In the various LitRPG groups / writing groups that I am in, the question of what is LitRPG / what are the tropes for writing a LitRPG book comes up quite often.

Sometimes, it’s an honest question because the writer is new and they’re writing a ‘soft’ LitRPG book. A book that might not deal with levels very much or have Loot drops or be in a virtual word.

Sometimes, it’s from an experienced author coming into the genre, trying to figure out if an old book they’ve written can be repackaged if edited to be come ‘LitRPG’ or they are attempting to ‘write to market’.  These are more ‘dishonest’ question in a way, because writers who ask these questions often show their lack of research in the genre.

The problem is, the genre is so new there are very few ‘tropes’ that seem to hold true.  Some of the best selling series out there include:

And trust me, there are a TON more LitRPGs. VR LitRPGs are probably the most popular ‘type’ out there, but as can be seen, the variations of what is popular is quite, quite wide.

Asking the question what ‘tropes’ they should hit misses the point. Adventures on Brad has a world that just exists with a Game System in place. The System Apocalypse has the ‘System’ (a Game-like System) just come into existence. No one has tried to tell me it’s not LitRPG.

So how do you write a LitRPG?

My personal view, and how I go about writing mine, is simple.

Levels / Character Progression

To be considered LitRPG, you need ‘levels’. They might not be exactly ‘Level 1 / Level 2 / etc’ but there should be very defined character progression. Preferably in a way that is well known, relatively prominent and measurable.

I’ve seen attribute increases instead of pure levels. Skills that go up defining Level Ups. Advent: Red Mage has skill gems increasing in power and ‘filling’ the character up. Others, like me, have gone more traditional with measurable ‘levels’.

The Game System / Character Progression has to MATTER

What effect has the Game System / the Levels and the like made on the world or story? This can be as simple as being the entire story or it might be more a matter of world building. If everyone has Levels, do people talk of them? Gear their life choices towards specific classes? Are there classes that matter?

It’s like Sanderson’s laws of magic (2nd?). Go deep with an understanding of what a game system effects and you’ll find it alters your writing.

If it’s an AI / Virtual World, what makes it different? Are the NPCs rote or AI based? Are quests simple and routine and repeatable or variable? Are classes balanced or not?

How do I tell?

If you don’t know, take out everything that has the ‘gamelike elements’ in your book. Do you still have a book that makes sense?

If so, you’ve just written a fantasy /sci-fi book. Great! Market it like that. Don’t market it as LitRPG and let the readers decide. Joseph Malik with his Dragon Tail portal fantasy book has done really well marketing his portal fantasy book as a portal fantasy, and many LitRPG readers have embraced it. My cultivation novel the First Step draws a lot of the same readers. And yet, we are both clear we aren’t writing LitRPG.

If your story only sort-of makes sense? Say you story is set in a VR world but does not have levels or classed well defined. You might either have written ‘soft’ LitRPG or possibly GameLit.

Does it no longer make sense? Then you’ve probably written a LitRPG book.

Last Words

This is my own view. Lots of people have others. Take from it what you will. Personally, I think trying to define the genre too heavily and getting grumpy over what is / isn’t isn’t particularly useful. Write a good book, one that you have to write. Not something that you think fits a genre. It’ll probably do better.