"You have been honored by being chosen treasure seeker to raise the ransom that must be paid to the Golden Dragon who stands guard over the Land of Oon. But first you must face danger from fierce orcs, trolls, hobgoblins, and...what else?" --from the back cover
The Dragon's Ransom, by Laura French, is not one of the best Endless Quest books, but it's close to the top. Something about it really appeals to me, so much so that I've used the basic premise of the book in my own Silverwood Campaign. A dragon guards the land, and while it protects the people, it demands tribute every month. So the local authorities sanction adventuring parties to bring back loot to give to the dragon.
In this book, your character is a 13 year old Cleric named Leondal. You're on your first adventure. You can cast Detect Evil, Command, Remove Fear, and Cure Light Wounds. Of course, as a kid, reading this before I'd seen the AD&D rules where Clerics get spells at first level and bonus spells for high wisdom, I thought young Leondal must have been at least 4th level--but how could this be his first adventure? Anyway, don't worry too much about translating the game mechanics to the story. They don't really follow so well. Both spellcasters can pretty much use any spells at will in the book, but it doesn't hurt the narrative at all.
As Leondal, the very first choice you're given is to set out on your own, or to take along three companions who equal you in age: Drawg the Fighter, Pantel the Thief, and Kyrel the Magic-User. Drawg is big and strong, but dumb. Kyrel is small and weak, but can use Burning Hands and Comprehend Languages at will. Pantel is a skilled Thief, but is reckless and thrill-seeking. The first test of your wisdom--do you need an adventuring party or not?
Well, let's just say that if you don't, you get a surprise from a nasty beastie, or else you go back and take them along after all. The big down-side to the book, might as well get it out of the way now, is that there are lots of choices that are non-choices in this book. You make a choice, and it sends you back to make the other one, or both paths then end with a choice that is identical. This happens quite a lot in this book. Where some EQ books manage to make the adventure feel sandboxy by allowing you to explore and go back, The Dragon's Ransom feels much more railroady, at least for the first half.
On the plus side, though, this is one of the few EQ books I've encountered where you have a proper adventuring party, with all four of the iconic character classes. And while you're just a 13 year old kid and so are your sidekicks, all of you are also competent adventurers. Another plus is that while the first half of the book is quite linear, there are a lot of interesting encounters, including a side-trek to an orc lair where you can either complete your mission, die trying, or decide to give up and continue on to the hobgoblin lair that is your goal.
And the hobgoblin lair (the second half of the book) is pretty interesting. They're busy mining the hillside with their carnivorous ape pets, and the Pech slaves they captured when they took over the mine. This means they've got a lot of treasure, and there are quite a few interesting ways to get that treasure once you're in the lair. There are also some times you bug out with little to no treasure, and a few where you meet your end.
All in all, I really like this book because of the fact that you've got a full adventuring party, your goal is treasure hunting (rather than taking down some BBEG or acquiring some macguffin item), and there are a lot of various D&D monsters to encounter. All in all, it's a very D&D kind of book, even if the spellcasters don't follow the Vancian memorize and forget system of the game.
The art work is good. You've got a decent cover by Clyde Caldwell (although it depicts a scene that isn't in the book). The interior art, by Doug Chaffee, is nicely done. It's detailed, evocative, and really shows the personalities of the four adventurers and their opponents.
Overall, this isn't one of the 'rock stars' of the EQ series, but it's a good solid entry and I really enjoyed it as a kid, and still found it interesting re-reading it as an adult.
Protagonist: A competent but untested young Cleric on his first mission.
Sidekicks: A dumb but strong Fighter, timid but powerful Magic-User, and a reckless but skilled Thief
Endings: A mixed bag. Lots of good endings with little fanfare, quite a few neutral endings, and in the first half especially plenty of bad endings.
Art: Good. Decent, if not quite relevant Caldwell cover, nice interiors by Chaffee.
Overall: Very Good