Literature / Guardians of the Flame

Guardians of the Flame is a fantasy series by Joel Rosenberg about a group of roleplaying college students who abruptly find themselves inside the world of their game, in the bodies of their characters. The first book, The Sleeping Dragon, depicts their attempt to return to Earth, and their later commitment to return. Theater student/huge fighter Karl Cullinane vows to end slavery in his new home and persuades his friends to join the crusade. The remainder of the series follows his efforts, and later those of his son Jason.

Karl's colleagues, at least at the start, are history student Jason Parker and football hero Walter Slovotsky (the party thieves), engineering student Lou Riccetti and English major Andrea "Andy-Andy" Andropolous (the party wizards), disabled computer science major James Michael Finnegan (AKA the dwarf warrior Ahira), and Doria Perlstein (the party cleric); the gamemaster is a philosophy professor at the university.

Tropes encountered include:

  • Addictive Magic: Stated explicitly to resemble cocaine addiction-a little bit every now and then is okay, but use too much and it's a steep, quick decline into obsession, madness, and bad hygiene. Demonstrated with Andy-Andy, who keeps to a slow, safe, gentle progression, until Karl dies, at which point she takes a flying leap off the slippery slope. Subverted in the end - given the choice of sacrificing her sanity or ability to do magic for enough power for an epic spell, she chooses the latter. She does, however, display symptoms of catastrophic cold-turkey withdrawal afterward.
    • This may be the entire motivation of Arthur Deighton/Arta Myrdhyn.
  • An Adventurer is You: Each of the students becomes an archetypal role-playing hero, complete with the abilities and limitations appropriate to their level and class.
  • Another Dimension: The fantasy world that the students are sent to (and later returned to) in the first book.
  • Anyone Can Die: And how! Usually, one significant character per book bites it, but the biggest one has to be when Karl, the central protagonist of the series so far, sacrifices himself so the rest of his motley crew can escape a trap in the fourth book. Other hugely important deaths include Jason Parker, James/Ahira, although he got better, Rahff Furnael, Chak, Baron Zherr Furnael, Tennety, Mikyn,, and Durine.
  • Automaton Horses: The horses don't take center stage, but they are mentioned as having different personalities which are sometimes incompatible with their riders. A scene in one book has the hero trimming the hooves of warhorses and re-shoeing them in preparation for a battle. Ahira expects that the horses will be galloped when they're struggling with new terrain, to get accustomed. Karl (as his character's the only one who knows about horses) immediately shoots it down, pointing out the horses can be killed doing that.
  • Berserk Button: James/Ahira's feelings toward his disability, condescending people, and the name "Jimmy" from anyone except Walter Slovotsky.
  • The Big Guy: Karl Cullinane in his warrior persona. Also Walter Slovotsky, football player/party thief, in either persona ... big, beefy, and too good-natured to dislike.
  • Defiled Forever: Doria's view of herself after covering up a teenage sexual experience, which then left her sterilized by an STD that was treated too late.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Big time. In the course of their quest to return to Earth, two of the students are killed, two are raped (with one becoming catatonic), and all but one are captured by a slaver that they have to fight free of. And then they have to go back to resurrect one ... yes, that's right, just one ... of the fallen heroes and wake the catatonic one, with part of the price being Lou giving up magic, Karl agreeing to fight slavery for the rest of his life and Doria passing into the care of her clerical order for the foreseeable future.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Karl manipulates one from the Prince of Bieme after he betrayed them to the Holts, causing his own guardsmen to turn on him in disgust (they were listening behind a curtain).
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Subverted from the third book on, when engineering student Lou Riccetti works out how to recreate gunpowder weapons and give the fight for freedom a big edge. It becomes an arms race, though, after the bad guys figure out a way to create a magical equivalent to gunpowder.
  • Game Master: Dr. Arthur Deighton, philosophy professor, is a longtime GM who has this great new campaign he wants to try ...
  • Gladiator Games: Subverted, in that the Great Games of Pandathaway are not a sentence for slaves but actually a means for fighters to earn a few coins in between jobs. Participants can become quite wealthy if they fight well, or bet well.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. When Andy-Andy becomes pregnant, Karl (the father) gives his immediate support to whatever choice she makes, even saying he would perform a D&C himself, despite having no medical training (reasoning their healing potions will fix any damage). She ultimately decides against abortion, and they have a son, though it's made clear it would have been perfectly acceptable. In his internal thoughts, Karl specifically disclaims the idea that a blastocyst is a person.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Great Library of Pandathaway, which makes the similarly-named one of Alexandria look sick. However, actually finding anything there can be quite expensive, especially if the librarians take a dislike to you.
  • Heroic Suicide: Chak performs a suicide attack to detonate the enemy's powder store during a battle.
  • He's Just Hiding: Performed in-universe with Karl. His friends know that he's almost certainly dead, but they hold out hope, in part because he's such a powerful symbol for the resistance.
  • Humans Are Bastards: How Ellegon has come to view humanity after having been drugged, captured and forced to incinerate sewage for the last 300 years to keep himself from drowning in it. After his liberation by Karl, subsequent books find him modifying his views, saving his wrath for the slavers.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Slovotsky's Laws, an ever-growing list of Walter Slovotsky's humorous (and often accurate) observations about the world around him.
  • I Choose to Stay: James Michael Finnigan, after getting the chance to leave his disabled body and become the dwarf warrior Ahira.
  • Made a Slave: At one point, the party is captured by slavers intent on revenge for an earlier humiliation. Also part of the origin story for many of the people who are freed and/or recruited by Karl's band.
  • The Medic: Doria attempts to avert this trope-she's sick of playing the healer, she wants to *do* something. She only agrees to play the cleric after winning the power to approve the others' characters, but gets conned into letting them all play who they want anyway.
  • Merchant City: Pandathaway, a port city which is a commercial hub and caters to visitors looking for goods. There is practically nothing that's not out for sale (this also makes it the center of the regional slave trade, much to the heroes' disgust). Merchants and guild heads run it.
  • Monty Haul: Averted. The GM tries to give the characters a big pile of magic items at the start to make the quest a piece of cake, but a panicky Lou accidentally blows them up with a lightning spell. Not quite his fault, since he was told at the gaming table to prepare one 'just in case' due to the shift in starting points, suffered a head injury when they were transposed and just let loose with the lightning bolt due to his confusion.
  • Never Learned to Read: Though all the main characters are literate in English, everyone except the wizards and cleric finds themselves unable to read or write the language of their new home. As early as book two, this has been corrected except for Jason, who is killed early in book one.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Ellegon, a young dragon who is fiercely devoted to Karl and deathly afraid of bows, despite his near-invulnerability, thanks to a poisoned bolt he was shot with as a child.
    • More specifically, dragons in this world are the typical extremely powerful western wyrms, save that they cannot afford to harrass humanity too directly because of a deathly allergy to a common herb named dragonbane which can be used to poison missile weapons.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Ahira, who pretty much follows the fantasy archetype. With the possible exception of his inability to swim, due to a racial density that is greater than humanity's.
  • Power Loss Makes You Strong: Lou Riccetti actually becomes more dangerous after losing his wizardly powers and being forced to rely on his engineering skills.
  • Prime Directive: Utterly averted-at least in the first four books, none of the main band even stops to think if it's ethically or morally justified to introduce huge changes into the sociopolitical culture of another worldnote . For example by them introducing guns, which triggers an arms race and trying to end slavery by violent attacks on slaver caravans rather than waiting to see if it comes about naturally as society evolves past the need for or support of slavery. Not to mention setting up their own kingdom, forever changing the geopolitical makeup of the world. Possibly justified by the fact that Arthur Deighton/Arta Myrdhyn had already seriously interfered (including fighting a massive magical duel that laid waste to an entire valley) though it's not made clear whether he's an earth or local native.
  • Psychic Powers: Dragons communicate via telepathy, using telekinesis to fly in conjunction with their wings, as they're too weak otherwise.
  • Rape as Drama: After being captured by slavers, Doria the cleric and Andy-Andy the novice wizard are gang-raped. Doria, who already had issues in her past, goes catatonic; her treatment by the Healing Hand is the beginning of her truly accepting her clerical status. Andy-Andy, meanwhile, helps Karl and Co. get even over the long run.
  • Red String of Fate: Karl and Andy-Andy. In later books, it's revealed that the wizard who sent the students across was actually waiting for Andy-Andy to join the group, since she and Karl were fated to have a child who had the power to wield a particular artifact.
  • The Resistance: Karl and his friends decide to oppose the local slave trade and thereby set themselves up as this.
  • Sex for Services: In return for passage to another city in the first book, the captain of the ship the party's taking demands that Doria heal his impotence... then prove it through having sex with him. She agrees reluctantly.
  • Shout-Out: The game in the books is pretty obviously Dungeons & Dragons, though the name is never used. In the story it was an invention of Professor Deighton based on the real parallel world they enter.
  • Spell Book: A subplot in the first book, after Lou/Aristobulus accidentally destroys the spell books for himself and Andy-Andy, meaning they both have to conserve their spells until they can find a way to acquire or create new ones.
  • Squishy Wizard: Played straight in the first book: Lou's wizard, Aristobulus, is elderly and frail, and neither he nor the younger Andy-Andy have any weapons or weapon training. In later books, Andy-Andy breaks with the trope and begins learning some useful combat skills.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Demonstrated and subverted at a crucial moment in the Great Games of Pandathaway. The sword misses completely, but distracts the other fighter long enough for his opponent to close with him and grapple instead.
  • Trapped in Another World: Karl and his friends have no easy way to return to Earth, short of finding a gate guarded by the world's oldest, strongest dragon.
  • Vancian Magic: All wizards and clerics in Rosenberg's world work by this rule, needing to either memorize spells or pray for them each day. This causes huge problems when the party's most experienced wizard accidentally destroys his spellbooks while the party's sole cleric is unable to regain her spells through prayer because she no longer believes in a benevolent deity.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Jason Parker, one of the original party, is killed off very early in the first book to hammer home how dangerous the situation is.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: Subverted. Early in the first book, Karl starts to make a quip after cutting off an opponent's hand ... only to get grabbed from behind by another combatant in mid-joke. Lampshaded as Karl thinks to himself "You stupid idiot. You know better than to chat while a fight's going on." Only the timely arrival of Ahira with a crossbow keeps him from getting his throat cut.

Alternative Title(s): Guardians Of The Flame