“Don’t fuck me, Gil.”
It sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s meant as a term of endearment, insists Gil Ramirez.
Legend has it, the phrase was first uttered by Marisha Ray on Critical Role. She was using the hand-forged 20-sided die given to her and the other voice actors who gather to play Dungeons & Dragons for the web series by the Lake Forest-based blacksmith.
“I have no idea why she would say it,” Ramirez concedes. “She would only say it when the die roll was poor. . . . It just became a thing to say.”
It also brought him some fame . . . all thanks to something that started as a personal project.
At the age of 13, Ramirez decided he wanted to make a knife. With no experience or proper tools, he took a ball-peen hammer to some poor-grade steel, using a small block of mild-grade steel as an anvil. “I tested the knife on a tree,” he says with a laugh. “The tree won.”
In college, he gained a few more experience points when he took a class on jewelry making. “I wanted to learn metals better: copper, silver, gold,” Ramirez says.
One day, he asked a teacher about the forge he found in the very back of the school. “He said, ‘Don’t make any knives,’” Ramirez recalls. “So, the first thing I made was a, um, letter opener. But it was really a knife.”
He made more pieces over the semester, finishing with a 7-foot sword that he planned to enter into a show at an art gallery. He placed it into a giant shipping tube to protect and transport it, but as he walked across campus, the sword slipped out, loudly clanging as it hit the concrete. “The dean came down and put a stop to it,” he says. “He didn’t allow the piece to be displayed.”
The incident left Ramirez discouraged, but then he started on a new path, learning from the renowned David Burnett. “He’s a really great artist and master bladesmith,” Ramirez says. But they parted ways when Burnett moved to Hawaii. “That left me in a void.”
Armed with experience and the knowledge of a master, Ramirez journeyed to the Heritage Museum of Orange County, where the late Bob Cooper managed the forge. Soon, Ramirez was volunteering his time teaching and blacksmithing.
“I challenge myself perpetually,” he says, so of course he began looking for new things to create. He would upload videos of his projects on YouTube as Gil the Vlogsmith, but one went viral: forging a D20 die. “I had no idea it would be so popular,” says Ramirez.
Soon, influential members of the D&D community noticed, including the casts of Critical Role and Geek and Sundry. He has now appeared on both shows, talking about games and his unusual D20s. Fans began to reach out, wanting their own.
Demand was so high he knew he needed to open his own shop. Ramirez went on a quest to find his own place. To finance his dream, he turned to Kickstarter, offering dice in copper, silver, gold, even titanium, which, he says, “is one of the hardest to work with.” Within 24 hours, his project was fully funded. Stretch goals were added and met, with a total $110,295 raised.
“Finding a shop space was the longest ordeal of my life,” he says. But on April 1, he posted on Facebook the good news: He had acquired the keys to a spot. Since then, he has been busy filling it with equipment so he can bust out those Kickstarter rewards—as well as some new projects.
In addition to his blacksmithing work, he has become known for his storytelling abilities in the D&D world. As a teen, friends would tap him to be their Dungeon Master. “I had lots of people asking,” he says. “If five people were interested, then I’d write one out.”
As the game gained popularity in recent years, he and his wife, Kristin Potter-Ramirez, started a weekly game broadcast via Twitch, Triangle Table, with friends Katarina Waters (who wrestles professionally as Winter), Adam Gold, Amber Milazzo and Guillermo Dorado. Though the show is currently on hiatus, he’s looking forward to starting it back up soon.
In addition to getting a good look at those custom dice, maybe you’ll hear someone mutter endearingly, “Damn it, Gil.”
Patrice Marsters started at OC Weekly as an intern, just before the first issue was published. She is now the associate editor of the paper, serves on the board of the Orange County Press Club, and mentors aspiring writers and editors at Newport Harbor High School. In her spare time, Ms. Marsters co-leads a multi-level Girl Scout troop, creates baked goods, and rants at inanimate objects (including her computer) about her grammatical and writing pet peeves.