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Hot Button: Show Me the Money!

Several years ago, a GM that I was acquainted with organized his weekly group into a club. Everyone paid a fee and the GM would ostensibly use this money to purchase gaming materials that he would keep after use.

A few years later (but still several years ago…darn I feel old!), I was discussing this arrangement with a fellow gamer buddy. He had a rather heated reaction against it, as he felt that he shouldn’t have to pay anyone to play an RPG and if a GM at a table he was sitting at tried to institute such a plan, he’d leave the group in a heartbeat.

My reaction was different. As the regular GM for my groups, I often fork out $100s more in game materials than anyone else at the table. I also invest a lot of time in prepping adventures. It didn’t seem out of line to me for a GM to ask for “financial aid.” My inner gnomish capitalist wouldn’t even mind if the GM charged a compensation (pure profit) fee if she could get the group to agree.

The only time I’ve ever actually paid a fee was for LARPing, which primarily covered the cost of the venue (although the GMs involved did pocket the remainder). In other cases, I’ve borrowed books while running a campaign. I’ve never seriously considered charging for my time and expense.

So the Hot Button question is this: Under what circumstances would you deem it okay to charge money to run a regular gaming group? Do you currently charge (or pay to play) and, if so, what are your circumstances?

Bonus question: Would you have different expectations of a GM if you paid a fee?

41 Comments (Open | Close)

41 Comments To "Hot Button: Show Me the Money!"

#1 Pingback By GMs Charging for RPGs = Best Idea Evar : : On June 30, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

[…] Ceichanowski over at Gnomestew.com wrote up an interesting article about a fairly controversial issue that I didn’t know […]

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 30, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

Wait a minute!! I can charge the players to cover my expenses?!? 🙂

I think this a great post BTW.

I’m all for it if there are books kept and reciepts that I can review. If I see that the GM spent the group’s money on a miniature that was used in combat and a module that the GM ran, I propbably would think that it was a fair deal. I wouldn’t pay more than $2 a session, but a steady income used to fund the game of $8-12 a week or two is reasonable. It is still less than a movie ticket and way more enjoyable. And if the GM gets to keep the stuff so what? That is compensation for the time and effort that the GM put into the session. No biggie to me.

But I would definitely expect more from a GM who charged me. At that point I am paying for a service, and now if I am investing cash of any amount I expect a greater level of return on that investment. You ran a combat with skeletons and used dice instead of skeleton minis? What happen to the money we gave you last week? Why didn’t you use it prep for this game? The occasional bad session or poorly prepped session would be excusable still, but over the longterm the experience had better be a step above for the the players.

I might actually consider this for my group. I don’t think I would keep all of the goods though. I’d keep records and if someone wanted to leave the group they would get an amount of gear back to keep that would be equivalent to what they put into the game’s funds. I think it would be a great way to actually bring the group together if done right.

#3 Comment By Swordgleam On June 30, 2008 @ 5:56 pm

My group has several GMs and we all play in each other’s games, so that seems fair compensation to us. The guys who are purely players buy/make food sometimes to help even things out. We generally don’t use minis or anything, just drawings, so that does simplify the financial situation.

I guess I wouldn’t be against paying a GM in principle, but I don’t think I would do it or ask it. I feel a GM should only buy books because they want to buy those books, and if the group can get enjoyment from them as well, that’s great. If a player wants to play a prestige class from a particular book, they should buy that book. No one should expect the GM to have the full collection.

I know GMing is a much greater investment of time and effort than playing, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it. Why should we be paid, and others pay, when all of us are having fun?

I can see where GM getting paid could be fair, and where paying to play could be fair. I just can’t see it happening without imbalancing the power relationship in the group. And I think you would have to pay me a great deal of money to get me to agree that it was worth it, considering all of the problems that that would cause.

#4 Comment By Jonathan Drain On June 30, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

Easily, I’d expect value if I paid for DMing service.

#5 Comment By Taliesin On June 30, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

An excellent post, and something every GM ought to at least think about for a sec.

When I was younger, GMing for friends was not as big of a deal. There were less demands on my time and money than there are now. Now, any expendable income I have has to be balanced against my various interests, and I definitely have to pay the bills first.

Dropping money on new books, minis, supplements, etc. is far rarer now than it was before, and I think my games suffer from it, somewhat. As to whether I would consider charging money, I HAVE considered it, and decided that a regular fee wasn’t warranted. What I DID end up doing, thought, was splitting the cost of any new books evenly among the entire group. I had a couple guidelines.

1. If I wanted the book, and was prepared and able to cover the entire costs, I’d ask for cost-sharing help from the players. It wasn’t required, and any help was rewarded with XP or in-game loot. Nothing created imbalance. Just a little’ somethin’ somethin’ for their help.

2. For supplements I knew I couldn’t afford, or didn’t know if it was something the entire group wanted, I simply put it to a vote. If it passed, we’d split the cost of the book among the 7 of us. If it didn’t, we’d hold off on the book.

We were a group of already-friends, anyway, so springing for each other’s stuff was something we did on a pretty regular basis. Meals, gas, etc. It was just how we rolled.

#6 Comment By nolandda On June 30, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

I would never consider charging for GMing; mostly for wealth distribution reasons. I am one of the more gainfully employed members of my group and I would feel like I was picking my players’ pockets.

On the other hand if there were such a thing as a “professional GM” that I could hire on an hourly basis (including a reasonable amount of prep time) I would strongly consider it. I don’t get many opportunities to play in a game with my friends any more and that would be worth something to me.

I would expect quite a bit more from someone who was being paid for such an enjoyable job, however.

#7 Comment By argokirby On June 30, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

In my group we all pay a $1 due, even me the DM. Over that time that money builds up. We usually use that money to buy one book every couple of months or supplies, like tokens, markers to mark people etc…

I have always asked my players to fork over a little bit of the cost. Some of my players don’t even own a PHB, I own 5 so everyone has one at the table no matter what. But the guy who plays every week that has no cost to play, He easily shells out 70-80 bucks a month on video games, so he feels a dollar a game is cheap.

I also feel the DM should get the best chair and does not have to pay for snacks if you do a group snack thing. But to answer Jonathan Drain – I am a bad ass DM, ask my players.

I don’t think players can fully understand the cost financial, physical and mental of being a DM. The money I shell out for game supplies, adventures, supplements is easy to quantify. But we play every week at my house also. That means I have to clean up after 5 gamers (twice a week) at my house. I spend at least 4 hours every week preparing for each game session. Even at 6 bucks an hour I would get paid $48 just for that time.

I hate to be arrogant about it, but if I had a player that did not feel they should help with the cost of the game, then they don’t play in my game. I have kids and even junior soccer leagues require that you buy your own uniform.

I’d love to be a professional DM. Actually get paid a salary to be a DM. Charge by the 4 hour session. $100.00 for 4 hours, that would be swell. Course its a dream, but dang the idea of having a DM show up at your house, play any adventure you want, in any campaign world you want. The DM supplies all the minis, the dice, the books, you don’t need anything the DM could even bring pre-made characters. That might be worth $200 a week a have a great DM come over and run a 8 hour game, that would be awesome. That’s 800 a month, but over 5 players that’s only 160 a month.

But, back to reality, I really appreciate the 1 dollar per game session from my players and their picking up the tab on snacks. It helps a lot!!!

#8 Comment By Ryan_Singer On June 30, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

I’ve been considering launching a pay-to-play retail business. Would you pay to play D&D somewhere that had:

1. A trained GM and
2. 3d terrain for
3. A full collection of mini’s?
4. Also, snacks, soda and/or pizza?

How much would you pay per 4-5 hour session?

#9 Comment By gamefiend On June 30, 2008 @ 9:06 pm

It seems fair — Gaming costs more than it used to. If that money is going into stuff like minis and other play-aids, that’s fair. GMing is of course a labor of love, but it shouldn’t break your bank either. The GM is the one who needs all the core books (using 4e as an example), will most likely supply the minis and playing field material, and various incidentals. I’ve considered asking players to chip in, but I’m so used to paying for it all that it feels wierd, even though it makes sense.

#10 Comment By ToddBradley On June 30, 2008 @ 11:32 pm

I’ve been the regular DM for our bi-monthly game for most of the past 3 years. Obviously, it takes a lot of time, and I would seriously consider paying someone to do it if they did a good job. We often pay $10 to see a 2 hour movie without thinking twice. So I would have no problem whatsoever paying $3-4/hour for a really fun gaming session. But it takes prep work, too, so I’m not sure if it would be worth anyone’s time in the end.

Ryan_Singer, if your business was in my area, I think my gaming group would probably pay $80 to $100 for a 4 to 5 hour gaming session if you included all those features you mentioned. It would be worth half of that to me just to not have to vacuum and do dishes afterwards! 🙂

#11 Comment By matholwch On July 1, 2008 @ 12:59 am

As a minimalist – i.e. I have the D&D 3.5 PHB and haven’t forked out for anything else from WotC – I could not consider charging my fellow gamers to cover my extra gaming expenses as a GM.

I enjoy creating stories and ‘prepping adventures’. As a regular GM (three weeks out of four on average since 1976) this is part of the reason I do it – I love the act of creation. Why should I charge my friends? If they weren’t there I’d still create stories…

When I pick up figures I do it because I like collecting and painting them, not specifically to serve my adventures. If I don’t have the figures I need I create counters from online artwork or the freebie download sections of many sites.

The same goes for floor tiles and 3D terrain items – I make them because I enjoy doing it. It is my hobby, it is my friends’ hobby – why on earth would anyone consider charging for that?

I can see the attraction to some. Why not exploit a skill carefully nurtured over decades of play? I’ve met some semi-pro GM’s in my time at tournaments and the like, and discussed this with them. One thing makes me think twice about joining them though – the expectation of performance.

Like all GM’s I have good ideas and I have stinkers. I have good nights and bad ones. With a group of friends this isn’t that important – but with a group of customers this becomes a real problem. They have paid hard cash for what they expect to be a superior (to the average) performance. So what happens when you don’t give it, or they don’t think they had it?

To me a hobby is something I do to take me away from the workaday world. Turning it into a business would rob me of the hobby – so what would I do then?

#12 Comment By tallarn On July 1, 2008 @ 1:50 am

I’m considering asking my group to pay £1 a session (or possibly even 50p) so that I can subscribe to D&D insider. It won’t cover the whole cost by any means, but it’d be a decent investment for them as it’ll mean I’ll have access to all the new stuff and can start adding it to the game – plus, I’ll still be footing most of the bill myself.

I wouldn’t ask my players to pay me, but I’d be happy to be part of a group where everyone (including the DM) puts in to a collective pot.

#13 Comment By Ryan_Singer On July 1, 2008 @ 1:59 am


That’s the price range I was thinking too. $20-$25/player, minimum 4. the new federal minimum wage is $8/hour, so that’s what a GM makes, payroll taxes and such bring that to $10 at least, so it’s about a 100% markup. That’s on the low end considering I can only sell about 13 a week (1 slot each on weeknights, 4 each on weekends). You can enhance that slightly by selling the snacks separately, but not much.

Perhaps auctioning the seats on popular nights, or with popular GM’s?

#14 Comment By Omnus On July 1, 2008 @ 5:59 am

One thing that makes me cringe in regards to being a professional DM is the principle that The Customer Is Always Right. When your players are paying you to perform, in a way, they become the boss, and your authority erodes a bit. Unless you have an unassailable reputation, you have to make decisions based on making the players happy so they keep bellying up to your table. That means if you’re a DM who values role-playing and your players are Monty-Haulesque munchkins, well, you’d better start tripling the treasure intake and get rid of the monologues, because the Customer won’t be amused. I’d also think the burnout rate might get pretty high if you had to constantly put out high-quality games many times a week on demand.

As a player (rarely) I’d only have considered paying $20 to game at one man’s table: Gary Gygax. Now that he’s gone, it isn’t happening.

I can see excess money from dues going into a fund for Pizza night, extra minis or a new battlemat, but I’d be unhappy to pay dues in a game and find the DM is pocketing the balance. My game is a hobby, and we play at my house, so I’d be the only one to gain from charging, but the thought leaves me cold, frankly.

#15 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 1, 2008 @ 7:35 am

Charging the players does not automatically translate into making a profit. I see nothing wrong with the group collecting dues and giving the GM access to those funds. I’m going to ask my group if they would be willing to do this, because I do spend a lot of my own income on the group. Sometimes I buy the pizza or dinner, I always provide snacks and drinks, and I buy all of the gaming gear that we use. I recently picked up D&D 4e to run for the group and have already spent about $150 for the books, minis, and some other supplies. I’m financially committed to the game, so why shouldn’t the players do the same?

This isn’t about money. I have a very good salary. I can afford to spend money on my hobby and to show my friends a good time. This would be about commitment and ownership. Taking the informal group dynamics and starting a club with a simple structure.

I want to go with this approach: everyone pays $2-5 a session. That money goes into a fund used solely for the club. All materials purchased are the property of the club. Records will be kept and your dues will be accounted for. If you should leave the group you get a certain amount of cash back (20% of what you paid in dues for the last 12 months).

On top of the collection dues, we could also have a system for rotating the GM.

The reason I am interested ins tarting a club is that my friends who joined gaming clubs seemed to game more often. Their groups were larger, and the members of the group were motivated to attend every game and participate. I’m going to pitch the idea to my FLGS and see what comes of it.

#16 Comment By Mort_Q On July 1, 2008 @ 8:59 am

One of my current DMs regularly provides us with food and drink, and I mean meals, not snacks. He asks us to bring a booster pack of minis every once in awhile. I have no problems with paying to play.

#17 Comment By LesInk On July 1, 2008 @ 9:15 am

Besides having greatly different levels of income in our group which causes an awkward silence about paying the GM, most of us also GM. When I brought up the subject some time ago, the attitude was, “Nah, there are plenty of us that don’t mind GMing without pay.” Call it a supply/demand problem.

In truth, although I realize there is probably more cost for me, I find knowing that the materials I provide are mine and not group ownership makes me more comfortable in doing whatever I want with the materials. In addition, group ownership could get complicated if someone leaves the group and wants to take some of the items.

In any case, each group is different and I recommend a more community based mindset. Our group focuses on sharing snacks and keeping it social. We buy our own items (books, dice, etc.) and consider that their entry fee — although friends in the group will share to help with the costs. Sometimes dinner is potluck and everyone brings a dish.

In the end, I feel if you think that you *should* be paid as a GM, you are probably doing something wrong and should let someone else GM. Paid GM services is a dream since 1) there are very few players willing to pay for it ($160/mo?!?), 2) there are many GMs who think they are just as good. I also agree with the above comment — there is an expectation on the player’s side of quality and reward. Ironically, not being paid helps a GM have a certain amount of objectivity and killing off characters or destroying their items when needed. Players who pay will feel doubly hurt if their favorite characters bites the big one AND they had to pay for it.

Paying for games should only be if 1) you have a large group that really is more of a community group or club, 2) are using facilities that needs to be paid for (e.g. room in a building), 3) the group truly wants a particular set of materials on hand for everyone.

Otherwise, just have fun and enjoy the game for what it is — a meeting of creativity and gaming. However, as a DM, don’t be afraid to ask for help if your group is leaning on you too much (e.g. cleaning afterward, a couple free snacks, a different location, help writing character histories, GMing break, etc.). They know it’s work for you.

#18 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 1, 2008 @ 9:28 am

I used to consider doing this when I was a kid, and couldn’t afford as many gaming books as I would have liked. That constraint is gone now that I’m ancient older, and I like buying books — I don’t really mind having a higher outlay than some of my players.

(I say “some” because out of the four of us, three GM regularly and are also giant book whores. One GMs occasionally and has a strange aversion to buying books, and one GMs sometimes and likes buying books, but isn’t a giant book whore.)

On the time front, sure I put in much, much more time than my players when I’m running a game. On the flipside, they do the same when they run games I get to play in, so it pretty much comes out in the wash.

As a player, I would pay for a superlative GMing experience, and if I paid I’d expect one. Copious props and handouts, expertly crafted and playtested material and a game that was above average in every way.

And to close out, one of the most popular posts from TT: [1].

#19 Comment By Cole On July 1, 2008 @ 9:53 am

Most mature players will not have a problem sharing in the game’s expenses while young or immature players will. For the people that won’t participate, the solution is neither universal nor simple.

Mature players will often times volunteer to buy the food or the game supplements, while others need to be taught how to help the group.

Since everyone have their unique personalities, a good group leader will work to find the best way to help the person along. Sometimes all it takes is making the person aware of the problem by asking them, while other times the person needs to be exposed to the problem first hand to learn about it.

Helping immature players is not a simple mater, but a complicated enterprise that require a unique solution to every person.

#20 Comment By argokirby On July 1, 2008 @ 9:56 am

I love the idea of a group with multiple DMs. Its just never been a reality for me where I am. C’mon New Braunfels, TX. I have a list of say 10 people that want desperately into my game and I all ready have 10 players on two different nights. None of them are up for DM, which is fine cus I love to do it. But, in other blogs my situation seems to be the norm. There always seems to be the one lone DM with plenty of players.

Say you have 5 players and they pay $5 for a 4 hour game session. That is not unreasonable for a store to charge to access their facilities for 4 hours and supply all the tools needed to play.

Think about that, that is half the cot of a movie and twice as long. Now say your a group of players that wants a DM, but none of you want to, I’m sure that paying for a DM might not be impossible.

As for the DM being at the control of the Customer, well that is just not how service/satisfaction companies work. As a DM you supply a product and as a company you have the integrity to keep that product to the highest standards. If some players don’t like it that is okay, others will. But I think that the DM should discuss the ground rules with the group at the beginning of the campaign. If the players say “we don’t want any character death,” then don’t kill characters. These are the kinds of contracts that as a DM I set up with my players ahead of time anyways so why would it not be different when they are paying. In my group we change the rules for every new campaign. The last campign was really low power/low magic. It was a struggle to get to 3rd level. This next campaign we have decided will be super heavy on the story and RP.

As for your group paying dues, this is the rules that we follow:

the money belongs to the group, not me, its kept seperate
we vote to see how the money is spent
items bought are available to the group, but they officially belong to me. (everyone knows that if I move away, so does their gaming library)
anyone who has paid dues in the last 3 months gets a vote.
a vote must have at least 5 people available

Remember this in only 1 dollar a week for each player and DM, so even I put in my dollar.

#21 Comment By claidhmore On July 1, 2008 @ 9:59 am

I’ll agree with a couple of the people above and say no, I wouldn’t want to charge for game. If I cooked and stuff, or had snacks all the time I’d put out the tip jar but other than that it’s just too easy a button to push. If your character dies and you think it was BS, the first thing that would come up is money and then it’ll go downhill from there.

I do like the idea of taking up money for a meal beforehand if I cook it tho… I may run that by my group. 😀

#22 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 1, 2008 @ 10:02 am

I’m with Patrick on this one, and I think a lot of the resistance to this idea comes from inertia (it’s just ‘not done’) and expectation (nobody’s going to pay for a beer-n-pretzels game, unless it goes towards the beer and pretzels).

While it’s not about the profit (and what the hell’s wrong with profits?), it’s about the buy-in. If you’re paying for it, you’re going to be a lot less content with mediocre GMing and mediocre playing.

Example: My brother-in-law runs a martial arts school, and was advised by a consultant to raise his tuition and request some volunteer time from the students for clean-up, help at seminars, etc. He resisted the idea, but when he finally did it, the level of commitment from his students, AND the number of students enrolled went up tremendously. Obviously, there’s a limit to this, but asking people for a financial commitment generally results in a personal commitment.

I don’t care where the money goes. I’m paying for the total experience based on the GM’s judgment. I really don’t want to argue over which sourcebook to buy next, or gripe about what minis he bought. In other words, I’m a customer, not a shareholder; I don’t need a breakdown of where my dues went once I’ve pay them.

Also, I think there are a few dollar amount ranges we’re talking about here. Despite the comments above, I don’t think anyone would really balk at a buck a game to defray snacks, drinks, clean-up, etc, as long as they are getting something for their money (Cokes in the fridge, a clean gaming environment, etc.). This is $50 a year, spread out; anyone can afford it.

Five, maybe ten bucks a session represents something else. This is the equivalent of a movie (maybe a discount movie, but still). I’d gladly pay this if the GM was worth it, but wouldn’t for a beer-n-pretzels game or even a mediocre game. I frankly don’t care if the money goes into his pocket, goes towards Wife Karma, or goes towards new minis and props for the game; once I’ve paid, it’s his money. Weekly games at $5 a game are $250 a year; that’s two months’ worth of martial arts for me, or two months’ membership for my wife and I at the gym we hardly ever go to. For 200 hours of good gaming a year, it’s worth it for me.

More than that, maybe hourly or $20 a session, and we get into the “professional GM” range. This had better be a damned good game. I don’t need Gygax or Monte Cook to be running it, but the GM should be excellent in nearly all aspects of his craft, the rest of the players should be vetted and ready, and the adventures should be geared towards the players’ tastes. $20 a session, weekly, comes out to $1000 a year, or well under half of what Gen Con costs me. Could I do this? Yes, but I’d better make damned sure my wife gets equal value in pedicures and massages. 😉

#23 Comment By LordVreeg On July 1, 2008 @ 10:02 am

How interesting.
There are just so many places that game style and such diverge.
We have actually noted, as we get older, more people want to host, as it makes the travel time less. So worrying about cleanup seems a little ludicrous.
Our average session runs a wine tab that comes out to about $150-$250 per session. Hosts always have food, and there is normally far too much. Ever single player has a laptop and a link to the PB wiki with our rulesets. I am pleased to say everyone contributes (and overcontributes), so the comments about filling the social contract are covered by both of my groups.
Every group is different, as someone said. It is good threads like this one that bring this to the fore.

#24 Comment By ToddBradley On July 1, 2008 @ 10:42 am

I really liked what argokirby had to say, above.

I play these games because it’s fun and entertaining. Part of it is good storytelling, and in good stories sometimes people die. I wouldn’t demand a refund from the ticket booth if my favorite character in a movie died, and I wouldn’t demand a refund from a paid DM if my favorite character in an RPG died, either, as long as it was done in context of a good story.

What really matters is whether or not it’s entertaining. And if it’s not, and I’m paying for it, then I’d have a concern.

#25 Comment By ToddBradley On July 1, 2008 @ 10:50 am


One other service I think you’d need to offer is wifi. In my gaming group, half the group uses laptops and we’re always googling rules in the SRD and other stuff, since it’s so damn fast compared to finding something in WOTC’s poorly indexed books. Plus, we have one remote player who joins by internet video chat.

One other thing I thought of that I wanted to mention regarding the variation in incomes. I probably have the most disposable income in my gaming group (2 high paying jobs, and no kids). But one of the players works for the government and has several kids. I just learned last week that he doesn’t even own his own PHB! I have no idea how he’s gotten this far (he’s been gaming with us 2 or 3 years) without his own copy, but it’s somehow worked. Any sort of pay-for-game scheme would have to take this into account. Some players would pay probably $50 for a really good gaming session, while others could barely afford $5.

#26 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 1, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

I just want to address the some players have money and some don’t issue. If a player is a valued member of the group, then I would gladly cover their costs for them. I would do the same thing if I wanted that person to join me to go see a movie.

Now I don’t expect the movie theater to not charge my friend if he or she cannot afford the ticket. Just as I would not want a person to be given membership to a club with dues just because they cannot afford the dues. Maybe that person pays his or her dues in another way (perfroms tasks such as book keeping, maintains the club’s web site, etc.). Maybe someone else covers those dues for that person. Yet to say “Paying for the GM’s services is wrong because not everyone can afford it.” is a bad argument. Not everyone can afford a gold watch or a plasma TV. Those items still are not given away for free in the stores based on income.

I grew up poor. I didn’t have money. I busted my ass so that I could make a lot of money and have some financial freedom. I know what is like to have to choose between buying food or paying for shelter and to watch every penny.

If you can’t afford to pay the GM or to pay some dues to a gaming club, but you really want to play you will find a way to make it work. You’ll get that second job or put in for that overtime. You’ll make arrangements to exchange your services instead of your money. You ask for help from the group. I’ve been in those situations, and I help people in those situations. It works out when you put the effort into making it work.

From personal experience, being poor isn’t an excuse to make things free. Being poor is an incentive to make money and to build a better life for yourself. I’m a very liberal person who usually votes to the left, but basic capitalism works. I’m not messing with it.

#27 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On July 1, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

Wow, lots of opinions on this one! LOL

I think it really needs to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. No two groups are alike, and the burdens of each player, including the GM, change with each group.

I also think that there is a distinction between “sharing the burden” and “paying the GM.” Borrowing books, throwing a few bucks in a dinner pot, etc. is usually seen as okay, while a GM asking for a fee is another matter entirely. I think many groups would find a “pool resources for the hot new sourcebook or do without” model as okay; providing they can agree on who keeps the books.

Using a “pay to play” fee would probably cause some friction and resistance. It also brings up a number of issues:

If you charge a monthly fee, are you obligated to run a certain number of games a month? What if you don’t feel like running that week? If you charge by the session, does it matter how many players show up? Will you run if two players don’t show up and you only get $20 instead of your expected $30, or do you want the remaining players to pony up the extra $10? If you decide not to run because of attendance, is it fair to the players that burned gas and time to get there? How are they compensated?

All of those questions, of course, can be hammered out in a contract, but I’d bet most groups will respond as Lesink proposed; if a GM feels harried enough to ask for a fee, then have someone else take the chair.

#28 Comment By Danforthe Yellington On July 1, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

With the possibility of a working D&DI and virtual tabletop is there a market for GMs to sell their services online? I’m sure there are already systems in place for internet/skype style of games but is there an official GMing market? And if you did use an official system like the WotC online system could you legally charge for it? Sure, it could be kept ‘off the books’ but is there a desire for an official GM Bank with ratings, reviews, programs of adventures and such?

#29 Comment By Scott Martin On July 2, 2008 @ 9:31 am

I’ve paid to play in a game-store run game; even at inexpensive rates, it was interesting to see players’ reactions. It was good for me; $5/week for a decent campaign and drop in as possible status was a real boon during my gaming drought. Paying indirectly (paying the gameshop for the table which paid the GMs some pittance) might have helped deflect the “GM’s a money-hog” perception.

#30 Comment By Christianmichael On July 2, 2008 @ 11:34 am

I’m sure that everyone else covered this, but here’s my two-cents.

1. As a fellow player with my friends, I would never charge them to run a game for them, because it’s my own conscious decision to buy the books, spend the hours of prep time, and run a game for 8 hours every two weeks. To suddenly bring up the matter of compensating for my time or at least reimburse me for my expenses to play a game is insulting. It’s part of my enjoyment to run the game and it’s my own choice to jump into the “gotta collect ’em all” mentality when it comes to buying game books.

2. The idea of a professional GM is a good one though. If a group of strangers want someone to come over a run a game or some RPGA mods that’s fine as well, but the players and GM should have reasonable and very clear expectations as to what they are getting for their buck. I would seriously hate to chip in $40 or $50 bucks (or whatever a rate would be) with my other players only to get some yokel who makes up adventures as he goes, doesn’t bring or really own any books, or fails to bring the basic necessities such as dice, paper, and pencils. I went to a convention and played a Fantasy Hero game with such a GM who had to borrow my dice and gave us the lame excuse “girlfriend packed all my stuff away”. I seriously feel that my price of admission at the convention was devalued when having to play in such games.

#31 Comment By fkewl On July 2, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

One of my “If i win the lottery” business plans

-Get a place with 5-6 rooms, sized for 6-8 people
-The rooms are mostly medieval themed, but some with futuristic theme
-GM’s chair with computer + projector/screen or flat screen behind him for players
-Speakers for music and sounds
-Nice table with props/mini’s available (free for some, at a fee for others)

-Hardest part : get good GM’s
-Sell time slots for game’s with or without GM’s -“Bring your own GM’s ™” for those without the space/time/(insert other reason) to host their games

-“bar/tavern” with drinks (i assume juices and softdrinks, since i assume a younger audience will be there also) and snacks

There’s the gist of it, but there are surely a million other ideas i forgot while i’m posting..

Can’t wait to win that next lotto 6/49

#32 Comment By Sandrinnad On July 2, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

Under what circumstances would you deem it okay to charge money to run a regular gaming group?

with my gaming group? only if we had to rent space to play.

Do you currently charge (or pay to play) and, if so, what are your circumstances?

nope. Everyone buys the books they want to buy, brings snacks, and buys their own dinner. We rotate houses so no one is always hosting and rotate games so no one is always DMing. Occasional ‘DM bribes’ in the form of candy or chips are as close as it gets. 🙂

Bonus question: Would you have different expectations of a GM if you paid a fee?

oh heck ya. It had better be a pretty spot-on game – well-prepped and with some tailoring to the group.

#33 Comment By Sandrinnad On July 2, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

addendum to the bonus question: I say some tailoring because I don’t expect a DM who doesn’t know the group to know our gaming styles & etc…. other than as answered in the questions I’m assuming they’ve asked….

and not that I don’t expect a darn good game from the regular crew, but you can accept down days and sessions from them because life interferes. For a paid DM this is life so they’d better have brought their A-game every time.

#34 Comment By penguin133 On July 3, 2008 @ 7:10 am

Replied to this before but I don’t see it, must have done it wrong! First, I have daydreamed about the “Business” setup myself, but I doubt it is viable AS A BUSINESS. Not even self supporting, as someone said we are in this ‘cos we love doing it, you would be doing it for FUN – probably are! There IS a place in Manchester, I think, Fanboy 3 IIRC, which is a place to game – never been but someone I know says it is a haunt of “Munchkins”?
In the Army I was a member of a Regimental Games Club, oh WOW! Guys used to almost fight amongst themselves for the best handout, game, model, map etc. as two U-Boat aces had a “Tonnage Race”, Musketeers duelled and Starfighter pilots shot it out at Galactic Dawn – and yes, we charged, DM10 a month, it was in the residential Block and used a Commonroom? IE, we rented space? I did Western Skirmish and D&D 1e, etc.,others Traveller, CoC etc. a LOT of creative guys, we were lucky, chipped in with what they could do, handouts, pics, maps. plans etc. You were not being charged for a Service, but contributing to a common cause.
I have also run a Games Club in Civvy Street, with considerably less success. We used to charge 50p a throw (week’s attendance) for use of the Hall (which cost us!), a monthly magazine which I mostly wrote/edited, and all supplies – that ripped ME off, I have got more cynical as my personal dice, models, minis, buildings etc. were treated as “Club Property” when they weren’t; and either vanished or were trashed. There was always “Club Money” and “Club Scenery” but I never saw it. Money, and particularly kids – us wierdoes are Funny Dat Way.
If you charge for something, better make sure you are SUPPLYING exactly that something, because some blightewr is looking for an excuse to pretend you ain’t!

#35 Comment By AncientGamer On July 6, 2008 @ 4:24 am

Charge someone to play in a “home game” which you enjoy just as much as them??? Never! You’ve got to be kidding! This sounds ludicrous.

Whenever I sit down and put any time into developing a game I do so because it is a honour to so, because I enjoy doing it just as much as playing, and because it’s a shared aspect to the game, its mechanics. No players, no campaign/game… likewise, no GM, no game.

It is mutually agreed upon that we all pitch in, for food and drinks and help clean up at the end of a game, with no one person being “expected” to provide anything (even the game being good is dependent upon both DM and players). Now, as a DM and hosting a game, I would sometimes make a big batch of pasta, invite my players (friends) over early, most would bring refreshments, some even desert (much like a pot-luck). We would eat, discuss the game, movies, weather… then clean-up and get to gaming…

The only time I can see someone being “compensated” for GMing a game is at a convention venue, where a room, event tickets, food vouchers, some cool game swag and possibly travel costs would be covered/provided, to endorse the Game company running the convention and wanting to promote their game.

RPGaming, D&D, is a game for fun and socializing with good buddies, learning about yourself and your friends, especially on the “home base” level.

Start turning it into a business and you may have to fork out a share of that to WotC… royalties for using their product to make yourself a profit.

Food for thought 🙂

Just my opinion on the subject.


#36 Comment By penguin133 On July 6, 2008 @ 6:30 am

We seem to be hitting a point of difference. Some people are talking profit and others about “charging!”. I wouldn’t think of the idea in those terms. More as a contribution, a labour of love – call it what you will. BUT I wouldn’t object to some kind of contribution from people who “join in”, not necessarily on a formal basis – unless renting space as has been said. Where a game can benefit from the idea of a contribution is that there are (regrettably) players who don’t want to contribute, at least creatively, they want the experience but not the effort. A small amount of money is a way they can do that – maybe it can be spent on snacks or whatever, or they could in fact contribute to gaming supplies, up to the Group? In my experience however participation of some kind adds greatly to the feeling of contribution, a player can feel “on the outside” and even become more and more reluctant to join in? And if everyone is chipping in why not – including, as someone said, the GM? I’m not talking of charges or fees, I would be collecting minis, making models and writing stories anyway, that’s how I get my fun; but if I’m supplying an experience for someone who finds it too much trouble to help then I don’t mind if he/she chips in financially?
I wouldn’t make it a requirement but whatever works?

#37 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 6, 2008 @ 10:40 am

If you are good enough to make a profit by doing what you love what is wrong with that? I love tinkering with technical things and I have a very well-paying job in IT. I profit from doing that which I enjoy. It isn’t a sin. In fact, it makes sense. Do what you love to do and profit from it if you can.

Now I wouldn’t charge for being the GM of a game. I don’t believe that there is a market for it because there is a lot of strong competition out there that will do the same for free. I am all for having a club with dues and having the group (GM included) cover the costs associated with the game. But this ridiculous argument, and it is ridiculous, that you shouldn’t charge for doing that which you enjoy is nonsense.

If you enjoy practicing medicine, you train to become a doctor and expect a certain level of compensation for your skills. If you love to paint and create art, you sell your works at a price that you deem worthy of their value to you as an artist. If you are a magnificent GM and love to run adventures for players, why shouldn’t you be able to profit from your trade like anyone else would from theirs?

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think that professional GMing will ever take off due to the competition offering a comparable service for free. But I also believe that anyone with the desire to try and make a profit from their skills and talents has a right to do so, and that there is nothing obscene or immoral about that. Thomas Jefferson wrote the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” in the Declaration of Independence. He was basing that phrase on the works of John Locke who used the terms property, estate, and profit instead of happiness in his original works.

Anyone who scoffs at another person’s attempt to profit from their abilities and honest work, and tries to demean such attempts by saying that it is less than honorable or some form of evil to make an honest profit through such means is a fool. They ridicule the innovators and risk takers who move our society forward even if it is through their failures. Such a person is not a counter balance to the innovators of our society, but instead they are merely dead weight with a lack of insight and empathy. They provide no value other than to be the example by which others should learn how not to behave and act.

Do you want to try and make money as a GM? Go ahead and give it your best shot. I don’t believe that you will succeed, but I respect your ambition and would be delighted to learn if you were to prove me wrong.

#38 Comment By flooglestreet On July 7, 2008 @ 10:02 am

I dont have the space to run in my apartment. That means I have to go to either a free (noisy) gaming room[we are lucky in this town] or to a coffee shop which rents out the basement. If I chose the latter, I will hit up my players for rent.

#39 Comment By Daniel Howard On July 7, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

As a player, I’d pay for a game. All the rates that have been suggested would be affordable and worth considering for me.

When I was a GM, I didn’t charge but, admittedly, the huge time and effort investment keeps me away from being a GM now. No reasonable amount of money would probably induce me to go back; I’ll only GM again if I want.

Poker games are a good model. You can play nickel-dime-quarter with your friends; you can go to a card room and join a beginning or professional game; or, you can hire you own dealer to come to your house or business. It’d be cool if it is existed for GMs. As a player, I’d definitely go the card room route as time permitted and if it was a fun experience and I might even hire my own GM.

If I paid for a game, I would pay to be catered to and the more that I paid, the more I’d expect the game to cater to me. So, if I paid $5, I’d expect it to be a drop-in, only-if-space-available, only-if-the-GM-is-in-the-mood game. If I paid $40 for a 4 hour period, I’d expect the game to take place no matter what, that I could “reserve” a space and that I could expect a certain amount of quality play. If I was “renting a GM”, of course, I’d expect personalized service.

If you’re in the Silicon Valley and you’re doing something like this, let me know. I’m looking to play in September.

#40 Comment By penguin133 On July 7, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

Coming back to the perennial question, how much is too much? If you were paying you’d have the right to expect preferential service for your money! I’d like to try to do my best anyway, you’d have to go a long way to justify a price tag though. Yes, however, chip in for rent or catering. I for one would be prepared to do that; but if it got too expensive I would complain, I am afraid, and even consider setting up on my own? Which is an option available to anyone in the end? For quality play too, you are dependent on the other players as much as the GM?
Ian Winterbottom

#41 Pingback By Money for Running Games? | Gaming My Way On July 18, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

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#42 Comment By Tobrian On August 6, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

The idea of charging my players to finance my roleplaying purchases, or have them pay for the “privilege” of sitting in my game, is actually offensive to me. Roleplaying is a hobby. It’s not a way to milk my players. Arguments that the hours spent for prepare for the game or running the game should be treated like work hours, with wages, sounds ridiculous.

No-one is forced to be a GM. No GM is forced to buy a rules supplement or minis. (And some games only have one rulebook and no minis at all.) If I like a game enough to want to play it and GM it, then I would buy the core rules anyway. Usually, in our groups, everyone, GMs and players alike, owns at least the core book(s) if they’re playing one system regularly. If someone has a supplement I don’t own and we want to use it, I will borrow it and make a copy for private use. I have once, as a student, split the money to buy a supplement with a friend, and I made a photocopy of it while he kept the book because we had split 40/60. Heck, back then I had as much photocopied stuff as printed books.

Yes, a few Euros would be a small fee, even in a weekly game. But really, where does it lead? Only people with money to spend can play? People who have forked over the largest amount get preferential treatment for their characters? GMs kick out players who cannot pay and offer seats to those players with cash?

I’ve seen people forced to drop out of games where they’d have to drive to the GM’s house because they had lost their job and money was tight. (And that’s here in Germany, where people unable to find a job at least don’t have to face starvation, although they’re poor and there would be no money for buying roleplaying materials.) And I’ve seen people with a well-paying job tactfully offer less fortunate friends to cover their traveling expenses rather then see them drop out of the game and social circle.

Our games usually take place at the GM’s house (or at someone else’s apartment if the GM’s place is too small); I’ve also played in groups where people met weekly at a room in a public youth centre where entrance was free. But these days, we’re all older, we only get to game every few months so we meet for a whole weekend. When my husband or I are hosting the game, yes, there is added work since we have to clean up prior to the game and after the weekend. But if you invited friends to a party at your house, would you tell them they have to pay a fee to get in??

True, we have some additional cost for water, electricity, but the players have to pay for gasoline or train tickets to come here. Everyone either brings something to eat to share, or my husband and I shop for the whole weekend and then afterwards the costs are split evenly among the whole group.

Now, if someone brought me unpainted minis and asked me if I could paint them for him, and if it was more than one mini, I’d probably hint at some financial compensation if he didn’t offer one by himself, because I’m providing a service, using up my paints in the process etc. He is hiring me to paint his minis.

#43 Comment By Kyle Wende On December 25, 2009 @ 2:08 am

It irritates me when people get offended at this concept like the person you talked to. Last year I tried DMing for the group I had at home (before I moved for law school), and the only rule I wanted to put in place was that the group should feed the DM during the session. In the past we had done a pseudo-potluck type deal; someone brought chips, someone brought corn-dogs, etc. I had one player who got noticeably irritated that I didn’t want to bring food. Apparently he forgot that I had spent upwards on 7 hours writing up the adventure and literally months on the world around it.

Long-story short, I think the DM deserves some respect in the very least, and hopefully some kind of help if it’s necessary. Personally, I would be happy with the rule I mentioned above. If I’m gonna set up the game, that’s quite a bit of time out of my week. Sure, I enjoy it, but it can also be stressful. I think it’s a pretty small price for my group to pay to make sure I have a couple slices of pizza and a cup of pepsi.

As far as compensation for game products, I think each person should just buy the books they want. If they’re cool, they’ll let other people use them, and in turn will use the ones others have purchased. If you can actually get your group to cost-share, power to you, but I haven’t had consistent enough groups for something like that. I’ve got a bunch of inch-grid paper, and a bag of Castle Legos for monsters (and PCs if the players don’t have minis), and markers for everything else. I just don’t think all the terrain is worth the money *shrug*