James A. Hunter's Rogue Dungeon
Not Dungeon Core despite the name, but a fun dungeon-based LitRPG.
Review based on reading the first three books: Rogue Dungeon, Civil War, and Troll Nation.
Roark von Graf lives in a fantasy world, trying to overthrow a tyrant. By weird magic, he is teleported into an Earth video game into a troll’s body, and his goal is to get back to his world with enough power to overthrow the tyrant.
It’s a weird premise, having the MC not be a normal Earthman, but still having them inhabit an Earth video game where player characters are regular people.
I think it might have worked a bit better if we had any investment in the original fantasy world or its characters, instead it’s mostly incidental. There are some other characters from the original world that also enter the video game, and I can see the setup is for a large conflict coming in the later books.
Until then, the story focuses on Roark, and his rise from a weak troll minion into a floor bose, and then into a dungeon boss. I wish the dungeon core part was elaborated on a lot more, instead, the dungeon management becomes literally just a page or two of “I optimised the layout and added a room for my NPC trainers.” It’s still fun to read, and the conflict with PwnerBoner007 (one of the human players that Roark took all the loot off) is both amusing, and annoying. Amusing because we always like watching a bully get put down, annoying because almost every single player is an overblown stereotype of gamer-speak and arrogant, insulting behaviour.
Outside of the human players, conflict in the initial books boils down to progress up the dungeon hierarchy. Again this is both fun… and frustrating. Fun because there are well-laid out plans that had genuine thought go into them, and frustrating because the plans shouldn’t work given the power disparity, and because a huge part of Roark being able to get ahead so quickly is because of his “unconventional ideas and smart tactics”. Unfortunately, these ideas and tactics are not, to you or I, particularly impressive, they only work because the author has artificially made all bosses and mobs incredibly stupid to begin with.
The rise to power in the first book is predicated on two “big ideas”. The first is that mobs might survive and beat more players if they… wait for it… worked together. The second is that hey, the people that they kill drop loot, and maybe they should use it. Prior to Roark, the wisdom was to simply not use it and let the players come and reclaim the loot.
It’s frustrating that Roark seems to be smart, only because the bar is set ten feet below the ground.
In later books, this is explained as them following the original code, and Roark infects them and the anomalous behaviour is because of his impact. This makes perfect sense for a video game, but given that mobs are written as characters with thoughts and feelings, the enforced stupidity still grates, and I wish reasons or caveats or workarounds were introduced much earlier.
Even with these issues, I do enjoy the levelling up, the items, the stat rewards, the finding of trainers to increase the quality of the dungeon minions. Books two and three have a similar feeling to book one, and book one is a short read. So give it a go, and if you like the first book, keep on reading.