Tonisborg: Reflecting on Part II

I have begun to embrace and welcome the people, events, and things that come into my life. The sense of gratitude that I felt yesterday while continuing to read through The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg was palpable. For today’s post, I feel I need to express some of that appreciation publically.

Part I of Tonisborg details the history and context of the dungeon, plus the story of how the maps and notes were thought forever lost but then recovered. It’s a fascinating section of the book and one that I sense I will return to again.

Part II is entitled, “Breathing Life Into An Old Dungeon,” and is the most exciting piece of methodological explanation about running a game I’ve read since Game Angry” by the Angry GM.

My excitement with Tonisborg arose from reading a well-written and thoughtfully composed series of ideas, tips, and tricks delivered alongside palpable examples from play.

The view over my knees while reading in bed on Sunday morning.

The instruction begins with an example of play. This is a extract of dialogue with explanatory comments from the author designed to give you a sense of how a “traditional adventure game” is played. Remember: this is a peek into the pre-history of Dungeons & Dragons, outlining how a game might be played in a manner consistent with the methods of the Twin Cities Gamers back in 1971 when Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor first began.

Insights pervade the text but I couldn’t help but laugh out loud with enjoyment at the moment in which the Referee makes a massive error while interpreting the map… realises moments later… and just rolls with it:

The Referee looks at his map and realizes suddenly he has made a mistake in aligning the stairs. The stairs the players went “down” actually led up to a completely different level and room. Realizing the players have no way of knowing, he changes his map with a quick note, and keeps the game moving along – the first rule of good Refereeing.

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg (First Edition, 2021), page 17

My reaction would have been very different, immediately reminding me that my anxious default is an unnecessary response. I imagined how I would deal with the situation – remembering that it has happened to me on more than one occasion – and watched my brain over-think through the possible ramifications of simply realigning the stairs, now permanently, in the dungeon. Probably way less of a problem than I imagine.

Overall, the play-through text has many moments that made me sit up, stop, think, and reconsider my patterns of thought and behaviour as a Referee. It was deeply instructional and encouraging, not to mention a great means to draw us into the methodology to follow.

Methods of Traditional Play

Partly because I want to keep the specifics hidden, at least until such time as I have had time to consider them more deeply, but also because I feel that there are massive spoilers to the experience the players will enjoy, I’m not going to pick on any one technique or tip here. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the author also warns off potential players from reading the methods and peeking at the tools:

If you’ve purchased this book and do not intend to become a Referee, you will ruin your experience as a player by reading the section, “Playing in Tonisborg”. Above all, you do not want to go and tell all your friends what is in this text either as it will also spoil the game for them.

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg (First Edition, 2021), page 1

That said, the methodology is highly instructive and helped me enormously to understand both the actual way these games were played back from 1971 onwards and also WHY they were played in this manner.

Some of what we will tell you is hinted at in the original rules of the game, but much can really only be learned through the guidance and expertise of the original players… but we hope to rekindle some of their old “dungeoneering” wisdom within the pages of this book.

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg (First Edition, 2021), page 19

Why Referees drew maps is explained in a succinct manner that belies the “obviousness” of the ideas. The conclusion that maps help a game, “seem more real and situated” resonated deeply with me.

I loved the connections made between military strategy – and the wargames that Arneson and his crew were playing prior to 1971 – and how the dungeon itself offers a variety of scenarios that you, as Referee, can recognise. This added depth to what can sometimes feel like a simplistic romp through endless tunnels. I now recognise how I can avoid such a sense of aimlessness through this and other tips.

I want to thank the author for clarifying the way in which “Thief-y” actions took place in Blackmoor and the ilk prior to the addition of the Thief as a character class. It was good to verify my hunch that all characters could attempt “Thief-y” actions… some with greater or lesser effect.

It all comes back to the overriding principle of the early game, derived from Totten’s “Strategos” (1880’s) and introduced to the Twin Cities by David Wesely through “Braunstein”: the player can try anything they can imagine and the Referee’s role is to help the group to find out what happens when they do.

Game on!

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