and implanted them with nanotechnology that both gives them an AR display and new abilities. Each alien therefore has a "champion," and the goal of the game is to see who wins. It's basically dogfighting with humans. The humans are free to select their abilities, but those abilities aren't supernatural; they all stem from various technologies possessed by the Greys. The technology cannot be removed, and if the humans don't "play," they face increasingly deadly consequences for defiance. 

I literally just made this up on the spot, but this might work as a premise . . .

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#9
Litrpg is fiction for gamers. It takes elements of games and translates them to written stories. Sometimes those elements work, sometimes they don't. 

Granting a character regular, small powerups gives the reader the same satisfactipn and sense of progress as in a game. Most stories rely entirely on that aspect, which is fine.

Having a story with a complex system allows the reader to gain 'system mastery.' Figuring out a system is the same fun as learning a new game. The reader decodes it like a mystery. Only authors with at least some grasp of game design can pull this off.

Gamers like seeing gamer protagonists who think like they do, rationally and goal oriented. A system gives a defined toolset for a character to solve problems. Read comments and reviews for stories where the hero fails to make optimal decisions; readers will voice their disappointment.

If an author doesn't understand the tastes of gamers, then the litrpg will seem like a tacked on gimmick. Just adding blue boxes for aesthetics is a bad idea.

Imo, a few elements don't translate well. Quests exist in games to guide the player through a story. They shouldn't exist in written works since the author is already making the choices. They're lazy and rob the characters of agency. All motivation disappears when a character just obeys pop up messages.

Relying too heavily on numbers can make action scenes weak. Describing someone losing 100hp is boring, but someone getting stabbed in the throat is exciting or terrifying or disgusting. Mixing the two is hard to do well(Seaborn is a good example). The safest way is to keep the litrpg for character building and leveling up, and to describe fights as in a typical fantasy.

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#10



NovelNinja Wrote: For example, let's say we want to create a litRPG story where the system has an intelligence behind it and a true purpose for its creation. No isekai, no system apocalypse. The unusual aspect is just the litRPG. A main character wakes up one day with stats and quests a la The Gamer. Why is the character chosen? What is the character going to do? Where is the system and its abilities coming from? What is the purpose of the system? How was it created? And very importantly, what are the system's consequences and limits?






I don't think this has to be an important part of a story.

In zombie fiction, many authors try to explain the origins of the z outbreak. It's a trap. It's almost always lame.

Zombie fiction is about the close up and  personal stories of survivors in a disaster. The origin story is on the opposite end of the spectrum and doesn't mesh well. Day to day survival, immediacy, and focus on characters are the key. No matter what the answer for the z origin, it's going to be unsatisfying technobabble. Not as fun as a simple story about raiding a grocery store.

System apocalypse seems to follow this example. The cause of the apocalypse is hand waved as aliens or whatever, and then the story focuses on how the characters deal with the disaster.

Gamers don't necessarily care about why the game elements exist, what matters is whether or not the system is mechanically interesting (balanced,broken, exploitable,satisfying,fun,etc.)

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#11
sporad Wrote: Litrpg is fiction for gamers. It takes elements of games and translates them to written stories. Sometimes those elements work, sometimes they don't. 

Granting a character regular, small powerups gives the reader the same satisfactipn and sense of progress as in a game. Most stories rely entirely on that aspect, which is fine.

Having a story with a complex system allows the reader to gain 'system mastery.' Figuring out a system is the same fun as learning a new game. The reader decodes it like a mystery. Only authors with at least some grasp of game design can pull this off.

Gamers like seeing gamer protagonists who think like they do, rationally and goal oriented. A system gives a defined toolset for a character to solve problems. Read comments and reviews for stories where the hero fails to make optimal decisions; readers will voice their disappointment.

If an author doesn't understand the tastes of gamers, then the litrpg will seem like a tacked on gimmick. Just adding blue boxes for aesthetics is a bad idea.

I'm literally quoting this solely to praise good analysis.

sporad Wrote: Imo, a few elements don't translate well. Quests exist in games to guide the player through a story. They shouldn't exist in written works since the author is already making the choices. They're lazy and rob the characters of agency. All motivation disappears when a character just obeys pop up messages.

I've noticed this, and it especially stands out when the character has the option to reject a quest but always choses Yes anyway. The very first true litRPG I read (other than Ready Player One, which is a different kind of gamelit I prefer to call a litMMO) accepted Yes on everything, over and over, until he got a branching option where he received several quests. They were all mutually contradictory, and stood to showcase that this was a critical choice. The problem was that he wasn't demonstrating a lot of agency before that, so it really underscored the weakness you describe here.

Now, I've seen quests work as a story feature, but generally when they do it's to lampshade infodumping. The quest tells the character what's optimal, or how long until he succeeds, or even just how to succeed. It's a sonic screwdriver, a plot device to skip the "boring parts" of figuring something out. That's its own weakness, as once you introduce that concept you have to keep using it for consistency, and even if you manage to balance character agency you lose a lot if the character doesn't need to seek out answers on his own. At that point, it's not about whether or not he has agency, but rather it's just a cheat mechanic.

sporad Wrote: Relying too heavily on numbers can make action scenes weak. Describing someone losing 100hp is boring, but someone getting stabbed in the throat is exciting or terrifying or disgusting. Mixing the two is hard to do well(Seaborn is a good example). The safest way is to keep the litrpg for character building and leveling up, and to describe fights as in a typical fantasy.

I think if you focus on the numbers being a measure of how effective an attack was, it will work. Same as in a tabletop game where you wind up with a lot of description as you roll the dice, and then modify your description on the fly to take into account the result. Mind you, players in my games generally embellish a lot, because that's who we are. A lot of people treat it like a board game instead, but I suspect those aren't the ones reading litRPGs.


sporad Wrote:
NovelNinja Wrote: For example, let's say we want to create a litRPG story where the system has an intelligence behind it and a true purpose for its creation. No isekai, no system apocalypse. The unusual aspect is just the litRPG. A main character wakes up one day with stats and quests a la The Gamer. Why is the character chosen? What is the character going to do? Where is the system and its abilities coming from? What is the purpose of the system? How was it created? And very importantly, what are the system's consequences and limits?

I don't think this has to be an important part of a story.

Do you mean an important part of the narrative, or an important part of the worldbuilding? Because those are two different things. You can have details in worldbuilding that get teased out alongside the narrative, without being a focus of the narrative. In fact, bad narratives usually depend too much on using worldbuilding to fill in gaps in action.

sporad Wrote: In zombie fiction, many authors try to explain the origins of the z outbreak. It's a trap. It's almost always lame.

Zombie fiction is about the close up and  personal stories of survivors in a disaster. The origin story is on the opposite end of the spectrum and doesn't mesh well. Day to day survival, immediacy, and focus on characters are the key. No matter what the answer for the z origin, it's going to be unsatisfying technobabble. Not as fun as a simple story about raiding a grocery store.

Agreed, with a notable exception being John Ringo's Black Tide Rising. The major weaknesses of most zombie stories trying to explain the virus are 1) missing the point, as you describe; 2) focusing on characters that just aren't going to be that interested in the why, just the present hows; 3) it's not a focus of the story so it winds up being unnecessary worldbuilding; and 4) totally botching the science anyway, because it's freaking zombies.

In BTR, however, you have characters that make sense as they investigate the initial outbreak; you have a high-level zombie story with a continuation of government (spoilers) rather than close-in survival in the streets of the apocalypse (mind you, the short stories focus on the latter); you get a payoff as they develop and produce a vaccine so they can organize an effort to retake Earth; and the author's wife is a neurobiologist so she helped him bullshit his way through the technobabble in a manner that fits with audience expectations. (And he also consulted lots of subject matter experts. I was one of them, though not on the science.)

The point of the story is not the nature of the virus. Even the vaccine plot merely acknowledges that it was a genetically engineered bioweapon and moves on. The author stated, out-of-book, that he knows exactly who created it and why, but he's not telling because it only matters to keep his worldbuilding straight. The characters don't know, and wouldn't have any way to investigate it in the first place.

That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. Have your worldbuilding consistent. If it matters, and not before, then it'll show up in the story. If it doesn't, it stays in your notes like 90% of the rest of your worldbuilding.

sporad Wrote: System apocalypse seems to follow this example. The cause of the apocalypse is hand waved as aliens or whatever, and then the story focuses on how the characters deal with the disaster.

Gamers don't necessarily care about why the game elements exist, what matters is whether or not the system is mechanically interesting (balanced,broken, exploitable,satisfying,fun,etc.)

This is my biggest issue with the argument, though. Gamers absolutely care, assuming they get sucked into the game for more than just beating up enemies and taking their stuff. You only have to look at their memes and jokes referencing favorite games to see that. They (we) love exploring the logic behind the game.

As I said, there are plenty of people who enjoy just reading about it and accepting the system at face value. I also pointed out in my first post in this thread that I was talking about my opinion on what was most important. However, I have to wonder if this commonality is truly about what litRPG readers prefer, or more that a partial delivery is better than none. I think, precisely because of things you pointed out like readers wanting optimal choices, there are a lot of litRPG readers out there who aren't content with just passively reading stats. I think there are a lot of readers who want something with a greater amount of worldbuilding that covers the system itself. That doesn't mean it has to be a focus of the story, but knowing there's a reason for X colors how they approach reading about it. Many readers will engage on a deeper level when they realize there's something hidden for them to puzzle out.

Almost like a minigame, in fact. :)

Re: LitRPG in a story just there for the sake of it being there?

#12
Lite RPG is defined by the stat table not by there being a system. A system requires almost no effort of the authors part but you can have your characters run a series of tests to build a stat block or a magic ritual/spell or an artifact. Hell the other end of the spectrum is a companion AI or trainer that can display a stat block. Sometimes less is more with these things and sometimes they add a bit more depth to your world.