Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep

Written by award-winning author Phil Vecchione, Never Unprepared is available in our online store in both print and PDF.

You may think that you already know everything there is to know about prep, but trust me reading someone else’s words on the matter can give you a new perspective on things.” — Stargazer’s World review

Other good gaming find of 2012: Never Unprepared by @Dnaphil has been a great resource. Helped pinpoint areas of prep I’ve struggled with.” — Game designer Mike Mearls

Gnome Stew has hit another home run for the Game Master. Never Unprepared has earned a permanent place in my GM toolbox, right along side the likes of Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, Hamlet’s Hit Points, Play Dirty, Eureka, and Masks. Highly recommended.” — RoleplayDNA review

What’s in the book?

Whether you’re new to game mastering or have been running the same campaign since 1974, Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep will help you prepare for games faster, avoid common pitfalls, and have more fun in the process. To our knowledge, this is the first book entirely devoted to the process of prepping for tabletop RPGs.

Never Unprepared breaks game prep down into its component phases — Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation, and Review — and provides the tools you need to make the most of each phase. If you hate prep, you’ll find ways to make it more enjoyable. If you already have a great system for doing your prep, you’ll learn how to make it even better.

Ten years in the making, Never Unprepared is award-winning author Phil Vecchione’s epic rock ballad to game prep. A project manager and veteran game master, he draws on extensive experience to present flexible systems for developing or optimizing your own unique approach to game prep. Phil’s work has previously appeared on (2012 gold ENnie Award winner for Best Blog, and silver ENnie winner for Best Blog in 2010 and 2011) and in Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters and Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game (2012 ENnie winner for Best Aid/Accessory).

Within Never Unprepared you’ll find prep techniques, utilities, and tips that are applicable to any RPG:

  • An in-depth look at each phase of session prep, from brainstorming to review
  • Templates for sessions, scenes, NPCs, and combats that you can modify to fit your gaming style
  • Practical advice on selecting prep tools, putting them to good use, and scheduling enough time to prepare for every session
  • How to identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as tips for preparing when you’re short on time — and what to do if everything goes horribly wrong
  • A comprehensive index to make it easy to find what you need

Free PDF preview

Want to see how this all comes together in the book? Check out a free 16-page sample PDF featuring the table of contents, the introduction, How to Use this Book, part of Chapter 2: The Phases of Prep, Part of Chapter 9: Your Creative Cycle, and part of Chapter 10: Your Personal Prep Templates, as well as the cover and samples of the book’s interior artwork.

You don’t need any of our other system-neutral titles for GMs to enjoy Never Unprepared, but they do work well together. Bundle it with Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots and Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs and get 20% off in our online store.


Never Unprepared is nominated for a 2013 ENnie Award for Best Writing and was nominated for a 2013 Origins Award for Best Game-Related Publication, and is a Platinum bestseller (top 0.5% out of over 40,000 products) on DriveThruRPG.

Never Unprepared has been reviewed by GMs all over the world, and the reviews have been excellent:

  • Stargazer’s World review — “You may think that you already know everything there is to know about prep, but trust me reading someone else’s words on the matter can give you a new perspective on things.
  • Misdirected Mark review — “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.
  • Tenkar’s Tavern review — “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.
  • Stuffer Shack review — “As far as putting the book to the test, I’m confident that it passed. I am fully ready for our next session, and look forward to preparing future sessions. I seriously doubt there will be any more procrastinating or flying by the seat of my pants, because I feel that I now have the tools to prepare correctly, confidently, and to full effect.
  • RoleplayDNA review — “Gnome Stew has hit another home run for the Game Master. Never Unprepared has earned a permanent place in my GM toolbox, right along side the likes of Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, Hamlet’s Hit Points, Play Dirty, Eureka, and Masks. Highly recommended.
  • Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer review — “Never Unprepared is a definite must-have for any GM. New GMs can learn a lot from this book, picking up the good habits that will serve them well into their latter years of GMing. I would go as far as to put it on the same level as Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering in terms of usefulness to anyone who takes the art (and science) of GMing seriously and is looking to improve his craft.
  • What Do I Know? review — “Between having some actual guidelines for steps to follow, and some rudimentary work on what days I should do those steps on in order to not have to do everything at the last minute, I actually found the two sessions I’ve prepped in the time since I’ve read the book to be less stressful.
  • RPGnet review — “The Prep-Lite and Prep in a Real World chapters help you compensate when you cannot properly prepare for a game. These sections go beyond the “how to” guidelines of most gamemaster tip articles.
  • RPGnet review — “A “Prep-Lite” approach is also explored with emphasis on a GM relying on their strengths, use of quick tags for NPCs, abstract mechanical elements, and simplified mapping approaches which correlate to story paths (rather like the logical path layout of text-based adventure games).
  • Wampus Country review — “Never Unprepared is good. No, it’s really good. When somebody recommends Robin’s Laws, I roll my eyes a little, because I didn’t much care for it. But I like Never Unprepared; it’s so full of good ideas and techniques that even if you don’t use some of them right now, you might want them when you reread the book next year. You heard me, reread it next year.
  • Keith Davies — In My Campaign review — “A very good addition to my bookshelf. I’ll be going over my own practices and templates to see where I can improve them — I don’t doubt that I can, using this book.
  • Big Blue Die review — “I can think of no GM who would not benefit from reading this volume. New GMs, struggling GMs, experienced GMs, even ad lib GMs confident in their ability to “wing it”, will find invaluable information within.
  • The Iron Tavern review — “This book was very good. This book should be standard issue to any new GM or any GM that says they simply don’t have time to run a game anymore as real life responsibilities increase.
  • Jennisodes review — “This book goes through all the aspects of preparing for a game. There is a lot of great information in the book along with tips and tricks to help a GM get ready for the next game session.
  • Flames Rising review — “In retrospect, I think I now know why this subject matter hadn’t been covered before now. I think it was waiting for Phil Vecchione to cover it. […] I believe that if given the chance, he will forever change your GM methods as well, and for the better.
  • Diehard GameFAN review — “Even folks who have been running games for a long time will find something in here that they look at and say “hey, that’s not a bad idea”. This guy is serious about his GM-ing, and he wants you to be too, if you have the will.
  • Evil Machinations review — “Never Unprepared showed me what I’m missing. Whether you’ve been GMing thirty years or thirty days, you’ll find something helpful in this book. There’s really new information in the book. I often found myself thinking “Yeah, I knew that.” But I’d never thought about it in such a cohesive way.
  • RPGGeek review — “So overall I was very impressed by the book. It had an immediate impact on my game preparation and an immediate positive impact on my next gaming session.
  • Master of the Game review — “This is where Vecchione’s handy guide excels–shattering the myths that I suspect a lot of game masters have about their session notes. It’s clear that Vecchione “gets it”.
  • Second Left RPG review — “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.
  • Hamishakia review in Hebrew, part one (English auto-translation) — “To summarize, Never Unprepared is a valuable essay which assigns great importance to a key part in game writing that hasn’t got much attention until now.
  • RPGGeek review — “Even GMs who think they have it all figured out need to read this book. This might be the best book I have read for GMs.
  • No Ordinary Obsession review — “I ran across Never Unprepared at my friendly local gaming shop (FLGS) a few months ago and it is chock full of useful advice for anyone who is GMing, from first timers to people with decades of experience like myself.
  • Game Master’s Journey, episode 56 — “This book is an excellent resource for GMs, and I learned a lot from it. Not only does it give you pointers on preparing for an RPG session, but it also helps you to figure out how to make your prep work for you and how to use it to shore up your weaknesses as a GM. I think this is a useful resource for ALL GMs.
  • DriveThruRPG reviews from customers and reviewers:
    • (five stars) “This book is pure gold.” — Sébastien T.
    • (four stars) “The book was inspirational — particularly the system for session documentation.” — Scott R.
    • (five stars) “Really, this book turns the GM’s prep work almost into exact science. It really puts things in a good perspective!” — Guntis V.
    • (five stars) “This is an excellent and important book. I can think of no GM who would not benefit from reading this volume.” — Matthew T.
    • (five stars) “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.” — Emily B.
    • (five stars) “I would recommend this book to anyone who feels overwhelmed by game prep.” — Stu V.
    • (five stars) “In Never Unprepared, Phil Vecchione helps you to analyze your own strengths and weaknesses, and to use your new self-awareness to improve your prep experiences.” — Chris H.
    • (one star) “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.” — Jordan R.
    • (five stars) “I have been a GM for over two decades and I found this book had plenty of suggestions to make my session prep even easier.” — Michael H.
    • (five stars) “Never Unprepared is the perfect read for the perfect price.” — Alex N.
    • (five stars) “If you’re looking for tips about prep, and want to find a good mentality and methodology around it, then buy this book.” — Viktor V.
    • (five stars) “Recommended.” — Francesco B.
    • (five stars) “I wish I would have known about this earlier.” — Paul E.

Articles and podcasts

Never Unprepared has also been featured in articles and podcasts that look at the book from different angles:

If Never Unprepared sounds like a book you’d like to have on your shelf, pick up a copy in our online store!

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