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Literature / Guardians of the Flame

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

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

In total, the books are as follows:

  • 1. The Sleeping Dragon (1983)
  • 2. The Sword and the Chain (1984)
  • 3. The Silver Crown (1985)
  • 4. The Heir Apparent (1987)
  • 5. The Warrior Lives (1988)
  • 6. The Road to Ehvenor (1991)
  • 7. The Road Home (1995)
  • 8. Not Exactly the Three Musketeers (1999)
  • 9. Not Quite Scaramouche (2001)
  • 10. Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda (2003)

Additionally, five omnibus editions were published collecting books 1-7. First by the Science Fiction Book Club were Guardians of the Flame: The Warriors (books 1-3, 1985) and Guardians of the Flame: the Heroes (books 4-5, 1989). Baen Books then released The Guardians of the Flame (books 1-3, 2003), Guardians of the Flame: Legacy (books 4-5, 2004) and Guardians of the Flame: to Home and Ehvenor (books 6-7, 2004).


Tropes encountered include:

  • Addictive Magic: It's stated explicitly to resemble cocaine addiction—a little bit every now and then is okay, but use too much and it's a steep, quick decline into obsession, madness, and bad hygiene. Demonstrated with Andy-Andy, who keeps to a slow, safe, gentle progression, until Karl dies, at which point she takes a flying leap off the slippery slope. Subverted in the end - given the choice of sacrificing her sanity or ability to do magic for enough power for an epic spell, she chooses the latter. She does, however, display symptoms of catastrophic cold-turkey withdrawal afterward. This may also be the entire motivation of Arthur Deighton/Arta Myrdhyn.
  • An Adventurer Is You: Each of the students becomes an archetypal role-playing hero, complete with the abilities and limitations appropriate to their level and class.
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  • Another Dimension: The fantasy world that the students are sent to (and later returned to) in the first book.
  • Anyone Can Die: And how! Usually, one significant character per book bites it, but the biggest one has to be when Karl, the central protagonist of the series so far, sacrifices himself so the rest of his motley crew can escape a trap in the fourth book. Other hugely important deaths include Jason Parker, James/Ahira, although he got better, Rahff Furnael, Chak, Baron Zherr Furnael, Tennety, Mikyn,, and Durine.
  • The Archmage: The two most powerful wizards in the series are Arta Myrdhyn and his foe Lucius of Pandathaway, who laid waste to an entire region long ago during a magical battle. Among clerics, the Matriarch of the Healing Hand is the greatest, a healer so powerful she can even raise the dead.
  • Automaton Horses: The horses don't take center stage, but they are mentioned as having different personalities which are sometimes incompatible with their riders. A scene in one book has the hero trimming the hooves of warhorses and re-shoeing them in preparation for a battle. Ahira expects that the horses will be galloped when they're struggling with new terrain, to get accustomed. Karl (as his character's the only one who knows about horses) immediately shoots it down, pointing out the horses can be killed doing that.
  • Back from the Dead: James/Ahira, courtesy of the Healing Hand Society and the Dragon at the Gate, respectively. Unlike many examples of the trope, this is not only played as something extremely taxing and draining of power, but as something with great ramifications which cost a high price. As a result, numerous sacrifices are required for it and it's the only example in the series. Something of a nod to the Dungeons & Dragons spells of resurrection which it mimics, which until characters reach a high-enough level themselves requires going to clerics who will charge a great deal for the gold, components, and experience it costs and, at least under the 1st and 2nd Edition rules, costs the resurrector's years of their life, although otherwise it's still less cost-prohibitive than as presented in the series. The Matriarch implies this is at least partly due to a non-interference clause and/or blocking magic (and something unique to the Healing Hand), but since there seems to be no other clerics who have the power the point becomes somewhat moot.
  • Berserk Button:
    • James/Ahira's feelings toward his disability, condescending people, and the name "Jimmy" from anyone except Walter Slovotsky.
    • Less pronounced, but it should be no surprise even aside from the danger he poses to Karl and the others that Doria would lose her temper and make demands of the Matriarch of the Healing Hand when confronted by Ahrmin, considering his father was the one who raped her. This is also an underlying reason why she defies the Matriarch later and indirectly helps Jason Cullinane take him down.
  • The Big Guy: Karl Cullinane in his warrior persona. Also Walter Slovotsky, football player/party thief, in either persona ... big, beefy, and too good-natured to dislike.
  • Bound and Gagged: A common tactic in the fantasy world to keep spellcasters helpless such as Andy-Andy and Doria. When Karl and his friends need to return to that world, they overpower Deighton and do this to him to ensure he'll listen without pulling any tricks.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Happens to Aristobulus/Lou Riccetti at the end of the first book, to save Ahira. Also happens in book four to Doria when she goes against the Matriarch's wishes to save Jason Cullinane. Doria is left with a certain number of unknown spells in her mind which she can use, but is extremely reluctant to do so since they cannot be replaced.
  • The Casanova: Walter Slovotsky. At the beginning of the story, he and Doria have already been "Friends with Benefits" for some time. His charming personality and status as a football star imply that he's very popular with girls. During the first trip to This Side, he also sleeps with Andy-Andy (angering Karl, who's attracted to her). She ends up with Karl though. Even after he gets married, Walter doesn't stop, and continues having sex with other women.
  • Changing of the Guard: After Karl's death in book four, the series shifts to first Jason Cullinane, then Walter (with lesser moments focused on Ahira and Lou Riccetti). The last three books are an entire shift away from the Other Siders, since they focus exclusively on the adventures of three Imperial guards who had served first Baron Furnael, then Karl, and finally Thomen Furnael.
  • Class and Level System: How characters are built in the group's roleplaying game, with levels given as "(letter) class" rather than "level (number)". For example, Doria, the group's highest-ranking character, is a K-class cleric.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Andy-Andy and Karl name their son Jason, after the deceased Jason Parker. Deighton comments on this approvingly when he and Karl have a meet-up between worlds in book three.
  • Deadpan Snarker: All over the place, but the biggest (and funniest) contender has to be Ellegon.
  • Defiled Forever: Doria's view of herself after covering up a teenage sexual experience, which then left her sterilized by an STD that was treated too late.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Other Side is a Medieval-like world, and thus it has many aspects that are very different from modern (well, 1980s) US culture. Karl finds that his character's personality views Doria badly for her past promiscuity early on for instance. The biggest is likely that slavery doesn't simply exist, but forms the foundation of the regional economy, with no one before the protagonists actively opposing it at first. Even a number of former slaves find the idea it's an inherently evil thing odd, even if naturally they didn't like experiencing slavery themselves. Later, a man objects to the protagonists stopping him from beating his son, because he was "disciplining" him, as he feels is his right to do.
  • Disability-Negating Superpower: Although not a superpower per se, this is why James Michael loves This Side, where he's an able-bodied dwarf warrior. On Earth he has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Karl has all of Barak's warrior skills inside him, and has to let them come out in a fight rather than overthinking the situation. While this gives Karl instant expertise, it also means that the fighting abilities he received are locked at their present level because he doesn't know how to improve them.
  • Don't Wake the Sleeper: Ellegon warns Karl not to wake the dragon that guards the Gate Between Worlds, since it's much too powerful for the party to defeat or even harm. Sadly, a traumatized Doria screams on seeing it.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: James Michael hates it when people pity him for having to use a wheelchair because of his muscular dystrophy - or worse, when they display badly-concealed revulsion (as Doria does).
  • Double Consciousness: For the first book at least, this is a prevalent and even at times dangerous trope which afflicts most of the party in one way or another, though the danger comes from different sides depending on the character.
    • It is Jason Parker's inability to keep from slipping into thief mode, and then realizing what he'd done and drawing attention to his thievery when he goes back to being himself, that gets him killed.
    • Karl is often at odds with Barak. On the one hand, Barak's invoked Values Dissonance regarding women and slaughter runs counter to Karl's own modern sensibilities. Meanwhile, Karl has a gamer's tendency to get verbose and cocky in dangerous moments rather than letting his warrior personality go on autopilot to handle the threat. At times it comes close to a Split-Personality Takeover or Enemy Within, before Karl finally resolves to use Barak without becoming him.
    • Doria cannot regain her spells because unlike her cleric self, she doesn't believe in a higher power anymore, while Lou Riccetti, although already yearning for magic as something to give his life meaning, takes on more and more of the arrogance and judgmental nature of Aristobulus toward the rest of the party until he gives up his magic and other self to save Ahira.
    • The only ones who don't seem to have a problem of this nature are Walter (who other than having his sense of superiority and center-of-the-universe attitude knocked out of him never seems to be at odds with Hakim), Ahira/James, and Andrea/Lotana.
      • In Ahira's case this would seem to be due to his subsuming himself completely in his character thanks to his desire never to go back to a disabled body. It is possible the death of his original body may have had something to do with this, but his thoughts that appear in the narrative always seem to be a fairly seamless melding of both personalities. Admittedly, less and less mention is made of James's life as the series progresses.
      • Other than the magic kept locked within her mind, Andrea never seems to have any issues with Lotana at all - perhaps because as a new character just rolled up for that session, plus Andy-Andy's cynicism and lack of investment in the game, there wasn't a personality to compete with. After coming to the new world, she is called Lotana exactly once by her teammates as they're getting their bearings; when she rejects that name in favor of her own, the name is quickly dropped from the narrative.
    • Doria is a unique example in that her character actually seems to resemble her in the real world (probably related to the fact they share the same name In-Universe), and that after being raped the cleric personality is implied to have taken over until she is able to recover. Still, when Doria is encountered later she seems to be her normal self again in both personality and memories (whether she took over again after recovering, another merge occurred, or the personalities were just that much alike to begin with is never made clear), and after she gives up her power to save Jason Cullinane, she fully resumes her original appearance (and age!) and states that "Doria of the Healing Hand is gone," suggesting either that the other personality was tied to her clerical powers or that the Matriarch stripped it from her as punishment along with her powers.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Big time. In the course of their quest to return to Earth, two of the students are killed, two are raped (with one becoming catatonic), and all but one are captured by a slaver that they have to fight free of. And then they have to go back to resurrect one ... yes, that's right, just one ... of the fallen heroes and wake the catatonic one, with part of the price being Lou giving up magic, Karl agreeing to fight slavery for the rest of his life and Doria passing into the care of her clerical order for the foreseeable future. And even with the enormous sacrifices on behalf of the protagonists, it is still made clear that this was a one-time thing, and the Hand would never again help them in any way. And it's implied that this was because the Hand could not: even with the sacrifices, it still cost the Matriarch of the Hand far too much to bring James/Ahira back, far more than she and her whole order could afford to give, and that the Hand itself would help them no further because there was no more help it could afford to give. Thankfully the Spidersect was perfectly willing to aid them afterwards, at their typical enormous price.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Karl manipulates one from the Prince of Bieme after he betrayed them to the Holts, causing his own guardsmen to turn on him in disgust (they were listening behind a curtain).
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Subverted from the third book on, when engineering student Lou Riccetti works out how to recreate gunpowder weapons and give the fight for freedom a big edge. It becomes an arms race, though, after the bad guys figure out a way to create a magical equivalent to gunpowder.
  • Friends with Benefits: Doria and Walter have been in a relationship like this for an unspecified period at the start of the series.
  • The Game Come to Life: This is how the series starts. Five college students play a Dungeons & Dragons like game and then find themselves inside the game world, having been turned into their characters. It turns out their professor and the game master is a wizard who hails from that world, so he based the game on its features. Since they got so into it, he'd decided to send them inside, thinking this would be fun, with a standard quest. Boy, do they suffer for it.
  • Game Master: Dr. Arthur Deighton, philosophy professor, is a longtime GM who has this great new campaign he wants to try...
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: Lou Riccetti's wizard character renounces his magic only to start using his engineering knowledge to overturn Medieval Stasis in their fight against slavery. Predictably, the opposing factions, although not privy to the details of things such as how to make gunpowder, find ways to adapt the technology through magic. In fact the slavers manage to make some water-powered rifles which partly work by a spell.
  • Gladiator Games: Subverted, in that the Great Games of Pandathaway are not a sentence for slaves but actually a means for fighters to earn a few coins in between jobs. Participants can become quite wealthy if they fight well, or bet well on the games.
  • Go for the Eye: Aristobulus uses a Light spell to temporarily blind the massive, invincible dragon that stands between the party and the Gate Between Worlds.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. When Andy-Andy becomes pregnant, Karl (the father) gives his immediate support to whatever choice she makes, even saying he would perform a D&C himself, despite having no medical training (reasoning their healing potions will fix any damage). She ultimately decides against abortion, and they have a son, though it's made clear it would have been perfectly acceptable. In his internal thoughts, Karl specifically disclaims the idea that a blastocyst is a person.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Great Library of Pandathaway, which makes the similarly-named one of Alexandria look sick. However, actually finding anything there can be quite expensive, especially if the librarians take a dislike to you.
  • Healer God: Doria becomes her character, who's a cleric of the Healing Hand. The entire order is dedicated to healing people in their deity's service.
  • Healing Potion: Healing draughts are common and carried by people going into battle. Although they're not quite a panacea, they save many people across the series, including protagonists.
  • Heroic Fantasy: In the series, some gamers playing what is basically Dungeons & Dragons are transported into a fantasy world, and become their characters. At first it focuses simply on them trying to survive and return home. In later books they get drawn into a crusade to abolish slavery, then form one state/take over a couple others, but it still focuses on the deeds and struggles of the heroes.
  • Heroic Suicide: Chak performs a suicide attack to detonate the enemy's powder store during a battle. To a certain extent, the same thing happens to Karl in book four.
  • He's Just Hiding!: Performed in-universe with Karl. His friends know that he's almost certainly dead, but they hold out hope, in part because he's such a powerful symbol for the resistance.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Doria lost any faith in a benevolent deity after negative experiences in her life. This causes problems on the Other Side, since she can't pray for her spells to come back without it. Later though she comes to believe in the Healing Hand and embraces her role as a cleric.
  • Humans Are Bastards: How Ellegon has come to view humanity after having been drugged, captured and forced to incinerate sewage for the last 300 years to keep himself from drowning in it. After his liberation by Karl, subsequent books find him modifying his views, saving his wrath for the slavers.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Slovotsky's Laws, an ever-growing list of Walter Slovotsky's humorous (and often accurate) observations about the world around him.
  • I Choose to Stay: James Michael Finnigan, after getting the chance to leave his disabled body and become the dwarf warrior Ahira. Although it is never made clear, it's possible he can't go back even if he wanted to since his body on The Other Side was burned to a crisp and this may be a thing the Matriarch's magic cannot undo.
  • Informed Judaism: Doria is Jewish, but it's only shown from being stated as such, and her last name (Perlstein).
  • Lady Macbeth: Played with for Baroness Beralyn Furnael. On the one hand, she takes an almost instant dislike to Karl and the rest of the Other Siders, which is only intensified into outright hatred for Karl when she blames him for the death of her eldest son, Rahff, after he apprentices with the warrior. However, she does seem to have the best interests of Bieme at heart, and while she later becomes paranoid that Jason Cullinane will try and take the throne back from Thomen, she otherwise supports her son's efforts, becoming a dowager-baroness and not attempting to take over in any demonstrable way, nor does she stand against the democratic principles being introduced.
  • Land of One City: There are many of these in the region where the books are set. Pandathaway has the most power, as a merchant city which is the hub of all regional commerce.
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water: A group of college students is transported into a fantasy world and end up using their modern knowledge to establish a state dedicated to liberty and equality - and defended with gunpowder and machinery.
  • Love Dodecahedron: For the first book, a rather complex and twisted one exists around the main four of the party, as both Walter and Karl were once involved with Doria, Karl is currently interested in Andrea, she in turn has a fling with Walter, and Doria shows signs of wanting to rekindle things with Karl at one point. It's also implied that James/Ahira has a thing for Doria which he obviously could never act on until having a physically active body (complicated by her often inadvertent but hurtful condescension/repellent attitude toward him). All of this is done away with after the first book, since Doria leaves the party for some time, Karl and Andrea become an item by the end of the book, and eventually Walter falls for and marries one of the slaves they free—though this doesn't change his The Casanova ways, he never shows anything but proper friendship for Andrea (or Doria, once she returns) after that, and even marries Karl's adopted daughter when she grows up.
  • Made a Slave: At one point, the party is captured by slavers intent on revenge for an earlier humiliation. Also part of the origin story for many of the people who are freed and/or recruited by Karl's band.
  • Magical Society: The Pandathaway Wizards Guild are one of the guilds which rule the city state.
  • Meaningful Name: Aside from Arta Myrdhyn, Karl Cullinane, and Andrea/Doria, it should be noted that the main antagonist for most of the first four books is named Ahrmin.
  • The Medic: Doria attempts to avert this trope—she's sick of playing the healer, she wants to *do* something. She only agrees to play the cleric after winning the power to approve the others' characters, but gets conned into letting them all play who they want anyway.
  • Merchant City: Pandathaway, a port city which is a commercial hub and caters to visitors looking for goods. There is practically nothing that's not out for sale (this also makes it the center of the regional slave trade, much to the heroes' disgust). Merchants and guild heads run it.
  • Monty Haul: Averted. The GM tries to give the characters a big pile of magic items at the start to make the quest a piece of cake, but a panicky Lou accidentally blows them up with a lightning spell. Not quite his fault, since he was told at the gaming table to prepare one 'just in case' due to the shift in starting points, suffered a head injury when they were transposed and just let loose with the lightning bolt due to his confusion.
  • A Mythology Is True: Celtic/Arthurian mythology seems to be genuine in this world to some degree, what with Arta Myrdhyn and his magical sword which he leaves in a cave to be pulled from the grip of a magical spell by a certain special boy. Commented on by Karl as this world being the likely source of some of our myths. When in Ehvenor and encountering the faeries, he also meets one who calls herself Titania, although she speaks of this as being a matter of convenience as "something he can comprehend."
  • Named After Somebody Famous: In a Stealth Pun of sorts, the two female members of the party have names which when put together match the ill-fated S.S. Andrea Doria; in the latter's case, this should have been a clue she was going to have an unhappy fate, although the shout-out becomes less obvious after Doria leaves the series for a couple of books and everyone calls Andrea either Andy or Andy-Andy (after her repetitive last name, Andropolous). More subtly, main character Karl Cullinane has a name quite reminiscent of Cú Chulainn and shares some of his values and even Sociopathic Hero tendencies via his other self (although it's actually Ahira who is the berserker of the group).
  • Narnia Time: The students spent months on This Side, and return shortly after they left.
  • Never Learned to Read: Though all the main characters are literate in English, everyone except the wizards and cleric finds themselves unable to read or write the language of their new home. As early as book two, this has been corrected (except for with Jason), who is killed early in book one.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted. Walter notes that after a battle, the whole area smells, as people will mostly void their bowels at death.
  • No Name Given: The Matriarch of the Healing Hand is only referred to with this title. Her actual name is never revealed.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons in this world are the typical extremely powerful western wyrms, save that they cannot afford to harass humanity too directly because of a deathly allergy to a common herb named dragonbane which can be used to poison missile weapons. As a result, Ellegon is deathly afraid of bows after being shot down this way. They also communicate via telepathy and use telekinesis to fly in conjunction with their wings, as they're too heavy to otherwise.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Ahira, who pretty much follows the fantasy archetype. With the possible exception of his inability to swim, due to a racial density that is greater than humanity's.
  • Power Loss Makes You Strong: Lou Riccetti actually becomes more dangerous after losing his wizardly powers and being forced to rely on his engineering skills.
  • Prime Directive: Utterly averted—at least in the first four books, none of the main band even stops to think if it's ethically or morally justified to introduce huge changes into the sociopolitical culture of another worldnote . For example by them introducing guns, which triggers an arms race and trying to end slavery by violent attacks on slaver caravans rather than waiting to see if it comes about naturally as society evolves past the need for or support of slavery. Not to mention setting up their own kingdom, forever changing the geopolitical makeup of the world. Possibly justified by the fact that Arthur Deighton/Arta Myrdhyn had already seriously interfered (including fighting a massive magical duel that laid waste to an entire valley) though it's not made clear whether he's an earth or local native.
  • Psychic Powers: Dragons communicate via telepathy, using telekinesis to fly in conjunction with their wings, as they're too weak to otherwise.
  • Rape as Backstory: Many of the female slaves were raped by their owners or captors in the past. Sometimes it's explicitly stated, but often just heavily implied.
  • Rape as Drama: After being captured by slavers, Doria the cleric and Andy-Andy the novice wizard are gang-raped. Doria, who already had issues in her past, goes catatonic; her treatment by the Healing Hand is the beginning of her truly accepting her clerical status. Andy-Andy, meanwhile, helps Karl and Co. get even over the long run.
  • Really Gets Around: Walter is well-known for this, and continues to have a lot of sex with various women even after he gets married. Doria is a downplayed example, as she was apparently a bit promiscuous but this ends after she gets to the parallel world.
  • Red String of Fate: Karl and Andy-Andy. In later books, it's revealed that the wizard who sent the students across was actually waiting for Andy-Andy to join the group, since she and Karl were fated to have a child who had the power to wield a particular artifact.
  • Religion Is Magic: In keeping with Dungeons & Dragons tropes, clerics can pray to their gods for spells. However, this poses a problem for Doria initially, because she no longer believes any benevolent god exists (such as the one whom the character she's become is cleric of).
  • The Resistance: Karl and his friends decide to oppose the local slave trade and thereby set themselves up as this.
  • Role-Playing Game Verse: The series has the college professor Game Master of a gaming group turn out to be a wizard from a fantasy world that operates under similar rules. He sends his players through once they've reached a certain point in the game to see if they can bring peace to his world (or at least kill the enemy wizard who had banished him to our plane).
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Karl's tendency to do this often gets the party in trouble, but it's also one of his most admirable traits. In fact while releasing Ellegon arguably creates problems for them for the rest of the series due to earning them the enmity of Pandathaway's Wizards' Guild, earning the dragon's fast friendship also saves them on countless occasions. And while killing Ohlmin does lead to the constant thorn in their sides that is the slaver's son Ahrmin, it is absolutely understandable (particularly after what he learned about Doria's past) that Karl would want to exact vengeance for his rape of Doria and Andrea. In the end it's this trait which leads to the commitment he makes as payment to the Matriarch of the Healing Hand, to eradicate slavery from the lands, a commitment that lasts the rest of the series (even after his death).
    • Doria also acts on this when she throws aside the Healing Hand's non-interference policy to save Jason Cullinane, which costs her her powers and other personality.
  • Sex for Services: In return for passage to another city in the first book, the captain of the ship the party's taking demands that Doria heal his impotence... then prove it through having sex with him. She agrees reluctantly.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Even after they're freed, many former slaves are portrayed as traumatized. One, a dwarf, is suffering Stockholm Syndrome and doesn't get that he's free, thinking Karl now owns him (despite all his attempts at persuading him otherwise) after he'd been tortured for repeated escape attempts in the past. Walter's wife Kirah as well is heavily implied to have suffered rape at the hands of her master or someone else. She still can't stand to touch him at times, even years later, as a result when it reminds her of this.
  • Shout-Out: The game in the books is pretty obviously Dungeons & Dragons, though the name is never used. In the story it was an invention of Professor Deighton based on the real parallel world they enter.
    • There are a number of amusing ones to other well-known fantasy works—aside from Arta Myrdhyn, Karl's warrior personality has the name Barak (Pawn of Prophecy and The Sleeping Dragon were published only a year apart), the mountain where they are traveling to get home is called Bremon (only one-letter difference from the name of Allanon's mentor), and the fact the mountain is a solitary peak in a wasteland within which a dragon sleeps is quite reminiscent of Erebor and Smaug.
    • The wasteland the party must travel through is called the Waste of Elrood. (This is also the name of one of the emperors of House Corrino.)
    • The plot of a number of characters from Earth becoming stranded in another, fantasy-themed world and having to find a gateway home would also appear in The '80s in the Dungeons & Dragons TV show, albeit involving children rather than college students and taking up the entire run of the show rather than only the first book of the series.
  • Slave Liberation: After returning to the fantasy world to have James Michael resurrected and Doria healed from her catatonia, this becomes the overarching goal for Karl and his friends.
  • Slut-Shaming: Karl finds his character's personality coming out with this attitude, dismissing Doria's initial reluctance to have sex with a man in return for passage on his ship by saying she's already been with a lot of men, thus what's one more? She naturally slaps him. Karl apologizes to her over it later.
  • Spell Book: A subplot in the first book, after Lou/Aristobulus accidentally destroys the spell books for himself and Andy-Andy, meaning they both have to conserve their spells until they can find a way to acquire or create new ones.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Surprisingly averted. The Spidersect are clerics of a spider god, and are greedy and avaricious and very good at their job - it may cost you a fortune to get their help, but you get quality assistance second only to the Hand itself.
  • Squishy Wizard: Played straight in the first book: Lou's wizard, Aristobulus, is elderly and frail, and neither he nor the younger Andy-Andy have any weapons or weapon training. In later books, Andy-Andy breaks with the trope and begins learning some useful combat skills.
  • STD Immunity: Averted. Doria in her Back Story caught an STD, was too embarrassed to see a doctor about it and the resulting infection left her sterile. Also with issues in regards to sex. Subsequent brutal rape does not help, either.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Subverted in the first book, The Sleeping Dragon. Karl Cullinane attempts a Bond One-Liner in the middle of a fight, only to get attacked from behind in mid-sentence. Lampshaded immediately after when he mentally tells himself "You know better than to talk while a fight's going on!"
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Going into the other world has this affect on James Michael, as he changes from his usual wheelchair-bound self into Ahira, his game character, who's an able-bodied dwarf warrior. This is the main reason he never wants to go back.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Demonstrated and subverted at a crucial moment in the Great Games of Pandathaway. The sword misses completely, but distracts the other fighter long enough for his opponent to close with him and grapple instead.
  • Time for Plan B: When Karl needs to return to the fantasy world, he casually brandishes a skinning knife around a Bound and Gagged Deighton and tells him that if Deighton doesn't help him, "we go to Plan B. ... You don't want to know what Plan B is, do you?" Deighton hastily agrees to Karl's relief, since Karl didn't know what Plan B was, either.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Tennetty. She's sadistic with slavers, boiling in rage about her past, has a number of vile personal habits and an occasional tendency towards insubordination - but Karl broke her chains with his own hands (and went on to let her vent her ire against slavers as his second in command) and earned her undying loyalty to him and his family. It's also shown that she's still capable of tenderness, since she once had a relationship with a fellow ex-slave. Sadly though he's killed in a fight with slavers, which does nothing to help her issues.
  • Trapped in Another World: Karl and his friends have no easy way to return to Earth, short of finding a gate guarded by the world's oldest, strongest dragon.
  • Vancian Magic: All wizards and clerics in Rosenberg's world work by this rule, needing to either memorize spells or pray for them each day. This causes huge problems when the party's most experienced wizard accidentally destroys his spellbooks while the party's sole cleric is unable to regain her spells through prayer because she no longer believes in a benevolent deity. It's definitely supposed to play like D&D, but he even mushed up some of the mechanics (attributes are rolled with 5d4 (reading 0-3) and class levels are on an alphabetical scale (A to whatever) for example. Importantly, it has rules for going berserk (which D&D of its era never did), which is a plot point. After the first book, Rosenberg sort of moved away from Vancian spellcasting — the next one that features really extensive use of magic by a viewpoint character (the wizard in the first book having given up wizardry to pursue the far mightier power of engineering, which has begun to radically change the nature of the fantasy world in which the heroes are stuck) is the sixth, The Road to Ehvenor, with no references to Andy-Andy having to prepare spells, or forgetting them after she casts them. You get the impression Rosenberg didn't much like Vancian magic, or writing in detail about magic in general, given the focus of the books on the warrior and thief-types, and the fact that Andy-Andy also loses her magic at the end of Book Six. In the later books it becomes very clear that magic has a strong tendency to consume the sanity of those who use it -- the more powerful wizards are, the crazier they get. And it's also addictive.
  • The Watcher: The entire Healing Hand Society acts like this, refusing to get involved in the affairs of the rest of the world unless absolutely necessary (and even then there are limits and prices exacted on both sides). On the one hand this neutral stance is helpful when the wicked slaver Ahrmin comes to them for help against Karl and his friends, but on the other hand it means that not only can the latter not receive any more help from them after Ahira is raised from the dead, any assistance at all is forbidden. This is strictly enforced by the Matriarch, and when Doria reappears in the narrative there is a great deal of inner struggle and resistance, and plenty of Loophole Abuse, before she can aid them in any way, even something as simple as disguising herself. Eventually she goes full-on Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!, which has the cost of losing her powers and even her other personality, but she considers it Worth It in the end since it lets her save Jason Cullinane's life.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Jason Parker, one of the original party, is killed off very early in the first book to hammer home how dangerous the situation is.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: When persuading Deighton to return them to the fantasy world, Karl threatens the tied-up gamemaster with a skinning knife - and hopes the GM doesn't call his bluff, since Karl has no idea what to do next.
  • Wizard Duel: One of these created the Wastes of Elrood, where the party must travel in the first book to reach the Gate Between Worlds; only a small section of the original verdant forest was preserved by the magic of the Matriarch of the Healing Hand, surrounding their tabernacle. It is later revealed that one of the wizards involved was Arta Myrdhyn, that the duel also created the Shattered Islands, and that it is to bring down the other wizard, the grandmaster of the Wizards' Guild, Lucius, that Arta Myrdhyn created this world's version of Excalibur.
  • The World's Expert on Getting Killed: Jason Parker may be the most capable roleplayer in the group - he pumps the GM for advance information, tactically analyzes what the party's going to need, has one of the highest-level characters in the team (outside of the spellcasters), and led the party in the previous campaign. He's even a history major, which has a lot of potential uses when caught in a low-tech world. He's killed off within a few hours of the party's arrival.
  • WPUN: Played with, where telepathic dragon Ellegon amuses himself by beginning broadcast telepathic messages with the words "This is radio K.A.R.L., the Voice of the Emperor."
  • You Fight Like a Cow: Subverted. Early in the first book, Karl starts to make a quip after cutting off an opponent's hand ... only to get grabbed from behind by another combatant in mid-joke. Lampshaded as Karl thinks to himself "You stupid idiot. You know better than to chat while a fight's going on." Only the timely arrival of Ahira with a crossbow keeps him from getting his throat cut.


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