Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep, his timing couldn't have been better. I had three sessions of my new Adventurer Conqueror King System game under my belt and my party was ready to leave they starting town. My intention is to run this campaign in a sandbox style and the prep was both overwhelming in the amount of time it required and underwhelming in the return I was getting on my prep time. Having the chance to evaluate a book on session prep while at the same time possibly improving my own methods could possibly kill two birds with one stone. Talk about synchronicity.
So, what are my impressions of Never Unprepared?
First, Never Unprepared is far more than merely a GM's guide to session prep. Many of the methods within are perfectly suitable for anyone looking increase their creativity, especially writers. I guess in some sense, that is what GMs that prepare their own material are - screenwriters for actors that are going to riff off of your creations and possibly take your stories in totally new directions.
Even if you are working off of the material of others, or integrating the work of others into your own campaign, you need to know it well enough that it all works. Just like stopping play to look up a game rule can take your players out of their immersion in the game session, so can having to reread every room description as your players encounter them. As the author says in the book, dead airtime on the radio causes listeners to change stations. The last thing you want is your players "changing stations" and playing Angry Birds on their phone as you try to read a room description or fill in the blanks.
How are the tools that are presented to you? Excellent. You probably don't need to use all of the methods presented, and you will certainly be adjusting and tweaking what is presented to conform to your style of creativity and game mastering needs, but the tools and techniques are extremely useful.
For me, the Creativity Heat Map is probably the most novel and striking part of the book that I read. By knowing when your mind is at it's most creative, you can actually plan your brainstorming (an excellent technique to develop game ideas) for the most effective times. This is something I'm going to be filling out for myself over the coming week. It should lead to great insight into myself in addition to helping me harness my creative energies.
As for prep to make my game sessions run just a bit smoother, I'm going to put together a cheat sheet of sorts that will cover any combat situations that causes the group to stop and find an answer during play. Although I am fairly skilled at making decisions via DM Fiat when needed, I'm finding that special actions or non standard uses of skills during combat (or even common spells) are causing rulebook flipping that could be avoided by a simple one line summary on a cheat sheet.
Not that there isn't a load of other stuff that I'll be stealing for my game prep, as the different templates that are mentioned and described (Session, Scene and Specialty) are going to improve my organization by orders of magnitude. Which of course will go hand in hand with the methods used to actually think up my players' encounters and locations.
That's what makes Never Unprepared an excellent resource. You can take from it what you need now and add more techniques later. This is certainly the book's strength, as it is very modular in this sense. For me, I can already see which techniques will have an immediate impact on my creativity and in smoothing out our session play, techniques I can implement with minimal effort. I'm also thinking about which bits and pieces I may add to my game prep style down the line.
Never Unprepared is a set of tools for you to use to improve your GM prep time. Only you know which tools will work best for you and your style of prep, but rest assured, there are tools in this toolbox waiting to help.