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 dice play has become a trend that newbies are catching on to more and more often. There are several success factors for the role-playing 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", i.e. pen and paper, a handful of dice and a few players - ideally one of them has experience in guiding role-playing games - and the group can plunge into the adventure. So what is notoriously complicated and not very beginner-friendly often requires far less preparation time than many a board game. Recognizing this first is one of the hurdles that beginners have to overcome.

The seven guys 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 the pen and paper the one who chats with people so much that in the current superhero adventure he has given himself the ability to talk to objects to get even more information. Max (30), the group's technician, passionate about every discussion. Alex (30), trained blacksmith and blessed with the talent at P&P to find even the smallest gap in the rules, exploit them and bring the game master to the brink of despair. Gerrit (26) with the nickname Hide, who works as a content moderator and is practically the newcomer to our group.” Roughly speaking, this is the core of the group – help comes from outside: “We also have two different stories for the two , which we are currently playing on our channel, two game masters explain Prepare to dice. With Niclas (30), a “nutritional bookbinder baker”, the group has found one of two game leaders. In addition to this "Captain Chaos", educator and nerd supports Erik (31) with a second story. That means: Behind every story there is a game master who is familiar with the subject.

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

The group first came up with the idea of ​​doing pen-and-paper role-playing games around ten years ago – that was about the time when P&P, thanks to sitcoms like Big Bang Theory and others, at least got into the mainstream as a topic. Watching others role-play was the 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 which the P&P classics Dungeons and Dragons was mentioned and deepened in particular through other YouTube channels. We had so much fun watching other people immerse themselves in another world and play different characters that we too had the idea of ​​playing pen and paper for the first time about ten years ago.”

Just a few years ago, getting started with pen-and-paper role-playing games was much more difficult than it is today. The Prepare-to-Dice group bravely pushed against every possible hurdle, only to get stuck: As absolute 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 actually doomed to fail". But despite the initial difficulties, it was clear to everyone from the start that "we're going to have a lot of fun with it". So, despite some adversities, you stayed with 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 where the group split up in order to be able to 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 games - here Felix and Niclas. Photo: private

Then came what was bound to happen: it became increasingly difficult to keep the group together. Lost contacts, relocations - life sometimes plays one or more tricks on role players. "Some of us have almost completely stopped playing P&P and we've played with other people and in other constellations in recent years."

And then came YouTube and with it a revival. “Through the YouTube channel, we found ourselves again to some extent and even found a new comrade-in-arms and friend in 'Hide' – content moderator. But even though he's only been around for a short time, it feels like he's been a part of us for years as he just fits in perfectly with the rest of the group.” So the group is back, ready for new adventures - on distance. Today, modern role-playing also works over the Internet. Preferably via video chat, says the group of experts.

"A pure voice chat would certainly be possible, but that would also sacrifice a lot of the appeal." Theoretically, even a telephone conference would be possible, but ultimately not very easy to implement. Even if it doesn't look like it at first glance: Being able to see each other in the pen-and-paper role-playing game has advantages with the missing visual component, a lot of feedback is also lost,” the YouTubers explain. Even everyday problems then become noticeable in the role-playing game. Does the sudden twist in the story resonate with the players? Does anyone mean statements ironically or seriously? Is someone excited or irritated by an action? "With all these questions, facial expressions and gestures can be of crucial help, which would make the purely acoustic version very difficult," say the connoisseurs. Whether and which channels you choose is ultimately a matter of taste. Opinions also differ on Prepare to Dice. Niclas sees the video conference as the "lowest common denominator", Max also tries voice chat in other groups. Beginners in particular should not be put off by a taster course and simply try out what suits their taste in gaming. 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 previously arranged to play games at a distance, 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 even able to pursue our hobby as a group," the group sees it very pragmatically. The opportunity is there, so you can use 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. So the fact that we have the opportunity to continue playing at all thanks to online conferences is worth its weight in 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 found that we play much more focused." You know that: The magician has to take a smoke break, the druid is drawn to the bathroom - and the warrior who is otherwise focused on the fight only has the next pizza order in your head. Everyday life in a physical RPG round can be anything but immersive. "So everything was a bit more diffuse and disordered, while we now play an hour each with the online version and then take a break for a few minutes," the group explains the more planned approach.

Even if the direct recording for the Youtuber is an enormous workload relief, everyone knows: "But despite all the advantages, an online conference can never completely replace the fun you have when you can sit at a table with six of your friends, together before prepared a few snacks and chatted, and then plunged into the adventure together.” In certain parts of the game, too, there is a lack of direct feedback, such as being able to high-five when something is particularly successful, or simply using the snacks on the table to be able to recreate the corresponding situation in the P&P.

So you can go online, but it's not the best solution, at least for the Prepare-to-Dice squad: "Nevertheless, we all probably agree that we're looking forward to sometime all seven sitting in one room for the first time and and-Paper to play.” Especially since at a real meeting you have to deal with the fact that someone forgot their dice. In an online conference, on the other hand, the technology of the group often drew a line through the character sheet. "From cameras that don't work, to missing sound recordings, to the internet failing, we already had everything with us."

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 small at some point. Don't be put off by potentially complex sets of rules, excessive game sessions or character planning. Even with pen and paper 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, which is also what the YouTubers think, even if the following applies: If someone with know-how is there, you learn faster. "But that wasn't the case for us either. We all started out inexperienced, so both in pen and paper and as friends, you play with each other and not against each other.”

"In our opinion, 'How to be a hero' is particularly suitable for beginners because it is much simpler."
Prepare to dice

Most importantly, players should be considerate, take their time, and most importantly, ask questions when something is unclear or when something doesn't feel conclusive. This also includes the preparation, "because even before the first entry into an adventure, the group should already deal with the topic a little." Then there are questions about the setting that is desired for the adventure in advance. Is the group more interested in the Middle Ages, Wild West, or should it rather be played in the future? Should it be realistic or can something supernatural like magic be included?

This is followed by the selection of the pen-and-paper rules, which are "sometimes more and sometimes less complex," according to the YouTuber. "In our opinion, "How to be a hero" is particularly suitable for getting started because it is much simpler." The fact that each of the players has dealt with the rules and read them can certainly not hurt to make it easier to get started.

Another tip: you should choose a rule set where the characters don't die immediately if something goes wrong. "In particular, pen-and-paper like Cthulhu, which are much more geared towards players experiencing character death, can drastically reduce the enjoyment of the first role-playing immersion." In addition, as a beginner, it's a good idea to choose characters that you feel comfortable with or to fall back on stories that already have characters, according to P&P connoisseurs. To give the all clear: All in all, however, there is no right or wrong here and "it can and will work even as a group of completely clueless people, like ours." 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

Appropriate caption adopted unchanged: "Erik after an hour-long lap." Photo: private

"Pen" and "Paper" means 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 entirely on the personal preferences of the group," the Youtubers believe. In principle, it can't hurt if there are several ways to live out your hobby, and there are numerous online ways to build the game world even better and more immersively. "For example, there are various programs for creating 3D game worlds, you can get together on platforms to play online as a group and have access to maps, character sheets and much more at any time and much of this can also simplify organization considerably."

Prepare to Dice explains: "Starting with things as simple as not erasing values ​​or points because this is much easier to implement with a digital character sheet, to the fact that digital values ​​and abilities are partly calculated automatically, to the Makes it easier for GMs to switch back and forth between different character sheets.”

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 part of the programme. Pen and paper and other formats are not mutually exclusive in one evening, on the contrary. Sometimes it can even be combined. "Before pen-and-paper, our group evenings often included board games," the YouTubers say. We particularly remember the evenings when we played “Risk” for hours until the middle of the night. But other games like "The Settlers of Catan" were also played frequently. With the idea of ​​trying out pen and paper, the board game evenings then developed into P&P evenings at some point due to the time, but in recent years we have still been playing 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 definitely the big influence of role-playing," say the guys from Prepare to Dice. "While a board game brings friends together to play against each other to win while remaining themselves, P&P brings friends together to slip into other characters and adventure together." Yes, there are tons of cooperative board games, too , 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 not just one winner and it is precisely this aspect that you experience and create a story together that makes it so appealing.” The large proportion of improvisation in particular also has a part here, which breaks up the more fixed game processes in board games could.

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

Prepare to Dice: The hobby became a YouTube channel

Anyone who is still undecided whether they should dare a game of pen and paper can also just watch, 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 so glad that nobody can listen to the crap we're making here', or that everyone was laughing on the floor and you thought it was a shame that other people can't watch us. These loose thoughts then 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 in place: Erik already runs a video channel, then there was also a portion of online friendship. “Eventually an invitation came and so Hide visited Berlin and got to know the rest of us there. With a shared interest in pen-and-paper and the advantage that the online version doesn't matter 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 have played pen and paper in this constellation. But no one could have guessed that it harmonized so wonderfully.”

The group had not set a goal. "It was 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 really enjoy and if we can maybe share that fun with other people, then so much the better. It was precisely with this lack of expectation that we started. If nobody is watching us, we still have fun at the P&P and if someone is watching us who feels entertained, then all the better.”

There are still fans and feedback, even without a goal: “We uploaded our first video to 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 have an interview with you. In those few months, however, we've found what are probably the loveliest and most enthusiastic viewers 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 under each one Video or poems written for us. We know that people listen to us falling asleep or working, there are always many creative ideas such as hashtags under our videos or the FAQ series that was created just because of numerous questions from our viewers and the mere fact that Making a few people's day a little better by watching the 7 of us play P&P is something we're incredibly proud of.”

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

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