What Do I Know About Reviews? The Princess Project (Dungeon Masters Guild Product, D&D 5e)

Anthology adventure series have become very popular for the Dungeon Masters Guild lately, and I enjoy the trend, as it often means that people will be bending their creative strengths towards a specific theme, often themes that are overlooked or locked into cliché. In addition to looking at fantasy themes with a fresh perspective, another benefit I have seen develop from these anthology series has been an innovative use of shared formatting, befitting the vision of the people cultivating the anthology.

Today I’m looking a The Princess Project, a series of D&D 5e adventures with a princess theme. In some cases, these princess-themed adventures are based on existing fairy tales or folklore, and in some cases, the theme is literally just that a princess is involved in the plot.

For purposes of full disclosure, while I was very interested in picking up this anthology to look at it already, it was provided to me as a review copy.

The Royal Carriage

The Princess Project is an 88 page PDF with full-color artwork throughout. There are gold and red page borders and gold section headings on the individual pages. The artwork is bold, colorful, and very thematic for the individual adventures for which it appears.

There are three introductory pages that have an introduction, individual author credits, playtester credits, and various inspirations listed, as well as the standard legal wording for a DMs Guild product. The appendices include princess-themed trinkets, magic items, and spells, starting on page 80. The rest of the product is split up into 10 different adventures.

A Note on Formatting

As I mentioned above, a lot of these anthologies have similar formatting for all of the adventures they contain and I like many of the templates that have evolved. Some notable formatting choices for the adventures in this anthology include the following:

  • Adventure Overview
  • Adventure Background
  • Running the Adventure
  • Adventure Hooks
  • NPCs with pronouns, Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws
  • Concluding the Adventure
  • Aftermath
  • Further Adventures

One thing I have seen in other anthologies that I would like to have seen in this format is a content warning upfront. Not only are there a few of the adventures in this anthology where noting challenging content early on would be helpful, but I like the concept as a normalization of content warnings in RPG material.

For all of my issues with traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws as less than perfect for player character “triggers” when adjudicating inspiration, I really like having them available for NPCs, especially since they are much more likely to be tailored to the NPC in the context of the story, rather than picked from a finite list of NPC traits. Given the amount of roleplaying some of these adventures have, a summary in this format is more useful than walls of text that a DM has to parse in the moment when portraying a character.

Like other anthologies, I think the formatting on these adventures is stronger than many longer published adventures, because the “Concluding the Adventure” and “Aftermath” sections often make it very clear how a situation is expected to resolve. Given that PCs can use broad and chaotic means to resolve an adventure, sometimes it’s hard to piece together in the moment how events narrow back to a resolution, and having that guideline is welcome. It also makes adventures more accessible for newer DMs.

It’s never bad to explain what you intended to happen in the adventure to the DM.

 

Fowl Suitors

Fowl Suitors is an adventure based on the plot of Swan Lake, where the PCs have been hired to deal with a troublesome creature that has been harassing guests. That creature’s actual identity is the source of a mystery that the PCs need to discover to resolve court intrigue that deals with false identities and lines of succession.

I like that a lot of the facts that the PCs can learn in unraveling this mystery are spelled out in bullet points, and that a pivotal scene is noted as being possible to resolve in multiple ways. There are a few clues that I think the PCs should just be given, instead of asking for a roll (for example, a piece of art that is obviously more detailed than other sketches that the PCs may find).

I like that key points of the adventure are left undefined, but not unaddressed. There is enough to guide PCs to a resolution, without assuming a single path or a constrained set of resolutions.

Tying the Knot

In Tying the Knot, PCs are hired as neutral third parties to obtain a list of traditional wedding gifts to be presented at the marriage between two princesses that will unite disparate people with different faiths. Because this is a union of two forces in opposition, the neutral third party contracted to retrieve the items is a logical extension of the current situation.

This isn’t a combat-heavy adventure at all. There are various roleplaying encounters and some light puzzles, and a few instances where PCs may need to perform a side task to obtain an item from an NPC that already has the item. Some of the items already have this structure, but I wish more of them were set up in more of a “make a successful check or do something right up front, or do a task on the back end to resolve the situation” format.

It’s not initially mentioned in the adventure as an option, but at the wedding scene, there is a reference to producing forgeries to cover for any items the PCs didn’t obtain. I wish this had been fleshed out a bit more, with more of the resolution being how forgeries would alter the outcome of the political situation. I could even have seen skipping ahead a year, and seeing where the kingdom is based on the number of forgeries provided and detected.

The Color of Bravery

The Color of Bravery is about a flump princess whose home is being invaded by illithids. After protecting the princess, the PCs are asked to escort her back home to help come up with a plan for either evacuating or defending her home. On the way, they run into various Underdark inhabitants that might hinder their journey.

I already love the concept of a flumph princess right from the start. I love the idea of the PCs traveling to the Underdark to participate in a council of flumphs. All gold. There are a few places where I wish there had been a few more details or context provided.

As an example, there is an awakened bullette set up as a sympathetic encounter, but not many notes on how to convey that she is awakened. There is a section where the DM has players run various flumph councilors, but this is one of the few adventures that doesn’t provide the ideals/traits/bonds/flaws for NPCs, which would have been perfect for this adventure. There is also a section where the PCs can propose allies for the flumphs. I had initially thought the Underdark encounters would play into this more, but the proposed alliances with Gauntylgrim or Menzoberranzan aren’t reinforced by any NPCs in the text, and those are some fairly far-flung suggestions, especially without giving a location for the flumph settlement.

There is also a section on potentially cutting a deal with the illithids for providing them with slaves and humanoid cattle. I think that when an adventure starts proposing options like this as solutions, the adventure also needs to do more work to set up safety discussions about the game you are running.

Heir to Chaos

In this adventure, the PCs are hired to escort a princess to a tomb to recover an artifact that will let her control her wild magic abilities before she ascends the throne. The tomb is set up as a test for future rulers, and the PCs will need to help the princess make her way through the tomb and make decisions. The princess has a fairly important decision to make which is influenced by what the PCs say to her and how well they have helped her through the tests.

Normally, escort missions, and missions where an NPC is the focus, aren’t going to be as much fun for PCs as other missions that focus on them being central to the narrative. This adventure works around that problem by making their actions during the tests important to the resolution of the adventure. They aren’t just keeping the princess alive, they are helping to guide what kind of monarch she may be in the future, or to help her determine if she even wants to be a monarch.

If there is one thing I would have liked to have had for this, it would be for a separate tracker measuring what each test was proposing to the princess and the results, beyond what is noted in the text of the encounters. I understand the limitations of publishing an anthology versus the extra items you include for a singular adventure, but it would have been a welcome inclusion.

. . . To Wash Away This Dirt

 

In this scenario, a princess of a group of aasimar has gone missing, being taken in by a hobgoblin band nearby. The aasimar society has hired the adventurers to kill the princess as a traitor, and the hobgoblins have a chance to change their rulership to a less malevolent leader, if various secrets, including an infernal pact, can be managed.

 

I am always going to be on board with the idea of taking a group of “assumed evil” monsters like hobgoblins, and having a chance to resolve an adventure in a more nuanced manner, recognizing them as intelligent creatures with free will and interests. That said, a lot is going on in a short adventure, and it’s really easy for PCs to find one string to pull to resolve everything without seeing all of the nuances at play.

For example, the princess of the aasimar doesn’t realize the extent of the infernal contract she has received from Zarial. Pointing that out is going to be a big deal. The warmage of the hobgoblin clan has a secret and a reason to challenge for leadership, but that takes effort to discover. My impression is that the adventure as written doesn’t explain enough upfront about why the princess left to “help” the hobgoblins, and the infernal pact is so pivotal it feels like something the PCs should be pointed towards, instead of something they can optionally discover.

The Silver Princess

A King is ready to hire PCs to fight off a dragon that has appeared in his kingdom. Years ago, his daughter disappeared, and the king blames the dragon. He’s got several other dragon hunters ready to go looking, and the PCs can choose who they want to travel with on their journey.

I like the idea of this adventure developing in different directions based on what NPCs the PCs interact with. The twist involving the princess probably isn’t going to be an earth-shaking revelation, but I do like that it adds an extra layer to a relatively straightforward adventure, and I also like that learning the truth doesn’t put the PCs in any peril of not completing their job.

If there is anything I might want to tweak in this it’s that the king gets off pretty easy for being much more reactionary in his youth, and the adventure follows the (official WOTC adventure) example of handing out a stat block as the base stats for a character with a ton of little tweaks to it.

Golden Plates and Golden Rules

This adventure is based on the concept of Sleeping Beauty, but it extrapolates events from some of the oldest versions of the story. I love examining the ugly roots in various folk stories, but this is an instance where I think a content warning might have been handy upfront. It’s also not as clear to me how much of Talia’s story is known widely, and how much she will share without prompting.

If you haven’t looked at the roots of various fairy tales, some of the oldest versions of Sleeping Beauty entail the princess, while she is still magically asleep, being impregnated by her “rescuer,” and one of her children pulling the item that pricked her from her body so she wakes up. That’s the story we’re following in this adventure, and Talia, now queen, and having outlived everyone else at court, is hiring adventurers to finish off the fey that originally cursed her. She doesn’t want anyone else to be subject to the events that befell her after the curse.

In the course of looking for this fey, they find out that instead of killing the fey responsible, they may be able to modify the rules by which the fey operate, also making sure no one else falls prey to Talia’s curse. If the PCs finish off the fey, or change the rules, Talia is happy.

I really like the ability to take this adventure in multiple directions. I like the concept that there is an agency behind the scenes chronicling the weird, strict rules by which the fey work, and going one level deeper, one might affect a bigger change than just addressing the surface level issue involved.

The Regent of Ithaca

I’m going to spoil things upfront and say this is my favorite of the adventure concepts in this anthology, and it’s totally because of my own biases. This adventure sees the PCs hired by Penelope to stall off Odysseus from returning home. She doesn’t want him dead, and she doesn’t want anything terrible to happen to him, but she’s got some things she wants to finish up in Ithaca that he just won’t be interested in doing, and she wants to keep making some much-needed reforms.

The PCs are presented with multiple items that they can throw in Odysseus’ path, from a romantic entanglement to dealing with a sea witch and a dragon. The more years it takes Odysseus to return home, the more gold the PCs earn from Penelope. In the meantime, they may have a chance to conspire with the dragon and even Odysseus’ patron goddess to help keep things interesting for him.

Before I go any further, I will strongly recommend reading Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey and her notes about the story. And now that I have said that, if I ever run the Greek Mythology themed Odyssey of the Dragon Lords adventure, I’m strongly considering throwing this in as a side quest to that storyline. I love the concept that much.

As with Heir to Chaos, the main thing I don’t like about this adventure is mainly that I would love to have more of a tracking mechanism for how long all the potential side quests and troubles for Odysseus will take, to better determine the outcome of the adventure.

Love’s Bind

This is a pretty ambitious adventure, because it’s designed to be a 20th level adventure. The PCs end up at a wedding, in a city that might be trapped in Hell depending on how the situation plays out. There are only really one or two fights that are assumed to happen in the adventure, and the rest of the adventure involves interacting with the wedding guests, learning what the guests know, and potentially guiding the groom to the proper way to resolve the situation.

The city already has some hellish traits applied to is, as filtered through the power of Mammon, the archduke of greed. For example, trying to give charity in the form of money causes psychic damage. Mammon is looking to provide magical weapons to the city, and the groom has to learn that he still has the free will to back out of the wedding that has been arranged, and if he goes through with it, the city is trapped in Hell. In addition to learning the conditions of the deal and convincing the groom, the PCs will also likely find out that both greed and toxic masculinity are literally reinforced as powerful forces in the city.

I haven’t run much high-level play in 5th edition, but the structure of the adventure follows what I think would be best for the situation. In other words, there are one or two fights that might serve as a chance to unleash the full barrage of high-level powers, but all the bits between aren’t things that can be resolved easily with sheer power. This adventure also has suggestions for bumping the encounters up or down in power based on how comfortable players are with 20th level characters, which is an interesting mechanical quirk of the scenario.

Appendices

The appendices were way more fun than I thought they would be for this anthology. You get a list of trinkets that either specifically calls back to folk tales, or generally are themed for royalty and court-related items. There is a wild magic table that produces effects that are pulled straight from various fairy tales and maybe some pop culture-specific retellings, and some spells that likewise produce some very familiar effects. Magic items are either connected to the adventures in the anthology, or are tied to famous fairy tales and folklore.

I haven’t used wild magic tables very often, but I’ve seen quite a few products that have included them lately, and the fun items on many of these makes me want to use more of them. It’s also hard not to want to cast spells that steal voices, summon birds to fight for you, or conjure an ice castle that lasts 24 hours for you to, um, chill out in.

As someone that played a character in a Disney Princess themed version of Curse of Strahd, I would have lobbied for the use of the material in this appendix for that game.

Happy Endings

There is plenty to appreciate in this anthology. There are many intriguing scenarios that ask questions from new perspectives and provide relatively short, flexible material for games. In addition to having evocative scenarios, the anthology provides some great follow up material in the form of the thematically on-point tables, magic items, and spells provided.

Direct to Video Sequels

There isn’t too much I was disappointed with. In general, I would have liked a standardized content warning format, and some tracking tools for more “progress-driven” adventures. There was also some solid content in some of the scenarios that felt like it wasn’t emphasized enough when that content was the key element of the adventure.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If you want to see a product that plays with princess tropes, and, while it doesn’t always subvert them, does challenge and interrogate them, you may want to pick up this volume. It doesn’t spend its page count on deep analysis, but it does have nuance and clarity.

If you aren’t just interested in the broad concept of princesses in fantasy, but also want some mechanically weighty additions, you may be surprised at some of the nicely thematic additional items and spells included as well.

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