In addition to board and card games, pen-and-paper role-playing games are also experiencing a boom in the ongoing Corona crisis, especially because this type of entertainment can also be experienced online with almost no restrictions. What was once decried as nerdy acting with dice has developed into a trend that even beginners jump on more and more often. There are several success factors for the role-play hype, not just the pandemic situation. A group of experts explains what makes pen-and-paper so exciting and why beginners shouldn't be afraid of role-playing: the guys from “Prepare to dice”, who have started their own YouTube channel for this purpose. 

If you had asked around before the corona pandemic how popular pen-and-paper role-playing games are in the mainstream, you would probably have only received a shake of the head. The mixture of tabletop experience and acting was always somehow there and also part of the industry, but it eke out a existence as a nerd event. In groups, weird figures meet in dusty back rooms, slip into the roles of various self-made characters and roll battles and events - at best accompanied by hissing, knocking and knocking sounds from their own mouths. Then came Corona. And suddenly pen-and-paper is hip.

Admittedly, things weren't quite as dramatic in the scene before the pandemic, which has existed roughly since the 50s. With Dungeons & Dragons, the foundation stone was laid in the United States for a new game genre that has been part of the game industry's inventory for almost XNUMX years. One thing has hardly changed over the decades: the focus on group membership.

The material: pen, paper and a good mood

Unlike board game games, it doesn't take much to start roleplaying. “Pen” and “paper”, that is, pen and paper, a handful of dice and a few fellow players - ideally one of them has experience in guiding role-playing games - and the group can jump into the adventure. What is so complicated and not very easy for beginners, often requires much less preparation time, so many board games. Recognizing this first is one of the hurdles that beginners have to overcome.

The seven boys behind the YouTube channel “Prepare to dice” have been active in the scene for several years: “Felix (30) is currently doing his doctorate in Norway and was otherwise often to be found on and behind various stages. Steven (27), a salesman by trade and in pen-and-paper the one who chats so much with people that in the current superhero adventure he has given himself the ability to talk to objects in order to get even more information. Max (30), the technician of the group, who is passionate about every discussion. Alex (30), trained blacksmith and at P&P blessed with the talent to find and exhaust even the smallest gap in the rules and thus bring the game master to the edge of despair. Gerrit (26) with the nickname Hide, who works as a content moderator and is practically the newcomer to our group. " This is roughly the core of the group - for example, help comes from outside: “We also have two game masters for the two different stories that we are currently playing on our channel,” explain Prepare to dice. With Niclas (30), a “nutritional bookbinder baker”, the group has found one of two game masters. In addition to this “Captain Chaos”, Erzieher and Nerd supports Erik (31) with a second story. So that means: Behind every story there is a game master who is familiar with the matter.

Pens and dice are the minimum equipment for the RPG round. Photo: Volkmann

Pens and dice are the minimum equipment for the RPG round. Photo: Volkmann

Around ten years ago, the group first had the idea of ​​dealing with pen-and-paper role-playing games - that was around the time when P&P was at least a mainstream topic through sitcoms like Big Bang Theory, among other things. Watching others play role-playing games was a first trigger to delve deeper into the subject, Prepare to dice confirm: “Most of us probably first came into contact with pen and paper through sitcoms and series in the P&P classics Dungeons and Dragons was mentioned and was particularly deepened through other YouTube channels. Watching others immerse themselves in another world and miming a wide variety of characters was so much fun for us that we too had the idea of ​​playing pen and paper ourselves for the first time around ten years ago. "

Getting started with the pen-and-paper role-playing game was much more difficult just a few years ago than it is today. The Prepare-to-Dice group also bravely struggled against every possible hurdle, only to get stuck: As complete beginners in a very large group of eight people, they made the project more difficult with a set of rules specially designed by Erik and Steven - and "were thus actually doomed to fail". But: Despite the initial difficulties, it was clear to everyone from the start that “we will have a lot of fun with it”. So, despite a few adversities, you stayed at the cube, persevered, sometimes for many hours at a time. There were weekends when you regularly played pen-and-paper for twelve hours or more - sometimes even with a kind of shift change, during which the group split up so that they could sleep and play in stages. Certainly an extreme extent, especially for beginners, but: "It was a very funny time for us as friends, in which we learned to love P&P," said the role group.

"Oldschool" are just striped socks, but also on-site game rounds - here Felix and Niclas. Photo: private

“Oldschool” are just striped socks, but also on-site game rounds - here Felix and Niclas. Photo: private

Then came what had to come: it became more and more difficult to hold the group together. Broken contacts, relocations - life sometimes plays one or more tricks on role-players too. “Sometimes the P&P game has almost completely come to a standstill for some of us and in recent years we have played more with other people and in different constellations”.

And then came Youtube and with it a revival. “Thanks to the YouTube channel, however, we partially found each other again and even found a new comrade and friend in 'Hide' - content moderator. But even if he's only recently been with us, it feels like he's been part of us for years, because he just fits in perfectly with the rest of the group. " So the group is back, ready for new adventures - at a distance. Modern role-playing games now also work on the Internet. Preferably via video chat, says the team of experts.

"Pure voice chat would certainly be possible, but that would also sacrifice a lot of the appeal." Theoretically, a conference call would even be possible, but ultimately not that easy to implement. Even if it doesn't look like it at first glance: Being able to see yourself in the pen-and-paper role-playing game has advantages With the missing visual component, a lot of feedback is lost, ”explain the Youtubers. Even everyday problems can then be felt in role play. Does the sudden twist of the story reach the players? Does someone mean statements ironic or serious? Is someone excited or irritated by an action? "With all these questions, facial expressions and gestures can be of decisive help, which would make the purely acoustic version even more difficult", so the experts. Whether and which channels you choose is ultimately a matter of taste. Opinions also differ when it comes to Prepare to Dice. Niclas sees the video conference as the “lowest common denominator”, Max also tries in other groups via voice chat. Especially beginners shouldn't let themselves be deterred by a taster course and should just try out what suits their taste in the game. The format goes down to pure text chat pen and paper - thanks to the technological possibilities there are now even online-based platforms that support role-playing.

Even if many players have agreed to play at a distance beforehand, the corona pandemic has put a new focus on online role-playing games. "One of the biggest advantages not only because of Corona, but also because we live in different places, is simply the fact that we are able to pursue our hobby as a group", the group sees it very pragmatically. The possibility is there, so you can take advantage of it. “While most of us live in the greater Berlin area, with Hide we have someone in the group who lives in Mülheim an der Ruhr, while Felix recently moved to Norway. The fact that we have the opportunity to continue playing thanks to online conferences is worth gold. "

Steven and Max in front of slips of paper, snacks and fistfights. Photo: private

Steven and Max in front of slips of paper, snacks and fistfights. Photo: private

And there is another advantage: "We also noticed that we play much more focused." You know that: the magician has to take a break from smoking, the druid is drawn to the bathroom - and the warrior who otherwise concentrates on the fight only has the next pizza order in his head. Everyday life in a physical round of role-playing games can be anything but immersive. “So everything was a bit more diffuse and disordered, while with the online version we now play for an hour and then take a few minutes' break,” the group explains the more planned approach.

Even if the direct recording is a huge relief for the Youtubers, everyone knows: “Despite all the advantages, an online conference can never completely replace the fun you have when you can sit together with six of your friends at the same table beforehand prepared a couple of snacks and chatted, before going on an adventure together. " In the game, too, there was a lack of direct response to certain parts, such as being able to clap each other at a particularly successful campaign or simply being able to recreate the corresponding situation in P&P with the help of the snacks on the table.

So it goes online, but at least for the Prepare-to-Dice troop it is not the optimal solution: “Nonetheless, we all probably sign the statement that we are looking forward to sitting all seven in one room for the first time and having pen- and-paper to play. " Especially since at a real meeting you have to deal with the fact that someone has forgotten their dice. In an online conference, on the other hand, the technology of the group often pulled a line through the character sheet. "We already had everything with us, from cameras that didn't work, to missing sound recordings, and even failing internet."

Pen and paper: tips for beginners

Worlds are mutually dependent, especially in the case of pen-and-paper this has been seen again and again in the past decades: role-playing games appear in movies (ET) or become a film themselves (Dungeons & Dragons); Pen-and-paper has become the template for countless video games, and now those based on P&P video games are the drive for digital gamers to seek entertainment in the analogue segment.

Now every hero starts out small at some point. You shouldn't let yourself be deterred by possibly complex sets of rules, excessive game sessions or character planning. With pen-and-paper, too, you learn step by step. The guys from “Prepare to Dice” give beginners five tips:

Have fun - the most important tip if you want to pursue a hobby.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. - Especially at the beginning, when many of the group are still inexperienced, it will inevitably happen that you don't think about things, forget a rule or something doesn't go as smoothly as you would like. Tip number 3 is particularly important here.

Be honest with one another. - Communicates with each other, asks questions, talks about things that are unclear, that disturb or that reduce fun. What works for one group doesn't necessarily have to be good for the other, and here as a group you have to choose what works for you and put aside what you don't enjoy. The same applies to the existing regulations.

Have the courage to adapt to the rules of the game. - There are numerous sets of rules for pen and paper. Some are very easy to do, while others have a tendency to micromanage. Where one offers more freedom, the other can be significantly more secure and not every rule that is written down in a set of rules then also makes sense in the game. When we started our larger campaign with the Supers rulebook, there were also some talents and abilities that we deleted because they would have been simply too strong. We introduced a life point system because we had the solution in the rulebook suboptimal found and are still discussing which rules are out of place for us and how we can fix them. Here the classic tip for pen and paper is particularly decisive:

The game master and the players play with each other and not against each other. You'll definitely hear this phrase sooner or later when it comes to pen and paper, but it couldn't be less correct. Because even if the game master takes on a different role, describes the world and the events in it and takes on the role of the opponent in the story, one always experiences and shapes the story together. Therefore, you should decide together whether things should be adjusted, for example because characters are too strong or too weak, rules are not fun or can be exploited too much.

An experienced game master is helpful, but not absolutely necessary, and that is what the Youtubers also believe, even if the following applies: If someone with know-how is there, it learns faster. “But that wasn't the case with us either. We all started inexperienced, and both with pen and paper and as friends, the rule is that you play with each other and not against each other. "

"In our opinion, 'How to be a hero' is particularly suitable for getting started because it is much more simply structured."
Prepare to dice

Above all, players should be considerate, take their time and, above all, ask questions when something is unclear or when something does not feel conclusive. This also includes preparation, “because the group should already deal with the topic a little before starting an adventure”. Then, in advance, questions about the setting that is desired for the adventure are among other things. Is the group more interested in the Middle Ages, the Wild West or should it take place in the future? Should it be realistic or should something supernatural like magic appear in it?

According to the Youtubers, the selection of pen-and-paper rules, which are “sometimes more and sometimes less complex,” depends on this. "In our opinion," How to be a hero "is particularly suitable for beginners, because it is structured much more simply." The fact that each of the players has dealt with the set of rules and read them certainly couldn't hurt to make it easier to get started.

Another tip: you should choose a set of rules in which the characters don't die immediately if something goes wrong. "In particular, pen-and-paper like Cthulhu, which are designed much more so that players experience the death of their characters, can drastically reduce the fun when they first dive into the role-playing game." In addition, beginners can choose characters with whom one feels comfortable or fall back on stories in which characters are already given, according to P&P experts. To the all-clear: All in all, however, there is no right or wrong here and “even as a group of completely clueless people, like us, it can and will work”. The bottom line: don't be afraid of pen and paper. Make it easy.

Old school or role play 4.0?

Caption adopted unchanged: "Erik after a long round." Photo: private

Matching caption adopted unchanged: "Erik after an hour-long round." Photo: private

“Pen” and “Paper” mean at least paper and pen. Nowadays, however, there are far more technical possibilities: from the smartphone cube app to 3D worlds from the printer to specialized online platforms, role players can fall back on a variety of tools. But doesn't pen-and-paper have to be “old school”?

“It certainly depends on the personal preferences of the group,” say the Youtubers. In principle, it couldn't hurt if there were several ways to live out your hobby and there are numerous online opportunities to build the game world even better and more immersively. "For example, there are various programs for creating 3D game worlds, you can come together on platforms to play online as a group and have access to cards, character sheets and much more at any time, and much of it can also significantly simplify the organization."

Prepare to Dice explains: “Starting with such simple things as the missing erasure of values ​​or points, because this is much easier to implement with a digital character sheet, to the fact that digital values ​​and skills are partially calculated automatically, right up to the It makes it easier for the game master to switch back and forth between various character arcs. "

This can be compared very well with the discussion of whether a normal book or e-reader is better. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but in our group the preference is clearly in the direction of the analogue variant with paper, pen and dice.

Board games are also sometimes on the program. Pen-and-paper and other formats are not mutually exclusive in one evening, on the contrary. Sometimes it can even be combined. “Our group evenings often included board games before pen and paper,” say the Youtubers. We particularly remember the evenings when we played “Risk” for hours until the middle of the night. But other games such as "The Settlers of Catan" were played quite often. With the idea of ​​trying out pen and paper, the board game evenings evolved into the P&P evenings at some point, but in recent years we have still played board games like "Dark Souls" or "The Iron Throne".

Playing is always fun, but it doesn't always feel the same: "The biggest difference between P&P and board games is certainly the great influence of role-playing," said the guys from Prepare to Dice. "While friends come together in a board game to play against each other for victory, but always remain themselves, in P&P friends come together who slip into other characters and experience adventures together." Yes, there are also tons of cooperative board games, but: “We speak with different voices, play people with different characteristics and, unlike many board games, you don't play against each other. At the end of the game there is no one winner and it is precisely this aspect of being able to experience and create a story together that is what makes it so appealing. " The large proportion of improvisation in particular has a role here that can break up the more stable game processes in board games.

“With pen-and-paper, for example, game locations can be explored that were not even considered by the game master when creating the story,” explain the role-play connoisseurs. "This possibility of free development and the knowledge that even the best idea can still be influenced by the chance of a dice roll give you a lot of freedom with pen-and-paper and always give us a lot of fun and joy."

Prepare to Dice: The hobby became a YouTube channel

If you are still undecided whether you should dare a game of pen-and-paper, you can just watch first, not only, but also at “Prepare to Dice”. The idea for the video channel is - as is probably the case with so many influencer beginners - out of a joke. “Too often there were moments on our evenings when you either said,“ I'm really glad that nobody can listen to the crap we make here, ”or that everyone was laughing on the floor and thought it was a shame that others cannot watch us too. These loose thoughts turned into more serious considerations, especially during Corona and the consideration of playing pen and paper online. "

Seven friends, one mission: fun! Photo: private

Seven friends, one mission: fun! Photo: private

The framework was more or less there: Erik already operates a video channel, and then there was a helping of online friendship. “At some point we received an invitation and so Hide visited Berlin and got to know the rest of us there. With the common interest in pen-and-paper and the advantage that the online version doesn't care about the physical distance, Hide finally became part of our group, so that the first video on our channel is actually the first time that we played pen-and-paper in this constellation. But nobody could have guessed that it would harmonize so wonderfully. "

The troops had not set themselves a goal. “We never intended to have at least X viewers or subscribers, and by the day we start thinking about something like that, something would probably change. For us P&P is just something that we have great fun and if we can share this fun with other people, then so much the better. It was precisely with this lack of expectation that we started. If no one is watching us, we still have fun at P&P and only someone watches us who feels entertained by it, then so much the better. "

There are fans and feedback anyway, even without a goal: “We uploaded our first video on the channel at the beginning of 2021 and it still feels surreal to talk about the fact that we have such passionate viewers. At least as surreal as it feels to do an interview with you. But in these few months we have found what is probably the loveliest and most enthusiastic audience in the world ”.

Almost embarrassed, “Prepare to Dice” is happy about small initial successes: “The fact that people get together in chat groups because of us or create accounts with the names of our characters on social media platforms is at least as nice as hundreds of comments below each Video or poems written for us. We know that people listen to us falling asleep or working, there are always numerous creative ideas such as the hashtags under our videos or the FAQ series, which only arose because of numerous questions from our viewers and the fact that Making a few people's day a little better by watching the 7 people of us play P&P is something that makes us incredibly proud. "

Oh, if you want to take a look yourself, you can go straight to the Prepare to Dice YouTube channel.

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