top of page

Dealing with DM nerves

Being a Dungeon Master can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. A lot of people (myself included) don't usually like being the centre of attention - so willingly taking on that position, as well as the responsibility for building and organising a social experience that you want everyone to enjoy, can sometimes leave us feeling uneasy.

At the same time though, DMing can be exhilirating - and one of the most enjoyable social experiences possible. So it'd be a shame to let a few nerves keep us from enjoying that opportunity, right? Here's a few things to keep in mind that, while they won't completely erase your anxiety overnight, will hopefully make it a little more manageable.


Whilst it's not always easy to keep things in perspective in life, let's try to look at this logically. Chances are, the people you're playing with are your friends. They're not going to be overly critical or judging your every mis-step. They just wanna have a good time with you.

Seriously, even if you forget stuff and mess up bits of dialogue (which you will), it really isn't a big deal. Try to enjoy it. And if it really goes badly, you can just decide not to do it again. Nobody is forcing you to run a three year campaign - you really can just nope out after one session. So yeah, there really isn't that much at stake.

Beginners won't know where you mess up

In general, the perspective from each side of the screen is quite different - and while you're panicking as a DM and don't know what on earth you're doing, chances are your players haven't even picked up on it. What's more, if you're a beginner DM, then chances are that your players are beginners to. Therefore, don't sweat it about getting found out about the rules that you don't know - because they don't know them either! Seriously, the only important thing is having a good time - so don't worry about people judging you on any details that you aren't 100% sure about.

You're not a pro, don't try and act like one

It's easy to put huge expectations on ourselves and to want to be the best at everything - it's part of being human in many ways. But, let's be real, we're doing this as a hobby, not as professionals. Nobody is expecting you to write like shakespeare, improv like Robin Williams and do voices like Mel Blanc. Your players aren't putting this level of expectations on you - so try not to put it on yourself!

It gets easier

While it may feel overwhelming for the first few sessions, trust me, DMing does get easier, and you will start to feel more comfortable when doing it. Depending on your personality, these nerves may never fully go away (a piano teacher friend told me the story once of a professional concert pianist who never got over stagefright, despite an illustrious career) but the more successful sessions you get under your belt, the more you will realise that actually, you can do this, and that should help with your nerves.

Breathe (or, sometimes, hum)

In terms of physical preparation I do to get over DM nerves, I always set up a little in advance of the session, so I know that I have all of my prep and all of my relevant notebooks to hand. It also gives me a quiet space to do a little deep breathing, if I need it to calm and mentally prepare myself. Seriously, I know it sounds simple, but 20 seconds of deep breathing and you'll feel better about most sitautions life throws at you. DMing is no different.

Depending on the session, I may also take a few moments to do some vocal warm ups. Outside of DnD, I sing in a band - so am (somewhat) used to doing vocal warm ups and might do something like this before a DnD session (usually while hiding in the bathroom, so my partner doesn't hear). If you search youtube, I'm sure you'll be able to find a vocal warm-up more tailored for voice actors - though the principle is gonna be exactly the same.

To be honest, doing these isn't hugely necessary, and I only tend to bother with them if I'm running a session (like a duet one) where I know I'll be talking a lot, or a session where I know I'll be voicing an NPC with a challenging voice. Whilst I primarily do these to avoid straining my vocal chords, they would also work if you were worried about your voice shaking during a session, which could compound any nerves you're feeling. If you sound like you're in control, you're more likely to feel in control too.

Prep is your friend

Solid prep is also really useful for battling DM nerves. Knowing that you have things to fall back on when you're feeling a little jittery can be hugely comforting, as you know there aren't gonna be huge gaps of silence when everyone waits expectantly on you to move the story onwards. This isn't a suggestion to wildly over-prep and try to figure out every possible eventuality (that's not possible) but knowing the vague direction that you want to take the story, a few NPCs who are in the area, and perhaps one or two things that are going on around your players is really helpful.

After you've run a few campaigns, you'll have more stuff to fall back on, as prep can often be recycled (in my last session my party were in a tavern and one member challenged another to a drinking competion. Great, I thought - I've run one of them previously - just let me grab my homebrew rules for that...) but until you have that experience, rollable tables are super helpful here. If your party are sitting in a tavern not doing much and waiting for you to entertain them - just grab a rollable table for tavern encounters and see what comes up! This is such a low-effort prep strategy (just go here) but knowing you have something to fall back on can really help quell those nerves.

Just start

If in doubt, just start. Once you actually get into the thick of a session, you're gonna have so many things to think about, that you likely won't have the mental capacity to focus on your nervousness. Also, as so much anxiety comes from wondering how other people are thinking about us, knowing that your players are also busy means that they wouldn't have the mental capacity to do so anyway (not that they are. You're friends, remember?).

As such, getting your players involved as early as possible in a session is key. Don't give a 5 minute monologue explaining every minute detail of your surroundings while your players look on at you expectently (read: impatiently). Give them a 30 second overview and then hand over to them. Get them to start making some rolls. If they wanna fight someone, or talk to someone, or search for something, or explore - great! Roll for it. The more you get them involved in the game, the more it becomes a collaborative exercise, and the less it becomes a performance with others observing you. Not only is that a much less anxious place for yourself, it's also where all the magic of DnD happens anyway.


bottom of page