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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.

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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 four books, NPCs, Split the Party, Going Rogue, and Siege Tactics.

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This series contains examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 he's seeking divine aid, so he's willing to grovel.
  • 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.
    • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Withholding Their Name:
    • Servants of the dark god Kalzidar give up their names as part of their service to him. One such nameless priest is the primary antagonist of the second book.
    • 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 a case of 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.

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