Thursday, September 17, 2009


It has been suggested to me that I ought to consider hiring out as a professional DM. This is in recognition that others do it; that others do it very badly; and that a service is a service, even if it is the running of a 'game.' It has further been explained to me that a fair price runs about $100 a session, plus whatever fees to rent a conference room (or other space) for four hours. Split between five people, this isn't so bad a price.

While I don't mind being paid for doing something I like, I can think of a few things that worry me about it. First off, that I would probably, to save time, have to provide the players with pre-generated characters, probably at some level above first. I know this is a common thing for those readers out there, but I tell you honestly that in 30 years I have never done it. Every player who has ever run in my world A) has rolled up their own character; B) has rolled up a character of the FIRST level; and C) has never been privileged to run a character from another campaign. Moreover, I'm happy to say I've witnessed personally the action of creating every character - no one has ever done rolled any of the critical dice (abilities, background, hit points and so on) before arriving, or while in another room or even unwitnessed off to the side during a campaign.

Frankly, the thought that I might have to hand out a bunch of pre-made characters of fifth level in order to save time fills me with, well, loathing. But let's get past that.

Problem two: I might have to run an adventure. Something with a hook, a railroaded party and a definite end, timed to fit four hours of running. Ugh. Is that getting paid for something I like? No. Apparently, the reality would be being paid for running a sick imitation of my campaign; a processed, diluted version of everything I've tried to make this game into for my players through the years.

I don't see the point, really. If it isn't the real game, why bother?

But then I had a thought, seconds prior to beginning this post. It came from a news story about a taxi driver, Eric Hagen, who asks his passengers to pay whatever they feel is a fair price for his services. This gets me to thinking.

The principal reason to have pre-made characters and to have a cut-and-dried adventure for those who might have to pay to play D&D begins from the recognition that people want their money's worth. They don't want to lay down $50 in order to sit around watching other people roll dice and blandly stumble around a local town while they figure out what they want to do. They paid money, they want return.

Add to that some of the horror stories about some 'professionals' I've heard about and naturally a few players who have been burned before are anxious to protect themselves.

But why not establish out front that they don't have to pay? If it's made clear that pay would be desireable, and that effort doesn't come cheap, might they not be willing to give some amount out of a sense of guilt? Particularly when you consider that if they feel my services are worth nothing, they get one free running and that is it. I'm not inviting people back who aren't pleased.

You're probably thinking I'd be out of pocket for the conference room rental. I'm not so sure a conference room is really necessary. There must be other places, where arrangements can be made for space. I'd love to hear any ideas. I'd also like to hear about how it might all work from an 'non-profit/business by donation' perspective. And, of course, is it practical?


kaeosdad... said...

I'd DM for food. When I run games we usually do a small cookout right before. It started out with my wife being an awesome host and insisting on cooking up a good meal for everyone before the game started(she plays as well) and after awhile everyone just started showing up with food.

Potluck gaming sessions are great. The only problem is it either means everyone is over for longer, or it eats up a good portion of gaming time.

My suggestion for you though is to do it for non-profit and direct the funds towards supporting a gaming club.

You could run a persistent game world challenging multiple groups and encourage others to learn how to be better DMs and players. Have the players all bring a small amount of "donation" cash and some food which can be consumed during set breaks. The cash can be used to pay for the facilities and cook outs.

This all of course would depend on whether or not you'd want to regularly deal with the inevitable conflicts and arguments that comes with a large group of people.

I'd do it for the free food. But only if the food was home made and good. I can't handle mountain dew and pizza.

Strix said...

I used to do something similar; reading Tarot cards in a cafe. I had a sign that read "Free Tarot card readings. Tips accepted."

I did a lot of free readings and most people tipped $5-$10. It depended entirely on how much good news I gave them or how entertaining I was, not how accurate I was. Each reading was about 15 minutes.

On occasion I would get a customer who was familiar with the usual costs of a "professional" Tarot reading and they would pay the going rate of $50. In fact, I had one regular customer every Thursday afternoon.

I don't know how educated the players may or may not be about what the appropriate or expected amount to pay is.

The first thought I had about this was a particular rant you have about the type of gamers at the local game store. I wonder if those folk aren't part of your target audience or part of your solution to a venue. They do have a private game area available to rent out (cheap) after/during hours and can host a party of 12 easily. At $20 / player for a 4 hour session or $5/hr/player is pretty fair.

There are a number of smaller coffee shops in your area that might go for it.

The Rusty Battle Axe said...

Once you decided to take someone's money to provide a service, you become subject to the dictum that states the customer is always right (even when they're dead wrong). In this regard it is not a whole lot different that being a part-time paid musician (which I am). I try to be clear about the style of music we play (and all the styles we don't or can't play at the drop of a hat). But we also have to be flexible and professional so that the paying customer is happy. If they want us to play at a low volume, we comply. If we have to play through the house sound system, we do it. If we have to learn a new song for the bridal dance, we usually try. Getting paid changes the nature of it--not worse or better, just different.

Good luck.

R said...

I had no idea this was plausible. My evidence is only anecdotal, and I know of no one who would pay a DM. I could see paying fees to a league of players and DMs much like adult-non-professional sports (if some organization existed already), but if my players (or any players) were to pay me, it would change the dynamic so much I don't think it would be enjoyable on my end.

Carl said...

Kaeosdad has the right idea. DM a persistent world and run more than one group at a time (hoepfully).

I'd be very up front about charging for the sessions, but I'd make the first session free. We'd roll up characters, and I'd help the players develop a background sketch for their characters and some goals. I would then do open play for an hour or two. If they're going to be hooked it will be during that intro session.

After the intro, I'd start charging. I'd limit group size to five or six and have an open 3-hour period before the game for new-guy orientation (also free). Once a group reached the desired size, I'd start a new one.

R -- There will be some people who refuse to pay a DM, and I get that, but you're not looking for them. You're looking for the folks who want a quality game. As to the customer-is-right dynamic, well, I play a lot of video games and I have to tell you that a game that's too easy is almost worse than a game that's too hard. What most customers want is quality. They want a game that isn't buggy and appears to be fair in its application of rules. Finally, if someone makes a lot of noise about, "My character is a badass and should be able to do this!" just hand them their $20 and invite them to find another game somewhere else. I can think of no more final dismissal than handing out a refund.

I've done a fair amount of customer service. We all know that the customer isn't always right -- the customer is especially aware of this -- but they are always the customer. Customers want to feel good about their purchase. That can be done without going all Monty Hall.

Alexis said...

These are all good points.


I would say that up until now I have been DMing for food and a great many other things, as people tend to be generous towards the DM even if its made clear that bribery will not avail. I am the cook around here, so I will sometimes start a session with making a spot meal for my players before we settle down to play. My present sessions with my established group tend to run 4 p.m. until midnight, so there’s plenty of chance to talk, ask questions and so on.

Yes, I’d like to encourage a few others how to be better at the game. It has also been suggested that I might tutor. I’m still thinking about how that might be done.


The Tarot reading is a good example, and ‘tipping’ is a good way of putting the payment process. Would that there were as many D&D players as people seeking readings.

I spoke to the local gaming store, who described the space costing exactly no money. I explained about people possibly paying me to run, and while the owner thought that was strange, it did not change the status of the room. It might, if no contract were signed providing me the space, and he changed his mind, and that might come to negotiation. Obviously the owner doesn’t feel anyone would pay me anyway, and thus it isn’t an issue. Plus scheduling must be done deliberately or the space can’t be promised.

I’ve seen the space many times and it amounts to low maintenance school cafeteria level: few power outlets, tile floor, large rooms where space is shared with other groups. Not so private.


Worked as a cook and as a chef for years. Some of the places I worked had a policy that the customer was always right. Such places were disaster areas for staffing.

However right the customer might be, they are limited to the menu. They can’t demand lobster if there’s no lobster in the kitchen. Restaurants won’t give them a plate full of nothing but bacon, no matter what they pay, since such things are off-putting to the other guests. You can’t scream and yell at the staff, you can’t swear vociferously and you can damage the furnishings – such things are off-putting to the other guests. Just because someone is willing to pay for the plate they broke doesn’t mean they can break plates at will. I have seen customers argue about that very thing with management.

But yes, flexibility. It is perhaps my writing that suggests to people that I am irrationally inflexible, what with the ranting and arrogance, but I assure you my players having a good time has always been my personal philosophy. This is the reason I am against railroading, quests, murderous traps, dull and boring riddles and puzzles, the refusal to give clues and an all too gleeful willingness to kill party members “because that’s what D&D is all about.” This is the reason why I play a sandbox game and why this sandbox game is consistent and therefore reasonably predictable. This is why I repeatedly state that the purpose of tables and formulas for play are to “take the DM out of the loop,” therefore reducing the power I have to fuck with my players.

I think that what I have to offer is a world where players can interact with an indifferent system allowing them to succeed or fail on their merits, and not on a DM’s whimsy. I think people will pay for that.

Alexis said...


No, I hadn’t heard of this either, and I know I would never, under any circumstances, pay for this. But then, I’m not desperate as I know how it’s done. My research tells me a lot of people don’t know how it’s done, and are therefore desperate.

Where a service is wanted, people will pay.

As far as changing the dynamic, I guess it depends on what they want. Payment implies responsibility – to the players and to their principles. I’ve been writing professionally for some time now; before that I was once an actor. I can tell you this about entertaining people. Most times they don’t have a clue how its done. They don’t know why something amuses them or thrills them or angers them ... they leave that up to the talent. They only know how they feel affected.

Affecting them in the right way is a responsibility I’ve long been willing to assume.


Other than limiting the size to 4-5 rather than 5-6, this seems like good advice. Woo them in and then hit ‘em with your smarts.

Ragnorakk said...

It's a really interesting idea. I could see myself paying to play, but I think that would have put me off when I was younger.

Carl said...

Think of the video game analogy. You pay $60 for a new game. You get between 15 and 40 hours of game time out of it and then you never play it again.

For good games, with high-replay value (this is extremely rare, by the way, think Civilization, Age of Empires and so forth) this is a great deal. You may be paying under a dollar an hour for your game.

For a mediocre game or a game that has a low-replay value, like nearly any computer RPG, you can end up paying more than $5 per hour of playtime.

Given that people have no problem dropping $60 on BioShock and playing it all the way to the end of it's 10-hour duration I think that the barriers to convincing people that they should pay a "good" DM are pretty easily overcome. As I said in my previous post, just given them a couple of hours for free. If you're delivering a quality experience, I don't see how this is much different from buying a video game.

Hell, at least with this system, you have a chance to get your money back if the game sucks. You won't find that in video games.