Tag Archives: dungeons and dragons

Dungeons and Dragons Ritual: “How Do You Want to do This?”

Main Piece: 

“Oh! Yeah, so ‘How do you want to do this?’ is a thing that’s been picked up since it’s been become used by Matt Mercer in Critical Role where like if a person gets a sufficiently good kill at like, say, the end of a combat, the DM will go ‘How do you want to do this?’ And then the player will describe how they eviscerate their enemies.”


A little pop culture background is necessary to understanding this folklore. After the release of the 5th edition of the table-top role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, D&D live-play shows became a popular form of entertainment. The most famous and successful of these shows is Critical Role. This is a practice that the Dungeon Master of Critical Role, Matt Mercer, employs that others have picked up. It’s been proliferated to the point that despite not being part of any official D&D material, Dungeon Masters may say “How do you want to do this?” at the end of an encounter because they know that’s the common thing to do even if they’ve never seen the show or don’t know from where the phrase originates. My informant saw this practice as a way to get players involved with the “theatre of the mind” portion of D&D and increase “coolness.”


What’s interesting about this example is that it’s very recent and fast-moving folklore. There’s even an argument to be made that it could count as having authorship to some degree, as its origins can be traced back to a singular figure, but there’s no ownership. 

Besides the interpretation that my informant offered- that it helps increase player engagement -there’s another possible function of this phrase. It signals that combat has come to an end. Dungeons and Dragons has a signal for the beginning of combat baked into the rule set. Everyone rolls “initiative” to see in what order they take their turns. There is no instituted method to exit combat. This phrase helps bridge that awkward gap. Within the game, there is a liminal space that isn’t naturally bridged. The way this new unofficial ritual is constructed, there’s a set way that the players and the DM end combat. When that ritual is complete, the liminality has been bridged and the mode of play changes.

Dungeons and Dragons Superstition: Wil Wheaton Dice Curse

Main Piece: 

“Yeah, so, when Wil Wheaton was on Critical Role, kinda like he has a dice curse. Like any dice he touches, he curses- so many nat 1s, so many low rolls. It’s uncanny. And, you know, that’s just kind a fun thing, but my side of it… His dice curse is folklore on its own, but, for me, I had this set of dice that I got when the guy I was dating at the time promposed to me. It was this whole like Critical Role promposal. Super cute and he gave me these dice. And they were fine. But then, after we split up because we weren’t actually interested in each other, these dice rolled like shit. Not always nat 1s, but just kinda rolled like shit. And then I took them to a convention that summer. Wil Wheaton was a guest. And I went up, like had Wil Wheaton sign my DM screen and was like ‘Hey. I have these dice that roll really badly. I know you have your dice curse. I was thinking maybe the two will cancel each other out and… I don’t know, it’ll work, just do something. Trying to see if it’ll backfire.’ And he pulled my bag of dice out, tries but could not break the curse on these dice. He still rolled poorly. Has not rolled a nat 20, he’s below 10 every time. I had to get rid of those dice. I gave them to a friend ‘cause his dice curse is so strong. I think he cursed them even more… I think it still lingers within me, because I still roll so poorly today. My plan backfired.”

Collector: “Is there a way to avoid or counteract the Wil Wheaton dice curse?”

Informant: “Just don’t interact with Wil Wheaton. Don’t give him your dice. I was a fool.”


My informant is an active participant in online Dungeons and Dragons communities and an engaged member of the fan base for the D&D live-play show Critical Role. The Wil Wheaton dice curse is apparently established meta-lore of the show. It’s widely acknowledged and talked about in conventions surrounding the game. He has become something of a miniature celebrity for his terrible luck. Rituals are concocted in response to this curse, such as testing Wil Wheaton with fresh sets of dice, using his curse on dice that could be used against you, and so on. My informant interprets this as a legitimate curse. For an example of how the folk groups associated with this curse respond to it, see Critical Scope, “Liam and Travis’ secret plan to win the fight in E52 [Spoilers E52],” YouTube Video, 2:13, May 5, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwuU5ZPiqpY. 


The wide acknowledgement of this curse as a valid and actual curse shows an above average degree of superstition within the Dungeons and Dragons community. I believe this is an example of how superstition appears more prevalently in groups that are dependent on fate or chance for their success, such as gamblers. This is a different circumstance, since even those that make their money from D&D don’t make their money from rolling well in D&D rather than just playing it in an entertaining fashion. However, that the game is based entirely on dice rolls creates a certain value for luck and fate. The specifics of this curse enforce a sense of urgency. My informant needed to get the dice physically away from her. She had it bestowed on her by the presence of a cursed person. She believes she is still cursed. It falls into the same pseudo-disease like formula as “cooties” for children. Bad luck coalesces and becomes virulent in the eyes of D&D players.

“You Swallow a Knife and It Explodes.” – Jokes on Critical Failure

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

My subject, Max, plays tabletop Role-Playing Games (RPGs) . He discussed a joke tradition with me among RPG gamers that I found quite humorous.

Max: “When you play D&D [Dungeons and Dragons, popular tabletop RPG] you get into a lot of situations where you get stuck and have to make a “Skill Check”. In a “Skill Check” you roll a die and check your result to see if you overcome the challenge. It’s a twenty sided die, a d20 for short. You roll your die, and the number you get determines the outcome. 20 is the best. If you roll a twenty, that’s called a critical success, a critical hit. That’s really good. But if you get a 1, if you get the lowest number, that’s bad. Really, bad. That’s called a Critical Failure. When you land one of those, something really bad has to happen.”

I ask what that is.

Max: “Critical Failure means that not only does the opposite of your goal happen, it happens so badly it screws you over. Players like to think of creative ways for the screwing to happen, but most times people just get silly.”

“For example”, he goes on:

“Let’s say your character is fighting a wizard. Like, an evil wizard. And he summons a rain of knives to fall upon you. You’d have to make a Dexterity Check [type of skill check] to see if you dodge. You roll the dice and OOP. You got a 1. So what happens?”

“You swallow a knife and it explodes. You die forever. Game over. (laughs) Your character may not actually die, he’d probably just get stabbed a little. But the joke is the same. You miss. Bad thing happens.”

“There’s a ton of examples of these. They just sort of come-up during games.”

A short time after this meeting, I met with my D&D group and asked them to come up with/ remember their best crit. fail stories. Here’s what I got:

1. You try to unlock a door


– You miss and the door unlocks you instead.

2. You try to slay a vicious goblin.


– You miss and stab yourself. Multiple times.

3. You scan the darkness to search for traps.


– The darkness sees you and gets very angry.

4. You try to climb a rope.


-The rope is now 500 snakes.

(and etc.)


Players of the game “Dungeons and Dragons”, as well as similar RPGs have a tradition of jokes surrounding the concept of the “Critical Fail”, the worst outcome of a single dice-roll.

I find that a lot of these jokes take a form of dark comedy, which can reflect the overall mood of failing a crucial roll. Taking something serious and making it silly may seem trivial, but they’re a way that players enrich in the fun of the game. This is a trend that has been observable since the dawn of pen and paper RPG’s in the mid 1970’s.

You can find more of them here and here:

What is your funniest Critical Failure story? from rpg