Tonisborg: The Lost Level of the Lost Dungeon

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

In our first discussion of Tonisborg Here, I mentioned that we had the key for Levels 1-9 written on the side margin of the maps, but for level 10 the key was missing.  We worked under the assumption that the key to level 10 was either lost or never completed in the first place. Well, Mr. Megarry, seemingly an endless font of information, has graced us once again with a treasure from his vaults.  A few months ago he revealed that he had found a faded sheet of yellow legal pad paper, and written in Greg Svenson's hand on the front and back, is the lost key for Tonisborg level 10!

I had just finished creating a set of random tables for stocking level 10, but no matter.  Having the real thing was infinity better. 

Greg's method of stocking Tonisborg shows that he is very conscious of spatial organization despite the random nature of the stocking tables he used.  As M. Griffith - director and creative force behind the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary - observed in one of our emails "Greg... established a theme here which is a very cool concept to see presented so early on. It isn't just a random dungeon, the main story elements have been intentionally placed...."

Throughout the dungeon we see the deliberate placement of monsters in cluster and organized groupings - lairs in other words.  Thus we often find trolls and orcs near to one another, or hydra's and basilisks near wizards, or priests occupying several nearby rooms.  Along these same lines, we see repeated use of certain room labels "bedroom" "study" and so forth - labels that are often also hallmarks of both the Dungeon boardgame and Blackmoor dungeon, but that really is a subject of it's own. 

So while it is evident that Greg was careful and thoughtful about the placement of the random monsters he generated by the tables, Level 10 shows us the remarkable fact that that there was also an overarching plan for the dungeon itself.  The level features unique and powerful treasures (3 crown artifacts), a unique monster (the Yth'yl), and a unique feature, (evil area statues).

I'm not going to give out all the secrets of the level here since the book will soon be available.  However, what is most notable is the simple fact that a dungeon created before D&D was published was designed with a top to bottom purpose from the start.  The dungeon has a goal, an endgame, and level 10 is it.  Greg placed his greatest treasures, carefully, on this level.  These 3 powerful magical crown artifacts were in turn guarded over by an incredibly powerful "boss" creature, the Yth'yl.

We can presume or suppose that the crowns were not part of Greg's very first, pre D&D, stocking list, but were added when he restocked the dungeon circa January of 1974 to conform to the newly published rules or a late draft thereof.  This is because these crowns are mentioned on page 39 of Monsters & Treasure, under Artifacts:

"Examples of Artifacts: Teleportation Machine; Fight'er's Crown, Orb and Scepter; Magic-User's Crown, Orb and Sceptre; Cleric's Crown, Orb and Scepter; Stone Crystalization Projector, etc.

Greg's crowns are these crowns with added details.  However, even without the crowns, Level 10 still represents the endgame of the dungeon.  We can say this because the Ythyl was surely an original part of the dungeon from the time it was first created.  This creature appears handwritten as an original feature on the map to level 10.  Further, this level also contains numerous wish granting evil area statues - surely themselves a coveted goal for many an adventurer.  The statues alone represent an end goal.  Adding the crowns was sauce for the goose.

This idea of a special dungeon goal level at the bottom of it all - a "boss" level if you prefer - is really quite outstanding, and might be considered a unique contribution Mr. Svenson made to the game.

Blackmoor dungeon certainly has a variety of goals, but no particular special bottom level.  Originally, the orc lair on level 6 was the bottom, and one could argue that this level is similar to Tonisborg level 10 in having a special magical feature, (the Throne of the Growth), but this was itself not an overarching reason for the dungeon's existence or an end goal to be sought out.  In any case, Arneson soon added 4 more levels and hinted at even more.  There was no real bottom, and no particular end challenge or special treasure to seek out.  The same can be said of Dave Megarry's Dungeons of Pasha Cada.  Megarry's dungeon bottoms out at level 6, and there is nothing particularly special there other than tougher monsters and bigger treasures.

Reading through the 1974 D&D booklets likewise gives no hints or instructions that Greg could have keyed off of.  Page 4 of Underworld and Wilderness adventure, paints a picture of the expected D&D dungeon as a potentially endless series of levels.  Gygax describes his own Greyhawk dungeon, both in this passage and elsewhere as " a dozen levels in succession downwards, more than that number branching from these, and not less than two new levels under construction at any given time. These levels contain such things as a museum from another age, an underground lake, a series of caverns filled with giant fungi, a bowling alley for 20' high Giants, an arena of evil, crypts, and so on." (p4).

Tonisborg is a very different animal.  In design and in themes, it mimicks Blackmoor.  There are no bowling alley levels or gateways to China.  Like Megarry's Dungeon, it has a built in progression of difficulty, and like Blackmoor it is sectional and mazelike in both the horizontal plane and, through all the connecting stairwells, the vertical plane.  But Greg advances beyond even Blackmoor in considering and creating an end to his vertical maze.  He sees the dungeon, not as just a series of theme levels, but as a vertical obstacle maze featuring a prize at the end.  Mind you this vision of dungeon design dates to 1973!

All the details will be revealed in the upcoming book of course, and speaking of the book,  let me give a special thank you to all the folks who have supported the Kickstarter for Secrets of Blackmoor.  As you likely know, a special first edition of The lost Dungeon of Tonisborg is part of the Kickstarter rewards.  Griff has really pulled out all the stops to make this first edition of Tonisborg a real piece of art, an heirloom edition to last for the ages.  If you like this sort of thing, and who doesn't, you can still secure a copy.  While the campaign is already fully funded (Yay!), as of now, there are a few hours left for you to grab one of these premium editions if you hurry! Secrets of Blackmoor on Kickstarter


Brandon Lighter said...

Any chance the Tonisborg book will be released as a PDF? I'd love to check it out, but the kickstarter only references a hardbound edition, and, honestly, I haven't used physical books in my gaming in more than 20 years...

Every last inch of book-shelf space in my home was spoken for decades ago.

DHBoggs said...

Oh sure, at some point a pdf is inevitable. Right now, we are concentrating on getting the Kickstarter edition put together, but down the road we will be preparing other formats.

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