Drelnza, The False Disney Princess

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 23 April 2013

Attention: Spoilers of the Lost Cavern of Tsojcanth ahead.

Some people questioned how I could have a problem with the Lost Cavern of Tsojcanth. The main character from history is a woman afterall, and a powerful one at that. She imprisoned the demon

Having an evil main character be a woman isn't necessarily a problem. Heck, in a world with gender equality, that should happen about half the time. I have problems with the fact that the only prominent women in the world are evil. In the societies presented, such as the gnomes, there are no strong women. In fact, the female gnomes are non-combatants even when the blood thirsty PCs are at their door attempting to slaughter them.

Furthermore, there are additional issues with Drelnza. First, she is literally called treasure. Now some people might want to spin this into a "Look, motherhood transcends pure evil for Iggwilv considered her daughter to be her treasure." I could almost buy this, although I'd find that too a bit problematic, but Drelnza is presented as literal treasure, a golden Sleeping Beauty or Snow White.

The sleeping maiden is armored from toe to neck in gold chased plate mail. A long bastard sword is atop her body, its quillons below her breasts, its point near her feet. The woman's gauntleted hands are crossed over the sword's pommel. Her pale face seems composed. Her lips are bright red and her raven-hued tresses are lustrous. A helmet with plumes as black as the maid's hair rests on the slab just above her head.

To play up this Disney Princess connection even more, she attempts to manipulate and charm the party.

Drelnza will then awaken and be fully aware, but she will remain still until someone enters the chamber. Drelnza will then sit up slowly, pass a hand across her brow as if coming out of a strange coma, and then blink her eyes open. When she sees the party, she will smile sweetly and welcome her "rescuers" -using a vampiric charm on each member of the party. She will attempt to charm as many persons as possible before the whole party comes down into the lower portion of the sphere. As soon as a lawful good cleric comes within 10' of her, Drelnza's sword will spring into her hands, and she will smite the cleric. Drelnza has a bonus of +2 to hit and +4 damage with weapons, due to strength.

So, yes, part of me wants to say, well at least she's strong and bad ass. However, I'm not entirely sure this is due to her strength or due to the weapon itself. In fact, she also stands out for having a sword that has its own ego and intelligence. The sword is so powerful, it overshadows her.

Her sword is a chaotic evil bastard sword +4 with an intelligence of 17 and an ego of 20. Its special purpose is to slay lawful good clerics, and any such cleric struck by it must save vs. Paralyzation or be paralyzed for 1-4 rounds. The sword also has the following powers: detect good, detect magic, detect invisibility, flying. The sword can communicate telepathically, read languages, read magic, and speak Common, Hill Giant, Minotaur, and chaotic evil. Drelnza wears plate mail +2, and slippers of spider climbing (see the end of the module for details on this item).

I need to pause for a moment and ask an obvious question. Full plate mail, gauntleted hands, a helmet, but her feet are covered with slippers?

Also, here we have one of the few examples of NPC women fighting in this module (the exceptions being Trogoldytes, Formorians, Female Wolfwere, and Alu-demons, most of them being evil), and she's pure evil. In the good aligned groups, we have lots of male warriors, but the women are listed as non-combatants, as with the gnomes.

We also have no idea going into that room who she is. The module plays on the trope of wanting to save the sleeping woman, someone who is very often a princess. Sure the armor might throw it off a bit, but it's shining! She can't be bad, she probably needs to be saved, even though we were warned against saving her, but just look at her. Besides, if we don't do anything, we don't get any treasure. Clearly she's part of the treasure we're supposed to get.

While I can understand that at first glance, she seems like a badass character, in the context of the story, it's all off.

So, what would I change? Well, first, adding some female warriors who aren't evil would help a bunch. Make some of the border patrol leaders women, and the same with the gnomes, dwarves, and elves. If you want to keep her as the sleeping beauty, I might suggest putting some clues as to who she is. Maybe place some images of Iggwilv throughout the dungeon and when the characters come upon the warrior-maid, have them roll a check to see if they notice the resemblance to give them a chance against falling prey to her wiles. I'm sure that there are other things to do, but I think this would be a good start.


I look at it more like this.

She is Iggwilv's "Golden Treasure" because Iggwilv is demented. I know this perfectly inline with your case, but give me a sec.
Iggwilv has no "motherly love" for Drelnza since she is nothing more than a guard dog. The "Golden Treasure" bit is a ruse to lure people (aka gold-hungry adventurers) into a trap where the "maiden" will kill them.

This doesn't put either woman is a good light to be honest. In fact when we just ran it my son later asked me why she was there (out of character). I told him and he paused and then asked me if we were supposed to rescue her from her evil mother.

I think the greater crime here is one that was old when the Hammer films were still new, the cliche of the "helpless" female vampire. It was even parodied in the god-awful Castle Greyhawk module level "Temple of the Really Bad Dead Things".

I guess in the end, expect 1984 to be 1984 and we just need to do better today.

Plus the agency of "good" is fully in the player's hands. So I also guess one would hope that in the party down in the Greater Caverns there were some bold and noble women fighting for good.

I love hearing that story about your son. That's awesome that he questions these things.

Yeah, normally I try not to comment on this stuff too much unless it gets brought up as part of current play or people ask for clarification in understanding why some people might not feel comfortable playing some of the older modules. In this case, they added support to the D&D Next playtest specifically to run the four adventures from the premium reprint. In addition, I had to read the adventure in order for the Tome Show to do its review episode (well, either that or remove my voice from the show entirely for that episode).

I like that you bring up how this was a known cliche at the time. I've been watching a lot of B horror movies with Jared von Hindman and he and I have both commented about how absurd this stuff was even at the time. They were often trying to make fun of it in the movies as well. That's why sometimes I have little patience for the "well no one knew at the time that this stuff was a little off, it's just the way it was" because that's not actually true.

Thanks for your response; I totally agree about the gnomes and etc, that's why I focused on Drelzna. She's the crux of the adventure and less easy to fix, I think.

"If you want to keep her as the sleeping beauty, I might suggest putting some clues as to who she is."
But looking at this from a story/plot view, doesn't this ruin the twist? I agree that the module does play up the "sleeping beauty/princess" aspect, but it turns the players' expectations against them by making the treasure not valuable to them, and the sleeping beauty is not so "Disney" after all. She's NOT a wistful & docile maiden to be rescued. She is, to borrow Timothy Brannan's phrase, the "guard dog" (and yeah, what that says about Iggwilv and Drelzna's relationship is something - although since nothing is said in the module, it's going to say something different to everyone). And are her attempts to "manipulate and charm the party" cliched sexism or tactical maneuvering?

I think I understand where you're coming from; what I stumble over is how to do it (particularly in this case) without falling into some kind of sexism from a different angle, voiding the majority of the adventure, or removing all subterfuge from the adventure.

Regarding the sword - here I don't understand your point. The sword does not control Drelzna (nor can it; it has a "personality score" of 37, and Drelzna's is 45); her list of powers is just as impressive as the sword's is; and it's her sword. It will probably crush any PC that tries to wield it (frankly, I see it as another trap for the PCs); the fact that she has it and controls it marks her as powerful. Do female NPCs really need to only have "weaker" magic items?


There's often a temptation to go through these things one-by-one and since each of them, absent the others, might have a seemingly reasonable explanation that isn't necessarily sexist, to then say, how is this really sexist or to argue each one individually.

The fact that gender stereotypes (and we haven't even discussed the presumption that it will be men playing this module, that's in there too) are necessary for the scenario to work doesn't absolve it of the issues. We're only given two motivations for the characters to enter that chamber, the desire to "rescue" a sleeping fully armored woman and greed. Ok, maybe we could argue that a third motivation exists, wanting to fulfill a promise, but I think there's still a touch of greed there. But, I really think the module is banking on the players feeling the desire to save the lovely woman who appears to be under a spell.

If that were the only time those types of assumptions were made in module, I might be willing to give it a pass as "tactical thinking." I also might be willing to do it if it wasn't such a cliched trick at the time it was written. But I've watched movies and read books from before the time this module was written. It was old then. People, at the time, pointed out how gendered it was.

Similarly, no, powerful women shouldn't only get "weaker" magic items. You're setting up a false dichotomy there. However, it is strange to have the sole female major NPC, the only real female warrior in the adventure, to be the one with the very powerful, sentient magic weapon. We don't even know if it's her sword. We know she is holding it. But while we know a bit more about her mother, we know absolutely nothing about Drelzna. No stories about how Iggwilv used her daughter to keep the countryside submissive to her. No stories about how Drelzna got her armor. Heck, I'm not even sure if it is real given the way the module is written.

Also, there are two common and powerful stereotypes surrounding women, and they are both in this module. The first is that women are weaker, and that is reinforced through most of the races, by making the gnome women non-combatants and giving weaker stats to many of the few female creatures that fight. The other is that women are always seeking to manipulate men, often by using their looks and their bodies. Drelzna does this.

If she's going to be the attack dog, let her be the attack dog. If she's going to guard (and presumably read) books on leadership and tactics, then give her some minions to command. Don't give her a sword that can think for itself and describe its motivations without ever really describing her's.

I find the below statement to be a real stretch of trying to prove a point:

"We don't even know if it's her sword. We know she is holding it. But while we know a bit more about her mother, we know absolutely nothing about Drelzna. No stories about how Iggwilv used her daughter to keep the countryside submissive to her. No stories about how Drelzna got her armor. Heck, I'm not even sure if it is real given the way the module is written."

That could be applied to nearly every single adventure regarding any character unless explicitly stated! Should authors write every single module using possessive pronouns for every single item in a character's equipment list? I'd say its only pertinent if it didn't belong to the person. The weapon, although sentient, is still under her control and in her use. It's a tool at her command to ostensibly take out that which poses the greatest threat to her (the LG cleric). Outside of the Holy Avenger, the only mechanics that existed to personalize magical items was through sentience and this one was tailor made for the Drelzna... and likely to prevent the players from having a powerful item they could use should they overcome her.

As for the argument that even by the time this adventure was written, the twist that sleeping beauty wasn't in fact innocent to further advance your point supposes that a game aimed at younger players (and yes, mostly boys) would assume that they read these books. Does it play to gender stereotypes? Perhaps, but it isn't a concerted effort to undermine women.

I think it also gives way too much credit to some of the authors of the time and their plot writing skills. This was during a time that some modules were so creatively bankrupt as to be a D&D version of Alice in Wonderland or a movie studio for Mordenkainen. I could very much see the creative process behind this as: "Hey, you know the story of Sleeping Beauty? What if she was super evil and would totally kick the players' ass! That would be totally groovy!"

It's not a stretch. We don't know. You make up one explanation for it. I presented another. But having a bad ass sword, regardless of how she got it, doesn't make someone suddenly into a bad ass. I find without the sword, there isn't much to her and the fact we know more about the sword's motivations than her own also undercuts the argument that she's a bad ass.

As for your point about the reading of books, many genre-affiliated movies at the time, even sword and sorcery books, had that twist. It was a common twist for a long time. Also, whether or not it's a "concerted effort to undermine women" is irrelevant since that's not what I said. People do this shit all the time on an unconscious level. The gender stereotypes themselves are the problem. Likewise, your argument about the authors' writing skills is bankrupt. It doesn't matter. The outcome is the same and deserves to be mentioned.

Yes it is stretch as there is no indication within the text or story about the history of the items. A point you bring up to support your argument. The logical assumption is that it belongs to the wielder. Is it a false assumption? Perhaps, but then one must apply that same logic and the assumption of wieder = ownership must never be made in every published gaming book unless the author specifically indicates ownership for each individual item in someone's possession. To use it then to justify that the authors were sexist (whether conscious or not) is just self-serving. Arguments like the female gnomes having less treasure have merit. This one, holds about as much water as a colander in the middle of the ocean. My point remains, it is far more succinct and pertinent to indicate when the logical assumption is the false one. For example, it would read "Drelzna wields her mother's sword" or something to that effect.

As for Iggwilv's greatest treasure, the items contained in Drelzna's coffin (particularly the Demonomicon) more accurately fit the bill. As others have stated, Drelzna's presence and appearance is a false impression. In fact, should the players discover this would they not have a better appreciation of not assuming the woman to be a damsel in distress? Although, her attire would lead one to think she might not have been one in the first place.

Could the original authors have done better in terms of gender equality or writing in general? Definitely, but one also has to be fair when making additional assumptions. I'm more inclined to assume that the adventure was written to trick or challenge the players (not the characters) as is often the case in the modules written at the time that I've read. As far as tricks go, it's a pretty good one as it's a double bluff. Initially, some might conclude that the woman and/or her belongings are the prize, then turns out she's very much powerful enough foe to challenge the group on her own, but then the real prize is beneath. Some players might fall for the first and be content with looting the sword, armor and slippers while others might dig further.

I also challenge the notion that just because there were already some pieces of fiction available at the time that played upon the false damsel in distress that everyone is instantly aware of it. It's easier now to assume such because media has become so prevalent. Today, pop-cultural references have become genres unto themselves (Family Guy, the Scary Movies, etc). If you are willing to dig deep enough, there's barely an original idea left anymore within the narrative structure.

Any written changes by WotC would have resulted in an outcry of "bloody murder" of the author's original creation, regardless of how minor, from some part of the fandom who consider themselves traditionalists. I'm not among them as I find much of the older stuff to be poorly paced, or uninteresting in the first place. The best solution would have been not to re-publish it at all, or revisit the dungeon similar to the Silver Anniversary series with more modern sensibilities. Instead, it's just a quick cash grab (when charging a price similar to a new product) or cost savings measure as your article concedes. I find that as equally offensive to both genders as consumers.

It's not about whether or not the authors were sexist, because honestly, we all say and do sexist things at one time or another. We can't help but do it. You are acting as if there is but one way to read this and that's incorrect or that pointing out things that are tied to sexism in our culture has anything to do with the character of the authors. Please stop, it's derailing and only weakens your arguments.

Furthermore, this point by point discussion tactic you seem to enjoy misses the point. You are missing the forest because you keep concentrating on the trees.

And, yes, I can assume that the oldest trick in the book was known to be the oldest trick in the book because it was the oldest trick in the book when the module was written. It didn't break new ground.

As for your last point, it's irrelevant as are many of your other ones. No one is asking for it to be rewritten. Calling sexist things sexist and pointing out that by reprinting the books, we are bringing historical sexism into the present, especially when it's suggested to playtesters that they can use this material to playtest D&D Next, is what is being requested and done.

It does, because there is no consistency in questioning Drelzna's ownership of the magical items in her possession while conversely making the reverse assumption about the gnomes' ownership of the gold in their possession when the source or ownership is not explicitly stated. You make the logical assumption that the gold belongs to the person carrying it, but then say it's not necessarily correct to make the same assumption when it comes to magical items of another character only because said character was of a female gender. It is a double standard you are applying to make your point. That is why I call it a stretch and it weakens your overall conclusion.

"The oldest trick in the book" remains that, a trick. There's still an expectation that it will work. It's not what is presented as the face value and in the context of the adventure the trick is multi-layered (see the concealed treasure). My contention is that at the time of the writing, the target demographic was far more prone to fall for it than the same demographic would today. Again, assumptions are being made to further a point.

My final point was a concession that the reprinting was wrong period because there is no way to please everyone's sensibilities except maybe the bean-counters. Regardless whether it is sexist or not (it is but I disagree with you on some of the points), presenting this old material at a full price reeks of taking advantage of the consumer. Consumers who are of both genders. If you want, we could add that because of unequal pay that exists in most countries this hurts women more purely on a financial basis.

I suggested an alternative (i.e. re-visit the caverns as opposed to re-writing some text). I turn it to you, are there any alternatives that you would have employed to make this adventure more appropriate? If not, then so be it.

If their gold or other valuables was sentient or there was any implication that the gnomes were placed there by someone else, then your point would make sense. You are leaving out context in trying to make your point. My point is that it's an assumption to say that she owns the sword and that she wasn't set up to be a pawn by her mother.

Giving her a sentient sword that takes away her choice about who and when to attack undercuts her. Giving her no motivations while giving motivations to the sword also undercuts her importance as a character. Having her guard books about leadership and the like and setting her up in an encounter where she doesn't actually get to be a leader, undercuts her character. To argue one point absent all the other points undercuts your argument.

A trick can be a trick and still be sexist. It's a trick that relies on assumptions about the players of the module (that they are likely to be male and, thus, fall prey to the setup). It's a trick that relies on assumptions about women, particularly women found sleeping. She's also literally dressed up as treasure and, not only that, wears the colors we would normally associate with good. Those arguments about "oh, it was a different time" have naught to do with whether or not it was gender stereotypes and roles. It was. Move on.

From TV tropes:


Bob the adventuring hero is approached by Alice, who is in some kind of trouble. Her village is being ravaged by a monster, or she's being forced into marriage against her will. Bob, like a good hero, goes to help her... except, whoops! It was all a lie. Alice isn't in trouble; she's the mastermind, and Bob just walked straight into her Evil Plan. No, not that kind of trap (usually).

This is when a seeming Distressed Damsel is luring the hero in for her own ends, usually by playing on his heroism (and sometimes his lust for her). Just about Always Female. Compare Femme Fatale, Honey Trap and Wounded Gazelle Gambit. A subtrope of Using You All Along.

I really enjoyed both of your posts of the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. It was my favorite of the few modules that I ran when I was much younger.

If memory serves me correct, the write-up on Graz'zt in the module essentially has the demon steel agency from Iggwilv making her little more than a Faustian puppet as well; essentially mirroring the non-human/inhuman control the sword has over Drelnza.

At the very least, letting characters roll an Arcana or appropriate knowledge skill check to notice some resemblance between Drelnza and Iggwilv (physical or material, as in "that one book I read mentioned Iggwilv slaying the ancient Queen of Otherkingdom and that armor looks like the description of the slain queen's armor...but that was 200 years ago") would be appropriate. Even an outright 100 ft. mural of Drelnza's birth-to-vampirism-to-entombment, with written-in-common placards, wouldn't be bad so long as the last placard was destroyed and the PCs didn't know if Drelnza went willingly into the treasure chamber or was forced.

I think another step would be to really flesh out Drelnza's personality, how she ended up there, what she thinks of her mother putting her there as treasure/guard dog, whether or not the sentient sword is there to make sure she keeps to her mother's will (or is there a "good" side to Iggwilv and the sword was given as a companion so Drelnza would have someone to talk to while being entombed for an unknown amount of time), etc. If the party offered to help her escape would she try to free herself of the sword and escape? And so on.

Again, thanks for the posts. Good stuff.

I never ran Tsojcanth and really never noted the sexist halfassery that went into most of the cavern encounters. I would read an encounter, look at the map, realize it was jut 'another room with another wild and insane custom monster encounter.' It seemed like every widening of a hallway was justification for some new bizarreness, and then to have details about the social structure of a monster explicated on top of that just added more nonsense. But I was pretty young and ignorant. It did seem weird for the module to even mention anything that was not combat related, since the whole just seemed to be a slugfest from one side to the other.

The caverns just could not maintain any kind of static ecology the way they are made. All I could imagine was unless all the monsters held perfectly still, that in fifteen minutes all hell would break loose. Which would make for an interesting adventure I'll warrant. T my reccolection no one has done a dungeon module with a hot war raging in the halls.

Until we finally got to the tomb of Drelnza. That at least seemed to make sense as far as a lasting, static encounter. There was, of course, no explanation as to why she was there, or whether she was imprisoned or if that was just her bedroom or what.

What was clear is that she was a TPK waiting to happen. Unlike many monsters that guarded treasure, she used all of her treasure in the battle.

The module as a whole just seemed to be teeming with unfinished possibilities, and I think the only reason I had any fond memories of reading this adventure at all, was because my mind was already exploring what might have been if someone had applied just a little bit more of the 'roleplaying' instead of the 'rollplaying'.

If this adventure is presented as a herald of what DnD Next should be about, then it makes me sad.

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