A figure stands in an ancient ruin, bare feet on crumbling stone to make it easier to leap and climb. Her gown is far too fine, representing her dual heritage as the daughter of two kingdoms, bitter rivals only joined through her. Her sword, much too dark, hungers for legacy, fame, immortality via story and myth.
At the princess’ coming of age ceremony, an uninvited guest gifted her with a sword, then vanished, laughing, into smoke. She cannot put it down until she finds the place it came from.
As she approaches the entrance to the ruin, the princess is greeted by nine menacing statues, each with a live blade somehow untouched by time or weather. Four are designed as if wearing the armor of her Father, another four the livery of her Pater, and the ninth in a cloak made of obsidian. As she walks among them, the statues come to life, and the blades descend! The princess flees, now trapped in the ruin by its guardians, leaving droplets of red from a cut on her arm in her wake.
The princess, when she stops running, finds herself in an old library. Most of the books have gone to rot, but a few remain, with rich leather covers embossed in silver and gold. The sword whispers of a life extended by the words of others, and the princess chooses a book at random. Her name is on the cover, and its pages tell of deeds – some foul, some fair – that she did, but has not done. She closes the book, thinks for a moment, and puts it back. Better to write your own story, she thinks.
Deeper in, the floor gives way to yawning pits from which no light escapes, not even the flickering torches that dot the halls. The princess toes a small rock over the side of one and waits, listening, but hears nothing. She takes a deep breath, thinking of leaping from rooftop to rooftop in her Pater’s estate, before backing up. She races forward to soar over the pit in a leap! She lands, teeters for a moment, and then staggers forward before the stones she was on tumble away into the void. The pit is now too wide for her to leap; the sword hisses about a story lost to darkness, and she turns away.
The torchlight is gone, replaced with glowing sigils that are etched in every stone in the walls and floor and ceiling. There’s no way back but the pit, so the princess hesitantly steps forward. Nothing happens, at first, but as she continues to walk down the sigil-lit hallway she feels almost as if she is walking amongst the stars as the stones fade away, leaving only the sigils behind. It reminds her of nights spent stargazing with her Father, falling asleep there, only waking with the dawn.
Suddenly, she is not alone in the sigil-light. Her shadow steps with her, then splits, then stands on either side of her. She can barely make out the details in the shadow, but on one’s dress she sees only her Pater’s crest. Her Father’s sigil is on the other’s brooch. Both still hold the sword, no different than the one in her hands. The sword wants her to pick one, but she refuses, and the shadows advance. Her brooch with her Father’s sigil is shattered, the crest of her Pater on her dress is slashed, and she can barely hold the sword as she flees deeper, shadows chasing her.
The princess slams a door shut behind her, cutting off her shadows and the sigil-light. She tries to ignore that, in the returned flickering torchlight, she no longer has a shadow herself. Looking around the room, she sees mostly rotting furniture, but also a rack with a single cloak. It is the color of obsidian, but as she runs her fingers over it she could swear she sees glimmers of purple, or sigil-light, or starlight, or glimpses of her own face that seem unfamiliar somehow. She shivers – her dress is torn from the blades of the statues and the shadows. She puts on the cloak and once again has a shadow of her own, worn around her shoulders.
Some time later, the princess comes upon a shrine in disrepair. It belongs to a god of peace and justice – not always the same thing, nor does one always promise the other. It is not a god either of the princess’ kingdoms has been known to pay tribute to. The princess wipes some dust and debris from the shrine with one arm before kneeling, sword point resting on the floor. Surely she could use all the help she could get, even from a neglected god, but what to ask? She hesitates. “Give me peace,” she whispers, “but failing that, give me justice.”
“Why should you be given anything, if you have not the strength to hold onto it?” The princess stands and whirls, sword at the ready. The hollow voice came from one of her shadows; both have caught up to her again. They all stand there, blades pointed at one another for a moment, before the princess tilts her head and speaks again. “Then let me ensure peace. Let me dispense justice.” The shadows nod, and when the princess leaves they follow without striking.
There are eyes in the dark. The princess turns to her shadows, but they are watching the darkness of the ruins the same as her. With a sudden roar, guardsman charge into the light, eyes red with hatred and blades ready to draw blood. The shadow with her Pater’s sigil turns to fight guards with her Father’s crest, and the shadow with her Father’s crest leaps at guards with her Pater’s sigil. The Princess lifts her own sword and leaps into the fray, regardless of who faces her, but by the time the last guardsman has crumbled away to dust her shadows have been struck down, and she is alone again.
It is in another abandoned room that may have once been a living space where the princess finds the bird in the cage. It chirps at her forlornly, and the princess thinks of locked doors, arguments over where she would be staying for the next season, guards who are supposed to watch her instead of protect her. Which kingdom she would champion. She remembers what it was like to live in a cage, even if her own lacked bars. With a swipe of the sword the lock shatters, and the bird flies out to alight on her shoulder.
The princess emerges into open air, in a court of white stone that seems much younger than the ruin that surrounds it. There is a simple throne of that same white stone, comparatively small and lacking the fine ornamentation the princess had come to expect from such a seat. It has more in common with the seat of a judge than that of a sovereign. The princess approaches it, and knows that this is where the sword came from; there is an empty scabbard resting against the throne. The sword whispers that she will be able to forge her own path. That she will bring peace to the two peoples who have been abused by her Father and her Pater. That, even when things are not peaceful, she will be able to make them just. The princess nods and takes the scabbard, sheathing the sword and tucking it into the belt of her tattered dress. The cloak of obsidian shimmers and billows, and the princess is gone.
Both kingdoms fell, in shadow and strange light and at the tip of a sword remembered by all who lived past seeing it. The Cloaked Princess never took a crown, or a throne besides one lost in a ruin, but even as they began to run the countries themselves the people knew that they had a ruler. If not in name, then in spirit. “Keep the peace,” they would say to those who sought to gain power only so that they could abuse it. “Or the Princess will bring you justice.”
Princess With A Cursed Sword was created by Anna Anthropy, and is a single page fairy tale roleplaying game that sees the eponymous princess exploring the ruins in an effort to rid herself of an ill-fated blade… or to keep it, with the right assurances. You’ll need a tarot deck (I used an online one, lacking my own, although note that you’ll have to translate pentacles to coins), two coins of any kind, and some method of recording the story. Before starting play you define who the princess is: what her gown signifies, why her feet are bare, what her sword wants, and what her pronouns are (the game text uses she/her, but anything goes).
The princess explores the ruins by drawing a tarot card, and using the suit and the image on the card to decide what the princess finds. Examples include white stone courts/shadows and ghosts/menacing statues for Swords, glowing sigils/eyes in the dark/fire for Wands, overgrown gardens/strange dreams/your shadow for Cups, tattered banners/an old library/a strange artifact for Coins, and a shrine in disrepair/a sacrifice/the attention of the gods for the Major Arcana. I’m not particularly well-versed in tarot, and what imagery is used varies from deck to deck anyways, so I feel someone else (with perhaps a better deck) could do a better job of tying in the actual imagery of the cards than I did, but I found the suit-based prompts pretty inspiring!
You simply record the explorations of the princess, writing in the third person as if you were writing down a fairy tale. The game urges you to keep things brief, and to describe what the princess notices, feels, and remembers. At some points you may decide that the princess encounters an obstacle, threat, or foe. This means she is Facing A Challenge, and is where the coins come in. You throw a single coin if the princess is completely out of her depth, and two if either her past has prepared her or she gives the sword what it wants. No heads means she barely escapes with her life, one head means she achieves her goal either tenuously or at a cost, and two heads means she achieves her goal with ‘frightening prowess’ (something my poor princess never quite managed).
Whenever you reveal a card, you ask yourself if this is where the sword belongs. If that’s the case, you choose: does the princess make a sacrifice to break the curse, or does the sword promise her something and convince her to keep it? This brings the game to a close, and you finish with a brief epilogue about who the princess became after her journey. This puts how long your own game is firmly under your control – I decided to go with a nine card draw that I’d cut off if the cards and coins handed me something I found appropriate sooner, but I ended up needing a bit more exploration before finding the off-ramp for the princess’ story.
Princess With A Cursed Sword does some interesting things with relatively little. The writing and the tarot deck do a lot to paint an outline of the picture that is the princess’ story for you to fill in, and the throwing coins mechanic makes it clear both how dire her situation is and how surprising her skills are. Writing a fairy tale in the third person might be a little different for some, but I found it an interesting exercise both in writing style and in developing a character by ‘observing’ her rather than trying to fully inhabit her.
The game is sold for Name-Your-Own-Price, although if you pay $3 you’ll also get Anthropy’s notes from developing the game. It is also billed as the first “Princess Sword” game, and links to two other $3 games based on it: Tavern at the End Of The World and The Empress and Her Seer. For those interested in 18+ content there is also a princess with a cursed sword of an entirely different variety.
What will the princess sacrifice to break the curse? What will the sword promise if she keeps it? What does your princess’ sword want? Step into the ancient ruin, draw your cards, and find out.
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