After I took the plunge and upgraded my Linux desktop from hardy to intrepid, I noticed that (among other things gone horribly wrong) I no longer had virtual consoles. All I got was a blank screen with a blinking cursor if I tried to get to any of them by using Ctrl-Alt-F<num> from X. At first I thought maybe my luck had run out from upgrading across so many versions (this computer hadn't had a full reinstall since "edgy eft", possibly since "dapper drake"), so I did a full reinstall. This didn't fix the problem though. Finally, after much tooth gnashing and head banging, I found out what was going on.
It seems that for some reason, the interaction between the nVidia drivers and the splash screen makes it so the ttys don't actually display anything, despite getty running, and magic SysRq keys working as they should. I eventually found a solution in this Ubuntuforums post. My solution wasn't exactly the same as his, though. Here's what I did:
Enabled "vesafb" by commenting it out in /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-framebuffer
Rebuilt initramfs with update-initramfs -u -k all
In /boot/grub/menu.lst, I changed splash to nosplash in the kernel boot options and added "vga=769". There's a table of values for vga=xxx that you can reference there. I picked "769" because I was trying to get the virtual consoles to look normal. Finally, this is entirely esthetic, but I took out quiet from the boot options too.
While I was getting the ttys working again, I also found that running dpkg-reconfigure console-setup will let you set the console font back to the VGA font, so it looks normal again. I may be in the minority on this, but I never particularly cared for fancy looking consoles.
This definitely works for "intrepid ibex". I can't test previous versions, but these steps should fix the problem if they have it.