Dungeon Core story twist-ed into space - grrrrreat! (with small flaws)

(as of chapter 21)

It is true that 'Derelict' is just another Dungeon Core fantasy story? - In principle, yes, but it is not a normal dungeon because it is in space and the antagonists are in space and it's sci-fi in addition to fantasy and even the fantasy is in space. - So what's it about? - The space exploration expedition Captain Slater's ship is protecting discovers "aliens" and is promptly destroyed by them, then Slater regains consciousness as a Dungeon Core in his ship's wreck. Like in other Dungeon Core stories, he has to expand his dungeon, assimilate or research new mobs, defend against adventurers (who arrive by space ship and are of the various fantasy races) and perhaps even reestablish contact with his former navy. - But I already read 99 dungeon core stories, should I really also read this one? - Yes, 100% yes, but don't be deterred by the first few chapters!

Style/Grammar: The story is told in third-person internal style view from Slater's POV with very good prose. The descriptions are in general good, sometimes they are just detailed enough to get the information across and sometimes quite detailed but not too much so. Now and again some small humorous scenes happen. Spelling is good and grammar as well.

Story: So far there have been the usual dungeon core story events with no big surprises other than it taking place in space and the changes this entails, but exactly that is done excellently. Pacing of the events is good, after the first chapters which are important to set the scene. The MC's rate of progress is rather fast though which feels to me like everything is too easy for him, even though he had problems fighting some of the enemies. The ability to create, then re-absorb and re-create (with the new upgrades or just in the same way) monsters and items or rebuild the rooms as often as wanted without losing any energy or matter in the process is breaking my suspension of disbelief.

Characters: The MC, Slater, is a military man, a no-nonsense guy with quick (and good) decision-making skills and a straight way of thinking and he's still a friendly guy. He could use a bit more depth and/or complexity in his personality, by now he's a bit too great for my liking. The other characters have not been around long, so far they fall a bit on the one-dimensional side but they add some humorous scenes. I like how the dungeon pixi(e) turned out by chapter 14.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable story. While it is not creating anything truly new for the genre, the way it is written is fine and the unusual variation of the location (with all the consequences) is very refreshing.

The Summoning

Good story about humans as dungeon monsters

(as of chapter 10)

A group of around 100 university students from a wide mix of courses are transported with some university buildings to a cavern in a magical dungeon where they become, contrary to what experienced RRL readers would expect, not adventurers but instead dungeon mobs. And soon native adventurers will arrive to slaughter them for the sweet sweet XP they give. Oops. Luckily there is a skill system in place where the weak humans can buy some skills (from weapon proficiencies over magic to crafting) to increase their survivability and if that doesn't work, there's a respawn option. But how useful will that be against experienced murderhobos? And against the other, hostile dungeon mob factions? And against those among themselves that will stop at nothing for personal gain? That remains to be seen...

Style and Grammar: The story is told in third-person internal style from a single point of view (Robert). Descriptions are fine but not great, sentence building and word choice are nothing special either but better than average. Grammar is okay. There's a number of typos in each chapter but the chapters are quite long so it's not that bad. The LitRPG system is very wide (many stats, very many skills) but the focus is not on the numbers.

Story: If you've been on RRL for a while you have read your fair share of stories with isekai'd heroes and some with humans isekai'd as monsters. But have you ever read one with a whole group of monsters as the protagonists? If not, then this will be your first. While the skills and fights and group dynamics described in this story are nothing new, the perspective of a large group of humans stranded on the receiving side of rampaging adventurers is unique. Most of the focus is on the MC, his handful of best friends and another handful of students that stand out from the rest. Still, the large number of side characters adds a variety of skills and personalities when useful, it would feel forced otherwise.

Characters: The readers know most about the MC, as we can see inside his head. While he takes a leading role for the students, he still struggles with the new situation they are in, coping not much better than most of the others. He's an okay guy but not without faults and not everything goes as he want. From how he acts not every reader will like him, which is a good sign in my opinion. The other characters are a wide mix, from totally scared and wanting to ignore the situation, over resilient and making the best of it up, to some that embrace the new world with a fever.

All in all, this story hooked me with the first chapter and hasn't let me go since. I really enjoy watching a whole group of people but without dozens of POVs. So many people that have to improve their skills to survive. I want more!

Cultivating Earth

(as of chapter 25)

This is a xianxia/cultivation story but it is so very different from the usual "I must get stronger, waaaah". Instead of following one person or a group who cultivates endlessly to get stronger and fights each other for resources, it kind of takes a step back and looks at a bigger picture. The premise is that millennia ago the powerful cultivator Zhao Gang came from a different plane to prehistoric Earth in order to cultivate in peace, selfishly but not maliciously depriving the primitive world of Qi in the process. When he ends his meditation, Qi returns to a now modern-day Earth which is unprepared for the resurgence of Qi. Instead of ruthlessly leaving the disarranged planet, Zhao Gang notices the unique situation of a technology-based world and decides to own up to his actions. He founds a special school to teach cultivation to suitable children in order to build a group of champions to protect humanity against ruthless alien cultivators while respecting the indigenous (Western) culture at the same time. 'Cultivating Earth' tells how that school develops, starting with the first days of that school and what happens with the pupils. And let me tell you, this is very different from how your first grade was.

The story is told in third-person internal style from multiple points of view, most often those of Zhao Gang, Rejya Xinasa (a disciple of his) and Tara (one of the young students). Grammar is very good and spelling is almost perfect.

The story is written incredibly well. The descriptions of the mechanics and philosophy for the cultivation and the dialogues are very rich with an awesome depth and great word choice, it just pulls you into the story. There are reasons why things work as they do and those reasons are clearly explained to the reader.

Due to the multiple points of view, the reader is able to see the inner character of a large number of people. Each of them has a clear personality, even though they are very different from each other. From the wise and powerful Zhao Gang to the lively 6-year-old Tara, everybody is written in a completely believable way. Still, the personalities are all a bit one-sided and too smooth, they could use some more of the discrepancies that everybody has. The cultivators are often arrogant and selfish but this is totally explained by the rules of their society. Nobody is presented as edgy and even those people that are in opposing roles act for very good reasons.

In total, this is a very good story that I recommend wholeheartedly, due to the unique premise. While being about a school for cultivators, it also follows the teachers and the background events instead of only being slice of life of annoying students.

A Beginner's Guide to Napping, Sunbathing, and Slaughtering Your Prey

(as of chapter 10, i.e. very preliminary)

This is the very humorous story of Fang, the cat who hunted a strange rabbit down a hole and arrived in a very different place. There he naps and sunbathes all day and slaughters prey all night, demonstrating his supreme mastery over all the small forest animals, the marble-formerly-known-as-monster-core and even those insidious blue boxes until finally a human comes along to become his servant.

The story is told in third-person style, mostly from Fang's point of view. As this POV is that of a cat, its focus is clearly superior to and different from than that of a boring human.  The descriptions are colorful and interesting and the choice of words makes this a hilarious story to read, keeping it lighthearted at the same time. The pacing is okay, some events took place in the few chapters so far but not so many to appear hurried. The litRPG elements are kept simple but enough to get the information across. Grammar is good and I don't remember seeing any typos.

Fang's personality is that of a cat, i.e. he's not only perfect, but he's also without flaws and does everything in the best way possible, except when there is a superior reason to do something in another way. Anybody who knows about cats will recognize it as the perfect representation of our favorite felines' characteristics (arrogant but a bit stupid), instead of being just a human soul with fur and claws. The young humans the reader soon learns about have characters that so far look varied and interesting without being overly complex.

In total, while this story isn't very deep in complexity it is a fireworks of fun to read that every cat person will love. Even dog people should give it a try.

Dungeon Ecology

Dungeon building as an occupation - a fresh idea!

(as of chapter 8) As the story has just started, this review might change drastically later, but so far, the story is looking promising.

Basil is a freshly graduated 'Dungeon Maker', a Class that is the basis for the world's economy but which doesn't bring any fame or excitement with it. Instead of starting a long-term slave-like internship like everybody else, he decides to become self-employed. He manages to obtain his first assignment, but the terms and conditions he naïvely signs... uh oh, he better not mess up!

The concept of the story is very unusual, especially because RRL is full of dungeon core stories: In 'Dungeon Ecology', creating a dungeon is not the managerial and livestock-husbandry-like task of an overmind-broodmother hybrid, instead it is the creative job of an architect together with a fair bit of bricklaying and plumbing. In the first chapters the readers are introduced to the basics of the world, of dungeon making prerequisites and to a handful of people.

The story is told in first-person internal style from Basil's POV, thus we quickly learn about his inner thoughts, his strengths and some of his faults. Those few other characters that have been introduced are so far only rather simple personalities, but you can't expect better after just a short dialogue or two and a total story length of 41 pages. There have been some explanations about how the world works. Those might feel a bit infodumpy to some readers but they are inserted adequately into the inner monologue of the MC while we listen to his thoughts. The amount of descriptions is okay but they are not very detailed yet. Grammar is good and I found almost no typos.

In total, 'Dungeon Ecology' looks like it could become a very interesting new experience; *followed*

After The Mountains Are Flattened

Funny GameLit with gigantic worldbuilding

(as of chapter 104)

17-year-old Henry has been playing THE fantasy VR-MMORPG for many many years (even more than his age due to time dilation in the game), reaching every peak, his alter egos among the most famous in the game in many different roles without anybody connecting them to each other and to his true identity. After all that time he's become filthy rich (both in-game and in RL) and so very bored and wants to quit but is blackmailed into one last role so that he can finally find peace. He'll only have to keep up for two more weeks, playing with his real life friends who are total Noobs to win a PvP tournament...

The story follows Henry while training in the new role, his first combat class in years. Being the genius and perfectionist he is, wanting to spice it up to escape the boredom and in order to improve his non-combat interests, he starts another half-dozen parallel pursuits in addition to creating the ultimate combat art out of dozens of existing ones (the "how" would be a spoiler). During the first two volumes (~1000 pages on RRL), the tournament "main quest" has only been a side focus: a huge part of the story is about the preparations for the combat role, evil player machinations that threaten both the game world and Henry's assets (which of course can't be ignored by him), his online enemies finally noticing some connections between his roles and, most importantly, Henry becoming more mature (the "how" would again be a spoiler). I can't decide whether the pacing of the story is slow or quick: On the one hand, after over 1100 pages we're only on real-life day three, on the other hand, so much happened and with the in-game time dilation the game-time is a multiple of the real time. I'll settle for "neither too fast nor too slow".

The MC is pretty OP from the start. I usually don't like this in stories (no struggle = boring) but here it is done excellently. The OP-ness is due to his unparalleled experience with the game and in using the skills from the other roles. While Henry is dripping arrogance left and right, it is the "good" kind of arrogance backed by being very skilled and experienced rather than the toxic arrogance of narcissists or cliché nobles. I still must confess that it sometimes felt a bit tiring. Henry's personality is presented excellently, he's an almost matchless genius (shown e.g. in extensive planning with many backup plans, taking into account how other people might act and react, using his knowledge of the game mechanics for stuff other players wouldn't even think about) but at the same time rather lacking in the social graces, painting a realistic picture instead of the OP MCs from other stories who are perfect in every area and thus boring. I don't remember any obvious breaks in his character. Similarly, the other players are each shown to have their own personality. Yes, some of them are as multidimensional as a sheet of paper but that is not from a lack of the author's skill. Quite the contrary, they are exaggerated versions of literary (and online-game player) archetypes that bring a large amount of joy to reading this story.
Humor is a large and very important part of this story. Be it from the dialogue/banter, the descriptions or the situations, I had to chuckle or laugh regularly.

The story is told in third-person internal style. Most of it follows the MC but there are chapters and paragraphs from the POV of his friends and foes, giving the reader valuable insights into the wider events. While the descriptions of the individual scenes are "only" reasonably detailed, the scope of the game world and its history as well as the many cultures in it is gigantic and those are presented in a very rich and detailed way. For some readers it might be even too much, e.g. when the cultural background of some obscure fighting style is explained extensively. But that is world-building turned up to eleven!
The grammar is excellent and there are barely any typos

In total, while many of the things that happen in this story would be crazy and unrealistic at first glance, everything is described and explained so excellently and so logically sound that there could be no other way. I immensely enjoyed reading 'After the Mountains are Flattened' and every RRL reader who has just the least bit of interest in GameLit and/or quality storytelling MUST give it a try!

He Who Fights With Monsters

Funny and comfy isekai with interesting litRPG system

(as of chapter 28)

'He Who Fights With Monsters' tells the story of Jason who suddenly wakes up in a world where stats, magic and monsters are normal. Through luck and panicked perseverance he manages to survive the cultist den he was transported to and meets helpful adventurers who explain the world to him. Avid RRL readers know this kind of story and will think: "Now with such a successful start, he'll surely become the next great hero like in all the other stories on this site!" Well, in theory yes and the MC tries, but the ability domains he receives start with "dark" and "blood" and then do not exactly get more good/pure/holy...

Style/Grammar: The story is told in third-person internal style from Jason's point of view. The descriptions are good (but not too wordy) and the literary devices are varied, letting you binge the story without hiccups.  There are few typos in the later chapters, just some slips of the pen or missing words (some of which could also be Australian slang?).

Story: While many things are similar to other isekai stories, some stand out positively in this story. One thing is the litRPG system: As usual there are system messages and stats and skills, but they are more on the descriptive side rather than raw numbers ("casting cost: medium amount of mana per second"), leading to a more relaxed atmosphere and smoother reading compared to the often-seen long long boxes full of numbers and "X has increased by 0.1" mentality (while that is not bad per se, this variation is very welcome). Progression is less grindy as well because it uses special magic items instead of just XP. The messages are unobtrusive grey text instead of blue boxes and they are rather snarky. In general there is a large amount of humour, be it in the descriptions, in the MC's thoughts or in the dialogue. 

Characters: On one side Jason is a lighthearted and friendly fellow, taking many things in stride, a helpful guy with his heart in the right place. On the other hand, he is thrust into a very brutal situation in a hard world. This combination usually doesn't end well, but here it's looking good so far. Jason has a reasonable moral compass and killing doesn't come easy to him (as is expected from a normal person), as yet he has been able to keep his personality, which we have seen described nicely, intact. The other characters are also shown to be well thought out, with different personalities that are mostly likeable. The bad guys are a bit cliché though.

I really like this story and I can recommend it wholeheartedly. After having read more than a hundred stories on RRL alone with a large number of them isekai stories, I often get a feeling of "same old, same old". In this story, the "lighter" take on the litRPG system and the strong humorous elements (I even laughed multiple times) make for a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

CORE: The Volcanic Dungeon

Nice but harem-heavy dungeon core story

(update as of chapter 1.59, old review was at chapter 1.27)

Style: The story is told in first-person style by the rock that became a dungeon core, not 'live' but much much later than the events happened. It feels like the story is being told at the fireplace on a long winter evening. This feeling is mostly brought on by some non-spoiling comments or musings about the act of storytelling itself thrown in which sometimes turns to rambling. The descriptions are lively and the word choice is good.

Story: Like many other stories on RRL the dungeon core starts out weak and dumb before getting useful abilities and training its monsters to become better. The dumb decisions brought on by the lacking intellect lead to comical situations but without becoming cringey.  What I don't like so much is the early and copious introduction of sexual undertones. The MC as a dungeon core is a sapient (or at least sentient) rock, i.e. a sex- and genderless thing. Still it often rambles about how attractive his monsters are and how it likes being licked or being placed in a lap, even though it should not be able to assess something like that. Oh yeah, another related thing: almost all monsters (except for a skeleton and some golems) are female in a shameless way of harem building.

Grammar: Very good, only very few typos.

Characters: So far we only got to know the dungeon core (who at the time of telling is old, powerful and educated), a 'mentor' and the dungeon's monsters. The former is portrayed as simple and flawed but getting better quickly. The latter are shown as developing their own personalities and compassions. Some adventurers have been visiting the dungeon, their leader is dangerously smart.

I came over from 'the Queen's Hound', another of the author's stories, and like that one 'CORE: the Volcanic Dungeon' paints nice and funny scenes that I read happily. In the first version of this review I wrote that I really hoped that the dungeon core would stay a non-human character following its own path (and morals) instead of becoming another fake-human blending into human society and concentrating on harem-building and whatnot; But the second already came to pass. It's still a nice story but it's not as unusual and captivating (regarding the dungeon core story genre) as it could be.

Forsaken Talents: A Dark Path

Not an anti-hero, this is 100% evil

(as of "a black soul 12" i.e. the 31th post)

The MC is playing a full-immersion-VR-like game (you somehow enter through gates with your real body but after death respawn at home) with his daughter when his daughter's character is killed by a real-life enemy of his. It turns out that the hack/bug announcement they received shortly before that event means that respawning isn't possible any more and she is now dead in the real world as well. The MC swears revenge and turns to necromancy in order to get it.

The story is told in first-person style by the MC. Word choice is good, the descriptions are fine, the fights are exciting though rather gory. The story's pacing is rather hasty, with the MC quickly getting very powerful (this could be explained by his special class and "patron") and his headquarters growing rapidly in strength. The characters have a wide variety of motivations though most of them are not very deeply explained; there is an unexpected high count of sociopaths. Grammar is okay with some typos.

What I really can't wrap my head around is the unchecked evilness of the MC. Don't get me wrong, I understand and somewhat approve that the MC uses evil means to reach his goals and that this means killing and I don't have a problem with killing in stories, even when in this story that means permadeath of the real-world people. But the MC just slaughters everybody, even when it doesn't bring him any gain, going out of his way to murder innocents. That's very strange, compared to his frequent bouts of misery about his daughter's death.

By the way, the "Anti-Hero Lead" tag is wrong. An anti-hero is one that doesn't follow "heroic" qualities like idealism or such, having a more neutral or self-serving motivation. Some of his actions might be "good", others might be "bad". But an anti-hero is not inherently evil.

The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen

Like Odysseus in Viking age Scandinavia

(as of chapter 7.22)

It's strange but this story seems to be quite unknown with not many readers and barely any comments in it, even though it is very good and has been around for a long time with many chapters.
Einarr's father and their longship crew want to reclaim their home and thanedom which they lost to treachery and dark magics when he was a little boy, at the same time Einarr wants to get jarl's approval to marry that one's daughter. To succeed in the latter (and the former if possible), he has to solve many tasks and beat lots of obstacles, one more difficult than the other.

Style: The story is told in third-person internal style from Einarr's POV (and I remember two short scenes with different POV). The descriptions are good, the story arcs well-crafted and the literary devices skillfully used.

Story: The adventures Einarr experiences heavily draw from Norse myth and mysticism (gods, mythical beasts, various kinds of magic) and are presented like the Homeric Odyssey (having many adventures and solving tasks during a convoluted sea voyage). The pacing is fine, exciting scenes alternating with more quiet moments and there is a clear overarching (double-)plot with multiple but clearly defined sub-plots. The whole story is divided into shorter "books" that each follow a completed sub-story arc with a solid but manageable length if you don't want to read everything at once.

Grammar: Excellent and I noticed only very few typos.

Characters: The people we meet during the story exhibit many of the cliché characteristics of pop culture Vikings: strong, courageous, good sailors, true to their word. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Einarr is a MC the readers can easily identify with, tackling difficult tasks with as much courage as we modern basement-dwellers enviously tell ourselves we would have in such a situation in order to win the most precious of prices. His companions check off stereotypical lists as well but that makes an avid reader feel right at home in this story. Not having stupid over-the-top characters is a blessing as well.

In total, 'the Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen' is a very good story set in the old north that combines mythological concepts with elements from adventure stories. I recommend reading it, you'll even learn some interesting stuff about old Norse culture and lore.