The Sage: Rescuing a lost Blackmoor Character Class

Author: DHBoggs /

Tucked in the back of TSR's Supplement II Blackmoor is a curious expansion on the sage NPC.  It's curious because this section contains quite a bit of detailed information about an NPC type who's only function would be as a one off hire to research an answer to some obscure question the PC's might have once or twice in a campaign.  None of the other specialist hirelings are treated this way, and there really is no practical reason any of them should be. 

This detailed expansion of the Sage NPC is unusual, and seems even stranger when you consider that the sage's main function, researching obscure questions, is also well within the purview of Magic-users.  Use of a sage must surely be rare in most campaigns, so why is the sage, and only the sage, singled out for a detailed write-up in the Blackmoor Supplement?

When discussing his work on Supplement II Blackmoor in his Dragonsfoote Q & A forum, editor Tim Kask reveals that he cut sections of the material Arneson had written ("I said to hell with that and threw most of the crap away").  Kask considered the discarded material to be redundant or non-conforming to the rules of D&D.  Some other portions of Arneson's manuscript weren't discarde, but were reworked by Kask for the same reason. In particular, Kask has pointed to the Assassin and the Sage as being reworked in this regard.

Kask thought the Assassin was "more suited to be an NPC, but was overruled."  With the Sage in Supplement II, however, he appears to have not been overruled.

Arneson considered "sage" to be a player character class, not just an NPC, at least in the case of the Special Interests section of the FFC.  Notice the class list Arneson gives in th SI section:


This list is particularly interesting regarding the dating of the Special Interests section.  It is abundantly evident from the content throughout the piece that the section was written after the January 1974 publication of D&D, but exactly when is more difficult to ascertain.  The class list however provides some solid ground to reason from.  In addition to the three original classes, the list contains the Paladin from, Supplement I Greyhawk, (January 1975) the Ranger (Strategic Review #2, Summer 1975).  Tacked on to the end are the 3 "classes" associated with Blackmoor.  

Setting those last 3 aside for the moment and looking specifically at Fighting man to Paladin in the SI list, we find what would be an up to date player character class list for the summer/fall of '75, except that the "Thief" from Supplement I is missing.

In his Corner of the Table newsletter for August of 1975, Arneson informs the readers that he has just completed months of work on Supplement II.  Supplement II, of course contains 2 of the 3 "Blackmoor" classes on the end of the SI list - the Assassin and Sage - so only Merchant is missing from the material TSR published up to that time.

It seems quite probable, therefore, that the Special Interests section was among the material Arneson wrote that summer, which Kask subsequently considered unfit for publication in Supplement II.  This isn't so surprising, as the SI section substantially changes the rules for experience points.  Kask may well have thought it too rule-bending to be published as official material.  The Merchant class seems also not to have survived the editorial process.  

The fact that Thief is missing from Arneson's SI class list suggest that Arneson may have considered Thieves and Assassins to be equivalents, or perhaps he considered Theives to be a subclass of Assassin (instead of the reverse) or perhaps a replacement. 

Whatever the case with Assassin and Merchant, the reason the Sage gets such oddly detailed treatment in Supplement II would seem to be that Kask took what was intended to be a class and turned it into an NPC because he didn't think it was a suitable class.

That means that, theoretically, one could cut away all the text specifically discussing the details of hiring a Sage, and be left, more or less, with the specifics unique to the class, to a greater or lesser degree as Arneson originally wrote it.

Before we begin this exercise, we should ask why Arneson created a sage class in the first place.  The adventuring "Sage" isn't exactly an obvious  literary archetype, unlike the Assassin (hello Assasins of Gor ) but, just as with the Cleric and the Merchant, we do have a well established character in Blackmoor who could well have served as the model for a Sage character class.  That character would be David Megarry's Scholaress.  

The "Earl's Scholaress" began life as a pre-D&D character of what we would now think of as the Fighter class, being neither Priest or Wizard and being well armed.  In one particular adventure the "Scholar" character used a magical bracelet to change into a basilisk (female), and much to his chagrin, found himself a herself upon changing back to human.  Thereafter, the Scholaress increasingly researched and used magic.  

At one point after the rules of D&D were available, Dave Arneson had the Scholaress progress as a Magic user for XP purposes, and allowed her use what David Megarry characterized as "non-weapon" spells, as shown in the illustration below from Mr. Megarry's chemistry notebook.

The Scholaress was a magic user, but she was a magic user who had a limited spell repertoire and who wore armor and used swords.  The Scholaress, for all intents and purposes was a new subclass of MU.

Of course I can't know if the Scholaress was really the inspiration for Arneson's sage, but for now, let's assume so.

Making this assumption allows us to recreate the Blackmoor sage as a subclass of Magic-user, drawing on the information left in Supplement II when you cut a way all the NPC hiring details and just look at class specifics.  This subclass has limited spells, but can wear armor - an idea that would seem to have some appeal.  Have a look and feel free to comment:

The Blackmoor Sage

 Sages are a type of Magic-user who are members of a very powerful Guild dedicated to the study of knowledge.  

Each sage will have at least one category of specialization.  Sages with a higher Intelligence score (see below) may pick between being exceptional in one category or average in two.  Sages with an intelligence of 18 will have all three categories thoroughly studied.

These basic categories are:

1. Living Things and their History
2. Supernatural and Metaphysical Things
3. The Physical Universe

Each basic category covers a wide variety or related topics.  Although they are far too numerous to give in complete detail, a sampling is:

Living Things

The table of below indicates the chance which the sage has of being able to answer any given question within their category of knowledge. Each time a question is asked of the sage the referee will roll the percentile dice. A score of less than or equal to the base number, with bonuses and penalties considered, will indicate that the sage is able to give a relatively accurate answer.

Any question outside of the Sage's category of specialization are treated as below average knowledge and thus given a base 20% chance of success.

Subjective adjustments will be made by the referee for the relative difficulty of the question based on the overall setting for his campaign and general knowledge appropriate to the setting.

Very difficult questions will require time, for the sage must consult their various books and such, work in their laboratory, and so on.  Time can range from one day to many weeks, depending on the difficulty of determining an answer — providing one can ever be found — and funding of the study might be required by the referee.

Sage Intelligence
Sage is
Chance to Know Answer
below average
exceptionally knowledgeable
average with 2 categories
exceptional with 2 categories
average with 3 categories
exceptional with 3 categories

Add 5% to chances if a library is readily available.

For every 50,000 gold pieces spent in equipping a sage, from 1–10% will be added to his base score, subject to a maximum of 50%. Note that the referee will not reveal when this maximum is reached. For every 100,000 gold pieces spent on areas outside the sage’s basic category there is a 25% (cumulative) chance that he will be able to add the category to his knowledge; thus a sage can be brought to know all three categories with an expenditure of 800,000 gold pieces. There is a slight drawback other than cost, and doing so will raise the Sage's Intelligence score accordingly.  The Sage must spend an average of one month of study time in order to assimilate/employ an investment expenditure of 10,000 gold pieces, either in order to increase his base score or the fields of knowledge.

Sages do not learn "weapon" spells, that is spells like Fireball, that cause offensive damage.  All other spells are open for them to learn exactly as with any type of Magic-user.  As a consequence, Sages rely on spells to a far lesser extent than other Magic-users, and will frequently be found to wear armor and carry metal weapons when adventuring.  As with all Magic-users, these martial accouterments must be removed for safe spell casting, but since sages almost never cast spells in combat, it is rarely an issue for them.

Sages are able to cast curses when close to death or dying. The power of the curse depends upon the knowledgeability of the Sage. A very low-level one might curse a person so that all of his teeth fell out, while a very high-level one could curse you so as to never be able to make a saving throw again!  A normal curse removal would not work to remove a sage’s curse, but some form of Cleric assigned quest might.

Secrets of the Not-Dalluhn Manuscript

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

The Beyond This Point be Dragons manuscript has had an interesting history in the OSR community, a history marked both with fascinating revelations and, at times senseless posturing.  It has stirred up controversy and continues to generate interesting discussion.

My part in all this began in September of 2010, when I was contacted by Keith Dalluhn, and asked to make heads or tails of his copy, and ascertain whether it had a direct connection to Dave Arneson, as he suspected.  Keith must be credited for being the first to try to bring BTPbD to the attention of the gaming community.  He was also first to study the manuscript and write up his findings.  In turn, I worked off and on on BTPbD for a year before writing up a preliminary report for Keith (that formed the basis of my 2012 blog series).  I came to the conclusion that BTPbD was a dead end fork in the history of D&D drafts, a "cross draft" if you will, and the only record of such a draft I knew of was one Arneson had claimed to have made.  That identification seemed to be corroborated by the apparently similarity of the internal art, to Arneson's sketches, and certain internal references whose only analogs were in the FFC.  At that point, I had really only systematically gone through the section of playing tables for my 'blog posts, but planed to write a similar reports for the remaining text sections.  Work on that was delayed by a project I thought to be of greater importance - Champions of ZED.  It's all well and good to write papers talking about data, but what are you going to do with that data?  The Beyond This Point be Dragons manuscript held many intriguing ideas, methods, and assumptions about how to play our favorite game, and these deserved to be brought into the light and promoted.  Thus the idea of Champions of ZED was born as a way to preserve the gaming goodness of BTPbD and ultimately of many such rare bits of gaming goodness from other scattered and obscure places.  Working on CoZ in 2011 didn't leave a lot of time for working on analysis papers.

Early in 2012 Jon Peterson started his Playing at the World blog. We didn't circulate in the same circles and I had never heard of him before then, but it was clear he was some kind of collector with access to a lot of material researchers such as myself didn't have.  So I sent him a collegial email, and eventually a copy of the BTPbD manuscript.  After a little convincing on my part that it was indeed a "real" draft, Jon soon began his own, very detailed study, which pretty much freed me up to concentrate on CoZ and other matters.  Jon's thoughts were often at variance with my own, but ultimately, as often happens, he too was right about some of his conclusions (the editor was not Arneson and he didn't draw the art), and not so right about others (It wasn't a Gygax edited draft).   In any case, Jon decided early to drop the "Beyond This Point be Dragons" moniker and begin calling it the "Dalluhn" manuscript.  His publicly stated reasons for doing so involved a puzzling argument about a paperclip stain.

That winding journey brings us to now.  We have learned that Mark Bufkin, a player in a splinter group run by of one of Dave Arneson's players, was the man responsible for putting together the Beyond This Point be Dragons manuscript, and that Beyond This Point be Dragons was indeed the title he intended for the work.  There's no need to be coy about the title anymore and indeed it is disrespectful to the late Mr. Bufkin to change Beyond This Point be Dragons to anything else.  One might reasonably refer to the particular, incomplete photocopy recovered by Keith Dalluhn from M. A. R. Barker as the "Dalluhn" manuscript, but not to the more complete work as we now have it.

So what do we have now?

There are three key items:
- A handwritten outline
- A series of maps
- A typed and illustrated manuscript including a previously missing page.

The outline, we have already discussed HERE, so lets move on to the maps and manuscript starting with the latter first, but it will be useful here at least to again post a picture of it.

According to the outline, the following sections were planned, but were never written or perhaps were lost.

An Introduction
The Spiritual Life
And Other Creatures
For The Referee

Moving  on to the text we do have, one of the first things to note is that we got the whole thing wrong.  Okay, I got the whole thing wrong.  I was the first one to break BTPbD into two "books" based on the page count and the order of the text as it was to be found in the pdf Keith Dalluhn made.

So, per the pdf, Book 1 consists of the Title Page (Beyond this Point be Dragons) followed by the "Playing Tables" on pages 2 - 17, and the "Glossary of Terms, pages 18 - 32.

Next comes "Book II".  The first page is a full illustration labeled "Before Setting out for Fame and Fortune". Pages 2 - 29 consist of the rules of the game  (see identical breakdown below).  Page 29, as discussed way back when, ends in mid sentence within the "Baron and the Lord" section.

Mark Bufkin, organized his text differently, as one could infer from the handwritten outline shown above.  Beyond this Point be Dragons is actually organized as follows:

Title Page (Beyond this Point be Dragons)
Before Setting Out to Fame and Fortune - pages 1 - 8
The Underworld -pp 9 - 14
The Upper World - pp 15 - 21
Melees and Combat - pp 22 - 25
The Rewards of Success - 26 - 29

Following page 29, BTPbD picks up directly with "The Playing Tables" page 2 - 17, and the "Glossary of Terms, pages 18 - 32.   The document ends with page 32 and this illustration.

For this second section, it's clear that some kind of title page was intended.  I believe it quite likely that this was the "For the Referee" section indicated in the outline.  If this is correct, the missing title page would have said "For the Referee" underneath some illustration, as is the case with the other section pages found in the document.

So rather than being organized into two books, beginning with the tables and ending with the rules, Bufkin actually began with the rules and included a second section, Which I will suggest was intended "For the Referee", consisting of tables and a glossary and ending on the page shown above.

To avoid confusion with earlier references to Book I and Book II, I will simply call the tables and glossary section the "addendum" and all other references will be to the main text.

Mark Bufkin's BTPbD manuscript also contains a page that was missing in the manuscript recovered by Keith Dalluhn.   This is page 22 in the spell description section and it contains the text description for the following spells: Conjure Elemental, Move Earth, Transmute Rock to Mud, Wall of Stone, Wall of Iron, Animate Dead, Magic Jar, Contact Higher Plane, and The Glittering Eye.  Here is a sample:

Another page seemingly missing from the BTPbD text is the map,  Mr Bufkin seems to have enjoyed drawing maps - Heather Bufkin sent me one file with nearly a dozen of them in various states of completion.  Several of these maps have places labeled "Cylorn" or "Lalkel" - place names the text in BTPbD mentions in conjunction with the missing map.  However, despite the similarity of place names these maps are usually very different.  One of these maps - shown below - conforms to the text description significantly better than the others, and may well be the map intended for inclusion with BTPbD.  It is unfinished, as can be seen.

In addition to these maps, there are a number of partially keyed (simple descriptions) maps of building and dungeon levels, which include references to people and places mentioned in the BTPbD text, such as the manor house and dungeon of Brysbane the Blue (p2).  That particular document is illustrated with the pencil sketch versions of two of the BTPbD illustrations (Rewards of Success and opening the dungeon door.)  Note that although nearly identical, these are not the same drawings that appear in the manuscript.  Here is one for comparison;

As it stands, we don't have the last few sentences of the "The Baron and the Lord" section of page 29, or those last couple sections in the outline.  It seems likely these were never written, but who knows?  Perhaps something will turn up.  Even though not quite complete, the Beyond This Point be Dragons manuscript and related material provides us with a fascinating glimpse into the gaming world evolving around and from the Twin Cities circle of gamers around the time D&D was published, and it illustrates what one gamer with a little creativity could do with a draft copy of the rules.  It is a remarkable work.

A pdf of the Mark Bufkin copy of Beyond this Point be Dragons and other materials is available to subscribers on my Patreon site. (HERE)

Tonisborg Dungeon, Part III - Stocking

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , , ,

For many, the nuts and bolts of how Tonisborg was stocked is sure to be the most anticipated part of our analysis.  It gets at the heart of what a dungeon was imagined to be by a member of the inner circle of Twin Cities players at the dawn of the game.

The forums are replete with post - some I have participated in myself - about how much treasure there should be, or how many empty to inhabited rooms there should be, and so on. 


The empty to inhabited rooms ratio is particularly interesting.  In OD&D, the directions given in Volume III are "Roll the die for every room or space not already allocated. A roll of a 1 or 2 indicates that there is some monster there". (Underworld &Wilderness Adventure, 1974:7)

That leaves only 1/3 of the rooms inhabited with a monster, though traps or treasures may be in other rooms.  Looking at Tonisborg, we see that on the first level, only room 12 isn't keyed, but that appears to be more of an oversight than a deliberate choice. However, on levels 2 through 9 there are no numbered but uninhabited rooms.  Mr. Svenson only numbered rooms that had monsters in them.  There are no trap rooms and no empty but numbered rooms.  More than that, there really are very few un-numbered room spaces on any of the levels.  Usually, any space big enough to be considered a room was numbered and given a monster.  It is apparent that Greg Svenson  was not following the D&D rule that only 1/3 of the rooms on every level of the dungeon will have a monster.


It is also evident that Mr. Svenson did not follow the Monster to treasure ratio rule found on the same page of the Underworld &Wilderness Adventure D&D booklet.  This rule holds that of 50% (half) the monster inhabited rooms have treasure, the other half does not.  

Each level of Tonisborg dungeon has a little different percentages of treasureless rooms, ranging from 50% to only 6%.  The average percent of monsters having a treasure is close to 78%.  There is no reason to think these percentages were intentional.  In fact they are merely the natural result of rolling on the Treasure Types tables found in the Volume II Monsters and Treasure booklet, pages 3-4. (1974).  Those tables - a snippet of which is shown below - give a percentage chance for various treasure items.  It is entirely possible to roll across those tables and come up empty, having missed the needed percentage chance with each roll.

It is often said that OD&D dungeons were "intended" to be stocked with treasure that was either hand picked by the DM or determined using the "Level Beneath the Surface" table found on page 7 of Vol. III Underworld &Wilderness Adventure booklet of the 1974 D&D rules.  The "Treasure Types" A through I listed with each monster, were intended, it is said, only for so called "wilderness lairs".  I've argued (Within my Article Here) that this idea is nonsense, and that in fact, the Treasure Types were originally intended to be used in dungeons too. 

So it is of some interest to see what method Mr Svenson used in 1974.  We can rule out the Level Beneath the Surface table shown below rather quickly, because those LBS treasures always contain silver and never contain copper and that is clearly not the case with Tonisborg.   

However, when we turn to the Treasure Type tables and look at the treasures each type of monster could have, we find a very strong correlation to the actual treasures in Tonisborg.  For Tonisborg, Greg Svenson very definitely used the Treasure Type Tables, and never used the Level Below the Surface treasure table.  Most of the treasures conform to the Treasure Type exactly as expected, although there are a few anomalies like the ghoul on level 1 who somehow got 6800 silver instead of 6000 or 7000 silver, and 500 gold instead of 5000, but the treasures of the various creatures clearly fall in the ranges of the their particular Treasure Type and not any other scheme.  In this respect Svenson is once again falling in lockstep with Dave Arneson, who as shown in the article linked above, also relied on the Treasure Type tables when stalking Blackmoor dungeon in 1976 for convention play. 

One interesting thing to note regarding Svenson's use of the Treasure Types is his interpretation of the phrase "any #" appearing in the Maps or Magic items column.  To explain, the Magic or Maps column of Treasure Type E reads "30% any 3 + 1 scroll".  It's not exactly clear whether that means you role percentiles three times, and if any of those is less than 30% you get an item, or if you roll once, and you get 3 items if you get less than 30%,  Today, the latter method seems to be the most common understanding, but Svenson must have used the first method to obtain the results we see in the Tonisborg stocking list.  

For example, in one instance he had a room with wraiths, which according to the book have Treasure Type E.  Type E has 10% chance of 1000-10000 copper pieces, 30% 1000-12000 silver pieces, 25% 1000-8000 gold pieces, 10% 1-10 gems, 10% 1-10 Jewels, and "30% any 3 + 1 scroll".  The actual treasure of the wraiths in this case was:

12000sp, 3000gp, 10 Magic arrows, Scroll of M. Protection.

So only one of "any 3" possible magic items was awarded, along with 1 scroll.


One feature of Tonisborg dungeon that is somewhat clearer is how the monsters were chosen.  On page 10 of Vol. III is a " MONSTER DETERMINATION AND LEVEL OF MONSTER MATRIX" table followed by a grouping of monsters into 6 "Monster Levels".

The Tonisborg stocking lists conform to this method and it appears that Mr. Svenson was using these "MONSTER DETERMINATION AND LEVEL OF MONSTER MATRIX" tables - or something like them.  The issue is that there are several 1974 D&D monsters present in Svenson's key that do not appear in the Monster Level tables, including elves and grey ooze.  Presumably, someone, perhaps Greg himself or Dave Arneson, had revised these tables to include a few missing monsters.


The monster numbers appearing also look as though they were drawn directly from the 1974 D&D booklets.  These almost always fall within the ranges given in the MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE on page 3 of Vol 2.  This is the same table indicating the Treasure Types.  

There are however a few notable exceptions - such as a room with "only" 12 goblins.  Possibly Mr Svenson was merely rolling what he felt was an appropriate die - like a d6 for giants and a d20 for goblins.  Most of the monsters on the MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE have a Number Appearing range that would easily fall in the common D&D dice ranges, making it difficult to tell if this table was consulted or if the numbers happen to coincide from random rolls.


Original Dungeons & Dragons Volume III (page 6) recommends a number of tricks and trap that apparently have a lot to do with Gary Gygax's vision of a dungeon.  These include transporter rooms, shifting walls, sinking floors, trap steps, illusion rooms and maze like coiling corridors with door after door.  Tonisborg dungeon appears to have none of these exotica.  The key says nothing of traps or tricks at all.  However, Tonisborg is not totally devoid of such things.  There are plenty of secret doors, trap doors with ladders, and open shafts.  There is that mysterious note about the plate armor holding a sword, a few areas of natural cavern, and at least one pit trap marked on Level 10.


Going through this as we have, reveals a dungeon that partially conforms to the conventions of what a D&D dungeon is supposed to be "by the book", and partially does not in crucial ways.  Tonisborg reveals what at least one dungeon of the time actually was like.  We see virtually no attention paid to the guidelines presented in the D&D booklets, but a fairly strict adherence to random rolling on the tables found therein, with some creative adaptations - just as with the levels 1-6 in Arneson's convention version of Blackmoor dungeon.  We see a complex arrangement of passages, corridors, secret doors and stairwells, making the dungeon itself a exploratory puzzle.  Tonisborg is a Twin Cities dungeon, created by one of the central figures at the center of the development of D&D.  It is a historical treasure, and we are working to make it available for all to enjoy and ponder over.  Stay tuned and game on.

Tonisborg Part II

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

Now that we've established some of the history, our next couple posts are going to look more at the nuts and bolts of the dungeon.

I mentioned earlier that the stocking list might not be the original list. There is some reason to think the list may have been re-made after the "new" D&D rules booklets came out in an effort to conform.  In fact this seems the best explanation of the facts at hand.

The clues to this earlier stocking list are small notes here and there on the maps.  These notes are part of the photocopy, and so were written on the original graph paper.  As such, they are often very difficult to read, but what can be deciphered resembles exactly the kind of pre-D&D gaming terminology we see in the Twin Cities, while evidencing no hint of elements from published D&D.  

For example, on both Levels 1 and 2, there is a room with a note "12 per door".  That may be a requirement to roll 2 dice to open the door, with a very low chance of success.  

This same area on Level 2 has 3 heroes and a very unD&D like light cannon.  

Another note on level 2 has an apparently animate guard consisting of "Plate(mail?) holding sword".

There are only a few notes like this, but nevertheless these little hints are fascinating windows into a pre D&D, Twin Cities dungeon set in Blackmoor.  

Level 10 has two especially interesting examples of these "nonD&D" map notes, and in this case they seem to have been re-written on the copies.  One reads "Sp. evil area Statue 2 perm wishes and 20 temps".  

The first thing we should observe is that there is no rule in D&D about "temporary" wishes,  nor are there things called "evil areas".  "Sp" probably is meant to mean "special power", a term regular readers of this blog will recognize as occurring sometimes in FFC notes.  

In fact this whole "evil area" phrase in Tonisborg is not at all unique to Greg Svenson.  A very interesting, if equally vague echo, is found in the FFC for Arneson's  Blackmoor dungeon.  In the key for Blackmoor dungeon level 5, room 18, it reads:   "Evil area, 2 permanent, 20 wishes".

As can be seen, the wording is nearly identical, with the added clarification in Tonisborg that the 20 other wishes were not permanent.

This tells us two really interesting things: first, that these ideas of temporary wishes and evil areas were established features of gameplay in the Twin Cites.  These are part and parcel of the pre D&D game.  Second, despite the fact that levels 1-6 of Blackmoor Dungeon as published in the FFC were stocked randomly using the D&D tables in Monsters & Treasures (see this post for an explanation), in the few places in Blackmoor dungeon levels 1-6 we see notations from Arneson, at least some of those notes stem from an older stocking list.

The other example from level 10 I want to mention here is a note regarding what must have been the boss creature of the level.  It is called the Ylth'yl, a name unknown to D&D.  Ylth'yl, whatever exactly it may have been, was taken from the pages of a book by Gardner Fox published in 1964 and titled Escape Across The Cosmos.  In that book, the Ylth'yl is an evil energy creature, that bears some resemblance to both the mysterious gaurdian creature of the Temple of ID, described in the FFC, and the Invisible Stalker of D&D.  

The appearance of this creature here helps us solve another mystery.  If you will recall from our discussions of David Megarry's early character sheets, one of his favorite characters, The Scholaress, met her fate in Tonisborg dungeon, fighting a 7 headed hydra.  The picture below shows the bottom of the Scholaress character sheet showing her kill record.

Take note of the area of scratched out green felt.  The words scratched out really puzzled me, but now it is quite clear the bottom word is Ylth'yl.  It may read Killed by Ylth'yl, but perhaps, like the temple of the ID monster, the Ylth'yl doesn't kill, instead it knock out and transports a character  somewhere.  In any case it seems the Scholaress encountered the Ylth'yl at least once in Tonisborg.

Since the origin of the Ylth'yl predates even Blackmoor, this monster is of no help for dating, but does hint at an earlier non-D&D stocking key.  Unfortunately, Level 10 of Tonisborg is the one level for which no handwritten key was put on the map.
We must consider the possibility that the whole purpose behind making the map photocopies on oversized paper in the first place was to provide a blank slate for an entirely new key in order to update the dungeon to the newly released D&D rules.  Perhaps this update had only reached level 9 by the time Megarry got the maps, and perhaps Level 10 was never in fact restocked.

Some other Map features:

It's not just the line mentioned above about evil area and permanent wishes that resembles Blackmoor dungeon.  Its abundantly clear that Mr. Svenson was well familiar with Dave Arneson's dungeon maps and did his best to emulate that style.  The resemblance is unmistakable, and suggests that Mr. Svenson may have had copies of the Blackmoor dungeon maps at hand.  Here are two snippets to compare:

Blackmoor Dungeon Level 7:

Tonisborg Dungeon Level 3:

In the sample shown above, it is obvious certain sections were gone over with color markers.  Mr Megarry explained that he had done this in order to make seperate sections distinct: "I added the coloration. The brown are areas reached from the main staircase without going through a secret door; the green are areas can only be reached by going through a secret door; the orange are areas that are reached by up or down staircases."

There are 10 levels - just like Blackmoor dungeon.  Each sheet of 11" * 17" paper has one dungeon level.  The levels themselves were originally drawn on standard 8.5" 11" three-hole graph paper.  All of the sheets have a key written in pen on the side of the map except for Level 10, which was perhaps, never completed in a form that was compatible with the standards of the 1974 D&D booklets.

In mimicking the stylistic look of Blackmoor dungeon, Tonisborg also replicates one of it's most impressive features, it's linear and vertical complexity.  It is particularly amazing to realize these dungeons were created before 1974, whereas the dungeons that followed in their wake were generally simple block and corridor affairs with a single stair or two down to the next level.  Tonisborg has multiple sections on a single level, with a veritable maze of stairs and trap doors connecting multiple levels.  This dungeon, like Blackmoor, isn't just about finding monsters and looting treasure, it is simultaneously an exploration puzzle, whose secrets could take many expeditions, and careful mapping, to unravel.

In our next post, we will discuss the details of the stocking method and contents of Tonisborg dungeon.

The Lost Dungeon of Tonisborg

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

For D&D archaeologists, Tonisborg is like the lost city of Atlantis. Hints and whispers of this very early Blackmoor spin off have excited the imagination of researchers for decades.  

Of course, it was inevitable that the game that became Dungeons & Dragons would spread beyond the confines of Blackmoor and Greyhawk.  It didn't take long for some of those among the pool of original players, to begin developing their own dungeon lairs, following the examples of their mentor, either Arneson or Gygax.  Rob Kuntz's Castle El Raja Key is perhaps the best known example, but there is also Tonisborg, from one of the central Twin Cities players; a megadungeon which held the promise of shedding light on early Blackmoor gaming.  Tonisborg was the brainchild of Greg Svenson, who started playing with Arneson and co. when he was still in High School in 1969, and is best known to D&D fans as the creator of the iconic "Great Svenny" character.

"I built a city, called Tonisborg, complete with a dungeon and a network of catacombs, during 1973 and ran many adventures there and all around the Blackmoor area in 1973 and 1974 using the play test rules for the original three little books and then the published books. Tonisborg was located approximately where Vestfold is on the current Blackmoor area maps, for anyone who is interested.

I loaned my materials to one of the other guys in 1980 so he could run an adventure for a new gaming group and never saw them again. He just said he lost them. Oh well..."

Greg Svenson, Odd74 web forum, Feb 11, 2008 at 12:34pm

Greg rather politely left out the details, but David Megarry confessed to what actually happened:

"Yes, Megarry is responsible for losing the 2nd dungeon made in Minnesota. Greg moved to Boston while I was living there; in fact, we drove his moving truck from Minnesota to Massachusetts together. I was working at a copy center in the Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA. I took his copy to make a copy after visiting him and put it into a magazine at the house I was staying at to make sure I didn't bend or fold the pages. I worked 3rd shift so I went to bed. When I got up and went to get the magazines, I find that the cleaning lady for the house had thrown out the magazines and it just so happened that it was garbage pick up day: gone, gone, gone with no chance of redemption. It was painful to tell Greg that his creation was lost to eternity."

 Lost and gone forever.... That's how the story went.  Personally, I held out some hope that something of Tonisborg might one day turn up in a a dusty box from someone's basement.  David Megarry did in fact pull some dusty old maps out of a box to show to Griffith Morgan, director of the forthcoming Secrets of Blackmoor documentary.  Mr. Morgan wondered if at least some of those maps might be Tonisborg, but it wasn't until November that Mr. Megarry shared complete scans of his mystery maps with me.  Among them was a set that looked an awful lot like the types of maps Dave Arneson drew, however hese maps - photocopies of photocopies - had handwritten keys that everyone agreed was not in Arneson's hand.  

Looking at the maps - image courtesy of Secrets of Blackmoor, c2018

Even so, this particular set of maps looked so close in style to Arneson's dungeon, I felt they had to either be something he drew and someone else keyed in or they were drawn by somebody intimately familiar with the halls and corridors of Blackmoor Dungeon, who then used that familiarity as a model.  Like Girffith Morgan, I thought Tonisborg seemed the obvious candidate to explain these maps, but David Megarry was certain Tonisborg was forever lost in a Boston landfill. Nevertheless, while I had no doubt the originals of Tonisberg were indeed lost I wondered if these were photocopies of Tonisberg that had been somehow forgotten.

I sent a couple scans to Greg Svenson.  I told him only that we had these unknown maps and asked if he recognized the handwriting.  His response was a bombshell "That is my hand writing.  Those are my long lost maps.  I had created dungeons for the city of Tonisborg,.." (pers. comm 2017).

And so Tonisborg lives again.  At some point, we will be making the complete dungeon available, but here I just want to talk about some of its features, and how that relates to both Blackmoor and D&D.

According to Greg's recollection, he created the maps for Tonisborg in 1973, "the... summer when I was living with John and Richard Snider and Bob Meyer". (Svenson, Pers. Comm 2017)

It is clear that the maps that Mr. Megarry turned up are photocopies, not originals.  In fact they look to be photocopies of a photocopy, though that is a lot harder to tell.  Megarry worked at a copy center in Boston, but says, "They... don't meet the copy center quality standards, so I did not do the copying. I got these maps from someone else earlier..." (Pers comm 2017)

These maps are copies of originals that come from 1973, yet being copies, they also introduce elements from later dates.... What then is the date of these particular copies?  For that we need to note several important facts.

First, these copies were made on legal sized paper, presumably to leave room at the margins for the hand written stocking notes which appear on every page.

Second, the hand written stocking notes are in pen, written on the photocopies, in Greg Svenson's hand.  This is most clearly seen here, where an unfortunate water stain has washed out the ink.

This means that these maps were copies prepared by Svenson at some point.  It also means that the stocking list can't be taken automatically to be the original one from 1973.  It might be the same, almost the same or it might be completely redone.  

One aspect apparent about these notes, is a number of changes and corrections.  For example, on level 1, rooms 4 and 6 are switched in the key, and room 20 & 21 are squeezed in under the listing for room 3 to include them as part of a "priests" lair.  Whereas room 22 on the bottom of the list with its Giant Ants monster is crossed out.  

We see corrections of this sort throughout the levels.  These could be copying errors.  It's easy, as any student of the text criticism of handwritten documents can attest, to skip or mix lines when copying, especially if the original is a messy working document.  That may explain why numbers and so forth are sometimes switched.  

It could also simply be a case of changes and corrections being made at the point of initial creation or alternatively, Mr. Svenson may have been using and marking these photocopies as a working copy of his dungeon for at least a short while.

Further clues to the age of the stocking list can be found within the list in the specific types of Monsters and Treasures.

The Monsters:

Reading through the handwritten room keys for levels 1-9, all monsters are exclusively found in the 1974 D&D booklets with one interesting exception: the wererat.  Perhaps unfortunately for us, the wererat is not a particularly good dating  indicator.  This monster first appears in printed D&D in Greyhawk Supplement I (1975), but we can't then jump to the conclusion that the presence of this, and only this particular Greyhawk monster indicates a stocking date post Greyhawk.  Wererat is, after all, kind of an obvious addition to the existing collection of werecreatures in 1974 D&D, and furthermore, were rats of some sort show up in Fritz Leiber's books in 1968.  Leiber's writings, of course, were well known among the Twin Cities gamers, and so we must recognize the very real possibility that Leiber, rather than Greyhawk is the source in this case.  

Another feature regarding the relevance of the Greyhawk Supplement is a point of conspicuous absence.  Among the "monsters" in the list are fighters, magic-users and "priests".  There are no thieves, no footpads, no Paladins.  In fact none of the other monsters or characters introduced in Greyhawk can be found in Tonisborg.  

It is not like Greg Svenson to be particularly game conservative.  He has, and he continues to happily play whatever the latest version is.  This absence of the 1975 Greyhawk Supplemment I monster material is therefore very suggestive.  On balance, the monsters of the stocking list seems to pre-date Greyhawk, or at least, to owe it no debt. 

The Magic Items:

Our next clues for dating the stocking list are perhaps even more telling.  There is not a single magic item from Greyhawk, or indeed from any source except the Magic and Treasure booklet of 1974 D&D.  

Furthermore, it also appears we can rule out early D&D drafts as the source, working on the assumption that the Beyond This Point be Dragons re-edit of the 1973 "Guidon" D&D draft accurately reflects its magic item contents, as I believe it does. 

On level 3 of the Tonisborg stocking list, there is a "+1 dagger (+2 vs. Gob, Kob)".  That matches a dagger in the 1974 D&D print - it says "Dagger +1 vs. Man-Sized Opponents, +2 vs. Goblins and Kobolds" whereas the BTPbD version has "Dagger +1 vs. Man-Sized Opponents, +2 vs. Goblins".  Notice this earlier version lacks Kobolds.  Another example is a Cloak of Displacement found on Level 7.  That item does not appear in the BTPbD magic item list at all, but it is in first print D&D.  

So it appears we are talking about terminus post quem of January 1974 for the stocking list.   Termnus ante quem is indeterminate, of course, but it seems unlikely Greg Svenson would have failed to include items from Supplemment I Greyhawk (1975) if he had that booklet at the time he created this list.  Therefore it is safe enough to say the internal evidence of the stocking list, dates it to the 1970's, with a likelihood of 1974.

That's the internal evidence, but we've also got some external evidence to consider.  

Contextual Evidence:

David Megarry actually moved to Boston twice.  First in January of 1974, leaving in 1976 to go work at TSR in Lake Geneva, and a second time in 1977, living there until 1980.  It was of course during the second stay that Greg Svenson's maps were tossed out by the cleaning lady.

Anecdotally, Mr Megarry relates a vague memory of having received the photocopies we now have while standing at the bottom of the stairs in Dave Arneson's basement, along with an apology for there not having been time to complete the stocking of Level 10.  If this is an accurate memory, it would seem to indicate that he received the photocopied maps very shortly before leaving.  

The copies we have were found in a box of papers David Megarry had boxed up during his first stay in Boston ('74-'76).  David Megarry told me "I did not have the current copy with me when I was in Boston the second time. It was in a file box at my family's home in St. Paul. I eventually got all my stuff co-located with me when I came back to Minneapolis in 1980." (pers. comm 2017)

Then, just recently, Mr Megarry informed me he found a letter he wrote to Gary Gygax, dated 2 January 1975 from Boston...

"...I am now a member of the MIT Strategic Games Society. They already have most of the wargames in existence though they are weak on campaigns as such. Mostly they just play games that have an ending. Dungeons and Dragons is there and I am going to introduce the Tonisberg Dungeon made by Greg Svenson to the fantasy referee this Saturday."

Dating Summary:

We can be fairly sure between internal and external evidence, that the copies we are looking at here are those referenced in the letter to Gygax, and that Megarry got them from Svenson (somehow) between January 1974 and the end of December 1974 - probably directly from Svenson just before leaving the Twin Cities in January.  Later these copies were placed into the aforementioned box when Mr. Megarry moved from Boston in 1976, and subsequently forgot he had them.  

So, when in 1980, he lost Greg's originals, both he and Greg thought they were gone for good.  Meanwhile these copies sat quietly in a box for 37 years... 

Next post we will look at some of the features of the megadungeon itself.

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