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In the 13th century A.D., the king put up a hefty bounty for anyone who can help defeat the dragon and rescue his daughter. Actually, this was all according to the king's devious plan. The dragon was actually gifted to him by a mysterious wizard who foretold that as long as the dragon is alive, then his kingdom will continue to flourish and prosper. Before the wizard leaves, he reminded the king to hold a monthly sacrificial rituals consisting of a healthy human. Otherwise the dragon would starve to death.

The king devised a scheme to deceive the world about the dragon. He put up a hefty bounty on the dragon confident that a few armed individuals would not be enough to subdue a thick scaled 15 meters tall winged dragon. He also claimed that the tension at the borders have been growing rapidly. Otherwise, he will order his troops to go on a long expedition.

The king is alarmed upon learning the news that many guilds are gathering every adventurers and equipping them with high quality gears. He suspects the groups could harm the dragon eventually if he leave them to their own devices.

My question is what can the king do to save the dragon and yet seen by the public as determined to get rid of the dragon and retrieve his daughter by hook and by crook?

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    $\begingroup$ It looks like you're asking about the actions of a specific individual to solve an in world problem. Questions about an individuals decisions, are more about the story and resolving plot contrivances you come up with than building the world that the story takes place in. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Mar 4, 2022 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings true, but this is not only about a king character and his decisions. I think the question has interesting medieval political angles. This king wants to keep up appearances.. find a bunch of dragon hunters not up to the task.. Look at this from the perspective of these warriors: could someone in medieval times want to become a super hero, and same time, almost certainly, the battle to achieve that will be lost? This is somewhat story based, but definitely not about one individual. I wonder if there's a close reason. This is a question about political deception in medieval times. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ To quote from the help center "If ... you aren’t sure what a character (be it an individual or organization) should do, that is out of scope for the site" You're asking what the King should do. That's the definition of a story based problem. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Mar 4, 2022 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Why did the king put a bounty on the dragon in the first place? Is it to encourage adventurers to get eaten to create the sacrifice? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 4, 2022 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ I want a refund. I was told that when Pirates of the Caribbean broke down that they wouldn't eat the tourists. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 4, 2022 at 20:03

11 Answers 11

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The king could offer the traditional reward of his rescued daughter's hand in marriage (obviously to only one successful dragon hunter), with a gift of land, some money and a title of nobility as a dowry. This would tend to encourage lone unmarried male hunters, as it's rather hard to share a bride (especially a royal bride) or a title, and the king need not agree to the estate being split up and sold, since a gift of land belongs to the king, and is held in trust by the recipient, and reverts to the king or his heirs (i.e. his daughter's children) upon death or relinquishment by the holder.

This would encourage single common-born adventurers, possibly with a small number of hirelings, but not large, organized groups of equals, when only the leader of a successful group can truly profit.

That the dragon shouldn't have too much trouble with lone commoners and perhaps a few hirelings would be a bonus, since the nobility who can afford good weapons, armour and training wouldn't be as interested.

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    $\begingroup$ This well-armed nobility is not interested in the king's daughter's hand ? How would you make that plausible.. Suppose the king would only want to interest weak opponents for the dragons, he won't offer anyone to marry a princess and possibly become his successor. The reward would rather be an abandoned castle somewhere.. or a lower title.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @Goodies here. The princess's hand in marriage would spur on at least one noble looking to climb the political ladder, and all it would take is that one having the funds to hire a proper army to deal with the situation. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2022 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ The pursuing nobles would each swear to make mighty gifts to all the others, should he be the fortunate one to draw the white stone from a sack after the woman is rescued. The promised gifts would be quite lavish, reflecting both the noble's willingness to spend his resources and his hoped-for income as one with royal aspirations. No low-born would be admitted into such a rich arrangement. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2022 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, dealing with the land is simpler, and can be handled in a traditional way. I'm not sure how far this dates back. You don't gift them any land at all. You attach the lands to the title, and allow the title to lease the lands for a maximum period. You can promise to let them be tenants, but they would have to rely on your good will. $\endgroup$
    – Patrick M
    Mar 4, 2022 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ As for the nobles with troops... send them and their men to shore up the border. If they leave against the king's orders, it's treason. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Mar 6, 2022 at 2:11
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The king is "deceived" by a "scoundrel" who claims to have slain the dragon. In fact, the king ordered the dragon to hide for just the week when the co-conspirator collected the bounty. Now the "scoundrel" is gone, the dragon is back, and the king pretends to be angry. For a sufficiently villainous king, the "scoundrel" may hav been genuinely deceived, and got hanged after he did exactly what king wanted him to do. Or he is in a faraway land, spending the bounty. Makes no difference.

So from now on, would-be dragonslayers have to check in before, take a number, and return with the head of the dragon. The king's courtiers will of course manage the waiting list to prevent ganging-up.

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  • $\begingroup$ An interesting take that would ensure they announce themselves to the king first. It doesn't give the king room to demand only one or a handful go, though. Still, +1 $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2022 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandraWilliams, why, the king is a busy man. He can't make time for an adventurer just today. Or tomorrow ... $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Mar 4, 2022 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ Don't think it will work. The person checking in could sign up more adventurers for a share of the loot. Real-life ship captains did this. If they add more rules to prevent this, it would become obvious the King has some fetish with single combat. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2022 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Attacking a dragon in a cave, single file, with pointy sticks: you're just part of the daily stream of shish kabobs. Step right up! (attention, people in front : move forward please. We can't start the show until we get the door closed). 'If you can't afford a stick, one will be provided to you.' $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 4, 2022 at 19:54
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Hostage Situation

The dragon tells the adventurers that they have to face him in a one-on-one honor duel or he roasts the princess that he's kidnapped. The dragon also informs that would-be adventurers that he has the sense of a dragon and will be able to tell if some clever idiot wants to try ganging up on him. To make matters more enticing, the dragon also proclaims that in the one-on-one honor duels, the dragon will not use certain natural advantage (fire breath, wings, etc.) to 'even the odds'.

Naturally this is load of dragon dung and the dragon will cheat when the duel actually happens, but c'mon, it's a one-on-one duel, no one will see it.

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  • $\begingroup$ That would tip the scales in the dragon's favour. Not everyone would fall for it, though. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2022 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandraWilliams True. Not everyone would fall for it. But you just need one a month, and as the expression goes, 'One's born every minute'. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Mar 4, 2022 at 17:04
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Thermopylae

The dragon, receiving all its food by delivery, does not leave its cave, which is entered by one passage, called the Thermopylae because of the extreme heat that periodically radiates from this grim gate. Only one bold adventurer can pass through at a time, hoping the dragon cannot hear him stealthily descending. (It is not so much that the adventurers don't hope that the dragon doesn't drip with saliva when it smells their fearful sweat as they climb down through that sauna, as that they simply don't think about it) Sending two people in single file would be silly because then both would get burnt to death with just as little benefit.

The King's role is only to dissuade such miners as would hope to open a second passage from the surface, citing learned authorities who say that twice the passages makes for twice the dragons.

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    $\begingroup$ Local autorities can arrest miners, citing lack of mining permit. Which is a bureaucratic nightmare to get. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2022 at 11:52
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People lose interest on joining a group to kill the dragon as soon as they realize that, for a group of 20(30? 40?) or more, the share everyone would get would be too small to be worth the risk.

As soon as a group starts to grow to a certain number, the adventurers start to realize this, so they just plainly decline, or some of them decide to form a smaller group to get a bigger share for themselves.

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The way I see it, you've written yourself into a corner. I'll try to break my reasoning down here, and come at this from different angles to show you why I come to that conclusion.

First.

Dragons, in Medieval times, are seen as beasts to be slayed. Adventurers, in the traditional fantasy sense, are in it for money, glory, or for the thrill of the hunt (for generalized archetypes with the group). So, what part of this won't attract adventurers in droves?

To get around this, you would need a reasoning why dragons are so feared, few would dare face it. And that creates a new issue, because you need people to face it regularly enough to feed it. Adding that it was common to have hunting trophies hung so that local lords could tell the epic tale of how he felled so mighty a beast. So you add to the issue.

Second.

'To rescue his daughter'. Rescuing a princess is often equated with earning her hand in marriage. Even if not outright stated, it is often assumed. And that would attract nobles in droves itching to climb the political ladder. Or does marrying a princess mean nothing in this setting?

Even if it doesn't include a claim to inheriting the throne from the king, which many would argue marrying the princess does, it comes with clout. That's what political marriage did in time period. The mere mention of a princess in peril will drive most if not all single nobles to act.

To further highlight this. There's the simple act of 'saving a damsel in distress'. All you would need is one man with a hero complex and an army under his command, and the king's plan is ruined. While it can be argued most would be more pragmatic about it, claiming that no one would is patently misguided.

Third.

Even if you have the king issue decrees to the nobles not to engage the dragon, which comes with a slew of issues in and of itself. And even if you ignore my first two points entirely. You have one very important hurdle to overcome: the common folk.

What happens when there's talk of a wolf lurking too close to their herd? They panic and try to band together to hire someone to take care of it, if not hunt the beast themselves.

Now there's talk of a dragon? It can be argued that most will not pay it any mind as long as this dragon stays far away from their farms and herds and families. Until, that is, a single incident that cannot be readily explained otherwise. Perhaps someone falls ill and they don't know the cause of the illness. Or someone goes missing and can't be found or, worse, a half-eaten corpse that might be the missing party is found.

All they need is one person in an angry mob to suspect this dragon and give voice to it. And you've got yourself a brand new issue on your hands. So now there's not just adventurers to contend with, but local militia out for the dragon's head. They might not know or even care about the reward, they just want revenge.

While it can be argued that common folk stand no chance against a dragon, will every farmer refuse to face a dragon when farmers were so often drafted into the military to fight a noble's war? It would just take one such a survivor to take up arms. And given how many peasant revolts took place in history...?

Conclusion:

Your best bet is to use this dragon as your executioner. Have the king make a new decree. That anyone who commits a crime that warrants it, the perpetrator will be fed to the dragon. Depending on the population and prosperity of the kingdom, it would happen often enough that you should feed it regularly enough.

But it still doesn't negate the above points. The king would have to play his cards carefully. Admit the dragon is in the kingdom's best interest and rival kingdoms will hire adventurers to slay it, in order to weaken them. Admit to nothing and people will get nervous about tales of a dragon.

Given massacres have been sparked by 'cruelty to a cracker', I do not have high hopes this will work out in the king's or the kingdom's favour.

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Fake Ancient Prophecy

If this is taking place in a medieval era, the people are probably extremely superstitious, so they’d easily fall for a fake prophecy. This idea would simultaneously be a subversion of the “chosen one” trope commonly used in media.

Use their superstitions against them to prevent anyone from killing the dragon.

In essence, the prophecy would state that the only one who can kill the dragon is “the chosen one” but this chosen one has to be extremely specific and carry a very particular set of characteristics. He needs to be six-foot tall, muscular, has a scar on the right side of his face, be born on a leap year during a solar eclipse, and have a birthmark in the shape of a unicorn. The exact details are up to you, but the point is that this chosen one needs to follow a ridiculously specific set of criteria.

There are also a specific set of trails that the chosen one needs to pass, all of which are incredibly difficult to the point that no one should be able to succeed. For the test of strength, you must fight a bear with your bare hands and no other weapons. For the test of intellect, you must answer a series of increasingly impossible riddles that the king made up himself. They’re all super ambiguous so, even if you have a sensible answer, the king can just say that wasn’t the right one.

“What can you put in a box to make it lighter?” “Holes?” “Sorry, the answer was fire.”

Ask another guy the exact same question. If he guesses fire, say the answer was holes.

Lastly, the test of spirit. You have to prove you are worthy by having the gods themselves perform a sign. A very specific sign. You need to climb to the top of a mountain in embarrassing and uncomfortable ceremonial garb, chant a specific sequence of made-up words with perfect pronunciation. If you mess up even one syllable you fail and have to start the whole process over. That’s not the tough part, though.

Once you’ve finished doing all these things, a very specific miracle from the gods needs to occur. As you hold your arms to the sky, a lightning bolt needs to strike the shrine at the perfect angle, and an eagle carrying a snake in its mouth needs to land on your head.

Again, the exact details can vary as much as you want, you can probably make it even more complicated than this, but the point is to make several increasingly difficult trials no one can pass.

By introducing this prophecy, the king looks like he’s the one who’s suffering. He wants to save his daughter, but darn, the prophecy keeps making things nearly impossible. After scouring the earth for the perfect candidate, the chosen one is unfortunately nowhere to be found.

To make the prophecy a little more realistic, have the king hire scribes in secret to make it look as authentic as possible and speak to as many superstitions as possible. On top of looking ancient and extremely legit, this thing speaks to the main religion of the era. Anyone who dares to question it’s authenticity or it’s veracity is questioning the will of the Gods.

Since he’s king, back it up with real examples. If somebody questions the prophecy, he ends up dead in a ritualistic manner. There’s a clause in the prophecy. “If you don’t believe these words may your head be chopped off.” So all doubters are found with no heads. No one questions it. No one’s brave enough to question it. They start to genuinely believe this is the will of the Gods.

The dragon could be described as an Envoy of the Devil. Build him up as being completely invincible to everything except the chosen one. If you’re not chosen, you’re dead. That’s it. No question. To add credence to this, have the king send a bunch of fakers to pretend to be “the best fighting force ever assembled”. They pretend to fight the dragon and are never seen or heard from again. That’s why only the chosen one is allowed to go.

The fear alone should keep people away. Perception is powerful. Everyone knows the prophecy at this point, and the dragon is said to radiate powerful fear. Anyone who looks at him will be struck with such paralyzing dread that they will never be able to draw their sword before they die. Even if a legitimate foe reaches the dragon, the fear will dishearten them. If they weren’t scared before, they’ll be terrified now, doubting themselves for just long enough for the dragon to kill them.

You wanna know what would be hilarious, though? Having the king’s efforts to stall constantly being foiled?

The chosen one needs to have a scar on the right side of his face, born on an eclipse on a leap year, and have a birth mark in the shape of a unicorn? Well that sounds like Olaf the Baker’s Son. He has all those characteristics!

The King “What, that’s impossible. Okay, I can still work with this. Let’s see if he can pass my impossible trials!”

Test of Body-Wrestling a bear. Olaf is so strong he beats it with ease. The King starts to sweat.

Test of Mind-Riddle Contest. Olaf gets all the answers right, even on the hard riddles. The king is so shocked that anyone could get them right that he forgets to pull anymore tricks.

Test of Spirit-Olaf climbs the mountain easily, even in heavy ceremonial garb, chants the words perfectly and the miracle happens exactly as the prophecy said.

At this point the king is genuinely scared that maybe the prophecy was true, so he hands him a sword that can’t cut anything, saying it’s the Sword of Destiny, the only one that can kill the dragon, and he also gives him a shield that breaks extremely easily, calling it the Shield of Unbreakability.

Olaf charges in, finds the dragon easily.

If it gets to that point, the king should just come clean with the chosen one and tell him that the dragon’s not the real threat. If Olaf listens, they can pretend he killed the dragon, give Olaf a reward of gold and riches, and everyone can live in peace.

If Olaf is intent on killing the dragon, the king can kill him and say the dragon did it. He wasn’t the chosen one. If Olaf, can’t be killed (because with all the stuff he’s been through the man seems like a beast), just twist the prophecy by saying “What, we have the right chosen one, but not the right dragon. It’s this OTHER dragon that you need to kill. The first dragon is the dragon of light, blessed by god. It must never be killed.”

Honestly, that sounds better. Make the prophecy be that the dragon should never be killed. That would’ve been easier, but honestly the whole crazy novel worth of insanity that got me to the end of this answer was too fun not to write.

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    $\begingroup$ how does this ensure the dragon's monthly feed? $\endgroup$
    – Phil
    Mar 5, 2022 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Phil People will travel from all over the world to prove themselves the chosen one. Even if they haven't passed the trials, send one incompetent loser who's obsessed with the prophecy into the dragon's cave per month to get eaten by the dragon. Add a part of the prophecy that says dying due to the dragon, even if you don't defeat it, will send you straight to Valhalla. Even if you fail you die with eternal glory. In fact, the only person that will get more glory than you is the real chosen one. Few people would be able to resist that. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2022 at 14:01
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If the dragon is intelligent, he can work together with the king to keep the facade going.

To stay safe from harm, the dragon just needs to fly above bow range every once in a while. Adventurers seeking the king's reward will travel the direction the dragon is going... The beast can lead the adventurers onto things that are causing trouble to the kingdom, such as bandit camps, orc settlements, goblin knolls, ogre mounds etc. The adventurers will think this is part of their great quest to save the world. The actual effect is that there will be losses on both human and monster sides. The dragon just has to wait until both sides have retreated, and then pick up a human corpse for sustenance.

This becomes even easier to keep going if the dragon can shapeshift, so they can sneak into the castle and talk to the King without raising suspicions.

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Unfortunate accidents happen to the more competent and larger parties. Of course king tries to avoid these by providing them the best possible guides he can. After all the guides known the land and the routes to dragon. Unfortunately sometimes slight errors in navigation happened to lead them to group of bandits. Very large one, no one even had any idea one was around. Now they can't even be found anymore, must have run away...

Or just when they are about to commence an attack unfortunate wave of food poisonings, or poisonings in general... Or stab wounds on the key members of adventurers...

If the groups seems dangerous enough just sent an assassin or two along to make sure right sort of person ends up winning. Or no one at all. After all can't give hand of princess to just anyone. And kingdom really supports these activities. Things just tend to go horribly wrong, like whole idea was cursed.

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Lie

The King is not above deceit, and can tell a half-truth in that there is a prophecy that if more than one person tries to slay the dragon, the Kingdom will fall into ruin (after all, if the large group defeat the dragon, the kingdom will fall into ruin).

To 'solve' this, the King arranges for tournaments to be held to find the most powerful member, thereby getting all the individuals to either kill or cripple each other whittling down their numbers. He then tries to get the champion assassinated in an 'accident' at a later stage.

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OPTION 1: HAVE THE DRAGON "HIRE" SOME SECURITY

The king could simply bolster the dragon's defenses by bribing another group of men, just as well-equipped as the adventurers, to defend the dragon from the big group.

OPTION 2: SEND HITMEN TO MAKE THE PARTY DISAPPEAR

The best way to go about this is to simply have hitmen "sent by the dragon" to make them disappear. Alternatively, he could send thieves and saboteurs to ruin the adventurer's chances of beating the dragon.

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