I originally posed this idea/question on the subreddit r/dndbehindthescreen, and it incited some spirited conversations. It was a nice mix of agreement and the opposite. A big part came down to cultural significance. I’m an American, so I see it as an American. Other people- perhaps even people in other parts of America- might see it differently.
Few things make me brace for impact like when a DM starts a game by saying, “I’m sorry.” I’ve done it too. That’s how I know it sets the DM up for failure on both ends of the table.
The phrase itself holds different meanings based on perception, knowledge of the DM, the group’s makeup, and cultural significance. The phrase “I’m sorry” isn’t really the problem. Starting a session off by displaying a lack of faith in your ability as a DM is the problem. Whether the DM’s lack of faith in themselves manifests as “I’m sorry,” “I’m going to half-ass this,” or anything else. As one Reddit user pointed out, “Imagine going to a concert and the singer says ‘I’m sorry for what you’re about to hear.’” Unless it was an established joke, it would probably put everyone in a bad mindset.
This isn’t a call to remove sorry from your vocabulary. Apologize for past events, a bad ruling, bad luck, or anything that went wrong in the past. Do not apologize for events that haven’t happened yet.
Being new, trying something different, or not having everything prepared are things we all face. Despite that, we can still have fun and perform as a DM. If the DM doesn’t believe in their ability or their material, they’re not going to do one of the most important things the DM must do: Lead the fun.
If they’re not having fun, there’s a decent chance the players aren’t having fun either. Don’t sweat it if you’re feeling underprepared or if the players subvert an entire adventure and you’re left without a plan for the next part of the session. Keep faith, lead the fun, and just do the best you can. If after the session everyone is bummed about how horrible it was, then you can apologize. But you might find that by going with it, the party will try or discovers something interesting they might not have found otherwise.