My journey to decide if being a professional online Dungeon Master is an option for paying the bills.
Since COVID hit the world and closed down my place of business, I’ve been enjoying the unemployed life. Life isn’t easy for some, right now. I’ve been blessed far more than I deserve. I don’t feel a driving need to get back to work, and I’m considering options for ways to make enough to pay my minimal bills and stay home.
Since I’m a total D&D addict (is there a 12 step for that?) naturally the idea occurred to me to run virtual tabletop D&D games for fun and profit. I run D&D for my family a couple of times a week, and get the opportunity to play occasionally with family as the DM. I mentioned I’m blessed, right? However, I’ve not played a lot of D&D outside my family group. So when I started looking into professional DMing, I had a big worrisome question…
Am I any good?
Obviously, the skill of a Dungeon Master is subjective. It’s hard to tell if you’re any good because you’re not usually the most objective judge. We all like to think we don’t suck. Or maybe we are convinced we do when we don’t. Our family and friends could all be lying to us and tell us we’re awesome (or awful, but ditch those friends. Seriously). Maybe that’s just my family? Anyway… Lacking outside experience, I took to the net and started paying for games to discover how I felt I rated against other GMs. Objectivity be darned.
Turns out, there are some pretty average and some pretty awesome DMs out there. And, many Dungeon Masters of all different skill levels are plying their skills for profit. All of them did something better than I do. However, all of them did other things worse. I suspect that’s likely the case for every last one of them. If you’re considering DMing online for money, I would hazard to guess that you’ll find the same to be true of your competition.
Having established that I didn’t suck so badly (nor was I so awesome) that I couldn’t follow the same paths that others were taking, I hit my next hurdle.
What do I need to have in order to be a professional Dungeon Master online?
Once again, playing in a few games was the best research method (and also a lot of fun). After a few sessions, I had what really isn’t a very long list. I need a virtual tabletop program or subscription, a computer capable of handling the tabletop, a microphone and (optionally) a camera, and a few free pieces of software (discord, for one).
Naturally, there were other bells and whistles that could add value, or save time, like having my book collection available digitally on DNDBeyond.com. Preferably with a Master Tier subscription so I could share my books with potential players for character creation. The first list is enough to start, though.
Where to Start?
During the course of my research (aka, playing games… it’s a hard life 😉 I discovered the answer to another important question: Where can I find players who’re willing to pay for a DM? Since I was one of those players, google had answered and sent me to Startplaying.games, which has a ridiculously easy signup for new DMs. It helps that their system is pretty straightforward, and 10% of the payout isn’t too big a price to take care of the minutia.
Honestly, there really only remained one obstacle to becoming a professional Dungeon Master. Fear. Of looking silly. Or spending money needlessly on computer upgrades, online books, virtual tabletops, and other minutiae. Even worries about other financial or family opportunities that I might not be available for because of my side-gig. Honestly, just the procrastination-like fear of things not being ‘perfect’ for whatever future players I might have.
My big decision… Yeah, I haven’t made it.
I still grapple with the question of if I want to become a professional dungeon master. Not because it doesn’t sound awesome, but because I’m afraid of the challenges I’ll face. The problem isn’t the difficulty of getting started. It’s in the fear of the unknowable. If you aren’t worried about that then, for goodness sake, get out there and make some players happy to find an affordable Dungeon Master.