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 resumé 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.


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.

Lord Xtheth

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.


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.
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.


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 :)


I crit!
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:
I don't know I'd want to hire a GM who couldn't get a job at Burger King.

It's only been one day since the interview so I don't know for sure if they're not going to hire me.

I think a problem came when I informed them that I wasn't looking for something long-term. The mood of the conversation seemed to change for the worse at that point.

Again, it might be a false alarm but it doesn't feel like one. :.-(


And what about the other aspects of your original plan?

The crowded coffee shop?:erm:

The mask?:-S

The genetic condition?:uhoh::confused:
Last edited:


Quite frankly the only way I think you could even remotely hope to pull this off is if you have an excellently-tuned sense of humor about what you're doing as well as an infectious sense of fun.

Approaching it from the standpoint of a "serious bizness" strikes me as a recipe for disappointment and further financial ruin.
This is ridiculous. I read the last thread from the OP and someone needs to step up to the plate and give this guy a reality check so it might as well be me.

Buddy, get your head out of the clouds and get a job. A real job, not trying to get people to pay you to play a game.

All that effort you're going to put into your D&D game? Refocus it towards getting a real job. And if you can't get a job at a fastfood joint then you should seriously consider getting professional job search help. There are government agencies that will help.

Your idea isn't going to work. Ever. I repeat, EVER. People who are encouraging you or giving you "tips" are just enabling your delusional fantasy.

Mods, you can come down on me but this is getting ridiculous. Someone needs to tell this guy to stop living in Never Never Land.


I had an idea down this road and I thought it would be interesting. I'm lucky to be employed and I know DMing ends up really costing me a fortune in minis, books, and dwarven forge. There's no way I would ever make back that kind of money.

I also thought about the idea of a professional WoW guild where the leaders and officers are paid by the members for guarenteed raids.

Still, I don't know that it's viable.

Good luck!


Ok I'll take your post at it's original concept, DM'ing as a job.

First, let me say that I DM far more than I play. I have been running games since I was 13. I will admit to not doing much dming with strangers. I find that these are the most diffucult because I don't know enough about the people I'm playing with to tailor my style to something they like. But I've still had an ok time with this.

So, how would you need to treat this to make it work as a job rather than a hobby? The key is you need to bring to the table a level of preparation and an attitude of professionalism that shows your taking this as your job.

All I can do is give a list of things I would do if I were trying to DM as a professional:

1) Survey your clients.

This is by the most important for me. In order to tailor my session to the play style of the people I'm playing with I need to know what type of game they are looking for. Do they want a combat heavy game? A plot heavy game? Do they want more actual freestyle roleplaying or to roll dice through skill challenges? This kind of stuff you pick up with a group over time, but since this is a customer based service I would probably ask customers to please fill out a survey to maximize their gaming enjoyment. A menu helps mitigate a bit of this, but realize that if your gaming for 5 people you'll have 5 different play styles at the table. It's best to offer something for all of them.

2) Be Organized & Prepared

You need to come to every session with your notes, npc's, and books ready to go. You should have handy pages that allow you to minimize prep time and get to serious gaming. If I'm paying for your time I want to be sure that you don't mess around setting up. I would also probably not charge clients for setting up, bathroom breaks, etc. I might even have a time clock that can be stopped during gaming shouldd I take a break or whatever. You'll need to present an itemized billing summary indicating the times you spent DMing.

3) Research and know your settings.

Typically for some service like this I would stick to prepared settings and I would know everything I could about them. This means for Forgotten Realms I expect you to read the books, know the campaign guide, and the history rather well. This means that during the day you are spending time preparing for your job by studying up for the session. Same for Eberron. Even if your adventures don't reference this, I am paying you to DM I expect to have something I can't get from my friends. An expert on the setting shows a dedication that may be hard to match and be something worth the money they're paying.

4) Prepare Props, Voices, and Deep NPC's

Another thing that I would expect since this is your primary job is that you would come with something that I dont' have time to prepare on my own. Inventive props is one thing I find takes extra time to prep. If your running adventures off a menu, you should have props ready for most of them. I would also prepare to do some voices and personalities. You might even practice these in your spare time ala acting classes or such. I would also develop fully detailed backgrounds on your NPC's.

5) Dress & Act Professionally

This is something I hope doesn't need to be said but you never know. I am not saying to roll in to the session in a tie, but slacks and a nice shirt might be good. If you show them you are treating this as a professional event then they will more likely be happy to pay you. Still be fun at the table, personable and engaging but don't roll in with jeans and a t-shirt that says "You must be this tall to ride this ride."

6) Offer Special Classes & Tutorials

Sometimes what really helps a group is a session just where you sit down with them and go over what is gaming or how to DM. I've had some great times with the players in my games just discussing the issues of metagaming or how to develop a deep plot. Some people who may be loathe to hire you as a DM would jump at the opportunity for some instruction on monster design, plot writing, NPC creation, or simple instruction on rules & DMing. I would also suggest offering a kid friendly tutorial where you can help younger players learn the ins and outs of DMing.

7) Collect Feedback from Every Group

I suggest coming up with a feedback form or evaluation form for people to fill out after every session. Tell them they don't have to put their names on it, but if they could fill out the small survey and write any suggestions that would be really helpful. If they don't want to give it you now make sure you have an online site for anonymous feedback.

That's all my suggestions for now. Good luck on this. I really hope you succeed. I have to reiterate the point that you need to offer something that people can't get at home.


The successful professional GMs I know about fall into three categories:

1) Game designers/writers whose fan base is willing to pay for the experience of playing a game with someone whose work they admire. Examples are Dave Arneson's charity auction games or Ken Hite's walking tour/Call of Cthulu game I organized through Otherworld Excursions.

2) GMs who run games for kids. Having a background in education may be useful - that's the route that led Becky Thomas to start the Roleplay Workshop.

3) GMs who happened to be in the right place at the right time to be hired by a group of well-to-do gamers; JSimpson is the standout example.

It seems to me #3 is the kind of thing you're looking for. Here's my analysis of the prospects:

- There are definitely people out there who would love to play RPGs again but don't have a GM to run a game for them or a group to play with. Most of those people are going to have entered gaming around the peak D&D years of the early '80s, so they'll be in their late 30s, likely to have kids and careers but not free time or friendships defined by gaming.

- You're not going to reach those people by posting at RPG forums. NYC is a gaming-rich environment, and anyone who is close enough to the gaming scene to know about a D&D Meetup or is going to be able to find a group without paying for the experience.

- Your pricing is so low that it becomes a turn-off. Let's say you have six people at the table. You're valuing your time at about one-tenth of the amount they're each paying a babysitter so that they can go out for the evening. You need to have the confidence to charge the kind of rates that other skilled professionals do.

- Consider renting a space. Cafe 28 is a good location for gaming (I play there myself, drop me a PM if you want to get together!) but part of what you're selling is professionalism and high-end quality. For Ken Hite's excursion, we rented a suite at the Hotel Intercontinental (one of the occult sites on the tour, as it's a former Masonic temple) and had them cater a meal. In NYC, I've heard that the suites at the W are a good option. Including things that have obvious value in the package makes it an easier sell than your GMing time alone, since gamers don't usually pay for that at all. Yax's Epic Vacation is a great example; it'll be interesting to see how it succeeds!

- Tipping is problematic. Jonathan Tweet told me he'd been thinking about playing for tips as a route to professional GMing, but that it'd all fall apart the moment the biggest tipper found an ultra-cool magic item. Making it anonymous (maybe a Paypal button on your web site) would keep other players from being suspicious that the big tipper is getting favorable treatment, but it leaves open the likelihood that the tipper himself expects to get something special in return.

- Having a website is a great idea. Playing and DMing more is also good. Basically, everything you can do to establish yourself as someone who really enjoys gaming is important, because the only thing reward you can count on from doing this is your own fun and satisfaction.
Last edited:


I wish you the best of luck. Honestly, I think you've got a great passion to want to start your own business and pursue the route of the entreprenuer.

Unfortunately, you seem to be trying to enter a market in which you are competing against people who do the same thing for free. That is going to be a difficult hurdle to overcome.

If you do want to do gaming professionally, maybe you could work something out with a game store or something. Hold popular events at a gamestore, be responsibile for all the advertising and bringing in of new people. Maybe you could either A) get a job working for the store with the provision that some of your paid hours would be hosting "events" such as gamemastering, teaching gamemastering of whatever new games come out, etc of B) Try to negotiate a commision with a game store: "Mr. Owner, I want to bring games to your store, if I run events, can I get 5% of the sales you make from people buying stuff for these events?"

I neither run a game store, nor have ever even tried this. These are just ideas that I hope help you on your way.


I've kicked a similar idea in my head in the past, but if I ever attempt this, I'm going to do it through my local community college. I figure calling it an introduction class to role playing. Doing it as a Non-Credit class where anyone can teach anything, you set up an entire campaign running for 1 night a week for 4 months.

This has the added bonus of having the college pay and feeling less ... I don't know... dirty, I guess is the word I am looking for.