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Review of Eureka by Engine Publishing/Gnomestew.com

Now let me ask you a question: Would an imbecile come up with this?” ~ Norville Barnes (The Hudsucker Proxy, 1994)

In some respects, Dungeon Mastering might be considered a hobby within a hobby.  Players of Role-Playing Games, like D&D 4E, show up at their weekly or bi-weekly session, slip into their Characters’ persona, and spend several hours enjoying their hobby.  They react to situations, make decisions based upon what they “feel” their Character would do, and try and outwit the monsters in the adventure that the Dungeon Master presents to them.  And when the evening’s play is over, they slip out of their persona, make their final notes, and their hobby is done until the next session.
Eureka Cover
But between those sessions, the Dungeon Master labors on, plotting and planning for the next gaming session.  Like the Players, he participates in each gaming sessions and practices his Role-Playing hobby, but there is another whole “hobby” he participates in which most Players never partake in – Preparing for a Role-Playing Game.  Many Players would argue that it is just part of the same hobby they play, but given the amount of hours Dungeon Masters spend a week planning encounters, writing plotlines down, creating treasure, scribbling out maps, and a host of odd book-keeping chores, Preparing for a Role-Playing Game feels an awful lot like a whole hobby in and of itself!

And of course, the Dungeon Master also has the rather daunting task of trying to create new and interesting plots and stories week after week, and campaign after campaign.  And even for those DMs who use the wide variety of Adventure Modules produced by Wizards of the Coast and other gaming companies, they still have to work to tie all those odd encounters and scenarios into some sort of cohesive meta-story, which can be quite a challenge too.  But even using pre-made encounters, Dungeon Masters are still likely to have to create their own adventures from time to time, to bridge the level gaps between one store-bought module and another one – and coming up with fresh material can still be a real chore.  So the writers from the Gnomestew.com blogsite have banded together as Engine Publishing, and created an ebook to offer Dungeon Masters, as well as Game Masters from other genres, some help with Eureka (501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters).

Eureka (501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters)
  • Authors:  John Arcadian, Patrick Benson, Walt Ciechanowski, Scott Martin, Matthew Neagley, Martin Ralya, Kurt “Telas” Schneider, Troy Taylor, Phil Vecchione
  • Illustrators: Andrew McIntosh (cover), Laine Garrett, Avery Liell-Kok, Andrew McIntosh, Philip Miller, Hugo Solis (interior), Darren Hardy (border)
  • Publisher: Engine Publishing / Gnomestew.com
  • Year: 2010
  • Media: PDF (312 pages)
  • Retail Cost: $16.95

Eureka is a “rules non-specific” supplement which provides over five hundred adventure hooks and plotlines for use with nearly any game system, including Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.  There are 167 plotlines specifically designed for Fantasy Role-Playing adventures which can be used with nearly any D&D 4E world setting.  And there are another 297 adventure plots which can be adapted or “re-skinned” from other genres, such as horror and science-fiction, in order to create fantasy adventures.

The Production Quality of Eureka is excellent, with the adventure hooks and plotlines organized not only by Genre, but indexed into 19 Sub-Genres with 42 possible Tags, allowing a Game Master to quickly pick a plotline, which matches not only their campaign format but also the mood of their Players.  The book comes in two separate PDFs, a full-version and a plain-version, the latter designed for printing without borders and extraneous art to waste ink/toner.  Both versions of the PDFs make wonderful use of bookmarks and table of contents links in order to provide easier navigation through the pages.  The artwork ranges from fair to very good, and it definitely provides an enhanced reading experience as one peruses the many plotlines available in this ebook.

Monte Cook wrote the Forward for Eureka, and here he reminds us of an important truth that many Game Masters tend to forget:  “It’s not a sign of weakness on the part of a GM to use other people’s ideas now and then.”  Many GMs like coming up with their own plots to write their adventures from, but over a long enough period of time, it becomes harder and harder to continue to generate new and original plots, particularly if you game with the same Players.  Eureka purports to be the solution to that problem, providing enough adventure hooks and plotlines to last for nearly a decade!  “Nine years and 33 weeks”, according to the Authors, assuming you used one plot a week for your gaming sessions.

The Authors of Eureka organized their ebook into five Chapters, with the middle Chapters 2, 3 and 4, containing the plotlines divided into the broad Genres of Fantasy, Sci-Fi (Science Fiction), and Horror.  Each of the three Genres contains 167 individual plotlines, fitting into one of 36 possible Themes, and then further “tagged” for easy reference.  The Adventure Plotlines are fairly well-developed, taking up about half a page and are several paragraphs in length, but are written generically enough to allow Game Masters to develop them for their own campaigns by inserting NPC names and campaign locations as desired.  And the final chapter offers Game Masters several indices of the plotlines, organizing them by Sub-Genre, Tags, Titles, and Authors, which makes finding a particular style of plotline incredibly easy to track down.

As an example of the organizational detailing, here are a list of the genres and sub-genres which are used to for the 501 plotlines in Eureka:

Fantasy

  • Grim and Gritty Fantasy
  • High Fantasy
  • Swashbuckling
  • Traditional Fantasy

Sci-Fi

  • Cyberpunk
  • Hard Sci-Fi
  • Post-Apocalyptic
  • Space Opera
  • Steampunk
  • Supers

Horror

  • Action Horror
  • Gothic Horror
  • Supernatural
  • Victim Horror

Other

  • Anime
  • Comedy
  • Pulp
  • Romance
  • Western

Please note that while the final genre of Other does not have its own chapter, some of the plotlines in Eureka are still noted as possessing elements of those sub-genres, which make it possible to find adventure plots with have those elements, should a Game Master desire them in the campaign.

But it is Chapter 1 of Eureka, entitled Game Mastering Advice, is of particular note, containing details on the types of sub-genres, themes, and tags, as well as a variety of information on how to use this ebooks contents to the fullest.  It is certainly one thing to come up with a book of adventure ideas, like Eureka, but it is quite another to discuss how to get the best use out of a book of this type.  And the Authors did a commendable job of discussing several key aspects, such as how to transform an adventure plot into a full-fledged adventure, how to adapt plots to a game system and campaign, and finally how to adapt plots from one genre into another genre.

The Tags used by the Authors in Eureka are also noteworthy, providing short descriptions of possible challenges to be faced, the nature of the creatures and enemies, NPCs and their relationships to each other or party members, the general play-style of an adventure, and its setting.  In many respects, these Tags are very similar to television and movie “tropes”, which are concepts and ideas which writers can be fairly certain are within the minds and imaginations of audiences.  Again, they add another way for Game Masters to locate and identify if a particular plotline is desirable for their campaign, and what elements it will have.

I think this level of organization is one of the most profoundly useful aspects of Eureka.   Producing a book of adventure plots is good, particularly if they are well written, but to add a layer of order and structure to them, with expansive indexing features, makes for a really great end-user experience.

By way of example, here is one of the Fantasy Genre Adventure plotlines from Eureka, entitled “Wizards’ Rivalry”.  The plotline falls under the Theme called “Rivalry of Kinsmen”, and according to the Authors is “Easily adapted to: Comedy, Cyberpunk, High Fantasy, Horror, Pulp, Sci-fi, Supernatural, Swashbuckling, Traditional Fantasy”.  It was given the tags of “dungeon crawl, magic, monster, race, rivalry” to give Game Masters an instant reference to the key elements of the story:

Two members of a prominent wizards’ guild seek a very rare spell component. The wizard who possesses the component will win prestige and bragging rights. The two mages are aware of only one place where the component can be found:  inside a ruined wizards’ school. They decide to make things interesting by turning their hunt into a contest.  Each hires a group of adventurers to retrieve the component, and promises the use of only minor magic to “make things interesting” for the adventurers.

The PCs are hired by one of the wizards to retrieve this component for a fee. What the wizard doesn’t tell the PCs is that there’s a second group of adventurers who are on the same quest at nearly the same time.

The next morning, when the PCs are ready to leave for the ruins, they find that their horses are gone; a small trick by the rival wizard. Little things like this keep happening to the PCs until they reach the ruins. After suffering several magical practical jokes, the PCs reach the ruins and begin their exploration. Along the way, they discover that they’re not alone. Signs of battle, monster blood, doors that have been spiked shut, and ropes hung from high ledges indicate that others are present in the ruins.

Following one or more encounters with monsters, the PCs reach the chamber containing the component. The other group of adventurers arrives at the same time. How will the PCs react? Will they try to make a deal with the other adventurers?  Who will get the components to their patron first? Depending on the tone of your campaign and the nature of the other adventuring party, this plot can be serious or funny.  It can be light-hearted if the parties try to trick or steal the components from one another, or gritty and dark if the rival adventurers become violent and try to kill the “poachers.”  If they survive, you can also use the other party as recurring rivals throughout your campaign.

As can be seen here, the plotline is well written and quite developed, and offers a number of interesting twists and turns which Game Masters can choose to introduce – or not.  It is written generically enough to allow it to fit into any game system, including D&D 4E, and could certainly be utilized in any of the current campaign settings offered by Wizards of the Coast, with very little modifications.  And there are another 166 such plotlines alone in the Fantasy Chapter, ready to be used, before a Dungeon Master would even have to consider plumbing the other two chapters, Sci-Fi and Horror, looking for  adventure ideas to adapt to a D&D 4E setting.

Overall Grade:  A

Eureka (501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters) is really a remarkable ebook, and certainly one that can be easily recommended for not only D&D 4E Dungeon Masters, but for anyone choosing to take on the task of Game Mastering any Role-Playing Game.  The plotlines are imaginative and the writing is solid, and the tags and indexing system devised by the Authors of Eureka make finding a fitting adventure hook a straightforward and painless task.  And even for Dungeon Masters not interested in re-skinning the Sci-Fi and Horror adventures to work into their D&D 4E campaigns, the cost per adventure hook is a little over a dime and idea, making this ebook a “rare good buy” by almost any Gamers’ standards.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

On a personal note, I would like to congratulate Engine Publishing for an excellent first release into the Role-Playing Game market, and for offering an incredibly well-designed and useful product to Game Masters of every genre.  I want to wish them all the best luck with this release and look forward to seeing more products like this from the Gnomestew Authors!

Grade Card

  • Presentation: A-
  • - Design: A
  • - Illustrations: B+
  • Content: A
  • -Crunch: NA
  • -Fluff: A
  • Value: A+

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

Comments

6 Responses to “Review of Eureka by Engine Publishing/Gnomestew.com”

  1. Michael – Thank you for the excellent review! Working on Eureka was difficult not because the work was that demanding but because we wanted the work to be of the highest quality. Setting the bar high for quality and having a great team ready to meet that challenge is what made the book what it is. I’m glad that it shows in the final product.
    .-= Patrick Benson´s last blog ..Post Gen Con Status =-.

  2. Martin Ralya says:

    Thanks, Michael! Yours is the most in-depth review Eureka has received so far, and the only one that focused on D&D GMs (without overlooking others, too) — thank you for taking the time to give the book such a thorough once-over!

  3. @ Patrick & Ryan – Well, it was pretty clear from the design that a considerable amount of thought and creativity went into this book. It’s awesome to see a product so useful to Game Masters, which is not only cross-genre, but is also system generic. I’m already considering which adventure hooks I can adopt to my new Dark Sun campaign I’m starting in a few weeks! Still can’t believe I let myself be talked into a third 4E campaign…

  4. Chris Fuchs says:

    I bought this at Gen Con. It is an excellent book. I only have one problem with it. I’ll never get to all the plots I’ve already found that I would like run. I’m going to use the book to plan my next round of Convention games. Thanks for the review.

    Beldar 1215

  5. I have to agree with you Beldar! There are far more plots in this book that I like than I think I will ever manage to get through. Of course, the best part about that is one can pick the cream of the crop for a campaign, and still know that there will be good stuff in the ebook for the next campaign you run.

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