A good proportion of my income in 2018 came from professional GM work. Now, this doesn’t include my work at the Royal Ontario Museum or Level Up Gaming. What I’m referring to is my work as a freelance GM-for-hire. 2018 consisted of 2 private schools and 8 families. At my busiest, I was running 4 games a week – each supplementing the income from my day jobs. From standing weekly appointments to hospital calls and birthday parties, I had the opportunity to play games across the GTA for a modest living.
How did I go about obtaining clients?
- Word of mouth. Many of my initial clients were former students from my museum program. They had “aged-out” and were still interested in having me run games for them. They then assembled friend groups of people who hadn’t worked with me before. This led to them introducing me to their school principals and well, the rest was history.
- Media. Having a webpage, social media presence, and business cards are essential. It lets you communicate to your client that you are a professional and can provide them with valuable information about your services (games you offer, rates, availability, etc.)
So, how do you succeed as a professional GM? How would I keep these clients?
- Know your worth. Don’t undersell yourself.
- Build trust and rapport. Be professional. Send invoices and keep good records. Remember, you are not only operating as a freelancer, but also as an ambassador of the hobby.
- Listen and identify the needs of the client. What kind of game do they want to play? What tone do they want the story? Often, the needs of your client, especially if you’ve been hired by a family, may not match your preferences.
- Remember that the key to a good session as a professional GM is a combination of content, story, and value. Come prepared with reflexive content. Involve the players in the story – give them agency over the experience. Finally, make sure that their tabletop experience is unforgettable. If you have miniatures, terrain, or even maps you’ve drawn, they bring immense amount of value to the tabletop experience. Even if you don’t, simple visual aids like the Index Card RPG (see my previous post on this) do wonders for your table.
- Set expectations and employ safety tools at the table.
- The exchange of money for GM services can be difficult for some, particularly those who embody the GM vs Player Character mentality that was all too prevalent in the early stages of tabletop history. Remember that they are paying for your services. Remove your ego, and the tabletop experience will be better for everyone involved. Now, more than ever, it’s about being the PC’s biggest fan. Encourage them to grow.
But there are a couple of things to consider before working as a professional GM.
- This sort of work is precarious. People’s schedules change.
- There is potential for game burnout – the lack of desire to play those specific games. I’ve often found myself turning to skirmish wargames like Gaslands or RPGs I haven’t played with clients. If you think of it this way, this might actually be an advantage. It encourages you to try new games!
Was this the dream come true many hardcore gamers envision? In a way, yes it was. It provided me with a significant amount of secondary income to a) fuel my hobby, b) increase the value of my product, c) allowed me to develop my GM/table management skills, and d) provided me with opportunities to playtest adventures. But this kind of work is volatile. Clients can cancel last minute, leaving you without any work. This kind of work also leads to burnout.
So take care of yourself. GM-for-hire work is incredibly rewarding, just give a lot of thought to why you’re interested in doing it in the first place.