A Tale of 3 (Professional) Dungeon Masters
Professional DMs. Love the idea? Hate it? Let’s talk.
Recently the concept of professional DMs, or paying to play Dungeons & Dragons has become a topic of debate (again). Each time the topic comes up, there are a lot of strong feelings and opinions about it. Some have accused it of being a type of gatekeeping, while others can’t imagine a world where they would charge their friends to run a game. And some think of it as offering help or a service someone can’t easily get any other way.
As a way of exploring this trend, I want to introduce you to three Dungeon Masters. They are all professionals that DM either full-time or part-time…and they all charge for their games.
My friend Adam is @dungeon_dragons_club on Instagram. He is a private-school teacher who also leads a D&D club at his school in Dayton, Ohio. On the weekends, however, he is a DM for hire. Promoting his services mostly via Facebook, he offers 3 hour games at $10 per person (limit 8). His players are people who haven’t been able to find groups and people who don’t know anyone who can teach them. When we talked on Instagram, Adam said “Charging has improved attendance, player engagement, and allows me to produce better games.”
What I love about Adam’s approach is that he is not just making money, but he is also intentionally growing the community in his area. He’s started a DM workshop where he teaches other people how to run their own games. It sounds like it would be bad for business, but at heart Adam is a teacher, and his goal is to help more players become comfortable hosting games for their own families and friends.
Across the world in Tehran, Iran’s capital, @dnd_with_eldrin (on IG) is running 12 paid games a week! He’s been doing it for about a year and has even been able to quit his job to DM full time. He got in touch when he saw a post I had done on pro DMs and agreed to chat with me on Instagram. According to Eldrin, the demand for D&D in Iran is pretty high and people are happy to pay because it can be hard to find others who know how to play the game. “People here are new to D&D and I’ve played for 8 years and been a DM for 4. People are trying to become DMs now.”
Eldrin is committed to providing a quality experience as a DM, and also plans to begin teaching others to play. The demand for his services is so high that he is making more than some programmers or professors in Iran. There is a downside though. Eldrin finds it hard to get materials like dice because of government sanctions, and that can make it hard to run games.
The original article that started the most recent professional DM debate featured a friend of mine named Devon Chulick. You can read the whole article here. Devon has a day job, but on the weekends and evenings runs games for busy professionals in Silicon Valley. Devon is an experienced DM and runs a campaign on Twitch called Total Party Chill. As a DM, he charges between $300-$500 per table (limit 6). That can be an eye-popping amount, but not in his area.
He lives in San Francisco, and his clients often come from places like Nintendo and Google. They have very little free time, or are not part of the D&D community, but are interested in the game and want to learn how to play. Devon offers a quality gaming experience, complete with character sheets, dice, miniatures, customized drinks, soundtracks and himself as a fully-engaged DM. He feels like he is offering a therapeutic, easy to access, immersive experience to people who otherwise wouldn’t have time or ability to be part of the D&D community.
Ok, Professional DMs. Love them or hate them, keep this in mind. I think it’s important to look at the job of professional DM from the perspective of the person who is willing to pay. They love the game and want to learn how to play. They often have high pressure/fast-paced jobs. They don’t know anyone who can teach them. A pro DM has the skills and all the materials and is ready to offer a customized experience.
I want to be clear that being a professional DM is VERY different from demanding to be paid to run a game at YLGS or with friends. That’s a jerk move.
BUT, if I wanted to learn how to cook something specialized like Armenian food, I would look for a class or hire a private teacher for a night. If my kids want to play a specialized game like baseball, I would pay to join a club that offered coaches, games, and trips. And so on.
When I looked up pro DMs, I found articles going back years and years, so I don’t think pro DMs are a new thing, but with the current influx of new players added to the typical disparity between the number of players to the number of DMs, it was bound to happen and since it has, maybe it’s time to look at this game we love from a new perspective. It’s our hobby, but to many people, it’s a specialized experience that they want to learn how to play. They want a teacher. They want help. They want a professional DM. Pro DMs aren’t gatekeepers; they are more like a concierge holding the gate open for people who have no other way in and helping them roll for initiative.
See you next Friday and until then, may the dice be ever in your favor.
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