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Dealing with D&D Pre-Game Nervousness

by Mike on 3 October 2022

We all feel it. It's game night and your friends are coming over (either in person or online). We feel it in the pits of our stomachs. Will this be the one? Will this be the game we drop on the floor? Are we stuck like Carrie White hearing a voice in our head repeating "they're all going to laugh at you!"?

For some who have not yet DMed a D&D game, even getting the confidence to run a D&D game is difficult. But even for those of us who have been doing this for years or decades, the nervousness of running a game doesn't go away.

Many DMs feel this pre-game nervousness, regardless of their skill or longevity in the hobby. It's common and it's ok. We're about to engage in a complicated performance. We're going to be spinning a lot of plates and throwing out words to build worlds no one has ever seen before. We're going to be mananging rules and adjudicating complicated mechanics and, somehow, keeping it all together so at the end of the session our friends walk away with a smile on their faces. That's a lot to manage and not feel anxious about it.

This feeling is normal. It's ok. We all feel it. I feel it every time I'm getting ready to run a game. This nervousness is an old friend and I know where to put it. Sure, I'm nervous, but it will be ok.

If it helps, you can check out my five minutes to D&D pep talk or "You Are Not Prepared" - Battling the Resistance videos on this topic.

Here are some things I try to remember when I feel this nervousness before a game:

These little sayings help keep my nervousness in check. They remind me that my doubt is often self-created — something trying to keep me from making art.

Trust Your System

I think Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is popular because it gives DMs a system — any system — that works well enough to prepare and run games. I never claim that the eight steps in Return are the end-all be-all of dungeon master prep, but the system can work and does work for lots of DMs, myself included. I feel like Return is a piece of boyant driftwood in a raging river of untamed creativity. It gives us some structure to build our games around.

Having a system, any system, helps tame pre-game nervousness. We can channel that nervousness into our game prep. If we don't have a system, such prep becomes a bottomless hole into which many DMs fall. They prep and prep and prep, taking their nervousness and thrashing about in all sorts of directions — many of which have no value to the game they plan to run. They wire whole sessions so tightly that there's no room for the story to twist, turn, and breathe as the game travels into new directions.

A framework like the eight steps helps us feel prepared for a game but not tie it so tightly together that we freak out if the game goes in a direction we weren't ready for.

Whatever system you choose, keep it focused on what you need and ensure there's an end to your prep other than burning every hour you have until its time to run the game.

Find Your Tricks

What helps you break past the pre-game nervousness you feel? What sayings do you have? What rituals do you conduct? Know that your nervousness will be there before your next game and know what you need to do to deal with it. Whether it's a set of preparation steps or a handful of mantras to remind you that we're all just here to have a good time, keeping these tools in mind will help you deal with your pre-game nervousness.

Last Week's Lazy D&D Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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