311 - GM'ing for Cash

Dayminkaynin posted this on our forums

Not sure if this is the right place but can yall do an episode on how to GM for $$? How to get that paper! How much to charge. What to expect.

Some people in the hobby think this is taboo and that you GM because you appreciate the hobby. Some see nothing wrong with it.

Recording week of 9/21.



My two cents…

I’m fine with it. I might even try it sometime. But if you’re charging, I think you best make it worth it. And I don’t know what all that entails. I think rules mastery and solid capacity to GM on the feet to start, but maybe also sounds? terrain/ minis/ great VTT set up?


yeah, same here. If I’m paying, I would want as seamless a game as possible. Also, more immersion.


I’m not sure there can be one set of standards for what “paid” play is.

We now live in a world where people are professional DMs AND Players AND Streamers.

It’s no longer a matter of “Should Paid Play EXIST”, but how and when it makes sense.

I think if I ran a paid game, it would be for new players, exclusively. I feel I could better set expectations that way: “I’m not Matt Mercer, a voice actor and professional performer. Also, I don’t expect you to be voice actors with rich character histories all worked out in advance…”


When I first logged onto Roll 20 early this year, I thought that it was the norm. (yes, total noob move) I was excited to get some experience with online gaming and gaming in general. It cost me $5 bucks, so not a big deal; however, the other players were very young. The DM was excellent, he did a great job and tried to keep the other four on task, but it made the experience off-putting.
I don’t mind paying to play, but I think knowing who you are playing with would make the experience much better. I still think I would prefer to find a good group and move forward with said group. Very interested on what others think.


So just listened to the episode. Heads up, I am a paid gm. I can’t say much to my talent but my customers rave their enjoyment and keep coming back.

I should note this is not my day job but I do run between 4 to 8 games a week and I’m finding it a fun way to make cash. It hasn’t diminished my passion in the slightest. Been doing this for about three years and joined start playing a couple months ago.

Also a question. Does gaming and BS have a discord?


Thank you gabe

I agree with Brett that I would have a hard time charging anyone that I knew. I think that’s both from a familiarity standpoint and from the standpoint that I’ve played in games that they have run as well. At that point it almost becomes a “professional courtesy” thing, right?

I think the controversy around this shifted a little from when I first heard it discussed to now, because the “gig economy” wasn’t as much of a thing with people first started talking about running RPGs for money. It’s now way more common to monetize your hobbies in order to get extra cash, and even the concept that there is only one “true” way to monetize a hobby has been kind of blown out of the water.

As @OldSchoolDM said, there isn’t “one” meaning for being a “professional” GM. Matt Mercer doesn’t charge his friends, but they do make money from merchandising and advertising on their game, as well as upcoming projects like animated series, and other projects like the comic book series and the WOTC tie-in book. Matt Colville didn’t even gain primary notoriety from running games, but from commenting on how to run games, and he definitely found a unique path to monitizing something that he loved doing.

If anything, we’re moving into the era of “paid players,” as some of the people that appear on streams either get paid for their appearances, or get a share of a Patreon or other means of monetization, because it’s kind of unethical for something to generate a profit for the primary entity and not share that profit with people that are contributing to the thing being produced.

Would I GM for money? I don’t know. Without having a specific structure for it (i.e. working for a larger organization that was employing me that had its own standards) I would always be questioning my value as a professional, mainly because there isn’t much to measure against, and what exists to measure against, tends to have a much bigger budget to work with these days.

That said, another avenue of this whole thing is that there are a few companies that specialize in therapy or education that are also currently hiring “professional GM,” with the criteria being much different than just knowing the game. There is a structure and a process by which these organizations need their games run, which goes beyond rules mastery or even entertainment at the table.

Honestly, anything that someone puts effort into eventually gets monetized. The only thing that changes that equation is if there is a moral outrage about the monetization which engenders laws that constrain or eliminate the legal pursuit of that monetization. Even then, its not that it isn’t monetized, it’s that its not monetized in a legal manner that can rely on protections and industry standards.


RPG Police!


On the topic of Favors (running a game for free), or “Barter” (small non-cash rewards) or direct payment - there is a book that is perfect for understanding the confusion around these patterns…

Predictably Irrational

In Chapter 4, Dan Ariely recounts an experiment where people were asked to do a mundane task (drag circles into targets on a computer):

"[we asked some to do the task without any reward, others] we offered a Snickers bar (worth about 50 cents), and [others] a box of Godiva chocolates (worth about five dollars).

The participants came to the lab, got their reward, worked as much as they liked, and left.
Then we looked at the results.

As it turned out, all three experimental groups worked about equally hard during the task, regardless of whether they got a small Snickers bar (these participants dragged on average 162 circles), the Godiva chocolates (these participants dragged on average 169 circles), or nothing at all (these participants dragged on average 168 circles).

The conclusion: no one is offended by a small gift, because even small gifts keep us in the social exchange world and away from market norms."

So far, so good, but here’s the surprise:

"…[if] we labeled them as a “50-cent Snickers bar” or a “fivedollar box of Godiva chocolates,” what would the participants do?

Would a “50-cent Snickers bar” make our participants work as hard as a “Snickers bar” made them work; or would it make them work halfheartedly, as the 50-cents [cash] made them work [in a previous experiment]?

As it turned out, the participants were not motivated to work at all when they got the 50-cent Snickers bar, and in fact the effort they invested was the same as when they got a payment of 50 cents [Much lower!]

They reacted to the explicitly priced gift in exactly the way they reacted to cash (also lower), and the gift no longer invoked social norms—by the mention of its cost, the gift had passed into the realm of market norms."

This reflects the attitudes of people who feel “icky” when talking about Cash for DMing (which they think of as a social-market activity) but have no problems with unpriced-food/drinks as compensation. Think about what would happen if the player that brought the food bragged how much it cost…

If someone puts a cash price on an activity I’d do for free, it feels like my volunteer effort is devalued, or that I’m some kinda fool for “giving my time away.”

The truth is, there is no hard and fast rule here. If you want to share your skills as a DM with your friends, go nuts and have fun. If you can’t find a game and are willing to pay $ to get a game running, have at it!

As always, expectation management is everything.

There are so many border cases, it isn’t funny.

For example, I run a game at my local FLGS.

They “charge” 5 dollars for the session to each player. For that $5 they get a gift certificate good for $5 at the store, redeemable immediately (or they can be collected.) I get 20% discount on everything I buy at the store.

No one gets paid, or everyone is getting paid, depending on when you do the accounting. But no one is getting rich, and we’re all having fun. :slight_smile:


Uhhhhhh @Fafhrd and @sean, haven’t you both GMd for a certain tier of Patreon sponsor? How is that not GMing for cash? :stuck_out_tongue:


I get it – it’s nuanced. Patreon supports your podcast (and in no way actually pays you more than it cost you in equipment let alone time). GMing for Patreons is a reward. It’s not ‘quite’ GMing for cash. Maybe. Sorta-kinda.


BUSTED!!! :rofl:

Honestly, I didn’t even think of that - that’s a good perspective. You insightful bastard you :stuck_out_tongue:


I really hope Jeff starts throwing singles at Sean when he’s GMing like he’s a stripper/pole dancer.


I think that’s different.

GMing for cash is GMing purely for money.

GBS’ games are a benefit to those who are Patrons. Patreon doesn’t guarantee a game. GMing for cash does.


This needs to happen now.


So if I have sleep with you and you buy me a new car you’re just my sugar daddy and I’m not a pro. I get it. :slight_smile:


Man. My mind is in the gutter. I’ve been watching too much Burn Notice lately. :slight_smile:

1 Like

A few thoughts for the road.
Monetizing hobbies. As you guys have mocked “sports ball” in the past, it’s not so long ago that those weren’t paid players either. Just clubs. For the hockey fans in the crowd, if memory serves, that’s where the “hat trick” came from. If someone playing cricket scored three times they would pass a hat around the crowd for people to donate money for this awesome feat. A hat trick. Someone can correct me here, as mentioned, from off the top of my head.

As far as Brett’s mention of the tattoo artist, I don’t necessarily agree. “It depends.” Maybe time, material, etc etc, the artist’s cost are $85 an hour. But, Brett is repeat business, he’s literally a walking billboard, great PR. Instead of charging $150 an hour, he only charges $110. Brett thinks he’s getting a great deal, and the artist is still making a fair margin over what his time is worth. (I’ve never had a tattoo, please forgive my pricing.) Example. There’s a mechanic that does work for me. I’m never in a hurry, because I walk to work. I know of at least 3 coworkers I’ve sent there that have all their work done there now. They really like his work, so they get all their work done there, and he appreciates both the business I send his way, and the fact that my jobs are fill in, they can just pop in between longer jobs, or if there’s a lull. I’ve never asked for a discount, but if he wants to knock a few bucks off here and there, that’s absolutely his choice. Utmost importance however: NEVER TELL ANYONE HE GIVES YOU A DISCOUNT. Don’t tell those friends “oh, you should go here, he gave me forty bucks off.” Because now they expect that too. Not cool. That’s a personal favor.