In this episode of the RPGBOT.News, we talk to Devon Chulick, co-founder of StartPlaying.Games and professional Dungeon Master. We discuss how Devon got his start as a professional Dungeon Master, how that grew into StartPlaying.Games, a site for players to find game masters (both paid and free), and how you can become a professional Game Master.
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Materials Referenced in this Episode
- Devon Chulick
- Other Stuff
- A Song of Ice and Fire RPG (affiliate link)
- Achtung Cthulhu (affiliate link)
- Avatar Legends RPG
- Blades in the Dark RPG (affiliate link)
- Carbon 2185 (affiliate link)
- Choose Your Own Adventure
- Curse of Strahd (affiliate link)
- Lord of the Rings
Image by Ulrich B. from Pixabay.
Welcome to the RPGBOT dot News. I’m Randall James and with me is Tyler Kamstra.
And Ash Eli.
Ash Ely 00:26
And today we have a special guest with us, Devon Chulick.
Devon Chulick 00:30
Hey, everyone, my name is Devon, I’m one of the cofounders of Start Playing, the number one place to find games groups and Game Masters.
Awesome. Awesome. Tyler, what is happening?
Well, today we brought Devon Chulick on to talk to us a little bit about being a professional Dungeon Master, or Game Master, depending on what game you’re playing. So my understanding is Devon, you’ve done this for a fairly long time. And you’re one of the biggest names in the professional GM space. So you’re kind of an expert on the subject, especially since you run StartPlaying.games. So we brought you on so we can kind of pick your brain about like how this all works, what the state of the world is and where things are going.
First, let’s just start with the fact that I am flattered that you’ve considered me one of the biggest names in the space. Oh my goodness, I have to make a call to my mother and tell her like, Listen, you thought this was all a fool’s dream. Oh, the fool now mom. No. I, you know, I don’t think of it like that. But, you know, I do think that I saw that people want to play this game. And it came together very easily for me. And, and I’m really excited to chat with y’all. And I’m really excited to talk about like, what it’s like to be a pro game master and how other people can do it and what it means and how to do it really well.
So before we step into your game mastering history, what is your history with TTRPGs?
Devon Chulick 02:01
Okay, so, all right, we gotta go back to my mom again. The very, very first experience was actually a Choose Your Own Adventure book that had a dice component. And I was like four years old, and I saw this book in a bookstore. And I was like, I want this. And I was like, you don’t know how to read most of this. And it was like, before kindergarten, the book looks so cool. I think it was like a Barbarian of finding an Orc. And she read it and I got to roll the dice. And that was my first experience of like, role playing, right? And then I’m older. I’m like, 12 I’m at the game store. And I see these people around a table and playing this game. And I’m like, buying like a Spider Man comic. I go over what are you playing? And I just hear the game happening. I’m like this. I need this. And I played I played one game of the game store. And afterwards, I immediately bought the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I didn’t even buy the players guys. Like I need to create the world and do this part. I knew, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a Dungeon Master.
Okay, what edition was this?
Devon Chulick 03:05
Third, third. So 3.5 hadn’t come out yet. Third was out. Third had like just come out. I think.
Okay. Awesome. Awesome. You’re in good company then.
Devon Chulick 03:15
I’ve never had to do thoughtco. So this is great cry.
Cross your fingers. He doesn’t come back and 5.5 or six. Why is everybody go into the exit doors? We were just getting started. The game it’s way it’s meant to be played.
Devon Chulick 03:31
Here’s it here’s the thing. If Wizards doesn’t release something like Unearthed Arcana on April 1 Next year, with Thoughtco as it like they’ve missed a huge opportunity. That’s just like the biggest troll.
This year is this year’s April Fool’s joke was that they were going to release Spelljammer this year.
Devon Chulick 03:54
Yeah. That’s such a good troll. That’s such a good troll.
Ash Ely 03:59
Right? It turned out to be real.
Devon Chulick 04:00
Yeah, it’s quite so good.
Ash Ely 04:03
It wasn’t very good troll. Okay. Real.
Devon Chulick 04:07
These days. You know, April Fool’s is just soft launches for any product, right? It’s like, we made this crazy sandwich and they’re like, oh, everyone really liked it. Well, guess what we actually did? You know April Fool’s is like it’s just a soft launch for any wild idea.
Yeah. Okay, if you have a terrible good idea sitting at home like that’s the perfect time to test the waters. Yeah, right.
Ash Ely 04:28
You get people excited twice once for like, oh, they announced it and then they realize oh, it’s April Fool’s. And then they confirm and then like, you guys are heroes… you’re actually doing it!
I’m still waiting for the KFC game console to be a real thing.
Devon Chulick 04:47
He did your chicken to write like that was like think about that energy efficiency. I need to I need to play Skyrimm for the 50th time just so I get this chicken hot. So speaking of which, so you played the game, you became a DM. Tell us about becoming a professional DM. Yeah, that’s a good segue. Right?
Devon Chulick 05:08
Yeah. So, you know, I was running tons of games, we’ll 5e came out. And I remember I ran, I ran a game for some friends. And it really got back into it. And I got back into it hard. And I was running, like, at least one game a week for new people. I was already running a weekly game with some friends, but I was just constantly doing like, you know, learn to play games with just anyone, all my friends. And, and, you know, I’m really popular. So that was a lot of friends. So, but it got to the point where then i was running games for friends of friends, because like, you know, I’d gone through all my friends and they were bringing their friends and, and so, and then someone’s like, oh, my gosh, my office would love this, if you like, would you? Could we like hire you to come and run this? It was like, Huh, okay. Yeah, we started thinking, I was like, I wonder if other people would pay and so that, that planted the seed. And so I went and I made a website over a weekend. And in within two weeks, I was one of the top, I was, I was the first result in San Francisco for hire a Game Master, hired Dungeon Master. And then before you knew it, I had a I had a booking within a week after that, and and then a week later, I had another booking. And within the first two months, I had five bookings. And I was like, Oh, this is actually a lot. And I was like, I’m gonna start turning some of this down. Again, it’s gonna actually be twice as much like, that’s fine. I was like, all right. San Francisco there is a lot of tech money. So I just kept saying yes to things. And before I knew it, I was I was actually like hiring other game masters to run games, because like, I didn’t have the time. I had my full time job. I was just moonlighting doing this, I was running it for companies. So it was so many games happening. And one of one of the investors of StartPlaying, he was a client. And he asked me, before I started this, Hey, I need… I need a Game Master in Chicago. Do you know anyone? And I was like, wow, I don’t, that’s kind of a problem. I want to fix that. And that was, was the seed of thought that you know, eventually grew and to StartPlaying.
Okay, I want to go back a moment. So you said you started bringing people on to to be game masters represented through the company, I have to ask, what’s that interview like?
Devon Chulick 07:21
Um, so there was no interview?
What is it? What is that conversation? Like? It’s like, Hey, have you ever done this before? I own the books. Yeah.
Devon Chulick 07:29
It’s like, it’s like I knew other game masters who, like ran, like after school programs. So you know, this one game master, he runs after school program for at risk youths, like, LGBTQ plus youth. And I was like, Oh, you’re great with kids? Do you want to run this kid’s game? I have very little patience for children. And he’s like, I would love to. And so that happened, and then you know, another game master that I knew that I’ve played with just around I was like, Hey, do you want to do a corporate game, I kind of walked him through the basics. And so he and this is before I even started start playing this is when I was just kind of doing it just had my namesake. And it people loved it. And if you have a few folks that really enjoy storytelling, it’s just a little bit of customer service on top of that, and that’s really what started the whole process.
Ash Ely 08:17
So you mentioned that you you were offered a kid a gig for a group of kids, but she had to take it. So what kind of groups do you typically DM for? Do you DM mostly for adults, veterans, new players to D&D? Like, what’s your typical demographic?
Devon Chulick 08:36
Yeah, so I don’t run games for anyone anymore. Except that you know, like my friends on Sunday, you know, I run one game a week with my homies because I spent so much time trying to make sure other GMs have games to run. But my favorite was my favorite is always people that are new to the game. That’s always my favorite. The reason being is I love the light switch moment that the light bulb on where someone gets that, like D&D is not linear, and that they really can do anything. And they… then they realize, like, oh, oh, and you just can see it on their face. And then like, I stand up on the bar, and I challenge him to a duel, and you’re like, you get so stoked that they get it and then they’re diving head in. And you’re like, Yeah, I’m gonna meet you right there. And, and that is exciting. That is that when people realize that they can play, you know, even though like you’re not a kid anymore. And when we’re kids we play right. That’s the thing we do. We make up rules. I have a laser shield. Well, I have a lava gun. We do this. But now we created physics and rules for it. And we play because you don’t use your imagination with other adults, outside of work. You might use your imagination to solve a problem in the office, but you never like sit down and actually play when you’re usually an adult. And D&D, and tabletop are one of the few things that allow us to do that. It’s one of the few things that allow us to actually use our imagination together.
At all. Also say usually my work solutions don’t involve lava pistols. So still some deficiency in the workplace. That’s all I’m saying.
Ash Ely 10:08
Absolutely. So that progression like those first couple of games that you ran, versus when things really got going and you were in your groove.
Devon Chulick 10:17
Like, how did the game change? What are the things that you learned as you transition from being a Game Master, to a professional game master,
Devon Chulick 10:25
You know, like you, you end up with a checklist, you end up with like, really figuring out like, the best way to onboard people. That’s a good, that’s a great example, like onboarding people to a game is very, very diff. Like, who’s everyone here? We’ve all played board games, right? We’ve all had that moment of like, do I really want to play this board game, when you get out the rules, all the pieces, you’re like, Oh, this looks like a burden. But when someone’s played it before, and they start walking you through, they set everything up… listen, don’t worry about the rules, we’ll just, you’ll learn as we play you like oh, and it removes the burden removes the onboarding, you ever make a character for a system you don’t know? That’s a nightmare?
Ash Ely 11:03
Yeah. You know, but if if someone gives you a pre Gen, it’s so much easier to play because you don’t have to, like focus on creating a character on a game that you’ve never even played before. So I started realizing what are all the sticking points for people, and what gets people confused. And I made it, I’ve probably introduced over 500 people to the hobby, myself.
Devon Chulick 11:26
Just running games for new people. And that was so rewarding to like to see how many people just like got so excited about it. And it made it easy for them to get started. So they could just start playing.
Ash Ely 11:38
So did you have regular customers like that you would run long term campaigns for or were they mostly like one shots that you would do just like one time for groups,
Devon Chulick 11:48
I had a, I would probably say around 30% of my clientele were repeat. On the other end, the other 70% were like, Hey, we’ve always wanted to learn this, we want to do a big event. And a lot of people like we want to play we we think we know how to play this game. But we’d like to have a pro and then you know, we could do it afterwards. There’s like sometimes it’s like teaching people like what, what is the DM look like, a GM look like.
That makes really good sense. I have one more question to kind of poke at the structure of this. And then I then I have other questions? Do you put a size limit? On a party, you talked about corporate events. In my workplace, my boss says occasionally, I was like, it’d be awesome. Like you should all teach us how to play. And it’s like, there’s like 12 of us at minimum, no matter how you chop it. And that’s a nightmare.
Devon Chulick 12:33
You know, a lot of I mean, like, I remember, I ran like a 10 person bachelor party. That was, you know, but that’s a good time. You know, at a certain point you’d like, I’m gonna throw out a lot of the rules, I’m not gonna get too caught up, we’re here to have fun. So let’s keep it fast. But you know, like any good GM, you kind of like, you read the room, you realize, like, let’s go ahead and tweak some things to make sure everyone’s having a good time. You know, if you’re good at reading people, you’d make a great, you know, pro GM, because you kind of understand what people are looking for and what they want out of the night. And if it’s a bachelor party is like, cool, let’s just make sure it has a great time. If it’s an ongoing campaign, like, okay, let’s make sure like people get what they want out of this. These days, though. We start playing, we do a lot of corporate events. And we usually tell all of our clients, you know, you should have five or six people per group. But all our GMs, they write original content for all our corporate games. So you know, you get someone like, I can’t say their name, but you know, it rhymes with boogle… up and they’re like, Hey, we have 50 people, I want to do a game. Cool, we’re gonna break you up into groups of five or six, you’re all going to play in the same universe, and you’re all gonna get to come together afterwards and talk about what you affected. So it’s like, Oh, I was in the sewers, because of the rapid ones. Oh, my gosh, the we heard the Wizard talking about that. And so all the gyms get together and they write a story that overlaps. So everyone can come together afterwards and talk about their story and see how they connect.
Devon Chulick 12:58
Yeah, that’s really cool.
Yeah, I can imagine in that scenario, like one of the player characters decides to run away for some inexplicable reason actually gets picked up by another table.
Devon Chulick 14:08
Yeah. Right. That, you know, they sometimes like well, we can mix it you know, we have a handful of corporate companies that a you know, it’s every month they like to play and so, you know, they really like the idea the stories are interconnected. So it’s kind of like, you know, some people are going for the Riders of Rohan, some people are trying to go to Mount Doom, but they’re all playing the same story.
Yeah, that is awesome. I feel like this makes me want to ask like a bigger question. I’m a person at home listening to this. And I’m thinking, maybe getting a pro DM for my friends is a good idea. How would you suggest somebody make that decision?
Devon Chulick 14:42
I would actually say, you know, even more so there’s probably people out there that don’t have the group because the schedule doesn’t line up. Or like, you know, they’ve moved away or like, you know, that’s like a big thing is a lot of people don’t have the group anymore. That’s one of the great reasons to join a pro GM’s game, because you know, on our site, we have, you know, open slots, so people can just like join with others. But the thing is, we noticed that these people end up becoming like, really fast friends, because if you want to become friends with someone, you play D&D with them. Because again, like our minds are tricked into that we’ve experienced these things, because we’re using our imagination. So he’s like, Oh, this is Jeff, we killed 1000 spiders together, we’re very good friends, you know. And then we’re hearing these stories about players go to each other’s weddings. And, you know, we hear about like the, you know, these kind of gift exchanges that are happening. So these really strong relationships are formed in these kinds of games in these micro communities. And, you know, if you already have a group of friends, you’re looking for a GM. Yeah, it’s convenience. You also don’t want to have to do it, you want to bring someone in that fold, just take care of everything for you. And you want to focus on the fun with your friends. And sometimes we have a week and like, oh, I need to like run this game. And then it becomes a burden. And the fun shouldn’t be a burden. And we, if we can facilitate fun, and you’re not feel burden, then great.
Now coming at this from a player perspective, let’s say I’m in a group who’s going to be using a professional DM for the first time, how does that change how the game feels from the player side?
Devon Chulick 16:11
So here’s like what I’ve noticed this is because we… on our website, we allow people to run free games as well. The attendance rate of free games is very low. Really interesting. When money’s on the line people like yeah, I’m paying for this, because I want to play the game. And a lot of times people like say they want to, they want to join the D&D group with friends, because they just like the people. And they’re not, they’re not interested in the game. And they’re usually the ones that are also like, I got something else I kind of got to do tonight, and they’re gonna they’re gonna bail. And then the group feels like ahhh… or, you know, they feel the flakiness isn’t healthy for the group. Sometimes they’re like, Well, you know, Greg’s never here. And then people get frustrated. So you see a lot of buy in when people end up joining like a pro game, because they’re all there for the same reason. They want to have a great experience. It’s very much that when you go to the movies, everyone’s at that movie, because they want to see it, they’re really excited for that, you know, you do have every now and again, like a few folks that like cause disturbance, whatever. But you know, when you when you get together with all these people, and you’re like we are so into this, we are so ready. Let’s slay some freakin ghouls. And let’s you know, like, become friends with a shambling mound. And we see a really high buy in from that, you know,
That it makes sense. Like to follow the analogy, you know what I set up a projector and a sheet in my backyard and invite the neighborhood to watch, you know, some, you know, a bootleg copy of Shaft, and nobody shows up. But maybe maybe that’s why maybe the movie theater experience is really what people are craving.
Ash Ely 17:39
I think that’s also part of it is that when you’re paying for an experience, there’s the true or not the expectation of quality, that if you’re if you’re doing a free game, then it’s like, Well, this guy could just be an amateur and not know what he’s doing. But if you’re paying someone’s like, I’m paying this guy. So he clearly has a skill set that is worth paying for. So I’m going to attend the game. And yeah, it is a part of the money on the line thing. But I think it’s also that expectation of people think that something that is paid for is of higher quality.
Devon Chulick 18:13
Yeah, if you… if you’re being paid for it, you usually going to set or set aside time to make it great. If you’re not doing it, and you end up with no time to prep that week, no time to think about it. You know, like you something else is going to sacrifice first. Usually before you can, you know, I mean? Yeah, as much as we like, love this hobby. But, you know, sometimes like life does get in the way. And if you can say like, no, I… this time I’m being paid for this, I have to set aside this time to prep. You do get that experience.
Now since you’re probably playing with a dungeon master who you might not be familiar with, you probably don’t have that personal rapport. Is there a risk that the game turns adversarial, like has a paid DM ever gone off the rails and just been like, okay, we’re playing Tomb of Horrors. Now everybody get a new character sheet?
Well, and good.
Devon Chulick 19:01
Oh, no, obviously, I can 100% imagine that, especially with newer players, because I think veterans understand that we’re a team and we’re working together. But the newer players sometimes think it’s like, well, yeah, if you’re running the game the near my enemy, right?
Ash Ely 19:13
Devon Chulick 19:15
Yeah, you know, I mean, that kind of comes to onboarding, right? That comes to like how people are brought into the hobby and how people experience it. But our GMs are great at saying like, Hey, here’s, here’s like this, here’s this, here’s the tools are used for the game. Here’s the safety tools, like what do you not want mentioned, here’s some lines and veils are here’s an x card in case things get too intense. They also say like, I’m going to facilitate… and they present it that I’m gonna facilitate this adventure for you. And they also have expectations like, hey, you know, we’re all here to have fun. And I thought when I started this that people were going to be very demanding like, Listen, I’m paying you so I should get a really dope sword. And, and then we realize that people that are brand new don’t, they don’t have preconceived notions of what they have like this kind of expectation to demand. And, and veterans are like, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t want to pay to win. I want to win to win, you know, and so not as much as I thought there would be of this like kind of entitlement because of being paid. You know, people are just… but they are entitled to a great experience. And that doesn’t mean that they have to be given everything that just means they have to have fun.
Ash Ely 20:20
Jumping off of that. Sometimes I know that a lot of emotions can go into D&D, and especially with a group like of complete strangers, emotions can run high. Would you say that part of a DMs job is to act, paid DMs job is to act as mediator and suss out like what is working for the group and what isn’t, and sort of come to compromises and stuff like that.
Devon Chulick 20:46
Yeah, I mean, a lot of our GMs they’re very clear, you know, in their game listings of like, Hey, this is what the game is, like, this is what to expect. And so they draw the right players into their games, because they, they say, like, Hey, we’re gonna have a game, it’s gonna be this, these are the content warnings, this is the kind of play that I use, and this is what other the other players like. And then, you know, usually during play, that’s why you have things like, you know, the x card, the end card, or you have expectations that you talk about ahead of time, you know, like a social contract of sorts, that this is what’s allowed, this is and what isn’t. And then sometimes on the rare occasion that there is a bad fit. You know, players usually self regulate, they usually say, You know what, this isn’t the right GM for me, this isn’t the right group for me. And then you know, they go and they find that. So I think the big thing is, the more we explore this market, and the more we kind of explore this kind of this whole industry is people are matchmaking themselves because they know what they want. And GMs are kind of facilitating, making sure that everyone feels welcome. That’s such a political answer. That’s such like a politician like yeah, you know, but it’s true. You know, GMs really regulate things and so do players.
Yeah, it was a good answer. I think.
You nailed it. I think everybody at home is feeling pretty comfortable right now.
Ash Ely 22:02
Not all politics have to be bad.
It’s a politician’s answer being it’s like, yeah, no, that was exactly what I needed you to say. And I’m glad that you said it to me. So I’m a person at home and I’m thinking like, I could do that, like, I, I’m the regular game master. All of my friends say that I’m their favorite game master, mainly because I’m their only Game Master. And, you know, I, I, I want to give this a go. I want to get out there and see if, you know, are these people just being nice to me because they’re my friends. Or do I actually run a good game?
Devon Chulick 22:36
I’ve never had players be nice to me. No, gosh, I can’t. That my table is just a series of roasts. We just roast eachother. We think that we’re siblings by how mean we are to each other. And like these people were at my wedding. Oh my gosh, okay. Yeah. They were at the, they were they were like, right, they were like, my, they were my groom’s folk, you know. But yeah, so I’m sorry, what was the question?
I’m the person at home. And I’m thinking like, this sounds awesome. I want to be part of it. I want to try to run a pro game
Devon Chulick 23:16
Before we came along, it was a lot harder to be a pro GM, because you had to have a website, you had to have an outreach program, and you had to start building everything up and yet to attract clients. And the thing is, there’s not as many clients out there for groups, right. So there’s not as many groups looking for a GM, but there are a lot of individual people looking for a GM. So that’s one of the big things that we solve. So you know, if you wanted to become a GM, the first step is we got to join StartPlaying, you got to sign up for account and you’ve got to sign up to become a GM. But we have a whole onboarding where we walk you through what players kind of expect what some great data points on how to run your games, all the tools that we have available and how you can use those to ramp up as a GM and then we have a huge Discord that just all the pro GMs on our website, and they’re constantly trading information and working with each other and trying to build each other up. So there’s you know, and there’s other resources out there outside of us. I couldn’t… I don’t know anything about top my head, but it is possible and the main thing is everyone’s hesitant to start because like what if I’m not great enough? Okay. What if you aren’t? What did you lose? You know, there’s nothing to lose. If this is something you like, we have people that do this because they just want to be able to help pay their crippling miniatures you know, I need more miniatures not to paint.
You know, they’re publishing three books a year I gotta run a couple of sessions just to get them.
Devon Chulick 24:38
Exactly. So you know, we got some people are very casual button that’s do that. And they’re completely content with that they run one game week, we got other people who are now running eight to 10 games a week, and they’re full time.
I gotta say, though, like you’re talking about what do you have to lose? So my fear is, I’m thinking about them a little bit, right. But if, if I went to StartPlaying, and I got I logged in, I got signed up, and I went to be a GM. And I got to that first situation where somebody’s like, you know, I, hey, we’re going to do some underwater combat and I’m sitting there as a game masters. I’m not prepared for this. I don’t know what to do that basically that I would disappoint StartPlaying.
Devon Chulick 25:17
Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, the big thing is, you need to be clear with your players be like, Hey, listen, I haven’t been GMing for this long. And this is kind of the the type of games like to run and, you know, if you are not ready to run underwater rules that maybe you’re the GM that’s like, Hey, listen, I’m not super rules heavy. You know, me. I tell everyone, like, Listen, I’m gonna make up half these rules. If I don’t like this rule, I’m gonna make it something different. I’m gonna pull in seven different rules from other game systems to you know, I’m gonna be like jazz when it comes to rules. Oh, my guess. So. So, you know, but people know that. And then when it goes to play, and I say like, okay, you know what, we’re gonna use the clock mechanic from Blades in the Dark. Let’s do this. And everyone’s like, Oh, ugh. But they liked that they liked the fact that I’m just throwing you know, this freeform type of TableTop RPG at them. And other people like listen, I am RAW, I am rules as written. Alright, we will pause the game and I will look it up. And we will talk and debate in there are some players like yes, I’ve written so much.
I’m imagining the listing for like, hey, I want to get a group of rules, lawyers together. I want to play about 15 minutes of a game. And I want to spend three hours after that arguing over the tiniest minutia that actually came up during that game.
Devon Chulick 26:47
Like the law and order D&D, you know?
It’s a corporate event for a law firm. It was great.
Ash Ely 26:54
Yeah, exactly. So building off that it sounds like there’s a space for both players in DMs who prefer more Homebrews type of systems and players who just want to stick to the books that have been released and no homebrew, no supplementary materials sort of thing.
Devon Chulick 27:14
Yeah, you know, what I noticed is a lot of GMs. Like, you can send me the Homebrew and I’ll tell you if it’s okay. Or not. You know, because it’s kind of awkward. Yeah, maybe you don’t ever want to say no to everything. Yeah. Always kind of like, okay, like, Well, no, this is broken as, as all. You know. So, you know, there’s a lot of people who run, you know, just all homebrew. Like, I only run homebrew. Or when I used to, you know, when I used to run all the time, I’d only run homebrew. But there’s also a ton of people like, listen, I run Curse of Strahd, that’s all I run, I run Curse of Strahd on the high seas, it’s a pirate Curse of Strahd. You know, the blue collar GM does that. I believe it’s Friday, another one of our GMs. They run Christmas drive, but Strahd’s a she. And there’s this whole other part of like, how Strahd has been changed. There’s just so many variations on like, this is published, but we’re going to change it up. So it’s completely new. Or I’m going to run the book as it was written. So there’s a lot of variation to be had. That’s really cool. You mentioned that you originally started doing this around a day job. Yeah. So this was a side hustle. Is it still a side hustle? Are you running this thing full time at this point? Oh, so listen, this is this is actually a great segue. Look, can I tell you about the inception of this beautiful thing we call StartPlaying? That that will lead you to this the answer to this question. It was March 17. One day before the lockdown in San Francisco, because of the pandemic, I get a phone call from my now co founder, Nate. He’s like, I would like to hire you as a G as a Game Master. And I was like, oh, yeah, okay. Now Nate was going through Y Combinator which was a startup accelerator. And this, in the, in the product he was building he was not crazy about and he had in his head like, wow, it’d be really cool if I could do something until like maybe like find Game Masters and the higher game masters like bad it’s probably not a good idea, though. Who would want that? And but it’s still in the back of his head. He had it. I had just been collecting emails from other game masters because I was featured in Bloomberg. And so Game Masters would email me all the time be like, Hey, how can I do this? Mike? I don’t know yet. But give me your email. And I’m gonna start newsletter. I’m going to start coming with ideas. So I had several 100 GMs on this newsletter. And so the neat column is like, Hey, I’d like to hire you as a game master. So Oh, yeah. Okay. And then he started asking me product questions. Now I’m a product designer by day. I was like, What are you building? He’s like, Oh, I’m not building anything. But I just thought, you know, a website like he did like an Airbnb for Game Masters. And I was like, Wait, I’ve been trying to build an app. And we both were on that phone call for six hours that night, just talking about what that, what that company could be. And the next day we decided that we he was going to pivot, his accelerated program to StartPlaying and I was gonna I was gonna freelance with it. And then a week later, he’s like, will you actually be my co founder? And I was like, yes, absolutely. You know, it was very sweet. I was like, Yes, of course, I’ll be your co founder. And then come November, I’m quitting my day job. And we’re out. Now doing this full time. But fast forward two years later, we’ve just close a seed round with one of the largest VCs in the country, one of the most renowned, AH16. And we’re all doing this full time. And we now have a team of six. Our GMs have made over $3 million running games on our platform. Wow. And it all from that one phone call.
Devon Chulick 28:40
It’s funny. Like, I can imagine going into the meeting to like, do the pitch, and being worried, like, they’re not even going to know what tabletop gaming is like, I’m panicking. And then you walk in and all the VCs are wearing like classic D&D shirts or like, please tell me more, we were there when the rules were written.
Ash Ely 30:59
Do not quote the deep magic to me, witch.
That and hey, congratulations. That’s amazing. Congratulations.
Devon Chulick 31:08
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s truly a dream. And it’s, it’s wild. Because you know, AH16 has a huge games fund. And they’re very in tune. They, you know, they actually wrote a white paper about tabletop, the like, a month after we launched, and they even mentioned us in it. They’re talking about like, Listen, D&D, tabletop. That’s the next big thing, folks. Okay, focus on it. And everyone’s like, Oh, this is kind of cool. And then like, two years later, they’re like, yes, we’d like to invest in you, it was like, wow, okay. This is amazing.
We would like that you liked that you want it? You should do that.
Devon Chulick 31:45
I mean, these are the ones that, you know, like, they’re the first to invest in Instagram, and like Airbnb and a bunch of other like, just very well known companies and also great with marketplaces. So we feel very, very lucky to be with them.
Yeah. And also, okay, now we’re stepping into, like, the nerdy Tech Talk. And everybody who’s come along, it’s gonna be great. Being connected with them. And then with the resources they had available. Were you able to find like, great people or great folks to talk to, to help accelerate how you’re building your business?
Devon Chulick 32:14
Yeah, I mean, right now we’re, we’re at that, like, you know, like, growing up stage where it’s like, cool. Now we need to, like, get the benefits set up. To get like, you know, like we like, it’s a lot of like HR. So I like that kind of growing up kind of stuff. But you know, now, you know, we’re able to like hire a bunch more people to really help build up the team to make things better for our game masters and to make things better for our players.
Awesome. Awesome, awesome. Okay, so I have one more question that I want to ask. We’ve talked about game mastering. We’ve talked a lot explicitly about D&D. What are some of the other popular games where there’s a regular GMs available?
Devon Chulick 32:50
Oh, my goodness. So it’s always changing because it kind of depends on what game masters want to run. But you know, the drop down from the site. Let’s see what let’s see what’s going on right now. All right, let’s see. Devon’s gonna take a look. A Song of Ice and Fire. RPG. Achtung. Cthulhu 2d 20. All the DnDs, advanced basic, Second Edition, third, fourth, fifth, by there’s a fourth Wow. Avatar, legends RPG blades in the dark Call of Cthulhu carbon 2185. I mean, I’m skipping a bunch of a but there’s tons of different games being run right now. In different game systems.
Okay. All right, um, put you on? Is there a Shadowrun on the list?
Devon Chulick 33:35
Let’s, let’s see. Let’s see. Let’s go ahead and just type in Shadowrun.
And okay, perfect.
Devon Chulick 33:42
There’s two Shadowruns being run right now. But actually, if I go to full, okay, so actually, there’s two Shadowrun games. I have open seats. There’s 18 Shadowrun games that are full.
Long time listeners will remember that Tyler and I still want to play Shadowrun some time.
Devon Chulick 34:06
It’s funny if you, if you ever go to our site. The thing is we remove full games from our site so you can never see them. Because it got to a point where people had to scroll through just like hordes of full games, which was just like such a rewarding feeling as a creator and is you know, like, you know, the pop of this.
Yeah, literally, suffering from success.
Like this is a wonderful problem. Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. All right. Well, Devon Chulick, thank you so much for being with us today. Absolutely.
Devon Chulick 34:39
Thank you for having me. It was an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it. Y’all.
Do your social media is do you have anything Discord.
Devon Chulick 34:46
And if you’d like to, if you’d like to follow up on what we’re doing at StartPlaying, you can follow us on Twitter @StartPlaying. And you can follow me on Twitter @DevonChulick, DEVONCHULICK. Thank you so much again for having me on.
Absolutely. And we will have links in the show notes. So folks, if you want to find either StartPlaying, or Devin Shula online links in the show notes, you’ll see it. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple podcast and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick free way to support the podcast and helps us to reach new listeners. You can find links in the show notes. You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes as well as on RPGBOT.net. Following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. We did it folks. We did a whole pod. We did right now that was awesome. Thanks a lot. Yeah.
Ash Ely 35:35
That was a really good conversation.