Tonisborg Convention Play and Dungeon Lethality

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

 I had the pleasure of running Greg Svensons Tonisborg dungeon using the ZED rules at two conventions this year, and the results were interesting.

Tonisborg is a place not a challenge, so it is up to the DM to decide what, if any, scenario might be in play involving the player characters.  I chose to create an object centered adventure.  In other words, I wanted the players to chase after a specific Mcguffin instead of simply being loot hungry dungeon robbers or some such. 

Tonisborg provides ample opportunity for crafting scenarios because there are so many factions and so many curious inhabitants that must have a story behind thejr presence.

Partly because Tonisborg can be so deadly, and partly because it seems that high level play in 3llb style D&D is so rarely experienced.  I decided to go with 8-12 level characters, and further spiced the fun by handing out character sheets of original players.  For example, someone was playing Lord Oberstar, king of the dwarves.

For this adventure I picked an unnamed Lord and his small retinue found on level seven, and christened him Lord Kervall.  "Kervall" is a name that shows up in one of the MMRPG adventures as a minor noble family of Blackmoor, and I like Easter eggs.

So Kervall and his fours sons (the unnamed fighters with the unnamed lord) are in the dungeon. I decide, because the Kervall family has fallen out of disfavor with the King and Lord Kervall thinks if he finds the legendary crowns his star will rise.  

They have been gone 6 months when Lord Kervall sends a messenger to lady Kervall with partial dungeon maps and instructions to send reinforcements.  Long story short, she hires the party to bring him home instead.   

The first game took place at the Schenectady Wargaming Associations annual "Council Con" at the excellent Proctors Theater venue in downtown Schenectady NY.  This convention dates back to the mid 1970's and is a well attended event advertised in Dragon Magazine.  Known for years as "The Council of Five Nations" it was suspended during covid and was only just starting again under the shortened name.

I had a full table of participants and it was an orderly and thoughtful group.  Following an audience with Lady Kervall, the group journeyed to Tonisborg, met with a Lord Sheriff of the Order of Draconae, spent some time negotiating and questioning him, bought their passes and followed their guide to the dungeon entrance.

Now here is where my cheat for the players kicked in. The messenger from Kerval had given them partials maps with the correct stairs marked to get them to the lord more or less directly.  This was to facilitate the fact that this was a 4 hour convention game and there was no way they could wander Tonisborg and randomly find him.  Further, the route, if followed precisely, would be almost monster free.

This first group made contact with the Order Draconae guards on the second level, questioned them some more, and then proceeded cautiously into the dungeon.  They managed to follow the maps down to level 7 without incident, went around an area of yellow mold (marked on the map), and used an x-ray vision spell to move through a secret door and avoid an oncoming orc patrol.

An ESP spell outside the marked door helped them identify that they had found Lord Kervall and negotiations followed when the Lord refused to leave the dungeon but insisted they had come to help him. The party agreed and followed Kervall on further exploration.  However they soon found themselves in a room with a Cockatrice, which turned Kervall to stone.  Someone shouted to douse the lights and a brief combat entirely in the dark saw several wounds inflicted from friendly fire but some lucky strikes also killed the monster.  The party then convinced Kervall's sons that they really should leave the dungeon carrying the statue with them.

The second game was run at this year's Arnecon convention and followed much the same pattern as the first, but did differ in several ways.

Firstly the players, spent a lot more time discussing terms first with the Kervall messanger and then with Lady Kervall than the first group did.  Then when they arrived at Tonisborg, spent less time talking to the Order Draconae.  However, despite having very high level characters, this group thought that Tonisborg was so scary they needed extra muscle and so hired, following some lucky rolls and intense negotiations, an entire crew of Skandaharian sailors.  This proved interesting as the party then formed a very long group as it moved through the dungeon and they Skandaharrians alternated between bravado and skittishness.

This group avoided the Order Draconae guards on the second level, managed to take the wrong stairs on the fourth level (or was it the third?) and just managed to skirt by a black pudding hiding in the darkness of one of the large rooms they moved through.  In retrospect, I should have had them pudding attack them, but I decided it was in a particular place in the room and they didn't go there.

Anyway they managed to find their way to the correct stair after more discussion, and got back on track.  They passed through the room with Yellow Mold and one character was damaged.  This was the only HP loss of the entire session!  They too found lord Kervall, but instead of agreeing to adventure with him they found a way to overpower him and convince the sons to leave with them.

All in all, nobody died and the objective was achieved in both games.

What I want to highlight from both these games was that the role-play was constant, cooperation was intense, and smart play minimized combat.  Indeed the second game really had no combat at all. Tonisborg can certainly be a deadly dungeon. Old school games can certainly involve a lot of combat, but there is as much opportunity for role play heavy adventuring in Tonisborg or any other traditional dungeon, or in any traditional games, as there is in any "Modern" systems and adventures.


Dennis Laffey said...

Both of these games seem like they were really fun.
It's also nice to get a few data points that contradict the common belief that D&D is nothing but monster combats.

Jon S said...

Hi Daniel. Can you tell me if you have or are going to publish an updated Champions of Zed? By updated I mean, the whole of the rules as printed in the Tonisborg book?

DHBoggs said...

Jon - no plans to do that, but the plan for some time now has been to dust off and publish the outdoor rules from CoZ in The Egg of Coot campaign book. I'm basically waiting on Griff (Secrets of Blackmoor) to initiate the project as he has a ll the material from John Snider. There is a ton of stuff in the queue.

Jon S said...

Well that's good to know. There seems to be more interest at the moment in Zero Edition DnD/Braunstein etc all. I hope it doesn't take too long as it would be a pity to miss the wave!

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