Wikipedia defines a professional as “a person who is paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and to complete them for a fee.” Although being paid to do something you are passionate about is a wonderful thing it is not the only form of compensation available to a gamer, nor is it the most common. Before HitMouse I have been “working” in the industry for a while.
My first experience in being compensated for running a game was with Living Greyhawk, D&D. My local hobby store had a deal; they hosted the D&D games and charged 5 dollars to play. The community was in charge of organizing and reporting the events but the nice part was how they attracted DMs to run the games. Through the partnership of the store each game that you DMed gave you 5 dollars in store credit and the opportunity to slot 0 the module free earlier in the week. Sadly the store Neutral Ground is no more.
Conventions, where geeks unite
You want to go to conventions but don’t want to pay or cannot afford the entry fee; many of us have been in this boat, myself included. Conventions are rallying points for their cause and need to fill their slots with content much of which is generated by the community itself, if you are willing to run a game or other event then the Con will cover your entry fee (details subject to the individual convention.) It’s a win win situation with the added benefit that you have the opportunity to help make the Con bigger and better. Besides running events Cons always need volunteers, I have taken that rout to getting into a convention many times. There are so many great people I have meet volunteering at conventions. I continue to volunteer not out of need but because I enjoy it.
Getting there is half the battle
Through my time running games at cons I have gotten more than just my badge covered. The big one that everyone wants is a hotel room, there are not many of these to go around and some cons do not offer them at all. Sharing a room has been a given and there have been times when I considered myself fortunate to have some floor space. Although I would not repeat the time I slept in the tube.
Transportation is an entirely different issue altogether and may be one of the biggest obstacles toward attending a con. I have found it is doable to get a lift; ready to kick in for gas and tolls. A major hurdle is scheduling, be sure to have a well established time that the group is leaving AND coming back. Many a horror story I could tell, some of which have happened to me, of plans falling through, having to leave early, being stranded and having to find another way home, and finally at times missing a convention completely. All that being said, getting a ride can be done with some outreach to the community. Whether giving or accepting a ride be up front of what you want while being honest of how much can be done. Emergencies happen but leaving some one high and dry is not cool and will affect interactions during play. Jerk = bad.
Convention organizers are not the only ones who give perks. Game publishers and other entertainment companies also offer perks. The big companies tend to pull out all the stops for the larger convections like Gencon and Origins. A few years back I worked for Wizards of the Coast at Gencon, they treat their DMs very well. I had to work for it but they covered my badge, hotel (shared with only 1 other person), D&D books, a pack of minis, and some generic tickets. That year I drove up with some friends from NYC and the whole trip cost me 70 dollars. I am still amazed I pulled it off but it happened! Wizards still offers similar deals to their DMs and from what I hear Paizo does as well.
I’m special, sort of
Special guests have some form of value that is on the level with other feature events at the convention. At this point “they” want your attention instead of the other way around. I have not reached that level of awesomeness yet but I did have a brush with it. I became an Iron GM Regional champion, think Iron Chef but with RPGs, and the good people at Iron GM flew me out to Gencon. There I got to meet the real headliners: actors, designers, publishers…people who were actually paid to go to the con. Even though I did not win it was thrilling.(148