Pay-to-Play Roleplaying, Are You Kidding Me?

The first I’d heard of this concept was a couple of years ago on Roll20.net, a site for hosting roleplaying games.

To take a step back, roleplaying games are games. As in sitting down with your friends and family to play poker, or Trivial Pursuit, or Settlers of Catan. And maybe as in playing the game on a regular basis, as opposed to just breaking out a game at an informal gathering. The biggest difference between RPGs and most other games is that they often work best as a “campaign,” or series of gaming sessions all strung together like a TV mini-series. That’s because you’re living out a story, and most of the players have their own particular avatar, so continuity and especially continuity in participation are important.

As in some other types of games, RPGs usually need one player to assume the role of game-master or referee. This player describes the environment and how it reacts to the actions of the other players, the ones with only one avatar. There are plenty of published materials for the game-master to use, or they can write their own material, but generally speaking you want to “read up” in advance of a game session. We call this “game prep.”

An RPG usually involves speaking “in character,” and overcoming surprising and novel obstacles to achieve a goal. Some people really shine when it comes to improv acting, others are great at vivid descriptions, and these types of games often reward clever thinking and tactics. There’s also a random element (we roll dice) so even the dreamy introverts among your family and friends can enjoy a good RPG session, just by being there.

But the most important thing to realize is that this is a group sitting around and playing make-believe, producing their own fun. Not sitting back and passively watching a movie. The rules are secondary. Or even, dare I say it, unnecessary.

If you participate in an informal group of like-minded folks who enjoy roleplaying games, it is customary to rotate the role of game-master. This gives anyone who feels especially creative the chance to shine. Sometimes a person specializes in a particular genre (IE fantasy or post-apocalypse) or game (D&D or Cyberpunk), so taking turns means the group gets to play in different types of stories. Not everyone will want to try the game-master seat, and that’s just fine.

So I’m seeing more posts about “paid game-mastering” on the internet these days. Some folks are looking to make some money off of playing games. I suppose that’s just capitalist thinking for you, but it really ticks me off.

Gaming is my hobby. RPGs are what I do to relax and unwind. I’ve been playing RPGs since they came out. I assume the role of game-master about half the time. I would never accept “pay,” and I can handle pitching in to buy pizza and drinks. The minute someone starts to ask for pay to participate, it stops being a game; and I’m here to play games. Friendships develop around the gaming table, the kind that last for decades. You don’t charge your friends money to come over and play poker, do you?

And there’s nothing sadder than a game-master who can’t get any quality players to participate in his games. It’s pretty quiet around the old table when there’s only that one person sitting there alone. But if you think that a game-master is entitled to pay, then shouldn’t you also be willing to pay for quality players? And if everyone demands to be paid, then how about forgetting all this nonsense and not try to extract pay for any one participant?

Less capitalism, more mutual fun.

3 thoughts on “Pay-to-Play Roleplaying, Are You Kidding Me?

  1. This must be short, as I have to type via on-screen keyboard:

    I don’t think this is unreasonable. GMs are probably the biggest factor in making RPG sessions enjoyable; GM prep takes a lot of time; and really good GMs are rare. I am actually convinced that the GM is both a more important and scarcer ressource than a RPG rulebook (which you readily accept to pay for).

    Compare this to eating at a restaurant: While everyone can learn to prepare meals by themselves, and joint cooking can become a fun, social, collaborative tradition, there is nothing wrong with paying for a high quality experience from time to time (if you can afford it). And once you consider RPG not just a game, but also a medium of storytelling (as I do), this makes even more sense: You may be a decent singer, writer, or cartoonist; good enough to entertain your family and friends; but they will – just as yourself – still pay for professional music, books or comics. (Oh, and many people wouldn’t see anything wrong in paying for tutelage by a professional cook, dancer, boxer, or whatever. This can also apply here!)

    We live in a society where paying for entertainers in sports, music, acting, literature, art, and artistry is the most normal thing in the world, even though – and often even BECAUSE – we may enjoy dabbling in those activities as well. Why would you not be willing to pay for a professional GM? And why should it be wrong to get paid for doing something you enjoy, and are good at, and which provides entertainment for others?

    Like

  2. One of my EPT players told me way back in 1979 that I should find wealthy players and run games for a living. I suppose it was flattering, but the idea just baffled me. As you say, the players are (or should be) as important to the experience as the GM. Mind you, it’s nice when everybody clubs together for the pizzas.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post and points raised; I agree broadly with what you have said, I too think that RPGs are a hobby and unfortunately its ‘monetisation’ (I do hate that word) is something that someone, somewhere is going to do regardless, as is with a number of hobbies or activities. Your point about paying for poker games – I would like to counter your point that you can buy seats at a table in an online casino. TV adverts (usually after 11pm in the UK) are full of these betting services. However yes point made – I wouldn’t ask friends or family to pay for a game and a hire-a-GM service is not something I would ever use myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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