Fantasy Films 101.09 1987's "The Princess Bride"


Perhaps the single most quoted fantasy movie (after Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course) is The Princess Bride. I personally first encountered the film in college in 1993, six years after its initial release, and ever since then I've faithfully watched it each and every time it's come on television. It's that good.

Perhaps the single most quoted fantasy movie (after Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course) is The Princess Bride. I personally first encountered the film in college in 1993, six years after its initial release, and ever since then I've faithfully watched it each and every time it's come on television. It's that good.

Part of the reason the film has become so popular is that it's so simple. It never gets tangled up in plot, or bogged down by overacting, or slowed by someone taking themselves too seriously. There's fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love and miracles to be sure, but it's all portrayed in a lighthearted, fantastical way that every role-player would do well to notice, and learn from.

In fact, the film is so simple that it practically invites being broken down into chunks and scenes. Which is why I'll deviate from the pattern I've established here over the past few weeks and do something a bit different, detailing the movie's plot AND integrating it into your campaign at the same time. But before we do that, I'd be failing you all if I didn't point out the stellar cast who helped make this movie what it is. Let's say hello:

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

The Good -- Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Dracula) plays Westley, aka the current "Dread Pirate Roberts", as the perfect mixture of noble and scoundrel. His love interest Buttercup, the "Princess Bride", is played by Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), who has not aged well. Nuff said.

The Bad -- Prince Humperdinck is played by Chris Sarandon (the voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas), and Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, is played by Christopher Guest (better known as Nigel Tufnel from This Is Spinal Tap). There's also Vizzini, played by Wallace Shawn (Canadian Bacon, Clueless), but he's not evil so much as he is incompetent.

The Neutral -- First there's Vizzini's hired help: Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin (Dick Tracey, Alien Nation) and Fezzik, played by Andre the Giant (of WWF fame). Then there's the "real world" duo of the Grandson, played by Fred Savage of The Wonder Years, and Grandpa, played by Peter Falk, best known as TV's Columbo. And no list would be complete without at least mentioning Peter Cook as The Impressive Clergyman, Mel Smith as The Albino, Carol Kane as Valerie, and Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, whose combined list of credits are inconceivable.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The semi-interaction between Grandson and Grandpa, and the characters in the book, is part of the movie's charm. Nevertheless, for the purposes of integrating the story into your own campaign, you'll probably want to skip this part, and so I will here. That said, let's get cracking:

Scene 1: A young girl named Buttercup is living on a farm in the country of Florin, where she delights in tormenting a young farmboy named Westley, who replies to her every request with a simple "As you wish." They fall in love, somewhat predictably. Also predictably, Westley has to leave. He packs his belongings and heads off to make his fortune. Unfortunately, his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and he's given up for dead.

This, of course, is your backstory. The characters wandering into this storyline won't know all this to begin with, but it's what they'll be told if they ask around, or interact with the protagonists.

Scene 2: Fast-forward five years. Florin City is rejoicing as Prince Humperdinck announces his intent to marry Buttercup. Off riding one day, Buttercup is accosted by bandits--specifically, a Sicilian, a Spaniard and a Giant. She's knocked unconscious and taken to their ship, where they intend to sail across the sea to the country of Guilder to kill Buttercup. Their intent? To start a war between Guilder and Florin, because a war is great for business.

Here, of course, is where you introduce the characters. There are several ways to do this. One, of course, is to "hire" them as mercenaries to kidnap a princess, with only their employer knowing the true nature of the job. The other is to make them the crew of the ship, who get to interact with the main NPCs of your story. It's all a matter of how capable your players are; it's quite likely that they've seen the movie, and by now they'll have guessed how the plot is supposed to go. Which means a good time for everyone, since everyone can add to the fun.

Scene 3: The crew sails on across the waters, the princess their captive. Their target is the Cliffs of Insanity. Unfortunately, there are several obstacles in their way: the Shrieking Eels, and a mysterious pursuer, who could be anyone from a pirate to a fisherman.

Obviously this is a good point to ad lib--a number of strange "random encounters" can take place on the waters, be it an ocean or a mere lake. It's all up to you based on how much fun you're having and how much time you've got to play around.

I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There's not a lot of money in revenge.

Scene 4: As dawn breaks, the ship arrives at the base of the Cliffs of Insanity, and the princess is carried up the treacherous cliffs. Once at the top, the mercenaries cut the rope to slow down their pursuer, and two of them leave with the princess while one stays behind. To their amazement, the stranger manages to climb to the top all the same... with a little help from the Spaniard. Once he reaches the top, a great duel takes place where the Spaniard and the strange "Man in Black" wow each other with their amazing skills. At long last, however, the stranger wins the day, knocking the Spaniard unconscious and running off after the princess. After a short jaunt, he comes across the giant, who he also battles, and defeats.

Of course there have to be a few battles, or what fun would it be? The problem with most role-playing games is that a sword fight usually ends with one of the parties hacked to bloody bits. You need to avoid this, lest the players accidentally or intentionally kill the story's main protagonist. One way to avoid this is to simply have the Man in Black buy the players off. Whether one player or several stays behind to stall him, keep in mind that they're mercenaries, not villains. Every mercenary can be bought... especially if they find out that true love is at stake. Another possibility, though one that might be harder for your players to deal with, is to have the Man in Black knock them unconscious, like in the movie. Or perhaps he kills them, then revives them after they've died; in a world where Miracle Max lives, anything is possible.

You mean, you'll put down your rock and I'll put down my sword
and we'll try and kill each other like civilized people?

Scene 5a: Just a few steps behind the mercenaries and the Man in Black are Prince Humperdinck and his cronies. As they catch up, the Man in Black also catches up with the Sicilian, Vizzini, and challenges him to a battle of wits involving Iocaine powder and two goblets of wine (don't ask where the wine comes from). The Man in Black wins when he tricks Vizzini into drinking the poisoned wine... which he also drinks, safely, having developed a tolerance for the poison over many years. The pair then flee into the hills, where after some clever bickering, the Man in Black reveals himself to be her long lost love, Westley.

This one's difficult to play out since it involves only a few people. If the mercenaries have turned coat and are helping the Man in Black, the whole battle of wits is a moot point; they can overpower the Sicilian and recapture the princess. But let's say that Vizzini is a wizard, in which case a direct assault won't work. A battle of wits might be at hand then... and only the Man in Black knows how to win. The revelation here should also probably include the information revealed in "Scene 1".

Scene 5b: Though it's treated as the same scene in the movie, there's a distinct change in locale here, as Buttercup and Westley flee into the dreaded Fire Swamp. While explaining how he became the Dread Pirate Roberts, they encounter the three dangers of the Fire Swamp--the flame spurt, the lightning sand, and the Rodents of Unusual Size.

Obviously a fun opportunity to mess with your players. The flame spurts pop up randomly--have players make rolls randomly to listen for and avoid the popping flames; anyone hit by one takes 1d6 damage for 1d4 rounds (until the flames can be put out). Every few rounds, roll a check to see if anyone stepped in lightning sand; anyone falling into it has to make some serious dexterity checks or be sucked entirely underneath, taking 1d6 points of suffocation damage each round until they're rescued or they die. And when rolling for random monster encounters, simply add a few giant rats or other large rodent-like mammals whenever you feel they're needed.

Scene 6: Alas, all is not well. Escaping the fire swamp, Westley and Buttercup are accosted by the Prince and his men. Buttercup agrees to go with the Prince if he will spare Westley's life, but of course the Prince doublecrosses them. The six-fingered man knocks Westley unconscious.

There are two possible ways for this to go down without everyone dying. The first is for the players to become separated from Westley and Buttercup in the swamp, which is quite possible in a dangerous, tangled swamp--in this case, the players will get back into the action in Scene 11 (later being filled in with tidbits from Scenes 7-10 as becomes possible). The other possibility is for the guards to capture all of the players here, in which case everyone ends up in Scene 7.

Scene 7: Westley awakens in The Pit of Despair, a scary albino creature tending to his wounds. He's to be healed before he's tortured to death on The Machine.

If the players somehow got here, they're all tied to tables or otherwise restrained, being prepped for torture. If they're all here together than escape should be possible. But not yet.

Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queenof Filth, the Queen of Putrescence!

Scene 8: Buttercup and the Prince are married. But not quite. It's just a dream, you see. A nightmare, in fact. Buttercup is a prisoner, and the Prince is not about to give her up.

The players would never see this scene, of course.

Scene 9: The truth is revealed! The Prince hired Vizzini to murder the princess (and Vizzini then hired the mercenaries to help him). Count Rugen (the six-fingered man) begins torturing Westley on The Machine, which sucks life away from people.

The players can all take turns on The Machine, which ages them and temporarily reduces their strength and/or levels (think Wight, or Wraith). Have fun torturing them. They deserve it.

Scene 10: Humperdinck orders his men to clear out the Thieves' Forest. Why? Because he doesn't want anyone messing with his plans.

The players would never see this scene, either.

Scene 11: The Prince's men begin to clear out the Thieves' Forest, rounding up all the rogues and scoundrels and mercenaries and imprisoning them. A certain Spaniard and Giant happen to run into one another again, and the Giant nurses Inigo back to health. The good news is that they know where to find the captured Buttercup, and the six-fingered man. The bad news is that the castle gate is guarded by 30 men. They realize that their only chance is to find the Man in Black, whose skill will give them the edge they need.

This one's obvious. The players, if they escaped, are regrouping, and the Prince's men are harassing them. If the party was split, they'll have to track down the missing members along with the Man in Black, but if they stuck together then they need to be convinced that Westley is really the key to their plan working. You can get pretty creative here, but it's probably safest to keep it simple--the Man in Black is just really powerful and skilled, and it'll be helpful to have him on their side.

I would not say such things if I were you!!!

Scene 12: Humperdinck orders the number of men guarding the castle gate doubled as he prepares for his wedding. Buttercup pisses him off with talk of Westley, amd Humperdinck retaliates by killing Westley on the machine. Searching for the Man in Black at just that moment, Inigo and Fezzik run into the Albino, and find their way into the hidden Pit of Despair, where they recover Westley's body.

The players need not get away with this so easily. If they're imprisoned with Westley, his death gives them the opportunity to escape while the guards are distracted. If they're trying a rescue, they can run into some guards... though they'll always be too late.

Scene 13: Inigo and Fezzik bring Westley's dead body to Miracle Max's house, who, after some convincing, gives them a magic concoction which can bring the dead back to life.

The players will obviously need either a cleric or a wizard to bring their dead friend(s) back to life. If anyone was dumb enough to get themselves killed earlier in the story, they can all be brought back here.

Have fun storming the castle!

Scene 14: Inigo, Fezzik and the (still dead) Man in Black approach the castle, preparing their assault. All it will take is a wheelbarrow, a Holocaust cloak, and some trickery...

Preparing for the assault should definitely take some planning. Your players need not pull it off in the same way as in the film, but it should ideally involve some forethought. A band of 4 or 5 players will not be able to take on 120 guards at a locked gate. Unless you're being really silly.

Scene 15: Here's where it all comes together. Humperdinck and Buttercup are about to be married. Outside, the daring trio assault the castle. Realizing time is short, the Prince orders Buttercup to the Honeymoon Suite, while his men fan out to take on the intruders. Inigo faces the six-fingered man, and kills him heroically. The Man in Black is reunited with his Buttercup, and humiliates the Prince with trickery. And everyone lives happily ever after.

This one can go however you want it to. If the players are crying for blood, now's the chance to give it to them in buckets. As long as they manage not to get Buttercup killed, all will be well. Miracle Max, or whoever's around, can always pull another miracle if anyone gets killed. The only downside is that they can't really get away with Regicide here; the Prince has to be left alive, and that leaves them with a truly dangerous enemy to deal with down the road. But that's half the fun, isn't it?

There's a shortage of perfect breasts in this world.
'Twould be a pity to damage yours.

And there you have it. A perfect little one-nighter, just waiting for you to pick it up and drop it into your campaign. In case you haven't been keeping up, let's review:

  • A young hero. Westley, aka The Man in Black
  • A damsel in distress. Buttercup, aka The Princess Bride
  • A motley band of companions. Inigo, Fezzig, Miracle Max, et al.
  • A magic weapon. Oops! No magic? Well, there is Miracle Max's magic pill. Raising the dead is pretty impressive.
  • Wicked evil bad guys. Most of them are cowards in one way or another, but they're still pretty mean, from Prince Humperdinck to the six-fingered man to Vezzini.
  • Unbeatable odds. From an unbeatable Sicilian, to the Fire Swamp, to death itself, the main characters all go up against some pretty tough opponents, but with a little help and a little magic they all pull through.

We're approaching the end of the line here, but there are a few more yet to go, and the next one is one of my favorites. The new Dungeons & Dragons movie trailer is being compared to this film, in fact, but in my opinion there's no comparison whatsoever. Sure there are dragons and monsters and swordfights and small people, but as far as quality goes, this one is hard to beat--the ever-popular Willow.

I would also recommend reading the original novel by William Goldsmith. Since he also wrote the screenplay, they stay pretty faithful to one another. However there is a little more character information that can be gotten from the book. Besides, the book is just as much fun as the movie.

I second the call for reading the book.

The book itself purports to be a 'cut-down' version of the original by S. Morgenstern, removing things like the twenty-five pages of information on Buttercup packing, the thirteen on her wedding dress fitting, et cetera. But the character development is spot-on and always keeps its flavor, which makes this one of those movies that will be remembered years after other movies are forgotten.

Scary to think that this movie and the book it came from came from the same brain that brought us 'The Exorcist', isn't it?

This movie was on just yesterday. When I recognized what it was (hard to miss), I had to watch it the rest of the way, mesmerized by the plethora of lines my gaming group quotes from this movie.

Bush wins? Inconceivable!

Also interesting to note is that, by all accounts I heard, the reason for such a star-studded cast is that no studio wanted to make the film, so the stars THEMSELVES financed the movie and got it made, because they all loved the book.

If true, it's no wonder it's so dead-on with the book - it wasn't a job, but a labor of love for the cast.

No magic weapon? In the movie, after Fezzik and Inigo encountered the albino (and knocked him unconcious), Inigo and Fezzik realize they just silenced the only person who can lead them to the pit of despair. Inigo then closes his eyes and calls out for his (dead) father to guide his sword, to find the hidden pit of despair... He starts walking around, as if guided by the sword and hits a tree, just when he leans against the tree, and is about to give up, a door opens in the tree and reveals a passage to the pit of despair. The opening of the door is triggered by Inigo leaning against a certain knob or something.

Back to the magic weapon: Inigo's sword could be magic and posses the power of being called upon once a day (or week) for guidance, which results in the sword pointing in the right direction...

I realize this makes the sword a very powerful magical item, so you should limit the times it can be used this way, or give a vague direction.

Last thing I want to add to this: I must have seen this movie over thirty times now, since my parents bought the video in 1990, and it still isn't boring at all!

i read the book by William Goldman, and let me just tell you that i actually wrote a 4 page essay for school on the differences between the movie and the book. the movie is good for a quicky, but for the real deal i say you have to read this book!!

There is one possibility when roleplaying this that was overlooked. If the characters ARE in this as mercenaries hired by Vizzini they have a 3rd option in scene 6 of drawing their weapons and backing up Humperdinck's men in capturing Westley and Buttercup.

This could break up the group even more and make for some interesting spots later on by assigning those who turn back into being on Humperdinck's side in scene 6 then spend 11 on the brute squad cleaning out the thieves forest until they come across any of their companions who ended up there. Those who take this route will have the added benefit of additional information ie the plot info in the unseen scene 10 via their orders by Humperdinck and Rugen. As an added benefit this will give the GM an assist in convincing the others that Westley does need to be brought back to life rather than the group trying to storm the castle alone. Besides, the man in black is paying the bills for this, right? No money gets paid out by a dead client.

Oh, and for a lead in to the next adventure on their campaign, just let one of them take over as the Dread Pirate Roberts with the rest being part of the crew since Westley is retiring. That gives the entire group a place to start their next adventure from.

Just rented the special edition DVD the other week and it was great. There are some great behind the scenes interviews from both past and present about the making of the movie. Wonderful little bits of trivia about the actors and the movie. My personal favorite was about Andre the Giant. His parents moved to England when he was a child and he had to get a ride to school with his next door neighbor because his parents couldn't afford a car big enough for him. Who was his neighbor? The playwright Samuel Beckett. The man responsible for "Waiting for Godot".

Hey, nice breakdown. I've linked to it off my site. Thanks.


Xcuse my awful English, I'm Italian roleplayer from Sardinia ( the little wonderful island in front of Italy )
The movie is lovely, it's full of humor, duels, fencing and adventures. The fairy tale is mixed with jokes and humor. Nobody desecrate fantasy or fairy tales, and the adventure suggested in this page html is wonderful.
The book is better, because the writer use a sad, mature humor about the life and the dream. There aren't mages powerful, the prince survive and he is a villain, and the magic lasts as long as TRUE LOVE !
Thank you for the adventure, I'm a Master and I use it: a lot of fu for all!

I watched the Princess Bride on ITV the other day, and apart from Ben Savage and Peter Falk in the background, trying to spoil it, I really enjoyed it. Granted most of Andre The Giant's lines where totally incomprehensible, Buttercup is not the most flattering name for a love interest, and there were a couple of missed opportunities here and there, but all in all a great film.

Cary Elwes was brilliant as Westley. Whatever happened to him?

Oh, and Cuccussette, I kind of feel a bit guilty for saying this, because you are an Italian, and English is not your first language. But, nevertheless, I hope that you're adventure is a lot of fu for all. I always make sure that I give my group as much fu as I can, so that they keep coming back for more. Fu is a vital part of the D&D experience. Long live fu.

There, I've kicked a dying horse! I feel better. Sorry, Cuccusette. I just couldn't resist. Please forgive me, I am ashamed...

How could you miss 'Conan the Bavarian' ! Its one of my favorites of all time.

Also there was a great one called someting like 'the thirteenth warrior' I can't remember exactly. Anyway it was about an arab warrior, a bit of a layabout who went on a quest with a bunch of vikings in order to make up a mystic number of warriors. Its based on the writings of a real life arab who livedwith some vikings.

Anyway its a great yarn with some great characters and stupendous fight scenes. A real action movie to do with heroism and duty, and of a boy coming to manhood.

The arab lad survives to document the story, most of the others die, but it makes a man of him. I guarantee satisfaction.

I saw the screening for "The Last Samurai" on Monday...

I saw that third Lord Of The Rings film the other day. I was a bit disappointed. They seemed to have got rid of all the other characters, in favour of Will Ferrell playing the part of a man raised by elves, like Aragorn was. And James Caan and Ed Asner were in it, and everything. I think that one's let the trilogy down.

The part with the midget was funny...

He was an angry elf. From the South Pole.

I thought that movie was supposed to be the sequel to Masters Of The Universe.

No, I'm pretty sure it were Lord Of The Rings part III.

Trilogies eh? Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars. Well, there's only one way to find out... FIGHT!!!

I'm gonna throw in my lot with Lord Of The Rings, as much as I love Star Wars and all. It was just... the Ewoks that got to me... I hate those little furry mofos! I'm all right with Jar Jar, I can handle Jar Jar, but it's just those damn Ewoks!

Have you seen anything regarding the STARWARS animated series on CartoonNetwork? Its produced by the same guy who did Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack...

Such blasphemy. On a side note, did anybody ever see that episode of Dexter's Laboratory where he was playing D&D with his mates?


My favorite is called...CRITICAL GAS.