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How to Design a LitRPG System

Discussion in 'Original Fiction Discussion' started by BTT, Sep 20, 2020.

  1. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    Lately I've been reading trashy shit again, part of which is LitRPGs, so I started thinking about how I'd write one. Leaving aside the questions of plot, setting, and all that other rot, though - how would you design a LitRPG's game-like system?

    Obviously the biggest part of these stories is watching Number Go Up, much like they would in a real RPG. Question is, which numbers or stats to include? Do you institute limits like level caps, stat caps, etc? Do you have HP and MP, and if so what do they represent? Do you go with Str/Dex/Con/Int/Wis, maybe with Luck also a stat to be raised?

    There's no wrong answers, but I'm curious how you guys would approach it.
     
  2. Mordecai

    Mordecai Drunken Scotsman –§ Prestigious §– DLP Supporter

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    I've never really understood what a LitRPG is, so just to clarify - you're talking about a fic where you intertwine the story with some form of traditional RPG mechanics?

    If so, in the HP context I'd think the best way to build it in would be to do mechanics to govern skill levels in each magical discipline. Some spells might require you to be a specific level before you can cast them, and other spells would simply be more powerful if you are a higher level - for example a level 3 shield wouldn't block a level 5 curse.
     
  3. sildet

    sildet Sixth Year

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    I too have been on a litRPG trash binge lately, and I really really want someone to attempt to write a good one. I feel like the system needs to be similar to Seaborn on RoyalRoad for the story to be great, already implemented into the world, where everyone knows what it is.
     
  4. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    LitRPG, is a literary genre combining the conventions of computer RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels. The term is a neologism introduced in 2013. The proponents of the term state that in LitRPG, games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the story, and visible RPG statistics (for example strength, intelligence, damage) are a significant part of the reading experience. Typically, the main character in a LitRPG novel is consciously interacting with the game or game-like world and attempting to progress within it.
    (Wikipedia definition)

    Basically, it's a story where a game-like system is part of the narrative, known to the character, and it's also visible for the reader.
     
  5. Mordecai

    Mordecai Drunken Scotsman –§ Prestigious §– DLP Supporter

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    Can you throw me a link to a good HP example so I can try and get my head round it?
     
  6. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    I don’t know that there are any ‘good’ ones that have made it past the set-up stage.

    The best is by someone on DLP. I forget who. But it hasn’t gotten past very early chapters if I remember right.

    Here’s a typical/standard one so you can get a feel for the concept:
    https://m.fanfiction.net/s/11950816/1/

    Don’t expect to be blown away.

    If you want good examples there are some outside of HP. There’s one with Arthas from Warcraft. I think one with ASoIaF. Naruto. Just no ‘good’ HP ones past set up stage.
     
  7. Reign

    Reign Fourth Year

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    What you want to 'leave aside' is the whole reason why LitRPG stories are considered trash and is much more important then the game-like system. Ignoring that huge problem some other stumbling blocks show up in LitRPG stories.

    Oversaturation - Leveling to fast, to many skills, spells, or items that aren't relevant to the story and are there just to watch Numbers Go Up.

    Nuance - There isn't any subtlety in the gaining or using of skills, spells, attributes etc.

    Any game-like system can be interesting if the plot, setting and story logic support it. An example would be of a system that only has 1 attribute stat. What it is doesn't matter but the how its used and why it matters would make for an interesting story.

    TL;DR: Don't spam blue box's. Be creative.

    @Mordecai Found two stories in my Calibre that I rated higher than two stars. There are many more LitRPG/The Gamer fics in the Worm fandom and Original stories then in Harry Potter.
    Harry Potter and the Train to Nowhere Abandoned, 21k words.
    Harry Potter: Game of the Year Edition Abandoned, 37k words.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
  8. Mordecai

    Mordecai Drunken Scotsman –§ Prestigious §– DLP Supporter

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    Thanks for setting my expectations. A couple of chapters in and I'm definitely not convinced about this style of fic.
     
  9. Thaumologist

    Thaumologist Dark Lord

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    First of all - there should be no penalties to your numbers being higher. If your viewpoint character is the only person to have this system in place, then there should come a point where their passive stats enable them to do pretty much anything, and natural obstacles suddenly aren't. It feels stupid having to specify Big Number Is Good, but I remember a wide viewpoint on SB that having a high 'luck' didn't just increase your good luck, but also increased your bad luck, because the system was stupid. This would also manifest along the lines of "Having OP equipment is good, so getting it is lucky. Therefore, we'll throw an overlevelled monster at you, so that you get overpowered loot. So being in a life-or-death battle you have no way to win is due to a high LCK!"

    As an addendum to that, having stat imbalances be a problem is fine! If having a STR of [Charles Atlas] and a DEX of [newborn baby] means the character is the only real person in a world of tissue paper, this is great! It's a problem that can be rectified, and gives plot. This is something I've not seen frequently (only touched on in Seaborn, that I recall)


    Secondly, I don't care (for the most part) about the actual numbers. I don't need to know that being flicked in the ear for making a crude pun costs 1HP, or that working out for 17 minutes at 85% of your 1RM gives you +1 to STR. Having the core information (LVL, HP, MP, SP, XP, STR, DEX, CON, WIS, CHA, INT, LCK) summarised is useful, but completely non-essential. Having a full listing of your character sheet after every encounter, detailing every skill you have (including the lol-worthy dishwashing/dog-shit-up-picking/letter-opening skill they got back in chapter 1) is a waste of space. Take the most recent chapter of Delve, which has a 7.5 page copy of the character's sheet.

    This also extrapolates to skills and perks that interact with the core stats - the compulsory second chapter, that details the character putting one point into each skill to figure out how regen rates work - is a waste of your time as a writer. The only reason to do this over a few thousand words, rather than a summary of "After breakfast, Dudley was happy to see that all his points were back, as expected"; is if the character misses something - rather regeneration being 10% of CON per minute, it's actually just a flat 5 HP/Minute, and this screws them over. I have yet to see this.

    Tracking skills narratively, rather than with a character sheet that readers can see, also allows you to rule-of-cool encounters. If you've already written that 'Mana Strike' deals 0.75(Str+Int) damage, and that a crit ignores DR then doubles final damage, you're limited in how much damage a final shot can deal. And if you've written out how much HP an enemy has, then they just turn into HP bars that need chipping away at, rather than something that can be smote in a single blow. As a reader, either way would be fine, but RoC is more interesting to read than trading blows for several paragraphs in a race to 0.

    That said, if you're tracking any numbers, you should be tracking *ALL* the numbers; and leaving an updated character sheet at the end of each chapter. Give us the raw numbers, and the final numbers after any perks or skills come into play. Make everything available.

    Final point on the numbers - what do they mean? I want to know how the character's stats line up against people. Is 10 adult average, 15 top-tier, and 20 mortal limit? Or is it a 0-100 system, and 100 is being literally omnipotent? Does it function on a linear scale, where each point is 10kg you can bench; or a (not really) logarithmic scale, where each point is a doubling of maximum on the total of the main Olympic Five?



    Skills.

    Be careful not to over-saturate them - Mana Arrow, Mana Bolt, Mana Bullet, Spinning [attack], Double [attack], Double Spinning [attack], Fire Infused [attack], Ice Infused [attack], Spinning Fire Infused [attack]...

    The list grows exponentially. And then only one or two will be used, whilst all the rest are left behind. To avoid this, I'd fold the skills together (no specific examples to point to here, but it's common-ish). So once your protagonist has two or three mana-based projectile attacks, then they all consolidate into the "Mana Projectile" skill. If levelling individual skills is important for overall EXP or something, then this can reward bonus EXP for levelling, commensurate with the total sacrificed skills. Similarly, you can fold all forms of melee weaponry into [melee weaponry]; and potentially ranged, melee, armour, and everything else into an [armaments or combat] skill.

    If you can't create new skills, or each 'skill' is a perk within a skill (Mana Bolt is a perk within [Mage Attack], for example), then it's fine. But avoiding bloat is the goal here.

    Personally, I don't mind if having a high skill level gives bonuses to attacks or whatever. But at the same point, I don't want to read something where the character wins because he spent twelve hours smithing iron daggers, so can now make armour out of congealed demon, so can't be hurt.

    Going back against that again, though, the character using an underutilised skill (or class) can be fun to read through. As an example - Villager Three, where the main character is using a class that everyone says is terrible. She disagrees, whether that's because she's a child or because she's right hasn't yet been confirmed, but at it makes her more unique in universe.



    Skill ceiling - I like to know this in advance, if it's not unique, but also information on the general skill levels, to indicate how good the character is at things.

    Levelling - Again, I like to know this, and how everything interacts. So all skills go up to 10, 25, 50, 100 depending on skill rarity, and a character's level is 0-100; with the overall level increasing when you hit benchmarks in skill levels (so you need a total of Skill Level 100 to hit Level 10, like Stardew). Or you gain EXP for doing anything, which goes towards the skill and towards your level (such as Skyrim).

    HP, MP, SP - In a 'Gamer' style fic, I like these as solid values - it's not possible to die until your HP hits 0. However, they also work as abstractions, where they're just an indicator of how near death you are, and it's still possible to cut someone's head off at full health without it being a critical hit.

    If I was to design one (setting wide, not for a single character):
    Character has a level, this depends on total EXP gained across all skills.
    => Level Limit means that you can have characters deliberately limit their growth - if they've taken five levels in [Peasant] by puberty, then they'll never be able to become a soldier
    => No Level Limit means that there's going to be all sorts of zany builds, where someone dipped 'frogcatcher' for six months to get some obscure tadpole based skill.

    Seven Stats - limited stat points on level up, possibly limited to milestones.
    => Average adult has around 10 in a stat. 20 is viewed as upper limit (that can be reached by non-protagonist).
    => Higher scores happen, but they're world class - Eddie Hall might have 20+ in STR for example

    Infinite Skills, but similar ones tend to consolidate. This can be partially directed: one person might have 'Interpersonal Communication', whilst another might have 'Diplomacy' and 'Intimidation'. The first person has one skill to cover everything, the second has one for positive and one for negative interactions.
    => Hitting milestones (whether these be decimalised, or based on mystical symbolism) gives bonus perks.
    => Probably a limit to the total number of skills? Maybe based on stats, but this would encourage consolidation of skill groups
    => Common skills have a ceiling of 10, with rarer skills having higher ceilings.
    ==> Again, this encourages consolidation of skills, so shorter character sheets - merging 'Shepherd' and 'Cowboy' into 'Animal Rancher' should be a bonus.
    ==> Also means that each person's skillset is more unique - they're not just cardboard cutout NPCs

    Anything part of the system has to either be common, or have a reason why it's not.
    => If everyone can see 'mana points', then why do some people not use magic? Religion, Character Build?
    => If HP is a solid value, and needs to be reduced, how does that impact warfare?
     
  10. aAlouda

    aAlouda Groundskeeper

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    After reading many such stories, I think this is how you can remove most of the problems

    Most importantly I would not Include Grinding, reading how the MC spend hours every day killing a tons of monsters in boring fights and becomes much stronger or how they spend a lot of time just keeping their skills active, while doing other stuff to increase their strenght isn't interesting to me

    So instead the only way to earn experience to level up would be through quests granted by the system. These Quests are not neccesarily tasks given to the gamer by other people, but can also just form out of stuff they are aware of. For example if they hear about a serial killer being active in a certain neighborhood, then they would likely receive a quest to catch them. To stop the gamer just taking their time with everything and just building up a backlog of unsolved quests, they would all have time limits depending on their nature, with the serial killer for example you'd have to catch the before the police does or they move on. The quest themselves do not offer other rewards through the system, but many of them give you the opportunity to just normally earn rewards.

    There would also just be two stats, Mind and Body, with Mind being about increasing your speed of thought, memory and learning speed, while Body would be about general stuff like Stength, Speed, Flexibility and endurance. Both of these stats would affect the effectiveness of certain skills depending on their nature( stuff like science or magic would obviously be Mind, while stuff like martial arts or parkour would be Body). You can increase a stat each time you level up, but you have to choose them the moment you accept the level up. This is to prevent the gamer from just not using their stat points and storing them for later, which in many such stories is never.

    For Skills in order to avoid grinding I'd just have them increase each time you use them in a way actually better than your skill level should allow. For example to increase your smithing skill it does not make a difference if you succesfully smithed one or a thousand iron daggers, you would actually have to succed in smithing something harder like a steel dagger or iron armor.

    Otherwise I mostly agree with Thaumologist.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
  11. Cxjenious

    Cxjenious Dark Lord

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    Challenge accepted.
     
  12. Heosphoros

    Heosphoros Fourth Year

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    As someone who is always looking for litRPG/Gamer shit yet has numerous niggles when reading them, I have a thought or two on the subject. Firstly, when dealing with numbers less is more, both in their value and the amount of them around. One thing that encourages all the grinding is having something like skills that goes up to 100. Since it would be cheap to just have "and them he grinded 40 levels of skill" the author feels the need to slowly improve it on screen. And as each level up is just one hundredth of the final goal, it's pretty meaningless as an achievement.

    Games have gameplay and all sorts of psychological tricks to make incremental grinding somewhat exciting, but in novels it's just boring. The solution is to condense, if a skill instead goes up to 10, each level is a sizable milestone, where both the effort and the achieved result can have tangible storytelling fruits. The same goes for everything else you can level up. In the same vein, have skills with a broad range. A single Fire Magic skill instead to one for every conceivable spell.

    For Stat Points, I wouldn't go above 6 distinct atributes, less if the setting allows or there isn't a class system to be balanced. If I were to write an HP litRPG, for instance, I would probably put everything that governs the physical body into 1 stat as to make it less of a dump stat. There is a huge problem when dealing with the likes of Wisdom, Charisma and Intelligence. Once the character reach super human level on those it might be tricky for an author portray that capability believably. Furthermore, these characteristics are often deeply intertwined with certain mindsets, experiences and personalities. Thus almost always resulting in some cheapness regarding characterization/character growth as those change with a press of a button. My choice is having the mental stats being something like Mind, Spirit, Will, Sense; vaguer of specific stuff that can be assigned to a more hardware sort of mental improvement.

    Lastly, Health Points. I find myself disliking its presence more and more . Honestly its only justification for me is that it's so eponymous of games that it might be a requirement for the RPG feeling. Other than that, it greatly simplifies combat and incentivize a shitload of numbers all over the place. I don't mind so much when it's limited to the single game character protagonist, but if there is a "real" world in the fiction, HP has no place in it.
     
  13. Gengar

    Gengar Polymagus ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    I've thought about this a lot. I love LitRPGs, but the trash to readable scale is heavily weighted in the former. I search through audible's library daily trying to find new ones I really like, and often end up returning them - that doesn't mean there aren't many I really enjoy.

    Stats are an interesting one. How much sense does it have to make? In my mind I think a lot, but how do you quantify traits like intelligence and wisdom with a number? Does putting on a helmet that increases intellect make you smarter? What defines 'smartness'? Your knowledge? Your ability to parse information? Memory recall? Does putting on that helmet increase all three by .3%? Wtf does that even mean?

    I think it's best to just sidestep those questions. Instead of Intellect (the common stat in RPGs for casters), have the Mind stat, and make it so it works synergistically with classes/abilities to increase player power in some way - for example, the Mind stat would let you 'slot in' more skills the higher the stat is, speaking of...

    Skills. Skill bloat is real. How ridiculous do you get with this? How invasive? Does the 'magic' of the system impart knowledge? Or can you only get skills by doing the hard work and learning the skill? If so, what does the number next to each skill mean? Is it just a sign of proficiency? Compared to what?

    What determines what is and what isn't a skill? Why so?

    Personally, I think I like the idea that 'skills' are just magic that boosts the effectiveness of the skill in question. You can be a Blacksmith without the Blacksmithing skill, but the skill provides benefits that would make your talent at the art more effective - example, reduced stamina loss while smithing, the higher the skill the better the effect.

    I mentioned earlier the idea of slotting skills. This combats the concept of a stupidly long skill sheet from Walking to Basic Arithmetic to Breathing. Literally everything you do can be considered a skill, so remove the concept entirely and have a system where one chooses the skills they want to 'slot in' to their character and work on. Tie it to the Mind stat, which increases the amount of skills a person can slot. This meshes neatly with caster-types historically needing Mind-related stats to do their thing too - a skilled Wizard would be skilled and learned in many branches of magic for example.

    Critical Strike as it works in video games is stupid. The more realistic a VR/LitRPG world gets, the less sense having a % chance to land a critical strike makes. You're either smart enough to spot an enemy's weak points, or you're not. Tie it to perception.

    Don't give a character some kind of short-range teleport combat ability and constantly forget to have them use it. This one is maddening, it's safer to not give them that skill at all. You can extrapolate this into a more general point of not giving a character too many skills, have them use the few they have more cleverly.

    Dexterity and Agility are not the same thing. The former should pertain to activities that require a deft touch and skill fingers - picking a lock, shooting a bow, jewelcrafting, musician - the latter is for gymnasts.

    Snarky System Notifications are already a tired trope don't do it.

    Respawning
    has a negative effect on tension, I'd avoid it. If the story is set in a VR game, don't worry that people wouldn't play a permadeath VRMMO. There's no way that would deter people from playing such an incredible game - though there would be bitching...


    I have way more thoughts about this topic, these are just the ones off the top of my head. Generally though, you want to use classic MMOs as an inspiration for systems, not a guide.
     
  14. Clerith

    Clerith Ahegao Emperor ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    I binge read almost every Gamer/LitRPG fic I get my hands on. They're my main 'guilty pleasure' type of fic.

    There's been a lot of good discussions already, so I'll list my personal pet peeves instead.

    Dying, getting jacked by a ROB, and making references about this "being like the gamer fanfiction I've read" is the worst first chapter ever. More of a Gamer than LitRPG thing, but it guarantees that the story is going to be pretty shit. No ROBs. No omnipotent existences that just give you a game-like system and sends you to your (the author's) favorite world, usually with some extra perks. Being in a world where everything works on game logic and systems is fine, awakening to the ability is fine, just avoid the active ROB scenario.

    Game systems that are active and chatty are the absolute worst. Rather than a system, they act more like a person. The most terrible ones actively try to control and limit the player. In my eyes, the biggest sin of a game-like story is a system that actively works against you. You could probably write a hallmark story on that premise, but in the average fic? It's just shit. The more in the background and more system-like the game parts are, the more I like it. No actively omnipotent, reality-twisting snarky, sarcastic assholes playing god.

    The "blue box" bloat and character sheet bloat is real. Keep that shit to the minimum, preferably at the end of the chapter.

    I believe that in a good story, the system should be complex, and something the player slowly figures out as he goes. There also shouldn't be arbitrary limits on growth, though balance is obviously up to the writer, and what kind of story and world they want to write.

    Pause and Save and Load being freely available don't really suit a serious or more realistic story. They're usually found in humor and crack kind of stories.

    Almost any kind of stat system works, as long as it's consistent and makes sense. Though... don't make it too math heavy, for your own sake. Simple is best. Skills, on the other hand, are often an ignored and misused system. It's a rare story where you grind your skill levels up to great effect. Skills depend a lot on the type of system you've got going on, but I'd like them to be almost or equally important to stats.

    Speaking or skills, any sort of cheat abilities, like the infamous fiction adaption, and garbage like gacha, that lets you pull random crossover nonsense, is just utter shit.

    LitRPG stories tend to have a lot more serious systems than Gamer stories, but also tend to lose sight of that red thread more often. Hm... how would I go about writing a LitRPG system?

    Either a system that everyone in the world has access to (it's the norm) or something unique to the MC, but something which origin is a mystery. An impartial system with no major personality. Quests would be determined by the MC's goals, and would have very open-ended results and rewards. Not suspicious, specific bonus objectives that the MC ends up fulfilling naturally.

    I'd do the standard six-stat system. Luck would only impact game-related mechanics (no reality warping, no 'bad random encounters'), and no social stats, out of preference. Skill list would be small but very impactful, and there would be a notable focus on mastering skills, and evolving them into stronger and variant versions.

    I'm pretty ambivalent about a class and title system, it's mostly just extra fluff. Classes tend to be just shells that give you a specific array of stats, skills and equipment proficiency. I like something a bit more free-form. Perks can be cool, but I'd avoid any that mentally influence the player in any sense.
     
  15. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Anyone have links to pro-works that are litRPGs? Traditionally published ones in bookstores, complete with a stat system?

    I’m realizing I’ve only seen this online. There’s some genuinely good ones over at RoyalRoad, like Seaborn, and I really enjoyed that Level Up manwha that I read in light novel form, but haven’t seen this in a pro novel yet.

    I have been thinking about it all day since I read about a sports one on RR (haven’t read it yet) and it made me wonder if I might want to write my YA sports story as a LitRPG.

    edit - Ready Player One doesn’t do stats/skills does it?
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2020
  16. Jon

    Jon The Demon Mayor Admin DLP Supporter

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    There are some that get amazon-selfpublished. If you're looking for audiobooks then @Gengar this slut can point you to the best of the best.
     
  17. Thaumologist

    Thaumologist Dark Lord

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    Threadbare is available on Amazon (UK link; US author page; RR link). Pretty sure it's self-published through Amazon Affiliates program or something, but it does now also have an audiobook. I dislike the author's general plan for each story (release as a web serial for first draft, self-publish and then remove the web serials), but I understand it's part of the Amazon T&C to not have it available online for free, so it's not entirely on him. I'm also not certain whether it's all still up, or if sections have been excised.

    Both my brother and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I've not touched it in 14 months, and I'm not always very discerning in what I'll read.
     
  18. Gengar

    Gengar Polymagus ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    As Jon said, I'm addicted to the stuff. While 'best of the best' is a bit of a stretch, there are some I like more than others.

    Note, I don't read books. No time, really. I consume 99% of my litRPGs through audiobook form while I work. If you like RoyalRoad though, a lot of authors get their work published, some even in Audiobook form.

    Before I get into the list I should note: Stat sheets work fine in written form, they are HORRIBLE if your book is converted into Audiobook form. Your mind can absorb stat sheets super quickly just by glancing over it. Having someone read it out though - especially when some authors spam their stat sheets - is truly horrible.

    Honestly, I've listened to dozens at this point and none of them are masterworks. I find them really enjoyable to listen to though - it hits that part of your brain that gets triggered when playing video games, but this time you experience it vicariously through the protagonist.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2020
  19. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Thank you for the best of list! I’m definitely going to check out some more of these. I’ve been on an RR kick lately.

    But it sounds like the answer to my question is actually “no” - there are zero traditionally published books in this format. Sounds like all the ‘books’ are self pub varieties.

    I know that’s probably because the big traditional publishers don’t often go for things already published online but still interesting how potentially open that field is.

    Thanks again! Can’t wait to read (and possibly write).
     
  20. Gengar

    Gengar Polymagus ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    It seems like there are loads of audiobook publishers hoovering up these stories - Podium Publishing is a big sci-fi and fantasy audiobook publisher, they've done a lot of litRPG - but I can't say if the traditional paperback publishers are very much involved, I haven't looked.

    Generally the books that have the big narrators (Nick Podhel, Jeff Hayes, R.C. Bray etc) come with big publishers.

    In the case of Red Mage, one of my recs, I think the SOP is that they either take down their story, or leave up enough to serve as a preview.
     
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