Tropes that apply to any Show Within a Show in The Elder Scrolls verse. Some are pure fiction, others tales based around historical events, while a select few are historical documents. Some people mentioned actually exist in game or previous ones, often as high level skill trainers.All texts can be found at The Imperial Library fansite, as well as at The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages. There's even a smartphone app containing them.And yes, there are so goddamned many of them that they warrant their own. Just look at that list.
Tropes found in said books include
Acceptable Political Targets/Self-Deprecation/Sincerity Mode: In-Universe example. The Horror of Castle Xyr notes that the Clavides' response of "As, I hear, are all Telvanni," to the line "We're loyal Imperial subjects," should not be read sarcastically. It is also noted to get a laugh out of any audience, regardless of local politics. It also happens to be the trigger for a murderer to attack you when you step in for an actor in the Morrowind expansion Tribunal. The director of the show apologizes and says the original actor was targeted due to banging a Telvanni diplomat's daughter.
Action Survivor: Decumus Scotti of A Dance In Fire. He is just an ordinary businessman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets put through hell over the course of the seven volume book series, but comes out of each of his trials mostly unharmed by the end.
Ambiguous Gender: Whoever first told the story of Weedle the Beggar Prince went to great lengths to avoid specifying Weedle's gender.
Appropriated Appellation: 'Renrijra Krin' is a derogatory expression, but it amuses them so they have adopted it as their name.
The King in The Mystery of Talara. His arrest is very satisfying once you know all the facts.
A Taste Of Their Own Medicine: Night Falls on Sentinel ends with female knight Haballa about to use the pressure points described by assassin Jomic on him.
Awesome, but Impractical / Boring, but Practical: The Armorer's Challenge. A gladiator wearing rusted scale mail and armed with a spear beats another gladiator wearing ebony armor and armed with an enchanted dai-katana, because the arena is flooded to resemble swamp terrain and his gear is more suited to the conditions.
Be Careful What You Wish For: The Legend Of Haman Forgefire tells the story of a great blacksmith named Haman who could craft amazing weapons better than anyone else. A rival smith grows ever more jealous of him as time goes on and ultimately enlists the help of Molag Bal who promises to grant her wish of becoming more famous than Haman could ever hope to be. After killing him as per her agreement she does indeed become more famous than he could ever hope to be just as she had wanted... during the moment of her execution for Haman's murder.
Big Book of War: The Art of War Magic by Imperial Battlemage Zurin Arctus, which consists of a series of proverbs dealing with magic and military strategy coupled with commentaries on the proverbs by other mages.
Black Comedy: Essentially the entire point of the seven-volume story A Dance In Fire. A clerk from Imperial City is fired and, desperate, heads to Valenwood to sell building contracts to the Bosmer so they can fix their infrastructure after a war with the Khajiit. While he's there, horrible things happen to him and everyone around him on a regular basis. Among other things; he loses all his money very quickly, the war starts up again so he's constantly narrowly dodging bands of rampaging Khajiit, he encounters an ex-pirate who's miserable about the war have driven him into honest work, various things try to eat him (and there's a Running Gag about the cannibalistic Bosmer), and he's accosted by a poet unjustifiably convinced that he's found a fellow scholar of Bosmer verse and won't shut up about it. (Said poet is the source of the title.) Even when he survives and gets home safely with a new and more lucrative job in hand, the story has one more thing in store. After that, there is a four-volume sequel, The Argonian Account, where the clerk gets sent to Black Marsh.
Breakout Character: Originally a minor sidequest in Morrowind, the The Lusty Argonian Maid appears frequently, even the subject of some dialog, in Oblivion due to the Memetic Mutation it received. By Skyrim, an equally filthy sequel has been published.
The Dawnguard DLC to Skyrim adds The Sultry Argonian Bard. It takes the same concept, flips the genders and uses the writer's name for the non-Argonian character.
Canon Name: The dead brother in the Daggerfall quest "Missing Prince" has a random name every time the game is played. Night Falls on Sentinel gives the victim's name as Arthago.
Can't Hold His Fermented Pig's Milk: Poor Scotti has barely finished half a flagon of the titular drink before becoming drunk off his ass. He then passes out shortly after finishing it and finds himself about to be eaten alive by a giant insect. Luckily, he survives. Unluckily, this is only the second volume of A Dance In Fire and he still has five more volumes of misfortune to suffer through.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Inzoliah from A Hypothetical Treachery manages to successfully backstab the three other adventurers in the party to claim the entire treasure at the very end of the story.
If an enemy is facing us, we might consider our options, and even slip away if his sword looks too big. If his back is to us, however, I personally favor knocking him down, and then jumping on his neck where the bones snap with a gratifying crunch. Of course, it is up to you and your personal style.
Cutting the Knot: Discussed in Proper Lock Design, a skill book for lockpicking. The author notes that he's come across several chests with intact Dwarven locks, but emptied of all contents. The thief smashed the wood around the lock and just reached in.
This may be a callback to Arena and Daggerfall, where those not skilled in lockpicking or magic could just pummel a locked door or chest until it opened.
David Versus Goliath: In 16 Accords of Madness - Volume VI, Sheogorath and Hircine challenge each other to summon beasts that will duel to the death; Hircine chooses a mutated daedroth while Sheogorath chooses a songbird. The songbird perches on the daedroth's snout and tricks it into blinding itself with its own claws, then proceeds to taunt it with cheerful song as it tears itself apart trying to find and kill its prey. The story is a Whole Plot Reference to one of Aesop's Fables, with the bird standing in for a fly and the daedroth for a lion, though it leaves out the part where the fly buzzes off bragging about its triumph and runs into a spider web.
Confessions of a Khajiit Fur Trader: Not only is the narrator a fur trader who is also a Khajiit, but Khajiit fur is one of the products he sells.
The Importance of Where is about a warrior learning where to strike blows; he must strike the monster's weakpoints in order to kill it, but he also needs to chase it to his village before landing the final blow so he gets all the glory.
Dual Wielding: In 2920, Morning Star the Akaviri Potentate's son Savirien-Chorak uses a katana and wakizashi in an exhibition match against Emperor Reman's son Juilek.
The Daedric Lord Jyggalag has actually been mentioned in the Lore since Daggerfall (in the book On Oblivion, where he was listed along with the other Daedric Princes), but we didn't learn anything about him apart from his name until the Shivering Isles expansion pack of Oblivion not only established him as the Prince of Order, but provided his on-screen debut in an Elder Scrolls game.
Movarth, the vampire hunter in Immortal Blood, appears in Skyrimas the lord of a vampire clan. It seems the book's narrator decided to turn him instead of killing him.
Enforced Technology Levels: The 3-volume story of Feyfolken is used to explain why this is the case for enchanting tools. Apparently, if the tools are too easy to use, anyone can craft items with powerful enchantments without being aware of the potential ramifications. The story tells of a quill pen enchanted with such tools, which drove its user insane and eventually, to suicide.
Palla provides an example for why one better double-check the facts before attempting necromancy.
A Tragedy In Black begins with an inexperienced young mage summoning a dremora to do his bidding. Unfortunately, he never learned that accepting a gift breaks the conjuration and frees the dremora when he is given a black soul gem. Naturally, the story ends with him sealed inside that exact gem while the dremora is free to hunt down his mother, noting that he has an extra black soul gem to use...
The pleasure of pressing a searing hot poker through his eye and into his brain!
Fake Ultimate Hero: Ragnar the Red. Reportedly a hero of great renown with an ego the size of a bull netch. Eventually, a female warrior got sick of his arrogance and challenged him to a duel. He didn't even last a minute.
Fantastic Racism: The Pig Children paints Orcs as violent savage brutes that are a blight on all of Tamriel.
Fearful Symmetry: In The Mirror, the protagonist is an expert at shield based combat. No matter who he fights, he can block and deflect their attacks almost indefinitely, until they slip up and he kills them. Until one day he meets someone with exactly the same fighting style as him, with the same skill level. He loses... and it turns out they were brothers, separated while young. The surviving brother apparently never finds out the truth.
Flock of Wolves: The author of A Game at Dinner considers the possibility that every one of Helseth's 'trusted' servants could be a spy in the service of another master.
Framing Device: Hallgerd's Tale consists of three fighters discussing who the greatest warrior in history was. The title character comes up with the tale of Pasoroth, a man who was more capable while wearing heavy armor than he was out of it.
Friendly Enemy: When Menegur in The Rear Guard successfully defends a besieged castle for several months singlehandedly, the soldiers in the besieging army line up to shake his hand once a truce is called. They've gained tremendous respect for him and his skills over the course of the campaign, and were only trying to kill him because it was their job.
Genuine Human Hide: "Confessions of a Khajiit Fur Trader" has a double meaning in its title: The race of the author, and what his trade is.
God Save Us from the Queen!: One of the longer books is "The Wolf Queen," and it's about Potema, a ruthless woman who did everything she could to elevate herself and screw over everyone else. During the last part of her reign, she resorted to hiring tons of necromancers and daedra conjurers. One of her final acts was giving future emperor Pelagius III (then, just a boy) a small charm which would slowly erode his sanity as an adult, just to screw over him and his family after she was gone.
She is mentioned in several other books, and (in undead form) shows up in Skyrim. By all appearances, she actually was that bad, although some of the specific things (such as arranging for Pelagius III's insanity) The Wolf Queen implies or outright says she was responsible for do not appear in other sources.
In The Three Thieves, an assassin teaches his two partners how to slice someone's throat without giving them chance to scream or covering yourself in bloodstains. When he tries to scam them out of their shares following a heist, they use one of his own techniques to murder him in his bed.
In the twelve-parter 2920: The Last Year of the First Era, Emperor Reman Cyrodiil III's paranoia that almost everyone he knows is plotting against him (which, frankly, isn't necessarily a bad assumption if you rule a Deadly Decadent Court) leads him to commit actions that eventually trigger a successful plot to get him assassinated.
Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The Posting of the Hunt describes a ritual in which the Daedra hunt mortals using the Spear of Bitter Mercy. According to Spirit of the Daedra, all dremora regard themselves as huntsmen, with mortals as their prey.
I Am Who?: The Mystery of Talara is a whole 5 volume series of this. The ending pulls a fast one on the reader and reveals JYLLIA is Talara, not Gyna. Gyna is actually the real Jyllia.
Impossible Thief: Purloined Shadows chronicles how Emer Dareloth stole the Gray Cowl from Nocturnal, the goddess of shadows, and became the first Gray Fox.
The Black Arrow ends with the revelation that this is how someone has been placing an ebony arrow in the heart of a painting of the villain every day, without fail. From a tree, across some distance, through the keyhole and into the painting.
The Gold Ribbon of Merit has an archer firing a shot over the target and into a valley during a practice session with his friend. When his friend gets home that evening, he finds the stray bolt sticking into the archery trophy his family had displayed in the great hall of their house.
Do not ally yourself with the Renrij if you yearn to be part of a mighty army, marching resolutely forth, for whom retreat is anathema. We will laugh at your suicidal idiocy as we slip into the reeds of the river, and watch the inevitable slaughter.
Lady Macbeth: The person running the torturer chamber in The Horror of Castle Xyr turns out not to be the Telvanni mage who owns the castle it is in, but rather his wife.
Laser-Guided Karma: The uncle in The Axe Man beats and abuses his nephew, Torik, for every little thing, particularly when he doesn't satisfy the former with his chores (which includes sweeping the shelves, ringing the bells, and cleaning the floors). Torik eventually murders him and cleans up the evidence using all the skills he learned during his time with the uncle.
Mind Screw: Applies to the metaphysics and finer theological points of the Elder Scrolls universe anyway, but special mention has to go to the mysterious concept of CHIM briefly (and sketchily) outlined in The 36 Lessons of Vivec. Even mentioning it is certain to provoke hours of heated philosophical discussion in certain corners of the Internet. The idea can mostly be likened to achieving Nirvana, but the specifics are often debated.
Never Mess with Granny: The Cake and the Diamond. While she never resorts to physical violence a master alchemist effortlessly outwits a group of thieves, steals most of their diamond, and makes her escape before they can even figure out what is going on.
No Man of Woman Born: Andas in Hope of the Redoran is said to be impossible to harm with blade, spell, disease or poison... so Athyn beats him to death with a club.
Outscare the Enemy: The Art of War Magic describes a battle between the Chimer and the Nords; the Nord shamans send a windstorm to confuse and dismay the Chimer army, but a crafty Chimer sorceror summons an ice demon and orders it to hide out of sight behind the Chimer army. When the Chimer try to retreat from the storm, the ice demon reveals itself and the Chimer, more scared of the demon than the storm, charge back towards the Nords and eventually win the battle.
Pay Evil unto Evil: 'The Lopper' in Last Scabbard for Akrash is a Serial Killer who exclusively targets people who are heavily involved in Morrowind's slave trade.
Pressure Point: Described in Night Falls on Sentinel, which raises a reader's blunt weapon skill.
The Reveal: In Immortal Blood, the narrator is a vampire.
Rule 63: The Sultry Argonian Bard is a gender-flipped version of The Lusty Argonian Maid.
Rules Lawyer: Menegur in The Rear Guard uses a long-forgotten law to claim the title of Count of Cascabel (The law, devised in 3E 246, states that any man without a liege who occupies a castle for more than three months is granted the rights and titles of that estate, and Menegur was Cascabel's sole defender during a siege).
Schizo Tech: A specific example is used as a plot point in Chimarvamidium; anyone familiar with the dwemer knows that they use Steam PunkGolems as weapons of war, but the idea of a flesh-and-blood warrior wearing platemail armor all over their body is a relatively new concept.
A transliminal passage of quickened objects or entities without the persistant agency of hyperagonal media is impossible, and even if possible would result in the instantaneous retromission of the transported referents. Only a transpontine circumpenetration of the limen will result in transits of greater than infinitessimal duration...
Sdrawkcab Name: Most of the characters in the Beggar, Thief, Warrior, King quadrilogy. Also invoked by the vampires in 'Surfeit of Thieves'.
Shaggy Dog Story: Of Fjori and Holgeir. Holgeir is bitten by a snake, and his lover Fjori journeys to Akavir to find a cure. As she brings the cure to Holgeir, she gets bitten by the same snake, and the combination of venom and exhaustion kills her as she uses the antidote to save him. Holgeir orders the construction of a tomb for his lover, and takes his own life in the deepest chamber so he can join her in the afterlife. And then, in Skyrim, their corpses are turned into Draugrs by an insane necromancer.
Sink or Swim Mentor: Arthcamu in The Locked Room tests his students' speed and skill in lockpicking by locking them in a room with a ravenous vampire; if they can't escape before sunset, the vampire wakes up and kills them.
Surprise Creepy: A Gift Of Sanctuary is an in-universe example. It starts out like a common children's book any parent might read to their child but takes a really dark turn at about the halfway point.
Theme Tune Cameo: Songs of Skyrim contains the lyrics to the game's theme, "Dragonborn", in both Draconic and English.
Title Confusion: Oblivion contains The Horror of Castle Xyr as The Horrors of Castle Xyr for an In-Universe/meta/something example.
Tongue Trauma: Straw's tongue is removed to keep him quiet in The Real Barenziah.
Trojan Horse: Chimarvamidium, in which the golem the dwarves gave to the Chimer as a peace offering turns out to be a dwarf warrior wearing platemail.
Done wonderfully in The Mystery of Talara. Despite the book setting up Gyna as Talara, it's revealed she's actually Jyllia and Jyllia is Talara.
In Palla, it turns out the mage did actually succeed in his attempts of resurrection, except that he had the names confused and instead of resurrecting the heroine he wished to meet, he brought back the monster that killed her.
A marvelous one with The Charwich-Koniinge Letters. It appears at first that the titular Charwich had been murdered by a Daedric lord disguised as a mysticist, but those with a knowledge of the series (and especially Azura's Star) will find that very unlikely indeed...
Un Equal Rites: Bero's Speech to the Battlemages and Response to Bero's Speech. Bero is an illusionist who thinks poorly of the school of Destruction and makes a speech arguing that it deserves to by a subset of the Alteration school rather than a school in its own right. The battlemage Malvisor responds by pointing out multiple fallacies in Bero's arguments, claiming an illusionist has no place criticizing a school he hasn't studied for himself and taking a few snipes against Bero and his favored school of magic in the process:
"It certainly isn't a coincidence that a master of the School of Illusion cast this attack on the School of Destruction. Illusion is, after all, all about masking the truth."
Vagina Dentata: Inverted (and downplayed — it's painful, but it apparently doesn't result in any lasting damage) in the Daggerfall version of The Real Barenziah where it is mentioned that Khajiit penises are barbed (like feline penises in Real Life). This passage was BowdlerizedIn-Universe in later Elder Scrolls games.
Wax On, Wax Off: The Axe Man contains an unintentional example. An orphan used by his uncle for labor uses the skills learned to murder said uncle and clean up after himself.
Wrong Genre Savvy: The wife in Cabin in the Woods. She thinks she's in a Deal with the Devil type of horror story and she's The Hero slaying the evil demon. She's in a horror story all right, but she's the Ax-Crazy villain who butchers an innocent mage and suffers a horrific curse of undeath as punishment.
You Are Number Six: According to Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st edition, Altmer from the Summerset Isles don't have names, just combinations of numbers that sound like such to the few humans who visit the isles and hear them speaking to one another.
"Life is short. If you have not made love recently, please, put down this book, and take care of that with all haste. Find a wanton lass or a frisky lad, or several, in whatever combination your wise loins direct, and do not under any circumstances play hard to get. Our struggle against the colossal forces of oppression can wait." "Good. Welcome back."