Welcome to the fun, challenging, and rising industry of professionally running TTRPGs! Whether you’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for years, love introducing people to exciting indie RPGs, or are putting together a dramatic Vampire: The Masquerade story, there are bound to be players out there just waiting for your game to start. But starting the game is only one aspect of the business. If you want to become a full-time pro GM–or just make good money on a side hustle– you’ll want to make sure you’re doing these things.  

1. Run Campaigns

According to recent data, 70%-80% of games booked on StartPlaying are campaigns. One-shots have their place, however, during StartPlaying events or promotional periods. Those occasions make one-shots great for bringing in new players, but campaigns are what the vast majority of users are searching for. 

2. Schedule Out 3-5 Sessions In Advance

Let’s keep the idea in mind that campaigns sell more. Why is that? One major reason might be that players pay for professional GMs to get consistency. They want a campaign that won’t fizzle out due to scheduling issues or a GM who got too overwhelmed to prepare the next session. Going along with this logic, an easy way to show players that you are committed is to schedule your sessions through the next month. And by having it on their calendars, players are less likely to view it as something they can cancel at the last minute. 

3. Presentation Matters

And I don’t mean your battle maps, NPC art, or music choices. Those matter, too, but this tip is about YOU. What do players see in your Zoom window? You don’t need a fancy digital backdrop, but is your corner of the room at least in order? Do you have enough light in the room? You’d be surprised what little things can distract viewers, so you’re better off having a neat space behind you so that the focus is on you and your storytelling. Investing in something better than your laptop's built-in camera will help too.

4. Quick Tips For A Solid Listing

When listing on StartPlaying, you’re given a few options for how to present your game. Some best practices for a more successful listing are to: Make sure your game template image is under 1MB, only use four or less adventure tags, and turn on the instant book feature. For an additional boost, you can pay a bit to be included in the StartPlaying Facebook and Instagram product catalog which provides targeted advertising. 

5. Instant Book Is Your Friend

When going over settings for your adventure listing, you’ll see “Instantly Bookable?” next to your number of players. Instant Book games have a badge on them that lets players know they’ll be in the game as soon as they sign up. Otherwise, they’ll need to wait for you to approve their request to join. Instant Book games see 30% more activity than those without the function enabled, so you’ll want to turn it on and get players right into your game's group chat. 

That big blue "Instant Book" badge stands out.

6. Tweak Your Game Listing Titles. A lot.

The best title for a game listing communicates what type of game it will be. Feel free to even put the genre and most exciting game mechanics in the title. You might think “Dark Seas Of Boatlandia” sounds intriguing and mysterious. But in reality, “Level 10 Pirates Ahoy! An Exploration-Based Nautical Campaign” is more informative and will probably draw more players. Pick the two most unique things about your game and give them starring roles in title. 

7. Cool Art Is An Instant Draw

Another way to make your listing stand out from the crowd is to have an appealing cover image. “Obviously,” many will say. “But I can’t afford a great custom art commission!” You might be surprised, however, at what you can find. Sites like Fiverr offer a plethora of artists who work at a range of prices. You can also just use StartPlaying’s stock art and apply a few quick edits with free software like Canva or Pixlr. Even something like simple, stylized text can transform the usual art into something like a movie poster.

8. Descriptions Should Be Player Focused 

The adventure description will be the first thing prospective players read after the title. So now that you have their attention, you need to sell them on your game. The thing a lot of GMs do wrong here is launch into an explanation of the epic lore of their world. While your homebrew setting is probably really cool, the sad truth is that most players don’t care. They want to know what impact THEY will have, what makes their characters the heroes of the story.

So resist the urge to start with “It is a dark time for the continent, with gods warring against dragons. The three major kingdoms have formed a tenuous alliance…”. Instead, think of video games' back of the box text. “You are the last of the Edgewatchers, heroes chosen to guard the Three Kingdoms from invading dragons. Wielding weapons gifted by the gods, you control epic power unlike any you’ve experienced before. In this campaign, you start at level 20 with personalized legendary items. And you’ll need all that power, because dragons are just the tip of the iceberg.” 

9. Prep Materials Are A Biggie

Well after you’ve finished your template and gotten it approved, you can list it as an adventure. In the menu of your adventure (found under “Manage Adventures” on your GM tab), you can add Prep materials. This is where you can add links to group chats or describe what material players might need to look over before game day. Games with clear Prep Materials messaging tend to retain players better than those without. Like with scheduling, players respond well to a prepared GM that communicates well pre-game. 

10. Keep The Recruiting Notes Brief

When editing your adventure, you’ll see a section called “Recruiting Notes” under the title. Don’t overwhelm potential players with requirements here. Keep this section to one or two sentences only, something blunt like “Sessions every other Tuesday.” 

11. People Like Playing With People

Use a photo of yourself as your profile picture. Prospective players are known to respond more to GM profiles with human faces attached. Cartoony avatars of yourself are ok if you’re camera shy, but a corporate-looking logo won’t do you any favors. Ultimately, you are your brand. 

They say pictures are worth a thousand words. What do you think these GMs' pictures say about them and their gameplay style?

12. Don’t Run Free Games To Farm Reviews

On StartPlaying, the power of pricing is in your hands. You choose what to charge your players, and that charge can even be $0. Some might see this as a way to quickly get reviews for your GM profile–run some freebies, watch players pour in because people love free stuff, and stack up the positive reviews. One thing to watch out for is that free games give unverified reviews. Paid games give verified reviews, which show up on your profile with a blue checkmark and a tally of how many games a user has played with you. Having a good collection of verified reviews is more valuable to your brand in the long run. 

13. One More Thing About Free Games

Sadly, free games are also bad at turning one-shotters into long term players. Data shows that for every 11 players who join a free game, only 1 joins a paid campaign with that same GM. 

14. Get A Jump Start On Reviews

That said, there is a way to get a quick and solid batch of reviews to start off with. You can send a review link (found in the “Edit Profile” section of your account) to people who have played with you before, even if they didn’t find you through StartPlaying. Only a few of this type of unverified review is allowed on your profile, but it's better than having no reviews at all. You need 5 reviews to appear in the main GM search. Once you’ve got that foundation set up, remember to ask players for reviews at the end of every one-shot or campaign. Don’t be shy! Many players are happy to help boost your profile, especially if they enjoyed your game. 

15. Friends Make Good Seat Fillers

When starting out, it’s likely that you’ll only get one or two paid players signing up for your games. This isn’t ideal, but you’ll want these players to stick around and eventually give you good reviews. To help pad out those first few sessions, consider asking a friend to fill the seat. Not only will this create a more lively table, but your rapport with your friend will likely set you at ease. Since you know your friend's playstyle, it will also make you appear more skilled when you respond quickly to their actions. Those new players will be sucked into the fun you and your friend are having. 

16. Don’t Bend Over Backwards To Accommodate Schedules

If your schedule is completely flexible, the majority of StartPlaying users want games in the evenings and weekends on USA time. Don’t run off to schedule games at those times, however. Make sure you set a schedule that works for you. If you try to force yourself to get up too early or stay up too late, it will affect your abilities. And players will pick up on your exhaustion or lack of enthusiasm. Like with any other job, you'll burn out quickly if you keep working a terrible schedule.

Users can search by these time periods, so you're bound to find someone that matches your schedule!

17. Get That Group Chat Started Now

As soon as the first player joins your game, get a group chat going. You can use StartPlaying’s messenger, or you can create a new server in an app like Discord. The onboarding experience starts as soon as a player joins your game. From that point on, you want them excited. Starting the group chat gives them a chance to get to know you and to get invested in the game by talking about their character. 

18. Don’t Be Afraid To Kick Unresponsive Players Out

Hopefully your game gets lots of players and they all respond eagerly in group chat. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that you’ll get an unresponsive player. It never feels nice, but the success of your games depends on the players being active and feeling the camaraderie. Give less responsive players a chance to be more active with friendly prompts and nudges. But if they continuously no-show and don’t respond to any messages, kick them out to make room for someone who will contribute. 

19. Cancel Games If There’s Not Enough Players

It always hurts when players suddenly leave a campaign or announce they can’t make a session. It’ll hurt your wallet more, however, if you run a game for a half-full party. Time is money, and you want to make sure your time is well spent. If you do decide to cancel because of a lack of players, just be sure to cancel the session on StartPlaying so no one is charged wrongly. Players will receive an email letting them know that the session is canceled. 

20. Players Just Want To Play

Spend enough time as a StartPlaying GM, and you will probably find a good group of players that love your style and consistently come back for more. But when they first sign up for the site, users just want to play a game as quickly as possible. Making that process easy is the first part of your job. Respond to a new joiner quickly, keep players updated in the days leading up to game day, and stick to your schedule. Consistency will earn you regular customers. 

21. Keep Pre-Gens In Your Back Pocket

The vast majority of players bring characters they created and are very attached to. That said, you will occasionally get the last-minute sign-up or newbie who doesn’t have a character prepared. You’ll want to have a few pre-generated character sheets on hand for these occasions. Make the fact that you have pre-gens ready known in your beginner-friendly game listings as well.

22. Make Beginner Games Actually Beginner-Friendly

StartPlaying sees a lot of activity from players that are new to D&D and TTRPGs in general. Many GMs will add “beginner-friendly” tags in their game to create a welcoming atmosphere. If you want to jump in on this market, make sure that your game truly is accommodating to people who have never rolled a d20 before. In particular, be sure to talk about game mechanics–even the most simple core ones–in general speech. Avoid proper nouns and terms that come from the TTRPG community no matter how obvious you think their meaning is. 

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And that huge list of tips should get you well on your way to being a great pro GM! Did any of them have a huge impact on your career? Are there any tips you would like to share with those just beginning their GM journey? Check StartPlaying out on Twitter and let us know! 

Posted 
Nov 9, 2022
 in 
Game Masters
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