When I meet new people, the small talk topic of “What is your job?” always comes up. I hold my breath, my heartrate increases, and I begin to sweat. I tell them I am a professional storyteller and innocently they reply, “What does that entail?”. Going into a metaphorical fetal position, I hesitantly tell them that I Game Master for private clients and companies. I then quickly push the topic that I help team build and bring people together. Then there is an awkward pause before the conversation changes to something else.
I am a full-time professional Game Master since January 2018. I bring people into the magical worlds of my creation in exchange for money. This service gives them the opportunity to be free from their own worries and realities and develop a character with a group of people. I’ve run for over 100 clients from more than eight countries around the world. These are some of my confessions.
There Are More Players Than GMs
My clients are people who want to play the game but don’t feel comfortable going to their local game shop and would rather play from their home. Other clients simply don’t have anyone who wants to Game Master or they want a person with the right set of skills that can provide a better product. These are the kinds of people who seek me out and I provide a service to them.
When I first started running games, I put my advertisements everywhere. This included Facebook groups, Reddit, and on various forums. I received heavy amount of criticism and insults. That I was somehow charging friends and being immoral. People are protective of their hobby, but my service is not targeted towards people who have a normal gaming group. I am here to share my love for the hobby to people who don’t get to experience it.
This Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
A lot of people say they want to become professional Game Masters and run games before they burn out. I want to emphasize what goes into the workload. I run seven games a week providing homebrew content. I specifically run homebrew worlds where I work directly with a client to create a unique story. Meaning, I have seven different storylines going on at the same time. Other people run modules or adventure paths. They run more games and charge less but cut down significantly on prep time. This is 40+ hours of creative work a week for little pay and no benefits. New people will want to decide early if they want to participate in this hustle freelance culture or if it isn’t worth it. For me, I do this for art’s sake. I love the artform and I want to further master my abilities in this field. But I am not a casual player and to do this job you can’t be one either.
I have a family and I admit that there are times this job is hard. Sometimes I’m sitting at full games and money coming in and other times we are dipping into our savings. I’m fortune enough to have been able to prep for these times when there are only 2-3 clients in each game. But that is stressful and will take a toll on your family. That and you must arrive at game session with the same amount of enthusiasm regardless of how you feel.
This field is hard. Some of the games that you are going to run are not going to be in the style you want them. I really like working on personal character arcs and telling a story, but some people are joining a game to drink a couple of beers and decompress from their day of work. While you, the GM, is not a casual player, many of your clients are. You must prepare and be understanding of that. That they are not there to create art while you may be trying to. Instead, focus on making sure they are having fun and refine your craft whenever you can. Doing this for almost four years full time. I noticed that the bad games are horrible, the good games are okay, and the excellent games are great. I strive for those excellent moments because it inspires me to push through those bad ones. And as I try to master my skills to create better content, I find that I still love and master what I do. But you really have to love it.
So You Want To Be A GM For Hire
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the market exploded. People tried to run games as a side hustle. When I first started, there weren’t many of us out there and I was able to develop a loyal client base. Now, you have to compete and work hard to get clients, but you can do it. And if you love it, you should.
But I want to emphasize goal setting here. This field has very little lateral growth and very little money. If your goal is to make a lot of money, take a step back and find something else to do. If you are sitting with a huge student loan bill (like I am), then figure out how much you need to work to cover your bills. But I think paid GMing is a means to an end rather than a destination. Are you doing this to pay through college? Go for it! Are you trying to become a freelance writer and game designer and want to know more about how a lot of people play? Then this is a great field to do for several years as you try and sell your products. Do you love this art form so much that you want to do this every single day? Then commit to it.
Sit down and figure out how much money you need to make to survive, how many games you need to run, how much time you are willing to spend, how much do you need for emergency money, and come up with a price. Charge people what you are worth and do some research to see what other people are charging. But don’t undersell yourself or you are going to burn out. Once you figure out how many games you need, put two games out and wait for them to fill. Add more games and wait until they fill. Then when you think you are comfortable, make the leap to full time. If you add all your games at once, there is a chance that you will find only 2-3 players in each game which isn’t sustainable
Find places to advertise. There are great resources like Roll20 Forums, Reddit, and the up-and-coming startplaying.games website to place your games. Push forward, advertise, and make sure you sell yourself well. I am available for questions if you have any. If this is something you want it doesn’t hurt to at least try.
Christopher Rondeau is a Professional Game Master and the owner of Skald’s Tale Entertainment LLC. He is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Master’s in English where he studied collaborative storytelling and narrative arc. He lives with his wife, daughter, and annoying cat. You can find him @skaldstale on Twitter and Instagram or email him email@example.com.