D&D Encounters: DM Compensation

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 13, 2012

With another season of D&D Encounters coming to an end this week we’ve been having some discussions at my FLGS about who’s going to take over the reigns as the DM for the next season. I continue to volunteer my services as the primary DM at two FLGS in my community, but in both cases we have sufficient numbers to need additional DMs pretty much every week. During the discussion about who will step up to DM more than one prospective DM asked about compensation. They wanted to know what they got if they agreeing to DM. At first I was a bit surprised that they’d even ask, but as I gave the question more consideration I realized that it’s not an altogether unreasonable question.

Free Swag!

The short answer is that DMs get to keep the adventure. Regardless of anything else, that is guaranteed compensation. Now the adventure itself may not be of much use to you after the season is over, but the maps have been excellent season after season. Personally I find that we use a map from D&D Encounters in our home games at least once a session. But even the maps may not be enough incentive for newer DMs, especially those who only play D&D on Wednesday nights during D&D Encounters.

Although there’s no guarantee that the reward will be more than the adventure, during each of the past few seasons additional trinkets were included with the DMs kit. Condition cards, initiative cards, and condition tokens seem to be fairly consistent. After the completion of Keep on the Borderlands the DMs were given a Wizards of the Coast calendar. And for DMs who ran at least one session of D&D Encounter in August last year they were eligible to received the DM reward “The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan,” a 4e reimagining of the classic D&D adventure from Wizards of the Coast.

Should DMs Get Paid?

I’ve seen this kind of thread discussed on the forums many times. Without DMs there is no D&D Encounters program. In my community there is a great lack of DMs willing to commit to an entire season of D&D Encounters (which is a big part of why I run sessions at two stores every week). As we’ve already discussed, the only tangible recompense for making this commitment is that you get to keep the adventure. So is it out of line for DMs to talk to the store owners and ask for some kind of payment?

Although there is no charge to participate in D&D Encounters at either of the FLGS where I play, I know that in some markets, especially where there is a very large turnout, players are charged a small fee to play (usually only a couple of bucks a session). My understanding is that a) the DM does not have to pay, and the b) in most cases the stores take the money collected from such fees and use it to purchase D&D materials that are then raffle off to everyone who paid. In a way your gaming fee is basically a mandatory purchase of a raffle ticket. The advantage to DMs is that their names go in the raffled without having to pay the fee.

Experience is its Own Reward

So how do you entice DMs who may not otherwise be interested in running a season of D&D Encounters? There are a lot of additional up sides to being the DM. Since D&D Encounters an introductory level program the adventures are always designed for characters between levels 1-4. This usually makes the encounters easier to prepare for and easier to run. This makes it idea for people who have never DMed before or DMs with minimal experience.

If you want to get good at something you need to practice, practice, practice. Ask anyone in the arts and they’ll tell you that rehearsals are essential to developing the craft. Being a DM is very much the same. The more you DM the better you get. I know that this is another reason I like to DM D&D Encounters – it lets me keep my DM skills sharp. Playing the same session twice in the same week also provides me with valuable insight into the adventure and I’d like to think that I’m a better DM for the group that gets to play the second time through (which is not to say that the first group gets a mediocre experience).

The simplicity of the D&D Encounters program provides an opportunity for new DMs to gain the experience they need to become better DMs. This can often be a more valuable form of compensation that any of the other possibilities mentioned in this article. By developing their DM skills newer DMs gain the confidence to branch out from the D&D Encounters program and try running a home game.

The Down Side to DMing

I want to reiterate how big a supporter I am of the D&D Encounters program. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least address some of the down sides.

DMing for 12-20 consecutive weeks is a huge commitment. Taking on the commitment to be there every week during the entire season of D&D Encounters is a big responsibility. Players can come and go as their schedule permits, but if the DM misses a week than everyone feels the repercussion. Worst case scenario no one plays that week and the store falls behind. If you’re lucky you can play two encounters the next week to catch up, but in some cases the gang just skips the week they missed.

The other possibility is that someone else steps up and fills in for the absent DM. This isn’t ideal, but at least people get to play. This of course assumes that there is another copy of the adventure available and that someone is willing to be the DM.

In addition to the time requirements that the DMs put in, many players take for granted that many DMs (me included) will have pre-gens, minis, dice and pencils available for new players or those who forgot their own materials. Although this kind of support isn’t mandatory, good DMs will take the extra step to be prepared for these common eventualities. This is another one of those less visible parts of DM prep that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated by most players.

Who’s Running the Show?

I play at two different FLGS and they are run very differently. At one store the organized does a lot of the heavy lifting. He is constantly advertising the program and encouraging people to come out and try D&D Encounters. This store has a lot of other organized events (Magic tournaments, board game night) and at each of these the employees advertise D&D Encounter and actively recruit new players. Each week the organizer comes around, talks to the participants, records all of our names (which he knows) and reports the data.

At the other store where I play the DMs are doing all the work. The store offers us tables and that’s it. The DMs have done all the leg work to recruit players and keep them coming back. We are responsible to for gathering all the players DCI numbers and providing a list to the store owner after each session. However the owner does not always report the data and as a result we’ve had some hardships. Last August we had new DMs step up in order to earn the free DM Reward “The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan” from Wizards. Since the store owner didn’t report the data we didn’t get the rewards. It took the diligence of one of the other DMs to follow-up with Wizards and after many emails between them and the store owner we finally got our rewards (on February 8).

When I play at the first store I feel welcome. The store offers the D&D Encounters players discounts on products (not just on D&D stuff either). The employees are knowledgeable and take an interest in the D&D Encounters program, even though none of them play D&D. The second store seems indifferent to our presence. None of the employees play D&D and none of them seem to care at all for the D&D Encounters program. Although I’ve met a lot of great gamers at this location, playing here week after week feel more like work than anything else.

It’s Just a Game

In my mind DMs are adequately compensated for their services already. It’s not mandatory for anyone to DM. It’s a choice that some of us make and we know going in what we’ll get out of it (tangible or otherwise). The other baubles are nice, but I’m not doing this because I want a payday.

That’s not to say that I would turn down some kind of individual compensation offered by Wizards or my FLGS, but I don’t think that DMs should expect Wizards to pony up any additional stuff as compensation. However I also don’t think it’s out of line for DMs to talk to the owners of their FLGS and see if they’d be interested in offering DMs some kind of compensation. Even discounts on materials may be enough to get a player to move behind the screen for one season.

In the end we get together Wednesday nights to play D&D. It’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun. If you find that being the DM seems like too much work and you’re not having fun then perhaps you should take a season off rather than look for justification (in the form of compensation) to continue being the DM.

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.

Related reading:

What are your thoughts on DM compensation? Should DMs who commit to an entire season of D&D Encounters get more for their services than just a copy of the adventure? What about DMs who offer their services in other public-play forums like LFR? Does your FLGS compensate DMs in any way, shape or form? Let us know?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sentack February 13, 2012 at 11:08 am

I’m equally conflicted about this issue as well. Generally, I find the map/module and any tokens they provide to be a decent reward. Other then that, it’s the reward of more practice, good company and the occasional free soda at my store that brings me back time and time again.

Still, I think it’s not the idea of being committed to one season but the commitment to multiple seasons and the lack of a free Wednesday forever, that might shy people away from the post of DM.

Still, it is good practice, and half the reason I play D&D Encounters. I’ve only been DMing for the past 2 years and I really could use all the extra game time like a pilot needs flight time. It just makes me a bit better each time.

2 Joe February 13, 2012 at 11:40 am

Getting to keep the adventure after it’s complete is a huge reward. If one is a DM, theoretically that person has put time, effort, and money to hone his or her DMing skills, so getting resources to continue playing (and continue skill honing) is a giant plus.

3 panzerleader February 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm

My goodnes your experience mirrors mine almost exactly, even down to switching from a great helpful store (which couldn’t get enough dm supplies to go around) to a local game shop that only cared about warhammer and magic.

Not getting Tamoachan, and finding out the store owner just put himself down as the dm and never registered a single DCI, was the final straw, and I bid the program fond farewell.

I learned so much, and had so much fun for the first 100 weeks in a row, but it is a great responsibility, and the little painful experiences add up.

Why don’t they flood the stores with copies of the various public play event instead of stingily handing them out like golden tickets.

4 tedluck February 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I also think the adventure and maps are enough compensation. If there are any other people who enjoy DMing like myself who don’t have a lot of time or people to run home games, then just getting to DM is reward in and of itself.

My store also puts a lot of the onus on DMs for collecting DCI numbers and turning in trackers, etc. They fail to report the information to Wizards on a regular basis, though we did get our bonus adventure on time last season. Until I read about the really supportive store of yours, I didn’t imagine that it could be different. Makes me wish there was something I could do to help support and promote Encounters on their behalf because I’d love to see us running multiple tables for more than one season. We had two tables during Evard, but haven’t had much more than 5-7 players a week since Neverwinter started.

5 Taed February 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Frankly, when I DM, I really just want a “thank you”, which I (or other DMs) rarely get. I always thank my DM after a session, but even with that prompting, other players rarely chime in. The lack of a “thank you” irks me.

For the holidays two months back, I gave my DMs a “Merry-Crit-Mas” gift certificate to our store.

6 Lahrs February 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I have been running Encounters since the start of the second season, and when I mean running, I mean running the whole show. Our store provides the tables and gets the kits in, and that is it. I am in no way complaining about the hands off approach from the store as the owner is quite accommodating in pretty much anything I ask for, but it does fall on my shoulders. I also do the weekly reporting, run the Facebook page (not that that is a huge burden, but still, just one more thing to do) and work on recruiting. Fortunately, I have some players who do a great job in that department, one even made business cards to hand out, quite impressive.

Two weeks ago, I sat back and looked at all I am doing. Currently, I DM Encounters, I occasionally DM LFR or Lair Assault on Saturdays (though currently running Tomb of Horrors) and then DM my home campaign on Fridays. It is exhausting and quite frankly I am at the end of what I can handle.

The DM rewards kit with Tomb of Horrors, the calendar, some free packs of Fortune cards, they all went a long way and have been missing them, the condition and initiative cards that we have been getting recently are repetitive and never used. Sometimes it is just a gesture of appreciation that is needed. Getting paid on one hand is nice, but I would then feel obligated and I do not want D&D to become a job, I already have one of those. On the other hand, not only am I spending a lot of time running these programs for free, but as a DM I am expected to purchase a lot more material. Keeping up with all the books and minis alone has been very expensive. Some help along those lines would be a huge relief.

I do reuse the maps in my home campaign, and LFR when I can fudge the location a bit. The maps alone reduce my prep time by a considerable amount and there is something to be said for that. I think the best payment that a DM can receive is for someone else to step up and give us the occasional break.

7 BL February 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Hi all
I agree with the writer. I DM the last Encounters session and got screwed out of the bonus adventure. The owner of the store does not seem to really want to carry D&D stuff and always says the D&D makes him no money. His money comes from “Magic” and “Warhammer” players. There is a tiny sign for Encounters. We dont do Lair Assault, Encounters advertising is poor and that sucks. These are great programs from WOTC and should be advertised more. More people would buy D&D items if they knew more about it and got to try it out.

I try to recruit but the owner just doesnt seem to give a crap. Thats sad because he is missing out on some key business. Bad marketing strategy, I think. Oh well its his money…oh wait, he not getting money from D&D players, I forgot.

Great article!

8 Josh Cooper February 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm

On top of keeping the adventure and the various gifts (initiative cards FTW!), my game store compensates me with $5 in in-store credit for DM’ing. I’ve even joke with the owner that I am an unofficial employee who he pays $260 a year. Usually, the credit gets turned around and used for purchasing materials that come out for D&D, which in turn makes me a better DM and able to provide a better gaming experience to the players.

It really comes down to whether organized role-playing is something your local store wishes to support or not. Compensating DM’s allows DM’s to continue to invest in both the game and the store itself, which in turn boosts the organized game play and keeps seats filled and money flowing into the store. At my store (which is also a coffee shop, so small purchases are easier), a purchase of at least $5 in other merchandise (or a $5 gift token to be used on a later purchase) is required to play Encounters. This allows the owner to compensate me without losing money at his store, as well as invests the players in the store, which promotes the community.

It’s really an example of capitalism at its finest. The game and store have worth to the players, because they have invested money in the store in order to play the game and experience which I provide. The owner of the store is invested in me and the players, because the players are his customers, and not just squatters who take up valuable real estate in the hope that they might buy a book at some point, and I am making the experience fun in order that the players may return for future games. I am invested in the game and store because I enjoy the experience I create, and I know that I am valued by both the players and the store. And now, as the senior DM, I am able to recruit other DM’s from within our player base because they see the system dynamic and wish to be a part of it.

All told, it has served to make the Encounters program into a wonderful community of players around my store. At least 3 separate home D&D games (as well as several Pathfinder, World of Darkness, and other tabletop role playing games), including one DM’ed by me, have sprung out of relationships made between players at Encounters tables. Would I still be DM’ing were I not compensated? Probably. But does the experience as a whole benefit because I am compensated? Definitely.

9 Thorynn February 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm

@Panzerleader Or better yet, sell them as adventures after the current season! DMs would get the encounters adventures and maps early, more people would get to benefit from the content and WotC could make a few bucks off guys like me that want to play undermountain again, or get in on seasons I’ve missed. I get that its supposed to be exclusive and draw people in to the store, but do that for awhile, then release it to the general public the way Pathfinder does with their 4-star GM exclusive mods. It just doesn’t make sense not to release them.

10 Alton February 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Personally, I find DMing encounters to be extremely satisfying, and the cool rewards are great to top things off. My store owner give me free reign to game when I want. He encourages it, but the next step is always mine. We only seem to get the same 5 to turn out every week. It is sad, but the owner does not want to spend the money to advertise.

I try to get my players to do that for me. It is not working very well. The niche here is small and cannot be tapped. I have tried to entice my players to purchase either books or subscribe to D&D Insider. No one can afford anything(supposedly), but they can afford video games for 70$ a pop.

I love to DM though, and would not expect any compensation from the store owner for any of my time spent in the store. Heck, he is giving me free space to play which more than makes up for any compensation.

11 Kiel Chenier February 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm

My only issue with D&D Encounters is that it’s become the go to “D&D night” for a lot of experienced players.

The Encounters program seems like a fantastic introduction to the game for new players, but it seems to only attract returning players week after week.

I think there should be a few pages of info in the Encounters booklets on how DMs or players can expand the world of a specific season of Encounters for a campaign of their very own. Players seem to get used to the structure of the Encounters program, and they should be encouraged to branch out and play their own games with friends.

Encounters is merely a stepping stone to playing D&D. It shouldn’t be the whole of the D&D experience.

12 Baffal February 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I DM Encounters every other season and play during the other season. We’ve recently had a lot of players drop out to play board games on Wednesdays (they wait around for our weekly campaign that we play after Encoutners) and it largely has to do with the other players.

I stay committed to Encounters partly because I enjoy teaching new players and helping them to appreciate the scope of the game. So many Encounters players show up expecting a table-top combat board game that it is a struggle to get them to answer the question “what is your character doing?” outside of combat.

But the new players that really want to role play and explore the whole game make the time worth it.

One thing I didn’t see mentioned is the motivation to DM Encounters to give back to the game store that gives me so much. My FLGS, Zombie Planet in Albany, NY, helped me rediscover D&D and has been a source of materials, advice, encouragement and has been generous with giving us tables for the occassional weekend game where we don’t have a home. Encounters brings in new players and that’s what your FLGS needs to keep growing their business. I feel like I’m paying them back to some degree :)

13 Feeroper February 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I think the thing we have to keep in mind is that WotC is providing us this stuff at no cost. Sure its technically advertising the game for them, but they are generally very fun sessions to be involved in. The reason that I say this is because if you look at the competition – Pathfinder Society GM’s have to purchase their scenarios to run (although only about $3 or $4, it is a pdf so if you dont have ian ipad or similar tablet then you need to pay for printing the materials) and then it is suggested that they also purchase the associated GameMastery Flip-Mats and Map Packs that are used in the scenario.

As far as I have seen, there are no rewards sent out to PFS GMs (although I could be wrong) and it is expected that the GMs always organize everything in regards to player membership #’s and other book keeping things. It is completely divorced from the store environment.

Not to harp of PFS, but I think what WotC provided for D&D Encounters DMs and Players is great by comparison.

One last note – for those of you who got the short end of the straw in regards to the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan reward – email WotC customer service about it like I did! They are not pleased that these stores are willing to get all the promotional Magic material, but toss D&D Encounters to the side because its not a huge money maker like Magic is. The thing is that this program is getting people in every week who want to play D&D, or learn about it – potential new customers! This is why the DM rewards exist to begin with! At the very least explain your case if you have a troublesome store owner and see what your options are. I did, and was sent the DM rewards as a result.

Here is a link to ther site explaining how to post the question to their customer service team:

http://wizards.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2196

Just add in a question via this online form and they get back to you within 24 hours (business days that is).

14 Rick Hansen February 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I always thank my DM, but I think a good DM should be compensated in some manner. I got my DM a Xmas present this year and we loan each other stuff all the time because we’re both geeks and decent friends. I take it upon myself to bring doughnuts to each game, and I think if all players put forth some kind of effort, the DM would always feel appreciated.

15 Sunyaku February 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm

DMs at our store receive no compensation other than a copy of the mod. Our Organizer is also not an employee, and receives no additional benefits for volunteering. Fortunately, someone from the store does enter all the player data that we supply. I can tell that we’re starting to have DM fatigue at our store though. A lot of the veterans that play/run seem to be getting kind of bored of the encounters program… the combat isn’t all that challenging/interesting, and the storylines have been relatively weak (Phantom Brigade was the last really good one). Attendance is still good, but things feel more like… a “chore” than they used to. I think people are coming out more to just socialize and play “a game”.

16 Frank February 14, 2012 at 7:25 am

Getting to be a DM again after nearly 20 years hiatus is its own reward. Encounters gives me the chance to DM in my busy schedule.

17 William February 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

Our store is the largest in Canada (Yes I am a Canuck) and we usually have 5 tables running. We bring in a fair number of people, and the store does a good trade in people picking up core books, dice, snacks ect. Usually when I walk in the store right around closing, there are 5 or 6 people in line from encounters picking up a new product. I tell you this because the store compensates the DM’s with store credit, $10+$1 for each player at your table. We had a fair amount of DM turnover in our encounters program and this was the only way the store had to keep people showing up to run. If the store gets ahead, Wizards gets ahead, and I get ahead, what’s the problem?

18 Randilin February 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I was a player in the first season (although I have run it since for other groups) and since then I’ve been a Dungeon Master for the encounters program. During the course of the two years or so I’ve been involved with two different stores who handled things very differently.

At one store I did the majority of the heavy lifting. I organized the players into tables made sure that the rewards were handed out, and that the information was recorded and collected. The store own was diligent in submitting information to Wizards but the demands on the DM’s grew over time. I approached him several times to try and arrange something for the DM’s but nothing ever really came of the discussions, other then a small discount on new products if pre-ordered or purchased on certain days.

For this last season I switched to a different store. I moved for a lot of different reason but compensation was certainly one of them. At the new store they have a system of Game Store Bucks(GSB). As a DM I get $2 GSB for DMing and then one more for every two players that I have at the event. One average I make about $5 worth of GSB a session. Sometimes it gets used on snacks other times I save it up and make a larger purchase with it on whatever I want. The choice is mine and I’m grateful for the thanks I receive for running things at his store.

19 QuackTape February 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm

At my store, I basically get the employee discount which has definitely added up over time (especially now that I’m getting into wargaming).

Another local store has the players buy tickets for $2 each which they then “pay” to the DM to sit at the table and play. These tickets are then good for the DM to use for in store credit. So every week the DM gets $10+ in store credit assuming they only run one game (though I believe they run two times each week). It also enforces players to reserve their seats at the table and follow through with arriving where my open game can have sporadic attendance.

20 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

@everyone
I want to thank everyone for their comments. I was somewhat reluctant to post this article and I was concerned that even broaching this topic might be out-of-bounds. I was worried it might seem like I was coming off as being greedy and looking for a payday (which was not the case at all).

I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who’s thought about this and I’m even more pleased to learn that a lot of other stores a) charge their players a modest fee and b) compensate the DMs. Please keep those comments coming in.

When I talk about this with my FLGS owners about the possibility of compensation I’m going to ask them to read these comments to get an idea of what some other stores are doing that works.

@William
Dungeon’s Master is based in Toronto. Where in Canada are you? (Feel free to include a link to your FLGS.)

21 Eamon February 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I’m new to D&D, but I’ve been attending the past two seasons of Encounters off and on. Why don’t more DMs just put out a tip jar? I tip bartenders, karaoke DJs, and the tamale guy for far less.

22 Matt February 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm

@Eamon
That is a great idea as long as your store doesn’t have an issue… I’m going to DM the next season (we altenate on and off between seasons at Zombie Planet in Albany, NY http://zombie-planet.com/ ) so I just might put out a jar next season :)

23 TheSheDM February 5, 2013 at 3:38 pm

I find it a little bit condescending to think DMs already “get the privilege” of coming in to run Encounters. By this thinking, apparently my “privilege” includes committing a huge chunk of my personal free time (I work full time, one night a week is significant), getting weekly homework (prepping because I take pride in running a good game), and dealing with players that I may not personally like at all (and I’m not saying terrible jerks that should be kicked out, I’m saying not every DM gets the type of players they prefer to DM for). I do it anyway and work my butt off to recruit more players because I love this game.

Get paid? That’s really got to be up to the store. I know some stores do a fee, even WotC’s site mentions its okay to charge a fee, but I don’t think its something DMs should assume they’re entitled to and I’m personally not fond of the idea.

I really feel like WotC should carefully consider the occasional extra reward for DMs, and that the rewards don’t need to be expensive or really fancy – but some variety could be useful. Not every DM really needs a new level 1 adventure every four months (oh gee, this’ll be perfect for my 16th level home group!)

24 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 5, 2013 at 7:57 pm

@TheSheDM
An excellent DM reward (in my opinion) would be a conversion kit at the end of the season that would allow the DMs to run the same adventure for high level characters. My home group does not participate in D&D Encounters and is well past returning to a level 1 adventure. However, if I had a way to use the D&D Encounters adventure and maps again with, say, a level 16 party I’d be one very happy DM.

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