Elminster's Guide to the Realms

The Roaring Dragon House

by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #320)

The Roaring Dragon House is a new establishment, opened by the proprietor of The High Flagon gambling house, that stands about a mile and a half outside Waterdeep. Meant to "restrict the rowdyblades to their own place," the Dragon is a center for gambling games that's built to be suited to brawling and the rampages of any escaped fighting beasts.

The Roaring Dragon House offers a paltry selection of drinkables, overpricing them outrageously, but has no rooms for rent and sells no food. As a result, there's a steady flow of traffic between the two sister establishments. Drunken, timid, wounded, and unprepared travelers are warned that footpads and thieves frequently take notice of this ready source of coins - particularly after dark.

What Meets the Eye

The Roaring Dragon is solidly built of stone, with an entry arch resembling the fanged upper jaw of a gape-mouthed dragon. It has only a ground floor (although the ceiling is 20 feet aloft), bare stone walls, and a flag-stone floor. This main room is apt to be both cold and noisy.

Its yard is surrounded by a high stone wall constructed to discourage thieves, and it is heavily patrolled by hired mercenaries. Over forty guards watch from dusk to dawn, lightening to a mere twenty by day. Almost all are lawful neutral male humans (War1 or War2), most with experience in controlling out-of-control gamblers.

Anyone approaching the Dragon is challenged at the yard-gates by two guards in impressive full plate (complete with gleaming dragon-form helms). Two reinforcements sit in gatehouses right behind them, and all four are armed with longswords, daggers, glaives, and loaded hand crossbows. Known troublemakers, drunkards, and persons who look like they'll be trouble are often denied entry. If a guest passes within, four more guards await at the stables, and another four attend the Dragon's entry doors.

From here, the main entry doors open into a passage that runs along one end of the large, barnlike gaming room, and ends in a greeting gate. Most of the time, this third gate stands open, with two guards just outside of it, and two just inside, standing with an alluringly clad but hard-bitten hostess. All a would-be patron must do is get past her questions before being allowed into the gaming room, as admission is free.

The gaming room opens out to the left of an arrived guest who's admitted through the gate. At its far end is a bar (with more guards), and beside that is a teller's cage for money changing and the deposit of coins earned by the house. Down the right side of the room, a wide space is kept clear of tables to allow easy circulation.

The cage has floor-to-ceiling bars and more guards inside and out (some with leveled hand crossbows). For security, funds are dropped through small holes in the floor into a strongroom beneath (so the cage never contains much money). When more coins are needed, a slender bucket is lowered on a line with a scrawled request in it; the strongroom counting clerk exchanges the note for funds and taps on the bucket to signal that it can be pulled back up.

The strongroom has its own guards, inside and out (by the door of the cellar passage leading to it, which is reached from a "ready room" behind the bar). The other cellar-rooms are an armory, a wine cellar, and a storage room for chairs, tables, and gaming equipment.

Staff entering and leaving the strongroom do so naked. They disrobe, passing clothes, arms, and armor to the proprietor and other guards for inspection, dressing again when passed through.

Waterdhavian bankers send their own heavily-guarded wagons to the Dragon to pick up tallied takings. These are signed for and taken straight to vaults in the city for recounting under the scrutiny of a Harbright family trade-agent.

Doings At The Dragon

The Roaring Dragon House is owned by the Harbright family. Drengar Harbright installed his nephew Thoalur ([N male human Exp3/War1) and niece Brarindra (CN female human Exp4) to run the Dragon. They take shifts in turn, occasionally relieved by other Harbrights.

By day, the Roaring Dragon House is fairly quiet, holding a few diehard gamblers and folk meeting to talk business. Nights are apt to be "roaring."

House rules include expulsion for cheats and persons who "willfully and repeatedly taunt," start a fight or fire, draw a weapon, or cause a death. Magic use is forbidden and earns beatings, confiscation of property, or even death (depending on the severity of the use and how dangerous or influential the offender seems).

The most popular dice game at the Roaring Dragon currently is Over the Hurdles. Live games usually consist of betting on, or participating in and betting on, beast fights, duels, throwknife, and zzar wrestling.

Belly and Gullet

A few drinkables can be had in the Dragon, all served in clay cups that crumble if struck and that are too light to throw far (once their contents spill, they catch air and tumble). Ale and stout are 4 sp per cup; zzar and a poor selection of wine and spirts are 2 gp per cup.

Over The Hurdles

This game is played by two to ten folk, each using a pair of dice. They sit around a table covered by a cloth marked with "the course" (a track of joined squares), and move small carved tokens, pebbles, or bones to represent themselves as a knight spurring his charger. The game is won by being the first to reach the end square; advancement is by rolling precise numbers.

All knights begin in the stables; to ride onto the course (the first square), they must roll a 4. Each square of the course is marked by the number needed to enter it, and these are as follows: Stable-4-3-4-4-4-5-4-6-4-7-4-8-4-9-4-10-4-11-4-12 (the last square, known variously as "Glory" or "Home Again").

Players begin by placing their marker in the stables, taking two dice, and rolling one. Highest roll goes first (for the rest of the game), next highest second, and so on (ties re-roll, to determine precedence just between the tied players).

The first player then rolls both dice once, but can only advance onto the course by a roll of 4. Any other result means he sits in the stables and his turn is done. After all players have rolled, and then passed the dice left, a second round of rolling commences. In this way the game passes until one player reaches Glory and becomes the winner.

Every player is allowed an extra roll once during the game; declaring "taking the extra" aloud before doing so. This roll may only be made right after the player has rolled. Wagering can be conducted throughout the game: on outcome, results of rolls, which of two or more players will reach a particular square first, and so on - but no wager or response can be uttered as a player is rolling or while the dice are still tumbling, or the rolling player gets a free replacement roll and any offenders have their knights put back a square.

In the grandest gaming establishments (and even in the Dragon) dice rolls are made along a leather chute (a long wooden and leather-lined triangle with side-walls several inches high and the sharp point filled in so no dice can become wedged in the angle), and the course is permanently marked into the top of a playing-table.

Beast Fights

Cockfights, dogfights, and ferret-fights were once popular, but they were supplanted by monster battles. These have largely died out due to lack of combatants, leading Brarindra Harbright to post a standing offer of 600 gp, payable to anyone willing to sell a healthy, unintelligent combatant to the Roaring Dragon House.


Intelligent combatants can fight to earn money or to settle disputes, but the guards allow struggles only to last until surrender, unconsciousness, or first blood - often with combatants stripped down and wearing leather hoods that protect the eyes but force them to fight blind. Permitted weapons are wooden switches and leather paddles sporting a single metal fang at the end.


This game is played on a long, smooth-polished table with raised sides. Above the table and halfway down it, two uprights support a bar with a flat pan affixed to it. Four carved wooden "hazard" pieces are placed on this pan.

Players take turn shooting their "riders" down the table, winning by getting their riders the farthest. Riders are round, smooth-polished wooden, bone, or metal disks like large, thick coins. They must all be of approximately the same size and weight.

Riders are "shot" by placing them partially overhanging one end of the table, and then striking them with a player's hand, heel, fingers, or whole-hand slap, but no other body parts or striking aids can be used, and the table can't be shifted by the shooting motion. Shots are made separately, down a clear table (other riders and hazards removed). The moment a player shoots, the coin keeper (judge and bet holder for the game) twists the bar to flip the hazard pan, spilling the hazards onto the table to bounce at random, as obstacles to the moving rider. A player is allowed to observe the arrangement of hazards on the pan before placing and shooting his rider.

A hardrider table of less than six feet long is rare, and twelve-foot tables are popular. The Dragon's tables are all ten feet long.


Essentially darts played with thrown knives, participants must throw from a marked circle at a well-lit target on the wall, and they are only allowed to draw their weapons while in the circle. Most matches are "best strike" or "forty-four" (reaching a scoring total of forty-four points by hitting areas marked as worth a particular number of points).

Zzar Wrestling

As the name suggests, this often-amusing sport is wrestling wherein all participants and the bowl they fight in are coated with sticky zzar (a strong alcoholic beverage that tastes of almonds). The scantily-clad combatants are often males and females hired for their looks. Matches are fought in a smooth-finished stone bowl about ten feet across. The object is to force the opponent's hand to touch a brightly-painted circle. Faces (and long hair) are protected inside war-helms. Matches might be first-touch, best of three, or in teams to be the first to score a total (usually nine).

Elminster's Notes

Know ye that the Waterdeep Watch is very reluctant to allow beast-fights since several evil wizards magically forced humans into beast-shape, their crimes being discovered only after death in the cage-ring. Oh, aye, one more thing: I won at zzar wrestling once. It took days to get it out of my beard, but Storm's hair was worse for far longer. I "surprised her," she said.

Elminster's Guide to the Realms