Game mastering a role-playing game on the fly is not easy. Familiarity, practice and some brief quiet time certainly helps.

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Voicemail from Chris Shorb

Matt V. comments on GM’ing for Money

Hey guys, hope life finds you well!

Keep meaning to write in, but my wife has had some serious health conditions the last couple months (yeah, more than one), and I’ve had my own annoying (though not serious) health conditions.

Getting old sucks!

Then a bunch of people I know had people in their lives die! I didn’t know any of them personally, but it happened to like a half dozen of my friends over a couple weeks! Only one COVID, but a lot of weird stuff.

But I’m still listening every episode, I look forward to it!

Anyway, I won’t bore you so I won’t touch on everything I missed, just wanted to cover a few things:

Easy Wins In RPG’S

I usually like to do one of these every 4-6 sessions. Maybe more or less depending on the pace of advancement.

I basically just go into cinematic mode and we narrate the encounter. Usually I like to do it to showcase their bad assery, often using foes that were difficult for them last time. I try and set them up with the opportunity to do cool things like wipe out twenty dudes with a fireball or the guy with great cleave is surrounded by a dozen foes. I will sometimes get a “cinematic” strike and have them use a spell or two, but more or less its just a showcasing of how much they’ve grown, and how awesome the heroes are.

Game Mastering for Money

This is what really prompted me to write in.

I’m acquaintances with a guy whose been a full time GM for over ten years now.

Hadn’t talked to him in several years so I used this as an excuse to touch base.

He played in my group for a while a long time ago, so I reached out to him and asked him a few questions, which I thought I’d share with you, hopefully someone finds it interesting.

So he started in 2008 on maptools charging $10 dollars a game, running 7 people to a session for a 4 hour session.

In 2010 he went fulltime, so has been doing this for a while.

He currently charges a base price of $30 a session for 7 players, though he rarely collects that much. New players get a session free and then a discount for a 4 week package. He offers discounts for paying a month at a time and a bigger one for paying for the entire campaign up front. Nonrefundable.

He’s been running in his own homebrew world since the beginning, and the world has basically grown around what happens in the campaigns.

He started with PF, and eventually had moved to 5E.

His campaigns run for 25 weeks, then he takes one week off, and repeats the cycle.

At any one time he’s running two different campaigns. He would like to only do one, but he has about a dozen people who want to game with him twice a week, which is a good chunk of his clientele base, and most those guys have been paying his bills for years!

He runs 3 level 1-12 campaigns a year and 1 12-20 campaign a year.

He runs 9 games a week – 1 Wednesday night, 2 on Friday and 3 on Saturday & Sunday.

So far, sounds pretty decent. Pay sounds good and all that, but he pointed out a lot of negatives.

1) You are always marketing. He’ll never go through an entire campaign without losing at least two players. To do this you need to stay quite active in the community you’re involved in, or you lose prestige.

2) Sometimes people don’t pay and bounce. If they don’t show up, often they don’t want to pay (his contract says the player still pays on missed sessions). Tracking down money is annoying.

3) Prep time is huge because it has to deliver an A+ experience. The maps are all preset, he has insane vision blocking, light sources, fully programmed frameworks.

4) He had to set up a great framework for users to make it worthwhile. You point on an enemy, hit your attack macro, and it does all the math. You have to keep the pace very fast for people to not feel ripped off, so you can’t allow a slow typer to slow the game down.

5) Related to above, GMing in this style is very taxing. You have to stay laser focused. He says he can crush out up to ten combats because the framework does everything and he has to keep everything flowing at a very fast pace.

6) He has to take a lot of time to go through third party material to see what he can allow. A lot of people are willing to pay for a lot of third party stuff they want to use, and he has to judge and alter each thing on a case by case basis.

7) When you switch editions it SUCKS! It took him hundreds if not over a thousand hours to get everything back to where his 5e framework and tokens already was equal to his PF framework. And he was charging a lot more at this time, so it had to be sharp at drop. He’s terrified of another game dropping and having to do it again.

8) Even though he’s only GMing 36 hours a week, the work week is 50-70 hours.

9) Cannot take sick days or more than the one scheduled week off. He said one time he took three weeks off and it took him months to rebuild the damage that did to his brand. Having to work every weekend sucks too. He has kids now, and it makes it tough, especially since they are 13 hour days!

10) There’s a lot of work you actually do for free. You have to help with character creation, program most players tokens, etc.

Some pro’s:

1) Get to do something you love, although your relationship with the hobby becomes different when its a full time job.

2) Prep time goes down over time. With map tools you can program tokens, and he has thousands of them programmed now. So that part becomes easier over time. Also, really there’s only a handful of stories, you just format them differently. Once you learn that you can crank out the overall storyline pretty quickly, then its just the fine pieces.

3) Gets to work from home.

4) If he lives long enough, it will be a great retirement side hustle!

So, I asked about his customer base, because I was interested.

Mostly, they fall into two categories.

High profile, very busy people. Executives and other people pulling 50+ hour weeks. They don’t have time to dick around but want to play. They like the fast paced, get through a lot of content real quick, and then carry on with their insane lives. These people don’t dive too deep into the rules, and will often have him make their PC’s for them.

The second are very hardcore gamers who have a ton of resources they want to use, and either can’t find a game group, or enough game groups. Often they are already in 1-3 games per week.

He loves what he does, but he says he probably wouldn’t do it over again if given the chance.

Alright Gentlemen! Thanks for continuing to crank out great content. Until next time!

The Warden comments on TRUST

For me, trust exists as a group. One weak link in the trust circle we call gaming can lead to the whole chain snapping in half. Still, trust begins with trust. Those who have trust issues in games they play always sound like someone with trust issues in their intimate relationships but never seem to recognize it was all from that old flame who really knew the football team (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?). Being burned by a previous player/GM/group isn’t supposed to be the norm just like any other connections we form. Whoever hurt you was the wrong one and they are the distant minority. By sitting down to play together, we’re all making an unspoken agreement to play TOGETHER and that demands trust. Plus, as someone who didn’t exactly get treated like a person by non-geeks growing up, trust is required for many people to open up and share with a group. I instantly trust and connect with someone who shares a hobby with me; it’s then up to us to fuck it up. Even if we’re playing pretend. Maybe even especially because we’re playing pretend. But trust is easier said than earned. I guess… oh, crap… don’t make me say… it depends?

Rory comments on Easy Wins

The easy wins can be very memorable.

I ran a session for 2 players once – a couple of high level (13+0 AD&D wizards.

They were out and about with their usual daily protective spells (including stoneskin) and were ambushed by a band of wandering ogres.

I remember the ogres grappling one character and hitting the other character with him as an improvised club. With their spells up & protecting them from damage they just shrugged and made jokes for a couple of rounds, then walked away leaving a smoking crater where the ogres had been.

Both loved mowing through a basic threat that would have once been terrifying.

This sort of thing is what I love about wandering monsters – having a mix of easy and hard threats show up.

3e actually recommended a chunk of your encounters for a given scenario be cakewalks – they use SOME resources, but not many and it lets the players have success.


One of the things i liked in older school adventures is that there was always a mix – take the first Giants module from D&D (SPOILERS) the module is lousy with giants, as well as orcs, bugbears, carrion crawlers, and trogolodytes.

The giants are a major threat – but the rest – while often gathered in large numbers – are not really a threat to the target level of the module.

Brett mentioned “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil” – the same thing applies – sure there are the “big guns” in each temple – but there are also a ton of mook level guards – whose only real threat is to announce your presence to the more powerful monsters.

If every battle gets harder every time you level up – what’s the point of leveling up?



The Warden comments on today’s discussion…

9 times out of 10, this is how I prefer to run anything. Even if I wrote and published the adventure, which is some strange Freudian shit right there. Right now, I’m running a play-by-post game that’s become a mystery/investigation adventure and I have no clue who did it, how it’s going to end, or anything else beyond the current turn. In many ways, I find this a more liberating way to run a mystery because there’s no attempt to force players to comprehend the clues you’re laying down. It’s all about picking up what the players put down and making up pieces based on what they give you.

It all goes back to that trust issue from the previous episode. Gaming on the fly requires everyone to trust the GM has their best interests at heart and will make our main characters to central focus from which the story develops. It’s the reason why I turn to gaming when small town Canada offer absolutely zero improv troupes. Fucking snow-covered hillbillies and their damn tractor pulls!

Die Roll

  • Kickstarter this Tuesday Sept 29th. It will be the 5th Edition version of the award-winning bestiary and setting The Midderlands.
  • Resistance Earth, by Fraser Ronald’s Swords Edge Publishing. Get it on DriveThruRPG
  • The Spooky Goose by Kelly Knox, get it on DM’s Guild
  • Blackwater Gospel

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About the Author
The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.