The Cistern of the Three-Eyed Dwarves

By Grutzi
Tiny Pink Tentacle Publishing
OSR
Levels 3-4

… Lightning strikes unaturally often, sometimes even from a clear sky, people have strange dreams and all metal seems to be charged, throwing sparks at the slightest touch. There have even been reports of wild magnetism around the town! The case is clear for the rulers of Graycoast: Someone or something is using the heretical forces of electricity.

This 34 page adventure details a 20 room dungeon in about thirteen pages. It plays with a new descriptive style to try and communicate information in short, pertinent bursts to the DM. The theming is a bit idiosyncratic and the word choices could be better in places, but a solid adventure.

Awhile ago I went and created an adventure design forum, linked off of my review blog. It was supposed to help me organize for another project. Then I went and got busy and essentially abandoned it. The users, to their credit, are still there and had an adventure design contest. (I think they are running another one right one, for summer, in the Project Workshop forum) This was one of the entries.

All entries used the same map. It’s color-coded to help with comprehension, has different elevation areas noted on it, and has enough interconnections, in a twenty room map, to allow for at least a bit of exploration elements to adventures. My only negative would be the the brown floors and black walls of the cave areas tend to run together more than I care for.

This adventure contains not only the dungeon but a little wilderness region, about 3 miles by 3 miles. The region is torn by polluted water, contaminated by heavy metals.  The knights of the smashing hammer, a steam religion, won a religious war against the followers of the cult of the electricity. Clearly, some idiosyncratic theming. The cult is in the dungeon and the steam knights are camped out nearby, searching for them. There are weird machines in the dungeon/town, and some electricity traps in the dungeons, but it doesn’t go full on overboard in to steam knight armor or anything like that. It’s more a fire religion/water religion sort of thing, with stuff manifesting as magical effects, rather than true technology. So a kind of pretext theming rather than explaining. A little jarring at first, but easy enough to get used to and, like I said, it doesn’t go full on silly.

For this adventure instance, it uses about one page per room, a little more in some places and a little less in others. Single column, but not really an issue. Single column is an issue when your eyes need travel all the way across the page to read. That’s not really the case in this because of the bullet-list style format used.

This style will be the most noticeable thing about the adventure at first glance. It uses little icons, instead of bullets, to denote what the text is referring to. So a little eyeball is what you first see when you enter the room. A little magnifying glass is what details you see if you search something further. A litt treasure chest or gears call attention to the treasure or trap, and so on. Thus the single column is mitigated by bullets and the bullets (icons really, they are too large for bullets) help you locate information.

It’s an interesting idea that I think needs a little more work. It FEELS like it’s taken just a little too far. The whitespace, bolding, full-line-separators, and icons/bullets don’t quite live up to the platonic idea of easy to use. It’s not the full on “must include all sections for every room” shit that Dungeon Magazine sometimes did, but neither does the separation produce the clarity that I think was the end state goal. A little playing around with the formatting might help. It’s not bad, and as a first shot at a format is a great first attempt result, but it’s also not the solution. It may be, on reflection, that the organization is centered around the icons/bullets/sections. A more conventional style, using the icons to call attention, might produce a better effect. I don’t know, I’m just talking out loud.

Anyway, good interactivity here. The map is conducive to catwalks, lava pits and things to get shoved off of in combat. Treasure stuffed in cracks, “I look up” situations, fun little things to explore and investigate abound in this. Some treasure is interesting, other is a part of the environment/machines that you can steal. In one case there’s a secret door hidden behind a statue, with the statue details calling attention to the door. Little clues that help lead attentive players to more interesting outcomes. It’s got the interactivity desired.

It makes good use of cross-referencing to point the DM to pages with more information on NPC’s or curses, etc. Finally, there are also points where what you BEYOND the room you are in show up. You can see blue light in the distance down a hallway, that sort of thing. This shows a real sense of the designer picturing the rooms as a whole and how they work together.

There are some minor misses here and here, beyond the bullet/icon tuning issue. The intro/background is a little bullet crazy, something I saw in that Masque of the Worms review. The text block is still a good way to convey general information. Bolding & bullets work great to call attention to specific text you need to reference during actual play.

There’s also some misplaced text/information, specifically in the wilderness areas is where I noticed it. Three or four bullets describe a little town, just enough for a little character. But, in the dungeon, there’s a note about a rumor you can pick up at that town. That would have been better in the town. Likewise a tower getting struck by lightning frequently … better in an overview than the specific tower description. Likewise the time it takes to search a hex only exists in the one hex where the dungeon is located. Better that be general information for when the party searches other hexes also, right?

The writing could also be kicked up a notch or two. A “small wooden box” is under a bed at one location. Ok, sure, I guess. Small, Wooden, and Box are all fairly generic words. “Six double bunk beds stand at the walls.” This isn’t the most evocative test ever.  Big, old, large, small, there are better adjectives and adverbs that convey more imagery.

But, not bad, especially for the timelines I think the contest involved. I’d run this before I ran a thousand other adventure I’ve reviewed.

This is free at DriveThru, with a PWYW attached a full page count preview. Check it out!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/277874/The-cistern-of-the-threeeyed-dwarves?1892600

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16 Responses to The Cistern of the Three-Eyed Dwarves

  1. Anonymous says:

    It makes me extremely happy to see this reviewed here 🙂 Nice, Bryce.

  2. Ron says:

    Wow, I gotta start checking out those forums more. They should do a collaborative dungeon, everyone picking one room and Brycing the heck out of it. 😉

    • DangerousPuhson says:

      Howdy, I was the map designer and organizer of this design contest on the forums – a collaborative is on the horizon (originally the intent of the map contest, really). Buy-in for the contest was low at the time: 3 entrants, maybe one more entry still coming. If it were a collaborative dungeon, it wouldn’t have gotten filled out…not enough people on the forums yet. But one is on the horizon.

      • Ron says:

        Rock on DangerousPuhson! Looking forward to seeing what comes of it. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ll pay particular attention to the map. 🙂
        Thanks for the response and good luck!!
        –Ron–

  3. Grützi says:

    Thanks for the review Bryce.
    Spot on in nearly all cases.

    Some little tidbits here and there:

    Layout:
    This whole thing was an experiment/testbed for the icons. The general response was very positive with the consensus being that it needs a hell of a lot of polishing 🙂
    squeen gave me some good ideas and pointers already … and putting the icons into the text more naturally seems like a good next goal.

    Backstory:
    I like my stuff to have a bit of background that differentiates it from the rest .. still I can probably trim the whole section down a good bit. Writting it in normal text will work better I think … I just was in full on bullet point mode when i wrote the final version 🙂

    Words:
    While I think my written english is passable enough, It’s still a second language for me. So most of the time I have a pretty good idea what i want to communicate, but the words that form in my head are the direct or obvious ones … big, great, …such stuff … to get to enormous or even humongous I have to think a bit harder … which doesn’t always happen.

    The minor misses:
    You are right here, but there was a deadline you see 🙂 Will probably fix these if i get anotherversion of the cistern together.

    The Dungeon Map:
    All praise goes to DangerousPuhson.

    The Forum:
    @everyone: Get in there
    @Bryce: Come play with us … we miss you 😉

    • Reason says:

      Grutzi- for size, something that can work for native English speakers or not is to use a size which is descriptive to the game or human activity.

      You could thrown a spear twice inside the great carvern before hitting the edge… The roof is barely higher than a man holding a 2H sword above his head… The valley is wide enough that you’d need half a days walk either way to get a decent look at the valley walls…

      Think in descriptive terms people can visualise or relate to, rather than adjectives – which are often both less evocative & harder for other language speakers to master.

      More inspiring, less numerical & static. Already the players are thinking/visualising in cinematic or adventurous ways.

  4. Grützi says:

    And not to be forgotten … Check out the other two entries:

    The Vault of the Corux by DangerousPuhson can be found in the competition thread on the forum(I made a blank map….)

    The forgotten Shrine of the Savior by Malrex can be found on his blog (https://www.themercilessmerchants.com/post/freebie-forgotten-shrine-of-the-savior)

  5. It was a fun contest. Hopefully some others join in on the future challenges..you can learn a lot. Congrats to Grutzi and thanks to DangerousPuhson for the map and organizing it all!

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