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A friend of mine is a great DM, and we always told him that he should be paid for his skills. He smiles and says that it's enough to have fun, but seriously, can you make a living out of role-playing games? What are the options, career path and important skills to develop?

I am not only referring to DMing. I am referring to any "job" related to RPG that allows someone to make some kind of money out of it. For example, some answers talk about "writer." How do you become a writer for RPG publishers? Can you survive out of it?

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I had three camp counselors who were actively on a payroll to run role-playing games for campers. Not saying you'd be likely to get this job, and there probably aren't too many professional GMs in existence, but they do exist. –  Emrakul Apr 29 at 3:18

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Making a living in the RPG industry really depends on your definition of making a living. I think there is a lot of potential to make money, but it will likely require a lot of work for not much of an income compared to more lucrative careers that take a great deal of effort. When I think of what you've asked, I think of individuals like Jason Calacanis or Leo Laporte, people in the tech industry who are making some money in non-traditional ways. Here's how I would try to tackle it if I was going to try to make a living in the RPG industry. You should be able to figure out the skills needed for each of these. If you can't, it could be a sign that this isn't the career for you. ;)

Write and publish - First I would write and publish in order to get some name recognition. The RPG industry is a text-driven one, and so you are going to have to write. This includes gaming materials that you both self-publish and publish with established brands but also blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. You have to engage your audience online with the written word.

Run games online - If you write good material, people will be interested in playing in a game you run. You could use tools like D20Pro.com or Fantasy Grounds to run online games for people that pay a fee to join you. The challenging part of this is that most people only have time to game in the evening and the weekends. That severely reduces the amount of time you can run games. You will have to be really engaging if you want to beat out someone's World of Warcraft subscription vs. what they pay you in terms of value for their money.

Network, network, network - Since there is no "location, location, location" like there is for Silicon Valley, you will have to network with as many people as you can. Be sure you use your real name as an alias on any sites you join so that people know that it is you and can easily Google your name. You will want to attend conventions where there will be a chance for you to talk about what you're doing and build up your tribe. I recommend the books "Here Comes Everybody" and "Tribes" for ideas on this aspect but also for this entire concept.

Do a video show - Both Calacanis and Laporte do a number of weekly video shows online that get hundreds if not thousands of people listening both live and to the downloaded shows. If you tap into your network and into your fans, you can build up enough listeners that sponsors will pay to be on your show. I wouldn't look at game publishers much though because they don't tend to have large marketing budgets. Instead I would look for sponsors that have products that gamers would want to use.

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Besides writing and publishing, there are other skills that publishers need: editing, art, and layout. If you have any of these skills, offer them to game publishers and see what happens. –  Adam Dray Sep 1 '10 at 21:34

I have a friend who is a professional roleplayer. He is hired by companies to help assess potential employees and train existing ones by taking on various job-related roles - the irate customer, the uncommunicative co-worker, the shy patient, whatever is called for. his background is in acting and he does OK.

If your friend has the necessary skills and lives in the right location (a big city I'd imagine; my friend lives in London), you might suggest he look into this.

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I suspect this may conflate two different meanings of "roleplayer". What you describe sounds much more like a trainer or actor than what I think the original question is about. –  Vatine Sep 1 '11 at 13:48

You become a writer for tabletop RPGs by:

  1. doing it whenever you can; write a log, write for fanzines like Fight On!, write adventures or classes or other material and make them freely available
  2. looking out for open calls for freelancers, sending queries to magazines like Kobold Quarterly, watching the Wizards of the Coast job boards for jobs in design (I got freelance work for them on the strength of my application, which involves a design test)
  3. being ready to produce a certain number of words on a given topic by a specified deadline for little money - from 1 to 3 cents per word is a likely start, and even freelancers who work full-time for the biggest RPG companies do so by writing from 4:30 am until 6 pm, and (when deadlines are tight) then taking a two-hour break and writing again until midnight

Self-publishing may be more profitable than writing as a freelancer - almost everything is - but it'll involve doing a number of things like marketing and promotion that aren't the same as writing.

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That's one (unprofitable) path. There are others, like writing your own stuff. With print on demand and services like Lulu and PDF distribution sites, it has never been easier or less risky to get your own work out there. –  Jmstar Sep 1 '10 at 21:11

Beyond working as a writer, publisher, or artist, consider child care. I heard of at least one mom paying DMs for educational roleplaying with her kid. See Roleplaying games as a teaching tool. I also heard of a woman running a businness selling roleplaying for a summer program. See Abantey, the Roleplay Workshop. I also heard of at least one person who managed to sell a D&D session for kids at a charity auction for $200. See D&D Party, Kids’ Birthday Sub-type. The author writes: "The suggested value should be calibrated to whatever people pay for birthday parties in your community. In Manhattan, $200 for maybe six hours of personalized entertainment services for eight kids is a freakin’ steal." I think he has a point.

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In the early 80s I got paid a $100 by the local YWCA to run two classes teaching people how to play Dungeons & Dragons. But I made most of my hobby money by freelancing.

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I think most people who attempt to make a living do it by writing content for various games. I've gotten the impression that folks like Sean Punch, who is the GURPS Line Editor, have an excellent reputation for running games, which is part of why they got into writing and editing.

A good GM is priceless, but I don't think most players would be interested in paying to play, especially on a regular basis.

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Practically speaking, it's a service job, but it's a tricky one. Let's say you've got five players on average, and a game session lasts four hours. Your hourly rate ought to be at least $15 an hour, so you're looking for $60, or $12 from each of them.

OK. How does that compare to how much people currently pay to game? A convention slot will run somewhere between free and maybe $8 per slot, the latter being for something like Gencon. Gaming stores that charge for space don't usually go above $5 an hour, I don't think. So you're already needing to charge somewhat more than what people usually pay for a game. This makes it a hard sell.

Also, you're not really making $15 an hour there, cause you've got to pay for prep time plus supplies.

And then you've got to fill 40 hours a week with game sessions in order to make it compare to a fulltime job.

People do try this from time to time; there was a guy on ENWorld and RPG.Net, Captain Commando, who badly wanted to make it work. I don't think it did, although that might have been due to his marketing as much as anything. I've also heard of people selling GMing as as a children's party service, which makes sense -- parents pay for clowns, so if you market it as an educational activity, that might work out.

Still and all, freelancing is a better way to make a living out of gaming, although that's a different set of skills.

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