How Felicia Day Turned a Gig Into Her Newest Geeky Obsession
The nerdy media icon gushes about her newest obsession that combines books with RPGs.
Work/life balance is a little hard to define for Felicia Day.
“I have a lot of different things that I do,” Day tells Inverse. “A lot of them, they start as hobbies and they become my profession.” The actor and author doesn’t need to show just how many hobbies she has — chatting on Zoom in front of an absolutely stuffed bookshelf, Day simply has to gesture behind her to prove that she’s made being a nerd her full-time job. “Behind me, I have lots of tabletop games, role-playing games, figurines, computer things,” she says.
But in one particular instance, that process was reversed: An audiobook narration gig became a new obsession. After narrating the audiobook for Matthew Siege’s Rule of Cool, she discovered the world of literary RPGs — books replicating the feeling of RPGS complete with stats, leveling, magic systems, and worldbuilding. Commonly called litRPGs, they’re a fairly niche subsect of fantasy media. But for someone like Day with a proven pedigree in the roleplaying world, it might be the next step in the evolution of fantasy storytelling.
“That job inspired me to start digging into the genre, and I discovered a few great titles like The Wandering Inn,” Day says. However, she already had her hands full with book-related fandom. “I was on a real ancient Greek kick, and also romance novel kick at the time,” she says. But then, just a little over a year ago, her brother sent her a book. “I would be like, ‘I’ll read this. What’s the next one? And the next one.’”
Ever since then, there’s been no stopping her. “The wonderful thing about litRPG is that a lot of the authors will do 10 books in a series. You could just binge and live in a world for weeks, and it’s such a delight,” Day says.
Day spoke to Inverse about her newest fantasy-lit obsession from what makes a good adventure to what’s on her TBR pile, to whether or not she’d ever try her hand at writing one.
Geeking Out is an Inverse series in which celebrities tell us about their nerdy and niche interests, hobbies, or collections.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How would you describe litRPGs to the completely uninitiated?
I would say it is a video game and book form. Picture a protagonist, which you could project into going through either an apocalyptic world of Earth or a fantasy world. And basically, as you do things, you level and you’re taking that journey of getting more powerful and fighting bad guys with the main character. I don’t know how to put it. There are so many different kinds, but I guess that would be my bottom line.
What makes a good litRPG?
A good litRPG will have an interesting main character that becomes completely overpowered at a certain point, complicated leveling systems, details with the stats, and fun fighting. That’s why it’s called litRPG — because it is truly a video game in book form.
How did narrating The Rule of Cool inspire you?
It was the first audiobook I’ve ever narrated, and it made me appreciate audiobook narrators a lot more. My friend Wil Wheaton does quite a bit of them, and the stamina that you have to have and the different voices that you have to figure out in your own tone, and it is definitely complicated.
The Rule of Cool is a fun twist on the genre because it’s from the point of an NPC in a game. It is a little bit different from the norm, but I will say that there’s a lot of creativity and if you’re a gamer, you could probably find a book of any type or genre that you would respond to.
How does one narrate such a unique subgenre? How do you narrate stats and leveling and other visual elements?
The book that I narrated was a little lighter on that, but for sure, it is a lot. And there are a couple of narrators who do quite a good job at it. There’s a very famous author now who wrote Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree. He is one of the most famous litRPG narrators there is out there. And Legends & Lattes was his NaNoWriMo [project], I believe, just one year of him writing his own book. You can see influences of it because it does feel like you’re in a D&D world.
Would you ever write one yourself?
I’m already on my way. I have to because I’ve read so many of these. Now, I certainly have not started yet, but I have a spreadsheet of ideas. When I just start an idea, it usually takes like a year, and I just have a spreadsheet or a notepad or a notebook where I just write down random ideas like “dragon with a pig head” or whatever it is, especially about the main character, and I have a hook and a character.
I haven’t really gotten to the worldbuilding of the video game leveling and what class she’s going to be or the ending. And until I know that, I’m not going to start writing. But it is definitely a goal of mine, hopefully next year to dive in and write. I’ve never written a novel before, and because I love the genre so much, I’m definitely going to at least play in that world because it is so fun for me.
“There are some authors who are female in the genre, but it’s certainly not enough.”
What can you tell me about that story?
I can’t tell you anything other than it’s got a female protagonist. A lot of the litRPG books are definitely male-dominated. There’s even a sub-genre of harem books that definitely I’ve never dived into, and I never want to. There are some authors who are female in the genre, but it’s certainly not enough.
I think as the genre gets more popular, jumping in and having more diversity will be fun. But at the end of the day, it’s a very new format and I just love reading whatever I can get my hands on.
I read He Who Fights With Monsters and Dungeon Crawler Carl, and both of them are very intense.
They’re very dude-oriented. I would say that one of my favorites is Azarinth Healer by Rhaegar, and that has a female protagonist who you don’t really know. A lot of the times, you don’t know much about the backstory of the person at all. They might’ve been homeless, they might have had a bad relationship with their father, but it’s very surface. It’s less about character and more about action. Azarinth Healer has a great female lead who really punches with her fists in a very satisfying way.
Battle Mage Farmer by Seth Ring is one of my favorites because it’s about farming, if you like Stardew [Valley]. There’s Battle Mage Farmer and also... What’s the chicken book?
Beware of Chicken.
Beware of Chicken is one of the best ones. And a lot of them are influenced by anime and isekai, Sword Art Online and all those things, and the anime and the manga. It is all derived from that in a way. Some are much more like that, more Eastern in their philosophy.
I noticed in my research that there are two real versions of how to start a litRPG. You can do “I live in a magic world, and these are the magic rules” or “I’ve been dropped into a video game, and I have to navigate the world.”
There are actually several different. There’s one where the Earth is terraformed and taken over by a great system, and basically, your Earth is completely different. It’s an apocalypse, system apocalypse is what they call them. There’s even a good series called System Apocalypse. Then there’s “I’m transported to a magic world where I am living in World of Warcraft” or whatever.
Then there’s a whole other genre of VR, which is people tapping into a game that either is real or real enough. I don’t particularly like those because the stakes aren’t high enough. You just unplug; you’re out. But people love the genre, and there are some really well-written ones like The Land series, but they’re just not for me. I love a “stranger in a strange land” kind of thing.
What are you reading currently?
I’m about to get on a plane, and I have five books on my Kindle that I’ve loaded up. I’m going to go to... I’m currently reading Rune Seeker by J.M. Clarke and C.J. Thompson, Blood Shaper [by WillPowah], and I’m reading Sarah J. Maas’ Crescent City because it looks amazing.
The Serpent of the Wings of Night, my friend Veronica Belmont got me that; System Universe, there’s a new one of those out, and I think it’s No. 6; and I wait with bated breath, Primal Hunter just came out with a new one, which is one of my favorite series by Zogarth. It’s just really fun.
I have a mix between fantasy and these. I really need to read some nonfiction or contemporary fiction, but I just can’t get there yet. That’s my plane reading.
What do you recommend for new people as their first entry into the litRPG world?
It’s really hard to not recommend Dungeon Crawler Carl because it is so funny, it’s accessible, it is really well-written, and it’s just a really good entry point. It’s a lot of humor in it. I think it’s a good entry-level one. I really like Battle Mage Farmer too, because the main character is a hero who just decides to retire to a farm, or Beware of Chicken, which is a person who just gets transported into a person’s body and has to navigate this very martial-arts-oriented world, but there’s sentient chickens and pigs and everything, and it’s very, again, funny and humorous.
I think the fun thing about the genre is there’s a lot of humor in it, which you don’t find in a lot of other genres, and people might think it is “silly.” It’s actually the best part of it because no one takes it too seriously, which I really appreciate.
“Can we just have fun in a different world? Please?”
It’s the book version of a tabletop game, and if you play Dungeons & Dragons, there are always jokes involved.
Exactly. People like humor. I think that’s why I don't watch TV half the time. It’s that all the genre has to be so heavy and so glossy and so ponderous. It’s like, “Can we just have fun in a different world? Please?”
What’s the fan community like with litRPGs?
It’s very incestual. I think that authors reference each other in their books, and there are winks and nods; I think they take tropes from each other and integrate them into their own work. I have a whole list of like, “This is fun. This was in three of them. I’m going to put that in mine.” It really is an homage to the community in a way, and I think that’s beautiful. I see that a lot of the community is around Facebook groups. I’m a member of two or three, and I get lots of recommendations from there. A lot of the authors are in there posting their new books there. It’s strange in that it’s very Facebook-centered.
I know Reddit probably has a really thriving community, but it is community-based and people, they will listen. It’s a lot of people who listen to audiobooks as well. It’s very audiobook-focused, and you’ll just go through 10 of them. The Good Guys series has, I think, 12 out and I can’t wait for the next one. I’m just like, "What’s he going to do? He’s got a big sword. What’s going to happen next time? Who knows?”
What do you prefer: reading a litRPG or being at the table and playing an RPG that way?
I love doing in-person things, but I love reading. My daughter goes to bed at 9 now for some reason, and I don’t have the strength to go watch TV, so I go to bed, but I will not give up my hour of reading. I love reading. I love being able to just transport my brain to another world. Again, litRPG, the way that it treats my brain is almost like playing a video game, which could be good or bad. I’m not sure.
“I guess that’s ‘bad storytelling,’ but actually that’s the appeal.”
I’m certainly not reassessing my idea of the world with these books. It’s certainly popcorn, and it’s the most delicious popcorn. After a whole day, I don’t want to be reading Hegel. It’s a long day. I need some popcorn.
It’s like watching somebody on Twitch, but there’s a narrative and there’s stakes. And it’s very exciting when one of them gets their sidekick animal. There’s one series, Road to Mastery, with Brock the Brorilla, and I can’t wait for scenes with Brock.
A lot of the leads are just sometimes just dudes, and they’re not very smart. I’m just like, “This guy’s not very smart, but I can’t stop reading this series.” I’m not sure if the author deliberately made them not too smart or if it’s actually tongue-in-cheek. I think it’s more tongue-in-cheek. It’s almost like a genre thing.
But then they always turn out to be more powerful and kick ass. It’s fun. There’s no stakes; there’s no tension. I guess that’s “bad storytelling,” but actually, that’s the appeal. It’s more like watching reality TV. I don’t under any circumstances think that the main character is going to be harmed. They’re going to kick ass, and they’re going to come out on top and be more powerful and get more skills and be a bigger badass, and thank you. That’s what I want in life. I love it. Give it to me, put it in my veins.
I know Dungeon Crawler Carl got optioned by somebody in Hollywood, maybe we’ll see some litRPG, and I think there are existing examples like Ready Player One or Sword Art Online.
But this is really a genre of its own, with its own tropes, own methodologies. And the more you read, the more you realize, “This is done by a small community with a lot of love for video games and also the community.” And that’s why I like it.
Would you ever consider acting in an adaptation?
Give it to me. I’ve been waiting for one of them to ask me to narrate one. One of them did, and then they dropped out, and I was like, “Wait, what? I wanted to do it.” I would love to narrate another one. It’s great. And also have more women tell the stories. Let’s have more ladies punch in.
I guess you’ll just have to write one and then narrate it.
I have my list one day. I’ll get to it maybe 18 years from now. But I do have my notepad. It’s just an excuse to read more.
Felicia Day’s fantasy audio adventure Third Eye is now available on Audible.
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