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Review: Never Unprepared

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book coverI hate writing reviews. I’ll describe a game or tell you why I like a blog, but to do an actual review…well, it takes something really good to make me sit down and write an actual review.

Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep by Phil Vecchione is that good. I spend a lot of time writing about things that most GMs don’t think about writing — like a book on how to write adventures— but I never even thought about writing a book about preparing for game sessions.

I’ve been a GM for a long time (30+ years) but I’ve never really thought much about session prep.  Since I have a very improvisational GMing style, my game prep has consisted largely of daydreaming about what the important NPCs have been up to and jotting down a couple of quick notes about what the PCs need to find that session to advance the plot. My game notes usually take up about half a page.

Never Unprepared showed me what I’m missing. Whether you’ve been GMing thirty years or thirty days, you’ll find something helpful in this book. There’s really new information in the book. I often found myself thinking “Yeah, I knew that.” But I’d never thought about it in such a cohesive way.

And that’s this book’s strength. It takes what you already know, codifies it into a set of steps that you can follow each and every time you sit down to plan your game. And these steps cover everything from figuring out your strengths and weaknesses as a GM to how to prepare a session at the last minute.

The chapter and section titles give you a good sense for what each section is about. The 132 page book is broken into three main sections:

  1. Understanding Prep talks about the various stages of prep and why each are necessary, as well as helping you take stock of the stages of prep you’re already strong in and the stages where you need to improve.
  2. Prep Toolbox tells what kind of tools are useful for game prep and how to discover the ones that work best for you. It also covers how find (or make) time in your busy Real Life™ schedule and how to make your prep work fit your personal creative creative cycle.
  3. Evolving Your Style is (in my opinion) the meat of the book. This is the section that made the book worth the $19.95 I paid for it. It covers how to create custom templates to streamline your prep sessions. But the best part of it, for me, was the Prep in the Real World chapter that covers how to adjust your prep cycle to deal with the unexpected curves Real Life throws at you.

The book is written in a conversational style that’s enjoyable as well as informative. This is a “from the trenches” book: the author has been GMing almost as long as I have and has to fit his game prep in around a full time job and family priorities. So the book is written with the needs of busy people in mind.

If there’s one quibble I have, it’s with the layout of the print book. I like the 5×8 size–it’s easy to fit into a game bag and I’m guessing the publisher, Engine Publishing (who also brought us Masks and Eureka) wanted to keep the page count down to help keep the book affordable. But I would really have loved wider margins, so I could take notes in the book itself. The 5/16″ side margins make the book feel very cramped and detract from the otherwise professional look of the book.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you’re having trouble preparing for game sessions (or even if you’re not) this book will help you find the problem and fix it. After reading it, I’m excited and eager to dig into preparing for my next game session, something I’d previously considered a chore. And that alone makes it worth the cover price.

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