“As a dungeon master, there’s a wanting to create a world that’s under your control. It’s more than just a game, it’s your world. That makes it an unlimited realm of thought, imagination, philosophy.” These are some of the opening lines of the new documentary The Dwarvenaut, by Raving Cyclops Studios, streaming now on Netflix.
The words are spoken by the film’s subject, Stefan Pokorny, an artist and designer who started the company Dwarven Forge which builds miniature terrain for use in Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy games. Though pencil-and-paper games were originally designed for players to create the worlds in their heads, Pokorny, like many people who play, wished to see his worlds on the tabletop. And so he began designing miniature sets for use with figures to bring his stories more to life. His desire to share what he was building led him to start a company which now makes some of the highest quality terrains in the business.
The Dwarvenaut begins with Stefan Pokorny playing D&D with a group of friends while his philosophy of what he calls “the greatest game ever made” narrates on top. His energy, both as a game master and someone who loves the game, is infectious.
We are immediately thrust into Pokorny’s life, seeing him wake up and look out over the streets of New York while still in his underwear. While this may seem like an unusual choice for a documentary about a designer of game pieces, the very personal moment tells us right out the gate that this will be a very personal portrayal, and it delivers.
In fact, what’s particularly touching about The Dwarvenaut is that it describes what many of us who have played RPGs for years have known all along; that these games simultaneously provide escapism while also bringing out the most personal aspects of who we are. They help us explore ourselves and each other. This was certainly what drew Stefan Pokorny to the game when it was first invented in the 1970s, and it may just have saved him from a miserable life.
The Dwarvenaut explores Pokorny’s rough childhood as he tried to find his place in society. After dropping out of school, his life seemed doomed to obscurity. However, his love and talent for art gave him a second chance in the form of art school. Though he had difficulty fitting in with mainstream businesses after graduation, he found a way to combine his love of fantasy role playing with his talent for art, and he began designing the miniature sets that became Dwarven Forge.
The passion of the documentarians, as well as its subjects, really provide mainstream audiences with an accurate and positive picture of role playing games, how they affect lives, and who the people are who play them and make products for them. At just under an hour and a half, it is well worth the time invested to watch it, and even worth a month’s subscription just to see it if one doesn’t already have one.
Tell us about some of your favorite miniatures sets in the comments below.
Featured image: The Dwarvenaut