This book 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's 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 art, including the cover and the borders, are quite good – the cover is very nice and much of the interior is also nice (I especially like the borders) although with the variation in styles it's a bit of a mixed bag. While I would have liked to see interior art that tied more directly to the contents, doing so would have likely cut down the number of plots. The front and back cover are full color while the interior is black & white, but that doesn't detract at all from the book's appearance and means that the print version of the book won't be ridiculously expensive to print.
The indexing in the book deserves special mention because it's 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 ToC's entries, making having 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.
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 forward 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 organzation. Specifically, the plots all fit in to 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 in to one of three broad genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Horror. For those of you keeping score, there are 167 plots per genre (501/3) with each Dramatic Situation typically getting 4-5 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 playstyle. 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.
Chapter 1 also includes tips on turning the adventure plots in to 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 reskin 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 whole scale 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 in to 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.
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 include the real meat of the book: 167 plots in each, with 1 to 2 plots presented per page. Each plot briefly outlines the set-up, situation, and predicted events of the plot, arranged so that a GM can extract enough scenes or encounters to fill an evening worth of gaming. This breaks down to roughly 3-6 scenes/encounters per plot, arranged in the most likely sequence that they will unfold. While it may sound like these are basically telling the GM “railroad the players to get them here”, the information presented is very open ended and offered simply as possible events that might unfold. How closely one adheres to them or forces the structure upon the group is largely left up to the GM, and the previous chapter provides good advice on how to avoid simply running the plot as a pure railroad session.
As written, each of these plots could be use for a very improvisational session (basically using the set-up and running from there) or could be used to create a very organized and tightly orchestrated adventure. Similarly, while the goal is to provide a plot for enough material for a single session, there's the potential to get several sessions worth of material out of a single plot depending on how the group interacts with the situation.
How are the plots? Most of them are quite good. While not every plot inspired me – expecting that would be ridiculous given the book contains 501 of them! - almost all would work as the basis of an adventure and some are really good. For example, I really liked the Dark Changeling plot (p. 65) from the Fantasy chapter and the Faulty Memories plot from the sci-fi section. There are some real gems and in a pinch any one of these would work.
Eureka is a great product and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend to people – there's something in here for everyone, whether you're struggling to create your first adventure, are suffering from a creative block, or just want to break out of a rut. New GMs will find an endless wellspring of ideas, while experienced GMs can use the plots for last minute session prep or as inspiration when creating their latest adventure. As a PDF this is a must-have for taking to a con and I've already added it to my iPad as a permanent addition.
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