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.  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.


Melan said...

This is not just fascinating, but also extremely in-depth - thank you for going to the trouble of doing a detailed chronological analysis! I'll be eager to see what more we can learn from this lost MS.

Geoffrey McKinney said...

How many levels does the dungeon have?

How big are the level maps? A single page each? Larger?

What sort of graph paper was used? 4-lines to the inch? 5 lines? 6? Etc.

Thank you very much for this astoundingly good news!

Piper said...

Wow. Just ... wow.

Zenopus Archives said...

Megarry's had a lot of great finds in his archives...!

David A. Wesely said...

Good analysis on the newly-discovered material.

DHBoggs said...

Thanks all. Geoffrey - 10 levels, 9 of them keyed. The graph paper lines are only visible in a few faint places on the photocopies so I'm uncertain of the lines to the inch.

Halenar Frosthelm™, The Perilous Dreamer™ said...

Wow, this is an incredible find. Thank you for sharing this and thanks to Greg and to Dave.

Eric M said...

Great post, but color combo is hard to read.

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