I am obsessed with LitRPG books. Reading everything I can get my hands on. As I've been diving head first into all that is LitRPG, RPG Gamelit, or whatever you may want to call it, there are a few recurring things that I feel are necessary to have a "great" novel in this genre.
Here are the top 5 aspects that I look for when searching for LitRPG Authors or LitRPG novels to read:
1. Believable Main Character and Game World
Whether it be someone forced into a game, a willing participant, or other, the main character(s) must be someone you can root for. I have read a few LitRPGs where there was little to no background story given for the MC. How do you root for someone you know nothing about?
Even if it is short, adding details around appearance, personality, past experiences (which may help or hurt the MC in game), can go a long way to maintaining a believable character.
Same goes with the game world. LitRPGs are typically set in diverse and expansive landscapes. They need to make sure they have the necessary details to make it come to life.
2. Plausible Circumstance That Led to the Main Character Becoming Trapped in the Alternate World
Some LitRPGs can be quick to jump to the action. Seemingly inserting the MC into the alternate world with a snap of the fingers. Used correctly, how someone enters into the world can add much needed boost to the overall story.
Whether they are about to die and the only way to save them is to enter them into a virtual reality simulated environment, or they are forced by an evil corporation, enough detail needs to be provided to understand how/why they are in this new reality.
3. Clear Game Mechanics
Nothing is worse than having a MC that is able to defeat someone or something that is, say, a level 10, while the MC is a level one. Just as bad, randomly assigning skill increases that do not seem to have an effect or learning new skills that the MC never uses.
New and unique game mechanics can help break the monotony of the typical MMORPG/RPG based LitRPG and add intrigue.
Conversely, adding too many unique or unbelievable game mechanics can distract the reader from the main plot. Especially if it tends to be a skill that gives the MC an unfair advantage in the game/world.
Be creative, but be smart!
4. Convincing NPC/Other player character interactions in game
If there are other player characters in the game world, the interactions need to make sense. They should add to the story or add another dimension to the main story line. (Awaken Online) If they are just there for the sake of being there, why add them in the first place?
NPC interactions can be fun/romantic/dangerous. Add some personality to your NPCs. The same old canned NPC responses are not necessary. NPCs becoming part of the larger story overall (Alpha World) is becoming more common, and can add a whole other dimension to the novel.
5. Clear Goal or Struggle
The MC should have an end goal, or well thought out antagonist. If the main character spends all of their time just exploring/questing, but never getting anywhere, it can become monotonous.
In many of the same ways that building your main character gives you someone to root for, clearly defining the "enemy" can give you someone/thing to root against.
In the end, it really comes down to personal preference. If you don't care too much about the game mechanics behind the main characters leveling/progression in the game world, then LitRPG may not be for you. On the plus side, there are so many great books out there now, whether they be LitRPG, Gamelit, or just good ol' Fantasy, there is something out there for everyone.
©2018 J.S. Grulke