The Princess and the PC

Earlier today I was browsing RPG.net and came across an article entitled 9 Disney Combat Princesses. It assigns D&D classes to the heroines from nine Disney films, and briefly explains what traits they have that mark them as members of that class.

It’s a fun article to read, since putting a new spin on established characters is a fun way to make the familiar new again (and indeed, as some of the comments on the article point out, reinterpreting fairy tale princesses has been done before, such as in Vertigo Comics’ Fables or Jim C. Hines’ Princess Series of novels). Of course, being a tremendous geek, what I took away from the article was a desire to adopt the themes it dealt with into Pathfinder at large.

Meet the PCs for your next Pathfinder campaign.

The conclusion I came to was ironic, in that I eventually realized I needed to approach the topic from the exact opposite point that the article had. 9 Disney Combat Princesses was concerned with putting character classes – with the attendant combat prowess, whether with swords, spells, or skills – to women who are (with a few notable exceptions) of fairly non-combative dispositions.

Female PCs in a Pathfinder game, however, are adventurers right alongside their male counterparts. They have the same character classes, the same skills and feats, the same equipment – there’s no difference between them and male PCs save for how they’re role-played.

What’s needed are ways to make a female PC a bit more like a Disney Princess.

Now, at this point, I suspect that some of my readers are scratching their heads and wondering “why would I want my female PC to be like a Disney Princess at all?” That’s a good question, and while I could spend a few paragraphs going over the specific role-playing qualities that being a princess would add to the character, the short answer is that it’s fun. The same way that adding martial qualities to a “typical” princess makes the character more multi-faceted, the same is true for adding the qualities of a princess to your badass warrior woman (or whatever sort of adventuring girl you play).

So then, what are the qualities of a princess in general (and a Disney Princess in particular)?

  • Comeliness – while it may be shallow, it’s a truism that a princess is beautiful. Whether she’s “the fairest of them all” or simply a pretty girl, all princesses outwardly reflect their inner benevolence. In game terms, this usually means having an above-average Charisma score (at least a 12, if not more) – while Charisma has attempted to shake off its connotations as being the score related to physical appearance, we still can’t help but think of it that way. And hey, even leaving aside questions of beauty, aren’t princesses also charismatic?
  • Royalty – This one seems like a no-brainer. After all, being a princess means being the daughter of a monarch and in line for the throne, right? Well, usually…but as it turns out, not always. Some of the Disney Princesses (e.g. Cinderella, Belle) aren’t ever shown to be of noble breeding; rather, they’re princesses by virtue of (presumed) marriage – the men they get involved with, and supposedly wind up happily ever after with, are princes. Hence, a princess can be a princess by birth or by marriage. In game terms, this can be tricky to pull off. Nobility is generally consigned to the aristocrat NPC class, which isn’t fit for a PC. On the other hand, this can just as easily be relegated to a purely role-playing device, with the player simply noting that the character is of royal blood without needing it represented in game terms at all. As we’ll see later, there’s at least one way of reconciling these two approaches.
  • Empathy – Princesses are notably in touch with the feelings of those around them; more specifically with grumpy but good-hearted people, or with small woodland creatures. Oftentimes they’re the only one with the ability or the desire to relate to someone who is otherwise an outcast in a particular community or culture. Never ones to judge on appearances or reputation, princesses are emotionally sensitive people (though when they sense that someone is a genuinely bad person, they react appropriately). In game terms, this is generally typified as a high Sense Motive skill, and quite likely also a high score in Diplomacy (to get that grouchy beast or disinterested prince to respond to them). Or if focused on animals instead of people, ranks in Handle Animal (and possibly wild empathy).
  • That Special Something – corny as that header may be, there’s something else about a princess (certainly a Disney Princess) that’s difficult to put into words; a je ne sais quoi that’s definitely there even if we can’t properly define it. It’s something about them that borders on being mystical, even though there’s no hint of magical ability. In game terms, this is what’s different about the character beyond her ability scores, class levels, and skills. It’s that she’s so pretty that she has a sanctuary effect that makes people not want to attack her, or that she’s so caring that she affects people as per calm emotions, all without knowing any spellcasting or even being aware of what she’s doing – usually because she has a particular feat that makes this possible. This is the quality that makes her a princess, and not just a girl who happens to be royalty.

The above are some good guidelines for making a princess character straight out of the Core Rules. However, if you want to go beyond general suggestions and find some game mechanics that are more apropos for a princess PC (particularly in regards to that last quality outlined above), then the following are some good resources to look into.

Kobold Quarterly #2Kobold Quarterly #2 has a great article titled “Joining the Noble Classes.” Written by veteran game designer Jeff Grubb, this article – written for v.3.5 but 100% compatible with Pathfinder – talks about creating game effects for having a character join the realm’s nobility. This is done largely by way of “virtual” aristrocrat levels which the kingdom’s ruler can bestow on a PC. While not quite appropriate for a 1st-level character, imagine a princess PC who starts with a few virtual aristrocrat levels backing up her PC class levels. This is a great article unto itself, and is an excellent method for giving your character the mechanics that go with having the background of a princess without it eating into the levels you want her to have.

Once Upon a TimeAlthough written for d20 Modern, Once Upon a Time, published by Avalon Game Company, has several great mechanics for a princess PC.

Foremost among these are the feats it offers. While there are only a few, they hit some of the most quintessential princess features. Magical Gift, for example, lets you sing to summon woodland creatures exactly like Snow White.

There’s also the fair maiden advanced class (prince charming if you’re a man who takes levels in it). This requires a bit more work to translate over from d20 Modern, but does a good job of hitting a number of princess high points. Skill bonuses and bonus feats make up the lower levels, but at higher levels a fair maiden’s kiss can have magical effects. It doesn’t get more princess-y than that.

Free20: TroublemakerPart of a series of free products, Free20: Troublemaker presents a template for a certain character-type; in this case, that of the plucky but inexperienced young girl out to prove herself.

This sort of character, one who’s eager for external validation (usually by winning a fight), prone to bouts of recklessness, and insecure around older/prettier/more experienced women, doesn’t seem, at first glance, to quite fit in with the qualities of a princess that we outlined above. After all, when’s the last time you saw a Disney Princess feel threatened by another woman, and so rush into battle to try and show her worth?

However, the disparity here is easily resolved by remembering two important key details. The first is that this template represents a more modern take on the idea of an empowered woman (or in other words, “girl power”); whereas the traditional Disney Princess gains confidence in herself by facing social adversity, recent “princesses of pop culture” go through the same struggle by facing more literal battles – this character is more Ahsoka than Ariel.

That brings us to our second salient point: your princess character is still a Pathfinder character. That means she’s going to get into fights, take damage, and kill things. That doesn’t exactly mesh with the Disney Princess-image now, does it? This template is a good guide (both in characterization and game mechanics) for showcasing how you can reconcile those disparities.

Finally, one more resource is an article by Rich Burlew (of Order of the Stick fame) titled “The Fey Druids.” While meant for druid characters specifically, it presents a handful of feats that grant a druid more fey (that is, supernatural and intuitive) abilities. This can be useful if your princess is a druid, but you want her to have an otherworldly-but-still-natural slant, rather than being a worshipper of nature.

Ultimately, of course, there are a lot of ways to play a female character in a Pathfinder game. From a musclebound amazon barbarian to a seductive sorceress to a fighter who’s really not any different from a male character in the same profession, your character concept can be anything you want.

Hopefully, however, this article has provided you with some good ideas and resources for playing a character that’d fit right in alongside the likes of Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and their friends. Next time you sit down to the game table, be the princess instead of the guy looking to rescue one.

…and if you are that guy, just remember: she’s in another castle.

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