A Literary Level up: What Is LitRPG? | The Urban Writers

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LitRPG: The Genre That’s Revolutionizing Fiction

by The Urban Writers

Remember those days when it seemed simpler to marvel at magic? We could enter other realms through wardrobes, become part of fellowships, join academies dedicated to wizardry, or journey across the galaxy. Yet, now, it seems like we’ve seen it all.

Perhaps you’re not the idle bystander waiting to read the next big thing. As a matter of fact, your aim may be to write it yourself. But how do you gauge what your readers want next?

The genres of fantasy and science fiction are saturated with overused stereotypes, tropes, and monomyths. Every plot twist has been unwound and every cliffhanger has a bridge built to avoid it.

It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel, or rather, reinvent the hero’s journey. Still, does that mean the writer’s quest log is at an end?

A new age has dawned that calls the author to take their audience deeper into the story than ever before, and with it, it brought what is called LitRPG.

What Is LitRPG? 

Defining the Genre

LitRPG (Literary Role-Playing Game) is an emerging genre of fiction that combines the experience of digital role playing games with traditional narrative plotlines. It weaves a story around a protagonist that consciously immerses themselves in a virtual world to follow the quests and challenges set by the game realm.

It is not to be confused with choose-your-own-path storylines or novels that expand the lore of existing RPG games. 

Instead, imagine you are the spectator to someone playing as their World of Warcraft avatar, witnessing their progression through in-game campaigns while observing their development through visible statistics such as health, agility, strength, or intelligence. 


LitRPG only gained mainstream attention in the last decade or so, but the principles by which proper LitRPG operate may have been around for almost 30 years. 

The rise of MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) in the late 1990s was a large driving force to its modern popularity. Though a brief history has been mapped by its proponents, a general consensus seems to exist that the term may have originated in 2013 from a brainstorming session held by three major figures of the major Russian publishing house, EKSMO.

RPG Book Types and Themes

Whether you're a virtual gunslinger or a mystic, you will find that the thematic spectrum of the genre is expansive enough to feed your wildest fantasies. Gaming mechanics, plotline, purpose, and setting all play a role in determining the types of LitRPG you can play around with. 

Here is a list of LitRPG types:

  • Builder: Where the protagonist becomes an active role player in constructing a base, settlement, or dungeon in which the story is contextualized.
  • Crafting: An RPG where the hero engages in imbuing their weapons or artifacts with special enhancements.
  • Harem: An edgy theme where the main character lives out their erotic fantasies with other characters who wish to engage sexually.
  • Dungeon-core: The majority of the gameplay unfolds in a dungeon-like environment.
  • Grimdark: Involves the merger of the horror genre with the virtual world.

This list by no means exhausts the options. Some types involve OP (over-powered) protagonists or even LitFPS (first-person shooter) elements. The takeaway: for every RPG type, there is a book waiting to be written!

Cracking the Code: Every Story Needs a System 

Traditional narratology and fictional epics often employ the template known as The Hero’s Journey. A call to adventure summons the hero from an ordinary world into a special realm where they are faced with a transformative ordeal that would see them returned home as different from when they started. 

Take a look at this video for more about this Hero’s Journey.

So, what sets LitRPG apart then?

Ever heard of the infamous Ready Player One by Ernest Cline? If you haven’t seen the film adaptation, then give your inner 80s kid a visual joyride! 

Despite its release in the midst of the genre’s increasing hype during 2011, many regard it as forming part of a subgenre called GameLit. 

Even though the character crosses the threshold into virtual reality, character level progression is not as heavily relied on to tell the story. For LitRPG, stepping into your in-game avatar is not enough. Some elements need to be in place.

The Magic Formula 

The Virtual Word

Regardless of the shape of the quest, the hero can only embark on it after crossing the threshold. This leads to the in-game realm, where the bulk of the hero’s storyline unfolds. 


Once crossed, whether by accident or intention, the hero is fully aware that they are navigating a virtual reality. In simple terms, they are aware of their in-game awareness. They know there is a clear distinction between their real selves and the virtual selves they portray inside the gaming world.

Rulebook to the Game

The protagonist is aware the game entered operates with a system. Their presence in the world subjects them to its rules, and their choices dictate their success, survival, and the missions bestowed on them.

Character Progression

Since being coined, LitRPG has incorporated the crunch of a stats-driven character development. It means that fans of the genre wish to see a progress that can be measured where the character levels up, raises their skills, and has a value count added to their attributes.

Imagine this—you read how a mage casts a spell to throw a glacial blast at the burning maw of the dragon. The attack of the beast backfires and it is defeated. Suddenly, you read:

Intrigued? You weren’t the only one.

Playing With Pioneers 

What was the first LitRPG book? It is difficult to say. 

Elements of the genre have abounded over the years. A good reference point are works like the popular Korean series, Legendary Moonlight Sculptor, with over 50 volumes. 

Later on, stat-heavy novels became a staple of the genre, emerging into mainstream audiences through publishers like Magic Dome Books who were responsible for translating many works from Russian LitRPG.

Notable LitRPG Authors

Aleron Kong, styled as the father of the genre in America, has made strides with his bestselling Chaos Seeds saga. Through him, other authors, like Edwin McRae, also became infatuated, producing books like the Reign of Blood duology. Another example of work has come from Travis Bagwell who is responsible for Awaken Online.

RPG Books: Applying the Formula

The Land: Founding, Book 1 in Kong’s series, is a good example of how the equation of LitRPG is followed beautifully. 

The tale follows the hero, Richter, who is tricked to dwell in a land of ousted magical creatures. In order to challenge this new fate, he is set with the task of 1) progressing in his power 2) in a virtual world 3) with rules that will govern how he forges a kingdom and his own path. 

He does all this while aware that his choices can shape the outcome of his survival. Through this, Aleron also marries subgenres like builder, crafting RPG, and cultivation novels.

Leveling Up: Joining the Revolution 

Why Become a LitRPG Author? 

Do you often muse on how difficult it is to come up with something original? Literature has taken us to some intense places—the bowels of hell or the edge of the galaxy—or given us charismatic villains that we hate so much that we actually start to like them.  Oddly enough, whatever the hero does, they will always be good, with their victory secured. They almost become predictable. So, what if the main character is only as good as their skill-level? No dumb luck, support, or evasive tactic will stop a Level 1 Rookie from bowing down to a Level 50 Champion.  The interesting thing about LitRPG is that it took an invaluable cue from the gaming world—victory is uncertain. It all depends on the player. Only this time, you're not the one with the controller.   

Understanding the Buy-In

Paramount to a good LitRPG novel is the way in which gaming mechanics is woven into the plotline. It simulates the excitement of progressing through the game while negating the pressure to play it yourself.  Here are some reasons why the hype of genre is gaining traction:

- Measurable achievements: One completed quest ultimately leads to unlocking the next.
- Instant gratification: The experience of reaping rewards without investing the time and effort in gameplay to reach it oneself.
- Cultivation: Satisfaction at seeing a character improving in prowess through level ups and added skill points.
- Fast-pace and high octane action: A vicarious adrenaline rush by reading how another plays through a game universe while unsure of their next action.
- Immersion: Identifying with the main character’s glee in becoming someone completely different to who they are in real life—whether it be stronger, braver, or more intelligent.

The End Game 

So, what’s your game plan? 

As a writer, you may have tried to reawaken tired plotlines, realizing it may not guarantee reader investment. They need more motivation. It might help boost your character after every conquest and give the reader a benchmark that leaves them asking: will the hero make it this time? 

What better way to write a page-turner?

The evolution of the genre is an ongoing discussion. Joining a community may not be a bad idea to learn how to become a good LitRPG writer.

Perhaps you're as keen on honing your writing skills as you are at honing magical equipment. Partaking in writing events like NaNoWriMo could connect you with others that will help you write your first book!

Think you're a novice with words? Why not approach a master wordsmith, and find a ghostwriter to take your story to that next level. At The Urban Writers, we have a team of avid gamers who love getting lost in pages as much as they love the realm of gaming. Let them bring your story to life and join the genre that’s revolutionizing fiction.

Ready to level up? Game on.


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