This weekend I ran another session of my longest ongoing campaign but the new twist was I used Never Unprepared, by Phil Vecchione, and published through Engine Publishing, to Prep for it. I’ll be honest, it was really useful. Using the process of Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation, and Review prepared me to pull off the session I wanted and gave me enough foundation to improvise when necessary.
I consider myself a very good improvisational GM. I can do quite a bit with very little. Heck. One time I designed a game engine and ran a game of it off the cuff in fifteen minutes. It was a solid a two hour session with a complete story and satisfied players. One of the reasons I’ve trained myself to do this is because I’m one of those people who wanted to do less prep. I’ve run games off a half a sheet of notes, a bullet pointed list, a couple of notes cards, and kept searching for ways to do less prep because it wasn’t fun. Coming up with plots and trying to figure out what the antagonists were up to was fun, creating interesting situations was a blast, but I didn’t have a way to organize and access all the idea’s in my
head at the table. So once I got Never Unprepared I did a test. I read the book cover to cover and then went through it step by step to prep my next scenario.
Through this exercise I realized a few things about myself. I try to hold to much information in my head, I have terrible note structure, I’m bad at coming up with names on the fly, my NPC’s are hit or miss when I make them up on the fly, D&D 4e has too great a reliance on Stat blocks and I need to figure out a better short hand or system for them, and I waste a lot of time preping because I don’t have a system. I got all this from one pass through Never Unprepared and am well on the path to fixing a fair amount of these issues.
This leads me to believe Never Unprepared is more like a self help book for GM’s who feel overwhelmed with prep. It doesn’t tell you how to do things but breaks down the steps of prep into digestible chucks and then guides you into building a system for yourself based on your GMing strengths and weaknesses. For example the books tells us to use a session template and then scene templates within the session template. This makes sense because most of our games are just a series of scenes, the scenes being the places where the camera closes in on our characters. The nice thing is the book helps GM’s discover what is necessary to them because what is good to one person might not be for another.
To start us we’re given a huge example list of things we could include in a template but only two are thought to be necessary. The Purpose and Closing.
The Purpose of a scene or session reminds us of the why. In a scene a few examples might be “an interesting trap for the party to overcome”, “a conversation with the king to give the players a chance to gain his trust”, “to have an action packed chase through the streets”, or “a fight to decide the fate of the universe.”
The closing is an end condition or two for the session or scene. Take the last Purpose example, “A fight to decide the fate of the universe.” The Closing could be “The universe falls into darkness” or “The universe’s fate is decided by the PCs.”
I throw NPC’s and their defining traits along with some notes on rules or motivations in my scene template. Some people would want to have different things like Combat tactics, bits of Dialog, maybe the Weather, or any number of things. The point is getting to a place where you feel comfortable behind the screen.
I hope this wets your appetite for the book. Before I’m finished I just wanted to say a few more things. This book has been lovingly edited and laid out. It reads smooth, never feels preachy, and has some nice anecdotes about Phil’s life as he’s preped for games which helps with the books flow. The art style is pretty interesting, going for a concept art look which is more like finished art with a concept art feel. Of course the book is hyper-linked but being less of a resource book and more of a GM help book it’s less important than Masks or Eureka but implemented well.
So as I check out from my first sort of overview of a product I do want to give my opinion. I got as much from reading this book as I did from reading John Wick’s Play Dirty or Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley. I think it’s an invaluable read for GM’s who want to take their games up a notch and even more for those GM’s who are starting to feel the time crunch of their life. This book will save you time. This book will help you keep your games going. Just because life is filling up for those of us with families, work responsibilities, and anything else life demands, doesn’t mean we need to stop gaming. Pick up Never Unprepared. It’ll help if you let it.
Chris “The Light” Sniezak