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One time I got paid to be a Dungeon Master

One time I got paid to be a Dungeon Master

I have an odd perception of children.

It’s about duration of exposure. You know in my day job I sometimes deal with radiation, and it comes with a great acronym. ALARA. As Low As Reasonably Achievable. When you are dealing with something radioactive as part of your job, you can’t not be exposed. Exposure is inevitable, so it’s your job to manage the exposure so you get the job done and don’t glow in the dark afterword.

Kids are the same way, I find. Manage your exposure and you’ll have a more positive experience. Of course you can’t do that if you are the parent of that child. In that case you’ve got that little chunk of plutonium hanging on to your leg for the next eighteen years. A little bundle of energy that’s going be slinging excited particles at you till it reaches it’s half life. So sometimes when you need to ask someone, even a family member, to mind your little fissible offspring it can feel like a big ask.

When my brother asked me to be Dungeon Master for his son and four to six of his friends it was with the attitude of, “I understand if you don’t want to expose yourself to this explosive and energetic situation I’ve created.” But to me it sounded exciting. I've been DM’ing for years, but always for adults. Kids sounded like a challenge.

Day of the game, I don’t think I’ve ever been warned / apologized to as much in a single five minute period. All the dads of these kids kept walking up to me and asking me if I was prepared, and hey if you want to cut this short or if the kids get out of hand just let us know. For a minute I was concerned that maybe I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. But I knew that I had a secret weapon. D&D is fun, you see. So I sent the dads on their way with a beer and a pat on the back, and sorted out character sheets.

There’s a great moment as a DM, when you do the first character voice, and eyes widen and grins appear and you know you’ve got their attention. Then, by the time they are asking you if they can roll the dice instead of prompting them to roll dice that you know you have their minds. At the end, when they cheer for each other and gasp at the danger, and gape as the Sphinx arrives suddenly to declare their destiny is special and the future is full of wonder and danger, that you know you got into their souls. It is as close as I’ve come to finding what I’ve searched for as an author. An exuberant audience.

When it was over, the dads came over and asked me how it went, and again, apologized for whatever had happened that had their kids shouting and talking over each other. In the moment I felt the need to jump to the kids’ defense. They were great, and we had an awesome time, and I’d be happy to do it again in a heartbeat. Then one of them tried to pay me.

I’m not sure why he wanted to give me money. He did it through my brother, which was a kindness, because it turned out that taking that money felt pretty good. I was able to just tell my brother what email address to pass along, and then I had money to take my wife out to dinner. It was an unexpected reward for something that is a joy to do. An act of support for something that didn’t feel like work. I wish it happened every time I DM (note: this is not me asking my regular players for tips). But I felt that instead of being indignant at having someone pay me like I was a birthday clown, it was a fulfillment of my dream as an author. Someone paid me for my story.