Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tommy's Take on Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters


Most everyone needs a little inspiration from time to time, and GMs are no exception. The folks at GnomeStew.com are aware of this, and devised Eureka!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This one's not very misleading, as it is a big book of plots for GMs to use as inspiration. Weighing in at 314 pages and a price tag of $16.95 in PDF format (although you can get it in a bundle with the Masks NPC book), it seems a tad pricey for a PDF at first, but it is a weighty product, and if you purchase the print product and contact Engine Publishing (by e-mailing martin (at) enginepublishing (dot) com) with the proof of purchase, they'll hook you up with the PDF for free.

The PDF comes with a printer friendly version as well as the full version, and is fully bookmarked and searchable, as well as haviing four different indexes, separated by genre, tag, title and author. In fact, hyperlinks are all over the book, allowing you to jump around at a moment's notice. The plots (167 each) are divided into fantasy, sci-fi and horror, and are further defined thematically, based off of the George Polti book 36 Dramatic Situations.

What's more, the book doesn't just give you 501 plots, but sections on how to expand them from plot to adventure, including suggestions on other genres and sub-genres (like sci-fi dividing into space opera as well as cyberpunk) that may suit a plot as well as the original. There are even tips on how to re-use a plot without making it obvious to your players what you have done. As you may have guessed, the book is entirely system-free, so you need not worry about a lot of space being taken up by stats that may not be usable by you.

The entries average about five paragraphs apiece, so there's not a bunch of hand waving. I could probably pick a plot seed and run it in Savage Worlds with very little prep time.

Some of my favorite fantasy plots in the book include being asked to help a powerful creature die, forcing you to fend off those that would kill it to take its power, one in which the PCs are being stalked by a demonic horde cutting a swath of terror in its wake and an old witch attempting to hire the PCs from...something...that is coming for her.

The sci-fi missions take a different approach, of course, with gems like the hardware and the software in a space station coming to a profound...disagreement...and the PCs being stuck in the middle. Another plot seed involves the PCs in pursuit of a vessel with a powerful weapon on it that has been captured by a rebel faction and the PCs are the only ones close enough to intercept them...only to discover that a loved one (relative or former flame) are aboard the ship. A similar seed involves the PCs being thrust into combat with a rebel faction who has recruited, among others, one of the PCs' loved ones (that one is practically a stock plot in Civil War era westerns).

In the horror section, we get a twist on the zombie apocalypse, taking place on an island overran by the dead the oceans have taken over the years, with the PCs pinned in by a supernatural force holding them to dry land. Another involves a bizarre, life-sized chess match that seems like it could be tweaked nicely for Ravenloft (as the examples for the chess pieces given are a tad too contemporary for Ravenloft). One of the oddest ones I saw is a slasher film...like, to a "T". Complete with the PCs taking on stereotypical roles, being shuffled off in seclusion to be attacked and so on. That one was kinda disappointing because I kept expecting a twist on the formula, not playing it straight. A particularly great one involves the PCs' mentor becoming a twisted killer for staring so long into the abyss. Imagine a Slayer having to kill their Watcher not because they find out he was Evil All Along, but because years of fighting the battle eventually became too much for his soul. Imagine if it happened to coincide with her 18th birthday and the Cruciamentum?

WHAT WORKS: Utility is the watchword here. I didn't even scratch the surface of the plot seeds available in this book, and that's not getting into the twists, genre shifts and so on that you can apply to every plot seed in the book. The genre index breaks it down by sub-genre as well, so it's not just three big lists of horror, fantasy and sci-fi, but Grim and Gritty Fantasy, Gothic Horror, Supers, Western, etc. The hyper-linking throughout the PDF makes it incredibly user friendly above and beyond the searchability and book marking.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: While digital books are gaining more and more ground, Eureka does seem priced above the sweet spot that I have unscientifically found the average PDF purchaser to have...especially for an art-lite, black and white book. However, with the "free PDF" deal, the biggest strike against this book is practically a non-issue. Sure, you will find a few plots that don't do anything for you, but there are plenty, plenty more plots for you to play with.

CONCLUSION: And in this case, art-lite is a huge boon to the book as it is CRAMMED FULL of material, and it is completely system-free, so it's not just a great addition for one of your RPGs, but for EVERY RPG. Unless you just never, ever get stuck for ideas, then this is practically a must-buy for any GM.