Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review of Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots

Psst! You know those posts and stories you read online, scribed by Game Masters who run perfect, long-running campaigns and never seem to run into trouble?

It's ok--here in the real world, our campaigns aren't like that. We all have our issues as Game Masters, and that can include being stumped on which way the material for a new campaign should progress.

Enter Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots by the minds at Gnome Stew and Engine Publishing. Gnome Stew has made its mark as the premier gamemastery blog on the web, and now the lads behind that effort share some of that advice in this volume aimed towards providing plots and adventure hooks for every main type of RPG genre.

At 314 pages, Eureka is not a small product, and it certainly isn't a fly-by-night effort. The Gnomes put a lot of work into this system-neutral product, and it shows. The initial advice chapter sets the stage with some "how to use this info", but also a nice comprehensive review of the 36 Dramatic Situations to be found in various plots.

Eureka identifies the various adventure plots not only by genre and the aforementioned themes, but also by "tags". These tags are a sort of shorthand for identifying the type of plot involvement. For example, the tag "difficult choice" would mean the characters would likely face a tough decision in the course of the presented plot, whereas "epic challenge" might feature world-changing or high-level challenges.

Each genre receives its own chapter. There are generally 1 or 2 plots presented per page. As an example here, in the Fantasy Chapter, "The Unexpected Uprising" covers the potential for a full-scale revolt involving the characters. Linked events to take place before or after the main plot point are also detailed, and a small section for the tags and potential adaptations to other genres is also present.

I'm not going to say that every idea in the book appealed to me; with 501 of them, the law of averages tales care of that possibility on its own. But the ideas presented are usually well-considered, and I can definitely see the potential for many of them to turn the lightbulb on in a plotting or struggling Game Master's head.

Heightening the usefulness of this tome are two indexes, arranged by genre and plot tag, which make finding the right source of inspiration much easier. I also appreciate the hyperlinking present in the document, which is very useful in a larger pdf such as this.

If the product falls short anywhere, it's on the strength of the art. Andrew McIntosh's cover illustration is charming and appropriate, but as in so many other small-press products, the interior art is a mixed bag. Philip Miller does yeoman's work on his part, but in a book that's supposed to inspire, some might feel the art should be more frequent, and perhaps a bit more evocative. The layout, however, is pleasantly uniform and easy to follow.

Eureka can be ordered from Engine Games. If you're a Game Master who likes a little help with his brainstorming, Eureka will be a welcome addition to your bookshelf, virtual or otherwise. There are plenty of Game Master resources out there, but only a very few strike me as being as immediately handy and above all, usable by a GM, as Eureka. If you've got it all figured out and never seem at a loss for inspiration, well, keep on walking. But the rest of us mere mortal Game Masters are grateful for the help...


Martin Ralya said...

Thank you for the review, Zack! I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and I hope it proves useful to you for years to come.

Zachary The First said...

Thanks for the opportunity, Martin, and great job to you and the other Gnomes!

You guys are the head of the class! :)