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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Professional Dungeons & Dragons is Not a Thing

Once more unto the breach...

If you missed my last post, which seems unlikely given the tweets, G+ pings and Facebook notifications I am still getting as of the writing of this next post, you can find it here. It was wildly popular, and received both positive and negative attention from a wide spectrum of TTRPG players, DM's and self-proclaimed aficionados.

I was glad for it all.  My thoughts and questions sparked of a wonderful and lively conversation.  Some folks denounced me outright, while still others proclaimed my point 'well put'.  Even Matt Mercer reached out with his own thoughts via twitter.  For the most part it was all very civil, and I think these conversations, questions, and opinions should be available to anyone who has access and wants to listen, or has something to say.

A pattern arose.  At first I didn't see it, drowned out by much of the noise being created by those who agreed and those who did not.  Suddenly, it appeared.  Many of the people who disagreed with my query/opinion did so using the following analogy (more or less)...

 "It's like saying there should be no pro basketball because some kids play street ball and could never live up to that standard. Or no MLB because there's little league."


"Isn't that like saying watching the Cubs win the World Series is bad for potential Little Leaguers, because they shouldn't expect every game to be at the same level of play?"

So it seemed that in many cases people who saw nothing wrong with Critical Role, or any other popular or unpopular 'cast of actual play roleplaying sessions saw the very 'best' of these as PROFESSIONAL, as in Professional Sports.

Wow.  Mind Blown.

That got me wondering even further, this rabbit hole now deeper than the last.  What did it mean that people who play TTRPGs, some new to the hobby and some long time players, thought that what Critical Role was doing was broadcasting a professional level game?  Holy crap.

To my knowledge, and to date, there has been no such thing.  People being paid for game materials to date have been the creators, the writers, the artists who build the tools we all use to play our games.  From Gygax and Arneson, Steve Jackson, and now to Goodman, Finch, and Spahn (and a whole mess more).  These were players of games who loved games and expanded the knowledge base and rule base to make the game more fun and interesting for players of every type, in every place.

Now, however, what seems to be emerging is a new breed.  The Professional Gamer (DM/Player), not unlike the pro video game players of the last decade (even though there really is no competition here, where in other games (sports) it is clearly a competition...

...Which is where the analogy that I kept seeing again and again ultimately fell apart.  It's not a competition.  It's just a fun game.

Matt Mercer is indeed a professional.  He is a fantastic voice actor.  When my son (11) found out that I had had a brief twitter exchange with Matt, he smiled and shook with joy.  As a big Overwatch player he was well aware of Matt's involvement with that game.  I scored big dad points, which means more to me than any and all the conversations we're having about this here stuff.  What Matt does during his game, employing all of his skill and training as a professional voice actor, makes for a fun and engaging show.  SHOW.  It's great that his players get to experience Matt's talents in that way, during a game that is all about telling a story through characters.

In my opinion, Matt is not a professional DM, he is a professional voice actor (and a great one, just check out his IMDB) who 'casts his games, his hobby.  His broadcast games are not professional level games, they are just games he plays his way.  Maybe he is making some profit from this endeavor, and that is absolutely fine.  His JOB is to entertain people, and he's good at it.  He should be paid for it.  This is not normal, however.  There are few other people who can earn a living, in full or in part, by doing what he does with Critical Role.  By comparison, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who end up in professional sports as players.

TTRPGs are amazing, and I love them.  I've been playing these games for a long time as a DM and player, but never once did I think that I should get paid to do it.  I'm very good at it, maybe great depending on who you ask, but I don't see it as a profession.  I don't think Matt sees it as a profession either...

...but many of his fans clearly do.

[I'd like to state, for the record, that while these won't be the last opinions I post on my blog, it will be the last in what appears to now be a series (if 2 makes a series).  Next week it will be back to my normal postings, which will likely interest considerably fewer people, but I hop that those new folks who have happened upon my blog will check back now and again to see what I'm up to, and check out some of the gaming content I enjoy providing.  Thanks for reading.]


  1. Professional sports are entertainment too, pure and simple. Professional athletes are entertainers. Autograph signings and all, the anology is valid. That said, the CR people are just playing their game, and letting us peek into the window.

  2. Being a professional means you get paid for it, you make money from it. It doesnt have to mean more. I think its great that some people can get paid to play this hobby just like its great some people can get paid to play sports.

  3. Some of us over at ProGM Society are or have been earning money as Games/Dungeonmasters, I was employed in company, to run my own game system as a daily event for staff, for almost eight years, that was 75% of my job, to GM. I consider myself a professional GM by that standard.

  4. My $.02: I signed a contract with a FLGS to run birthday RPGs at their store but they closed their location before it took off. I could have been a Pro DM! It's still something I kick around as doing on my own but having a big(ger) store to host would have been ideal. Good series, Howard.

    1. Awwww man. I know you could have used the dough. Sorry it fell through. It seems like when it's bundled with some sort of babysitting gig, it has merit. I know you like kids ;)
      AS always thank you for reading and commenting. Hope you and your family have a happy and healthy New Year!

    2. Thanks, Howard! Same to you. I dare not step foot into the maelstrom of today's blog's comments.