Professional GM: Possible Return

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CaptainCommando

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For those of you who are unaware, I'm a New Yorker who was about to start a horribly planned business called "Caravan of Blades" back in early March. The business was a pay-for-play Dungeons and Dragons 4e campaign. I wasn't thinking clearly. My father had recently passed away of a heart attack and the experience and aftermath were a bit traumatic (I discovered the body that night). I needed to get a job and picked a bad idea for making money.

Fortunately I put a stop to the horror on the first day when I snapped back to my senses.

Unfortunately despite job-hunting since then I still haven't gotten hired. Yesterday featured an interview at the local Burger King yesterday which I think went very badly. I'm having serious doubts about being able to get a job. My resumé sucks, so much that it might be impossible for me to get anything due to local competition being fierce and better qualified in practically every case.

I'm handing in some more applications over the next couple of weeks, but I'm starting to feel very desperate as well as very pathetic.

I'm contemplating another try with paid game mastering. This time with a plausible sane business plan.

This time practically everything would have to be done differently.

This might be just a false alarm but I'm mulling this over nonetheless.

This will be just brainstorming for now. Actually going through with this would be a last resort. I'm open to suggestions.

So to start things off.

1. This will NOT be a pay-for play campaign. This time I'll be a game master hired by the hour. No sitting around simply hoping for people to show up. I'll be able to cancel in case of emergency.

2. I'll charge $8/hour + tip for my services. It will be relatively inexpensive if my clients are paying as a group. The tip is not mandatory.

3. I'll run 1-shot self-contained adventures for DnD 4e. They can be from a menu of prewritten original adventures I'll offer or published adventures or custom adventures tailored to the clients' preferences (with an extra service charge).

4. I'll advertise my services to local meetup groups and specific local businesses. The local DnD Meetup Group for example has over 800 members, many without a regular group or unable to find games that fit their schedules.

5. My primary hook will be convenience. For example, if someone is planning a special birthday party featuring a DnD game, and no one has the time to prepare a game, that's where a hired GM might be considered. I don't have to try to be the best. I just have to run a good fun game and be available. I'll be providing most if not all the gaming materials.

6. I'll have a web site tailored for the business instead of mooching off another website that is focused on something else altogether.

7. I'll scout out every location that I can find that is conducive to gaming to give clients a broad range of places to choose from if they have no specific one in mind.

8. All of my original 1-shots will be tested and refined through the local meetup group's meetup events.

9. I'll create a relationship with the local privately-owned game store(s) and comic shops. Cross advertisement and possible space rental/reservation.
 

CaptainCommando

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Although replies for my posts seem to be almost non-existent here, I'll share further updates anyway since some of you are reading this anyway.

I've decided to try the business out. Other jobs will be pursued as the business is underway. Flexible hours for the GMing service will make it possible to pursue other sources of income.

I've collected both positive and negative criticism from each of the 6 forums on which I posted this brainstorming thread. A lot of insults but also a lot of insight, even from some of the insults.

There are profound differences between a pay-for-play campaign and a paid-by-the-hour GMing service. Perhaps the most important difference is flexibility.

Here's a new list. This might not be everything but it's a few steps forward from the first brainstorming list. Keep the comments and the suggestions coming.

1. The business is a DnD 4e GMing service paid by the hour. DnD 3.5e or Pathfinder service might be offered as well though 4e will remain the primary rules system used.
2. The cost might be $15/hour. <no tip mentioned> Too little or too much can drive away clients. The existence of a mandatory tip may cause problematic expectations. A 4-hour session split between 5 players would thus be the equivalent of a movie ticket in Manhattan. Special session packages may be offered at higher or lower rates.
3. The service offers 1-shot adventures (original pre-written, published, or custom). Custom adventures may have free prep or prep at an additional charge based on the amount of time and effort required to fulfill the client's request.
4. The service offers teaching games. This may include rules tutorials, game design tutorials (including monster and NPC design), plot writing tutorials, and at-table performance tutorials. Good for both players and aspiring game masters. Special games for math, science, or history tutoring could be offered.
5. The service offers special cooperative war games with DnD miniatures.
6. The service is sold on time and convenience as well as guaranteed quality.
7. Role-playing products could be sold or advertised at the end or during each session.
8. Snacks could be sold during sessions depending on the gaming location.
9. The service will have its own web site, not part of someone else's.
10. All original adventures are tested through the local DnD meetup group.
11. Local comic and gaming stores should be approached for cooperation. Product discounts, coupons for clients, store and service advertisement, and space reservation/rental may be discussed.
12. A menu of [gaming locations + location details] will be on the web site.
13. Special packages could be offered that may include food or renting a conference room at a hotel or space at a store.
14. Gaming products may be sold or advertised on the service website for extra income.
15. A standard survey should be prepared to find out client preferences and maximize their enjoyment. All sessions should be adapted or suggested based on the survey.
16. Breaks for bathroom or food will not be included in the bill. An itemized billing summary indicating time consumption might be necessary.
17. Extra effort must be taken to memorize story elements to provide a more professional level of performance.
18. Attire and behavior should be professional. A nice shirt and slacks if not a suit and tie.
19. A feedback or evaluation survey form could be given to willing clients with space for writing suggestions on how to improve the service or business model.
20. A minimum 24-hour notice will be given if I have to cancel a session. Any less and the next gaming session is offered for free.
21. Character generation will be offered as pregens, partially constructed characters, or up to the client to create. A character creation tutorial could be offered as part of the session.
22. Business networking is crucial to the service's success. Some companies might hire a known professional game master to run team-building exercises. Local Meetup groups will be marketed to including NYC DnD, Board Games and Card Games, SciFi Fantasy, and BizNet. New groups and companies should be marketed to every month if not daily/weekly. The previous attempt at marketing focused on college students and the marketed product was unmarketable.
23. Copies of all receipts for the service should be kept for tax purposes.
24. A contract with carefully written terms of agreement should be issued at the beginning of a session to prevent certain legal problems.
25. All gaming materials will be provided by me (clients can still bring their own though). This will include dungeon master's screen, dice, pencils, paper, dungeon tiles, printed handouts (including reference sheets), cinema stand, action tokens, and washable battle mat. Reference sheets should be no more than 5 pages. Cinema stand is yet to be tested but holds promise. Meticulous memorization of details/rules and innovative use of pre-tested game design tools (ex. battle challenges and moving terrain) will likely enhance the value of the service.
26. RPGA certification as a judge should be pursued. I'll be registering as a member on Wednesday, and the Herald test has been quickened. Higher level judge certification should be pursued as soon as possible. Having DMing experience recorded on the NYC DnD Meetup site is also helpful for attracting clients.
27. A compilation of play tested and refined adventures from the service will be offered to a game company for increased income.
28. A business relationship with a game company might be possible based on how much attention the service gains.
29. For packages including food, perhaps culinary/baking students might be approached for the promise of a share of the haul and/or in some cases a seat at the table and/or experience to add to their resumés and/or a free game session or product. NYC is loaded with culinary/baking students.
30. Professional web support may be possible. Web designers also have a meetup group. Web design students can always use more cash. Perhaps someone will trade web service in exchange for free game sessions or morbid curiosity or just for fun/experience.
 

Cherper

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I think you will find that you will starve. I wouldn't pay for a GM and I would hazard that most gamers won't either.
 

CaptainCommando

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I think you will find that you will starve. I wouldn't pay for a GM and I would hazard that most gamers won't either.
You'd be surprised at what people pay for in NYC.

Also, existing tabletop gamers won't be my primary marketing target for this.
 

Cherper

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Well I still think you will be hard pressed to get business, especially in this economy.

{Moderator hat on} You need to make sure you understand that you can't advertise here without permission from the site owner. If you do your posts will be edited and you will get banned.
 

CaptainCommando

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Well I still think you will be hard pressed to get business, especially in this economy.

{Moderator hat on} You need to make sure you understand that you can't advertise here without permission from the site owner. If you do your posts will be edited and you will get banned.
Fortunately I'm only planning this as a side business while I'm job hunting. I might be able to make a small amount because of the large concentration of gamers and potential gamers in the city.

I posted this thread to get new ideas and weed out potential problems, not to make an official advertisement. There are specific boards at forums that are labeled for such a purpose.

Plus, my marketing will be focused on the people I network with at local meetups and meetup message boards. There's not much point advertising to people who live half a world away.
 

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Chaot at RPGnet got my foot in the door with a temp agency. God bless whoever Chaot is.

It's not a 100% guarantee for a job so I'll keep checking job ads and setting up the game mastering business on the side.

I figured out some of the numbers so I'll share this with all the brainstorming contributors. If a temp job doesn't pay enough, having game mastering on the side might add up with the job to meet my requirements. My mother rented out a couple of rooms and my brother is helping a little so I just need to make the difference.

My target is a minimum of $900 a month.

With a somewhat generous estimate, this is the level the business would have to perform at to make ends meet if I didn't have other sources of income. This doesn't include printer ink and paper and other materials that I have in sufficient quantity for the time being.

30-day Metrocard = $81 (unlimited public transportation)
$40 budgeted for food expenses per week x 4 = $160
$40 budgeted for xerox copies and business cards.

20 hours a week x 4 weeks x $15 = $1200
monthly income with regular games only = $959
I'd have a $59 monthly surplus.

If I were to raise it to $20/hour and achieve less hours per week...

15 hours a week x 4 weeks x $20 = $1200
monthly income with regular games only = $959
I'd have a $59 monthly surplus.

Keeping in mind a manhattan movie ticket costs $12 for an average 2 hour film and a broadway ticket commonly sells at $200 for a 3 hour show...

****
IRS Publication 501 (2008)
IF your filing status is...single
AND at the end of 2008 you were...*under 65
THEN file a return if your gross income was at least...***$8,950
***

I won't likely have to file a tax return unless I get a really good advance for my novel. I'll keep records in case that happens. The current average advance for a novel is about $10,000. A particularly marketable novel will have a good chance of getting more.
 
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thirdkingdom

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I'm not quite sure how WOTC would react to your plan. After all, you are essentially making a profit (in theory) off of their product. I don't know what you actually do or have done for a living, but you mentioned that your resume is a bit sparse. Perhaps your time would be better spent improving your resume for future work?

Good luck,

Todd
 

pward

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I agree with thirdkingdom. You may be providing a service, but using copyright materials as part of your service is a no-no.

You may fly under the radar so to speak, but you're better off doing custom work to avoid any potential problems.
 

CaptainCommando

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Copyright would matter if I'm selling their product under a different name. What I'll be selling is time, not a ripped off pdf or book or series of miniatures.

What I'll be doing is generating interest in WotC products, not stealing from their product lines.

If this takes off for some odd reason, WotC makes more money.

The business will bring newcomers into DnD. Potential new customers for WotC.
 

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But using their product to make money might not fly. It is the same thing with software. That is why MS has personal licenses and business licenses for Word. If it really takes off, you might find WotC wanting a cut.
 

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Copyright law doesn't prevent people from using your published product and then providing additional services and features not originally offered to make money. Copyright law only protects what you already own and produce. It doesn't protect potential opportunity. That you have to pursue yourself.

For a publisher to ever win this type of case, they would have to prove the defendant:

1) Illegimately directly duplicated their work
2) Caused damages or direct lost business to the plaintiff

As long as no book content re-selling was taking place, the publisher would have no claim over a DM selling his DM services.

I've heard of this "professional DM" concept before but have never seen it fly. I'd be curious to see how things pan out for CaptainCommando with this initiative.
 

CaptainCommando

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I've heard of this "professional DM" concept before but have never seen it fly. I'd be curious to see how things pan out for CaptainCommando with this initiative.
There is apparently some precedent for this with Roleplay Workshop, Epic Vacations, and some guy who got hired to run team-building exercise games for a company.

My business model is different though, so it's a toss up.

I'm doing this in possibly one of only a few cities on earth where it can be done (NYC). Entertainment has a high cost in the city and there are a lot of people who can and will pay even if only once for a new novelty experience.

I'm hoping for enough to cover food and transportation while job hunting. If I can do that then the business will be a success for me.
 

CaptainCommando

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To the threads still being posted on:

I'm going to need a title for the business website and something to call myself. I'm open to suggestions.

I was thinking something along the lines of 'social game coordinator' instead of 'dungeon master for hire' or 'game master for hire'. I need something that sounds professional and doesn't limit me too much on the options of service I can provide.

On the business cards I'll need to make for business networking, a service/job title could make or break.
 

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Here's a bit of an update, compiling some of the ideas I've gathered from the forums.

UPDATE
I'm thinking about going with the name "Storyteller Solutions" for the business. I'm leaning towards "game coordinator" for my personal title on business cards.

The services will include:
1. Self-contained prewritten adventures (original, published, and custom order). An additional preparation/design fee will be required for custom orders depending on the scope of the request ($10 to $100+). Both hourly rates and set fees will be offered depending on the adventure used.
2. Special wargames with lots of miniatures and specially prepared "battlefields" (original pre-designed and custom order).
3. DM consultation and tutorials.
4. LFR modules (As soon as my RPGA membership comes through and I take the Herald test).
5. Design work for character backgrounds and homebrew settings. Some DMs might be too busy to flesh out their games as much as they would like to. Fee will vary depending on the scope of work requested. (minimum $20)

Selling adventure modules written for the business may provide an additional source of income.

Hourly rate will likely be $15-20 per hour. Set fees for running adventures will range from $60 to $120 (based on complexity of the adventure and amount of preparation required). Special gaming locations may be offered. Otherwise a list of standard locations in the city will be given.

Marketing will be done through multiple meetup.com groups including business networking groups. The services will be sold both as a social gaming experience and as a company team-building exercise. Fun, educational adventures may be offered as a family activity service.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition will be the system of service offered since it is the most "up to date" version, has the recognizable brand name, takes less time to prepare for, and it is beginner friendly. Most potential customers are likely to be beginners and time is limited so 4th edition is the logical choice. Adventures for other systems may be offered some time after the launch of the service.
 

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The final arbiter of legal or not will be the courts, if the copyright owners see the need to bring a suit. Flying under their radar doesn't make it legal.

All Rights Reserved means just that. I haven't checked any modules for the exact wording on the title page, but hiring out the product of another for the pleasure of a paying party is probably against the copyright granted to you the purchaser.

Buying the module and sharing it with friends (loan or during play) is a far cry from charging people money to enjoy the adventure someone else wrote.
 

CaptainCommando

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The final arbiter of legal or not will be the courts, if the copyright owners see the need to bring a suit. Flying under their radar doesn't make it legal.

All Rights Reserved means just that. I haven't checked any modules for the exact wording on the title page, but hiring out the product of another for the pleasure of a paying party is probably against the copyright granted to you the purchaser.

Buying the module and sharing it with friends (loan or during play) is a far cry from charging people money to enjoy the adventure someone else wrote.
Since professional storytelling has been a legitimately recognized profession long before the advent of table-top role-playing games, the courts would be on my side on this one.

Performing a module for a small audience paying for the performance is a far cry from duplicating and physically distributing it for sale en masse.
 

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pward,

You're incorrect on this one. The only thing the original authors and publishers have provided is the source adventure module. However, modules don't play by themselves. The story elements and play experience brought to the table by the DM are not assigned to the game publisher by any IP law.

Like I posted earlier, only what exists is protected by copyright. Not potential or opportunity. The only exception is a commercial contract in place where a publisher licenses a book placing explicit restrictions on its use, and doesn't sell it outright. That scenario doesn't apply for general public sale of RPG books. You buy it, you own it, and only the original content is protected from unauthorized duplication.
 

pward

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pward,

You're incorrect on this one. The only thing the original authors and publishers have provided is the source adventure module. However, modules don't play by themselves. The story elements and play experience brought to the table by the DM are not assigned to the game publisher by any IP law.

Like I posted earlier, only what exists is protected by copyright. Not potential or opportunity. The only exception is a commercial contract in place where a publisher licenses a book placing explicit restrictions on its use, and doesn't sell it outright. That scenario doesn't apply for general public sale of RPG books. You buy it, you own it, and only the original content is protected from unauthorized duplication.
But the names and events required in the story are copyright of the publisher/author. Using those "scripts" and maps and pictures and whatever else is in the module is reusing those works for hire. I'm fairly certain you haven't been granted permission to make money off the module. (Other than by resale of the physical object itself.)

Telling a story to your friends is one thing, putting on a public display is quite another. Just ask the theater troupes how much they pay the playwrights when they do another rendition of that classic <insert name here>. Telling stories is great when they are plain old stories you made up, or aren't charging for.

Paying your way with someone else's work may very well be copyright infringement. Neither Portal nor myself are lawyers (AFIK), so CaptainCommando; you can fly under the radar and hope for the best, or talk to someone who knows what they are talking about.
 
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