Every Person Has a Struggle and a StoryI was working as a manager of a cell phone store, and I had been doing so for about six months. I had weathered the winter, the holiday season, and had turned a rathole of a store into a much more professional place. I felt that I had accomplished a lot, and I did it in only about 40 hours of work a week. My regional manager had helped me a lot to get settled, and things were looking alright.
Then, my local friend John stepped into my store and changed my outlook on what I could do. I have always know that I've wanted to do something in entertainment, but it took a complete stranger to tell me that I shouldn't be afraid to try. He's a recovering cancer patient in his mid-60s, and he has his own ideas of what he want to do with and for people in business. I act as a sounding board for his own ideas, and I help him clerically with his ventures, which are going well. His confidence in himself and my abilities got me through the first few months of uncertainty.
With a good amount of savings but no real plan for the future, I resigned from my position after a "come to God" kind of conversation with my regional manager.
"Are these other projects and your friends more important than your job?" he asked.
"You know, I really think they are" I responded.
"Well, can you at least give me two weeks so I can replace you?" I did, and it was the least I could do for a guy that pushed the wrong underling. I worked there because it was challenging, and I liked cleaning up the mess. I wasn't chasing commission checks, and I wasn't spending more time there than I needed to in a market of 3,000 people where 500 of them owe my store/company money.
After the holiday season, every new "promotion" was lipstick on a pig that just kept getting uglier. It was exhilarating to tell The Man to get lost after cleaning up years of neglect and misrepresentation from the last manager, and then being informed that my higher-ups wanted me to work "60 to 70 hours a week like the other managers do." I guess most people are just desperate to be employed. I'll tell you that being your own boss is challenging, but every moment you get do blame you for what happens and not anyone else.
Houston, We Have Liftoff
I experimented around with streaming games on Twitch for a couple of months. I had some success, but nothing that was even close to being able to pay the few bills that I had. I was doing some odd jobs for my new friend John, but I really did need more if I was going to make this life choice work. Then, I heard about Fantasy Grounds from Dragon+ on my phone, and it seemed to be everything I was looking for in a virtual tabletop. I had been a Dungeon Master since I was a Sophomore in high school off and on through D&D 3rd and 4th editions, and I was starting to pick up the core books and first few adventures for D&D 5th Edition.
I loved D&D 5th more than any other edition or RPG I'd played, so I invested in the core modules on Fantasy Grounds and started running games for D&D Adventurer's League. I streamed them on Twitch, and after about a month I got the most important email of my life:
"I'll pay you $50 to run..."
I almost died of excitement.
I had honed my Dungeon Master craft for over a decade, and now I was being given a shot to run a game professionally.
My patron has always wished to remain anonymous, and was obviously impressed because the same day after our first session together:
"I'll pay you $100 a session, and here are the dates and times:"
Since September 2015 I've been running two to three sessions to week on average. Many of the games that my patron has set up as publicly listed on alonlinetools.net are not attended by said patron, but are ran for the public in stride out of my patron's generosity. Most people don't know that, but enjoy the benefits nonetheless.
The First Customer is the Most Important
I can't highlight enough how my first patron has changed my life. Without my patron, I would still be a lone nut out here on the Internet looking to create a whole new profession. Now I have three regular patrons, with occasional support by a handful of other brave adventurers. I'm hoping the trend continues and I can expand this into multiple storytellers and systems. Before you know it we'll be making a movement towards tons of memorable and awe-inspiring "you had to be there" moments.
Now it's official, but even if people still laugh when I tell them "I run Dungeons & Dragons games professionally," I'll be sharpening all of my creative and business skills every day on a sword of fantasy and improvisation. I'm more than happy to share my story with the world to tell you that if you're out there looking for a way to be a professional storyteller, you are no longer crazy.
You can do this, and you should do this.
A Word of Warning and Disclaimer
Results not typical. It takes a village to raise a storyteller. Make sure you have the experience and the support you need to journey down a road that could be a little intimidating and barren when you first embark.
In my next blog I'll be discussing why professional storytelling is valuable and the negotiation points to consider when it comes to putting together an agreement for a storytelling gig.