Should Game Masters charge money for their services? Should players expect pay-to-play?

For 99% of my years as a Game Master, I gave a resounding NO. 

This is supposed to be a hobby, a game. Free. A shared experience between friends. The books cost enough as it is.  Game Masters should be Game Masters out of a sense of love, not financial gain.

In recent weeks, I’ve considered the alternative. 

Why shouldn’t game masters charge? They do most of the work preparing for the game, why not?

If players had to pay $5-10 for 3-4 hours of play, they would take the game a little more seriously. In fact, it might solve many of the problems at the tabletop, such as:

  1. Distractions. You just spent $10 to play in my game, now you’re on your smartphone texting, really? Would you like your money back?
  2. Attendance. If you show up late you’ll still have to pay the $10. In fact, I might charge more because I have to stop the game for the other players so you can get caught up on the current situation. 
  3. Reserving Space. The store owner requires $20 to use the table for four hours. Either we pay up or we don’t play. I, the GM, am already providing the adventure…
  4. Troublesome Players. The other players despised you bossing them around and arguing about the rules in the last session. Enough  drama. Keep your $10. Go home.
  5. Mook players. Fine. Goof around. Don’t take any of my adventure hooks. Continue making bad movie quotes or yelling ZOMBIE HOLE! I’m still taking your money. 
  6. The Social Beast. Mike, if you really don’t like gaming with Matt that much, well… nobody is forcing you to pay your $10. 
  7. Game Master Laziness and Procrastination. It’s Friday, and the game is Sunday afternoon. I’d better read up on that module instead of going out. The player’s are paying me, after all, and I want to show them a good time. 


$10 for a game seems to be about the right amount. If fours player show up at that’s $40 in the GM’s pocket–some gas money and maybe a trip through the drive-thru. New, unknown, or untested Game Masters might go as low as $5. If I ever when through with this, I don’t think I’d charge more than $15.

The notion of a Professional Game Master puzzles me.

Getting paid doesn’t mean you’re a professional.

My idea of a professional is when you perform a job or a task for at least 4-6 hours a day. Professional athletes go to the gym/practice field/arena everyday, even in the off-season, as opposed to high school athletes who practice for an hour or two after school. A professional insurance agent better book her schedule full to find new clients otherwise she’ll become a part-time agent. The same goes for anybody who works in retail or food service 30-40 hours a week.

A rule of thumb is that GMs, especially newbies, need to put in an hour of preparation time per hour of play time. Therefore, if you run a campaign which meets every week for 4 hours, that’s 8 hours you’re spending on the hobby. If you charge $10 per player and get four players, that’s only $5 an hour, less than minimum wage.

So you can become professional GM. Go ahead, practice/play 4-6 hours a day.

The real question is: can you make a living as a professional GM?



Three things influenced this post:

  1. Reading online discussions about making tabletop games better. taking them the next level, and the ever-present How to become a better game master. 
  2. Paying $15 to see bad movies the theaters. I’m still annoyed by The Last Jedi.  They spent $200 million to create something riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies which they tried to cover up with action and CGI? And then I paid $15 to spend 2 hours of my time to watch that? And people think that’s a good investment as opposed to paying $20 to reserve a table at a gaming store 4-6 hours?
  3.  Do the folks who run games on Critical Role and other D&D YouTube videos, and get paid for their content as professional GMs?