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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Being the DM is Hard Work...a Rebuttal.

It's funny how one blog post seems to so easily lead me to the next via comments.  Patterns of commonality or dissonance quickly emerge and provide some nice meat to chew on for the next bit of writing.

As always, the opinions expressed below are mine.  You aren't required to share them, but I'm always interested to listen to other people's thoughts and feelings about the subject matter I tackle.

In my last blog post I talked about my mixed thoughts and feelings about Pay to Play DM's.  You can read it here if you missed it.  Also, it's important to understand that I often throw these thoughts up for discussion on some facebook groups and twitter and such, so the comments on the blog page likely do not encompass the entire discussion.  If you want to delve further down the rabbit-hole, maybe check out these groups on FB, or some of the G+ communities that focus on the OSR or Roleplaying, where I've likely posted links as well.

OK, so more than a couple of people held the opinion that DM's certainly have the right to be paid, and their reasoning often fell upon a common theme.  In a nut shell, 'it's hard work.'  I will concede that it requires work, though I'm not so sure it's all that hard.

Look, don't misunderstand me.  As a DM of well over 30 years, I  realize that a certain amount of time and preparation is required to ensure that a game runs moderately smoothly, is interesting and entertaining, and doesn't run off the rails.  If this is indeed labor, then it is a labor of love.  If you are putting time and energy into the DMing aspect of the hobby, and you aren't having fun...stop doing it.  There's also a rather large investment of your time, though this is the same for most hobbies.  Also, as with most pastimes, your time investment is usually larger on the front end as you learn.  Once you've gained a certain level of proficiency, the amount of time required to pull off a successful game session lessens, sometimes to almost nil.

Let's not forget the endless supplements and modules available to the DM.  If you can afford to spring for this stuff, your 'job' as the DM just took several steps in the direction of 'much easier'.  Now you just need to read and familiarize yourself with the material, and then be prepared to manage the table.

Manage the table?  But isn't that work?

I don't think so.  If your group is unruly and they don't already respect the position you've chosen or been given as the DM, then maybe you need to rethink the folks at the table, or your place among them.  Let them know your expectations up front, but after that my own personal rule is 'no quarter'.  If you are an adult hosting a game for adults, this should not be an issue. If you're an adult hosting a game for've got bigger fish to fry.  That's it's own special situation and isn't really what I'm talking about here.

As a kid playing with my friends (now I'm an adult playing with my friends) I often take on the role of DM.  Would I rather play?  Sometimes, but not always.  Being the DM puts me in a position to be creative in ways that playing does not allow.  Inhabiting the persona of myriad NPC's, deciding what the rules and structure of my game-world are like, becoming the arbiter of all that occurs within the confines of my game-verse are some but not all of the reasons I love being a DM.

Also the snacks.

Many folks think I'm just looking to stir the pot, cause a scene, make some trouble.  Nah.  I'm not looking for controversy, just dialogue.  Some of the time it really seems as though folks are from another planet entirely.  Anyone who is running the game/being the DM and doesn't WANT to do that because it's too much work, or the work is too difficult, simply shouldn't do it.  That seems like a normal reaction to me.  If you build model airplanes, that takes time and skill, and yeah, I guess it's work but it's work the model builder enjoys.If you think you, or anyone, should be paid because of the work involved with being a DM, well my own personal jury is still out on that one.  What's obvious to me now is that there is a divide among enthusiasts about that particular topic, and while many are fine with it, a host of others feel that it somehow is a slap in the face of the spirit of the game.

For many people, the hobby is not too far removed from their religion, or it's become somehow enmeshed into their moral fiber.  I think this is the case with me, and though I try to remain open to changes to the hobby and it's social dynamic and players, I still find that a deeper part of me is still very passionate about the spirit of the game and what it has meant to so many of my generation, the old-heads.

This morning on my twitter feed @goblin_stomper  I posted "We may all be roleplayers, but like Wizards, there are many factions...", and much like wizards, the magic comes first.


  1. As one who presented the argument that GMing is hard work, I think you misunderstood my meaning. What I (and I'm only speaking for myself here) mean is that doing quality GM work, creating your own unique world and making it entertaining, is a lot of work. The amount of time you spend at it makes all the difference. Where money comes in is that if you could make a career out of it, then you would be able to have the time you spend on it paid for. And thus, by being able to focus on it you would be able to improve your skill and the quality of your work to a greater degree. Much like a craftsman who creates quality furniture, for example. It requires a great deal of focus to create a quality piece. It takes skill, talent and time. When the craftsman charges for his work, do people complain and say "it should be a labor of love"? Do they say that to artists? Or musicians? Or any other artist? No. And does the fact that some artists are paid mean that they could never do things for free too if they wanted? No. Does it mean that other artists can not do their art for free as well? No. But being paid does allow the artist to focus exclusively on their craft in order to achieve the highest quality they can achieve. In the future I anticipate that there will be some, but not all, or even many, GMs who dedicate themselves to the craft in a way that produces the highest quality game they can achieve, and that they will be paid for their efforts in accordance with the quality of their game. That's my way of looking at it, anyway.

    1. Your opinion/argument was one posed by many. There is no right or wrong answer here, which hopefully my blog post is clear on. That there is a divide among players and DMs about how such things are perceived...of that I have no doubt.

      Maybe it's just semantics. Work and Hard Work seem different to me. I've never found any work I love to be particularly hard. Heavy lifting? That's hard work...

      Thanks for reading

    2. Yes, I think it's a little too easy to conflate "work" and "hard work" when you are arguing for Professional Gamemastering. I don't think of the work as "hard work" in the sense that it's annoying or boring or awful in any way. It's enjoyable, even if it is hard to do well. But when telling people why you think GMs may be justified in professionalizing their skill, one can understand that people may say "hard work". But I think the same can be true for any of the crafts that people make money at. If talking to their friends they will say "It's a lot of work, but I really enjoy it". But to customers they might say "Oh it's a lot of hard work to produce this, but it's worth it, isn't it?" ... so there's a nuance there that I think is worth keeping in mind. As for myself, I enjoy GMing immensely. I'd love to go Pro with it. It would free me up from other less enjoyable work that I do to make money at this point, and so I could devote myself to the craft of GMing full time. If I had people who valued my skill, talent and the time I spend at it enough to pay for it, that would be completely awesome. I think it's worth trying to work out. Some people are already doing it. I have done it myself on a small scale several times since 1996 and it was absolutely fantastic. So I do encourage people to give it some consideration, and to also not go ballistic on people who are trying to figure out how to make this happen for themselves. There's room in this world enough for all kinds of visions. I like this one. I want to encourage it. And thanks for your post, and your thoughtful reply.

    3. Except other artists don't start with someone else's work and add their own flair to it. That's called plagiarism and is illegal. Unless you have specific permission from WOTC to use their work for commercial profit, you're stealing their copyright if you charge to play.

    4. That's not necessarily true at all. Besides, WOTC have released 5th edition under the Open Gaming-License sonyou're allowed to make money on their system.

      Also, the RPG system in this case, is the tool. Just like a musician can use a guitar to make their music and a digital artist can use photoshop to create their art.

  2. Agreed the definition of work seems to be the divide.

  3. To my mind, it's the definition - or better the evaulation - of "hard" that bears modifying. "Hard" doesn't necessarily mean "drudging". There is an emotional component. Is writing a novel hard work? Absolutely Yes. Even though, for the writer who feels driven to share with other humans some urgent message in their soul, it is so imperative that it might as well be called instinctual. That doesn't make it less hard. Rather, it creates a positive emotional value that *offsets* the inherent difficulty of the task.

    The value *for others* - the "market value", so to speak - is completely unrelated to this. That has more to do with the skill in the execution, and of course, the demand.

  4. I GM all my games for free with people that want to be at the table. I enjoy it quite a lot. That said, I am of the mind that becoming a good GM takes time and skill. It's like martial arts in a way. Some may call you a master, but you always consider yourself a student, learning more each time you apply your skill.

    People pay good money to learn martial arts, or just to participate in the class. I know this doesn't quite match up 1 for 1 because a GM wouldn't be charging for classes, but I think we can agree that there are similarities in the analogy.

    Artists spend their lives drawing and learning things like Photoshop. They follow this same "life is learning" mentality, but nobody feels like they shouldn't be paid for their efforts. I know people in the comic industry that do get paid for their work, but they continue to draw and work on their own projects in their spare time. They do what they love for a living.

    You brought up the idea of model builders, but some of them do get paid. Some of them evolve their skill into model makers, crafting their own molds and selling the end result as one-offs.

    This trickles over to miniature painters, too. I'm not a good mini painter, but I've been tasked to paint some minis for people in the past. I do enjoy painting miniatures, but I can also say that I enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor more than I enjoy actually DOING the labor. Whenever I GM a game, I am excited to see and hear the reactions of my players. If the people at the table didn't enjoy it, I want to know how I can make it better for them.

    Why, then, is it so difficult to see why a good GM shouldn't be compensated for his talent? The issue lies in those among us who let the prospect of money cloud their ideals. I would pay good money to play in a game with like-minded players and a grade A GM. I don't want some random yahoo, but someone with references and skill in running unique content.

    If a group of players, desperate for a GM, were to hire a GM, I don't see any harm in it. I've heard people bring up paying bad GMs. My thoughts on this are that if you set up a session and the GM didn't deliver the game you were expecting, you should still pay them the agreed upon sum. I think the GM should offer some reimbursement as well, but that's a different story. Respond by not hiring that GM again, or spread word of their failure. If you somehow can't tell that a game is going South early on, pay the person for their time and move along.

    Ultimately, these types of games are best enjoyed with a group of friends who love the hobby and each other's time together, but some people just want to play or don't have a good GM among them. These people are probably the people paying for a GM.