Although it is a horror setting, there is something rather silly about how the varied “Domains of Dread” in Ravenloft serve to recreate the entire Universal pictures horror franchise within the D&D cosmology. Still, there’s something endearing to me about creating a knock off mummy, wolfman, and Dr. Frankenstein to go along with the game’s own answer to Dracula.
Fifth edition made some changes to the setting, moving what was once a separate world like Oerth or Krynn into the entropic domain of the Shadowfell, which itself was added in the fourth edition as a soft of amalgamation of the old Plane of Shadow and the Negative Energy Plane. It was probably inevitable that the Shadowfell’s opposite, the Feywild, would eventually get a similar treatment, but I was still excited when the “Domans of Delight” where announced in conjunction with the release of the 2021 adventure “The Wild Beyond the Witchlight.” If the Shadowfell was a pop culture mirror of iconic horror films, what unifying principle could be applied to the Feywild?
Look no further than the Disney Princess franchise.
A Pantheon of Princesses
I’m writing about all this because this is the train of thought that led to the inspiration for Beauty’s Beast, my latest adventure on DMs Guild. I’m a sucker for worldbuilding, so the adventures I create have a habit of being an excuse to come up with wacky ideas to create meta plots in the D&D multiverse. In The Pub that Crawls, it was a thought experiment on how the Magic: the Gathering settings like Strixhaven could connect to the established D&D worlds in a way that fit with both games’ canon. This time, it was from thinking about how a network of Disney-esque princesses in the Feywild would work.
Because I knew I wouldn’t have the time or energy to create multiple princess-themed adventures, I wanted to choose one tale in particular that could serve as a hub domain to connect to others of its kind. Beauty and the Beast was already high on my list for being my wife’s favorite Disney movie, and because I’m familiar with several takes on the same tale. Then, my training in French history kicked in, and I thought, what if I did Beauty and the Beast meets the Republic of Letters?
The “Republic of Letters” is a term for the informal network of letter writers sharing philosophical and scientific ideas during the “Age of Enlightenment” in the century of the 1700s. Though centered in France, modern historians have studied the interchange of ideas on a global level. Enlightenment ideas were not just the province of Europeans, but resonated is places such as Haiti, with revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture; in India, under the anti-colonialist ruler Tipu Sultan; and in Japan, with the astronomer and translator Shizuki Tadao, to name a few. Though dominated by men, women like Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges also played a crucial part in the discourse.
In Beauty’s Beast, the domain’s archfey is based mostly on Émilie du Châtelet. She is most famous for her long relationship with the philosopher Voltaire, but she was a mathematician and physicist in her own right. She’s also, of course, an homage to the ‘Belle’ from Disney’s version of the story, also a bookworm. Through correspondence, though, I wanted to connect her to a diverse crowd of princesses in domains across the Feywild, just given a bit of flavor but hopefully enough for DMs to build off of if they desire. For this reason, the correspondences were an essential feature of the adventure in my mind, and I built much of the plot around that.
Early modern France gave me a theme to build the rest of the setting around. The exterior needed to have a beast’s garden where the story’s iconic rose could grow, and I also based it off the concept of French and English gardens that were popular in the 1700s. These landscape gardens tended to incorporate architectural elements like fake ruins and grottoes, giving the illusion of a wilderness in a planned setting. The interior I based off the typical French salon, the in person equivalent to the Republic of Letters, where poets and philosophers could debate lofty ideas (and do a bit of grandstanding for social prestige). This also inspired me to create debate mechanics, a fun little experiment of creating a magical social “combat.”
As I pointed out in a note in the adventure, two of the minor characters in the story are inspired by two participants in a famous debate from the period, Charles Perrault and Jean de La Fontaine. Quite apart from their debate, these men are famous for popularizing literary fairy tales and Aesop’s fables, respectively. Even though I used modern retellings as my jumping-off point, this was my way of acknowledging the deep history of fairy stories which are at the root of the Feywild setting. Just as the Universal horror movies are mostly modern takes on very ancient myths and legends, this was my attempt to make sense of the whole D&D cosmology in my own mind.