I have been a Dungeon Master, or DM, for a long time. The entire time I have been playing role-playing games in fact. I have only ever been on the other side of the screen a very few times, and it never felt as comfortable as being the DM. I like creating worlds, setting scenes, and watching the simulation unfold once the players are added to the mix. I began writing up adventures, and before long I had more people wanting to play than I had time for. So I made a deal with the group that was not my friends and family; I would DM for them once a week, for $25. That was only $5 a person for them and they readily accepted. That was the first time I DM’d “professionally.”
Now I run a group once a week on Roll20, and things could not be going better. We were going to only play every other week, but they insisted on wanting to play more even though it cost more money. Right about now you are probably asking yourself why anyone would pay to play D&D. The answer is simple. You get what you pay for in this world. Many adults do not have time to waste waiting for other players to show up, or for them to take their turn for 30 minutes because they were on their phones the entire time everyone else was going, including the DM! So for them, it is worth paying to play in a group hosted by a DM who are all equally invested in maintaining a fun gaming experience for all. People tend to show up on time when they have paid to be there, and they respect each other’s characters and their own more as well. As a DM, knowing that I am being compensated for my time, at least a little, makes all the prep work so much more enjoyable and less of a headache to go through. It also allows me to invest in things like a Pro subscription to Roll20, allowing for many advanced features that make the game far more enjoyable for all.
“Many adults do not have time to waste waiting for other players to show up, or for them to take their turn for 30 minutes…”
If you are going to DM professionally, try to keep a few things in mind though.
- The Players are expecting QUALITY
- The Players are expecting PROFESSIONALISM
- The Players are expecting FUN
This one is the hardest to objectively measure for yourself. You need feedback from your players, and often times years of practice before you are going to be good enough to DM professionally. That is okay though. Like everything in life, practice makes perfect. If you find that you are having a hard time coming up with creative ideas, just remember that the entire game of D&D is based on pre-written works, and most of the adventures rely heavily on all the same tropes that you see over and over again in fiction. If you are good at doing voices, that can often make for a richer experience, but remember that there is more to a character than a wacky voice. Even if you cannot do voices (I am no Seth MacFarlance myself) you can still bring NPCs to life through vivid descriptions and living personalities that adapt and change with the interactions the PCs provide. Lastly, use as many props, maps, miniatures and everything else available to make the world come alive as much as possible. The overall quality of a game can increase dramatically with a few well-built models or handout props.
It is imperative when running a game for money that you do so with the highest standards of professionalism. Whether online or in person, all players should be helped to get completely setup, whether it is Session 0, or every time if need be. Some of the players are new, and would rather pay to be walked through it than feel awkward as their cousin’s roommate gets frustrated because they have not figured out their character sheet yet. All of your players should be aware of the etiquette at your table when it comes to talking during other players turns, cellphone usage/volume, out of character chatter, etc. You should make sure that everyone is respecting the other players as well. This includes showing up on time, giving timely notice of needing to miss a game, refraining from inappropriate conversations, etc. It is your job, as a professional DM to provide a professional environment for your group to play in.
Sounds simple right? Have fun. What could be easier? I mean you are playing a game after-all. But fun is objectively hard to quantify, and everyone’s definition varies to some degree. That is why we have so many variations on role-playing games today. Some people like a lot of crunchy mechanics, gritty realism, and accurate weapon and armor simulations in combat. Others prefer fluffy worlds rich in flavor and depth, with extremely simplified rules for character creation and interaction. Once everyone has agreed on a system, you still need to make sure that the setting is one that everyone is on board with. Someone hoping to play a classic Dragon Slaying Knight in shinning armor is going to be sorely dissapointed with a wild west styled game. Or someone hoping to play a Gnome only to learn that all the Gnomes were eradicated in the Great Gnome Gonening. This is where constant feedback from your players can really help once again. If someone is dissatisfied with something, finding out sooner rather than later can be the difference between someone having fun, or deciding that maybe D&D wasn’t their thing.