Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Retrospective: The Shady Dragon Inn

I got a lot of use out of TSR's The Rogues Gallery back in the day, for reasons I explain here. Nevertheless, I still had a prodigious appetite for pre-generated characters I could use as henchmen, hirelings, or opponents. That's why I readily picked up a copy of 1983's The Shady Dragon Inn, despite its being for "kiddie D&D" – and I'm glad I did.

Unlike The Rogues Gallery, whose pre-generated characters were little more than a single line of game statistics, those in The Shady Dragon Inn were more fully described, with names, vital statistics, equipment, and even an illustration by the incomparable Jim Holloway. In my opinion, this made the characters presented herein much more memorable and, to this day, I can still recall the monikers of several of them, like Boris Bonesnapper, Umberto the Ugly, and Dorcas Deepdelver. The illustrations alone – complete with bearded female dwarves, as God and Tolkien intended – are almost worth the price of admission alone. As he so often did, Holloway presents us with characters who are distinctive and a little quirky, which is to say, real. Take a gander at this motley crew of magic-users for a sense of what I mean.

Less creditably – and part of why I caviled at buying this at first – The Shady Dragon Inn also included similar write-ups for the characters of the AD&D toy line, like Strongheart the Paladin (here a fighter, because this is a D&D product) and Warduke. This section only takes up four pages, so it's not a huge detraction from the rest of the book's content, but it bugs me nonetheless. Nearly forty years later, I still find the creation of D&D toys and even more bizarre products to be irksome. 

The Shady Dragon Inn also includes a collection of adventuring parties of various levels and compositions using the characters presented in the book. This is very useful and a feature of old school play that doesn't seem to be all that commonplace today. Rounding out the product is a large map of the eponymous Shady Dragon Inn (though the text, oddly, calls it the Shady Dragon Tavern), presumably intended for use with miniatures or counters. There's no description of the place, which is just as well, since it's rather generic in its layout. Unlike the characters, I don't think I ever made use of the map in my campaigns of old.

14 comments:

  1. I have a vivid memory of buying this one. It was one of my last D&D products I purchased back then, and I recall it being in shrinkwrap. When I got it home, I was actually not terribly enamored with Holloway's art (he was an acquired taste for me), but like you enjoyed how more usable the product was compared to most of the Rogues Gallery. I also was not happy with the Toy character stats. I distinctly remember a Fighter or such named Rory the Red? Or something like that. IDK why the name stuck with me. I bought the PDF, but I haven't looked at it in years, thanks for the reminder!

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    1. There's an elf named Rorie the Red.

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    2. That's it then! I was pretty close with my old tired mind.

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  2. I still treasure my copy of this book. Love Holloway's illustrations. I once went through and wrote down all of the setting details that could be gleaned from each character's description with the idea of building a world around them. That, like many of my other ideas, never saw the light of day. : )

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  3. The bearded Dwarven gals bring to mind two things from Glorantha, of all places.

    1) Female rune priests of Lankhor My are required to wear ceremonial beards to better fit their deity's image as a bearded sage. Many of them seem to really embrace the things as a fashion statement and own multiple hairpieces for different occasions. Some male priests in the cult feel inadequate about their own hopelessly straggly natural beards.

    2) Most Gloranthan Dwarves don't get educated about reproduction until their elders determine the community needs to produce more workers as replacements for ones lost or damaged, and even then the process is described in, ah, mechanical and somewhat abstract terms involving mortars and pestles. Prior to getting an education few Dwarves are capable of (much less interested in) differentiating between males and females, something which can cause some confusion when dealing with other races.

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  4. Holloway as an artist is under-appreciated. I think his illustrations of halfling adventurers are the best ever done for the D&D genre (and this goes back to his illos for Rose Estes EQ book "The Dungeon of Dread").

    I never owned The Shady Dragon Inn, but I've since had the chance to peruse it electronically, and again I think Holloway does a great service with his depiction of the sheer variety of "basic" character types. His clerics include helmeted templars, shillelagh-wielding Celts, and bald-pated friars. His thieves run a similar gamut, while his magic-users show you don't need to be the stereotypical Gandalf dude. And look! Female dwarves that don't have beards!

    Because of Holloway's illustrations, Shady Dragon Inn is a nice piece to have, especially for introducing new folks to the D&D game. It depicts a variety of adventurers who are solid, but not superheroic...about what one should expect when starting out. That's goos stuff.

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  5. They may have irked you, but the D&D cartoon, toys, and Endless Quest books were my gateway to the hobby. No one that I know of in my very rural home area played D&D, so the merch was what attracted me to it. So I for one am very happy that they existed.

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    1. I loved the endless quest books.

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    2. They were my gateway drug into the hobby for sure.

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  6. I love the Shady Dragon Inn! I've used it in every extended campaign I've ever run since 1983. It usually ends up being a roadhouse on a long journey or found just outside the city walls, so when player show up before the gates are open they have somewhere to stay (and sometimes has a cellar with a secret tunnel into town under said walls).

    My method for generating the bartender, servants, and such is simple... roll several of the included NPCs! Having cut my teeth on urban adventures in the City State, a 9th-level magic-user as bartender is nothing unusual. And if I rolled one of the special heroes, they ended up simply passing through at the time, perhaps with rumors of an adventure that they themselves were too busy to deal with (the special villains were always cruising for a bar fight, but no one ever wanted to start anything with Warduke...)

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  7. I like how everyone has pretty mediocre stats from an AD&D 1e perspective at least. The greater spread of attribute bonuses in the D&D line mitigates this a bit.

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    1. Sure, but note how they tend to pretty high in the HP ranges. In a couple cases I think they even exceed the max allowed in B/X.

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  8. The fact that ability stats are listed Str, Int, Wis, Con, Dex, Cha always made me wonder if the characters were created in the OD&D era.

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  9. Practically forgot I had this. Now, as I'm in the midst of needing to plug NPCs into a few positions for an Underdark sandbox OSE game, I've realized how handy this is. Bandit leaders at my fingertips!

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