DriveThruRPG.com
Browse Categories













Back
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
 
$19.95 $9.95
Average Rating:4.4 / 5
Ratings Reviews Total
22 16
7 1
6 1
1 1
0 2
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master\'s Guide to Session Prep
Click to view
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Jordan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/31/2019 23:00:20

[Originally published in 2012. For some reason, DTRPG changes the date when you edit, bumping it back to the top. Sorry for that : I simply divided the paragraphs properly.]

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: Encoded Designs
by Justin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2019 14:47:22

A great read that dives into the rare touched subject of how and what to prep and time management. System agonist and can be applied to others things beyond DND as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Edward C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/21/2019 22:02:30

The product has been edited after the fact to replace content, namely the Sean Patrick Fannon foreward. I have no side in the Fannon affair, and do not even own a Shaintar book, but am extremely uncomfortable with the precedent of removing content from a published piece on the grounds of the author's behavior.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Mike C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/11/2018 17:48:10

There is some sound advice in here but it's diluted with filler material and what-works-for-you and generalities to the point that I felt it wasn't of value. It's a shame because I'm sure the author knows A LOT MORE than me about being a GM and preparing for sessions. I'd love to learn from him.

For example: There's a whole section on pens and paper vs. electronics but not a mention of any online tools like Obsidian or even Google Docs. Dropbox gets a passing mention but there are paragraphs about pens and pencils.

Selecting your tools has questions like: Are your tools reliable and available when you need them? Do the devices you use have long-lasting batteries? Do your tools work well in those locations?

Some of the best advice is to build templates and put fields on the templates for the things you are weak at, so you're reminded to do them. (Do you forget weather in your scenes? Add a weather field. Forget signature combat moves or tactics for your NPCs? Add a field.) It's good advice. I feel like I read 130 pages for that, and didn't get to see any true sample templates.

This book needed an editor. A ruthless, heartless editor.

There's a really long review here by Jordan R. and he's word-for-word correct.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Elizabeth A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/01/2016 15:19:38

Solidly ok. I really enjoyed Chapter 7 on how to review your prep, and Chapter 10 on creating and using templates for your scenes. For the value of those two chapters, I felt it was probably worth the price and worth my time spent reading the whole thing.

Much of the rest read like painfully dry time-management self-help. Maybe that's something other GMs need, but I don't need to be reminded of how few hours in the day I really have or how to shift my other tasks around to make room for game prep. I definitely, definitely don't need special little names for each type of life's normal interruptions. I'm an adult and have been juggling various combinations of marriage/school/work/kid/hobbies for a while. If I wanted a self-help time-management book I'm not sure I'd come here for it. But maybe this would help someone who is just getting started with trying to strike a balance in life.

I strongly suspect this guide would be more helpful for someone running a campaign. At present and for the foreseeable future I run published one-shots or short modules. I want to be better prepared for those, and as a newish GM, I hoped that this guide would help me. But I don't really need to brainstorm, somebody else wrote the material for me.

I do appreciate that the PDF was well bookmarked, so that if I do find myself wanting a refresher on brainstorming, conceptualization, and documentation, I might come back to this guide. If I can talk my new group into committing to a campaign one day, I'll probably be more glad I read this.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Markus D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/02/2015 06:16:05

This is project-management for Gamemasters - to me a very motivational and truly helpful little book! As a beginner GM this well structured text helped me get a good grasp and an overview on the different tasks involved in gamemastering. This in turn makes it easier to fit this hobby into my weekly schedule. Especially if you liked David Allen's GTD, you will also enjoy this book. And as I am sure I will read it again, I can only give this book the best rating.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Sébastien T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/20/2015 12:28:09

This book is pure gold. As the author states quite a few times - most people "do their thing" mostly on intuition. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it's so terrible it actually multiplies your work load. I like the fact the author takes a step back and doesn't enforce his views and solutions onto the reader but offers self-evalutation, while often stating the obvious and offering a possible way of solving different problems This book aims for no specific system, as that's something the reader must figure out for him self, however the pointers and hints dropped all along the book should facilitate this task greatly. All in all, if you struggle as GM or don't feel like everything is going as well as it should, this book is for you. Even GMs who have been running games for quite a few years might learn something new as this book demands to evalute one-self. If you feel like you could improve don't look any further. You have arrived at your destination.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/13/2015 12:17:24

I have been Gming games for decades and teach project management. It would seem I have little to learn from a short book on GM prep by a project management perspective. I was happily surprised. The book was inspirational -- particularly the system for session documentation. The book is professional organized making it an easy read and a satisfying buy.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Encoded Designs
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: Encoded Designs
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: Encoded Designs
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: Encoded Designs
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: Encoded Designs
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: Encoded Designs
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: Encoded Designs
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/24/2012 19:15:30

[Originally posted at http://secondleft.blogspot.ca/2012/10/review-never-unprepared-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!]
Displaying 1 to 15 (of 21 reviews) Result Pages:  1  2  [Next >>] 
Back
0 items
 Gift Certificates