Friday, March 29, 2013

Never Unprepared (Book Review)

Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep (EGP42003) by Phil Vecchione

I spotted this book at my FLGS about a month ago in the new product section and was immediately taken by the fact that the store had stocked not a gaming book but a book about gaming.  The gaming store owner told me he was trying to stock products that would appeal to a wide base of RPG customers.  It certainly appealed to me, because I'm not the greatest GM prep person in the world.  Part of that is because I am inherently disorganized, and the internal struggle between my lack of organizational discipline and venues such as work and my house makes up a lot of my life.  I've recently been reading Zen to Done, a book on how to increase productivity and organization, and Never Unprepared reads more than a bit like the GM's version of that book (in fact both book reference the same source material).

So here's what's in Never Unprepared: a step-by-step guide on the phases of adventure creation.  It begins with brainstorming, then selection, conceptualization, documentation, and review.  Each phase in gone over in detail in terms of what it does and doesn't contain, as well as helpful suggestions on how to handle this phase in your busy adult life.  There's also suggestions as to what happens when you do the particular phase too much or too little.

After that, there's a section on determining the best tools for your session prep.  This section was probably the least helpful, but only because my own process of finding tools for my work (which involves a bit of creative expression) is pretty well developed.  I'm a Levinger/Moleskin/Evernote addict, but if you don't know what any of those terms mean, this section will probably be very helpful.

The final section deals with identifying the creative dimensions that are particular to you specifically, including your regular schedule and personality.  Much of this section is just about making sure that you create a discipline of preparation that you can enjoy, rather than find odious.

I have to say, I've been running games for the better part of thirty years, and still found this book to be a fantastic read.  It took what is for me and probably most GM's a fairly messy, organic process and shaped into something that is functional and productive.  I know there's a brand of "all-improv" GM out there, and more power to them, but I think most players appreciate it when they are dealing with a GM who has their act together, and this book will help with that.

If I've got a criticism, and it's a small one, it is that the presumption regarding adventure design tends to presume a fairly narrative-heavy design.  There's lots of references to creating plots, and I know there's an entire school of adventure design that is dedicated to avoiding creating plots that PC's move through, but instead creating fairly neutral worlds and letter the PC's wander around and do what they want (the "sandbox" approach).  That bias doesn't take away too much from appreciating the book, but I could see some OSR grognards grinding their teeth a little bit imaging novice GM's being herded toward that kind of adventure design.

Buy it.  Seriously, it's $20, it's written by a RPG blogger like you and me, and its a well-written, very informative book.  And, I think it's the beginning of a new trend in RPG literature that I really like.

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