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Literature / Spells, Swords, & Stealth

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A Gnome Paladin, a Guard-turned-Thief, A Noblewoman with Anger Management Issues, and a Half-Orc Wizard? An odd mix of adventurers alright.
Spells, Swords, & Stealth is a series of fantasy novels by Drew Hayes.

Russel Novac is GMing a session of the tabletop game Spells, Swords, & Stealth with some friends. This particular module has a lot of realism, which the players largely ignore and, as a result, die at the introductory tavern due to mixing alcohol with a poisonous mushroom.

As the players roll up new characters to start up again, four residents of the town of Maplebark are in shock at the sight of four adventurers having dropped dead in their tavern. Worse yet, the foursome were summoned by Liadon, otherwise known as "The Mad King", who doesn't take people failing him well and, if he can't punish the actual people, he'll destroy whatever place they happened to be in at the time instead. However, the missive does not mention any of the adventurers by name, only as a paladin, a rogue, a barbarian, and a wizard.


Realizing this means the king never actually met them, the four who witnessed the adventurers' deaths decide they must become those adventurers to protect their home of Maplebark from Liadon's wrath. Since she's the most educated of the group, the mayor's daughter Gabrielle claims the wizard's spellbook, Eric the town guard dons the armor of a paladin, Thistle the gnome decides he's the best fit for the rogue, while the half-orc bartender Grumph becomes the barbarian. However, by the end of their first battle, we learn Gabrielle has anger issues, Eric moves better out of armor than in, Thistle is a devout follower of Grumble the god of the minions, and Grumph is easily the most intelligent member of the group.

And so begins the saga of Spells, Swords, & Stealth by Drew Hayes. The series consists of five books, NPCs, Split the Party, Going Rogue, Siege Tactics, and Noble Roots.


This series contains examples of:

  • Alliterative List: The Alliterative Title of the series and the fictional tabletop game it's based around, referencing the Fighter, Mage, Thief major archetypes for character specialization.
  • Alliterative Title: Due to the Alliterative List title of the series and the fictional tabletop game it's based around.
  • Amnesiac Hero: Timuscor is this, as prior to being spared/saved by Eric and his group, he has no real memory of his life prior to meeting them, beyond his name, skill with weapons, and a desire to be a paladin. Justified because prior to being touched by the Bridge, he was just a Player Character.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The shortsword Eric uses was given to him by his Paladin Father, who left when he was young. Said sword seems to have been used by Eric's father at one point, as it has divine power, allowing it to cause more harm to demons than the usual shortsword. The sword gets ruined by Count Crensen's acid hands after his Bare-Handed Blade Block. Luckily, Eric has another weapon that fits the trope - one of his mother's sewing needles she gave him earlier. He throws it at the Count's throat while the latter is busy monologuing.
  • Anti-Magic: The axe Gabrielle receives in Split the Party is revealed to have strong anti-magic properties. This, in fact, is why it's cursed. To prevent it being a Game-Breaker. The curse involves having to Cast from Hit Points to use the anti-magic properties.
  • The Archmage: Dejy is an archmage. He holds a seat at the Table of Mages, making him highly respected in his field. He agrees to become a teacher to Grumph when the latter requests to join the guild. He takes on a more prominent role in Noble Roots, when he assists Thistle's party in trying to recover Madroria's soul from Kalzidar's clutches.
  • Ascended Extra: The main characters were just supposed to be townsfolk that adventurers meet in the course of their quest. The latters' being Too Dumb to Live forces the townsfolk to assume their identities to protect their village.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: One of Grumph's spells is to create a magical weapon that, once conjured, can take any form Grumph chooses. Because using this spell takes a lot of mana and the weapon isn't particularly more powerful than its mundane counterparts, Grumph tends to only use it when he has specific need of the weapon's transforming ability.
  • Badass Preacher: The priest at Grumble's temple in Camnarael is a massive half-orc, who isn't shy about attacking those who he deems intend to harm his parishioners.
  • Battle Butler: In Noble Roots, Lord Prent's butler is extremely handy with a blade. The only one who seems to be able to fight him to a standstill is Duke Aprolok.
  • Becoming the Mask: Originally, Thistle's group is just some concerned people who pretend to be Adventurers in order to protect their town from the Mad King. As time goes on however, they start to become competent Adventurers in their own right. They even acknowledge the changes.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • In terms of the setting, Thistle and his group get some magical items that are seen as this in-universe — bags of holding, healing potions, cloaks that offer protection from the elements, headbands to allow wearers to see in the dark, saddles that allow steeds to run faster, a water skin that can produce a barrel's worth of water every day, and a refilling sack of apples.
    • In general, Thistle tends to come up with plans that are basically this — 1 - Get party into position. 2 - Start Attack. 3 - Kill or get the target and hope everyone makes it out alive. — He also knows that plans tend to fall apart after Step 3, hence why he tries to keep things simple, and open to flexibility.
  • Bows Versus Crossbows:
    • Eric, the rogue of Thistle's group, was once asked if he was any good with a bow - he isn't. By Going Rogue, the group, still in need of some better ranged abilities, pays a more experienced rogue to help train Eric. The ranged weapon he's trained on is a crossbow (one that shoots a little to the side due to a messed-up sight) as it is one weapon that only took a short amount of time to get any good with. After his training, Eric gets a much better crossbow.
    • Alexis' elven character on the other hand, does use a bow, although it can be surmised that, in her backstory, she at least learned how to use it.
    • Bert's gnome character has a tendency to use modified crossbows, some of them working like net guns.
  • Bringing in the Expert: Variant. In Siege Tactics, two experienced former adventurers are having a friendly debate over which group of magic users is more dangerous in a fight - those who use a Magic Staff or those who use a Magic Wand, the argument being that wands are more accurate at spell-casting but a staff can act as its own backup melee weapon. When one of their friends, who is an expert in magic, comes into the tavern that they are in, they ask her for her opinion, which is, if you can get close to a magic user, they've already lost anyways.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Gabrielle's cursed axe has the power to dispel magical wards at a cost. The more powerful the ward, the higher the cost, taken from the wielder's flesh. Meaning Gabrielle has to injure herself to use the ability and, when the need to destroy a very powerful ward arises, using the axe kills her, then raises her as an undead.
  • Character Development: Timuscor goes through a lot. Initially little more than the Token Good Teammate to a group of Jerkass players, he ends up making a sort of Heel–Face Turn when he's allowed to join Thistle's group, especially as he tries to figure out who he is, as he can't really remember his life. In one scene, in Split the Party, while opening a chest in a basement, he reflects that once he would have hoped to find gold, but now he hopes to find books for Thistle's research. Upon opening the chest, he locates a book, some coins, and some jewelry. He takes the book and the money, but leaves the jewelry, reasoning that while the book might be important and money could be spent, the jewelry was someone's family heirloom and stealing it would be akin to grave-robbing.
  • Character Witness: In Going Rogue, Russel's group comes across a wounded worshiper of Grumble and, because Tim, and by extension Timmanuel, is a Chronic Hero, the group gives aid to the victim and go on to smack down the people who committed the assault. This earns them a blessing from Grumble which comes to play at the end of the book when Thistle uses it to vouch for them in the face of an angry Eric holding two pieces of the Bridge.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Going Rogue, at Tim's urging, their party undertakes a low-reward quest to stop attacks against Grumble's followers. At the end, besides the tiny amount of gold they earn, the priest also blesses them. During the climax, Thistle is able to sense Grumble's blessing on the party and determines that they're different from Mitch's party and convinces Eric not to use the power of the Bridge on them.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: An explicit requirement of paladins in the Spells, Swords, & Stealth universe is that they can not run when they know evil is present or innocents are in danger. When bad things are happening in the village of Briarwillow, Thistle wonders initially if Grumble would be be less strict about this requirement, given minions aren't known for their bravery. He's proven wrong when he's rendered incapable of leaving Briarwillow until he promises to resolve the situation. The same can be said of Timanuel, Tim's paladin character, although that's mostly because Tim really gets into the role.
  • Critical Failure: The Bridge can result in this happening with a disturbing regularity even in the real world. When the Jerkass players try to ambush the NPCs, none of their attacks succeed and actually end up hurting the players' characters. Tim's final roll ends up causing the die to spin in place for much longer than normal and crumble to dust. In-game, this is Eric using the Bridge to sever Timuscor's link with Tim, making him a normal NPC instead of an adventurer's avatar.
  • Cross Player: Bert is the only one among the main SS&S players in both Russel's and Mitch's groups to play a character of the opposite gender, playing Wimberly the gnome gadgeteer.
  • Decoy Protagonist: A Paladin, a Rogue, a Barbarian, and a Wizard enter a tavern. In any other story, these four would be the main characters. These four take a drink, and critically fail their constitution save. They were Never Given a Name even, in so far as the folks in the tavern, who end up having to do their job in order to try to save their town, are concerned.
  • Deity of Human Origin: It is entirely possible for mortal beings to ascend into godhood, though the ones that do keep the methods they used to do so hush-hush. According to what Thistle was taught, Grumble was a minion to a wizard who used the kobold as a guinea pig in a ritual the effects of which he was unsure of. He realized too late that the ritual gave whoever it was used on divine power, and Grumble made sure he didn't get to try again. In Noble Roots, it's revealed that Kalzidar used to be a scribe sent to chronicle the adventures of a group. After they defeated a monster called the Vreskor, he sneaked away and stole the Vreskor's divinity, ascending to godhood. He then made sure the party wouldn't speak of this to anyone by giving each of them a Fate Worse than Death. In fact, all his scheming in the novel is to get rid of those witnesses.
  • Detect Evil: Thistle learns he has this power early in Split the Party when he realizes constant feelings in his stomach have been the ability to sense evil around him kicking in.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: The Bridge is stated to be broken up into multiple pieces, scattered all over the game world. At the end of Going Rogue, it's mentioned that Broken Bridge Publishing is aware of about ten pieces, but there could be a lot more. So far, three pieces have been found by the NPCs.
  • Distressed Damsel: Parodied with Gabrielle. She's been kidnapped by goblins so often that Maplebark's people don't consider it unusual and the goblins even let her bring books and such so she won't be bored. The goblins also befriend Gabrielle and consider her one of their tribe, which Gabrielle reciprocates, considering them as much, if not more, family than her own mother and father. Given how often he failed to prevent her kidnappings, Eric is less than thrilled to find out how close the relationship actually is.
    Eric: I once stayed up for thirty hours straight to guard her door because we heard goblins were in the area, and she has her own horse she rides away on.
  • Divine Intervention: It has been all but stated that at least several gods are using the protagonists as pawns in a celestial pissing match. Thus, our protagonists find themselves seemingly steered toward various places and people depending on the gods whims.
  • Dungeon Bypass: When it comes to minions, putting in ways to sneak past the various traps and monsters is very useful. A former minion himself, Thistle uses this information to help his party get to the heart of the dungeon in NPCs. Of course, when it's mentioned that hidden passages tend to be found often, Thistle states that they make good places to hide secret secret passageways in.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The Priestess in Siege Tactics had a family in her backstory. However, Adventurers killed them, leaving her very bitter towards Adventurers in general. Her plantoid allies seem to be based off of said slain family, and she's not happy when something bad happens to them.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Because the priest of Kalzidar gave up his name to serve his god, nobody knows his name. Everybody just calls him "the priest" or "the priest of Kalzidar". Even narration from the priest's viewpoint does this.
  • Evil Minions: A good part of Thistle's past consisted of acting as a minion and henchman to various ne'er do wells. From this he became a devout follower and, later, paladin of Grumble, the god of the minions.
  • Fantasy Character Classes: Realizing that the Mad King has no idea what the adventurers he has summoned look like, as the missive only mentions a paladin, a rogue, a barbarian, and a wizard, the four NPCs decide to impersonate them. While the class choice seems like a no-brainer initially. Eric, a town guard, is the only one with experience wearing armor, making him a paladin; Thistle has a shady past and tends to stick to the shadows, seemingly painting him as a rogue; Grumph the half-orc looks like an obvious barbarian, and Gabrielle is the only one that has formal education, making her think that she is the only one who can figure out the dead wizard's spell book. By the end of their first real battle, they realize that those choices are incorrect. Eric finds himself extremely agile without his heavy armor, making him a rogue; Thistle is a loyal follower of Grumble, the god of minions, and has received Grumble's blessing, making him a paladin; Grumph is easily the most intelligent member of the group, and his experience as a bartender means he can memorize complex spells, making him a wizard; Gabrielle has a lot of suppressed rage and turns out to be pretty good with an axe, becoming a barbarian.
  • Future Slang: Sort of. Thanks to the adventurers frequently passing through their town, the people of Maplebark have picked up a number of unusual slang words they use. There are a few whose meaning escapes them, though, such as "pwn".
  • The Game Come to Life: In the climax of Going Rogue, Eric uses two pieces of the Bridge to force two groups of players to experience everything their characters do. When Mitch foolishly tries to charge him with his character and his character gets one of Thistle's daggers in his arm for his trouble, he is shocked to see his own arm suddenly develop a gushing wound and collapse in pain. Unwilling to actually risk his own life for a stupid game, Mitch calls it quits and retreats.
  • Genius Bruiser:
    • Grumph is a burly, stoic half-orc who is easily the physically strongest member of the party. He's also the most intelligent, as he's able to understand and start to use the wizard's spellbook far more easily than Gabrielle had, despite her having a more formal education.
    • Bert, a member of the gaming group Russell and Tim form in Split the Party, is a big man described as looking more likely to stuff SS&S players into trash cans than be one himself. However, his character is a gnome Gadgeteer Genius and Bert puts a lot of effort in understanding the game rules to better plan for encounters.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: Grumble lets his paladin, Thistle, in on the fact that when gods are working at cross purposes, they can only send vague hints and visions.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Anybody possessing a piece of the Bridge for any length of time is driven mad by the knowledge it bestows. Specifically, it shows its holders the true nature of their world and of adventurers as beings controlled by forces from another world. The only person shown to have any resistance to it is Eric, but even he can't handle it when he ends up holding two pieces of the Bridge at once.
  • God of Evil: Kalzidar. Specifically, he's the god of chaos, but he might as well be this world's version of The Devil. His priests willingly surrender their names in exchange for powerful magic.
  • Graceful in Their Element: While Eric was never a particularly great town guard, all that time marching around in armor strengthened him up nonethless to the point that, when not wearing armor, he is extremely fast and agile.
  • The Grim Reaper: Gabrielle agrees to become one to the God of Death, as her original undead state is extremely unstable and will eventually result in her death or her turning on her friends in a fit of rage. This grants her the ability to seem alive when not wielding her axe, which also disappears until she summons it, at which point her deathly pallor returns.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Following her first bout of Unstoppable Rage, Gabrielle begins to notice her temper flaring up more and more easily, resulting in her nearly attacking Eric seriously when he keeps dodging her during training. Some advice from Grumph helps her get a handle on her temper and she gets better at keeping it check except for when she needs it in combat.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • Both this, and its inverse, Villain of Another Story come into play where the Player Characters are concerned. Tim's group, for instance, has a tendency to help those in need, and will fight evil, even if the reward is low and the difficulty is high. Mitch's group, on the other hand, it's quite clear that the only things they like doing is looting, killing, and causing bloodshed, especially if the person they are doing it to is weaker than themselves or can be placed at a disadvantage.
    • There's other NPC groups out there, such as the one Sierva is part of. Many show up during occasions where one party won't be enough to do the job — like a tournament, or a dragon hunt.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Thistle and the rest make a non-fatal one when they decide to pass themselves off as adventurers, in order to keep the "Mad King" away from their village, which would be very bad for those who live there if he showed up.
    • In NPCs, an unnamed knife-thrower pulls one off to protect Gabby from a Demon attack. One would have to wonder if he was a Player Character, whose player thought that it would be a good idea to risk his character to protect an NPC, or if they were an actual person trying to protect another.
    • In the climax of Split the Party, deciding that even if he can't be a paladin he can at least die like one, Timuscor stays back in order to attempt to prevent the dark priest's paper monsters from pursuing the others and allowing them to escape, as the dungeon is collapsing around him. Mr. Peppers the pig stays with him. Unknown to anyone is that Mr. Peppers had earlier picked up a magical artifact that ends up teleporting both of them to safety just before they're killed.
    • In Going Rogue, Gabrielle knowingly goes for a Death or Glory Attack against an Elder Dragon's magical pedestal with her Anti-Magic axe, despite knowing that the axe's Cast From Hitpoints curse may kill her. It works, but she dies... only to come back later as an undead creature.
  • Heroism Motive Speech: Throughout the books, the ex-PC knight Timuscor has desired to be a paladin. He has the potential, and good instincts for the role, but is hampered by an unwillingness to fully devote himself to any god who might grant him the mantle and an incomplete understanding of what being a paladin truly means. For a while, he's a Martyr Without a Cause, determined at least to die like a paladin if he can't otherwise be one. The climax of the fourth book, Siege Tactics, sees Timuscor finally understand the true meaning of paladinhood, enabling him to become a Free Paladin, a paladin with all the divine powers without owing allegiance to any god. As he explains to the enemy his party is fighting:
    But I have the strength to stand here, to face you. That's all the calling ever was, really. We put so much ceremony and divine law on it, yet at the end of the day, it is simply the will to stand between the innocent and the wicked. And anyone can choose to make that stand. My failing was in seeing the calling as something to die for, rather than a cause that must drive one to keep living. One cannot make an oath without both conviction and understanding. ... I pledge my sword to the innocent in need. I shall serve the kind, and the weak, and all who seek to live in peace. For so long as I live, I will strive to protect, to save, to endure. My name is Timuscor, and I am a paladin.
  • Hidden Elf Village: In Siege Tactics, the protagonists end up finding the hidden town of Notch, populated by former adventurers, who like Timuscor have been severed from their players after completing their quests. They're all high-level adventurers, fully capable of slaughtering the entire party, but most prefer the simple quiet life in Notch, and only members of the town council have pledged to defend the town and its secret from outsiders. The fruit of a special tree that grows near the town also grants longevity.
  • An Ice Person: The first spell Grumph successfully casts is an ice spell. He puts it to creative use in his mage trial, casting it on himself repeatedly to withstand the heat of a river of magma.
  • Invisible to Normals: In a strange twist, the pig, Mr. Peppers, is invisible to the eyes of Gods and scrying magics. Eventually, this ability is extended to Timuscor.
  • Jerkass: Mitch, Glenn, and Terry. They're more concerned with killing and looting instead of "dumb shit like role-playing." When their first party dies in NPCs, they force Tim to make a knight instead of the paladin he'd prefer because a paladin would be obliged to stop them. By the time of Going Rogue, they have to make an hour commute to meet a potential GM because nobody else will tolerate them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: When Russell's sister Cheri is introduced, she loudly complains about the lack of alcohol, mocks her fellow players' newbieish choices in their characters, and is more concerned with what kind of loot they'll get. In contrast to the Jerkasses that made up the gaming group from NPCs, Cheri quickly warms up to the rest of the group and throws all her support behind Russell when he confides to her his suspicions about the modules he's been running.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: After the events of NPCs, Thistle and the group flee Solium, into the neighboring kingdom of Alcatham. Thistle explains that while Solium's forces aren't allowed in this kingdom, it was possible that local forces could apprehend them if they proved to be troublesome, and use them as political bargaining chips.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Used as a deliberate tactic by Grumph in his mage trial in Split the Party. Rather than take the time to cast protective charms and spells on himself as is done normally, Grumph charges in the moment he's able. This catches enemy forces trying to get into position to ambush him flat-footed, giving Grumph enough time to bypass them and get through the first obstacle largely unhindered.
  • Life or Limb Decision: Eric ends up making that choice during the fight with the Big Bad of the first book, chopping off his trapped hand in order to sneak up on the sorcerer and stab him. He nearly bleeds to death after this, but Grumble gives Thistle the power to save him. In Going Rogue, Eric notes his arm is in even better shape than it was before, since it lacked a long lasting injury the former did not.
  • Magic Knight: Much like in D&D, it seems that the classes known as Paladins and Rangers have access to magic and are good with weapons. Of course, the right Race-Class combination could produce a similar effect, as Grumph, a half-orc wizard, has no issues mixing melee with magic when need be.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: Promises made by the gods are inviolable, even if the circumstances regarding them change later. Kalzidar exploits this in Siege Tactics by stealing the soul of Thistle's wife Madroria from the gnomish afterlife. Thistle's one condition for becoming a paladin was to be Together in Death with his wife upon his death, and Grumble must hold to that, even if it means that, should Thistle die while Kalzidar has Madroria, he will get Thistle's soul, as well.
  • Masquerading As the Unseen: When the adventurers die in the tavern, Thistle finds the missive from King Liadon, but notices it does not refer to them by name, only by title. This makes him realize Liadon never interacted with the adventurers and doesn't know who they actually are, which prompts Thistle and the others to assume their identities.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: Timuscor, in his desire to be a paladin, does his best to live as one, even if no gods will accept him as a paladin. To this end, he's also very willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good or to protect his friends, as he views that as the highest calling of a paladin. In Going Rogue, a voice speaks to him and implies he may yet have hope of becoming a paladin, but not before he understands this isn't the way to go about it.
  • Mecha-Mooks: In Siege Tactics, one of Kalzidar's priests uses an ancient artifact to animate an army of metal warriors and raid a powerful magical city. The assault only stops when an assassin takes the priest's head.
  • Morton's Fork: Early in Split the Party, Gabrielle asks why they're heading west towards Briarwillow, a town suffering a magical sickness, when they have no defense against becoming magically sick. Thistle lays out several reasons, one of which is that every direction they might choose is dangerous, with the only difference being of degree, and the sick town is the least dangerous of the bunch. North and east are being attacked respectively by a dragon and dark wizard, which Thistle rates as "probable death". South or staying still would be "certain death" as it would either take them back to the place they're running away from or ensure they would be found by Liadon's men. Finally, fighting would only reveal their location and endanger any town they were in at the time, and protecting their own town was the whole reason their party set off in the first place. Among all that, going west to the sick town is only "semi-probable death".
  • Mugging the Monster: Grumph privately thinks that Kalzidar has done this by kidnapping Madroria. To reiterate, the wizard believes that the god of chaos is screwed because he pissed off one gnome.
  • Munchkin: Mitch and his group seem to embody this, as all they care about is looting, killing, and getting XP. This eventually bites them in the ass when Mitch's character and Mitch himself receives a dagger wound from Thistle.
  • Named Weapons: In Noble Roots, Gabrielle finally learns the name of her axe. It's Ovrium. As the axe tells her, it means "vengeance" in a long-dead language, which is exactly the weapon's purpose.
  • Non-Player Character: Insofar as the Players are concerned, this is how they see everyone else. Their opinions eventually change, and even affect their play-styles a bit, especially Tim's party.
  • Not Now, We're Too Busy Crying Over You: Towards the end of Split the Party, Timuscor pulls a You Shall Not Pass! in order to stop an army of paper monsters from escaping a collapsing tomb, seemingly pulling off a Heroic Sacrifice. Luckily for him, seems that Mr. Peppers has picked up a useful Ring of Teleportation, which they use at the last possible moment, teleporting the pair behind their friends, who were looking at the collapsed tomb. He has to let them know that, if they were looking for him, they were facing the wrong direction. They give him a group hug.
  • Odd Job Gods: Grumble is the god of the minions, having chosen to watch over 'his own kind' after his ascension to godhood. This is the primary reason Thistle is such a devoted worshiper of his instead of the main gnomish god, as Grumble chose to use his divine power to watch over the lowliest of the low.
  • Oddly Small Organization: It's mentioned that Broken Bridge Publishing has a very small staff by necessity, which is why all employees are required to wear many hats.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: In many cases, the actions of the Players, Mitch and Tim's groups, aren't depicted in the story, although the results are discussed, like the murders that Mitch's group engages in, and the heroics that Tim's group does.
  • Our Kobolds Are Different: Kobolds are a race of small, weak creatures commonly seen as minions. The most prominent kobold in history is Grumble, who in antiquity ascended to godhood and made himself the God of Minions.
  • Our Liches Are Different: In Siege Tactics, we learn that this is the nature of Gabrielle following the events of Going Rogue. In this case, the person has become more of a pseudo-lich, with their weapon acting as phylactery. Becoming separated has a weakening effect and the weapon itself gains new properties, becoming able to absorb the souls of those it kills.
  • The Paladin:
    • Tim starts out playing a paladin at the start of NPCs, but is forced to roll a more mundane warrior by the other players so he wouldn't get in the way of their being murderous bastards. Tim gets to play a paladin again in Split the Party and is a natural at it.
    • Thistle finds himself given the offer to become a paladin for his god, Grumble. Thistle is reluctant, given the limitations and requirements that come with the position, but ultimately agrees to save his friends' lives.
    • Over the course of Split the Party, Timuscor, Tim's character from NPCs freed from his player's control, expresses a desire to be a paladin, but is disheartened to find he lacks the kind of devotion the job requires, since the gods only make paladins of their followers. Before going into the climax of the story, he says a prayer offering himself as a paladin to any god who will take him, and this desire also spurs his Heroic Sacrifice near the end of the book. In Going Rogue, a strange voice speaks to him and tells him that he may yet become a paladin, but not by being a Death Seeker. In Siege Tactics, during a battle with a priestess of Kalzidar, Timuscor finally realizes that being a Death Seeker is not the answer. He has to be willing to lay down his life for others, but that should be a last resort. After being wounded, he rises and glows with divine magic, having become a True Paladin, one able to wield divine powers in service of the people but without following any god. There hasn't been a True Paladin in centuries, if not millennia, not since the gods started making their own paladins. It helps that he's also given a divine longsword that further increases his power.
    • In Noble Roots, Timuscor and Eric meet a cursed dwarf, who explains that a member of his adventuring party named Gorrian was a True Paladin as well. Likely one of the last True Paladins before the gods began making their own paladins and suppressing the knowledge of True Paladins, as they represented a threat to them.
  • Paper Master: The priest of Kalzidar in Split the Party. His primary method of attack is to animate and enlarge animals made out of paper. They're Glass Cannons and not difficult to defeat, but the priest uses them as distractions to escape or uses his dying breath to animate everything he has at once to sic on the adventurers.
  • Player Character: This is what the adventurers controlled by Tim and Mitch's groups, and presumably other adventurer parties, happen to be, with their actions and choices affecting their respective fates - Tim's group managed to score a nice haul of dragon gold, which they shared with Thistle's group, and Mitch's group ran away like a bunch of cowards.
  • Precision F-Strike: Thistle is typically the most polite-spoken member of the group at any given time. This adds to the impact when, following a last-ditch effort by Kalzidar to thwart them in Split the Party, Thistle prays to Grumble for aid by asking "are you going to put up with this shit?"
  • Proportional Aging: The exact natural lifespan of dragons is not stated, but it is assumed to be very long as a centuries old dragon who serves as antagonist of the third book is an "elder", but not "ancient" dragon, while a fifty year-old dragon the NPC protagonists encounter is still considered a hatchling.
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Gabrielle's resentment towards her sheltered upbringing finally boils over when she sees the goblin tribe she's occasionally kidnapped by being slaughtered by demons. This unleashes her first bout of Unstoppable Rage allowing her to kill the demon single handed where Eric gave other goblins support and Grumph and Thistle relied on supernatural occurrences.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Grumble is fairly casual, as gods go. He does demand Thistle at last appear to offer proper platitudes when they speak. He is a god after all. At the same time, he is also perfectly willing to accept a bit of snark. He also takes the time to explain to Thistle why he can't just tell his paladin what's going on in Split the Party and has to rely on vague visions to hint at his goals. In Going Rogue, he explains to Thistle that he and the god of rogues, Tristan, are in conflict over a claim on Eric's soul and explicitly orders Thistle not to try to influence Eric on the matter since, as a matter of faith, the decision must be wholly Eric's own. In Siege Tactics, when another god appears, while Thistle is having an audience with Grumble, Thistle gives her a deep bow. Grumble casually complains that Thistle never does that for him. Thistle explains that Grumble's dogma is less formal than the other god's.
  • The Role Player:
    • Alexis behaves very differently when speaking for herself compared to when speaking as Gelthorn the elf. In Going Rogue, she refuses to be part of the party's making plans for selling their loot and getting quests because Gelthorn's anxiety about civilization means the character is too busy fighting a panic attack to be part of it. Russel even notes that the conversation is out-of-character so that shouldn't matter, but he does so already knowing how Alexis will respond and makes a note to give her character experience for role-playing.
    • Tim, as well, but to a lesser extent than Alexis. Tim will play the paladin role to the hilt and even worries about how to interact with NPCs. This is why Mitch, Terry, and Glenn prevent him from using a paladin throughout the first book, since they know Tim would use his paladin status to put a damper on their fun of killing and looting whatever they come across. Cheri notes the seriousness with which Tim treats the game as a sign he's either nuts or a born role player.
    • While Bert puts in a great deal of effort to understand the game rules and make sound battle plans, he will still act on Wimberly's attitudes above his own. For example, rushing to save the life of Cheri's character when the smart move would be to leave her. To Bert, if he isn't going to make the calls the way Wimberly would, what's the point of playing the game at all?
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • Gabrielle's father is a minor noble and the mayor of a town. Unlikely most nobles, he actually cares for his people and puts every coin he has into improving their lives and keeping them safe. When another noble offhandedly mentions the lack of a surname, he angrily points out that getting a surname costs hundreds of gold coins, which could be put to a much better use than a meaningless status symbol.
    • Duke Aprolok genuinely cares for the men under his command. During his fight with Butler, he treats it as a lesson for his men, explaining how to fight an opponent like that. When he and a single soldier survive the events of Noble Roots, he insists that the soldier get the Astrafrond seed since he's already near the end of his fighting days and will someday need someone with experience and, possibly, a unique ability to take over for him. He's also a man of honor, which is why he's one of the few nobles to not be told of King Varlar's offer to take possession of the Astrafrond, knowing that he'd refuse to break his word to the Ardranes.
    • Lady Loyten also tends to lead her soldiers into battle when defending her lands against monsters and criminals. Unlike Duke Aprolok, however, she readily accepts King Varlar's offer.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In Going Rogue a number of adventurer groups request to undertake the Grand Quest, unaware of what it is. When they are teleported to a different location and are told that the quest involves raiding a dragon lair, some of the groups immediately use their magical coins to teleport back.
  • She Is the King: Female gods are called "gods", never "goddesses". For example, the God of Death is female but is always referred to as a "god", never a "goddess". Similarly, Mithingnow is the god of the Gnomes.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: It seems that most of the higher level opponents like to taunt or monologue at Thistle's party whenever they think they have an advantage. However, it is rare for them to get even one sentence out without being blindsided by a party member they forgot to keep track of. In one instance, a priest of Kalzidar, managed to get interrupted while taunting a party member TWICE in the same battle. He never even got a chance to get one full sentence out.
  • Situational Sociability: Alexis is a Shrinking Violet who everyone has to strain to hear whenever she speaks. When in-character as Gelthorn the elven ranger, she is loud and brash and ready to take the fight to the enemy. This trait extends to Gelthorn herself, who needs to make willpower saves while in a crowded city to avoid anxiety attacks. Russel notes at one point that City-Gelthorn is not all that different from Regular-Alexis.
  • Shown Their Work: In NPCs, when Glenn tries to attack Thistle's party, with a magic spell, he initially seems to roll a 19, but thanks to The Bridge it ends up rolling just a bit more, to stop on a 1. Folks with a d20 can easily see that the 19 and the 1 are reasonably close close to each other, even sharing an edge with some (see a d20 that, when looking at the 20, looks like a 20/8, 20/14, or 20/2), or a corner point (see a d20 that looks like a 20/17), meaning that this seemingly successful roll turning into a failure is actually possible.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: A Rogue, a Barbarian, a Wizard, and a Paladin enter Grumph's inn, have a drink, and die. This forces Eric, Gabrielle, Grumph, and Thistle to take their places.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: At the climax of Split the Party, when Kalzidar makes one last ditch effort to thwart the heroes by blocking out the sunlight they need to destroy the artifact containing some of his divinity, Thistle's response is to offer a prayer to Grumble. He offers all the proper platitudes and courtesies, only to finish with "are you going to put up with this shit?"
    Oh, Grumble! He who cares for the beaten, the powerless and the downtrodden, he who lends his ears to those with silenced voices! God of those who toil tirelessly, protector of the ones that cower, watcher of the weak! Oh, Grumble, God of the Minions! As your paladin, I call upon you and ask... are you really going to take this shit?
  • Spanner in the Works: The closer adventurers get to the center of the dungeon at the end of NPCs, the harder it becomes to do anything because of Aldron using the power of the Bridge to invoke Critical Failures for even the smallest of tasks. The NPC protagonists, however, are not affected by this since they aren't normal adventurers, which causes no small amount of surprise when one of them successfully stabs Aldron. This factor is what allows the NPCs to ultimately defeat him.
  • Spontaneous Weapon Creation: One of Grumph's spells is the ability to conjure a magical weapon whose shape he can morph to suit his needs. Using the spell takes a lot of mana, so unless he needs that trait he's just as liable to pull out his slightly more mundane shortsword made of demon bone.
  • Square Race, Round Class: The series is about this trope a lot. None of the main characters get classes expected with their race or background. Grumph is a half-orc innkeeper with a good memory, who becomes a wizard. Thistle is a gnome with a shady past, who becomes a paladin. Eric is a town guard who is fast outside of his heavy armor, becoming a rogue. Gabrielle is a noblewoman with a lot of anger-management issues, becoming a barbarian.
  • Squishy Wizard:
    • Grumph averts this by virtue of being a half-orc. He is naturally big and tough. Not spending most of his life as a wizard means he has plenty of experience with hand-to-hand combat and prefers to carry a blade into battle in order to avoid relying exclusively on magic. He is specifically taught the Super Strength spell in preparation for his mage trial in order to play to this strength even further.
    • Other full-time magic casters seem to play this straight, but many are smart enough to bring in a weapon for times that they can't rely on magic.
  • Standard Fantasy Races: Much like it's D&D counterpart, SS&S has the following races - humans, gnomes, half-orcs, half-elves, dwarves, kobolds, goblins, and other such beings. There's even intelligent undead out there.
  • Summon to Hand: During the competition, Thistle meets a female wizard who has a pair of dagger sheaths which have been inscribed with runes that allow the wearer to summon the daggers that have been thrown with a whistle or other command. The daggers simply teleport into the sheaths. This is useful to Thistle, given his gnomish stature. She later has a pair of sheaths made for Thistle as a gift.
  • Super Empowering:
    • The Astrafrond is a magical tree that has been maintained by the Ardrane family for generations. Each year, on Gorrian's Eve, the Ardranes invite nobles from all over the land to compete for a chance at obtaining one of the rare Astrafrond seeds. Consuming a seed imbues one with a new ability, although no one can predict which ability it's going to be. A seed can only grant its power to a person once. Getting the tree to bloom requires a lot of effort and very precise actions by the Ardranes and those competing. It's revealed at the end of Noble Roots that the tree contains the bound soul of Thessily Ardrane. After becoming a reaper, Gabrielle and Timuscor combine their powers to free Thessily's soul. The final nine seeds go to Thistle, Eric, Gabrielle, Grumph, Timuscor (who only eats his seed after Mr. Peppers refuses to take it), Dejy, Butler, Lord Prent, and Duke Aprolok's sole surviving soldier. Both Butler and the soldier insist that the Duke take the seed, only for the Duke to point out that he's near the end of his fighting days, so the seed would be wasted on him.
    • In addition, Baron Zefflezezz is able to give people new abilities due to being a high priest of Kalzidar. What they don't know is that it comes with a catch. The Baron is able to then turn them into monsters against their will.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Happens in a few ways.
    • Mitch's group has been kicked out of so many tabletop groups, they have to travel an hour away just to play. The reasons include not liking the idea of women being a game master, attacking and killing and robbing fellow in-game player characters, bulling the other players and gamemasters, all of which ruins the fun for the rest of the party. They even refuse to try on-line games. They soon encounter a game master who takes no shit — said gamemaster lets them play just the way they want, which leads to big problems for Mitch and his group.
    • Along with Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay, Spells, Swords, & Stealth runs on this.
      • Forget to bring food, you starve to death. That, or one must hunt or forage for food.
      • Some mushrooms produce deadly effects, especially when mixed with alcohol.
      • Some hard jobs pay very little, while some easy jobs pay a lot.
      • Folks tend to give deals to those who help out their kin.
      • Murdering people is a great way to make enemies. Being a jerk is also a great way to make enemies.
      • Being helpful is a good way to make friends or allies, or at least keep others from wanting to kill you.
      • Cutting someone's arm will cause them pain, and might get them to run away from you.
      • Just because one has fled from a country that they are Wanted in, doesn't mean that they don't need to worry about Bounty Hunters, or getting arrested by the Local Law Enforcement, who might turn them over to the other country for punishment.
  • Take Away Their Name: Servants of the dark god Kalzidar forgo their very names as part of their service to him. One such nameless priest is the primary antagonist of the second book. Because of that, the NPC protagonists are immediately on edge when Elora initially refuses to give her name. In the fourth book, a priestess of Kalzidar describes the process as a trade, in which their name, and all the identity that goes with it, is taken by Kalzidar and returned as a form of Personality Powers related to their old life.
  • Together in Death: When Grumble offers Thistle the role of paladin, Thistle considers it and ultimately agrees, but gives the sole stipulation that when he dies he is reunited with his late wife rather than going to the afterlife reserved for paladins. Grumble agrees. This bites them in the ass in Siege Tactics, when Kalzidar uses a powerful artifact to steal the soul of Thistle's wife. Grumble explains that a god's promise cannot be broken, so it Thistle dies before recovering his wife's soul, his own soul will join her in Kalzidar's realm to be tortured for all eternity.
  • Token Good Teammate: While part of Mitch's group in the first book, Tim's character, despite not being the paladin Tim wanted him to be, tends to take on this role in the group, like when he protected a couple of farmers from the other members of the group. He (both the player and the character) end up making some actual friends later on.
  • Token Evil Teammate:
    • A downplayed example is Thistle himself, mainly because he was a Minion to a number of evil folk, before he settled down. As a result, he has no problems seeing the possibility that folks might not be as good intentioned as they seem to be, and is sometimes justified in his paranoia. However, he is a good person at heart.
    • As of the fourth book, Gabby, due to her condition, might be a borderline case as she wonders if she has fallen down a dark path, as she has to kill to stay alive. Luckily, since she doesn't feel any pleasure in doing so, she seems to think she hasn't turned Evil.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Thistle's group was initially just a group of people trying to protect their town. By the 4th book, they've fought demons, upset a king, upset a god, robbed a dragon of their treasure, and found out that their world is a place where people from another play games in.
    • Russell himself is able to terrify Mitch, who was a bully in the first book, with just one phrase in the fourth book — "I know that wound."
  • Tranquil Fury: Thistle's reaction upon learning that Kalzidar has stolen his wife's soul and is holding her captive. He resolves to prove to Kalzidar (who's a god) that it was a huge mistake.
  • Underestimating Badassery: When the group initially found their true roles, folks thought that the idea of a half-orc wizard, to say nothing about the rest of the group, to be ridiculous.... they were proven wrong. As time goes on, Grumph and Gabby pretend to swap roles whenever they enter a city, as part of a disguise, in order to make people think that the half-orc is the barbarian in the group and that Gabby is the wizard.
    • When demons attack Applerum, Grumph and Gabby try to explain how dangerous the demons are to the other Adventurers. At hearing that the demons had killed a bunch of goblins, but none of these rookie "Adventurers", one dwarf actually laughed, thinking that the demons had to be easy, given how weak the "Rookies" seemed to be. One trip into the dirt later, thanks to Gabby, he, and the other adventurers, decided that it might be a good idea to listen to what they had to say.
  • Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay: A book version. The game itself operates in part on this mechanic - forget to buy rations, and you'll starve. If you're starving, you have to hunt/forage. It is also a bad idea to mix certain mushrooms with alcohol. Likewise, get into a fight with the wrong group of people, you'll be lucky to only suffer a scratch, as there might be guards and/or more powerful adventurers after you. Also, some easy jobs pay really well, while some harder jobs only give out a low reward, at least initially, as it's possible to find a great deal of loot while on the quest, or meet up with someone who gives you a discount on some service for helping out their friend/relative in the past, or give you a much more substantial reward.
  • Utility Magic: In Going Rogue, Thistle's group gets on good terms with a more experienced rogue who helps them get some items that are, by the world's standards, Boring, but PracticalBag of Holding, saddles that boost a horse's speed and health, shoes that allow for folks to be quicker, items that give one plenty of apples to eat and water to drink, and a few other generally useful items.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Both this, and its counterpart, Video Game Cruelty Potential are possible, in so far as players are concerned. Tim's group would see a cowering kobold, and would help the little fella get home safely, and would get Good Karma points for it. Mitch's group would probably kill the kobold, wreck their home, steal everything, and burn what was left, and get Bad Karma as a result.
  • Villain Has a Point: The Big Bad of NPCs, Aldron, found out the truth of his world, and tried to stop adventurers from coming to it. Thistle and his group listened to his theory, but were disgusted by how he just let people die. Due to his own use of The Bridge, Eric starts to think that the wizard was onto something after severing Timuscor's connection to his player. In Going Rogue, Tim and the other players also learn more of the truth to the world. Some of their own later actions are shaped in part due to this revelation.
  • Wall Crawl: One of the spells Grumph learns in preparation for his trial. It allows him to bypass two obstacles at once, in that he can safely ascend stairs while the inside of the room had a massive storm blowing through it, and lightning that strikes the stairs but not the walls. He later uses it on Gabrielle as part of the plan to fight the nameless priest. The spell once again becomes useful in Going Rogue, when traversing a dragon lair.
  • Wham Line:
    • When Cheri suggests Russell look into who created the modules he's grown concerned about, he sees that the manufacturer's name is Broken Bridge Publishing. Russell makes no comment about this name and the in-game artifact called the Bridge but the narration in Split the Party notes he might've gone pale had he noticed a reference to it in his group's current quest.
    • While Mr. Peppers is already unusual, being a mage summon that won't go away like it's supposed to, the real mystery around him doesn't really kick off until Thistle has a chat with Grumble during Going Rogue and Grumble reveals that while keeping tabs on the party, he never once saw a boar with them.
    • The climax of Going Rogue goes into full swing when Russell's group joins the battle in Rathgan's treasure hoard and are introduced to Timuscor. Tim and Russell are in utter shock at the sight of the name in the module book.
    • In Noble Roots, Tim does a Dramatic Drop of a beverage when he learns that one of the other groups of players encountered Timuscor. He then warns them to never engage him or his friends in battle. Later on, the other group's characters end up facing Timuscor and tell him that a certain paladin told them to avoid battle with him. Timuscor immediately nods and name-drops Timanuel, causing the group's GM to drop her pencil.
    • In the same book, the readers learn that Eric's parents used to be characters created by Russell and Cheri's parents when they were kids. In fact, the only reason Eric was even born is because Marsha put the characters together at the end of their game. She also reveals that Eric's mother (whom everyone knows as a seamstress) is an assassin and a depowered sorceress. Those needles can do a lot more than sew.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: During Going Rogue, Eric uses the Bridge to connect the players to their Avatars, causing the players to feel any injury inflicted upon their characters. Cheri convinces the others in her group to just calm down, relax, and do nothing. This causes the others in Eric's group to get him to calm down, once Mitch's group runs away. Afterwards, the two groups split the gold in the place between them, and leave without anyone else being the wiser, for the most part.
  • Withholding Their Name: Servants of the dark god Kalzidar give up their names as part of their service to him. They're also unable to use a false name, even in disguise. One such nameless priest is the primary antagonist of the second book. For this reason, upon meeting a rogue in the third, the party is immediately wary when she initially refuses to give her name. In that case, it's just the rogue, Elora, being cautious.
  • Worthy Opponent: A dragon hatchling the NPCs mortally wound in the third novel praises them for their skill and asks for a quick death. Instead, Thistle offers him a deal: healing for cooperation in stealing the Elder Dragon's piece of the Bridge, which is driving him insane.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: In NPCs, the four main characters knew each other already, but they are all in the inn when a party of adventurers arrive and die. Inspecting the bodies yields an order by the king to come meet with him. The king is well known for not taking disappointment well, and taking his ire out on whatever location his disappointment occurred in, whether it had anything to do with what went wrong or not. The only way to resolve this problem is for the titular NPCs to set out adventuring in the dead adventurers' place.
  • You Have Researched Breathing: During Going Rogue Mitch's group uses poison, and poisoned rats, when going after wolves. They soon run out of rats, but there's a pack leader nearby. Glenn mentions that it would be useful if Terry could coat arrows in poison — turns out, not only do they have the wrong poison for this, poisoning ones own arrows is a higher level skill. They decide to take and poison a farmer's goats — as in take them by force — to deal with the pack leader.
  • Your Worst Memory: In Noble Roots, it's revealed that Russell and Cheri got their love of SS&S from their parents, who were huge fans of the game. But something related to the game happened that resulted in their father's death, after which their mother wanted nothing to do with the game due to the painful memories it brought up. Russell and Cheri go to great lengths to avoid mentioning it to her, although they end up having to get her involved when Broken Bridge Publishing invites their group to an exclusive event out of state. Their mother, a lawyer, runs a background check on BBP and finds something off about them, deciding to join the group as a chaperone despite her personal feelings on the matter. She even ends up helping Russell with a complicated puzzle his group is given, recalling that the puzzle is a spell from an earlier version of the game.