Pay to Play – Buyer Beware

dmforhireI’m a DM, and sometimes I forget what it is like to be a player.  I often offer advice to my players, but I fear that I give that advice from a DM perspective and forget about who actually runs the game which is the players.

DM’s are facilitators only.  The players drive a story and normally it’s their story, created by the choices they make and directions they go.  That being said, keep in mind that is my own personal opinion, and there are lot of DM/GM’s out there that can dispute it with it was their adventure and the players are just participants but that is another topic.

I saw something today that shocked me.  Pay to play games!  Yes, it’s true.  DM’s charging for their services and players need to fork out $5 to $10 a session just to play a game.  Wow, have times changed that much where a DM can charge for the service of running a game?

There is an incredible article I was directed to, written by The Angry GM. which is really in-depth and very well written on the subject.  I’m not going to touch this topic, but rather focus on if you are going to pay to play what you should know before handing over your hard earned coin to a faceless DM on the internet or in person at a local game store.

3f7So before you decide to send your 5 gold pieces to play you need to know a few things that all consumers (because that’s what you are when you pay for a service) should know.

Even if you don’t pay you’ll find this helpful because some of us have entered a game only to find out the DM/GM is a power hungry devil child that shouldn’t be running a game or maybe they are just not the correct fit for you as a player.

What should expect for your money can vary depending on what you are looking for.  I run 4 groups that are all very different in the way they play and I’ve moved people around into the group where they would best fit according to their play style.

Play Style is very important and you need to acknowledge what your play style is before you head into a new group to make sure it will suit your needs as a player.  There is nothing worst that placing a super awesome role player into a group of murder hobos.

So first establish your play style.  Maybe you enjoy the role play and the chance for adventure aspect of the game or maybe you just want to run around and slay numerous evil beasts and gain power.  These are questions you need to ask yourself.  If you don’t know what your play style is do a little google search on player play style and read about each one. You should be able to find one that is suited to you.

Before you pay single copper to the DM you will want to interview them.  Seeing the pay to play sign sent up red flags.  Why are they charging to run a game?  Are they any good? These are questions you need to ask.  Think about applying for job.  That is how you should treat these DM’s.  If you’re are going to pay them they need to pass the interview process.  You need to interview them just they were applying for a job right?dont-go-that-way

There a couple of things I would ask right away and a few more that would be more personal.

The first thing I would ask for is references or examples of their work.  Check these references.  There is no harm asking other players they have DM/GM’d what they thought or how the game ran.  If they are charging for the game they should have something to back up their claim to able to charge for it.

Ask if you can sit in on a game just to observe and see if it will work for you.  You are not playing just watching or listening.  There should be no reason why someone who is willing to charge you not allow it. If you do this, be respectful and don’t interrupt.  You can leave anytime so don’t’ feel like you need to stay for the whole session.  You should be able to pick up the vibe of the game quickly.

You will want to ask about any special house rules they have.  Are they adaptable to meet your needs or set in stone?  I find that there are a few people who run games the way they see how it should be and morph rules that go way beyond using them as guidelines.   There is nothing wrong with this as long as you are made aware of how they work and if they work for you.

Your new employee should have a starting point and story that sounds exciting.  See if they are willing to share past stories.  Are they creating their own adventures or using one of the many campaign books?   These are very important details to note, since you might become an active participant in the story.

You need to ask question regarding races and class that are allowed or not allowed.  If they allow pixie barbarians you might want to stay clear of that train wreck.  Alignment restrictions are a must to know.  Is the adventure based on saving the princess or kidnapping her?  I would ask what source books are being used as that can make a big difference.  How much is homebrew and how much not.

best-dmI know as a DM/GM I do a quick interview of new players, but I also leave room for them to ask questions as well.  Not everyone will get along with everyone.  You might want to talk to the other players as well to see if you are good fit for you and the group.  Sure, the DM/GM might be incredibly amazing, and has great stories tailor fit for your brand new adventurer but…… the other players are a complete mess and don’t mesh with  themselves let alone a new player.  This is why I suggested you ask if you can sit in on a session and just observe the play.

disgruntleOne thing to keep in mind is as soon as enter a pay to play adventure the table dynamic will change dramatically.  Unless you get a Matt Mercer or a Chris Perkins you will most likely encounter a bad session now and again.  The DM/GM may forget small details or mess up a rule etc.  Since you are paying for the session your expectations are going to a lot higher regardless of what you are paying.   This causes the issue of disgruntle players turning into upset paying customers.  It can ruin what might have been a funny whoops that happen session into an angry customer walking out and demanding their gold back.  Once money is exchange it changes everything.

There are so many more details that you might want to consider before hiring one of these professional DM/GM’s.  That word “Professional” alone is something to think about.  What does a professional DM/GM look like to you?  Is there such a thing, and I laugh at this because I’ve been asked to run a game for money and I turned them down because personally that not how I roll.   I don’t consider myself a professional at all, and I have almost 40 years of experience behind me.  I play for fun and I run games because that is my hobby and I enjoy it.  I make mistakes and screw up and learn every game.  Once you pay money you will expect something better than that.   I feel for the poor DM/GM that accepts money and then attempts to satisfy everyone.  Anyone with enough experience will know that sometimes your rogue is not the center of attention and you just spent 10 gold to watch the fighters of the group rule the table.  It’s going happen.

Pouch_of_Gold_(GOLD)As a final note think about what type of group you want.  There are other options to paying a DM/GM.  Find a group and perhaps chip in for a pizza once in a while or bring a shareable snack.  This DM/GM loves the shareable snack players.  One of my players once brought a special craft beer and it made my day.  Perhaps as a group you could pitch in a little to upgrade the free roll20 account to a pro one. I do know of many groups that already contribute to the latest campaign books for the DM/GM to run them through and in return the DM/GM gets to keep the book.  This is also good form of payment for a service.

Above all else remember the words “Buyer Beware!”

17 thoughts on “Pay to Play – Buyer Beware

  1. I think the problem of interviewing could be resolved reasonably well if the Pro-GM offered one or two introductory games to new players on a “Free-Trial” basis. That way you could, as a player, simply try out the game, and see if it works for you at no cost. If you enjoy it enough to feel it is worth the price, then you can accept the terms and keep playing. Otherwise you simply drop out with a nod and (hopefully) a thanks, and keep going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am a DM that runs pay2play games, I was originally offering the 1st session at 50% off with a no questions asked money back guarantee, but recently decided to just make the first session a donation based game. If you don’t feel you got your money’s worth, don’t pay. If you had a blast and feel like tossing some coin my way, bonus for me. If you had a blast but want to take advantage of a free game, bonus for you.

      I also don’t charge for the time at the start of the game while everyone settles in. i.e is game is scheduled for 7pm, but it take 30 minutes for people to get the chatting out of the way, or we had new players join, I don’t start the clock until 7:30.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “One thing to keep in mind is as soon as enter a pay to play adventure the table dynamic will change dramatically.”

    My own experience with this is that the games I’ve run professionally, and I’ve run a few, didn’t change my style of GMing, though I would add that I did considerably more prep for the games than I usually do for my friends. That was out of a feeling of obligation to my paying players. I will also add that my players who joined in the pay-to-play games expressed great enthusiasm for it, and it seems to me that they enjoyed the experience immensely. That said – I would also add that I have not played any Pay-to-Play games with those who are currently “ordinary” players with access to GMs of their own. My games were with kids between the ages of 8 and 11, and their parents paid. That modality worked extremely well. I’ve often pointed out, on the other hand, that trying to convert players who currently do not pay for their RPGing and play with their local friendly freebie GM are very unlikely to accept the idea of Pay-to-Play games. Lastly i would add that those GMs I have interacted with who have run Professional games for adult players have said that they only offer a consistent and reliable service, but do not attempt to change their style of GMing at all, nor do they coddle the players, or “let them win”, or anything of the sort. Apparently this works for them because some players happen to be, for whatever reason, unable to locate a local friendly freebie GM, and find that paying for the experience is worth it to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another point, (sorry to be multi-posting but I’m writing responses as i read least I forget my positions by the end) is that most of the Pro-GMs I know do not offer refunds. If you don’t like the way the GM runs the show, you don’t show up. Offering refunds would be akin to movie theaters offering refunds to patrons who didn’t like the movie, or thought the director didn’t do a good job in the fourth scene, or what have you. That doesn’t fly with movies, and it wouldn’t fly with Pro-GMs either. If you feel the GM doesn’t do a good job, then don’t come back for seconds, just like if you don’t like a certain director’s movie, don’t go see the next one.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a DM that runs Pay2Play games on Roll20, Jeff, you make some excellent points, and I appreciate your ” buyer beware” approach of simply bringing some tips to players. I for one, don’t want to see scam artist DM’s out there trying to rip people off, as that will negatively affect my business model.

    What I don’t get are the people (not you Jeff) that take it as a personal insult that a DM would feel their time and skill are worth money, especially when DMing for strangers. People play to partake in their hobbies or play games all the time, yet no one goes on the internet slagging bowling allies for charging people to bowl, or pool halls for charging people to play at their tables

    I get that D&D started as “buddies around the table”, and thats where some people think it should stay, but as with everything, the internet has changed that dynamic.

    My advice to people that don’t agree with Pay2Play D&D is, don’t pay to play and leave it at that.

    Some players love pay2play games because of the positive changes it can bring to the table.

    The Players are typically all dedicated gamers looking for a group of players equally as dedicated. As such, in a Pay2Play model, all the players are typically more focused on the game and less time is “wasted”. Being a paying customer means you want to get as much game time in as possible, and the players “police” themselves when conversations start going off topic (DM does too).

    Imagine going to a free bowling ally, expecting to bowl, but then spending most of the time waiting for people to stop talking and take their turn. 3 hours later you’re only half-way through the game.
    Compare that to going to a bowling ally and everyone is paying to play, yes, there will be some socializing going on, but most people will take their turns when its their turn and you get through the whole game in the hour that you paid for.

    In addition, not all players have a buddy that can or will DM and for any number of reasons (small town, mental health, social stigmas, etc) they may not be able to join a free game. Getting an invite to a free game on Roll20 is not easy. There are exponentially more players looking for games than there are DM’s. In this light, DM’s like myself, are providing a valuable service to these players.

    As a dedicated DM, I enjoy having dedicated players at my table.

    Thank you for taking an adult approach to discussing what is, for some reason, a heated debate in the RPG community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the comment. I can appreciate your point of view and it is shared by many. There are many who support you. It is a true division between players and DM’s on the topic.

      DMing is a lot of work and it takes time to prepare an adventure and story that can be enjoyed and fulfill the needs and wants of a diverse group of people each with their own personal ideas and dreams.

      I took the approach of it being almost an art. I wouldn’t ask some to draw up a piece of art for free unless I knew them personally. You could apply the same logic.

      Just out of curiosity where about in Alberta are you from? Seeing as we are from the same part of the world.

      Good luck in your adventures.


      1. FYI, I don’t write on that blog anymore. It, and my twitter account were taking over my life and causing friction with my wife. Someday I plan to start a D&D based blog, but am concentrating on writing my campaign guide, supplements and adventures.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I think I can understand the logic behind those who take Pro-GMing personally (or seem to). They may be seeing it as a threat to their currently, and historically, free hobby. I can imagine that long ago, when musicians did art for purely spiritual reasons (cavemen times probably) there were probably those who were also highly affronted on the day that some musicians began to charge money for their services. “After all”, they said, “why in the world should we have to pay for music when it’s always been free?!”. And so there was probably the equivalent of an online twitter campaign against the idea of Professional Musicians, in those days. I think so because when I think deeply about my own reaction to the concept of Pro-GMing, although I fully support it, I can see a dimly gnawing resentment against those who might possibly take my free-thing away by encouraging others to do their art for pay. So to be fair, I think it’s a valid concern on the part of those who feel that way. On the other hand, I also think it’s inevitable that it will come to pass so long as we still use money as a medium of exchange. And I also think it comes with the advantage that those who go Pro-GM will be able to devote a great deal more time and effort to the art, and therefore improve their skill at it and raise the level of the craft overall in the process. Pros and cons, as always.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey guys what do you charge, how long are your games, and what is offered per game 🙂 (audio, minis, mapping, theatre of mind, handouts, and so on ) thank you.


    1. I charged $4 / hour / player. The typical game lasted 5 or 6 hours. I played once a week for 10 to 12 kids ages ranging from 9 to 11, and their parents paid. For them it was a day off and their kids had a great time. So did I by the way, and after that season was finished I had pulled in $1360 for 12 games. I did this setup once. The other two times I ran pro games I ran them through the local community center and they paid me a flat fee to run games for however many kids showed up. That was definitely fun, and a challenge as I had 36 kids at one point, but the money was not really worth the effort if you’re just looking at that side of the thing. I recommend the $ / Hour / Player model. Works better.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s