AD&D 2e, Dungeons & Dragons, LJN

Dungeons, and Walmart, and LJN? Part 3, The Shady Dragon Inn

The world of LJN would have been an interesting footnote in the history of Dungeons and Dragons were it not for TSR attempting to make something more from the line. In 1983 TSR published AC 1: The Shady Dragon Inn.

Ostensibly the Shady Dragon Inn was nothing more than a collection of non-player characters (NPCs) that could be easily dropped into any campaign. The book is filled with paragraph long descriptions of NPCs with little narrative connection – until we get to the “Special Characters” chapter (pg 25 – 28). It’s here that we find some familiar names: Mercion, Peralay, Elkhorn, Strongheart, Ringlerun, Zarak, Warduke, and Kelek; but we’re also introduced to Figgen the Halfling, Fox Fingers the Thief, Zargash the Cleric, Skylla the Magic User, and Raven the Cleric.

In a book designed to provide quick NPCs the LJN characters stand out. They exist within a world simply called the “Land.”[1] There are few areas of the “Land” that are directly named in the text up to this point. We know that there are northern wild lands where the barbarians like Northlord live[2]; and that there are great sea monsters in oceans surrounding the Land. We also know that there is a “Great Southern Desert” somewhere in the south of the Land. Outside of this knowledge there is little defined space within the Land.

We do know that there are powerful magical items at work in the Land: chief among these is the Heartstone which changes all those who encounter it, and which has touched nearly all of the LJN characters introduced in AC 1: The Shady Dragon Inn.

It is implied in the text that most of the characters in the LJN line were once in an adventuring party together. The way that the text does this is slightly discombobulated that reminds me of word problems from my middle school math classes. So let’s break down the connections:

  • Mericion, Zargash, and Raven were adventuring together when they found the Hearstone.
  • Peralay and Zargash were together when they found the Heartstone.
  • Elkhorn the Dwarf was on the expedition when the Heartstone was found.
  • Ringlerun and Kelek (or Kellek depending on where you look in the text) were adventuring together when they found it.
  • Fox Fingers was exposed to the Hearstone.
  • Mericion was Zargash’s assistant.
  • Strongheart, Warduke, Peralay, and Ringlerun were together when they encountered the Heartstone.
  • Zarak attempted to steal the Heartstone and was stopped by his friend Peralay.
  • Skylla was Ringlerun’s assistant and encountered the Heartstone.

There are two ways to read these connections: either the characters encountered the Heartstone in one group; or multiple groups were lead to the Heartstone. It seems more likely that the characters encountered it in a single instance as Elkhorn’s description refers to the Heartstone’s discovery as though it were a single occasion. The text stating:

ELKHORN joined in the search for the Heartstone, and seems unchanged by it . . .” (emphasis added)

Smith, 26

So let’s put all this together.

Strongheart, Warduke, Peralay, and Ringlerun were all adventuring together when they found the Heartstone. Skylla was Ringlerun’s assistant so she was with him when the stone was found. Kelek was with Ringlerun when Ringlerun found it, so he was there too. Peralay and Zargash were together when they found it; so Zargash was there as well. This means that Mericion and Raven were there as they were with Zargash when he found it. Fox Fingers was exposed to Heartstone when he was with Ringlerun. [3] Elkhorn, as has already been mentioned, joined in the search for the Heartstone when it was found.

A convoluted way of saying that once these characters were adventuring together but since encountering the Heartstone they now oppose one and another.

  • Strongheart and Warduke were once best friends, now they oppose each other at every turn.
  • Mericion was once friends with Zargash and Raven; now, however, they’re evil and Mericion is a paragon of goodness.
  • Peralay and Zargash were once close friends and now they oppose each other.
  • Ringlerun, Kelek and Skylla were once friends and colleagues. Now Kelek gloats about being partners with Skylla and seeks to destroy Ringlerun.
  • Elkhorn and Peralay have been friends for a long time and still remain so. They enjoy giving each other a hard time.
  • Zargash hates Ringlerun and Mericion.
  • Fox Fingers hates Ringlerun and anyone else who knows he’s a thief.
  • Raven loves Warduke and is angry at Mercion for condemning him.
  • Warduke and Skylla plot to overthrow Kelek and seek to destroy Strongheart.
  • Zarak hates Peralay.

The connections between these characters, and the way they changed after encountering the Heartstone, is a fascinating bit of narrative work. It not only established how these characters behave in connection with each other, but helped establish the danger of coming in contact with the Heartstone. We’ll learn more about this mysterious Heartstone and our LJN heroes in the next part.

See you then.


[1] The Land that the LJN characters inhabited would eventually be given a name in the module XL1 – Quest for the Heartstone. The land was known as Ghyr and as Bruce Heard would later note, “. . . Their kingdom eventually found its way into Mystara much in the same manner as other orphan projects did. They weren’t originally conceived as Mystaran entities but became so by default since the toys were marketed for kids — thus the Basic D&D Game . . .” (pandius). With this in mind it’s entirely appropriate to treat the Kingdom of Ghyr as it’s own thing for now without trying to work it into Mystara proper.

[2] This area of the Land is implied on the boxed text on the Northlord’s action figure where it stated: “Barbarians are always strong, always fast, and always hardy humans. Able to track in forest or mountain, they are powerful and capable fighters. Far different from most races, Barbarians instinctively fear and distrust all things magical and will avoid places, things, and people that show evidences of magic. The wild land they live in make these people brave from birth. The NORTHLORD Barbarian can be counted on to be in the forefront of any battle and first to fight the evil dragon or giant sea monster when others are running for their lives.”

[3] This is an implied connection instead of an explicit one as all other connections are. Fox Fingers hates everyone that knows he is a thief since being exposed to Heartstone. He is actively trying to kill Ringlerun, Kelek, and all Kelek’s helpers as they know what he is – which implies that they were using him as their thief during their expedition.

Read the Whole Series

Works Cited

“Bruce Heard Interview” Vaults of Pandius, date unknown, Accessed January 4, 2022

Smith, Carl. The Shady Dragon Inn. TSR INC,1983. pg 26


1 thought on “Dungeons, and Walmart, and LJN? Part 3, The Shady Dragon Inn”

  1. Great write-up and a well-researched piece to boot. I loved those old LJN figures and whatever I managed to keep hold of are well-treasured (although I will forever rue throwing away Hawkler after playing so much with him he broke in my teen years – should’ve kept it knowing what I know now about how to repair old toys).

    This series just needs one more article to round things off and to mention how Wizards of the Coast has given new life to some of these characters by featuring them in the Wild Beyond the Witchlight D&D 5e supplement as Valor’s Call and the League of Malevolence. I don’t have that supplement, but I hear that it updates them for 5e and adds some more to their backstories.

    Also good to mention that NECA seem to be making the most of their D&D licence with the excellent Warduke and Grimsword action figures released recently, plus Strongheart and Zarak on the way soon too.

    With D&D: Honor Among Thieves doing decent business, here’s hoping they do more to plumb the rich history of the hobby and to dust them off for new audiences! Love your blog – thanks for all the work put into it!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.