Professional GM: Possible Return
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  1. #1

    Professional GM: Possible Return

    For those of you who are unaware, I'm a New Yorker who was about to start a horribly planned business called "Caravan of Blades" back in early March. The business was a pay-for-play Dungeons and Dragons 4e campaign. I wasn't thinking clearly. My father had recently passed away of a heart attack and the experience and aftermath were a bit traumatic (I discovered the body that night). I needed to get a job and picked a bad idea for making money.

    Fortunately I put a stop to the horror on the first day when I snapped back to my senses.

    Unfortunately despite job-hunting since then I still haven't gotten hired. Yesterday featured an interview at the local Burger King yesterday which I think went very badly. I'm having serious doubts about being able to get a job. My resum sucks, so much that it might be impossible for me to get anything due to local competition being fierce and better qualified in practically every case.

    I'm handing in some more applications over the next couple of weeks, but I'm starting to feel very desperate as well as very pathetic.

    I'm contemplating another try with paid game mastering. This time with a plausible sane business plan.

    This time practically everything would have to be done differently.

    This might be just a false alarm but I'm mulling this over nonetheless.

    This will be just brainstorming for now. Actually going through with this would be a last resort. I'm open to suggestions.

    So to start things off.

    1. This will NOT be a pay-for play campaign. This time I'll be a game master hired by the hour. No sitting around simply hoping for people to show up. I'll be able to cancel in case of emergency.

    2. I'll charge $8/hour + tip for my services. It will be relatively inexpensive if my clients are paying as a group. The tip is not mandatory.

    3. I'll run 1-shot self-contained adventures for DnD 4e. They can be from a menu of prewritten original adventures I'll offer or published adventures or custom adventures tailored to the clients' preferences (with an extra service charge).

    4. I'll advertise my services to local meetup groups and specific local businesses. The local DnD Meetup Group for example has over 800 members, many without a regular group or unable to find games that fit their schedules.

    5. My primary hook will be convenience. For example, if someone is planning a special birthday party featuring a DnD game, and no one has the time to prepare a game, that's where a hired GM might be considered. I don't have to try to be the best. I just have to run a good fun game and be available. I'll be providing most if not all the gaming materials.

    6. I'll have a web site tailored for the business instead of mooching off another website that is focused on something else altogether.

    7. I'll scout out every location that I can find that is conducive to gaming to give clients a broad range of places to choose from if they have no specific one in mind.

    8. All of my original 1-shots will be tested and refined through the local meetup group's meetup events.

    9. I'll create a relationship with the local privately-owned game store(s) and comic shops. Cross advertisement and possible space rental/reservation.

  2. #2
    First off, I wish you the absolute best of luck with your endeavours.

    However, in the spirit of helping you refine your idea, I might make a few comments. After all, you had one failed attempt, and if your second attempt is going to work, you want to enter it with a completely realistic approach.

    I'm going to compare you to, say, the people who sign up to GM games at popular gaming conventions. But first, some pre-amble.

    Anybody who pays money for a service wants to be assured that this service surpasses anything they could get for free. We pay money to eat out at a restaurant because we feel that the increased quality over our own cooking justifies spending hard-earned cash on the experience. We pay money to see an old movie at a revival theatre (rather than watch it on DVD) because the experience of "going out" itself holds value for us.

    So if I pay money for a professional GM, I want an experience that I feel surpasses anything I could do myself, or anything which my friends can do.

    At 8 dollars an hour, for a 5 hour game, I'm expected to shell out 40 dollars for your services. If I don't get value for my money, I'm going to be royally ticked off.

    This means that you are expected to excell at ...
    a) rules mastery
    b) game presentation
    c) game mastering / player interaction / impromptu storytelling
    d) Adventure design

    If you take a look at game conventions, you have people sign up to host and GM games for serious gamers. People sign up to play these games, for free, but their expectation is that anybody who is going to GM such a game is going to provide a truly exceptional experience. After all, they're GMing for serious gamers at a convention, not just their friends and family!

    If you then read the forum comments after the games, some GMs are shocked to discover that people's expectations weren't met. Their game is torn apart. Their style is ridiculed. All in all, people just aren't that impressed. They could've got this at home!

    Now, what you're asking for is people to pay money to have you perform the exact same service, for the same sort of crowd (anybody willing to pay money for a GM is a serious gamer), but have them pay money for it.

    You might want to test the waters first. Set up some test games, with an anonymous response system (e-mail, internet forum, paper questionairres, something), and get people's opinions. Get them to rate the various factors I discussed, and get their feedback. Make sure that *strangers* (not friends, never friends!) get a chance to judge you, and rate you anonymously, and then you take their comments to heart. And finally, make sure to ask them if they'd be willing to pay the fee you're asking for such an experience.

    If, after 5 or so test games, your responses indicate that this is viable, then you're off to the races. Sure, you missed out on approximately $200 in fees, but that's peanuts compared to the feedback that you're getting. You can even use this as an advertising mechanism -- you can show some of the positive ratings and comments as part of your sales pitch. People can be assured that they're getting a quality service!

    If, after 5 or so test games, your responses indicate that people aren't satisfied in the way you need in order to be able to charge, then you might reconsider your move to turn professional.

  3. #3

    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

    Lord Xtheth's Avatar

    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Everywhere and Nowhere at the same time
    I once tried this. Although in a place that had considerably less people interested in the game.
    I ran it based on donations with the explanation of "Donations will insure that I am eating, a me that isn't hungry will make better adventures."

    The donation based adventures ran for a good 6 months, and I made a total of $20

    As you can see, dismal failure.

    I can see you have done a little market research, and are planning on doing a little more, however finding out whether or not people will pay you for your DMing in the first place should be one of your priorities.
    One more thing about getting people to pay for your DMing, people will expect good adventures every single time. There have been times where I had "brain farts" or stumbled with the rules, or just plain had a bad day and it wrecked the game session for at least a little while. If people are paying you, they'll expect a certain level of professionalism, like always knowing the rules, or having adventure ready that can span the entire time they want to play which may be difficult in some cases.

  4. #4

    Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)

    Frostmarrow's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    I think we need a pretty fantastic professional GM to pave the way for an industry that could support ten thousand pro GMs. I'm surprised we haven't got this already. Maybe we need more money and less friends.

  5. #5
    damn i should be charging my gaming groups...

  6. #6
    So yeah, I will be testing my original material through the local DnD meetup group. So far I've run a test game for 1 meetup and got very positive reactions from the players for a half-improvised game which featured an alteration to standard encounter design that I cooked up for playtest purposes.

    As long as I keep in practice with meetups and playtests, I should be able to maintain a good level of quality in my game mastering and further refine my storytelling methods. I've learned to be flexible with the rules without ruining game balance and adapt quickly to unexpected player actions. I'm currently trying out new tools to improve my options in storytelling and half of them seem to work. Particularly battle challenges.

    Keep in mind this is just a backup plan. I still have more job applications to hand in.

    Also, keep in mind that the charge per hour will probably in many cases be split by the players. A 5 hour game with 5 players would mean each player coughs up $8. That's pretty reasonable. I'm going to keep it that price to remain reasonable. There is also the tip to consider. I can hope for generous players but would still make enough to cover my costs and make a small profit.

    If the players are unsatisfied, it's by the hour so they can stop the session to cut their payment any time. Since I will be regularly training as a game master and testing my material, customer satisfaction will not likely be a problem.

    Again, this is just a backup plan. Any regular job would probably make more money.

  7. #7

    The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)

    Obryn's Avatar

    Join Date
    May 2003
    Normal, IL
    I don't know I'd want to hire a GM who couldn't get a job at Burger King.


  8. #8

    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Boonton, NJ
    Quote Originally Posted by Obryn View Post
    I don't know I'd want to hire a GM who couldn't get a job at Burger King.

    You know just when I was starting to feel guilty that the thought was in my head...

  9. #9

    Novice (Lvl 1)

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Barry, Vale of Glamorgan
    Good luck with the job hunting, I wish you well. As a business plan I felt that Bodhiwolff gave great advice. Its a brave plan so I hope it works out for you should you decide to take that route. A blog of the experince one day might be interesting

  10. #10

    The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)

    darjr's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    I like the dream so darn much I hope you find success in it.

    I know that If I was in New York I'd at least show up for a session and pay my way and do what I could to help make it a killer session.

    Edit: I've reread some and I think that a job and food on the table is priority 1. This idea of yours. While very cool, is at the very least after that. Very very very seriously, table it till your working.
    Last edited by darjr; Sunday, 12th April, 2009 at 04:02 AM.
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