Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review: Odyssey by Phil Vecchione

I have to admit up front that part of my problem with Odyssey by Phil Vecchione is that I read and loved his book, Never Unprepared.  Never Unprepared dealt with session preparation for the GM and was a tight, informative, ridiculously helpful book.  I went into Odyssey, a book on campaign management, with similar hopes, but ended up disappointed.  This isn’t to say that Odyssey is a bad book, it just came under the bar of his former work.

First, the good parts.  The book tackles an ambitious topic, not the running of a game session, but actually managing a full blown campaign.  The book tackles this several sections, including how to create a campaign, how to manage the campaign as it goes, and how to end it.  I find the section on ending particularly apt, given how I just ended mine.  Each area has this fictional gaming group of three players and a GM introduce and close each section, first with the GM doing it wrong and then with her doing it right (kudos to the authors for making the GM a black female in a wheelchair, by the way).  The examples are hyperbolic or ridiculous, but are believable as examples.

My problem, quite simply, is one I think that could not really be avoided.  Namely given the vast multitude of personalities that GM's possess, and the many different games--both in genres and rules--that you have in the roleplaying game universe, trying to move past generalities quickly excludes people.  No where was this more evident that in the playing styles of the two authors: Vecchione who describes himself as a "story" GM (implying his games focus on character interaction and development) and Walt Ciechanowski who describes himself as a pretty "free form" GM who does little prep work beyond creating a bunch of "ingredients" and throwing them all together as the game goes along.  So by their own admission, their playing style differs from more tactical GM's or GM's that favor player agency over storylines, and also GM's that like to develop a lot more detail in advance.  As someone who, honestly, tends to be all three of those things, I kept looking for more solid advice about tools, e.g. how one keeps track of NPC's or platforms for campaign journals that allow multiple editors.  So the book has lots of helpful general, fairly abstract advice, but it doesn't have the hard-and-fast outlines that was seen in Never Unprepared.  Does this make the book bad?  No, it just tries really, really hard to be all things to all GM's, and in the process ends up a little soft in the process.

If Odyssey was a movie, I'd said "rent, but don't bother buying."  I enjoyed reading it, make no mistake, but I don't see myself going back to this book the way I do Never Unprepared. Since you can't do that, I'd say buy it if you can afford it easily or are really interested in the sort of foundational elements of gamemastering, pass on it if you are on the fence.


  1. Good review. I will second the recommendation for Never Unprepared.

  2. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who was disappointed. A book about GM'ing just needs to have a lot more concrete advice and tools than Odyssey is packing. The 1st edition DMG is the bar that everyone is supposed to be trying to match or beat.