First Impressions: Tonisborg

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg arrived yesterday. I had ordered the book as part of the Secrets of Blackmoor Kickstarter, way back in 2018, and had largely forgotten about the added tome until late last year when The Fellowship of the Thing (the team behind it all) sent me a proof-reading digital file. I was impressed then. I am even more excited now.

The book is a lovely hardback covered in fabric with embossed lettering on the spine and a gold-leaf illustration on the cover (see below). The paper is high-quality and the interior font evokes the text of the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lettering. The book is sized to match the AD&D range and slips in nicely on the shelf between or beside them.

If you don’t know much about The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg, you can listen to a really good chat I had with Griff, who took the lead on editing and writing up the dungeons, at the end of 2020 (Season 7, Episode 19).

Fresh out of the box and inner foam padding the book was delivered inside.

What is Tonisborg?

The short version is that this book compiles the lost maps and keys written by Greg Svenson (aka The Great Svenny, of Blackmoor fame) in 1973. Yes, 1973… before the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set was published, Greg Svenson was running a campaign in this dungeon. Thought lost during the 1980s, the maps resurfaced during the research for Secrets of Blackmoor and have been faithfully recreated in this book.

On first impressions, I was delighted to see scans of the original maps and annotations presented through the first section of the book. This section is all about the origin and story of the dungeon and how Svenson got to add his campaign to the world Arneson had created – Tonisborg was a location Svenson’s character had visited once and which Arneson invited Svenson to develop.

The book’s second part outlines the methodology of refereeing in the manner the dungeon would have been run back before the advent of Dungeons & Dragons as a product. This is the section that, in coming days, I am most excited to explore and think about. With more than 30 pages of techniques and notes on how to run an adventure game in the manner Svenson and his friends did back then, I am going to be like the proverbial pig in sh*t: it’s a delightful immersion into history!

Part three holds the dungeons themselves. Wonderfully re-drawn maps and carefully reconstructed room keys take us through ten levels of the dungeon. I can’t wait to delve inside and I hope, very much, that I will find some players to come and try out this old game in the coming months.

The fourth part is a version of the Zero Edition Dungeoneering rules (which I believe are related to the Champions of Zed rules I have previously encountered), specifically re-engineered with help from D.H. Boggs to emulate a system of game rules that Svenson would recognise from 1973. It appears clear, simple, and minimalist in style. My favourite line is right at the top of the first page, opposite the delicious character sheet:

THERE ARE NO RULES!

Ultimately the rules are mere guidelines for creative Referees and creative Players to manipulate, add to, subtract from, and otherwise monkey with to their heart’s content!

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg (First Edition, 2021), page 96.

Twenty-three pages later, section five presents Treasure! In part six we find the creatures. Then the Book of Spells forms the seventh section of the tome. Appendices round it all off with an eighth section before we reach a index and list of tables. All in all, Tonisborg looks to be a delight.

Thanks to Chris and Griff for creating the film and book for us all to enjoy!

So what?

Firstly, this is Dungeons & Dragons (and, indeed, roleplaying game) history. You know I love me some history. I can’t wait to delve in.

But we should all care because Griffith Morgan and D.H Boggs have done a wonderful job of reconstructing a complete adventure game experience for us that includes everything we need short of some dice. You have the history, sure, but you also have the full methodology of play – something that is woefully absent from most modern roleplaying games – alongside the dungeon maps, keys, a full set of game rules, treasures, monsters, and spells. You don’t need anything else.

For me, this is a gem that I hope to write more about in the coming weeks and months as I explore the dungeons in detail. With some luck and interested players, I might even get to run it too.

Game on!

P.S.: If you haven’t seen the film, watch Secrets of Blackmoor now!

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