Why I Game – The Dice Want To Murder You

This year is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons. So, in celebration of that, and in light of the fact that D&D released a new edition this summer, I’ve been posting some stories I have of playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games.

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Last month, Wizards of the Coast launched the new Player’s Handbook for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. This hopefully means that there will be lots of new players joining the game, some of them experiencing role-playing for the first time. So I thought this would be a fun opportunity to talk about a salient point that every role-player deals with at least once in his or her life:

The dice want you dead.

Now, I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in luck, or in black cats as omens, or broken mirrors being a curse or whatever. I think all of that stuff is, frankly, kind of silly. But I do rest my dice with the highest number on top, in some sort of hope that the weight (?) will settle (??) in such a way that a die will roll a 20 more often than, you know, the other 19 numbers on the dice.

Now, to be fair, I’m not one of those players who switches dice – I’ve been using the same set ever since college. I have a few extras for when I need to roll several of the same dice, or for when I drop a dice under the couch or whatever, but I don’t actually swap them out when they misbehave. But I DO know people who will do that – if a die is consistently rolling against them, they will actually swap it out for a different one, in the hopes that their luck will change. This is sort of like bringing a rabbit’s foot to a blackjack table – do whatever you want, but it’s not going to do a damn thing to help.

The dice want you dead.

For those of you new to the game, you’re probably thinking, “Mike, that’s ridiculous! Dice are inanimate objects! More than that, they’re literal embodiments of chance and randomness! There’s nothing you can do to change how they behave, because they don’t act with any sort of willpower.”

For those experienced players, you know what I’m talking about.

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A few months ago, my group was playing D&D Next (the public playtest for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons). Our DM was using a cool, dark red, translucent 20-sided die. He rolled a monster’s attack on our monk, and got a critical success – for those who don’t know, that’s when you roll the highest number on the die and do all of the damage you could possibly do. But our DM didn’t want to, you know, outright murder our characters, so when someone pointed out that the monster had “disadvantage” against the monk and needed to re-roll and take the lower number, our DM was relieved – he actually said, out loud, “Thanks, guys – I don’t want to kill your characters.”

Then he rolled another 20.

We tried to shrug it off, but then, on his next turn, he rolled ANOTHER 20. We immediately named that red, translucent die “the Blood Die” and vowed it to be our mortal enemy.

And then, just a few weekends ago, my dice turned against me. My dice that I have used for 7 years, the first set I ever bought… betrayed me more completely than anything I had ever experienced.

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We were playing “Only War,” which is set in the world of Warhammer 40K – it’s tough to explain,  so let’s just say it’s a horrible apocalyptic future where there is only war and every surface is decorated in skulls, and… actually, that’s pretty much all there is to it.

(If you want to know more about Warhammer 40K, my podcasting partner Jay Jones has another podcast, “Roll to Seize,” all about that world. Even if you don’t play, I think it’s an entertaining show, and definitely suggest you check it out!)

Anyway, one of our characters was using psychic powers to try to get us all free re-rolls that we could use throughout our turns. He succeeded, and got four re-rolls for the group to use, but because psychic powers are dangerous, he ended up casting FEAR out from him – even on his allies. My character was the only one affected, so my character sprinted out from cover and tried to escape being in the presence of his character. On my turn, I tried to roll to undo the fear – and failed. So I spent one of the re-rolls. And failed. So I spent another. And failed.

I used all four re-rolls, failed each time, and kept running down the battlefield INTO danger.

But the real trouble came when another of my allies accidentally shot me with a missile on the next turn, blowing my leg off. It was… not ideal, and we realized my character might very well die of shock. So my DM decided, no, he didn’t want me to die, so he gave me a 9 out of 10 chance – I could pick a number on the d10, and if I rolled it, I’d die, but any other number and I’d survive. I chose the highest number, a 9 (the 0 seemed a bit foreboding), and rolled.

I rolled a 9.

So, we were all sitting there, staring at the die, trying to figure out how to get me out of the situation. Someone pointed out that I still had a “Fate point” and had one more re-roll left. I smiled as I rolled again, and I said, “Well, that’s good, because how much would it suck to die because of–”

Another 9.

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Guys, I cannot say this enough. I am not a superstitious man. I don’t believe in Bloody Mary or Candyman or Beetlejuice. I don’t believe sports fans can affect the scores of football games by not changing their socks for a week. But there is one thing I know to be true.

The dice want you dead.

They want us all dead.

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