By Gregory Daurer | Mar 21, 2022
"We are the Bentley of dice," says Brumfield. "Cost is no object. It's as expensive as it needs to be to make what we're making. We don't ever try to compete on cost. We understand that we make a luxury item for a very niche market."
Although the image of a standard pair of dice with dotted surfaces -- rather than the numbers being printed out on them -- appears on Artisan Dice's website within its logo, the company isn't geared towards folks who, for example, play craps. Instead, Brumfield caters to people devoted to role-playing games (RPGs) like Pathfinder, World of Darkness, and the one that set off the craze for many players in the 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons.
The common thread is immersive fictional worlds involving fantasy elements like fire-breathing dragons or forest-dwelling elves or extraterrestrial Jedi Knights. "We make dice for nerds," says Brumfield bluntly. "It's basically grown adults sitting around a coffee table playing mathematically altered make-believe."
That means, in addition to six-sided dice -- which, as a pair, are the standard accompaniment to most traditional board games -- Brumfield crafts dice with four, eight, 10, 12, and 20 sides. They are generally sold as a set with 10 dice in all.
When not in use, many of the sets rest within a fancy, rounded, wooden gaming container, which Brumfield refers to as a "reliquary" -- in other words, a holder of precious relics. That's fitting, because while the price for a set of dice starts off around $60, the cost can climb up to several thousand of dollars -- and the construction can sometimes incorporate incredibly rare materials.
Brumfield may make dice for nerds, but they're nerds with a goodly amount of disposable income: "You can buy a nice used car for the price of some of the sets we sell," he says.
Artisan Dice aren't manufactured from injection-molded plastic. No, they're hand-tooled from, for example, semi-precious stone (opal and jade); aerospace metal alloys (including -- as the site call it -- "insanely expensive" timascus); and animal -- or even human -- remains: alligator jawbone, walrus baculum, 10,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusks; and "retired skeletons once used in medical universities," according to the company website.
"We work with over 150 species of exotic woods," adds Brumfield. "That's kind of our bread and butter." Those woods include yellowheart, red zebrawood, and ethically-sourced Mahogany. And then there are dice made from compressed hops (ready for drinking games, if so desired) and, yes, even moose poop.
Coming soon: dice containing dust from lunar meteorites, suspended in resin. "They're probably going to be the most expensive thing we've ever made," says Brumfield.
The numbers or symbols on the dice are laser-etched. And then, depending on the project, they're inlaid with bronze, copper, nickel, or silver.
Usually, the dice sell in themed sets. Want some with elvish numerals as an homage to The Lord of the Rings? How about a Cthulhu set, for lovers of Lovecraftian lore? There are sets for Mardis Gras and Valentine's Day. Or perhaps you're looking for something with a Lone Star State angle? There are dice made from the horn of Texas Longhorn cattle and others with bluebonnet petals fixed within resin.
Brumfield started his business -- celebrating its 10th anniversary in March 2022 -- after his son needed a specialty pair of dice for the game Fate. "I didn't want to drive all the way across Dallas to pick up a set of $2 dice," recalls Brumfield. "Instead, I drove all the way across town to pick up some exotic woods to make my own set of dice with pluses and minuses on [them]." He made extras for the gaming group to which Brumfield -- who cites his own "nerd cred" on his website -- belongs. Impressed at his handiwork, the group encouraged him to make more.
"Twenty-four hours later, I was in business full-time making dice," he says. "It was never a hobby. Our first day in business, we got $1,700 worth of orders. We did $100,000 worth of sales in the first month. And it was off to the races. I think our sales for last year were approaching $600,000."
The dice are sold online by the company itself, as well as through dealers across the globe: Ireland, England, Germany, Malaysia, and Australia, in addition to the United States. And the company does white label work: "If it is a nice-looking set of wooden dice that you purchased, it most likely came through our shop," he says.
Brumfield is always happy to cater to nerds who want unusual, one-off, custom work. "One gentleman bought a set of mammoth ivory dice -- a $3,000 set of dice -- and wanted Super Mario 64 font for the numbers inlaid in silver," recalls Brumfield. "This was a very high-dollar set of dice with a Fisher-Price set of numbers on it. But that's what he wanted!"
Challenges: "Finding employees with the attention to detail required to make what we make," says Brumfield. He tells them, "I will never be angry at you for throwing something away; I will be mad if it gets to my customer and it's not what it should be."
Opportunities: "We are in the process of launching, basically, five new businesses," says Brumfield. "They are in gaming-adjacent markets and embracing automation." Look for a line of Lego-compatible exotic wooden bricks and controllers for home gaming systems like Xbox and PlayStation. They'll be sold under new brand names, separate from Artisan Dice.
Needs: "It has been past time for us to move for about, oh, 10 years," says Brumfield. Presently, he runs Artisan Dice, along with his seven employees, out of 480 square feet of space within his own home. Still, Brumfield –who puts Lean manufacturing principles to work -- says, "Our shop, while it is small, there's always space to work. There's 2.5-foot walkways everywhere."
And he calls the shop environment "stupidly clean" -- no dust buildup allowed. In addition to dust collectors, there's a half-million dollars worth of additional equipment: seven CNC machines, five lasers, and assorted woodworking tools. So, he estimates at least four times the present amount of space would be a much better fit for his company.