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Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
 
$19.95 $9.95
Average Rating:4.4 / 5
Ratings Reviews Total
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Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master\'s Guide to Session Prep
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Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Guntis V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/10/2014 15:22:29
So many good - and true - praises! Really, this book turns the GM's prep work almost into exact science. It really puts things in a good perspective! The author even analyzes possible 'short-of-time' scenarios and suggests how to cope with them. Love it!

I'm not a very experienced GM (just a dozen sessions), and this book showed me many things puzzling me before.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by francesco b. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2013 15:02:06
Very useful, it helped me flesh out techniques I had already been using and organize processes I already was employing. Recommended.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Paul E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2013 12:29:59
I wish I would have known about this earlier. It was reviewed on a podcast a very long-time friend of mine has been involved in for some time, and I only recently heard about this, purchased it and have been making my way, VERY slowly -I read slowly- through it. I agree with many of the other reviewers of this fine work... it's really about time we had something like this, essential and inexpensive.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Emily B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/05/2013 17:21:05
This is some of the best Gamemaster advice I've ever read, and I've been GMing for almost twenty years, on a daily basis in some cases. The book is very well-organized, enough that I was able to implement its suggestions in real time as I was reading through it. While most of these concepts are things I've subconsciously discovered throughout my time as a GM, they're also concepts I've never properly mentally organized. This book makes the process faster, helps me remember every step, and brings up some ideas I never consciously considered.

Overall, one of the best RPG supplements I've ever read.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Viktor V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/05/2013 12:16:37
This was a really good book. It has some great insights and methods into how and why to prep for sessions. It's easy to read and understand. One caveat might be that it is somewhat loose, it doesn't tell you PRECISELY what to do but it does the next closest thing.

This book is solely about prep, and how to make prep more enjoyable. It's not about running a session or anything like that.
If you're looking for tips about prep, and want to find a good mentality and methodology around it, then buy this book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Alex N. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/06/2013 06:34:25
One of the reasons this is so successful as a MUST HAVE is the price point. There are a lot of "must have" books or collections that aren't really must-have because of their cost and sadly a lot of people don't purchase them. Never Unprepared is the perfect read for the perfect price.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/24/2012 19:15:30
[Originally posted at http://secondleft.blogspot.ca/2012/10/review-never-unprepare-
d-complete-game.html]

I've recently finished reading through Phil Vecchione's, Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep, and now that I'm finished, it's review time.

Never Unprepared is 134 pages long in what appears to be a large digest format (I only have the PDF version, not the print copy.) This short length of the book, plus the easy writing style, make it very accessible and easy for even a busy GM to read and get something out of. Additionally since the pages are in a smaller format, it's easy to read on a smartphone or small screen tablet.

Screenshot taken from DriveThruRPG for illustration purposes
First off lets go over what this book is not. This book is not a plan to tell you how to do your session prep. It will not say you should do X and Y before a game, and will not solve all the problems that you have in getting preparation done before your game.

So, what is it? I've never seen one before, no one has, but I'm guessing it's a white hole. Sorry, been watching too much Red Dwarf lately (if you've never seen the series it's a BBC sitcom set on a deep space mining vessel, and the early seasons are really good.)

So, what is it? Well Never Unprepared is a book that takes some project management principles (don't worry, it's not scarey) and attempts to apply them to the art of game mastering. Effectively treating the approach to game prep the same way one would a project plan for a large project. Yes this may sound daunting, but don't worry it's all distilled down in the book. The aim of the book is to provide you with a means of developing your own method of gaming prep that is repeatable and honed to suit your gaming needs and your GMing strengths and weaknesses.So the book doesn't tell you how to prep your games, it tells you how to go about working out how is best for you to prep for your games.

I'm going to borrow from the index now to guide you through the book contents.
Foreword
Introduction
How to Use This Book
Understanding Prep
Prep is Not a Four Letter Word
The Phases of Prep
Brainstorming
Selection
Conceptualization
Documentation
Review
Prep Toolbox
Tools for Prep
Mastering your Creative Cycle
Evolving Your Style
Your Personal Prep Templates
The Prep-Lite Approach
Prep in the Real World
Conclusion
References and Inspiration
Index
The core content of the book is explaining the five phases of prep that Phil has identified over his years of GMing. Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation and Review. Each of the sections on that particular area of prep goes into details on what would be contained in that phase, some common pitfalls to avoid, and a quiz to rate your effectiveness at the particular phase. Additionally there are a load of hints and tips along the way on how you may be able to accomplish this phase without telling you how to do it (in other words it doesn't dictate a methodology.)

For example the section on brainstorming suggests just throwing ideas down on paper that seem vaguely interesting. Don't think about them in great detail, don't analyze whether or not they'd be useful or how you can use them, just basic thoughts. Deciding if they're good comes in the Selection phase, and fleshing them out in Conceptualization. Some hints on capturing your brainstorming, such as always having a note application on your smartphone, or a small notebook tucked in your pocket.

There is advice on how you can improve what you do in each section, and how to spot when you are doing too much. For instance are you really good at coming up with evocative location descriptions on the fly? Then you really shouldn't be wasting your time writing it out in more than a bullet point or two to keep a focus.

Yes some of the advice in the book may see obvious to many, but sometimes you still need someone to point it out to you to make it stick in your mind.

It's hard to pick out specifics that are good, and what is bad, but there is so much useful ideas in the book that I'll end up taking on a lot of them and most won't even be conscious. From that perspective you can get more out of the book that you think. In many ways it's a self help book to give you the push towards thinking in a more efficient way about the approach you take to gaming prep.

Conclusion: Is this a book worth reading for any GM? If you find you're not ready in time for your games, or that the gaming prep is taking too much of your time and you consider it sometimes to be time wasted, then definitely buy this book. In fact I'd recommend buying it anyway as even the most experienced Game Masters will likely find something in there that is useful to them. Myself, I'm taking the templates concepts and applying them into my notes, it's already improved things. And since reading the book, I now use Evernote on my smartphone constantly to enter ideas and carry a small notebook in my jacket pocket.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Michael H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/29/2012 20:28:11
Often times game masters (GM) spend as much time preparing for games as they do running them. Every GM has their own methods which are usually developed through trial and error because quite frankly, for everything written about game mastering there is very little said about the process of "session prep." The lucky GMs have someone to guide them but the unlucky ones are forced to stumble through until they eventually figure things out for themselves.

Never Unprepared shows GMs how to skip the grueling task of learning game prep. Based on decades of experience this book helps GMs boil down session prep to a simple but thorough process with allows for focus on what is most important to the game. Then it shows you how to schedule those tasks so your session prep can go as smoothly as possible.

This book is written independent of system so GMs will find it useful for any game. I have been a GM for over two decades and I found this book had plenty of suggestions to make my session prep even easier.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2012 06:37:07
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/15/tabletop-review-never-u-
nprepared-the-complete-game-masters-guide-to-session-prep/r />
Never Unprepared is a book that offers Game Masters (GMs) of all levels, from the brand new to the grizzled, advice from seasoned GM and self-described lover of organization and preparation Phil Vecchione. Is it good stuff or is it a bunch of crap?

Prep yourself before you wreck yourself

As might be expected from a GMing tome, a lot of the advice is about prep. This is great, because a lot of the GM’s job is about prep. Phil has a lot of good stuff to say about getting your ideas together and making them come to life. He advises you not to just sit down and start writing without ideas. Instead, the preparation cycle begins with brainstorming several ideas and then working out the ones that have staying power. After that, there are a few more stages that an idea will probably go through before it has metamorphosed into a full session or campaign. Phil outlines all of these stages, and then goes into them in detail so that anyone can see a clear line of development from conception to implementation.

Now, examining and taking apart the process of turning your idea into a working session may not sound like much fun, or maybe it takes the magic out of GMing a bit, but I think the goal of looking at prep this way is to give you tools and structure to work with so that you can make the methods your own according to your own work habits. And, if your work habits happen to be not very good at the moment (as happens a lot, let’s be honest), there are plenty of suggestions from Phil to help get you in the mindset to really construct a session for your players, and enjoy it too.

This prep is juuuuuust right…


One problem that the book deals with a lot is the idea of over- or under-prepping. It’s happened to anybody who has GMed several times: you’ve ended up with more than the players ever bothered to even explore, or you’ve ended up with not enough stuff and the players deviated slightly from the plan, leaving you struggling for ideas. Phil tries to help GMs assess how much prep they need for the game they are running through things like checklists and questions, such as what kind of players do I have? Will they get really involved in the details or will they skim over everything looking for what’s next? Do I have the general plot of the story covered from beginning to end? Do I have enough of my NPCs statted out? He gives a few examples of what can happen when we’re underprepared, like moving the players from place to place with no apparent connection (“wait, we were just in the Emperor’s throne room, now we’re being rescued from a prison cell?”).

One of the phases in the prep process is the “Selection” phase, where you decide what stays and what goes. The object is to get weak ideas out, and strong ones in and tied together. This is part of having the right prep level: if you don’t get selective about ideas then you can easily end up with too much material and you might end up using what turn out to be the weakest ideas. On the other hand, if you cut out nearly all the ideas for whatever reason, what are you going to craft a session out of? Phil advises keeping ideas that you cut somewhere nearby in case you are struggling for some more material and that idea you threw away yesterday starts to stir your imagination today.

Am I hot or not?

This book gives the GM several opportunities to take stock of their own skills and preparedness. You can read over the questions and give yourself an honest appraisal: how often do I conceptualize? How well do I put my story together? Admittedly, it feels a little arrogant to rate yourself highly, but hey if you’ve got most of this stuff down you might as well admit it.

One of the best parts of the book is the section on the Review phase. In this phase Phil asks you to take a look at your session material from three different perspectives: the Proofreader, the Director, and the Playtester. That is, look at it for general errors like leaving stuff out or grammar, then look at it from a cinematic view imagining how the story and the session flows, then look at it from the perspective of a player and what it will be like to be in your game. This is great, because in the game you can know that you looked at the session from all of these angles, and it is more likely that you will know what a player might do or how a certain scene might work out. In addition to that it just gives you such a great handle on the material you can feel more confident at the table, and your players will probably pick that up and get more into the game.

Space…the only frontier


The latter sections of the book deal a lot with how you work. Phil goes over his love of office supplies (which I totally empathize with) and finding out which tools work for you. Is it as simple as a notebook and a pencil? Great. Do you want your stuff organized with tabs and post-its and binders? Cool, get yourself to the office supply store! I would even add techniques like mind-mapping (Google it), and other less linear methods of writing ideas. Again, Phil emphasizes getting organized.

He mentions that finding prep-time can be difficult if you have a busy home or work life (or both). In those cases, he has some great suggestions for working out when you can work on your session material. They are generally centered on the particulars of his life but you will get the idea, which is basically that you have to make time. It takes dedication, sure, but if you’ve got a group ready and have a game planned, that should be enough to get you motivated. Many of his tips can be applied to just about any objective you are working toward in your spare time, you just do it when you can.

One really cool thing addressed in this book is finding out how to work with your creative cycles. As a creative person, I totally understand the idea of creative periods and the whole cyclical nature of being able to do great work on a project one day and have nothing good come the next. There are some great ideas and tools included in the pages of this section to help an eager GM find the best times to work, and find out how to cultivate their creativity.

Wait, you don’t want to spend that much time on prep, don’t want to figure out your namby-pamby “creative cycles” etc.? Well, Phil has some good suggestions for doing light prep. This is another excellent section of the book, giving examples on simplifying NPC stats and maps into things that you don’t have to look up and pore over.

So? Is it good stuff or crap?

This is good stuff! Admittedly, there are some things in here that experienced GMs are going to read and say “duh!”, but then this book really comes at this Game Mastering thing from all kinds of angles. It wrestles GM duties like Paul Bunyan wrestling a whale shark. Even folks who have been running games for a long time will find something in here that they look at and say “hey, that’s not a bad idea”. This guy is serious about his GM-ing, and he wants you to be too, if you have the will. This book will be great for those who have a group where they are struggling to come up with material on a regular basis. For people who have no pressure on them to create, well, they might read it and give the old “not bad” and keep it in mind for the next time they need to run a session. If you know you are the kind of GM who doesn’t like to prep, doesn’t like to be told how to GM, etc. then don’t bother reading this book. It’s got a lot of good ideas in it, but really we all know next time we sit down with you, oh GM-deity, you will just run it the same way you always do (and hey, sometimes that’s why we love you [or hate you]). Check out more of Phil’s work and more GM advice at Gnome Stew.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by jordan r. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/04/2012 15:41:04
I'll say it right off the bat : "Never Unprepared" is not the book you are looking for if you want to actually get better at preparing your games. Even if there are some useful things buried in it, it's mostly hollow talk and useless advice. This comes as a big (and bad) surprise to me : Eureka and Masks are both very good products that you should buy, Gnome Stew is a very interesting blog that you should read, and posts from NU author Phil Vecchione about prep are really a must. Here is my more detailed review.

The book is 131 pages long, with a very complete index and a table of content, so you get about 120 pages of material. It is divided in 14 chapters, one of them being the conclusion and another one listing references and inspiration, plus a foreword, an introduction and a "how to use this book" passage. Quibble here : introduction and conclusion should be treated the same, so both a chapter or none, while references and inspiration should not be a chapter. The main 12 chapters are divided in three sections, and I'll treat each of them separately here.

The first section, "Understanding Prep", contains seven chapters and fills about half of the page count. Another quibble : the first two chapters feel like an introduction, and maybe should have been lumped together into one. In chapter 1 (Prep is Not a Four-letter Word), the author explains why he believes prep has a bad reputation, and why it should not be this way. In chapter 2 (The Phases of Prep), he gives an overview of the five phases of prep that will each get its own chapter : brainstorming (sparking ideas, chap. 3), selection (choosing some ideas, chap. 4), conceptualization (expanding and fleshing out ideas, chap. 5), documentation (making actual notes, chap. 6) and review (making sure you did not make any mistakes, chap 7).
I could go into details of each of those chapters, but it would be repetitive. They all takes a lot of time explaining what is the phase, why it is important, what problems could happen if you do too much or not enough of it, but does not give much actual advice to accomplish it successfully. There is a "Techniques for Improvement" subsection in each of them, but they're all useless. For example, the three given in the Documentation chapter are really nothing more than "think before you write", "don't write things you don't need" and "make sure you are comfortable with your pen or computer software".
I also have issues with the division of phases itself. It does not strike me as the best one to help people understand and get better at prep. The author insists a lot about the fact that conceptualization and documentation are really distinct phases (the first being the thinking, the second the note-taking), but it strikes me as mostly a matter of semantics. I mean, yes, you can distinguish the act of thinking from the act of writing things down, but in the spirit of getting better at prep, a much more productive distinction, in my opinion, would have been to talk about first preparing the general outline of a session/story arc/campaign, then preparing individual scenes in more details. Reading the book, I am under the impression that the author actually sometimes confuses his own phases with these.

The second section, "Prep Toolbox", contains two chapters : chapter 8 (Tools for Prep) and 9 (Mastering Your Creative Cycle). I thought the section would provide tools to prep my sessions, like templates, plot flowcharts and whatnot to use and hack to fit my needs, and boy, was I wrong. Instead of that, the "tools" of chapter 8 are all about the things you use to prep, like notebooks, computer and pens. I kid you not, there is a table listing pros and cons of pen and paper vs computer, stuff like "paper tools don't require power" but "can't capture audio and video". If the chapter was talking about how to get most of different online tools (here are some great generators, here is how to use Obsidian Portal, etc.) or how to prepare material for your games (draw some battle mats, write conditions on index cards, etc.), that could have been acceptable. But no, there is not a single word on that. What you get instead is stuff like "If you use a notebook, you shouldn’t have to worry about the pages falling out" (p. 68).
Chapter 9 comes down to "make a schedule and plan some time for prep", and seriously blow this thing out of proportion by advising to also plan how your creative energy cycle on a hour-by-hour basis using a 0-to-3 scale (with a color-coded table and graph).
I could not believe I was reading those two chapters in a book devoted to prep, especially since the author repeats many times in other chapters that feeling comfortable using your notebook or software or whatever is important. Think of it this way : of all the things that could have been done in a section titled "Prep Toolbox", NU chooses to elaborate on things third-graders are told on their first day of class. Seriously, this section is so ridiculously inane it's almost insulting.

The last section, "Evolving your style", contains three chapters : chapter 10 (Your Personal Prep Templates), 11 (The Prep-lite Approach), and 12 (Prep in the Real World). Even if it is far from perfect, this is the most useful section.
Chapter 10 opens with this line : "Up to now I’ve avoided talking about what actually goes into your session notes" (p. 86). That hints at how useful the first 9 chapters were. This one gives you some actual usable advice about how you should organize your notes to make them more effective and useful, things like a list of "a list of common GMing weaknesses and some ways to compensate for them" (p. 90). Even if the ratio of good stuff/useless stuff is better here, there is still a lot of filler, like the first 4 pages of the chapter that are repeating things you read before, the "Paper vs Digitial" subsection (that again?) and unfortunately the whole "Template Maintenance" subsection, supposed to give you tips on improving your templates, that just gives you hollow tips of the "if it is too long, make it shorter" kind. It's the best chapter of the book, but I would give it a 3 out of 5 note at best.
Chapter 11 gives you some advice to actually reduce the prep you do, like ways to simplify the stats of your NPCs or to make maps way faster. Even if the presentation is incomplete, they are interesting and useful ideas that you can actually use to prep faster (still, like in the previous chapter, they are swimming in filler). You should know that the author already wrote a series of posts about it on Gnome Stew. The good stuff in this chapter is pretty much directly lifted from it, and there is actually more in the blog posts than in the chapter. NU actually tells you that if you want more details (about all these things that could actually improve you prep), you should go read them.
Chapter 12 gives advices on how to deal with problems that are all variation on either "I need to prep something really fast" or "I want to remove something from my scenario". The way to handle them comes down to "cut down on some phases of prep" and "go back to some phase of prep". There is also the "I was planning to prep my game Thursday, but some other thing came up" problem that meets the "plan some other time to prep" solution. It's a useless chapter.

In my opinion, all the problems of the book comes down to the fact that there is a lot of space dedicated either to explaining and analyzing (and repeating) stuff that really does not need much of it, or to deliver advice that are self-evident and begs the question. For example, the whole chapter 4 is basically only advising you to know your players, your game, your campaign and yourself as a GM. Unless things like "some players love a long dungeon crawl while others want to play out trade negotiations" and "having space aliens invade your Dragonlance® campaign in flying saucers is likely to cause a disruption at your table" are eye-openers to you, the elaboration of those four elements is pointless. To help you with those tasks, there is nothing aside providing really general questions that you probably already ask yourself ("what are your favorite parts of a session?") or don't even bother to because they'll come naturally to your mind when needed ("does your game feature a social combat system?").
Among all that, you will find some good things in the book, but they often feel very incomplete. The reason is that the good stuff is usually only there to illustrate some truism like "your notes should be well-organized" instead of being presented and detailed as a tool in itself. Here is an example taken from the Brainstorming chapter : "What kind of session do I want to have? (As in a chase, a rolling fight, a heist, etc.)" (p. 22). Someone in desperate need of ideas gets a lot more help from reading "a chase, a rolling fight, a heist" (and would get even more if he could read all these words folded in this "etc.") than from being told to ask himself the suggested question. Some chapters are less bad than others, but this is characteristic of NU as a whole, and it's very irritating.
You'll also find some usable but really bad advice. The worst offender is probably on page 44, where it discusses the eternal "A problem has an infinite number of solutions, but your players will only ever pick one" issue. NU's answer? "It’s better to expend energy on the most likely solution, plus perhaps the two next most likely contingencies if you have time." It's like saying that if you prep well (and more than you'll use), you will never be surprised by what players will throw at you. Of course, that is very false. It could be argued that preparing for those situations is exactly what prep is all about, and NU does not even seem to acknowledge that they happen.

Bottom line is that any book that wants to be "The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep" is going to face the problem that not everyone has the same issues with his prep and does not want to achieve the same things with his game. A good one would feel like a knowledgeable worker walking you down the aisles of a big tool store, telling you how to use each of them so you can make an informed decision about which ones you'll bring back home. "Never Unprepared" feels much more like this knowledgeable worker sits in your living room, telling you that you should really go to that tool store and choose stuff you will need, weighting the pros and cons of using a handbasket or a cart to shop and, sometimes, letting you catch a glimpse of some shiny things that he brought from his own toolbox.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2012 23:54:22
As my group’s primary DM, I can testify to the effort that game prep takes. In Never Unprepared, Phil Vecchione helps you to analyze your own strengths and weaknesses, and to use your new self-awareness to improve your prep experiences. No matter how experienced a GM you are or what type or genre of RPG you’re running, you’ll prepare better if you think consciously about your prep process. This book (which, by the way, is thoroughly bookmarked and appropriately hyperlinked in the PDF version) enables you to do just that.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Stu V. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2012 23:26:35
"Never Unprepared" takes what can be the overwhelming task of game prep and divides it into manageable bites. For those unfamiliar with methods of organizing creativity, this book provides an excellent, concise description of the process, and more importantly, doesn't abandon you at the first step (brainstorming).

The advice is general enough that it will remain fresh and relevant for a long time. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels overwhelmed by game prep.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Matthew T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2012 16:18:18
Phil Vecchione is a wise man. As he rightly points out, most GMs are never taught how to prepare for a session; rare is the gaming book that discusses prep work; and gamers just don’t talk about it much. Sure, most of us have developed some kind of haphazard system that works enough, but imagine how much better our games could be if we got organized!

Well Never Unprepared, is the book we need. It presents, in a clear and straightforward style, advise on every aspect of game preparation. It demystifies the creative process, renders prep work non-threatening (and even enjoyable), and reveals how – far from consuming precious time – effective preparation actually maximizes quality time at the gaming table. The book is broken into three sections: Understanding Prep, Prep Toolkit, and Evolving Your Style.

In the first section, “Understanding Prep”, Mr. Vecchione begins by revealing the simple and wonderful purpose of prep: to allow us to run games comfortably, to be, as he puts it, a “back-up GM” to help you out of trouble spots. Prep is broken down into five stages (brainstorming selection, conceptualization documentation, & review), each of which is given its own chapter. This is an in-depth book, with a bit of work-booking, concert techniques for improvement, and common mistakes and pitfalls, in every area of prep. Whether it’s brainstorming on demand or the three stages of reviewing your game prep, this is the heart of the book and every GM will find something she can use here.

If section one is the “what” and “why” of prep work, then section two is the “how and “when”. “Prep Toolkit” concerns the actual tools available for prep work: notebooks, laptops, mutli-media software, etc. Instead of recommending a specific tool, however, Mr. Vecchione demonstrates how to choose the best tools to fit your needs and style.

When to prep and how to find or make the time, is the province of Chapter 9: “Mastering Your Creative Cycle”. This can be a sobering chapter, particularly for us older gamers, as we chart out our free time and realize how much less we have now than in days of yore. But Never Unprepared reveals not only how to squeeze valuable prep time from a busy schedule, but also how to discover when we are at our most creative, what to do when, and how to maximize our time.

In the last section, “Evolving Your Style”, we learn how to apply the rest of the book to our personal GMing needs. Mr. Vecchione discusses identifying our strengths and weaknesses and tailoring our prep work accordingly. He also demonstrates how to tailor prep work according to the needs of a particular game and campaign.

Oh, and in case you were thinking of dismissing Mr. Vecchione as an anal-retentive fusspot, there is “The Prep-Lite Approach”, an entire chapter devoted to time-saving techniques, sneaky GM tricks, and clever “cheats” (such as re-using stat-block, creating only what the PCs see, etc.).

The last chapter examines that messy intersection between theory and practice and offers an array of contingency plans for Real Life incursions such as prior commitments, lack of energy, and the old college buddies that turn up out of the blue and want to game.

The book has evocative illustrations throughout. The PDF is easy to read, with a clear font and a single column of text. There is also a text-only file included in the download. Finally, as befits a book about time management and organization, there a list of resources for GMs and a fairly extensive index.

This is an excellent and important book. I can think of no GM who would not benefit from reading this volume. New GMs, struggling GMs, experienced GMs, even ad lib GMs confident in their ability to “wing it”, will find invaluable information within. Aspiring GMs and players hesitate to GM because of the work involved should definitely read this book as it takes the trepidation out of prep work and might encourage them to step behind the screen. Because this hobby needs all the GMs it can get.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2012 03:27:35
I think I could sum up this review from the Foreward:

"Phil, on the other hand, has taken his expertise as a project manager and his genetic predisposition to nigh-obsessive preparedness and applied these qualities to an entirely systemic and effective treatise on the matter. He’s broken down the whole of the concept, applied a step-by-step presentation of all of the factors you need to consider, and presented it all in a clear, concise, easily grasped way.

The best part of this book is that Phil doesn’t just lay out a list of steps that every GM must follow to the letter. Honestly, that would be fairly useless as well as pretentious. A wiser man, Phil, in that he instead guides you in evaluating your needs as a GM, based on your style of play. From there, he helps you figure out the steps that make the most sense for you."

Phil Vecchione is a regular contributor to Gnome Stew, a site of articles for gamemasters. He's also one of the authors of Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game, and Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters. These products have previews available on the Engine Publishing Website.

Us gamemasters know that proper preparation is key to a good game session, but that's about it. Never Unprepared: Complete Guide to Prep breaks down prep into five phases: Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation, and Review. Brainstorming is the spawning of ideas. Selection is the selection of ideas to use in an upcoming game. Conceptualization is the expansion of each idea, giving it log, a description, and a fit into the overall game. Documentation, aka. the part of the prep process most associate with prep, is writing down the concept that is meaningful to you, the gamemaster. Review, often the most overlooked phase, breaks down into proofreading, directing (reviewing and rehearsing), and playtesting (taking the perspective of the players before the game session).

But, on top of these steps, the book attempts to get you, the gamemaster, to accomplish these phases. What tools do you use for prep -- and even which phase of prep? How do you optimize your creative cycle and personal schedule? What are your strengths and weaknesses as a GM? The book also includes a concrete guide to templates (eg. NPCs and scenes). The Prep-Lite and Prep in a Real World chapters help you compensate when you cannot properly prepare for a game. These sections go beyond the "how to" guidelines of most gamemaster tip articles.

The book comes in both PDF and text format. The PDF is 134 pages long, with art interspersed throughout. Like too many other RPG materials, the art isn't really relevant to the text and could just as easily have been left out. The text is in the UTF-8 character set.

The book isn't for the lazy GM. If anything, it's a project management guide for gamemasters -- and it's still your project. The book has no shortcuts like an "instant NPC generator" or such. It also doesn't address prewritten adventures and their own problems. Nor does it give advice on gut improvisation during a game session. (It does give advice for last-minute preparation.)

I'm also just a little hesitant to recommend this to neophyte GMs. Sure, if you have ideas all brimming in your head, you will want this guide to help organize your thoughts and notes. However, the book may be a little intimidating with how much work you *can* do towards gamemastering. Don't think of it as what you *must* do.

One audience I think this book is absolutely for is the aspiring writer. I'm sure there are plenty of how to's for new writers, but you should be able to use the principles in this book for that novel you've always wanted to write. Many of the guidelines, especially time management, tools, and "thinking about it throughout the day" will be particularly useful for you to get your project off the ground. NaNoWriMo is coming up soon enough, and if all you do is prep, you'll do a better job than those who just pound the keyboard.

Overall, Never Unprepared: Complete Guide to Prep is for any dedicated gamemaster who designs his own adventure. Very well written, and very recommended.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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