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Literature: Dream Park
A Genre-Busting scifi/mystery/fantasy/LARPing series by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, the Dream Park novels take place in and around a futuristic theme park dedicated to hyper-realistic simulation games, illusions, thrill rides and "experiences" that put Disneyland to shame. Central to each novel are the Park's spectacular live-action Game events, based on exotic mythologies or realms of fiction, in which both Genre Savvy veteran Gamers and wide-eyed novices live out elaborate adventures against a backdrop of Park actors, animatronic perils, and interactive holograms. Meanwhile, behind the fantasy-game curtain, industrial espionage and sabotage within the Park's operations pose deadly challenges of their own.

The first novel, Dream Park, has been a Cult Classic beloved of role-players since 1981. Later books in the series include The Barsoom Project (1989), The California Voodoo Game (1992), and The Moon Maze Game (2012). The non-Park-related novel The Descent of Anansi is set in the same Verse.

Inevitably, the novel series gave rise to a tabletop RPG by R. Talsorian Games.

Tropes featured in the Dream Park novels include:

  • Action Girl: Acacia, Mary-Em, and Holly play Action Girl characters in the first book. Eviane is this for the second, and Tammi and Twan join Acacia and Mary-Em for the third. In book four, Angelique is this in-Game, while Celeste and Darla are that way in the out-of-game plotline.
  • All Part of the Show: Used twice in The Barsoom Project. When Eviane's in-Game rifle is loaded with real bullets, she assumes its gory results are special effects and keeps on shooting. Likewise, the delegates assume that the Mars-crawler moving towards and lifting Ambassador Arbenz is part of Cowles Industries' demonstration, not a narrowly-foiled assassination attempt.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Players often take the opportunity to pass on some "dying" advice or useful equipment when their characters get killed in-Game. Or, if they're Draegar, Bowen the Black, or Kevin, to bitch about the fact they got killed out.
    • Trevor Stone tells an anecdote about an outdoor LARP participant who got "killed out" in a patch of cacti. He stood around telling people, "Don't mind me, I'm dead", because there was no way he was going to lie down on a bunch of cactus needles.
  • Ancient Aliens: The hidden source of supernatural knowledge and forces in California Voodoo.
  • Arcology: The California Voodoo Game takes place inside MIMIC (Meacham Incorporated Mojave Industrial Community), a massive one-building city which was built during the 1990s. It was so badly damaged by The Quake that it had to be abandoned. It was later acquired by Dream Park and used as the basis for the Barsoom Project—the terraforming of Mars.
  • As Himself: Happens in-Verse when actor Robin Bowles plays himself in the Fimbulwinter Game. The Gamers speculate that he does it because the "Fat Ripper" will help him lose weight for an upcoming movie role.
  • Augmented Reality: Used in The California Voodoo Game, as the Gamers are adventuring outside the Park's environment.
  • Back from the Dead: How Eviane was re-inserted into the Fimbulwinter Game, ostensibly as a tornrait.
    • Characters who die in a particular Game can still be used again in future Games (but see Deader than Dead for an exception).
  • Bargain with Heaven: In The Barsoom Project, Yarnall is a game actor who becomes "stranded" in the Fimbulwinter Game due to sabotage. He makes a bet with the Game Master that he won't be killed out by the end of the day, and the Game Master seals the deal by sending a (holographic) heavenly arm to reach down from the clouds so they can shake on it.
  • Bawdy Song: A favorite activity of many Gamers, particularly Kevin (to Orson's horror).
  • Becoming the Mask: Griffin eventually finds himself falling into his role as one of the adventurers in Dream Park. Eviane from The Barsoom Project deludes herself that the Fimbulwinter Game's fantastic end-of-the-world scenario is really happening.
  • Belly Buttonless: In The Barsoom Project, Martin Qaterliaraq is an Inuit shaman character in the Fimbulwinter Game. His lack of a navel is an early indication that his character was crafted from molded lava by the Raven, not born.
  • Berserk Button: Orson Sands goes berserk and starts knocking down Amartoqs like bowling pins when his brother is endangered.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Fekesh assumes Dream Park is too ethical to retaliate against him via assassination. He's right to think that they won't simply kill him, but wrong to assume they won't use high-tech Dream Park manipulations to make him kill himself in an elevator shaft or succumb to oxygen-deprivation-induced brain damage.
  • Bi the Way: Alan Leigh
  • Big Book Of Gaming: Nigel Bishop wrote the definitive example, basing it on Sun Tzu.
  • Big Fat Future: Zigzagged in The Moon Maze Game, in which standards of beauty in 2085 have swung the other way, making plumpness desirable in women. Instead of being unhealthy, however, the ideal zaftig woman adheres to a "Fit/Fat" model, in which well-padded curves overlie toned muscles and a blood chemistry maintained at the peak of physiological health.
  • Big Game: Every novel features a Game, but California Voodoo and Moon Maze are unusually well-hyped events: the former, a major tournament between five competing teams; the latter, the first off-planet Game run under Dream Park's supervision.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: The paija from Fimbulwinter has one central leg ending in a clawed foot with a suction-cup pad. It's boneless and flexible like an elephant's trunk, allowing her to hop or to grip the cavern's icy floor.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: S.J. Waters gets on Lopez's nerves with his habit of breaking character to comment on the Game simulation's quality.
  • Brown Note: The Park's "experiences" and Games use a lot of these - sonic, visual, olfactory - to manipulate the moods and attention of participants.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Asako's life-support capsule proves less vacuum-resistant than she'd been led to believe, resulting in her Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Mary-Martha's brain-damaged brother Patrick dies off-page between Dream Park and California Voodoo.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted in the third book; while Twan gets killed out of California Voodoo, she out-lives the majority of its participants, and her partner Tammi is one of the very few survivors. Also averted with Sharmela in book four.
  • California Collapse: The Quake of '85 / '95.
  • Call Back: In The Barsoom Project, Dream Park technology has advanced to the point where it can make all but one of a person's organ systems appear to vanish: a breakthrough in medical imaging. In The Moon-Maze Game, this same method has progressed enough that Xavier can make all of someone vanish even while in motion, simulating actual invisibility for Scotty and Wayne.
  • Chain Mail Bikini: Worn by Lt. Philips for California Voodoo's pre-Game briefing, presumably to encourage the other teams to not take her seriously. She swaps it out for practical explorers' garb once the actual adventure gets started.
  • Changing of the Guard: Moon Maze is set thirty years later than the previous books, and features Alex Griffin's son Scotty as lead protagonist.
  • Character Class System: Warriors, magic users and thieves appear in all four novels, and clerics appear in the first and third. Engineers feature prominently in Dream Park, as do scouts in California Voodoo. Multi-class characters turn up in the original novel (Holly Frost) and the California Voodoo tournament.
  • Cold Flames: The South Seas Treasure Game scenario features a form of "reverse fire", that un-burns ashes and causes frostbite on contact, as a plot device.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Kareem Fekesh
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Tomisuburo Izumi helped cover up the fact that Calvin died in the Park by donning make-up and posing as his brother, laying a false trail to a staged accident-scene in the mountains.
  • Deader than Dead: Killed characters are overlaid with a holographic black aura in-Game. In the California Voodoo Game, zombies slain by the heroes are overlaid with a double black aura, in a punning reference to this trope.
    • Also from California Voodoo: Areas of MIMIC that are off-limits for players are marked out with Nekro-seal radiation symbols. Any character who violates a "radiation area" is not only killed without a saving throw, but their character is declared permanently dead by the International Fantasy Gaming Society, never to be played again.
    • S.J. Waters recounts how he'd permanently lost his Engineer PC, who'd undergone Unwilling Roboticization in a cyberpunk Game and then had his program erased.
  • Deadly Gaze: The bidi-taurabo-haza from South Seas Treasure.
  • Death Faked for You: Some characters' in-Game death scenes are enhanced by complex animations that overlay their actual, intact bodies with imagery of wounds, burns, or other grisly effects. This capacity of the Park's becomes plot-relevant in The Barsoom Project, where it's used to rouse Eviane's memory of the traitor and spur the traitor to confess.
  • Defictionalization: Averted; the fan-created corporation intended to establish such a park went bankrupt in 1999, although the MagiQuest live-action adventure franchise could be called Dream Park's Spiritual Licensee.
    • The novels' game-regulating organization, the IFGS, actually has been Defictionalized into a LARPing club that stages its games outdoors.
  • Dewey Defeats Truman: The Quake of 1985, which had to be re-scheduled for 1995 by the third novel. When it didn't happen then either, the series became Alternate History.
  • Disposable Pilot: A rather common trope in Games, judging by its use in the opening acts of South Seas Treasure and Fimbulwinter.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Among the Inuit dead encountered in the Underworld by the Fimbulwinter players are several women who were damned for all eternity for the sin of having bad tattoos.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Even hyperwary Al the Barbarian can't keep his eyes off the ladies during the rooftop pool ceremony, for which they're expected to go topless.
  • Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend: Ali's father paid off one of the writers of the Moon-Maze Game, which "coincidentally" featured a lot of encounters designed to make Ali look good. Xavier is not happy when he finds out his co-author had been feeding him suggestions that would favor one player over the rest, and Ali himself is deeply embarrassed to discover this.
    • Dreagar accuses Chester of opting to resurrect Gina merely because she's sleeping with him, but Chester smacks him down by pointing out that not only is Gina still hovering on the brink of death, hence easier to save, but she didn't get killed out by her own stupidity like Dreagar did.
  • Endless Winter: The Fimbulwinter Game takes place on an Earth where the sun is shrinking due to evil magic and humanity is faced with a planet-wide winter.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: The Gamers in the fourth book use Morse to signal Xavier's closed-circuit cameras when there's no audio contact. Justified because one of the Gamers is an historical-aviation buff.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The horror attraction from the first novel pits man-eating sharks against ravenous underwater zombies.
  • Express Delivery: A loa-spirit in the California Voodoo tournament adventure impregnates Mary-Martha, and its offspring grows to full term over the course of a few dozen hours. Subverted in that the semi-divine fetus changes its mind at the last minute and decides to stay put, inverting this trope into the Longest Pregnancy Ever (possibly permanent).
  • Faking the Dead: Happens as an inadvertent result of technology in The Moon Maze Game, in which Darla is "killed out" of the scenario just before armed kidnappers interrupt the proceedings to take the Gamers hostage. As she's in the process of crawling out of the play area on her belly, remaining unseen while her slain NPC persona's holographic "corpse" is left behind, she's already undercover when the thugs arrive and they don't realize her faux-body had previously been a living actress.
  • Faux Action Girl: Lt. Madonna Phillips of the Army team looks Genre Savvy and competent enough at first glance, but inexperience buys her an ignominious death in the first combat scene.
  • Fictional Sport: The park's Games are extremely popular, with fans worldwide, and gamblers bet on their outcomes as avidly as on conventional sporting events.
  • Fifteen Puzzle: The California Voodoo Game throws out one of these in a timed situation. The trick is that it's a word-version and there are two R's: "RATE, YOUR, MIND, PAL". Put the Rs in the wrong place and the puzzle is uncrackable.
  • Fingore: Scotty isn't willing to kill two captured terrorists outright, so he breaks their thumbs to ensure they can't put up a fight again even if their comrades untie them.
  • Flaming Skulls: A player in the California Voodoo Game uses a magic spell to make his head appear as a flaming skull in order to scare off a loa.
  • Flipping the Bird: Performed by a cleaning robot in The California Voodoo Game, in which a pair of such machines are disguised as cyborg octopi (long story) and sent to hinder S.J. Waters' crawl through a ventilation duct. The machines have no voice synthesizers, so after SJ overcomes the first in hand-to-pincer combat, the Game Master uses the second robot's hologram-illusion pseudopodia to express its defiance as it retreats.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Ali, heir to the throne of the African nation of Kikaya, participates in the Moon-Maze Game under a false name. The character he plays is a young African prince from the kingdom of Kikaya.
  • Game Master: Each Game is coordinated by one or more experts who give radio directions to its actors, and control holographic effects, animatronics, and environmental elements remotely. The Lopezes run the South Seas Treasure Game, Dwight Welles is controller for the Fimbulwinter Game, the Lopezes, Whitmans, and McWhirter oversee California Voodoo, and Xavier is leader of the Moon Maze Game's team.
  • Gas Chamber: Used in The Barsoom Project to eliminate Fekesh.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Ali wriggles free of the royalist Selenites' sticky binding-secretions, although he has to leave some of his outer clothing behind.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: In The California Voodoo Game, the Awesome by Analysis villain winds up in a one-on-one fight with Alex Griffin. Although the villain's sophisticated martial arts training has always served him well in the game, Griffin is so furious at the man for murdering one of his trusted employees that he throws caution to the wind and tackles his opponent, pounding him so viciously without regard for his own injuries that his foe has no chance to utilize his fancy moves. "Two cats in a sack" is how the narrative describes it, and the villain proves the weaker cat.
  • Gravity Screw: Griffin is briefly disoriented when he stops off at R&D, only to find himself an apparent giant, standing in an upside-down desert. One of the techs is testing the repairs to a Total Environment holoprojector, components of which he could only access by setting the device upside-down.
    • An oft-mentioned ride at the Park, the Gravity Whip, uses parabolic-arc movements to simulate weightlessness.
  • Heavyworlder: Charlene Dula and other visitors from Falling Angels are Lightworlder inversions.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Bishop convinces Corrinda to sacrifice her character by opening a door with a Nekro seal, telling her she'll become famous for saving the rest of the group from a terrible monster. He doesn't tell her that this will kill her character Deader than Dead, or that she'll be remembered for getting suckered into throwing away a character it took her eight years' Gaming to develop.
    • Some real Heroic Sacrifice deaths happen in The Moon-Maze Game, including Asako Tabata and Shotz, who shuts a pressure door on himself so the depressurization won't kill his comrades as well.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: General Poule from California Voodoo apparently makes a habit of ordering junior officers to punch him in the belly. Subverted when S.J. suggests Poule try it with Bobo, as the General admits that Bobo looks damn strong.
  • Hoist By Their Own Petard: Bowen the Black is killed by own spell when he tries to transfer the Haiavaha's power to himself. Too bad its power was fire...
  • Hollywood Voodoo: No surprise that zombies and sympathetic-magic dolls make an appearance in California Voodoo, although the religious component and diversity of voodoo traditions are also acknowledged.
  • Homage: The Moon-Maze Game is an in-Verse Homage to the works of H. G. Wells.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Kasan Maibang doesn't deny his Daribi fellows are cannibals. Many of the Fore zombies died of kuru, which they're implied to have contracted this way.
    • The opening act of the Fimbulwinter Game has the Gamers fleeing a horde of cannibals.
  • Infraction Distraction: This is part of the plot in The California Voodoo Game. Bishop lets everybody including his accomplice think he's trying to fix the Game, but in reality he's committing industrial espionage. Subverted in that nobody believes for a second that's all Bishop is really up to, but double subverted in that, while they think he's trying to steal information, he's actually trying to find a way to circumvent MIMIC's security system so that his handlers can steal anything they like in the future.
  • Instant Soprano: Referenced when Bishop gives Al the Barbarian a glare so hateful that, if looks could cut, he'd have become eligible for the Vienna Boys Choir.
  • Irony: Tobacco is illegal without a prescription, whereas pot is perfectly legal. Outlaw tobacco-growers who conceal their crop amid legal marijuana fields are mentioned.
  • Jury of the Damned: The Barsoom Project features a sequence where the Gamers are put on trial by the manifestations of humanity's sins and crimes, as defined by the literal themepark version of the Eskimo religion.
  • Karma Houdini: Skip O'Brien
  • LARP: The original novel did a lot to popularize LARPing, being something of a Trope Codifier for that hobby.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: The Gamers and Park staff from The Moon Maze Game all Get Dangerous when confronted by real terrorists seeking to kidnap one of the players. Somebody should've warned the terrorists that people who make a hobby of fighting the forces of evil might not wish to comply passively...
  • Lost in Character: Eviane/Michelle
  • Let's Meet the Meat: Used in the Fimbulwinter Game as part of its "Fat Ripper" life lessons.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Learning the rules by which magic operate in the context of each Game is a key part of its challenge.
    • In South Seas Treasure, the Gamers must use table ceremonies, acquire mana, and adhere to the "copyright" rule to win.
    • In Fimbulwinter, knowing that well-traveled objects accumulate power is crucial to the Gamers' success.
    • In California Voodoo, the winning Loremaster learns enough about the Game's Hollywood Voodoo to turn it against two rivals at once.
  • Male-to-Female Universal Adaptor: In The California Voodoo Game, two conspirators meet at a sleazy hotel called the Mate & Switch. Each room is equipped with sensory-simulation bodysuits that let the wearer experience the sensations of being the opposite gender, making this a literal example.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Bishop and Dr. Vail. Chester has tendencies in this area too.
  • Megacorp: Cowles Industries, which owns Dream Park, is by far the most influential company in post-Quake California.
  • The Merch: The Games themselves aren't profitable, but the sale of Game-based films, tie-in books, home-holoprojector versions of scenarios, and so forth makes them a cash cow for Cowles.
  • Mercy Mode: Some Games, besides a standard version, are also re-engineered as "Fat Rippers" designed to help participants lose weight or overcome other dependencies. Because their players are usually out-of-shape, distances to be traveled on foot are reduced and nobody gets killed out until the last day to ensure they have more time to learn better habits.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: The Wolfalcons.
  • The Mole: Tony McWhirter infiltrates the Park's R&D lab while posing as an ordinary Gamer, and Griffin takes on the role of a Gamer to identify the culprit. In-game, one of the bearers for the South Sea Treasure Game is a spy for the enemy.
  • The Most Dangerous Video Game: The loa-possessed arcade from California Voodoo.
  • My Kung Fu Is Stronger: Averted up the wazoo in The California Voodoo Game, where hypercompetent Bishop's martial arts techniques vastly out-class the limited training of Alex Griffin, yet Griffin still kicks Bishop's ass because he's so pissed off that he doesn't care if his ribs or fingers get broken: he just keeps smashing his opponent into the walls, denying Bishop the elbow room required for his fancy dojo-ballet moves.
  • Mythology Gag: Among the fantastic characters that can be conjured up at a Dream Park wedding chapel are Moties. This is a reference to The Mote in God's Eye, another work co-authored by Niven.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: When S.J. teased Mary-Em about her character's magic-induced pregnancy in The California Voodoo Game, her reply did have something to do with motherhood, but could hardly have been considered complimentary to S.J. (Or to S.J.'s mother, one presumes.)
  • Never Mess with Granny: Margie from Dream Park, a senior-citizen Gaming veteran who chops through zombies like a tornado despite being of a non-combat character guild.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: While the Frost brothers' kidnapping scheme does facilitate regime change in Kikaya, it also makes Ali an international hero who will very likely be elected President of their nation in a few years.
  • Noble Bird Of Prey: The Thunderbirds, while normally evil, are honorable enough to help the Fimbulwinter players in exchange for the Gamers having saved some of their eggs.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Gina plays up her ditsy image for Yali, only to knock his riddles out of the park. Alphonse Nakagawa's own wife calls him out on his "dumb Texas shitkicker" routine, which belies a level of cunning that wins the California Voodoo Game by outfoxing Bishop.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Tony Lampshades how disappointing it is that none of the five California Voodoo teams return to the roof, to discover the giant alien flatfish in the swimming pool.
  • Off the Rails: Bishop talks the UC/Apple alliance into leaving the intended play-zones of MIMIC, taking a short cut through its residents' apartments. The Tex-Mits/Army alliance opt to quickly rappel down the front of the building rather than traverse its interior passages, thus getting ahead of the opposition and avoiding whatever hazards the GMs have set up inside.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Common in the Crystal Maze.
  • "Open!" Says Me: Mickey finds out that you don't try this trope on the Moon, where doors are built to be very, very solid.
  • Organic Technology: The Selenites from book four use this.
  • The Other Darrin: In an in-Verse example, Griffin swaps places with the actor who plays Bobo when he realizes he needs to get close enough to watch Bishop. Most of the Gamers take this in stride, assuming it's a routine substitution for an actor who's ill or has some private emergency to deal with.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Mary-Martha "Mary-Em" Corbett reads like an homage to this trope. Though human, she's 4'1" tall, is built like a muscular fire hydrant, wields a halberd (~battleax), is The Big Guy of her adventuring party, guzzles beer like a pro, calls a spade a spade, and sings repetitively while she's marching. Although her songs tend to be a hell of a lot raunchier than this trope usually allows.
  • Our Souls Are Different: In Fimbulwinter, the characters must send forth their "spirit-selves" to battle the paija. It's clear that this is also part of the "Fat Ripper"'s psychological programming, as the "spirit-selves" are holographic projections of what the players could look like - strong, fit, confident - if they adopt healthier eating habits and stick to them.
  • The Plan: Some brilliant ones, both in-Game and out.
  • Psycho for Hire: The kidnapper/terrorists from The Moon Maze Game.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Research psychologist Dr. Vail lacks empathy and is willing to risk others' sanity in order to protect the Park (because where else would he have absolute control of subjects' experiences?). Be very glad he's on the heroes' side, because what he does to the villains in the end ain't pretty....
  • Recruiting the Criminal: The culprit from the first novel (Tony McWhirter) is recruited by Griffin to work for the Park after serving time, as anyone who can beat the Park's security is worth it. Also, Griffin feels guilty that Tony got blamed for Rice's death to cover up O'Brien's involvement.
  • Recursive Adaptation: Almost this trope, as an actual role-playing game was based upon the book series, which was about and inspired by role-playing games.
  • Revealing Coverup: The traitor in The Barsoom Project tries to cover up a previous act of sabotage by having Eviane, a key witness, killed out of the Fimbulwinter Game. But nobody'd told him that you can't get killed out of a "Fat Ripper" until the finale, so his tampering only draws Griffin's attention to her, leading to his exposure.
  • Reverse Who Dunnit: The California Voodoo Game. Readers see the villain kill someone to help cover up a theft, but have to keep reading to discover why it was worth stealing.
  • Rule Number One: Nakagawa's Law #1: Something in the next shadow is waiting to eat your face.
  • Riddle Me This: The "neck riddles" challenge with Yali. The door-opening challenge with the Mooncow matriarch.
  • The Scottish Trope: Heroes participating in the South Seas Treasure Game were barred from speaking the name of the enemy New Guinea tribe, as using an enemy's name or magic without permission would invite retribution by supernatural forces. Subverted in that the players could name the Fore tribe as much as they liked, so long as they did so when the Game was on hold for time-outs or overnight.
  • Sea Monster: The aliens responsible for all the weird in-Game events of the California Voodoo tournament were stranded on Earth because they'd grown into adulthood since their ship crashed. Their mature forms were those of massive flatfishes more than 50' long, so they could no longer fit into their spaceship.
  • Serious Business: Some Gamers take their Games a lot more seriously than others.
  • Shout-Out: There's an Old Arkham section in the Park. Cthulhu himself gets a cameo in The Barsoom Project's Fimbulwinter Game.
    • A whole series of Video Game and pop-culture characters make appearances in the arcade scene from California Voodoo. The scene itself is reminiscent of the "Bishop of Battle" segment from Nightmares.
    • The collective works of H. G. Wells are featured in the Moon-Maze Game. Including his essays on wargaming and The Invisible Man.
  • Show Within a Show: Each novel features a major Game with its own adventurous plotline, playing out alongside the espionage plot happening behind the Park scenes.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Kevin from The Barsoom Project really needs to wash his mouth out with soap.
  • Space Elevator: In The Barsoom Project, Cowles Industries host a major conference to recruit nations' and other megacorps' support of a Mars-terraforming program that would use a Space Elevator in its operation. The possibility of building one on Earth after a Martian version has been proven safe and reliable is also discussed, and may be the reason why Ecuador took an interest in MIMIC in the third novel.
  • Stable Time Loop: One short adventure, played out by a few Gamers as a warm-up for a major Game, involved characters being drawn back to the Mesozoic by a "time key" they'd found on a human skeleton: one that, inexplicably, turned up inside a dinosaur's fossilized remains. Sure enough, the NPC who carries the time key get eaten by a dinosaur, which then gets buried by tons of mud, ensuring its conversion into a fossil.
  • Staking the Loved One: Undead-Gwen has to prompt Ollie to take her down, as he can't bring himself to fight back against the love of his life. Subverted with Tammi, a hardcore Game-veteran who doesn't flinch for an instant when zombie-Twan attacks her.
  • Steampunk: The motif of the Moon Maze Game.
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: The California Voodoo Game uses the stock "What color was the bear?" riddle as the basis for a really tough logic puzzle. The measurements are the same, but the hunter runs down a bird instead of shooting a bear. Obviously he's near the south pole, but the solution is that he's a distance (the answer is a formula) that causes his "sideways" walking to carry him back to his original longitude.note 
  • Super Wheel Chair: Asako Tabata, a veteran Gamer stricken by muscular dystrophy, participates in the Moon Maze Game using a body-encasing mobile capsule with tracks and articulated arms. It's given a Steampunk motif and a backstory involving Captain Nemo to justify its presence in a Victorian-scifi scenario.
  • Tastes Like Chicken: Selenite fungi taste like chicken... but only if your chickens taste like tofu.
  • Tempting Fate: When the Martian animations "attack" the terrorists in book four, one of them starts screaming when a "heat ray" strikes him, then realizes it's harmless and jumps up shouting "I'm alive!" ... just in time to get shot in the throat by one of the Gamers. (Guess he was wrong.)
  • That One Case: While Harmony's not a cop, he's been haunted for years by the unsolved killing of Calvin Izumi.
  • Theme Park: Pretty much everyone who's read the first novel would love to go there if they could.
  • Theme Park Version: Literally applies to the Games' depictions of New Guinea, Inuit, and Voodoo traditions.
  • Tightrope Walking: Acacia crosses a rope strung over a chasm in the Crystal Maze. The narrative mentions that she's actually capable of such a feat for real, although in-Game it's her character's skill that determines her chances.
  • Time Skip: Moon Maze is set three decades after the other novels.
  • Too Important to Walk: The Selenite interrogator who "tortures" the captive Gamers is not only too important to walk, she's too important to turn around for herself. The worker-caste Selenites who carry her litter have to walk in a tiny circle so that she can inspect each captive in turn.
  • Took a Level in Badass: S.J. Waters is a goofy nerd who can't resist breaking character in Dream Park, but by California Voodoo he's built up his stamina and discipline as an Army corporal, and defeats a robotic enemy one-on-one.
  • Total Party Kill: Subverted with South Seas Treasure, only because Harmony agreed to let Griffin and his prisoner remain in the Game for the conclusion. Invoked when Bishop leaves his team under the command of Trevor Stone, whom he'd deliberately been needling all day to goad him into stupid mistakes.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: A minor character in book 2 recounts how, in her own "Fat Ripper", her group uncovered the presence of vampires who'd taken control of an isolated mountain village.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Al the Barbarian wins California Voodoo, brilliantly taking out two rival Loremasters in a row and keeping one of his followers (Mary-Em) alive to the very end. Prior to the Game's beginning, Vegas odds had ranked his Texas Instruments/Mitsubishi team dead last.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Drown it!"
  • Vasquez Always Dies: The two main Action Girl characters in the South Seas Treasure Game (Dream Park) are the sexy Acacia and the indefatiguable Mary-Martha. Both acquit themselves well, but only one of them makes it to the end of the Game, and it's not the middle-aged, 4'1" veteran with the battleax.
    • Inverted in The California Voodoo Game. Mary-Em makes it out alive and with a massive experience boost, while Acacia's character suffers permanent Character Death, causing her to go through a Heroic BSOD.
  • Weird Sun: In the Fimbulwinter Game, the Sun has shrunk so much that a Gamer from the asteroid belt thinks it looks normal-sized. When the Gamers travel to the Inuit spirit-world to correct this, they realize that the missing Creator-spirit, Raven, has been bound to the spirit-Sun's surface.
  • Wrench Wench: Darla
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Bishop's specialty both in-Game and out
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Top Nun's trademark
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