The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack




LitRPGs are a vibrant new subgenre of sf and fantasy that derive from role playing and computer role playing games. 


2D6 by Robert Bevan

Bevan’s second collection of short stories in his Caverns and Creatures series is loads of fun. You do not have to have read the main books to enjoy it. The basic underlying plot is that a bunch of friends have been physically transported into their gaming world and are trying to figure out what to do with themselves. So, naturally, they go adventuring in an effort to pick up levels and wealth. And, because they are totally incompetent both in the real world and the game world, they get into a lot of hilarious trouble. Whether it’s Julian (elf wizard) trying to talk to all the monsters like they are just people in the real world, or Cooper (half orc barbarian) with his intestinal issues, or Tim (halfling thief) getting mistaken for a stone giant’s baby, the laughs just keep coming. This is the sort of collection you want to save for a bad day when you need something to make you smile.

In Order

Critical Failures by Robert Bevan

This is one of the most enjoyable LitRPGs I’ve ever read. The basic plot is fairly typical—a group of role-playing gamers get transported into their role-playing universe and have to learn to survive as their characters. But the differences are what makes this story great. First, there’s a real-world bad guy—Mordred the Cavern Master (the game is Creatures and Caverns). He’s a super nerd with a set of magic dice that he uses to transport the players into his world after they irritate him. (And to be fair, they were being really irritating—ribbing each other and him and other forms of goofing off.) This is where the second great distinguishing characteristic comes to play. Even after what happens to them, even with the terrible situation they are in, the players can’t stop fooling around and teasing each other. At times this seems crazy, but it really makes the whole book a lot of fun and strangely more realistic.

Add in that two of the people have no experience with the game, two of the players have chosen races that normally hate each other, and that Mordred keeps interfering in their game, messing with them, and sometimes communicating with them, and the enjoyment keeps going up. Even better, at times Mordred helps at least one of them, making it unclear for a while if he is actually a total villain.

Finally, the ending was a complete surprise to me. It’s just wonderfully done.

Critical Failures 2 by Robert Bevan

The cast of Critical Failures returns to discover how they can actually survive in a D&D style world and two things happen to them almost simultaneously. The first is that most of the group of second level characters find a bar with a whole lot of people in exactly their situation—real-earth people transformed into their characters and stranded on this world by the insane Cavern Master, Mordred. They are angry and frightened that our heroes think they have killed Mordred (however accidentally) in our world because it means they can never get home.

The second thing happens to Tim’s sister Catherine and her boyfriend (who weren’t part of the original game but got caught by Mordred when they figured out something was wrong). Catherine is mesmerized by a vampire who takes both of them home.

So, that’s the set up—lots of other characters annoyed with our (admittedly annoying) heroes and Catherine the “willing” prisoner of a vampire. But there’s one more problem. Four of the newly discovered players turned actual characters are in this world willingly. They’re middle school kids who love being able to live their game and are tough enough that no one can discipline them. And it looks like they are going to be really angry when they find out their friend Mordred has been killed.

So there is plenty going on in this book. It’s not quite up to the standard of the first, but it’s still a lot of fun. Trying to rescue Catherine from the vampire leads to many hilarious situations and I absolutely loved the way that most of the “players” reacted to being caught in their game world. They don’t want to risk injury and death so they are trying to make non-adventurer lives for themselves while they figure out how to get home.

The ending to this one is superb and sets up what will hopefully be a great sequel.

Critical Failures 3 by Robert Bevan

Something every serious D&D player has fantasized about at some point is what they would do if they had their character’s powers in the real world. That’s most of the plot of Critical Failures 3 and since our cast of heroes aren’t the most competent group of people on the planet, the results of their efforts are quite hilarious.

To be clear, they don’t just have their characters’ abilities, they also are their character races. At the end of the last book, they thought they’d figured out a way to get back home without Mordred’s help only to discover that they could, but they didn’t transform back into normal humans. For a few of them—Tim the Halfling for example—I understood his desire to fix this problem. But for most of the rest, I’m not sure I would have been in as big of a hurry to get transformed back into a normal person again. But the characters did want to, and their efforts to catch up with Mordred provide a delightfully madcap adventure. The novel also adds three new characters and an NPC who might as well be a character to the cast.

Finally, the entire book, the reader watches Mordred prepare the four middle school kids who delight in living in a fantasy world and call themselves the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to come back to the real world and destroy our cast of heroes. I don’t think Bevan could have handled that final encounter any better. It’s amazing, and like the rest of the book, absolutely hilarious.

Critical Failures 4 by Robert Bevan

Cavern Master Mordred has escaped into his fantasy world minus his magic dice and the hunt is on to track him down again. Most of the characters (maybe all) still want to return to the real world, but even if they didn’t, Mordred is bent on conquering the world he created so he can get his revenge on the PCs. In addition to the delightfully incompetent original cast, Bevan treats us to three new characters, my favorite of which is Randy, who is a paladin who chooses for his god—Jesus Christ.

Now, I think everyone needs to be forewarned that everything that happens around Randy the Paladin from that point forward is sacrilegious to the max, but it is also hilarious as a fantasy world attempts to understand Jesus—something Randy never seems to understand very well. Bevan’s fantasy world interpretation is both hilarious and somewhat logical and it sets up a wonderfully madcap ending.

And while some characters seem to be trying really hard to take life seriously and accomplish something, we also get reminded in no uncertain terms that none of these people were particularly successful in their original earthly lives and those character flaws that hurt them in reality are also present in the fantasy world.

There were a LOT of surprises in this one. Four volumes is not enough for this series and I’m glad to note that there are several more to enjoy.

D6 by Robert Bevan

Bevan’s first collection of short stories in his Caverns and Creatures series is a lot of fun both for anyone who has enjoyed the series thus far and for anyone who likes roleplaying games in general. I don’t think you need to have read the series to enjoy these tales. They take the form of fairly classic D&D style adventures. None of them are particularly memorable, and yet each was a lot of fun as I listened to it. If you like roleplaying games, I think you’ll like these too.