If you follow my Social posts on Facebook, you’ve seen me refer to the term ‘Next Level DMing’.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think I’m the only one using it.  If not, please correct me.

But in short, it means to elevate one’s game, specifically when you are the Game Master of a Campaign.  It means taking what you know and raising the stakes.

I think a lot of Gamers get comfortable with how they play their games.   Because the activity is often used as a pastime and an escape.  After all, playing games should not feel like work, it should feel like  . . . well, play.

Since coming back to the DM chair, I’ve wanted to take that playful energy and push it.  Because of the ‘D&D Resurgence’, as I’ve seen it referred to in pop culture,  there’s A LOT of really great gaming content to be seen and consumed.  One only has to spend about 10 minutes on YouTube to see and experience some truly epic tabletop role-play.

So, what does this mean to me?  Well, it has meant taking all the other little hobbies I’ve had in my life and incorporating them into my game presentation.  I don’t write game content as much as I just imagine it, so I feel like pouring that energy into writing would be too insular for the sharing experience I want to achieve.  That means I’ve switched to using pre-generated content (a nice word-wash for ‘someone else’s hard work’).  I do my homework combing through the pages before each game session and try to prepare for all the potential directions it could take.

The next part is about presentation.  As much as D&D is about imagination, I like visuals.  So, I’ve been spending a lot of time (and sometimes money) collecting graphics and art that I can show during the game session.  We don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the images, I just use them to quickly convey the kind of mood or expectation I’m wanting to set.  I find proper execution makes getting people’s minds into the scenario very efficient.  Words are great, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes what I say versus how I see the meaning of those words is lost in translation.  Show a picture and say, “Like this.” gets a room full of people on the same page pretty quick.

Lately, I’ve also been using a Virtual Tabletop called Fantasy Grounds.   One day I may write up a review, but as I feel I’m still learning the interface and functions, I’ll save that for later.  In the short time I’ve been using the program, the software has changed my entire approach to prepping for the game.  The fact that I can use it with other existing technologies to turn the paper and snack cluttered game table (a favorite feature of many sessions, I know) into a heads up, lean forward kind of presentation is its primary reward.  It just works for me.

Another thing I’ve taken to recently is ‘gifting’.  That is, giving things to my players that show that I’m invested in their fun.  Recently, when we started our new campaign, I made up folders for each of my player’s characters.  The crafting of these customized binders was a blast, and the players really enjoyed receiving them.  Honestly, it cost me more time than it did money. Of course, I won’t be able to do gifting at each session.  But I will look for opportunities to do more gifts in the future.

One unexpected result of all this extra ‘work’ is that I’ve been able to reap other benefits from the game session.  If you are reading this blog on the regular, you are seeing the Adventure Logs that come from the sessions.  All this prep is making it VERY easy to keep track of the happenings at the game sessions.  Turning that over into blogging content has been another blessing.  I think it will serve several purposes.  Not only is it a record of current goings on for the players.  it will also be a record for all time of the fun we had.  Plus, because I give my players exclusive first look, they still get to feel like it’s for them.  They know I turn these posts public after they have had an exclusive window.

It also makes for great reading for those that have wanted to join a game, but can’t commit to the time.  They get to live vicariously through the other players adventures.  Perhaps it will stir up a desire to join a future game.

In the last Adventure Log I posted, I actually had enough content to do something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do.  I turned it into a narrative and recorded it into Audio.  Then I attached the audio file to the blog post, effectively turning it into a Podcast.  Now, I know I’ve gone WAY ahead of myself with this.  I mean, my writing could definitely use some polish.  The audio editing also needs work.  Things like pacing and effects could really dress it up nice.  I figure I’ll get there as I go along.  I see no reason to stifle my passion waiting on perfection.

So, I hope those continue and improve.  At this rate, I feel like I’m getting a million miles per gallon on the effort put forth.  And my appetite for going farther seems to be just growing.  It feels really good after all this time to let all the various passions I have culminate together into this thing I’m doing now.