In-Depth Review – Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters

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Today I’m reviewing Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters, a book produced by the authors of the GnomeStew RPG blog. Dan Danahoo first mentioned Eureka here on GeekDad back in August of 2010, but I’ve decided it deserves an in-depth review. I am reviewing the PDF version of the book which comes in both a full-color version and a printer-friendly version with the background and border imaging removed to save you toner/ink. It retails for $16.95 and comes in at 314 pages (that total includes the front and back covers). The book has an exceedingly slick layout that is pleasing to the eye and logically laid out — Darren Hardy, who did the layout for the book, did a great job. The editing on the book is also top-notch with very few grammatical mistakes or other issues.

The indexing in the book deserves special mention because it is simply amazing. The book features multiple indexes: four in fact. Index 1 indexes the contents by genre (more than 20 are listed), Index 2 divides the plots by tags (more on them later), Index 3 breaks down the contents by title, and Index 4 breaks the plots down by author. The table of contents is also wonderfully detailed with fully functional hyperlinks to each of the entries, making the PDF a huge plus.

Overall this is a very professional-looking self-published book, something which GM advice books haven’t always managed to pull off.

The Contents

I am happy to report that the book’s actual contents live up to its appearance. This is a great book, which is just as useful for a novice game master as someone who has been running RPG games for decades. The book’s contents opens (after a foreword by Monte Cook and an introduction from one of the authors) with a sizable chapter providing game mastering advice which is largely aimed at explaining how to use the book’s contents and the organizing philosophy driving the book’s contents and organization. Specifically, the plots all fit into one of 36 themes (also known as the 36 Dramatic Situations, which are adapted from a book on dramatic plots by Georges Polti). Furthermore, the plots are divided into one of three broad genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Horror. For those of you keeping score, there are 167 plots per genre with each Dramatic Situation typically getting four to five adventure plots each.

Aside from genres and Dramatic Situations, Eureka also identifies each plot with a series of tags — these are similar to the way tags are used on the internet, providing a shorthand method of identifying significant elements that are part of that plot. Tags include things like locations, goals, plot twists, and play style. For example, the “Web of Deceit” plot includes these tags: Betrayal, city, investigate, shady, stealth, tactical planning, trade, twist, and villain. Thus, with a quick glance a GM can see what types of elements are going to be involved with that particular plot and decide if it suits their needs as well as the style of the group. As mentioned earlier, these are all indexed at the end of the book (Index 2) making finding something based on a particular tag a snap.

The first chapter also includes tips on turning the adventure plots into actual adventures and adapting plots, including how to create suitable NPCs, choose a location, and set the adventure in motion. The advice on adapting plots includes details on how to change the plots to suit your needs, including how to re-skin or even remake the entire plot. This section is a great addition, especially for the novice GM, because it presents principles and methods which can be used outside the actual book’s contents. For example, the principles might be applied to 4th edition D&D monsters to re-skin them to create something that suits your particular needs, or even applied wholescale to a pre-published adventure. The first chapter finishes up with an explanation of the big three genres Eureka uses, and how the various sub-genres fit into these (for example, Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of Sci-Fi), as well as a brief explanation of the various tags and themes used in the book.

My one criticism of this chapter is that it at times repeats itself. For example, very similar advice on how to use the tags is presented multiple times. However, this is a minor quibble and probably one which many readers will appreciate since the explanations are used in different contexts.

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