Gamemastering isn’t as difficult as it’s often made out to be. Is it some sort of mystical power only possessed by a lucky few? Absolutely not. Is it a skill that can be continuously improved? Absolutely.
There’s all kinds of great advice on the interwebs (including this very website) about how to run games. And there are all kinds of streaming shows and recorded sessions that showcase highly-effective GMs doing their thing. In other words, we’re all drowning in game mastering examples and advice.
In some ways it was easier before the Internet, because the only GMs you could learn from were the ones you’d played with in person. That made the learning process slower, but it also produced far less pressure to perform like veterans who’d been at it for years. So how can a new GM deal with that pressure and put themself in the right frame of mind for a game session?
1: Remember It’s a Game
You and your players are coming together at the table to enjoy each other’s company and create something unique together. Nobody is getting graded on NPC dialogue. Nobody is getting fired from their job if you make a poor judgement call on an edge case in the rules. Frankly your players are likely paying less attention to how you run the game than you think. They are predisposed to enjoy the game and are happy you’re running it. You are starting with a nice big chunk of goodwill in your favor.
2: Stay in the Moment
As Epictetus wrote: “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.” Whatever you expect the players to do, they’ll come up with their own ideas. That’s as it should be, and is core to the unique fun of tabletop roleplaying. Your job is to create enticing and difficult situations for the players, and adapt as they respond to them. If you’re as surprised by the outcome as they are, that isn’t a mark of failure – that’s the mark of a great session.
3: One-up Yourself
Don’t compare yourself to Matt Mercer, Dobrah Ann Woll, Satine Phoenix, or Matt Colville. They’re not running your campaign for your players. You are. So instead of feeling disappointed because you’re not instantly as fluid and relaxed at the table as someone who gets paid to run games, focus on understanding what works for you and what needs tweaking. Ask your players after the session what they liked and what they thought could be improved. Review the moments when you felt relaxed and those when had to catch up to the players. That way when you are reviewing all those GM tips you won’t be boiling the ocean; you can focus on the techniques that most apply to you.