"The way I heard it, the founders felt that being forced to kill random monsters would somehow give the students a valuable experience...you know, help us build character? How getting into fights is supposed to make somebody a better sorcerer or bard is beyond me..."
Tales of MU is an online erotic prose fiction series. Originally described by the author as an experiment in using LiveJournal to promote her stories, it has since taken on a life of its own. The first four plotlines have been collected into self-published print editions.The story revolves around the life of Mackenzie "Mack" Blaise, a self-hating half-demon student at Magisterius University, a college of enchantment in an alternate universe where Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy and magic exist in place of modern technology. While not quite a deconstruction, it makes frequent joking allusions to common tropes of fantasy gaming.The story, at least for the first half or so of the first year's chapters, frequently veers off into sexual territory, arguably at the expense of the plot, but usually by offering a different take on a difficult or sensitive topic. For instance, the second book offered Mackenzie's attempt to describe in first-person narrative her first orgasm, without her realizing that's what she was having. Overall, the sexual content has become much less frequent, but when it shows up, it does so with gusto.The series has a well-developed cast of recurring characters, but the "core" cast is roughly as follows:
Mack, of course. We soon learn that her hang-ups are due to being raised by a fanatically religious (and rather scary) grandmother.
Amaranth, a kind-hearted nymph with an excessive need to see the good in everyone. Despite this sometimes dangerous blind spot, she becomes an extraordinarily good influence on Mack after they start a relationship.
Steff, a transgender half-elf necromancy student with a gleeful "evil" bent. She dates a half-ogre prince polyamorously (being also involved with Amaranth and Mack) and plans on becoming his Torture Technician after college. Steff's characterization uses a number of villain tropes in a way that's hard to quantify.
Two, a golem. She was designed to want to do what she's told, then set free when her creator's wife was creeped out. She initially has to be given specific instructions on how to act like a normal person, but has slowly become more self-sufficient and independent. She replaces Puddy (see below) as Mack's roommate for a time.
Ian, the most prominent and sympathetic plain-old-human in the story. He acts as the representative of normalcy, although he has his own demons, most involving his relationship with his father.
Dee, a dark elf, although her people call themselves simply "elves" and call the other kind of elves faint elves. She is a good friend of Two's and has gradually become a good friend of Mack's, but veers between friendship and irritation with Steff, with whom she has serious disagreements on pretty much everything. She is a priestess of Arakhis, the dark elf goddess, and is studying to be a Subtle Arts (telepathy) major. She is usually the most serious-minded and level-headed of the central characters, and has a rather dry wit.
The major antagonists (to date):
Puddy, Psycho Lesbian and, at first appearance, Manipulative Bastard. Although still a recurring character, her reign as a serious antagonist comes to an end pretty quickly; Word of God is that the author didn't feel the original situation was sustainable. She all but disappeared from the story for a long while, but reappeared in the gladiatorial ring, and her success there is one of the series' mysteries. She's only had a handful of appearances since then, and has not appeared in the second year's material to date.
Sooni, fox-girl from the series' Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Japan. Her characterization follows a similar path to Puddy: she starts out as the Alpha Bitch, but her actual social skills turn out to be quite limited, and her entourage of nekoyokai "friends" is actually composed of slaves. (This is kept secret, as legally slaves wouldn't be allowed to attend college.) When she last had a prominent role in the story, her characterization veered from comic to terrifying, as she tyrannizes her "friends," especially the sympathetically-portrayed Kai.
Mur-Si (also "Mercy"), owner of Tender Mercy's, a shop that specializes in preparing people-meat for consumption. She is of indeterminate race and claims to be half dark elf and half faint elf, but Steff and Dee both claim this is too disgusting a possibility to be true. She's obscenely wealthy, keeps half-demons as pets, and wants to increase her collection...
Mack's father, an unnamed full-blooded demon that Mack calls "the man", some fans call (the) Mack Daddy, and is known as The Man in the Woods in folklore. He's been seen in bonus flashback stories with Mack's mother and has appeared to Mack in her dreams several times. Immediately after the first dream, all Mack's toiletries were spiked with a potion to make people express their innermost feelings - presumably to bring out her evil side, though it didn't quite work out that way. His exact motivations are unknown, and he's a quintessential Manipulative Bastard so it's impossible to be certain if/when he's ever being truthful, but the one thing that's clear is that he's keenly interested in being a part of Mack's life.
Some Sort Of Ridiculous Owl-Turtle Thing: Not exactly a villain, but snarky and annoying (to the characters) and mildly antagonistic. The ROTT was something that Two dreamed up after being told that dreams contain a lot of things that are sort of muddled and part one thing and part another. She took it literally and dreamed up a creature that looks like a ridiculous cross between an owl and a turtle. At first it was mostly comic relief, but it escaped Two's mind and then started showing up in other people's dreams as well.
Chapter 496, plus a number of side stories, concluded Mack's first year at MU. The second year has reset the chapter numbering; so far, 232 chapters of the second year have been released, along with more side stories, so many of the tropes below and on the YMMV page are contained in the first year's stories. Specific chapters will be referred to with the Y__-__ format; first blank is the year, second is the chapter number.The story can be found here. Definitely Not Safe for Work!
Aerith and Bob: Justified given the setting of multiple D&D species of intelligent beings with wildly different cultures mashing up.
Aesop Amnesia: Steff is particularly prone to this. After stabbing herself with a knife she knew nothing about until it tore out half her soul, she spent several days resting and scared everyone close to her and almost died. Immediately after she was handed another magic item by Dee, a character who herself needs to learn to stop handing out magic no one but her is familiar with. She was told not to use it without lots of physical and mental preparation, and only then carefully. Her decision? Chug the whole thing the moment she's alone.
Alpha Bitch: Sooni has elements of this (the haughtiness, the harem of loyal followers) but also subverts it by her followers actually being her slaves, and her self-important, self-absorbed attitude being a symptom of serious delusions.
And Call Him George: Used with Sooni and her "Baby Kai-Kai." Usually funny in a Crosses the Line Twice way, until she crossed the line a third time and refused to get Kai treatment for a cracked skull until it was almost too late.
Anti-Climax: The story spent a few years in real time (a few months in-story) using backstory snippets to set up Mackenzie's grandmother as a very complex character who genuinely loves Mack even though she sometimes has an odd way of expressing it. When we finally actually meet her in-story, however, she's an obnoxious one-dimensional obstructionist combining all the worst traits of a Straw Conservative and a Beloved Grandsmother, who gives the audience (and the characters!) absolutely no reason to sympathize with her viewpoint.
April Fools' Day: An update was posted in 2009, announcing production plans for a SyFy channel spin-off TV show, of which the author claimed pride but apparently had little creative control, resulting in significant deviations from the core themes of the novel. It linked to the writer's Livejournal crossposting, where comments revealed the prank. A few commenters disbelieved the announcement because it referenced "the newly branded SyFy channel" at the end, and were double-pranked to discover Sci-Fi's renaming on April 1st, though it was widely known earlier.
Artificial Human: Two is flesh and blood; you'd have to see her runes to know that she's a golem.
Asexuality: Two's basic nature, plus some bad experiences, have left her quite unconcerned with sex. This made having Mack as a roommate a trying experience at times.
As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The nekoyokai from Japan-like "Yokan" fall into this category, with names like "Maliko" that almost sound Japanese but not quite. However, a bit of plot indicates that all Yokano names are originally Japanese-derived, but that there is a story-related reason why all four of the characters introduced from that region have jarringly un-Japanese nicknames.
Author Appeal: Pretty much every major character is turned on by one aspect or another of BDSM.
Badass Normal: Callahan is an dwarf/elf/ogre/orc mongrel, which probably gives her an edge relative to humans, but she's still normal relative to the dragons and demons in the world. And we never see her using magic. But, among other feats of badassery, she once killed a god. This makes her a good foil for Mack, who as a half-demon has a host of racial advantages (strength, partial invulnerability, flamethrowing) but is a woefully incompetent fighter.
Don't insult a gnome's parents; that gnome will jack you right up.
Similarly, don't say or write the Dark Elf nicknamed Dee's real name and forget to include her mother's name - even when quoting her in a newspaper. She'll, er, repeatedly and politely explain the problem and request an apology and correction, then stage a peaceful protest outside your office when firmly refused. Naked.
Threatening Mack in any fashion is a good way to bring out the Manipulative Bastard in Amaranth, with only one major exception to date.
This may or may not also be a good way to bring out the wrath of Mack Daddy. In an "ask the characters" bonus feature:
"What will you do if Mack is found guilty of the murder she didn't commit?" "The same thing I'd do if she were found guilty of a murder she did commit."
Threatening Two in any fashion is a good way to make Mackenzie see red.
“Here’s the thing, Kai-Kai,” Steff said. “There’s a very simple rule about threatening Two: don’t. The rule is enforced by penalties up to and including horrible burning death, and since we don’t want our friend burning down the dorm when there are camera crews lurking around, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
Big Bad: It's not entirely certain that the overall story will have one, but so far, Mercy, Mack Daddy, and Chancellor Embries have been the most likely candidates for various reasons, with Mercy's plans to enslave Mack and use her to breed an army of demonspawn as the most obvious plan.
Big Eater: The hobbit-like burrow gnomes have multiple meals throughout the day.
Black Magic: Played with. On the one hand, necromancy is considered a legitimate specialty for aspiring wizards as long as they follow the rules. On the other hand, the only necromancy student we ever meet is Steff, who hates most of the world and plans on going off to live with an ogre prince, where she won't have to follow any regulations and will also act as his official torturer. At one point, she mentions the possibility of having sex with Mackenzie's reanimated corpse should Mackenzie die prematurely. On the gripping hand, in many other ways Steff is given a very sympathetic portrayal.
Blessed with Suck: Mack can only be harmed by magic...in a setting where magic items are more common than concluded plot threads. She's also very vulnerable to divine energy, especially if it's Khersis-based. By which we mean, any lay worshipper can make the Arms of Khersis, a simple hand sign, and floor her. note Even "lapsed" believers and casually-placed trinket-grade Khersian symbols can cause her debilitating pain. The possibility has been raised that countermeasures might exist, but Mack has so far refused to consider such an unholy action.
Brainwashed: Mack, to a degree, as a result of what happened between her and Embries in Y1-488. He uses his draconic power to force her to be unable to tell anyone about his killing (and more probably, eating) Iona, even through telepathy, other "subtle" means, or even story narrative - so we don't get to see it either. No telling when, or even if, this will be undone.
Broken Aesop: A few times characters stop to Author Filibuster about how important it is to follow certain rules, methodology, and so on in a dom/sub relationship. These same characters, and others, then go on to bend or break nearly all those rules, with no apparent backlash from the story or other characters.
The author did point out in the FAQ that the excessive-harm aspect of this is countered by various characters being invulnerable, possessed of regeneration powers, or just having easy access to magical healing.
Butt Monkey: Mackenzie and Two both in the early chapters, mainly due to Mack's various personal issues and Two's lack of ability to function outside her "programming." Both have since moved beyond this.
Call Back: A slavery-related incident in Y2-85 involving Mack and Two is one to a similar incident much earlier in the story, with the roles reversed.
Cast Full of Gay: Of the core cast, only Ian and Two are not either gay, bisexual, or Steff.
This happens gradually with several characters, with Mack being the most prominent. A large chunk of Y2-130 is a conversation between Mack and Chessa, an RA from another dorm, in which Mack discusses both her development and the potential for Chessa to do the same.
Several chapters feature Mack noting this in-story about other characters.
In the second-year OT story "The Healing Process", Barley, of all people, shows a remarkable improvement in maturity and self-awareness.
Character Shilling: After one chapter reintroduced fan un-favorite Jamie in the second year and he started acting like he might want to hang out with Mackenzie (or maybe do more than just hang out with her), the readers' reaction in the comments was predictable. In the chapters immediately afterwards, a bunch of characters had a big conversation about how Jamie really isn't all that bad, honest.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Pretty much a way of life for elven middlings in Treehome (and, it's implied, for middlings in general), as Steff lays out in Y2-151. It's really not a nice way to live, for anyone there, which is why Glory's so keen to remove her court from there and establish their own space.
Steff: I mean, that’s the real secret of Treehome: the whole place would be a lot more livable for almost everyone who’s there if they’d stop competing for power, but nobody’s going to do that because first they’d have to admit they’re personally losing the competition. There are poor fuckers there who are going to spend the next quarter-century being some dude’s spittoon or footrest and thinking to themselves that they’re working their way to the top or just biding their time until the moment is right. They’d be the first ones to turn on someone who suggests upending the whole system.
Continuity Overlap: When Mackenzie's clothes, hospital bed, and knife disappeared in a botched teleportation spell, they all appeared in other stories by the author. Her bra was never found until it was returned to Mack in a second-year OT story.
Could Say It But: Sooni assures the Harlowe residents that she isn't going to use Mack's demonic heritage against her in their floor's election for school Senate. Just a few seconds earlier, she had implied that Mack wanted to eat their relatives.
Crossover: Jamie, the lead character from More Tales of MU, shows up in the second year and appears to want to try to patch up his relationship with Mack.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: What we've seen of the worship of Khersis is very much like Christianity, except in a world where gods are known to speak to mortals, demons are real, and exorcism works. Considering the one passage from the Khersian holy book that's been referenced parallels the gospels directly, and one creation myth says he was born of a great dragon from a crystal egg, he may be a literal "Crystal Dragon Jesus". We don't know if he has any dark secrets yet, but some of his followers are assholes. There's also the "Mechans".
Cultural Posturing: Dee gives the others a glowing picture of her subterranean elven culture as a "structured meritocracy" where everyone has a place and all contribute to the common good. Side stories that show what's happening while she's on the surface indicate that she has a very one-sided view of her culture.
Curse: The Bane of Khersis, placed by Lord Khersis on humans who had mated with demons after casting the demons into hell. See In the Blood and Living Aphrodisiac below for more details.
And your tainted generations shall consume each other in gluttonous lust
Cursed with Awesome: Mack, being a half-demon, has a number of handy powers, such as being invulnerable to non-magical injury and fire conjuring. However, she has endured prejudice all her life because of what she is, and she has to consume virgin blood on a monthly basis or her demonic side starts taking over, turning her into a vicious psychopath.
Cute Monster Girl: Several. Subverted with the half-ogres, as Victor is described as better looking than Belinda.
Dancing Pants — In Y2-197, Steff enchants Mack's jeans with an undead animation spell in an attempt at magical bondage. It goes hilarious awry because they didn't account for her belt and boots. Once off her, the jeans try to wrap around Mack's head and eventually have to be destroyed.
Deadly Euphemism — The immortal elves don't like to talk about dying. The pale-skinned surface elves "take leave" when ennui sets in. Their dark-skinned cousins "greet the goddess".
Deadpan Snarker — Dee's stoic nature makes pretty much any jibe of hers run in this direction.
Amaranth: One of [Steff's] friends is a virgin! What are the odds? Dee: I would say abysmal. But apparently they were high enough.
Deconstruction: Sooni is a living deconstruction of Magical GirlAnime. She seems to think she's a shoujo protagonist in real life—in a world where magic is real—and actually treats people around her the way that anime characters do, including the physical abuse that's usually Played for Laughs in shows. It comes across as rather horrific, especially because she literally does not seem to understand the difference between TV and reality.
Diary — Two keeps one, as shown in the "Diary of a Golem Girl" side stories during the first year. They give a look into Two's take on her world and her relationships with her friends that isn't always seen in the main story, as well as her mindset and the struggles she deals with trying to expand past her initial "programming."
Didn't See That Coming: When The Man faces off with Samuel at the tower, The Man's plan falls apart when he's seen holding a pitchfork after Samuel falls off the tower, screaming, with a cut from the pitchfork on his face. "The half-demon is seen as a killer" theory (which is what The Man was aiming for) seems rather unlikely when there's a stranger holding the murder weapon still up on the tower.
Dissimile — Mack has gotten off a couple of doozies:
You ever play one of those fighting games where there's always the one guy who's like seventeen tons of walking muscle, and if he manages to hit you it does massive damage but it's laughably easy to avoid his attacks because they move so slowly? That's almost exactly what getting suckerpunched by a fucking ogre isn't like.
The Ditz — Keri LaBelle. While she does have the occasional insightful or worthwhile question, most of the time she's a complete moron. Problem is, her (well-deserved) reputation for ditziness gets a bit Flanderized in the mind of the teacher that she and Mackenzie have together, to the point where he's verbally abusive to her even on the rare occasions when she actually says something worthwhile in class.
Does This Remind You of Anything? — Once a month, Mack turns into a murderous psychopath, and the only cure is bleeding. The difference being that it's somebody else's blood, not hers. It doesn't save her from having to do the real thing, either. Also, see Fantastic Racism below.
Puddy physically and sexually abused Mack when they were together, and has moved on to Mariel in Mack's absence.
Ian's father is abusive and controlling.
Some of Ian's encounters with Mack, despite her loving every minute of it, strike him as uncomfortably close.
Don't You Dare Pity Me! — Kai hates how Sooni treats her, but she doesn't take efforts by Mack and friends to assist her very well. A side story reveals that Kai comes from an extremely impoverished background and always dreamed of getting an education, and although Sooni as good as kidnapped her (with an implied reward to her family), Kai is willing to accept anything as long as it means she can continue going to university.
The chapter titles and subtitles sometimes are these.
Drill Sergeant Nasty — Callahan as a teacher. It's either because she was traumatized by the sight of an untrained mage caught by ogres during the last big war or because she likes being able to legally inflict pain and injuries on college kids. Possibly both.
Dungeon Punk: Advanced magic and historical resemblances makes life in the Imperial Republic seem to resemble contemporary America...except when it doesn't.
Dysfunction Junction: Harlowe Dorm, full stop. For most of the first year, in one building, and mostly on one floor, you have in communion: the sexually repressed and socially stunted Mack, the inferiority complex-laden Steff; the socially incompetent and very easily manipulated Two; the seriously deluded Alpha Bitch Sooni; the violent, thuggish Puddy; the bullying Leighton twins; and other characters who are just as out of sorts with everyone else.
Easy Sex Change: Played with. Dee gives Steff a draught of the "halfkind" potion to help resolve some of her body issues. The potion knocks Steff out for several chapters worth of story time, and the eventual result is that just as it does with dark elves, Steff now has a much more obviously feminine body, including breasts, but also has a noticeably bigger penis.
Eldritch Abomination: The Eyeless Fish-Beast is a mild version. It doesn't drive anyone to madness, but it looks really creepy, hovers through the air without wings or any visible means of support, has odd telepathic/psychic abilities, and is explicitly described as "something that’s not supported by the laws of this reality, so it carries its own laws around with it." All that, and it's not even an antagonist; it's more like one character's extraplanar guard dog.
Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: Played with; as a fire-aligned half-demon, Mack is weak to ice and cold, but instead of being hurt more by ice attacks, this manifests as a complete intolerance for temperatures below 60 degrees or so, and having to read the fine print on any medical Magitek that might use cold.
I do not see why we are forced to converse in the barbarous idiom of the coarse westerners even among ourselves. Why must we suffer the indignity of mangling our mouths with their disharmonious syllables simply because they have never taken the time to learn a proper language?
Elves Versus Dwarves: A gnomish folk tale depicts elves and dwarves as the descendants of quarreling twin brothers, who grew into their current forms by attempting to emphasize their imagined differences.
Samuel, a part-demon student introduced in a side story that takes place some time before the main story, feeds on children's laughter.
It’s a bit metaphysical, if you mean the workings of it, [but] if you mean the logistics… I operate a puppet theater on the weekends. The children go home a bit more serious-minded than before they saw me, but they soon recover.
The moss that Mack collects in the forest with Amaranth combines this with Empathic Environment. It's revealed to be passion’s flame moss, which apparently feeds off sexual energy. It grows best in "trysting spots", and its glow and heat increase when exposed to lovemaking.
Ephebophile: Played with in the side story "As I Went Down to the River", which is about Laurel Ann and Mack Daddy's relationship. The "playing with" revolves around it never being clear if Mack Daddy was genuinely attracted to Laurel Ann or was just out to corrupt her, especially with her being the daughter of a paladin.
Epiphany Therapy: Mackenzie goes from being very socially distant and sexually hung up to obnoxious and promiscuous in the course of three to four weeks.
The first book has Puddy grabbing a donut specifically for the lesbian version.
Mackenzie's first taste of honey.
Iona and Feejee's first taste of Mackenzie.
Ethical Slut: Amaranth personifies this trope. Nymphs are naturally extremely promiscuous, but she also spends a lot of time strengthening her girlfriends' polyamorous relationships and encouraging safe sexual exploration among her friends. She's naturally opposed to the concept of "sexual shaming" and believes that the world would be a much better place if people allowed themselves to admit and (consensually) explore their sexual desires.
Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Starting with the nymphs and working one's way down the cast sheet. The list of characters to whom this trope does not apply is very short.
Evil-Detecting Dog: Dogs can detect demonic ancestry and are utterly hostile to Mack. This naturally results in her being afraid of them.
Evil Is Cool: Invoked. Steff is deeply fond of this idea. When put to the test, she doesn't react remotely how she expects.
Evil Lawyer Joke: When Mack has to visit her lawyer in his office and discovers the elevator is warded against infernal entry, this comes into play in the form of a joke regarding how long a law firm could last if infernal beings weren't permitted to enter its offices.
Expospeak: Lots...and lots...and lots of it in chapters featuring Mackenzie's classes. In those parts the reader is treated to many paragraphs of world-building and other details.
Mack's shyness, lack of social skills, and other repressed issues led her to be something of a pushover in the early chapters.
Two was set free with an order to do what she wants, but she was created with only one desire: to do as she's told, which resulted in some horrible abuses that are only briefly shown. Her growth began when she learned to have other desires, starting with eating sweets.
The Lizard Folk use communal decision making, so Hissy holds no strong opinions of her own. Human missionaries decided she should go to school, the school decided she should join the skirmish team. Her response to all of it is simply that she has no objection. As a background character, her Extreme Doormat status wasn't even apparent until she got some Character Development.
The Fair Folk — Elves historically fall into this trope, and some wild adolescent elves still live there. Faeries exist, too, and are the only thing that the Badass elven hunter is afraid of (apart from bears).
The author used to "forbid" people to write fanfiction for the series. Now, Fan Fic is allowed, but proper credit must be given to the author for the world and characters and the author does not want to know about it under any circumstances.
Mack does this both ways — she's had to deal with this all her life since she's a half-demon, and her upbringing led her to be rather racist herself, at least at the start. She also has to deal with the assumption that nonhumans at MU prefer to be called solely by their first name and the appropriate honorific (with female nonhumans generally referred to with "Miss" rather than the typical "Ms."), rather than their last name and honorific. This is despite whether or not the nonhuman actually has a surname (supposedly this is done to respect the fact that some races don't use surnames). When Mack tried to politely request that one of her professors refer to her as "Ms. Blaise" as opposed to "Miss Mackenzie", a fellow student's reaction was essentially to question her sanity.
Harlowe Dorm is where most of the non-human students are housed and is generally looked down upon by the rest of the campus.
Several races have analogues to real ethnic groups, like the Dark Elves to Middle Easterners, complete with corresponding ethnic slurs; see Fantastic Slurs below.
The half-naga Celia never misses a chance to snark about the more mammalian members of the cast.
"Halfling" is a subtly racist nickname for gnomes.
Fantastic Slurs — Several, including "pinkskins" for humans and "treefuckers" for elves. Unconventionally, "drow" is a slur for dark elves, along with "cowl head" and "spider jockey". The inhabitants of the non-human dorm, Harlowe Hall, are collectively referred to as "harlots".
Fantasy Counterpart Appliance — Magical TVs and refrigerators are mentioned by name, crystal balls are used as computers (complete with "aethernet") and mirrors are like phones (including pocket-sized "smart" mirrors).
Fantasy Counterpart Culture — The Imperial Republic of Magisteria is America mixed with the Roman Empire in a Dungeon Punk world. The island of Yokan is a version of Japan populated by Petting Zoo People. Members of a totally original race of little people who live in cozy holes in shires have a rural English-type culture. The forest-dwelling elves have Ancient Greek names and culture. The dwarves are basically German. Early discussions of the ideas outsiders have of subterranean elves mirror American ideas of the Muslim world. When we see the culture up close, though, there's no resemblance whatever. Pointedly, the "European" cultures don't seem to have colonized nearly as much of the world at any point.
Fantasy Pantheon — Played with. Rather than form a unified pantheon, most of the gods deny each others' divinity, and all teach contradictory theology/mythology. Mack Daddy even asserts that a god is just anyone who is powerful enough to smite anyone who claims otherwise.
Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence — Every devout Khersian thinks this way about Mack. Considering she's half-demon and Khersis exists to purge the world of demons, and demons feed on humans, there is some justification. However, since she's the protagonist, we are sympathetic to her situation. It doesn't help that the characters who most dehumanize demons in the setting are either Jerkasses like Gloria and Ariadne or the bastard Mercy.
Filler/Filler Strips — The series attempts to present a close-to-real-time story, which makes some parts seem written just to make the deadline. For example: one of the early chapters was devoted to Amaranth and Mack walking a few streets, getting on a subway-equivalent, getting out, and walking into a building.
Steff's general cluelessness. All of the main characters—including Sooni—get some major character development in one way or another, actually learning and growing... but Steff just becomes more and more of a dumbass as the series progresses.
Two:Steff has a penis. And she is a girl. Ian: Wait, what?
Foe Yay — invoked Parodied (or possibly played straight in a Crosses the Line Twice fashion) as Mackenzie can barely think of Sooni without having a long Fetish Fuel-ed fantasy about her. This came to a bit of a climax when they actually got into a fight.
Mackenzie: Sooni, we're not rivals. And we're never going to be friends. I'm not like your nekos. I'm not somebody you can push around and then expect them to just turn around and worship at your feet, or kiss your ass...or lick your pussy while you call me filth, or whatever it is you want me to do for you. Sooni: [joyously] Subtext! See? We have subtext now! Lynette: I'm not sure that qualifies as 'sub' anything.
It's eventually subverted when it turns out that Sooni has pretty much no emotional development, and lives her entire life as if she was a character in a manga or anime, and she only wants a "relationship" with Mack because that's how the story is supposed to go. She doesn't really understand the implications, or, in fact, the operation.
Sooni: I really don’t know what happens next [...] All of my manga stops here, and picks up again the next day.
The Friend Nobody Likes — Puddy is this while she's Mack's roommate. Her behavior and personality offend everyone but her violent streak and temper have them too cowed to stand up to her.
Friend to All Living Things (With Benefits) — Amaranth, because of what she is, is both a loving and nurturing companion, especially to those she knows personally (or, at least, what she tries to be) and extremely promiscuous. Barley is initially the same way, but her jealousy of and frustration with Amaranth cause her to rebel against everything a nymph should be.
Genius Loci: The Emily Center is gradually revealed to be alive, and frightened of Mack for some reason. They eventually come to an understanding, and Mack is permitted entry again.
Mack is smart enough to realize that "we have to solve this by ourselves" isn't by far the smartest thing to say when dealing with a powerful demonic artifact.
During Mack's fight with Belinda, she comments how well the half-ogre girl fits a number of high school jock clichés.
Girl Posse: Sooni got her nekoyokai version the old fashioned way: daddy bought them for her.
Gladiator Games: Due to wound-simulating weapons and cheap healing magic to cover actual injuries, straight-out combat takes the place of tamer sports. "Skirmish" is the team sport in the Imperial Republic. One-on-one gladiatorial bouts are a runner-up in popularity.
A God Am I: Invoked by Mack Daddy in his "rebel theology" lesson: a god is anyone who can say this and then back it up by having the power to smite/kill anyone who disagrees with the claim.
The rulers of the counterparts to Japan and Britain.
Averted by the Emperor of the Imperial Republic of Magisterion, who is constitutionally limited so that he can't be one. He is unique in being a mere mortal, while the Nameless One that the founder of his dynasty rebelled against is still alive.
Golem: In the MUniverse, golems are created as living tools who must obey orders. Their level of sentience varies; some have more developed personalities than others. They can be "emancipated" by ordering them to consider themselves free beings. Two is one such golem, with a rather uniquely constructed personality.
Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted; Hazel reveals in Y2-86 that she did indeed have an abortion. Her being in a place to have one at all is just one more in a long list of black marks her mother's family has against her.
Green-Eyed Monster: Barley is deeply envious of Amaranth, not only because of her popularity in their hometown but because she only went to college because Barley did, but ended up being more popular than Barley. This jealousy has been the driving force behind all of her objectionable actions, but the second-year side story involving her indicates that she's making strides toward dealing with it.
Hair-Trigger Temper: It takes very little for Puddy to explosively snap; even the mildest of criticisms will have her fighting mad.
Half-Human Hybrid: Several characters are only part-human, with Mack being half demon as the most significant story-wise.
Hammer Space: Amaranth. Especially overt in her case, as unlike most Hammer Space users, Amaranth doesn't even have clothing as a supposed hiding place for items she puts "away". Also, lampshaded early in the series when Mack keeps trying to catch her bringing something Out or putting it Away.
One bonus story is a piece of fanfiction written ages ago by Mack. She manages to insert herself into it... after switching the gender, so there can be a romance with a canon character. It manages to show up a few of her issues...
Meanwhile, just down the corridor from her, Sooni is busy churning out a far more extreme fanfic on her favourite anime, Pretty Neko Science Princess, with herself in the title role.
Pala, despite being a college student, comes off as a mixture of this trope and Statuesque Stunner. Of course, her own perspective is the inverse of this trope; as a storm giant, she is rather small in her own estimation, even as she awkwardly towers over everyone else at MU.
"I couldn’t help but notice that he did things like use “fight” twice in the same sentence… and “underprivileged underclass?” It also seemed like he just dropped commas in wherever he felt like it… like there was no actual rules regarding their use… like he was just in love with them as a punctuation mark, or something." (Note that Mack, at another point, remarked in passing that she had once been marked down on an essay for using too many ellipses.)
I Am X, Son of Y: Dee, who is incredibly proud of her lineage, traced matrilineally back quite far, which is understandable given the culture form which she hails. To mispronounce the name of, or insult one of her foremothers is to commit a grave offense to her. The early prequel chapter given to her offers a look at just how far back her lineage goes.
Delia Daella was the daughter of Daella Degra, who was the daughter of Degra Daura, who was the daughter of Daura Duala, who was the daughter of Duala Deneira, who was the daughter of Deneira Deshalla, who was the daughter of Deshalla Duquesna, who was the daughter of Duquesna Desiera, who was the daughter of Desiera Docia, who was the daughter of Docia Demara, who was the daughter of Demara Della, who was the daughter of Della Dolora, who was the daughter of Dolora Delissa, who was the daughter of Delissa Deliza, who was the daughter of Deliza Dasera, who was the daughter of Dasera Dasera, who was the daughter of Dasera Decatia, who was the daughter of Decatia Delia, who was the daughter of Delia Deshara, who was the daughter of Deshara Denala, who was the daughter of Denala d’Wyr… an unbroken chain of first daughters that went as far back as had ever been reckoned.
Several of the characters cannot or will not eat certain types of food. Amaranth, for example, is a strict vegetarian.
Some, including Mack, have no need for (ordinary) food at all. Mack even believed for a time that her body couldn't process real food, although once this was proven false, she learned to enjoy eating and started to fill out like a normal human being would.
Identical Grandson: Due to a narrow selection of male partners, Dee's mother is the spitting image of her great-great-grandmother, the family's current matriarch. Not one to waste an opportunity, the matriarch uses her descendant as assassin bait.
People are generally referred to on this wiki as holding or carrying one. That wouldn't do Steff justice. She seems to have had one surgically implanted.
Mack seizes it and runs for the end zone by risking slavery to finance some magic jewelry. Intense emotional context to it or not, everyone calls her on the incredible stupidity of that, even Amaranth.
I Do Not Drink Wine: Mackenzie points out repeatedly that she doesn't need to eat food, and at first is so out of the habit that it makes her ill. Several of the other characters don't need to eat food, though some do anyway (though a few, such as Puddy, stick to only their favorites).
I Feel Angry: Two is absolutely adorable when she's (briefly) under the influence of a Boundless Rage Curse.
If It's You, It's Okay: Sooni to Mack. It's a literal quote, even; the yokai tend to speak in Trope, as much as "Yokanese".
Several races are known maneaters, including mermaids and ogres.
This is a temptation for Mack, especially during her period when her demonic side is most prevalent.
The "gray" elf Mercy runs a shop catering specifically to races who feed on humans and other intelligent races.
Mack Daddy eats the blood of a virgin's heart roughly every 13 months. In Mack's second dream where he shows up, he even references the trope name.
Dragons face no legal repercussions for feeding on humans.
Chancellor Embries is strongly implied to have eaten several of his secretaries, and Y1-488 all but says outright that he did the same to Iona, although the story has set things up so that the latter may never be known for sure.
I'm Standing Right Here: Glory hits Steff, Amaranth, and Ian with this in Y2-231 when they're discussing the potential issues of Mack spending the night with Glory alone.
Just as long as we can actually move things along and stop talking about everyone as though they’re not here, including people with really good hearing who are standing two feet away.
Innate Night Vision: One of Mack's demonic attributes is that she can see very well in pitch darkness. This is the basis of one of the subtle gags in Y2-230, which Mack narrates as normal but which, because of a failed spell by Mack that killed all the lights in the room, features discussion on finding a light source and Nicki stubbing her toe on Glory's bed frame.
Insane Troll Logic: Sooni's mind runs on this because of her delusions about her life being something out of her mangas.
Mack is convinced that she's irredeemably evil, despite several people close to her firmly disagreeing. It doesn't help that all of the previous half-demon students at the university have come to bad ends, and in the setting, half-demons are usually institutionalized. There's also her extreme vulnerability to divine energy; even someone invoking Khersis near her can harm her. Her grandmother really doesn't help things when she tells Mack in Y1-420 that because of her demon blood, Mack is (probably) inescapably damned, and the best she can do is to live as long as she can suppressing her infernal nature as much as possible.
Hilariously, The Man himself, the only full-blooded demon to have appeared in the series as of yet, is the practical living example that half-demons do NOT behave like demons; he said so himself. He is anything but beastly.
The second-year OT story "Methods, Motivations, and Meetings" reveals that in the distant past, Lord Khersis cursed female part-demonsnote although it's noted in-story that the wording and whether it was a literal curse or just strong words are matters of theological debate so that it is very difficult for them to successfully breed with other demonbloods. See Living Aphrodisiac below for the side effect.
When they visit town for the first time, the town's name is revealed at the end of one chapter to be "Enwich." The subtitle for that chapter? "In which the town is named."
The chapter title "Girly Fight", in conjunction with the subtitle "In Which Mackenzie Gets The Finger", implies that Mack is in a word fight. However, in one of the most hillaristurbing scenes in the world, she Mind Rapes one of the adversaries to the point that her corrupted memory had to be removed, and she rips the other's fingers off with her teeth. Perfectly logical. Mack gets the finger, and all of the participating parties are girls.
I Should Write a Book About This: Subverted. In the final chapter of Volume I, Mack's therapist suggests that she write about her experiences at MU in order to help work out her issues. The final paragraph of that chapter mentions that she got 17 pages into said autobiographic writing, and then got bored and gave up.
Amaranth is a deconstruction. She's nude practically 24x7, and functions as a fanservice character, but in-story she has legitimate social and spiritual reasons for doing so. As a nymph, her body is considered a gift, and thus covering it is the taboo — an inverse of the standard nudity taboo.
For someone as uninterested in sex as Two is, her lingerie is very racy, and she has no qualms about wearing it around Ian, which makes him uncomfortable.
Jedi Mind Trick — The OT story about the events that led to the razing of MU decades prior to the main story reveal that Mack Daddy can subtly influence people's thoughts. He does this to Jennifer and Eugene to try to maneuver Samuel into a trap. Professor Ariadne Einhorn may also have been under his influence, and might still be to the story's present day.
Jerk Jock — Mack hates Skirmish players, though Amaranth of course is more understanding. Belinda is one, though this seems more tragic in her case, or at least something unfortunate she's trying to move beyond, when we see her later.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold — One of the more charitable interpretations of Steff, especially in regards to her relationship with Mack.
Jerk with a Heart of Jerk — Callahan appears to belong in this category. You start to like her once she shows genuine interest in helping Mack learn to fight, but if Mack Daddy is to be believed, she's also writing weekly letters to the administration asking permission to kill Mack. Also, her commitment to teaching is arguably ego-driven: "If I can make this wimp a good fighter, how awesome would that make me?"
Puddy is loud, foul-mouthed, and seems to revel in being as obnoxious as she can be, and that's before considering her being verbally, physically, and/or sexually abusive.
The Leighton twins are bullies and jackasses, especially Tara. It was worse before they were merged.
In the first year, Mackenzie drifted into this territory whenever she got into an argument...which was fairly frequently. She's gotten much better in the second year.
Celia, partly because of her generally surly attitude and partly because of her contempt for anything mammalian.
The delving students who Mack encounters after the botched teleport spell (see Continuity Overlap above). One wants to kill her for XP, another (Seth) is ambivalent about whether she lives or dies, and another (Lacey) half-heartedly argues to let her live. This gets reinforced even more by Seth's petulant attitude when he's caught by Eloise after he and Lacey mess with a dwarven sword as a prank in a second-year side story.
Jerkass Has a Point: Celia's snarky comments are often tactless, intolerant and insensitive... but that doesn't mean they're not accurate. She is, for example, the first one to explicitly point out Puddy's abusive tendencies.
You’re fucking blind if you think there’s anything healthy going on here!
Karma Houdini — Amaranth feels that Barley hasn't been appropriately handled by their goddess, Mother Khaele, for what amounts to blasphemy for a nymph.
Kayfabe — Apparently it's an open secret that all the "soap opera for men" drama in professional gladiator leagues is scripted.
Kill the God — Coach Callahan was at one point charged with three counts of deicide, but only one was successful.
The Klutz — Mackenzie tends to trip when startled. She's very easily startled.
Knight Templar Parent — It's debatable whether Mackenzie's grandmother is this, was simply doing what was necessary to keep her granddaughter from growing up to be a rampaging demon, or a little of both.
Kryptonite Factor — Both holy symbols/gestures and abuse for Mack. In the former case, use of them by people of faith can actually physically repel Mack, along with causing unbearable pain.
Laser-Guided Karma — Seth and Lacey are polymorphed into mice by magic wards as a punishment for trying to take the dwarven sword in one of Mack's classes off its stand. Shortly afterwards, Lacey is eaten by a cat. Eloise catches Seth before he can suffer the same fate.
Late to the Punchline — A harpy character says that in the badlands, "thunder means someone told a giant a joke three days ago." The giantess who's appeared in the story bears this out, not realizing she was at the center of a hurricane of Double Entendres until much later.
Living Aphrodisiac — Demonbloods, as a result of the maybe-blood curse placed on their kind by Lord Khersis in the distant past. This goes a long way toward explaining why so many non-human characters, and especially the merwomen, are attracted to Mack. The catch is that the curse makes demon-blooded females irresistibly attractive to predators, people of monstrous races who would like to eat them...including other demons.
Loads and Loads of Characters — The story, to date, has featured several dozen characters, although only a fraction of those are truly central to the plot.
LOLCats — A Running Gag in the series is that Suzi is only marginally fluent in Pax, and usually ends up speaking in LO Lcat phrases. When she speaks her own language...she's a self-centered bitch who considers anyone unable or unwilling to speak her own language to be barbarians. Of course.
Implied to be a motive for Two's creator designing her to be completely hairless except for her head, although Two does later deny that he used her sexually.
Played with by Mack Daddy, who feeds on innocence.
Love Letter Lunacy — One of the minor second year subplots is Nicki (and the rest of the crew) learning she has a elven secret admirer via being slipped a thong and veil in Y2-125. In Y2-146, we finally learn that it's Grace.
Love You and Everybody — Both used and averted. It's the well-known nymph belief system, so the first time Amaranth tells Mack that she loves her, Mack objects that Amy loves everyone, which Amy readily admits before telling Mack that she loves her specifically and deeply. That being said, Amaranth does at times find it hard to love everybody, especially those who mean ill towards Mack, and Barley seems to have thrown this idea to the wind.
Magical Computer: Played with: students use crystal balls to "gaze the ethernet".
Magical Girlfriend: Sort of sadly subverted with the bonus story "A Boy's Prayer", which implies that Amaranth manifested the way she is (as a buxom, nerdy, glasses-wearingLove Freak) because one lonely, geeky twelve-year-old boy, uh, fertilized her field with fantasies and desires of such a woman. The subversion (and sadness) is that after she manifested exactly according to his desires, he never even got to meet her.
The Magic Poker Equation: Sooni tries to invoke this law by telling Mack to draw first. It kind of works; Mack draws a king and Sooni draws an ace, but with a shout of "Nobody did ever say aces were high" from the audience, all hell breaks loose.
Magitek: The aforementioned crystal balls, as well as pretty much all the technology you'd expect in a modern university, only powered by magic.
Magic Versus Science: While magic works and is commonplace, belief in the power of scientific thinking is generally regarded as either dangerously deluded or childish fantasy. The Mechans are treated as the counterpart to Wiccans in our universe. See also Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum below.
Make Up or Break Up: One of the minor plot points since the time that Ian and Mack got together is the two of them trying to work around the unique hurdles of their relationship, since they're in a poly relationship that includes Steff and Amaranth. Over time, this takes an increasing toll on Ian, and it comes to a head after Mack and Glory sleep together, a situation neither he nor Steff were pleased at all about possibly happening. In Y2-235, while they don't completely break up, Ian does give Mack the "I need some space so I can figure things out" decision.
Mama Bear: Kinky relationship and hippie pacifism notwithstanding, Amaranth is very protective of Mack, which becomes very clear several times.
Manipulative Bastard — Mack Daddy takes this even further than normal, as he'll manipulate both your emotions and your logic to try to get what he wants.
A Man Of Wealth And Taste: When Mack Daddy first showed up in flashback stories in his pinstriped suit and natty hat, the lyric was quoted by a reader in the chapter comments.
Medieval Stasis: Explicitly averted, as the story is in a "medieval fantasy setting, five hundred years later," with Magitek in place of modern technology. A side story set two hundred years earlier resembled America's colonial period.
A Million Is a Statistic — In the "Veil murder" arc, several students died that night, but Leda is the only one who gets much attention, specifically because she was foreign royalty.
Missing Episode — Y1-489. invoked It would cover the time in Embries’ office where he deals with the matter of Leda’s death, magically forcing Mack to bear witness, while preventing her from passing on the experience to anyone else, including those who are viewing the world through her thoughts and perceptions (i.e. the readers). Accordingly, the entire narrative (including chapter heading and link) cannot be seen.
Mood-Swinger — Sooni. Someone needs to get that girl on some mood-stabilizers, stat.
Monster Mash — The story initially appears to be based on this to most readers, though it is not exactly on a voluntary basis. Magisterius University has graciously established a separate dorm for the non- and part-humans, supposedly to make them feel less pressured to conform to human ways but in actuality at least in part to keep the freaks out of sight. The characters' foibles, both personal and racial, make up a significant part of the series.
Multi-Armed and Dangerous — Used in an odd fashion with Mariel. She has four arms, and is browbeaten by Puddy into spying on Mack.
Mundane Utility — These crop up frequently. Mackenzie even lampshades one of the more unusual ones:
Mackenzie: Who even came up with the idea of using a living death potion for birth control? Roger: Alchemists, I guess. They had to find a bigger market for it than adventurers, vampire slayers, and zombie hunters...
Sooni: When I was younger, my father told me that he could ask his valet for the smallest pinfeather of a bird sitting on a certain branch of a certain tree on the other side of the world, and it would be on his desk by the afternoon. Can your father do that? Mack: My father is a soulless killer abomination, Sooni. Sooni: But could he do that?
While it had led to my pleasant morning with Ian, having classes with people who knew me seemed fraught with complications, and it didn’t seem to matter if they were friends, enemies, lovers, or Sooni.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast — While most of the more intimidating characters have innocuous names, "Mercy" has been known to terrify some of the (fully-grown) readers.
Taken to an extreme: the "nerd" character is a gorgeous nymph, naked except for her nerd-glasses.
Mack is an introverted geek strongly hinted to be better-looking than she considers herself to be (even Belinda calls her "cute", and she's got serious issues with Mack).
Never Found the Body — After the riots that destroyed MU in the backstory, Melanie reveals in a letter that Samuel's body was one of many that was never recovered from the rubble that was left over from the halted excavations. Whether or not he's actually dead is unknown.
The ruler of the old empire is always referred to as The Unnameable One. Justfied in-story; MUniverse tradition has it that the sound denoted by "kh" is reserved for the names of the gods, and that it is blasphemy for anyone who is not a god to have it in their name. As an immortal vampire, the Unnameable One is old enough to predate this tradition, and is named Khulrakh. It is blasphemy to call him by his name, and an insult to a sitting emperor to call him anything but his name. Thus, he is Unnameable.
One of Mackenzie's professors has never been named in canon, but that's more of a subtle Running Gag.
Mack's father is only known by nicknames or names of lore.
Non-Mammal Mammaries — Parodied by the mermaids. They have breasts but are ignorant of lactation. Instead, they are used to get free beer and lure sailors to their doom.
No Periods, Period — Inverted; what happens to Mack during her cycle is one of the curses of her half-demon nature and a minor plot point.
No Sense of Personal Space — Grace, as a result of her youth and lack of experience with human interaction, which she admits to Mack after groping her to see if she's pierced.
Mack:I’ve had very bad experiences with people who didn’t respect my boundaries. Grace: Eep! [...] Sorry, I’m...okay, I’m not a kid anymore, and you’re not elves, but elven children are a lot more hands-on with each other, and I...I haven’t fully adjusted to not-childhood yet.
Noble Demon — Played with by Vice-Chancellor Embries. He's a "noble" dragon, employed by MU as their ace in the hole against the campus being razed to the ground again. He does, however, have an unfortunate habit of eating his secretaries.
Professor Hall: Few people mistake a noble dragon for a nice one more than once.
Nominal Hero — Callahan, an amoral murderer who was pardoned for her crimes because the Empire needed her skills that badly.
Not Quite Dead — Laurel Ann, Mack's mother, as revealed in a handful of side stories.
Odd Friendship — Many would qualify, but the most eyebrow-lifting so far is between Caron and Nae, a dwarf and kobold who are lovers, although their races are blood enemies.
Oh Crap — Nicki and Grace's reaction in Y2-146 to Mack telling them that, because of the dreary weather and the curtains being covered, they missed a day of classes while shacked up in Nicki's room...getting to know each other.
Omniglot — Hissy speaks just about every language that's been mentioned in the story and can apparently pick up new ones very easily, as they're all simpler than her native Lizardfolk language.
One Degree of Separation — Not everyone's been connected yet, but a lot of the backstory chapters seem to be pointing in this direction.
Dee and Ian often come off as this, so long as their own issues are under control.
Iason, of all people, seems like this compared to other young elves.
In the early parts of the story, Celia is this to the rest of the Harlowe girls, and she's not nice about it.
Our Better Is Different — The dark elves use "lower" as a synonym for "better" where humans would use "higher", which can lead to some very convoluted metaphors.
Dee:If I thought [we] could do it immediately, I would insist upon it. This should be your absolute lowest, deepest, blackest priority.
Mackenzie(narrating): She'd just let out what would probably qualify as a deep, dark secret, or a shallow, bright one or whatever they'd call it where she was from...
Our Demons Are Different — MUniverse demons need to feed from humans to survive, and they have a craving for human flesh well beyond said need... and most of the rest is hearsay. They have a strong association with fire, and have been shown to possess humans and tempt them.
Generally speaking: MUniverse dwarves mostly follow the standard model, with a few additions. Their names have a Germanic flavor, they count in base seven, and while they seem like a One-Gender Race, it's been explained that male and female dwarves just don't get along. The one full-blooded female dwarf who appeared was not described with a beard. Dwarves have a strong disposition for secrecy and privacy, though the college-going ones are willing to make exceptions for attractive women of other races. One recurring minor character, Gebhard, shows a somewhat fussy and fastidious nature.
More specifically: One-sixty-fourth dwarf Puddy has a special license to booze it up on the normally dry campus of MU.
The professor of Pre-Republic History sums it up very succinctly. Evidently they can um... make love for 15 hours straight. That's right, fifteen hours. This also has elements of a deconstruction, as the perfection of the elves takes a toll on their ability to enjoy life, and most end their lives by suicide.
Shown the downside of with Steff the half-elf, who considers her own lifelike drawings to be crude doodles and her boyfriend's skillful harpsichord playing to be terrible. This is besides Steff's many crippling psychological problems, many of which have to do with her feeling inadequate compared to her elven relatives.
Subverted in the spinoff More Tales of MU, when the main character and his elven boyfriend Iason visit Treehome, the place where the elven "middlings" (essentially the elven equivalents of twenty somethings) live. Every single middling is a creep and/or violent pervert (like the elven woman who seduces Jamie, then tries to castrate him to spite Iason). There's also the fact that every single elf, upon learning that Jamie has put on a magical bracelet that lets Iason turn him into a stag any time he wants to, up to and including Jamie's own elven grandfather, have stopped treating Jamie like a separate being and instead seem to view him as a sort of extension of Iason. Truly, in the MUniverse, Our Elves are More Fucked Up.
Also possibly deconstructed with the revelation that Elves don't even need to breathe, and do so only rarely; this is played for as much sheer creepiness factor as possible.
Our Ghouls Are Creepier — Ghouls are vicious undead predators who arise "when a waterlogged corpse is exposed to the light of the new moon", but unlike skeletons or zombies they can breed and form colonies. Other than that they fit the model of zombie ghouls.
Our Giants Are Bigger — Giants are a mixture of the Dungeons & Dragons version and various mythological influences, as most MU races are. They're apparently primordial beings who warred with the forces of chaos, the gods, and the dragons in some combination before leaving the world for another plane, possibly by climbing a stalk or a trunk. Only one of them has been seen in the main story, a badly undersized storm giant named Pala (Icelandic for "small") who "commutes" to Magisterius University.
Our Gnomes Are Weirder — Gnomes are the same as halflings in older Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien's Hobbits, but with typical MU-twists. The natural stealth associated with halflings and gnomes works like a combined Perception Filter and Weirdness Censor, and it gets stronger the more of them are standing in one place. A gnomish professor has to remind her class she's there and is completely ignored by the administration. In a setting where Word of God is that technology doesn't work, they get away with clocks and pianos, but nobody notices. The gnomes themselves don't appear to have noticed they have this power.
Goblins are short marsh-dwellers who worship/live in fear of sleeping Eldritch Abominations. Before becoming civilized by the human empire, they favored direct forms of problem solving, like throwing people into bogs or biting them to death.
Kobolds resemble goblins, but with red skin instead of green. They live in mines beneath mountains and fight dwarves for territory while trying to protect their wealth from human looters. Their society is rigid and more stratified than goblins.
Hobgoblins follow the "larger, stronger goblin" stereotype, but instead of being wicked and cruel they're slow and methodical, being seen by humans as reliable workers.
In the goblins' own language 'Hobgoblin' roughly translates as 'House-boy'. Hobgoblins make up the majority of the labor pool in goblin society, until the humans came and started mucking things up, filling the poor impressionable hobgoblins' heads with such fantastic notions as being paid for their work.
Our Mermaids Are Different — Mermaids can change at will between three forms: standard lady-half/fishie-half mermaid, an intermediate form with a distinctly humanoid lower half covered in scales, and fully human-like. They can also assume a sort of fighting form by growing scale-armor all over their bodies and claws on their hands. It's implied they can also change their faces to a... less appealing form. They're also fond of eating people; their mythology says that their goddess inspired the land-dwellers to build ships for the express purpose of providing them with food. While it's possible for them to mate with humans, they normally reproduce by spawning.
Our Orcs Are Different — Orcs have not been seen so far, perhaps because they're not native to the continent on which the story takes place, but they form part of the cultural backdrop. "Going orcshit" is a common expression, and a history class revealed that orcs occupied the role of Hessian mercenaries in the equivalent of the American Revolution: mooks for hire with a vicious rep. The same class revealed their racial Berserk Button: attacking orc women and children. Callahan is also part orc.
Our Trolls Are Different — Trolls are said to have been made by the gods out of leftovers, as they come in many different heights, limb arrangements, and numbers of heads.
Please Put Some Clothes On — This forms an ongoing argument between Feejee the mermaid, who spends a lot of time more fish than human and sees breasts as entirely non-sexual, and her human boyfriend Rick, who doesn't want to be dating the Innocent Fanservice Girl.
Polyamory — The relationship between Mack, Amaranth, Ian, and Steff. Everyone's boffing everyone except Ian X Steff, partly because they don't exactly get along and partly because Steff's, well, Steff.
Porn with Plot — Roughly half of the first "year" of the story was either pure sex or sexually-themed material. The sexual content has drastically decreased in the second "year" but still comes up every now and then.
Mack's name is a double pun - she's a fire-emitting half-demon with the last name of Blaise, and depending on the translation, "Mackenzie" can mean either "born of fire" or "child of the fair one", or rather, "child of the hottie". Mack's brother Aidan's name also means "fire" or "fiery".
A mermaid named Feejee.Reference: The island of Fiji
It's hinted early on that Mackenzie's grandmother might have once been a famous demon-slaying paladin. Mackenzie, of course, has never heard of any of it and finds the whole thing ridiculous, even as the evidence continues to mount, until it's finally confirmed in Y1-422.
Coach Jillian "Jilly" Callahan has retired from being a mercenary and a successful dragon-slayer to teaching in the combat-athletics department of MU, but has not in any way retired from being Badass.
Callahan gets even more ridiculous when you find out more of her past. She is also known as Gillian Gottmörder and she received an imperial pardon for three counts of attempted deicide (one of which succeeded, but they don't have a law to cover that), two counts of genocide, five counts of high treason against the Imperial Republic (which normally merits summary execution), and her various "petty" murders and property destructions. She also apparently stopped at least two attempts by the giants to retake the world. She has also killed seven greater dragons. Possibly eight. One loses track.
RPG Mechanics Verse — Done very subtly, but played completely straight and not for laughs. Specifically, it's a Tabletop RPG Mechanics Verse, with gods and other extremely powerful entities in the role of Game Master. For example, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies is a known and well-understood phenomenon in adventuring circles, and No Fair Cheating is a codified fundamental principle of magic, on par with the Laws of Thermodynamics.
Rules Lawyering — Hazel does this to justify her wargaming strategy and gets called on it.
Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum — Want to scientifically analyse the world of Tales Of MU? "Well, this is where a lot of the unique undead, cursed artifacts, and tainted lands come from. This is how magical abominations are created." Plus, space isn't always orthogonal: distances can shift between points, and some areas are bigger inside than when measured without. The faery realm exists alongside the mundane world, the realm of giants exists "above" it, and there are gods aplenty. Elves don't need to breathe. And the world itself may be sitting in a magical pocket universe rather than orbiting a star...
One character is blessed with the gift of "is always the strongest person in the room". When a dragon enters the same room as her, things start going out of hand.
Another character has the gift "divine laughter", a sparkling laughter which is appreciated by everyone except demonbloods, who react unfavorably to the "divine" part.
Set Swords to Stun — Justified in Callahan's classes, as the roster would be drastically reduced after each class if they used their real weapons instead of the nonlethal "mocked" versions they use.
Sexiled — Mack and her various partners use a sock on the doorknob. Her roommate Two is very rule-oriented, and doesn't mind as long as they remember to take the sock down afterward. Amaranth (who normally doesn't wear clothes at all) recently bought an entire pack of socks for the purpose of hanging on the doorknob... or so she claims.
Sexy Shirt Switch: Invoked when, after spending the night with Ian, Mackenzie calls Law Agent Arthur Kent, expecting to get his "echo trap" (i.e., answering machine). When Kent answers and asks Mack whether she's aware that she's naked, her response is that she borrowed her girlfriend's shirt (said girlfriend being Amaranth).
Kent: You're witty for five in the morning. I don't do witty before six.
She Is Not My Girlfriend — Mack even protests that the nymph she's having sex with isn't her girlfriend, she's her owner. Apparently that's better...somehow. This does set the stage for someone else to become her acknowledged girlfriend once she's less terrified of the term.
Slice of Life — The story is Mackenzie's college life in first-person.
"I am Delia Daella d'Wyr, daughter of Daella Degra d'Wyr, daughter of Degra Daura d'Wyr..." and on, through a whole score of generations of matriarchs. She concluded with, "Those who style themselves as my friends call me Dee."
Soul Jar: A rare non-sinister variety: if a nymph is killed, she reappears in the field she's bound to. To truly kill her would require destroying her field first.
Spectral Weapon Copy: The mockbox in Coach Callahan's classes produces a magical copy of whatever's placed inside it; this is used to create duplicates of weapons that can deal blows and cause pain but not actually injure the students.
Two speaks with a variation of this: as a freed golem, she speaks fairly formally, and especially does not wish to voice any opinion or preference. In the early chapters, she had serious problems saying that she wanted anything. This can be seen in the "Two's Diary" Bonus stories, where she crosses out any line that expresses any emotion or desire. She's gotten better as the story has gone on, however.
Dee's dialogue is very precise and formal, in keeping with her upbringing.
Despite being neither, the humor-impaired Mack (especially with Amaranth).
More literally, Ian. While he has his fair share of issues, they pale in comparison to everyone else's and he spends a lot of time reacting to them.
Strawman Political: Generally averted. Plenty of characters with different viewpoints on any number of topics are portrayed quite realistically:
Mackenzie, a sheltered girl who spent most of her life living with a very parochial Knight Templar grandmother, gets the "fun" of being both a victim of discrimination and bigotry and occasionally making ignorant remarks that offend and horrify her friends. That being said, she will allow herself to be proven wrong, unlike your garden-variety bigot.
Played straighter in a non-canon filler story by a guest author, with anthropology students treated as patronizing jackasses who need killin' because they're just so darnannoying that even all-loving pacifists will countenance their murder.
Played comedically straight by the newspaper editor and the unnamed feminist who objected to a bake sale by the school's equivalent of a Gay/Straight Alliance.
Stripperiffic: Grace is introduced to Mack and the audience wearing only a set of elaborately-tied (and very sheer) scarves that leaves nothing to the imagination.
Stupid Good: Early on, Maliko seems to assume this about Mack.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: While some magic "just works", such as divine healing, much of the mechanics of magic are explained, in excruciating detail. For example: enchantment works somewhat differently for each caster, but the methods of figuring out those variations is highly formalized. Though if you poke too hard at how the universe works, it will poke back.
Mack does not want to worship at Sooni's feet...or kiss her ass...or lick her pussy while being called filth...
A simultaneous use and inversion: For the first year and part of the second, whenever anyone asked about her mother's death, all Mack would say is "It wasn't my fault." Not very specific, but no one called her on how suspicious that sounded...until the ridiculous owl-turtle thing did so, which got her wondering about how her mother really did die.
Sympathy for the Devil: At then end of Y2-85, Two gives a two-star review to the shop whose owner wanted Mack for Mercy because it was very clean.
Talking Is a Free Action — Subverted. Multiple paragraphs are often devoted to Mack's thoughts and observations to what's going on around her, but she is constantly being called out by those around her for "spacing out" when she does this.
Talking to the Dead — Melanie's letter to Samuel in the final chapter of the OT story about the razing of MU.
They Call Me Mister Tibbs — Female human students are customarily addressed as "Ms. (Last Name)", while other races are referred to as "Miss (Given Name)", as modern-style surnames are mostly used by humans. Half-human Mackenzie eventually insists on being addressed as "Ms. Mackenzie".
Took a Level in Badass — Mack, in small but definite increments as she starts improving her fighting skills in Callahan's class, being really proactive about defending herself from Mack Daddy, and trying to find out about her mother.
Torture Technician — Steff plans on becoming this for Victor after they graduate and Victor takes the throne.
To Serve Man — Demons are required to feed on humans, either something physical or intangible, depending on the individual. Even ones who feed on blood apparently find human flesh tasty, as do other races such as ogres and mermaids...why did you think they were so attracted to sailors?. With members of these races integrated at a human university, it can lead to culture clash.
Steff is MtF. Played with in that, while Steff can "pass" just fine in human society, she looks like a Drag Queen among elves or those who've spent a lot of time with elves. This is made all the more tragic by the Culture Clash between the two culture's views on gender: human culture is dangerously transphobic, elvish culture not so much, but Steff has no hope of passing among elves, and they have little patience for her efforts anyway.
The culture of the subterranean elves features an "ornamental" third gender of MtFs called "halfkind," who undergo a magical transformation that enhances both breasts and male organs, and who serve mostly as a status symbol for their families. Dee eventually gives Steff the halfkind potion to try to help her with some of her issues.
Elves can induce this in others, especially with the whole "not needing to breathe" thing. When Mack and Glory have their first night together, Mack notes how Glory moves through a bed that's nothing but stacked pillows like she's walking through water, and describes the way elves walk as "so unnaturally fluid, so unearthly graceful."
Mack's descriptions in Y1-488 indicate that Chancellor Embries can cause this, on account of his being a dragon shapeshifted to human form.
The story is told from Mack's first-person perspective, and she's often clearly less than honest with herself, let alone the reader. Subjectivity creeps in even when it's not obvious.
Barley telling her version of her most evil moment takes a hard left turn at "unreliable" and heads straight on into Delusionalville. What makes this example even more interesting is that she told it to a character who is a mind-reader; therefore Barley clearly believes her version of the story.
Any time Puddy opens her mouth.
The Q&A session, in which the author invited readers to post questions for certain characters, who then answered them, takes this trope to extremes. Some characters are more unreliable than others, of course...
Unusual Euphemism — Played with. Actual swearing is rendered in the familiar English, but local variants exist to replace such things as "gee" and "gosh."
The Verse — The "MUniverse" is the setting of Tales of MU and its spin-off and side stories. Part of a multiverse, as artifacts lost in a teleport mishap showed up in the author's other stories.
Weapons Kitchen Sink — Comes into play in Callahan's class, Mixed Melee, in which the main character, variously armed with a dagger, a pitchfork, and a quarterstaff, has to spar against Gloria, a Knight Templar with a sword. The lack of parity is at times remarked upon as well.
Webcomic Time — Tales of MU has been going since June of 2007. The story is now at some point in the early part of the second year of Mackenzie's college term.
Ian wants to learn to use fire magic, not because he has any personal interest in it, but because his father is a big fire wizard.
Turns out this is part of why Sooni's so screwed up. Her father wanted a boy, and ended up ignoring her almost completely during her childhood, so now she wants to make him proud of her, even though the readers can tell she never will...
What the Hell, Hero? — Dee's pretty good at this when necessary, but has also been on the receiving end.
Who Wants to Live Forever? — Immortality coupled with their physical perfection takes a toll on elven psyches, and suicide is a common escape. Many elves have spoken at their own funerals, and "taking elven leave" is a dwarf euphemism for suicide.
Wrong Genre Savvy — Sooni is convinced that she's the protagonist of a Shojo manga. She is very, very badly mistaken about what sort of story she is in and her role in it.
Wutai — The island nation of Youkan is a direct equivalent of Feudal Japan, but modernized in the same way that the main setting is, including an equivalent of anime that Sooni is very fond of.
Yaoi Fangirl — Missy, one of the characters in More Tales of MU is very clearly one of these. What makes it funny is that previously, the gay sex itself spawned a conversation in the comments concerning the existence of such fangirls.
Played for Blue and Orange Morality, most notably with nymphs, who have been granted their humanoid bodies as a gift to those who created them from the great Mother Khaele. What this means is that they must expose themselves at all times, and wearing clothing is their taboo. They also are given these bodies (as opposed to their "other body," that is, the field that is also a physical part of them) to engage in frequent sexual activity with others, which causes both their field and humanoid form to become healthier and sustained.
Implying that an elf enjoys heterosexual intercourse is apparently a dire insult.
Played with regarding Dee's (dark) elf culture as well, where the heavily-matriarchal society in which she was raised gives Dee some less-than-humanizing views of men, resulting in some Deliberate Values Dissonance when she talks with surface-dwellers about their "fathers," a concept with significantly diminished importance in her society.