Dungeons & Dragons is having a cultural revival, and not just in Hawkins. In Ann Arbor, the tabletop fantasy roleplaying game is being played regularly by all kinds of people — including those nerdy kids-now-adults that played it in the 1970s and 80s.
Kids like Al McWilliams. When he heard a friend was playing D&D, McWilliams recalls, he instantly wanted in.
“Like, oh, I would totally play that again. I loved that as a kid and I just didn't know anybody that played anymore.”
That’s how he met Gordie Garwood. It was in Garwood’s basement-turned-dungeon that they came up with the idea for Gyld, a company that offers a variety of tools for Dungeons & Dragons players. Their main product is an online platform that allows players to more easily schedule games and discover new games to join.
But the platform is still in its early stages of development. So in the meantime, they started to create some physical goods that they just wanted for themselves: custom notepads, player sheets, and some wearable merch. But one thing they really wanted was custom dice.
“Some of the stuff we wanted to exist was inexpensive enough that we could just do it,” says McWilliams. “But with the dice, we had to make like 50 molds to make this idea happen. We did a little research and, yeah, we don't have to have that kind of money. So, we were like, why don't we throw it up on Kickstarter?”
They called it Damage Dice. McWilliam’s coworker and fellow D&D player James Bates-Reich put together some renderings of the dice, and they launched the Kickstarter with a 30 day goal of $5,000.
“We hit our full funding on day two,” says Garwood. “We were just super shocked, and happy. I went and had a beer, that kind of thing.”
“We were losing our minds,” adds McWilliams. “And it just kept going.”
When the campaign ended, they had raised $273,161 from over 2,000 donors.
People from around the world wanted these dice. But to understand why, it helps to understand the game itself.
What is Dungeons & Dragons?
Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop fantasy roleplaying game — but, what does that mean?
“It’s a game, yes, but it’s really shared storytelling,” explains Garwood. “D&D is a wide open world. The players, it’s their story. They will take it wherever they want to take it.”
Each campaign is run by one person called the dungeon master, or DM. The dungeon master runs the game by forming the world and keeping the story going. Each player creates a character that has unique traits and powers.
Once the story outline and characters are set, game play begins. The dungeon master describes the scene and presents a task to the players, and each character has to decide what to do. Once a choice is made, you roll dice to see how effective it is.
“You can do whatever you want to do,” says Al McWilliams, “and then the DM will tell you whether it works or not, essentially, based on your dice.”
That’s where Damage Dice come in.
Because D&D is all about choice, characters have all different kinds of powers that they can use to damage the different opponents they face.
“When you get into combat, you can deal damage. You can do magic damage, or you can use old fashioned weapons," Garwood explains. "A lot of these games [take place] pre-firearms, so it's a lot of swords and battle axes and longbows and that kinda thing. On the magic side, there's 10 different kinds [of damage]. So there's cold and fire and poison and thunder and six others.”
Say a dragon was guarding a captured teammate. A wizard might choose to roll for cold damage to counteract the dragon’s fire. With normal dice, the player would have to roll multiple times to add up all of the variables.
“So yeah, we thought, ‘Hey, it'd be cool if when I'm throwing this fireball at this super big bad guy, if my dice looked like fire,’” says Garwood.
McWilliams adds, “There is a small mechanical purpose for doing this. A, it's way easier — and more fun — to roll a big bunch of dice and count them up then roll one at a time and try to remember where you're at. And B, there is some mechanical purpose to damage types. So there are resistances involved, and some of your attacks may do multiple types of damage in the same attack. So it's nice to know, well that six points was cold because that was the cold die, and the three points was slashing. So yeah, there's a mechanical purpose within the game to have special dice for this.”
Garwood and McWilliams discovered a huge marketplace hungry for something like Damage Dice. Not only is the D&D fanbase passionate, it’s also growing rapidly. And a lot of those people are willing to invest in the game.
“When I was a kid, I was barely scrounging up enough money to buy the book that you needed. Whereas now I have more resources, and it's a game that I spend a ton of time thinking about and worrying about and playing and having fun with,” says McWilliams.
Damage Dice are not necessary to play Dungeons & Dragons. But they add to the realism of the story.
“At the end of the day, you could have a phone app that randomly generates the number. Like, you don't need any of this — except the book — to play the game,” says McWilliams. “But at the same time, we're also sitting in our friend's basement dressed up like elves pretending to kill a dragon.”
Garwood interjects, “We haven’t done the cosplay thing. But it’s been discussed.”
Damage Dice are currently in production. The first sets will be sent to Kickstarter supporters in four to six weeks, and they will be available for purchase sometime in the new year.