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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

GMing for Gold Pieces: Mixed Emotions

A few days ago I posted a followup article to an even earlier post (It's like Inception up in here) that made me think about the 'professional' angle of DMing for a 'cast of some kind.  Previous to this whole thing I had seen a smattering of posts across the internets about people who would DM for money, essentially people 'deciding' that they were good enough DM's to charge a group of people for their services.

At first, my knee-jerk reaction was one of disdain and disgust.  Who the fuck did these people think they were?  What body of experts ordained that these people were qualified to run a TTRPG for MONEY???  I was angry that a game, a hobby so near and dear to my heart and that had always been a refuge, a safe harbor, a hippie commune of sharing and joy would be some fool's idea of an easy way to make a buck.  It made me sick.

Fast forward a bit, to a moment where I've had some time and space from the subject, a place I could think it over with a clear head.  After all, I needed to take stock of who I am and what I believe, and this needed some level of reconciliation from my initial reaction.

I believe in free commerce.  A free-market is what our country is founded upon, and it's something that I usually take pride in.  Now, I'm not saying that it's ok for someone to make a buck by lying or cheating or stealing from others.  This is just plain wrong, and any son-of-a-bitch who engages in these sort of foul business deals should be hung as an example to others.  For those who work hard, find a proper niche, or even manage to discover a previously untapped market ripe for the biz, I'm on board.  The American dream is about this very thing, and I'm a big believer in dreaming big.

While my 'hobby' self was still full of rage about these DMs who thought they could get paid to run a game, my free-market self was slowly stroking his head and whispering soothing words, calming him to a place where he could listen to some reason.  Finally at a calm place, it was time to reassess and figure out under what circumstances this sort of thing would be ok.

  1.  If said DM is also 'Watching' another individual or group of individuals aka. Babysitting
  2.  If said DM is 'instructing' a group of Professionals as an exercise in Team Building
  3.  If said DM has been hired by other, experienced Players/DM's to run their game, or a game in their stead ex. At A Game Demo for a new Ruleset
  4. If said DM is a sought-after/famous & professional member of the gaming industry ex. Tim Kask or Frank Mentzer or Matt Mercer (Yup, I just said that...)
Maybe there are a few other situations that would qualify, but these four seem to cover most of the reasons that being paid to DM makes sense to both parts of my psyche. It's still hard to reconcile, not gonna lie.  

I certainly have no issue when it comes to being paid for work done in the TTRPG community, I mean I would be one huge hypocrite if that were the case.  I'm not trying to make a living from my modules, but it would be nice to have a few extra $$$'s in my account so I can grab the next installment of Black Pudding or some new stock art for the next module or supplement I decide to release.  There are people who DO make a living this way, and I respect and appreciate their dedication.  For me, turning my hobby into my vocation would likely turn me sour on all of it rather quickly.

Now I'm not sure that anyone could reasonably earn a living from this sort of work.  At best, it may provide enough income to keep hobby-habits alive...books, dice, t-shirts, and pizza for the non-paid gaming session.  So, in the end, who am I to stand in the way of someone charging for such a service?  I'm certainly never going to use it or pay for it, so why criticize it?  

I'll tell you why.

First, it seems like these people have just arbitrarily decided that they are skilled enough to charge for this service.  I take issue with that.  Who the hell are they to just decide for themselves that they are professional level DMs?  Some accreditation seems reasonable if you are going to charge for a service.  Second, by what scale do they determine the going rate for such a service?  Third, how can the people paying for such a service know if they got a reasonable deal, or that they aren't being hornswoggled?

There are some big issues to wrangle here, and I don't claim to have the solutions.  If you are considering paying someone to run a game for you, maybe you should do some research first?  Check around at your FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) for some more info.  You may find someone willing to run a game for free, or at least you might get some info on the dude trying to take your cash.  I'm pretty sure that it's not a new niche market that's been untapped. It feels more like a few greedy bottom feeders trying to take advantage of unknowing noobs to the hobby-space.  Running games as a primary occupation is in all likelihood a pipe-dream. 

Would I do it?  Nope.  I game for free from both sides of the DM screen.

Here are some links to folks you will have to pay if you wanna play with them...I'm not pimping them, but I felt it was important to bring them into the light of day.  These are a few I found, but I'm sure there are more. (broken links...heh) (in the comments bottom of page) do you feel?


  1. "Who the hell are they to just decide for themselves that they are professional level DMs? Some accreditation seems reasonable if you are going to charge for a service."

    Flawed question and assertion. Anyone can ask a price for any legal service, regardless of experience or competence. Doesn't mean they'll get it. Man, look at Etsy or Craigslist.

    Accreditation? That is typically reserved for services that are either very expensive and/or can cause personal harm if mal-practiced. That assertion is out of line for a service that is primarily practiced for free by practitioners from 8-99years old.

    "Second, by what scale do they determine the going rate for such a service?"

    Easy: What the market will bear.

    "Third, how can the people paying for such a service know if they got a reasonable deal, or that they aren't being hornswoggled?"

    I don't understand the question. How is this true with any RPG with an unknown DM? Investing hours and hours of my precious time is way more costly to me than a few bucks.

    I have a question for you: Do you have a problem dropping a few bucks into a "pizza and snacks" pool for a F2F game? Or maybe taking a turn bringing the Pizza? How is that different?

    For the record - I don't charge for DMing, even though I'm known for doing some amazing stuff ( but sometimes my players buy me dinner when table prep is out of hand, or I arrive at the FLGS a little later than I planned.

    I don't see any problem here that hasn't always been a problem - playing/DMing is an investment. Bringing money into it does make it different, but that's OK if some folks want to try it. Just like people selling stuff on The DM's Guild.

    1. I'm not going to reply in a deep and meaningful way, cause I don't have time for alot of the nonsense you wrote, but I will say this...

      PIZZA AND SNACKS??? What fucking planet did you just fly in from? 100% different than DMing as a livelihood/profit center.

      also: Selling 'stuff' in the form of supplemets, modules, etc ADDS to the creative content of the hobby, and is no way what I was talking about...

      Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting...I have been waiting to say 'fuck' all day, so thanks for that too.

    2. Not pick a nit here, but isn't DMing also adding to the creative content of the hobby? And further, as a percentage of the whole, isn't it likely the primary addition?

    3. Glad to provide you with a cursing post. That wasn't my intention.

      Nonsense? OK. You win. No more reading/commenting from me.

      [I'll note you didn't respond to everyone with this attitude, so I'm not sure what I said that touched you off.]

    4. I agree with everything Randy said. And who really cares if people charge for Dming? If the DM for hire does a good job and the players are happy with the results, more power to them. If the DM is lame and the players don't like it, then they can stop using that DM.
      They could ask for 3 sessions with a money back guarantee. Really don't see any reason to get upset at this.

  2. People can do whatever they want, but I won't be paying a DM to run a game for me. I'm effectively doing that when I attend conventions (though the DMs never see any of that money directly). If I lived in the antarctic and had a good internet connection, I might consider . . . no, I wouldn't, who am I kidding. There are dozens of great DMs out there who are willing to run games for the fun of it. And I would never charge to DM unless I was offered some ungodly amount of money. Then I might consider it. Maybe. But probably not.

    1. C'mon Forrest...we all have our price. ;)

  3. I have a couple of problems with this article.
    1. A DM just decides he's good enough to do this professionally? Well yes. Just as you may feel that you're good enough to write a novel it will be ultimately up to the consumers to decide.
    2. Accreditation? How would you even "accredit" a performance art?
    3. Pay scale? Also up to the consumers. If someone decides that the DMs performance was worth $10 or $20 dollars who am I (or you for that matter) to disagree? No one is forcing my to buy this service. If he fails to provide entertainment then his business will surely dry up. Now I'm not generally inclined to use such a service but if someone is truly enthralling with their storytelling who are we to poo poo someone's entrepreneurial spirit. ��

    1. Yes, I also had a minor bug with the accreditation piece.

      I see my DMing as creative/artistic. How do you accredit that?

    2. Don't some artists go to art school? Study with other, established artists? seems a start

    3. So where's the school for DMs? Do you have to have an art degree to make money in art? No! To make money in art you need to do two things: produce art (or something approximating it) and convince someone else to give you money so they may own/experience the art.

      There is nothing immoral about charging money to provide a service, which is what your position seems to be. Come down off your high horse.

      If people are willing to pay, great. If people are unhappy with the service you provided for them, they won't pay you again. Simple.

      As for deciding that they are qualified enough, they have just as much right to decide that for themselves as you have to decide that they don't. More, actually, since they presumably have some idea of what kind of game they run.

      I do agree that it would not be easy to make a living out of it, but as a side job? Sure beats working at 7/11.

    4. No, many artists avoid the expensive and over rated art school trap. Nowadays you can find a lot of what art school teaches online, in hobby groups, and you don't have to grow the 'I went to ART school' snobbery.

  4. Your Hobby-side is too caustic for me, but as you raise the question I will put in my 2 cents.

    Gamemastering is a lot of work. It's an art. Many artists in other industries get paid in accordance with what the market will bear for their effort and talent. At one time art was only a hobby (non-commercial), but at some point artists started making money at it. In recent years they can make a lot of money because society changes and values change. Gamemasters should get paid if they are going to put in 10x more work into the game than the players, which is afaik usually the case. A lot of GMs kind of suck at it. But a few are genius level GMs. To play in their world is far more entertaining than going to see a movie. They should get paid for their effort and talent, the same way any other artist should get paid. And the more one pays a GM the more time they can devote to improving their game. So good GMs should get paid so that they can cultivate the best possible game at a professional level. Some people will be willing to pay for the best game possible. The price would reflect what the market can bear (I wonder if your free-market side is even listening). So those are some thoughts, thrown here without much regard to making the argument because when I thought Randy made a set of good points, and well stated, you totally trashed him without even a moment's consideration that he's making a perfectly reasonable free-market case. So therefore I expect the same treatment. However, that said, I felt that for other people who might read this it should be stated that there are reasons that make sense to some GMs as to why charging for the service is reasonable. Some GMs might want to go Pro. But then again, the visceral super-hate that some people bring to bear on this topic does tend to make one think that it might not be a good idea. But then again on the other hand, should we be intimidated because there's some haters out there? I don't think so. So if you are looking to go pro with your GMing, I support your ambition. I think it's great. And I hope you are successful at it.

    1. Comparing the role of a GM to that of a pro artist is nonsense. An artist doesn't start with someone else's work (the basic d20 system, class and monster descriptions, spell lists, etc.) and then try to sell the work incomplete (until the players flesh out the story in-game.)

    2. Actually, I am speaking of Gamemasters, such as myself, who create their own rules systems and their own worlds from scratch. So actually, I do somewhat agree with your point. But then again, I don't think what you said is true of artists. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants in one way or another.

  5. DM for Hire here. Howard I run the business that is first on your list here. I guess my only question in response to your statements regarding whether people like myself are 'professional' or not and who are we to declare ourselves as such, is: Who are you NOT to recognize us as such? When someone makes the jump from amateur to professional in anything, its usually recognized that if one earns and income from that act, that they are indeed a professional. To people like myself who have made this jump, we are the ones actually setting the bar as to what is professional in this business, because we are the pioneers so to say, and because we are the ones actually making the income from it. I totally agree with what you said about free enterprise and should remind you that there is a LOT of time that goes into preparing games for groups, especially when you don't know or have never met the people. In my relatively new business for example I currently run almost a dozen groups, (which is growing week by week!). Each of those groups has 6 people and usually each of those groups plays once monthly. So for each of those groups I have to decide what their adventure is going to be, design it, and since I offer 3-dimensional dungeons to use in play, and sound effects, I also have to spend many hours a month building/painting sets, and selecting the sound files for use in the game. It's a lot of work. Then there is the character design. Most of my groups are people that are brand new to rpg's so to save them some time I get some details off of them and then make the characters up based on their preferences. So it's not like people like me just show up and take out our dice and we're all ready to go. There's a lot of prep time. Then with my service I offer coming to their location so then there's usually at least 2 hours travel with each game I do. So are you suggesting that people like myself should just go ahead and spend all this time doing these things for strangers for FREE?

    On my website I actually address this. The following is a cut and paste from my site as to my thoughts on this subject from the customer's point of view.


    You may be asking yourself, 'Why would I pay you to run a game for me when there are so many free groups being run around Toronto or my friends and I could just do it ourselves?'

    Here's why:

    1. You don't own any of the books, or know anyone that does, and you don't want to invest the money and time necessary to understand how to run a game with your friends.

    2. All of the gaming groups in your area don't have games going that mix well with your schedule.

    3. There are no existing gaming groups in your area.

    4. There are gaming groups in your area, but you don't want to hang around a comic book or hobby store with a bunch of kids to play.

    5. You'd rather this be a private event for you and your friends.

    6. You want to be able to drink alcohol or do recreational drugs while you play. I am totally 420 friendly!

    I find that the above reasons I mentioned are why the groups I have use my services. Playing in a hobby store with a bunch of other groups all playing can sometimes be distracting and annoying. I've played in some and I could hardly here what the GM was saying because of all the noise. Really I think its an relatively untapped market and people like myself are discovering as we do this that LOTS of people have no problem paying someone else to do all the prep work and to run things for them. Most of my clients are busy professionals who can afford the service easily, and who just don't have time to put something together like I am offering for them.

    1. I am as eminently qualified to have my opinion as to whether or not what you offer is valid, as you have to offer it. If you have decided that you are going to sell your services as a professional DM in the public space, and I take issue with it, I may do so in this or any other public forum.

      While I personally still have a problem with this, I respect your right as a citizen of the world to have people pay you for something that many, many others do free of charge.

      Even though I have sold a short story, or a module, or any other media (which I have) does not make me a professional writer or game designer. This, of course, is an opinion. This blog is where I post my opinions. My opinion of those who sell their services as a DM is, to date, not high.

      I need no reminder as to the amount of time required to prep for a game new or old as I have been doing so for better than 35 years. For Free.

      If you prefer that I remove your link from my list at the bottom of my blog entry, I am happy to do so.

  6. "I was angry that a game, a hobby so near and dear to my heart and that had always been a refuge, a safe harbor, a hippie commune of sharing and joy would be some fool's idea of an easy way to make a buck. It made me sick."

    Okay. You're upset that a form of recreation that you enjoy has people who do it for money. I can understand that.

    So let me ask you a question: is the concept significantly different (and if so, how) from any other professional entertainer?

    1. Yes... With a professional entertainer's performance I can show up late, leave early, step out during the performance, and to the extent audience participation is allowed I can participate as much or little as I want to with no expectations.

  7. I used to be part of the group that ran the gaming for Mid-South Con in Memphis, back in the late 80's/early 90's. That's the closest I've ever come to being paid to DM -- we were considered staff. If I recall correctly, Con admission back then was around $25. Given that we ran four 4-hour sessions over the course of the weekend, our "pay" came out to about $1.50/hr.

    But wait. That doesn't include the time spent coming up with the adventure and the characters, or the time spent play-testing. Play-testing usually required at least 2 run-throughs, so now we're up to 16 + 32 = 48 hours. I can't speak for the other DMs, but I don't think I ever created a Con-worthy dungeon and characters in less than 2 hours, and it was usually considerably more.

    This also doesn't include all the group meetings to discuss who is going to run what sessions (open, masters, team, etc), who will be the judge and DM assistant for each table for each round, whether or not all the dungeons were going to be the same theme, whether Round 2 was a sequel to Round 1, what levels each round was going to be, etc etc etc.

    So now we're at 50 hours, minimum. For $25 "pay." That comes to a whopping fifty cents an hour.

    Wow, I might need a bigger piggy bank. Or not...

    1. This seems like alot of work...i mean..whew! Why go to all that trouble?

      Oh's a fun hobby and you enjoy it.

      Also: When does it seem reasonable to get paid?

      #3 If said DM has been hired by other, experienced Players/DM's to run their game, or a game in their stead ex. At A Game Demo for a new Ruleset

      Con game? Covered it.

  8. There are people who want the service, even if it isn't the long time players who have enjoyed the game with friends for decades.

    Parents who are looking for creative, social, team building outlets and activities for their kids that get them off of consoles and tablets and into a dynamic, diverse social scene. I have parents fighting to get their kids in the sessions I announce at my store each week. They are more than happy to pay for the experience and many of the kids have been playing nearly weekly for over four years in my store. For some of them, this equates to half their lives.

    Adult players who played in their youth and are now busy professionals who would like to revisit those days. They don't have friends in their adult lives who play, nor do they have the time to plan games, they just want to show up, be guaranteed that there will be a game at set times every week. To them paying $10-$30 a week for the experience is a small price to pay considering the time spent, the value of the entertainment and the comparisons to other adult activities out there.

    Adult players who are disgruntled with their home games or suffering burn out. Maybe their DM cancels on a whim, maybe half the players show up a hour late every week and half the time are chatting on their phones. Maybe this player likes the experience with professional terrain, a vast array of painted miniatures, a custom, polished campaign with long standing goals, a broad, diverse cross section of players, where he or she might be playing with an entirely different group every so often. I have guys who tell me they love playing with their friends at home, but appreciate the more professional campaigns and quality of the play area far better playing in our store groups. Some even find it hard to go back to playing at the home games after joining us for sessions here in the store.

    Corporate clients, I have done 1-2 session groups for large businesses in my community. They write it off as team building or social events in their companies and many have then moved on to come join us for our weekly sessions when their time permits.

    D&D Fantasy Summer Camps. I fill to capacity in minutes of announcing these. Parents love what I offer, the kids love being part of them. I booked 6 full weeks of D&D fantasy camps last summer, every parent and kid 100% happy with the experience and new weekly players the result from every single camp.

    D&D Birthday Parties. I book 1-3 of these every single week now (the benefit of having over 300+ boys and girls playing D&D in your store campaigns) Parents love this option for parties and the kids absolutely love doing this for their birthday. Again, every time I host one, I book at least 2 more parties and gain more players for our weekly campaigns.

    Of all the players in the descriptions above, only two of my local store DMs are even members of this group. This system isn't intended to target players who are already enjoying D&D with friends, you aren't all of a sudden supposed to go to your group of 30 years and tell them they have to start paying you $20. But as an entertainment option offered at a store it can certainly be a great way to introduce players to the game who would never have given it a chance previously and a great way to get the next generation playing that may not have the venue, contacts or idea to give D&D a try.

    Just because you wouldn't pay to play, doesn't mean you should bastardize those who are willing to do so for whatever reason, nor should you bastardize someone offering such entertainment options to people who demand it.

    Don't want to pay to play? Continue as you are and don't. But if you do want some of the things I have discussed above, I hope you find the option to do so and that the experience is a positive and fun one.

    1. As someone who is opposed to paid GM-ing, most of what you suggested above are acceptable exceptions. The reason being, you aren't actually being paid to GM, you're being paid to use your store to host an event or provide a service and just happen to use D&D as your tool to do so.
      As far as your two explanations that start with, "adult players," I'm not sure what to say. I don't know the details of your business or the specifics of the situation. Off the top of my head my first question is, "Do you have permission to use the WOTC owned copyright for commercial gain?" If you don't, it's plagiarism and regardless of legalities anybody who plagiarizes is a piece of shit without morals or ethics.
      My local game store hosts games for the sake of advertisement- It gets bodies in the store and creates sales. The people involved in turn bring friends or dates out for an afternoon or evening to "rent" and play board games, which leads to window shopping, which ends up in people buying stuff because the owner is super-cool and his enthusiasm spreads like wildfire so people WANT to buy a game for their home and to support his (OUR!!!) local business.

    2. ETA- * a game for their home or as gifts for friends and family*

    3. 2nd Correction- It might not be "plagiarism" but instead, "copyright infringement." Not that what you're doing is going to get pursued in court, but either might apply according to how the case is approached and both are equally disgusting.
      Just pointing that out before some irrelevant pedantic argument comes into play.

    4. Had a longer reply, but I will take the high ground and just say that my friends at Wizards of the Coast love and applaud what I do. I have been featured and showcased by them numerous times in the past for my outside the box approaches to getting new and younger players enjoying their products.

      I am also a super cool, enthusiastic owner who's community values and has acknowledged that with many Community Involvement, Family Friendly Business and even Business of the Year nominations and awards. I am the first person to step up and volunteer at local Children's Festivals, School functions and civic pride events and celebrations of all kinds. I also volunteer coach the local high school basketball and swim club teams.

      All material used in my "Heroes of Hawethorne" campaign is developed and written by myself. The campaign world is an out of print product and most of the rules are "Common Sense" or interpreted for every unique situation with the goal of it being an exciting narrative and a focus on everyone having fun more so than rules.

      I have players who have joined me nearly weekly for over four years and are still as excited to play today as they were four years ago.

      I offer entertainment. Plain and simple, and it is quality enough that people continue to demand it week in and out for nearly a decade. Parents see incredible value in what I offer, and appreciate it greatly.

      Sorry it is so deplorable to you, maybe you have to see it first hand to believe it can be done.

      Thanks for your comments in any case.

    5. Apologies, I can be blunt when expressing an opinion even though I didn't mean the comment to be as harsh or offensive as I see it could be taken. Also, I've been corrected about the copyright argument on other threads and realize I was wrong about that. With that said and although it's not up to me to judge how you run your business, it just doesn't "feel right" to pay for a GM, other than a small gift of appreciation like I would do anytime I'm invited to a dinner party or some-such.

      I suppose part of it is that even though the GM puts in more work, the players put in work also. It isn't a game without players! This may not apply with your group, but nobody is really obligated to show up each week if they're paying. D&D is enjoyable enough to me to make a 6-8 week commitment, (which I will hold to outside of an emergency) but if I'm paying for it and something else comes up (and it will, not just for me but other players also!) that I would rather do, well...

      If somebody doesn't show up at a yoga class, it doesn't affect anyone else's experience whether that person is billed or not for having signed up. Because every character has a role in RPG's, it messes up how the group functions and potentially the continuity of the story. But if people are paying, they're paying for their own enjoyment not everybody else's. In a regular (free) game, most people will be there because they made a commitment regardless of what else comes up, but if I can pay $X for your game or the same amount to go do something else I get invited to which may be more fun, why in the world would I come to your game that week?

  9. Concerning "Who the hell are they to just decide for themselves that they are professional level DMs?" Well, the market decided. They offered a service and they have attracted customers. If they are good at DMing, they will find repeat business. If not, too bad for them.

  10. This is no different in my mind than professional sports, or performance art. I can't afford such things, but man, i'd do it if i had the balls - charge for dming? Charge for hours put into working up maps and worlds and npcs and plots ... dude - its cheaper than an evening in an arcade, or going to 4 hours worth of movies. Someone is running an epic story and you are a character in it. If we could do this with virtual reality added - we would all be saving our pennies, we geeky few who dream of things like this.

  11. If someone offered to pay me to come run a game for them, I would be glad to talk to them. Or perhaps its just my ego thinking I am good enough and have the credentials.