Professional GMing Advice

I’ve been working as a Pro GM for a few years, and have managed to develop it into my primary source of income. I have been surprised at the wide range of clients and gigs I have encountered doing this, but I’ve picked up some helpful habits that seem to apply no matter the scenario. I’d love to hear what others have landed upon as helpful in their pro GMing, and I am more than happy to answer any questions people have.

So without further ado, here are some practices that I have found helpful:

  • Be Proactive with Scheduling: This one is a no brainer, but it’s easy to lose track of. Ask client’s when they want to schedule the next session, or confirm that the next scheduled session is still on if you have an ongoing campaign; confirm with the client at least a day before a session; keep a calendar, preferably a digital one.

  • Confirm the Play Space: Whether you’re running online or in person, you want to know what the play space will be like first. If online, confirm the VTT (if one is being used), what communication apps will be used, and what devices people will be on; for in person you want to know how the big the table you’ll be using is and what the room you’ll be in is like, anything else that might be going on concurrently, what pets may be around, and what the parking situation will be (both so you know if you’ll have to pay for it and so you can judge the distance you’ll have to carry game materials). Knowing what the space will be like let’s you prepare the right amount of material, as too much or too little is detrimental whether running virtually or IRL.

  • Build A Kit: You want to find the tools that work well for you and make sure you have a good way to access them when you’re running. For IRL games this means having a standard kit, so even if it’s not always neatly packed already you always know which books and materials to grab. Online, this means having music playlists ready, tokens already made and labeled and loaded into the VTT, having maps loaded and setup, and making sure they are reset after each session.

  • Use Pregen Characters: The exception to this is for ongoing campaigns, but the majority of the time character creation kills pacing and is not very engaging unless the players already have some gaming experience. So always have pregens of the appropriate level ready. I like to mine starter sets for good pregens as they tend to have many of the mechanics explained on the sheet. The important thing is to be able to get people playing as quickly as possible, to get to the fun part.

  • Find Your Adventure Template: Many pro sessions are one shots. With that being the case, it’s very helpful to have an adventure template for any systems you run. Whether it’s 5 room dungeon or A-B-A or whatever, you want to find the adventure format that you feel most comfortable and confident with, and which you feel gives the experience players are looking for out of the game system. Once you’ve found a template, find elements you can change easily to adapt that template in different ways. This takes away some of the cognitive load of running, as well as reducing the prep time needed, while allowing you to adapt the adventure template to your different clients. Plus this lets you easily keep the physical or digital materials for the scenario ready with only minor changes needed between sessions.

  • Ask For What You’re Worth: This one is hard, for a lot of reasons. It’s hard to ask for money for doing something you love, it’s hard asking for money for something seen as a hobby, and a lot of folks suffer from impostor syndrome or something similar. But professional game mastering is a valuable service, and those who do it are worth paying to do so. That doesn’t mean that all games should be paid, not by any means; that’s like saying that because there are pro sports players, all sports must be paid and played at the professional level. But there is a place in gaming for professional game masters, whether they are just offering entertainment or something more. Most pro GMs charge less than what they are worth, and that comes at the detriment of both the GMs and the players.

  • Bring Pencils, Dice & Paper: This only applies to IRL play, but I’ve found this to be vital. Always bring your own pencils, preferably mechanical. Bring enough dice to share (I have a tupperware container full of them), ones that you don’t mind losing. And it’s always good to have paper for notes or impromptu maps or what have you.

  • Use Music: This applies to both online and IRL. This really helps players get into a session, especially ones that are new to a game. You don’t want music with lots of lyrics usually, or that is too busy, because you don’t want it to be a distraction. I’ll frequently ask clients what some of their favorite video game soundtracks are and then lookup a playlist on YouTube to use for a session, that can help a lot with their connecting with the experience. For IRL sessions I have a pair of bluetooth speakers that I link to my phone, but any portable solution works (even just your phone).

  • Make a Profile on a Booking Site: There are a few professional GM booking sites out there. Even if you don’t intend to book through them it’s useful to have a profile that potential clients can find and check out. These sites spend quite a bit of time and money on marketing, so this is an easy way get yourself in front of new clients. Testimonials and reviews also make a big difference, so be sure to ask for some from your current and past players and/or clients.

So those are my tips. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s served me well. A lot of folks dabble in pro GMing to pay for the next RPG release, but you can make a decent living at it if you work hard and refine your craft.


Damn I missed my calling I didn’t even know that professional GM/DM was a thing. Good for you hope you kill it.


I tried it once and the group liked the experience so much that they asked how much I would charge to run a weekly or bi-weekly game.

I had been looking to start running a new campaign so I told them I would do it for free. I was afraid that making it a business transaction would make the hobby less enjoyable for me.


I can’t agree with this more! I was doing online DM work for $$ and quickly found that the challenge was having more people want to play than I can handle. Supply and demand made clear that I could make viable cash doing this. I don’t anymore but, if you are considering it after all this great advice - be sure to ask for reasonable compensation.


It’s important to not make all your games become “work”. I have had friends in my private games offer to pay me knowing that I GM professionally and I continually refuse; for me that would be crossing a line that would make all my faves feel like work.


I’ve never really looked into this, but I am curious, what do professional GMs charge for their services?

1 Like

The best info I’ve seen on it is where I ran:

StartPlaying is great, and one of the founders is a good friend (and my agent in a way). But their recommendations are based on what people have been charging, not what they’re worth, if that makes sense. They have a lot of amateur GMs that are just dipping their toes into the water, and that skews the dataset. The DMs who are getting the most work are usually charging more than that low average; personally I think every single GM on StartPlaying needs to charge at least $10-$15 more.

I usually charge a minimum of $50/player, though this varies based on the client and the situation. For events I charge $500+. This past November was particularly busy for me and I broke $10k in pro GMing income for the month, but that is atypical.

1 Like

Totally, I was trying to stay brief and not over state what happens. I started at $25 and moved to $40 after filling 3 campaigns.

It takes work, you have to market yourself vs. hoping that someone stumbles in, but it can work.

1 Like

Just out of curiosity, where do you live? If you’d rather not say specifically, I’m mostly interested to know if you live in a large city in a first world nation. I expect living in an affluent society in a population center of over a million would make it a lot more viable to make one’s “daily bread” from GMing. I live in St. John’s, Newfoundland with a population of just under 112,000 people, so I suspect the number of potential customers here to be below the threshold to permit one to GM professionally.

1 Like

Michigan. Not Detroit, but in a proper city with tens of thousands of people.

I was working online with people beyond my city so my potential client pool was pretty big.

1 Like

Honestly, you can run a pretty amazing game online using a VTT these days. It isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but my group that was completely in-person before as come to really enjoy it.

1 Like

It’s interesting and the advice good even for the typical game master. I never wanted to make GMing a profession. When money is exchanged there are expectations. Professionally I’m a machinist. Gameing is the thing I deo to leave that behind.

Location is definitely a factor. I’m in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco area of the US, so there are a lot of affluent communities here. So that accounts for my in-person gigs. But a significant amount of my work is GMing online as well, and that is where the majority of my income came from last month.