Steelshod is a series of Reddit posts on the DnDGreentext subreddit by user /u/MostlyReadRarelyPost, based on his homebrew Dungeons & Dragons campaign with two friends. It was intended to be a one-shot, but snowballed into the longest, most intricate campaign the author has ever run, to the point that it had been going for six years before he even started posting about it in 2017, and as of 2021, shows no signs of ending any time soon. The series focuses around the adventures of the titular mercenary company in a Low Fantasy world informally called "Torathworld", with places based off of the real world, such as Spatalia, the Midlands, Kriegany, Lorraine, and other places.
An index of all posts, including some supplemental information, here.
A work in progress prose version of the saga can be found here.
Welcome aboard, TV Tropes!
- Absurdly Low Level Cap: Zig-Zagged. As the campaign was supposed to be a one-shot (two-shot at the most), all characters have a maximum level of 5, and after that would gain "tiers" instead, which are less like levels and more like perks or permanent buffs to the character. At the time Level 5 actually seemed like an Absurdly High Level Cap that nobody would reach before the campaign ended, but it went on a bit longer than anticipated, and now there are characters who are Level 5 with 20+ tiers to their name.
- Accidental Misnaming: Whenever Zelde has trouble with a Middish word (typically names), she tends to go for the most phonetically similar Kriegar word instead, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.
- Admiring the Abomination:
- Unferth with the Old Ones, ancient Thaumati gods, and, in a way, vice versa.
- A faction of Goblins in the Underpass also worship the Old Ones, as do a Wncari tribe.
- Alchemy Is Magic: Alchemy is not magic, but since the average joe in Torathworld doesn't understand the first thing about it and has probably never even heard the word "alchemy" before, they can't really tell the difference between it and actual magic. Anyone who has a reputation as a powerful wizard/sorcerer/etc. is probably actually an alchemist just playing up the image, such as Steelshod's own "Black Wizard" Yorrin.
- Anachronism Stew:
- The saga appears to be set in the equivalent of the early middle ages while still having a very not Byzantine-like Roman Empire-like Cassala.
- Also mortars were invented before trebuchets.
- After slaying a Thaumati bone demon, Aleksandr's sword seemingly becomes possessed by it, turning black. Binding the demon with a mixture of Thaumati runes and Torathi scripture restores the sword's original colour and gives it the ability to literally burn away evil magic. The process is quite painful, and the more under the influence of evil magic you are, the more painful it is to burn away. It loses this ability after encountering the Thaumati in the Underpass, who let the demon out, breaking the sword in the process. Aleksandr repairs it but it's no longer magical.
- Spatalian cimarutas can ward off evil magic, though they tend to get destroyed if said evil magic is particularly strong.
- The Atoner: While the vast majority of Knights Serpentes join up out of a sense of duty to god and country, they're called the Penitent Fellowship of the Most Devout for a reason, and some join seeking atonement. For example, Brother Enoch used to be King Saul of Acton, who caught his wife in bed with his best friend and killed them both in a rage, then immediately regretted it. He shut himself up in his room for several days in grief, then seceded his throne and joined the Serpentes. Taebjornsen/Ragnar is convinced to take this option instead of being executed, becoming Brother Nicham.
- Being Personal Isn't Professional: Jaspar, Agrippa, and Taerbjornsen. Though, to be fair, the latter one isn't personal, full stop.
- Big Bad: Many, many villans, ranging from Arc Villain to Greater-Scope Villain, depending on the arc.
- Initially, Taerbjornsen from the beginning to the Svard War.
- After the Svard War, Unferth becomes the Greater-Scope Villain of the series.
- The Thaumati as an Arc Villain during an Underpass arc.
- Khashar seemed to be shaping up to become one after basically stabbing everybody in the back to take over Cassala himself, but Unferth has become so powerful and threatening that Steelshod is now willing to do whatever it takes to get him to agree to an Enemy Mine situation, at least for the time being.
- Blood Magic: Used by priests of Vlar, though the faith is somewhat divided on whether or not it is heresy to sacrifice thralls for blood rather than getting it from either yourself or from enemies slain in glorious battle.
- Captain Obvious Reveal: The author admits that he was not being subtle at all with regards to the identity of the mysterious "Blood King" that randomly showed up out of the blue one day and conquered most of Kriegany, and that it should have been extremely obvious to anyone. It actually surprised him to learn that his two players actually hadn't figured it out, after he accidentally spoiled them by referring to him by name in casual conversation, assuming they knew already. It's Hakon.
- "Welcome aboard, _____!" Used whenever the Steelshod recruit a new member.
- Yorrin has "Shut up, Prudence.", though it hasn't been used in a while.
- Zelde's (Yes, pronounced like that) favorite response is to enthusiastically nod her head and say "Ja!"
- Out of universe, fans of the series on Reddit will comment "Oh no, Unfourth" when a chapter ends on an ominous cliffhanger with an unknown villain.
- Cliffhanger: A lot of Steelshod's chapters end on one, especially nowadays. Examples include:
- "The Siege of Torva is a doozy. But I think Iíll save that for next time."
- "They have come a long way looking for Aleksandr. And they intend to kill him."
- "Trespassers, it says. It is a growl, and a hiss, and a condemnation. You have come a long way, just to die."
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Torath is a snake god specifically made a as a joke to invoke this trope.
- Defeat Means Friendship: How Steelshod recruits most of their members. From the second ever post:Recruiting Robin seemed like a fun little side note at the time.
But remember this: This is what Aleksandr does.
The man is a recruiting machine.
One day, he will recruit someone that traveled a thousand miles solely so that they could challenge him to single combat and murder him.
And that's not the most impressive peaceful solution he's ever done, either.
- Diabolus ex Machina: In the final battle for Nahash, Aleksandr faces Taerbjornsen and successfully talks the monster to death. Taerbjornsen removes his bearskin and declares he is done with the war, only for his bearskin to come to life and jump back on him, merging with him to create a giant bear monster that is not only far more powerful than just fighting Taerbjornsen normally would have been, but also drives nearly every bersark on the battlefield into a mindless rage, making them attack the closest thing to them that isn't a fellow bersark. This includes the newly-minted Leona Ljonskar, who turns her attention away from Unferth and attacks Olivenco instead, killing him.
- Dumb Muscle: Zelde embodies this trope with Germanic Efficiency. Her freakish strength has been described as being only slightly below that of your average bersark (and the bersark's strength is supernatural, hers isn't), while all evidence indicates her intelligence is slightly below that of your average rock.
- Elective Mute:
- LevinLevin is a dour, terse motherfucker. If he says a complete sentence, some serious shit is about to go down.
- Some members of the Knights Serpentes have been known to take vows of silence, though not always keep them.
- Embarrassing Last Name: Played with. While most people in the real world would probably laugh at the name "Wigglesworth", most people in a world where the majority religion worships a wiggly snake god consider it a very respectable name.
- The Empire: First it was the Svards, then the Ruskans, then the Loranettes, and now it's shaping up to be Cassala.
- Exact Words: Aleksandr promises a Svardic priest he will be shown "mercy" if he cooperates. The priest is stabbed through the chest and thrown into a fire while still alive, the burning of his corpse condemning his soul to eternal misery according to the Svardic faith. As Aleksandr notes, this was still more mercy than the Svards showed their victims.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Where to begin:
- Spatalia: Spain and Italy
- Cassala: The Roman Empire
- The Midlands: The UK and Ireland
- Highhurst: Scotland
- The Wncar Hills: Wales
- Rusk: Russia
- Svarden: Scandinavia
- Al-Hassad: The Arabian Peninsula
- Lorraine: France
- Kriegany: Germany
- Mongols: Targans
- Frygia: Africa
- Fantasy Counterpart Religion: Torathism seems to be a mixture of Judaism and Catholicism. Many Torathi, particularly Serpentes, have Hebrew names, while the religion itself wages holy wars known as "Torades" and Khashar names himself Pope when he takes over Cassala.
- Fat and Skinny: Aleksandr is less fat and more muscular, but Yorrin is definitely skinny.
- Fantastic Slurs: The countries have their own slurs for each other, such as "Spits" (Spatalians) and "Loonies" (Loranettes).
- The Fundamentalist: Yorrin is probably the biggest religious zealot in all of Steelshod. Keep in mind that Steelshod's ranks include several former Serpentes and a Torathi priestess.
- Holy Ground: The nation of Torathia, named after the local religion's god, Torath.
- In-Series Nickname: Holy knights of the Church of Torath are called the "Penitent Fellowship of the Most Devout", but apparently that's too long and/or pretentious for anyone to bother with, so everybody just calls them the "Knights Serpentes" instead.
- Irony: Taerbjornsen at one point notes the irony that, because his army consists of so many different nationalities, they have to conduct their meetings in Middish, the native language of his enemies.
- Jack-of-All-Trades: Yorrin, the "Black Wizard", has:
- A number of alchemical pots for any situation, including Thunderbolt, Dragonfire, Eyeburn, and Stone Tar.
- An elite team of thieves, assassins, and spies called "Shadowsteel".
- A widespread network of agents that can, among other things, bring him information, spread his rumors, and assassinate his targets.
- Dueling skill and abilities good enough that he can take on bersarks solo.
- Knight in Shining Armor: Aleksandr is one of these, being a literal knight from Rusk. Honor and chivalry are his bread and butter.
- Lord of the Ocean: Vlar, the Svardic Top God, which is why Svards prefer burial at sea and abhor cremation (and burning people to death), because it prevents the soul from reaching his domain under the sea and condemns it to wander aimlessly for eternity. Vlar is also a War God, so naturally, his domain is called "Vlarhalla". Any kind of big, scary sea monster was probably created by him, and he will be quite impressed by any warriors who manage to defeat one.
- Love Triangle: The Trio encounter one with the princess Isabel Garibaldi, Aistulf Lombard, and Juan in their Spatalia arc. Turns out Aistulf is gay, Juan is dumb as a sack of bricks, and Isabel is using the other two.
- Malicious Misnaming: Cyril DuChamps deliberately mispronounces Abelo Sacapus's name as "sac à puces", which is Loranette (French) for "fleabag".
- Meaningful Name: Leona, whose name means "lion", ends up becoming the world's very first Ljonskar, a lion-bersark.
- Moe Greene Special: Yorrin is on the receiving end of one courtesy of Asmundr, Blood Drinker. It crits, doing enough damage to instakill him, but he still survives thanks to a combination of Agrippa's somewhat broken "Miracle Worker" ability and his own, also somewhat broken collection of Luck Manipulation Mechanics, downgrading the injury three times over, from "death" all the way down to a mere "standard injury".
- Mundane Object Amazement:
- The campaign's setting is still in the iron age, so steel is viewed as a fantastically powerful metal akin to what mythril would be in any other fantasy setting, and knowing how to make it in good quality is seen as basically magic. The whole reason the titular band of mercenaries name themselves "Steelshod" in the first place is because just being associated with steel is all it takes to be seen as total badasses.Who the fuck has so much steel that they could outfit an entire company with the stuff?
Nobody, that's who.
- As noted above, alchemy is viewed as magic by the average person due to ignorance of how it works.
- The campaign's setting is still in the iron age, so steel is viewed as a fantastically powerful metal akin to what mythril would be in any other fantasy setting, and knowing how to make it in good quality is seen as basically magic. The whole reason the titular band of mercenaries name themselves "Steelshod" in the first place is because just being associated with steel is all it takes to be seen as total badasses.
- Nemean Skinning: Svard bersarks wear the pelts of totem animals, with their size and personality changing to reflect the animal. Standard bersarks with brown bear pelts stand ten feet tall and are immensely strong while Taerbjornsen and his champions wear polar bear pelts and are even larger and stronger. Black bear pelts by contrast result in smaller bersarks called "vartror" who favor ambushes and sniping as opposed to melee while wolf pelts result in pack-minded scouts called "ulfskennar" who can communicate across long distances by howling.
- The Old Gods: The Thaumati, capable of using magic at will, and live deep in the Underpass.
- Omniglot: Unferth has the ability of the "Alltongue", which allows him to effortlessly learn new languages just by hearing them. for instance, he's able to converse with Cyril in perfect Loranette after only a few days. And then he rolls a natural 20 on learning Thaumati, starting him down his path to becoming the series Greater-Scope Villain.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Yorrin and the other Steelshod begin to worry when Aleksandr starts going down a dark path on his quest to rescue Alaina.
- Out-of-Character Moment: See above.
- Red Baron: Yorrin becomes known (and feared) as Steelshod's "Black Wizard", and is only too happy to perpetuate his mythos to keep his enemies terrified.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Orson (Red) and Levin (Blue). Orson being a friendly, talkative fellow, wheras Levin is quiet and serious. Despite this, they are great friends, and have one of the strongest bonds in the company.
- Rule of Cool: In-universe example with Jorg Spear-Breaker. He got his name when he threw his spear so hard that it shattered when it hit his opponent. Pretty much everyone agreed that this was fucking awesome, so he started carrying around spears of intentionally poor construction so that he could do it again whenever he wanted. If he shatters a spear during combat, his nearby allies get a significant buff from the morale boost.
- Satan Is Good: The Torathi faith worships the snake from the Adam and Eve story as the one who freed humanity from the Gilded Cage where they were subservient to the creator god, gave them knowledge and free will, and taught them how to be self-reliant. Of course, that means Torathi priests/priestesses can't do any "fancy cleric bullshit" and ask Torath for blessings or to smite their enemies or anything, because Torath expects you to help yourself. Though he does feel the need to step (slither?) in whenever the Thaumati are involved.
- Though a subversion to feel clever, it does take some things from what the Ophites believed. Unknown if the GM knew this or not.
- Signature Move: Leona has one she likes to do called "Playing the Triangle". Lets just say the knees are the bottom two of the triangle's points.
- Snakes Are Sinister: Inverted and played straight. Torathians worship Torath, the snake in the Adam and Eve story, as a representation of human ingenuity and cunning. Meanwhile, Al-Hassadians consider Torath to be the Devil.
- Theme Naming: When coming up with the Cassaline Pantheon, the author first came up with the Top God, Cassio. When it was pointed out to him that this was the same name as a brand of watches (Casio, with only one "s", but pronounced identically), the group decided to go all in and name every member of the Pantheon after brands of watches.Pretty sure if I ever tried to write a novel of any of this, Iíd have to change the Cassaline Pantheon
Because itís probably copyright infringement.
- Throw It In: In-Universe. /u/MostlyReadRarelyPost made up the world as he went, with help from his friends.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A nameless Torathi priest burned a young Svardic woman at the stake due to her practicing some minor witchcraft (or what he believed was witchcraft). This woman was the wife of Ragnar Varicson, who would later become Taerbjornsen and stage a brutal campaign of vengeance against the Midlands and Torathia. Consequences might not have been quite so severe had this priest not chosen to inflict the one manner of death that Svards view as utterly unacceptable.
- Vestigial Empire: The old Cassaline Empire, which once spanned most of the southern part of the world, leaving most of its technology behind (roads and various buildings).
- Witch Hunt:
- Headed by Father Seville in Spatalia. One of the first things Hubert does after being introduced is rescue a poor innocent girl from his wrath. And then he finds out that she was being witch-hunted because she actually is a witch and was caught red-handed cursing a man for being rude. Oops.
- Years ago a Torathi priest tried to convert Svards in their homeland, eventually whipping up a witch hunt that burned a young Svardic woman at the stake. As noted above, this had dire consequences.
- Wizard Classic: The Order of Gnomon are one of the last remaining thaumaturges in the world, and the only ones of them we've seen so far, Borthul and Theodorus, fit this trope like a glove.
- You Will Be Spared: Aleksandr promises a captured Svardic priest that he will be shown mercy so long as he answers every question about the ritual he just helped perform. After the priest's explanation is done, Aleksandr shows him more mercy than the Svards showed their victims.