Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Paid Gamemastering

The topic of gamemastering for pay came up in the GURPS Discord and I just had to jump in. First, I’ve done paid GMing in my past and it can be a great experience if you know what you’re doing. You need to be a good GM, capable of improvisation on the spot, willing to hash out problems as they occur, and do lots of prep. Moreover, your potential players need to trust you. They probably don’t know you that well (mine never did starting off, but I had about 3-4 groups that I got to know pretty well over the last decade) and you’ll need to build that trust. If you’re thinking about doing paid GMing be prepared to be turned down a lot until you find the right mix of players who are willing to pay for your time. Here’s a few things I learned over the years:

Long-Term Games & Contracts Tips

For long-term play – not pick-up games – get a contract. Find something that works for everyone (work for hire or work for pay is the best bets). Get all players to sign it along with yourself and give everyone copies. Be specific about what things you as a GM are willing to do and what things the players are willing to do. I had a lawyer friend draw me up contracts at the time, but I’ve since lost the digitial copy otherwise I would include it here. Some things you might want to include:

  • Game Type: Spell out what you’ll be running, any supplements that will be on/off the table, and so on.
  • GM Duties: Make sure you tell the players exactly what they are paying for. This includes prep time, help with character creation, session recap notes, and so on.
  • Payments and Pay Schedule: Figure out how much you’re getting paid and make it clear how often you get paid. Some like to charge by the hour, some like to charge by the session. Some like to charge by the campaign. I personally charged by the number players per session per campaign. I found that works best.
  • Place of Play and Odds and Ends: List the location(s) that games will take place, who will be picking up the snack tab, and so on. Believe me, it’s important.
  • Player Duties: Make sure the players know exactly what is expected of them. Just because you’re a paid GM doesn’t mean you get to be abused by the player(s) paying you.
  • Point of Contact Player: Have a player that is your point of contact – the guy you go to when there is an issue of any kind on the player side. Having such a contact is super important.
  • Railroad Clause: Either for or against, make sure this is in there. If the players buy tickets to ride the train and know where it’s going (or don’t) make sure you let them ride the damn train. If they want more open world play make sure that’s in there too.
  • Timeframe: Be specific about how long the campaign will last. In my experience a story arc is about 4-10 sessions and a campaign is 3-5 story arcs. Thus you could contract for 28 to 30 sessions. More importantly, decide how many hours a session should be. 4-6 is pretty common. Make sure you note how often you’ll be playing and on what days. For example, a campaign might be 30 sessions with 1 session per week and lasting seven and a half months with each session being 5 hours long. Extra time might need to be accounted for when things inevitably arise and sessions must be canceled.
  • Social Contract: SPELL. OUT. THE. SOCIAL. CONTRACT. I devote an entire page to this sort of thing in all my games. You should too.
  • Walk-Away Clause: This one is important. If things go bad make sure you can walk away. In my contracts I got half pay for sessions up front and the rest when the campaign finished. If I enacted a walk-away then I kept my half and forfeited the rest.

Pick-Up Games Tips

When running a pick-up game for pay – something not planned (or at least not planned long) – at your Friendly Local Game Store or similiar venue create a one-page sheet on what you’re doing and what your fees are. BE SPECIFIC. Be upfront. Be professional. And be prepared to be turned down. Try to stay on a schedule as much as you can at that store (e.g., “I always run pay to play DnD on Fridays at Atlantis Games and Comics”) and when you get players get them to spread word of mouth of you if possible. Some tips:

  • Be Flexible: If players want to buy you dinner, snacks, drinks, books, dice, etc. instead of paying you in currency – let them. It’s a good way to get to know the local player base and it helps shed the whole “paid GMs are predatory” M.O. that seems to have cropped up.
  • Be Prepared: Bring all the needed supplements and books for your campaign yourself, bring dice. Lottttts of dice because there is always that one guy who doesn’t have his with him. Bring snacks at least for yourself because gaming is thirsty work. Basically, bring everything you need to run the game. This might seem obvious, but until you’ve done it a few times you’re likely to forget something.
  • Don’t Be a Dick: Like I said before, be professional. If you want to be paid like a professional GM then act like a professional GM. This may not need to be said when you’re with your friends, but you’re likely playing with strangers and if you want to be able to run consistent pay to play games then you need to be at least moderately likeable.
  • Let the Wookie Win: Sometimes you need to let the wookie win. This can be done by fudging your rolls (something I personally never do as I roll in the open) or by modifying the scene a bit. Either way, sometimes you let the wookie win. The goal is fun so you get repeat customers.
  • Space: Make sure you’ve got gaming space for the time you intend to run. Tables fill up quick on the weekends. Take that into account when running in a FLGS.

Roleplaying Microtransactions

Microtransactions . . . that is a can of worms. Basically, players use real world money to buy effects in the campaign world. Personally, I never did this except for one thing: extra lives. If a PC died I’d let players put $5 to $10 in a tip jar to resurrect them fully without any issues. My brother would do this as well and went a step further: He used to have this jar of dice for AD&D and you could toss in a dollar and reach in and grab a handful. Then you’d be able to roll those dice when you rolled your own and if it was better you could use the result his dice rolled and then put it back in the jar. He did for snacks mostly and gas money but the players at our FLGS never had issues with that. I’ve never done this except as I’ve noted but if you’re wanting to do something like this in your campaigns create a list of what getting “tipped” can do for the PCs and stick to it. And for the love of all that’s holy don’t make it so the PCs must pay to win a scenario. That’s just WRONG and it can ruin a hard won reputation fast.

TL;DR If you’re going to do this do it honestly.

Picking Over the Bones

In the end, getting paid to run a game is highly controversial in the community, but my momma said “If you’re good at something never do it for free.” You’ll never get rich off of pay to play games (unless you stream and REALLY hit it big), but you could probably have it pay for your hobby if you’re good enough. I haven’t run any pay to play games in the last 5 years or so but my last one was a big success – I ran some old WoD VtM stuff and the players just loved it so much I got a Christmas bonus.

Have you ever paid to play under a GM? Have you ever GMed for pay? How was your expeirence?

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  1. Interesting read, as I have no experience with the topic (and zero idea of specifically how much $$ such a GM should expect to get).

    The info about paying for in-game aid (extra lives, etc.) is particularly a surprise. Interesting idea – though, as you say, it sounds like it really needs to be handled with care.

    Looks like your article is about physical paid GMing. Question: Is *online* paid GMing also a thing? I’m not looking to find one or be one at the moment; just curious whether that’s also a thing people are doing.

    Again, thanks for the read and advice (much of which is good advice for non-paid GMing as well!). The gaming hobby is always coming up with unexpected new ideas –

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