My Life is Ruled by a d20

My Life is Ruled by a d20

By Dorothy N. Davenport (By Jonathon Antonsen, Staff Writer) originally published in Issue 2, Volume 31 of The University Register on September 28, 2018

There are thousands of ways humans have come to understand time and causality. In “traditional” Christian theology (insofar that Catholicism is traditional), when Adam and Eve ate the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil, humans were therefrom afflicted with free will—the ability to act independent of any outside force.

But how, then, could God be considered all-knowing of the past, present, and future if humans were truly free of any will? Thus, was born the idea of determinism, then called “predestination”—some people are destined to go to heaven from birth.

Free will and determinism are not simply theological concepts. American exceptionalism, to many people, means that Americans can choose—can freely will—to “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” and make a life for their families. In contrast, Newton’s Laws of Motion illustrate the deterministic nature of our world: an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by a force, the quantity of force applied is equal to an object’s mass multiplied by its acceleration, and with each action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Much of modern Western history has been spent debating these concepts. Augustine, Rousseau, and Diderot fought Luther, Malthus, and Newton tooth and nail… but neither side would prevail. Instead, there would come Einstein; instead, there would come Relativity.

Take a flashlight and shine it on a spot on a wall. Without moving the flashlight, take a marker and bisect the surface of the flashlight. Now, look at the wall—notice how the light is feathered at the edges. “This is because light is both a wave and a particle,” you say to me in protest, “of course its feathered!” But what does that mean?

Now, buy some incredibly expensive, photosensitive equipment to measure where the light hits. Suddenly, the light loses its feathered edge—suddenly, the light is strictly a particle.

We exist in a universe brimming with probabilities. Think of time as one would think of the incredibly expensive, photosensitive equipment. Time is the light shone on the wall; it has a general shape that is feathered at the edges until it is measured by the present. However, unlike in our example, Time is an ever-moving flashlight… therefore, we can never know how the future will be until it is here.

This is where my story begins.

It was Fall 2017, junior year: I had only just begun to dive into my major area of study—Chemistry. I took Gen Chem the year previous and signed up for O-Chem that semester. Due to the role confusion and numerous decibels of wailing I had been exposed to during the previous years, I decided to save some of my Gen-Eds for this semester.

Having not satisfied my Human Behavior requirement, and, having followed a professor who taught an HB course on Twitter for some time, I decided that I would take Intro to Archaeology with Prof. Joe Beaver.

It was a great time—great course, prof, friends, etc.—and I came to realize how archaeology and chemistry could be used together. Due to my interest in the subject matter, I actually studied for the exams, went to office hours to nerd out about some new-but-esoteric archeological-chemistry thing I read about in the American Chemical Society Symposium publication, and I even declared a minor in Anthropology!

I ended the semester with a B+ in O-Chem and an A in Archaeology—the ol’ Skull and Bones.

On the last day of classes, before I walked out of the Cow Palace, Prof. “the Joe” Beaver stopped me. He held out his hand as if to beckon a handshake. I complied, reaching my hand towards his. He wasn’t trying to shake my hand. He grabbed my hand, placed a small bag in my palm, and said “take care of this.”

I pulled my hand towards my body and looked down at the bag.

“What is this?” I asked.

He didn’t reply.

When I looked up, he was gone.

Confused, I released the drawstrings of the small, velvet bag and emptied its contents into my palm. It was a 20-sided polyhedral die made of stone—its numbers carved, rather than printed, on its faces.

It was an archaeology-themed d20.

Not thinking much of the die and still confused by the disappearance of the Joe, I continued with my day.

I decided to skip my next class; I couldn’t think about anything else and felt I would be too distracted to participate. The questions swirled around my head: where did the Joe go? Did he slip past me? Why did he give me a d20? Was he using that as a distraction for a sleight of hand trick?

I needed coffee.

As I was walking towards Higbies, I pulled out my phone to email my professor:

“Greetings Dr. Emily Bruce, I’m not feeling too well. I’ve been trying to go to my classes today, however last class I felt horribly ill. I am sorry I won’t be able to attend Nazi Germany today. Regards, Dorothy Davenport”

As she does when one of her students says they’ll be out for the class, she replied:

“Hi Dorothy, That’s totally fine! Hope you get better! Dr. Emily C. Bruce.”

I was totally cleared from class.


I approached the Higbies counter brandishing my Higbies punch card. Autumn was working today—my coffee’s gonna be good.

I buy coffee a lot. To say I’m a regular at Higbies is an understatement. I’m not only on a first name basis with almost every barista, but I know which baristas shifts intersect with my coffee schedule, and I know approximately how long it takes for my drink to be made.

Today, I thought I would be fine.

Then I saw my professor, Emily, through the window of the Student Center doors getting cash from the Bremer Bank ATM.

Mind racing, eyes-widened, I tried to sprint away from Higbies—I couldn’t let her see me, I love Emily too much to have her think I’d willingly skip one of her classes! I.D. still in possession of the barista, I threw one leg in front of the other trying to move towards Briggs Library, but instead my satchel slid DOWN my shoulder, around my legs, and I ate shit, sending all my stuff around the floor of the Student Center.

Scrambling to pick up my stuff while feeling the searing gaze of cute track guys in the TMC dig into my flesh, I was approached by a brooding figure (insofar that this figure could be brooding): It was Emily.

“Oh gosh!” she chirped, seeing my stuff strewn across the floor. She bent down and helped me stack my stuff. After a little bit, she noticed who she was helping.

“Oh, what are you doing here?” she asked, confused.

I panicked, “I… I… uhh—”

“Are you doing okay?” she asked, this time more serious.

“I… I am… quite sick—”

She paused disappointedly.

“Honey, if you needed to take a day, you should’ve just told me!”

I felt a little calmer, “really?”

“Yeah! I know you; you do good work!”

“I… uh… thanks,” I managed to squeeze out.

“Bye now!” Emily left. I stood in place.

A voice sounded behind me, “Hey! You missed something underneath there!” It was Autumn, the barista; she was pointing to the cream and sugar cart that sat straight across the hallway from Higbies.

I kneeled on the ground and peaked under the cart. It was the d20.

When I picked it up, the number “1” was glowing.

To say I was scared is an understatement. For those who don’t know, a d20 is a common die used in roleplaying games—the higher the roll, the better. If you roll a “20,” that’s called a “critical success,” allowing you to automatically succeed any check you make. If you roll a “1,” that’s called a “critical fail”— you automatically fail the check you attempted.

I rolled a “1.”

Shaken from the sudden realization that I had crit-failed, I decided to leave the Student Center and take a walk to check my mailbox.

The fact that the Joe had disappeared was pushed to the back of my mind; what had he given me at the end of class? What power had been bestowed upon me?

I reached my mailbox; there was something inside—a letter sealed with a wax stamp looked back at me with no return address. Using my room key, I slit open the letter.

It was a character sheet. The heading indicated it was a Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 character sheet. The name of the character was “Dorothy Davenport.”

Could this be my character sheet?

I also pulled a note from the envelope. It read, “This is you—use it wisely.” Someone signed off with “JB.”

I pored over her stats. She is a Neutral-Good, level 5 alchemist with 24 hit points and an intelligence score of 16. Her lowest score is her Constitution—an 8. These scores seemed to line up with my self-perception. In fact, I underestimated my Charisma (a 15) and my persuasion skill bonus (a 10).

I was eager to test out my discovery, however I couldn’t think of a way to test it. Luckily, the perfect opportunity approached me on the Mall.

I started from the Science Building towards Blakely (my dorm), thinking about how I could test my d20. Suddenly, as I crossed the Mall, I saw a little man dressed like a small Irish fisherman run towards the Student Center, blood dripping down his hand.

“Hey!” I called out to him, “What’s wrong? I have—”

I dropped my dice. It landed on a 10, however, because I was thinking about doing a deception check (in which I had 4 ranks), the number flashed “14.”


I lied.

But it worked.

“Oh, thank you thank you thank you,” he ran towards me, “thank you thank you thank you thank you!”

His hand was streaming with blood from a huge sliver; he looked away while wincing in pain.

“I can’t look or I’m gonna pass out,” he said, alarmed.

“No big deal, I’m a Pre-Med major,” I said.

I picked up my dice and dropped it on the ground again, attempting a medicine check. I rolled a natural 20!

Thinking quickly, I grabbed a maxi-pad and my water bottle from my backpack. “What’d you do?” I asked.

“I got my hand caught in a window!” he replied.

“Ouch,” I replied curtly, pulling out the splinter. His blood flow increased.

I used the water bottle to clean the wound. “This is much more severe than I had originally anticipated,” I told him.

“You think?!” He exclaimed.

I reached into my backpack to see if I could disinfect it with anything. Luckily, I found some Neosporin. Must’ve been left over from when I was recovering from a scrape trying to skateboard at Renaissance Park—I don’t mess around with infections.

“This is gonna feel cool,” I told him, rubbing the goo into his hand.

I slapped a maxi-pad down on the wound, applying pressure, and looked at him. “Keep pressure on the wound and go to Health Services, okay?” I told him.

“Yes ma’am!” he replied, heading off towards Gay Hall.

I was satisfied, but also confused: where is Joe “the Joe” Beaver? Why was a gifted this d20 and character sheet? What does this mean for my future?

I can’t answer any of these questions right now, for I am only a level 5 alchemist with budding skill ranks in Profession (Archaeology). However, because of my gift, I can see the shape of the future—

and the future is good.