I tried my hand at GMing for the first time recently and my biggest challenge was figuring out rules on the fly. I frequently found players wanted to do things that I didn't know the rules for, forcing me to choose between stopping game play to look something up or shooting from the hip making a ruling that seemed reasonable and hoping I wasn't saying something that I might have to take back later.
To be clear, I am not looking for an "out" to not do my homework. Before my session, I read through the core rule books and the pre-generated module I was using. I printed off, highlighted, and made notes on the module, monsters, and "extras" (eg. spells, abilities, skills, etc.) that I anticipated being part of the session. I even mentally ran through all the sections with the pre-generated characters and looked up the rules for all the things I would have done in the module. However when game play began, for some reason my players did not follow my script (surprise, surprise). They used skills and combat maneuvers I wasn't expecting, so I hadn't brushed up on.
How do I keep flow and balance in the game when players want to do something and I don't know the rules?
Some things I can see being helpful (but not an exclusive list):
- Techniques to keep play alive while rules are being researched rather than "Everyone stare at the GM while they read".
- Rules of thumb that can help make good rulings without looking up rules.
- Better ways to prepare so I will be more likely know the rules when they come up.
For the record, in this session I was playing Pathfinder, but I am hoping for more general techniques that can be applied to many different systems. If I get comfortable GMing Pathfinder and decide to try out 5e, I would like to be able to use these techniques again when new rules I don't know come up.