The Suitors’ Challenge

an adventure seed for fantasy role-playing games

A common theme in ancient tales involve romance preceded by obstacles. Brunhilde, Atlanta, and Penelope all provide examples of these types of stories. This scenario presents an rich adventure idea that can incorporate heroic deeds, intrigue, and plenty of opportunities for role playing.

By Arthur Rackham

By Arthur Rackham

In these tales the young prince or princess is of age to marry. However, for whatever reason, someone does not want the marriage to take place. Perhaps the young princess wishes to spend her days hunting and running in the woods. Or the prince’s mother is jealous of her son’s affections and does not wish to have a rival. Maybe the princess’s kindly father simply cannot stand the thought of an unworthy person marrying his beloved daughter. It could be that an oracle has spoken a prophecy that unless a monstrous serpent is slain the princess will die of its poison. Or the princess is next in line of the royal succession and does not want a foreign husband ruling in her stead.

For whatever reason they have set conditions upon those seeking the hand of the young bride or groom. Perhaps the suitor must defeat a nearby monster, or beat the princess herself in a foot race or a contest of feats of arms. They could be sent to a distant land to retrieve some talisman or artifact to prove their worth. There may be additional penalties imposed for those who fail – perhaps they are stripped of land and title or exiled. Some may decree that those who fail the trial be put to death, in order to further dissuade any potential suitors.

The adventures may have been enlisted by another kingdoms’ young prince or princess to aid them in gaining the hand of the potential spouse. Or perhaps one of the adventures themselves is enamored of this young person. Or a combination of the two: perhaps the adventures are enlisted to aid someone and then find that one of their number is smitten by the young prince or princess.

The challenges themselves should be arduous. A chariot race can be extremely dangerous. A contest of archery might involve treachery with poison-coated arrows. Perhaps the nearby monster has a scaly hide which cannot be cut by mortal blades. Maybe the young princess has magical aid such as a belt of giant strength or help from the gods. The bride’s unwilling parents may interfere with the adventures. Conversely if they wish the marriage to take place they may help a chosen suitor. Rival suitors may well try to trip up or even kill their opponents.

Presented below is a short adventure built on this theme.

The Mad King’s Daughter

a short adventure for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons characters of 1st – 3rd level

In the lands of Findor, Erikur Rinaldus, the “Mad King” of Pitosala’s only daughter Endil has reached marrying age and wishes for a husband. Suitors have begun to arrive in the Mad King’s castle to ask for her hand, but the king rejects them all. Those who come are told that she may not marry while a terrible monster, “the Wyrm of Etiniga, menaces the hills by the north road!” The minstrels say that all who have faced the beast have died in its fiery jaws.

Either one of the player characters has heard of her exceptional beauty and wishes to have her hand, or a noble that they owe a favor wants to obtain the dowry that the wealthy king would be obligated to pay to her husband, and asks the player characters to act as his champions.

In the Mad King’s Hall

The King’s court is a chaotic place that he rules with a mercurial fist. He might insist that he be called “Your Highness” one minute and “King Erikur” the next. From moment to moment he is charming, incomprehensible, lordly, petulant, and violent. His hall is generally almost empty, but when the players arrive several groups of people are there seeking the princess’s hand.

If a player character seeks Endil’s hand for themselves they are opposed in their endeavor by Lord Bjorn, a warlord who rules from his stronghold two days ride west. He seeks to claim the rich dowry he would be owed along with the beautiful young princess. Lord Bjorn will arrive at the mad king’s hall around the same time as the players. Along with his men-at-arms he will use guile and ambush to ensure the player characters do not return victorious. Use Berserker and Bandit NPC statistics from the DMG for Bjorn and his men.

If the player characters are there as champions for another lord, they find that another youth, Sigar the son of Lord Agros, has also come to seek Endil’s hand in marriage. When the player characters meet him in the Mad King’s hall it should be obvious to them that a spark of great affection has sprung up between Sigar and Endil. Of noble heart, Sigar will try to slay the beast before the player characters can, though with only the help of his two best friends his chances are slim. The player characters may end up in a position to rescue him if they wish to. Use Guard NPC statistics from the DMG for Sigar and his friends.

The Mad King himself cares little for the happiness of Endil, as he is actually an insane simulacrum cut free from his creator, Alidol the last Head Mage of the Mages’ Guild of Soguer (use the Mage NPC statistics from the DMG if necessary). His “daughter” is in fact a fosterling that he took on years ago when she was an orphaned infant. Those who come to his hall may get the impression that he takes pleasure in sending heroes to die facing the monster, as he is prone to bursting into fits of laughter. Some whisper rumors that the wyrm is a creature under his control, and that he somehow conjured or enchanted it.

Plot Twist – as suggested by Heather Van De Sande. As an option, instead of being a horrible brute, the Wyrm could be the princess’s true love, Cyd of Rockwell, who was turned into a loathsome beast by her father. When the player characters arrive at the Mad King’s castle, the princess asks them to help return Cyd to his true form, though she may be reluctant to speak of it where the Mad King can hear. Endil says, “With the north road free of the beast, by my father’s word I shall be free to marry him!” She will want to go with the party, but if the player characters agree with this course sneaking her out of the castle will be difficult. The king’s guards are somewhat lax, but if any of the other suitors see the princess leaving the castle they will certainly cause trouble.

The Trail of the Wyrm

When the Player Characters seek the Wyrm in the hills west of the north road they will encounter groups of kobolds, who are drawn to the beast. They worship it and leave it offerings, and will use guerrilla tactics to attack the player characters as they search the hills. Other encounters on the trail of the beast could include any of the following random encounters:

  1. stirges
  2. imps
  3. kobolds
  4. griffons
  5. lizardfolk
  6. rival suitors or bandits
  7. skeletons and zombies of the unburied dead
  8. will-o’-wisp

Eventually the Player Characters will encounter the Wyrm, weather by tracking it, finding its lair (complete lair details here), or encountering it in the wilderness.

If the player characters manage to slay the beast and return with proof the Mad King will allow Endil to marry. He will react with disappointment at their success, as would a child who’s game has been cut short. However, he seems not to care about the princess’s fate, and after an unceremonious wedding insets that she leave with the victor. If pressed on the subject he will reluctantly provide a meager dowry of silver. Further complaints to the Mad King may well evoke hostility, banishment, or even a curse (via the bestow curse spell).

Plot Twist – If the beast is secretly the princess’s true love and not a monster, when the players free him the Mad King will likely be angry. This could play out several ways, depending on if the players bring her love back to the castle. If confronted by his evil deeds, the Mad King can respond with apathy, anger, or magnanimous joy – he is quite mad after all. The DM is encouraged to play the Mad King however best makes the story fun. Perhaps his foster daughter’s happiness frees him of the curse of his own madness and an era of peace descends on the realm.

Treasure – If the Wyrm is slain its scales can be made into hide armor that grants the wearer resistance to slashing and piercing damage. This legendary magic item requires attunement.

The Wyrm of Etiniga is a lizard-like monstrosity covered with gleaming black scales. Its toothy maw drips with burning venom. Hot embers glow within its throat and it snorts gouts of fire and smoke from its nostrils.

Wyrm of Etiniga
Medium monstrosity, unaligned
Armor Class 16 (natural armor)
Hit Points 52 (8d8 + 16)
Speed 20 ft.

STR 16 (+3)
DEX 10 (-)
CON 15 (+2)
INT 4 (−3)
WIS 8 (−1)
CHA 7 (−2)

Damage Immunities nonmagical slashing, nonmagical piercing, fire
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9
Challenge 3 (700 XP)


Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage.

Fiery Breath (Recharge 5-6). The wyrm exhales a 15 foot cone of flame. Each creature in that area must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 18 (5d6) fire damage on a failed saving throw, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Lore: the Worm of Etiniga is said to have once been a mighty warrior who was cursed by the gods for killing and eating his own children during a months-long siege of his stronghold.

background image: “Maerten van Heemskerck – Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World – Walters 37656” by Maarten van Heemskerck – Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

5th edition Dungeons & Dragons compatible material presented under terms of the Open Game License

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