Documentary Review: The Dwarvennaut
Back when I was getting actively into gaming again, I started reading Knights of the Dinner Magazine, and some issues of Dragon Magazine when I could. In those issues of the magazine, I encountered ads for Dwarven Forge, a company making miniature dungeon terrain out of really durable material, what I presume is plastic resin, called Dwarvenite. It was incredibly well sculpted, beautiful to look at, and as a high school and later college student, I couldn’t even begin to hope to afford it, never mind to have space for it. But I really wanted to be able to be in a game that used it.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I finally got in a long-running game again, and much to my delight, my GM owned pretty much all of the Dwarven Forge terrain that had come out to date – so I was able to play with it and experience using it first hand – and it was great. And then I learned about a documentary on Netflix about the guy who started Dwarven Forge, and I decided I had to check that out. I didn’t know exactly what it’s tone would be. However, thus far Netflix had not steered me wrong on the documentary front, so what the hell?
The Dwarvenaut is a interesting documentary – as both an character study of Stefan Pokorny, the founder of the company and one of the sculptors of the terrain the company puts out, and a brief snapshot of what draws people to Roleplaying games. That said, the film is tends strongly more towards the former than the latter. Stefan talks about what drew him to RPGs and we get some interviews with people, often industry luminaries, about what drew them to RPGs – but while the documentary goes to GenCon and other locations we don’t get much of an opportunity to talk to newer roleplayers about why they play, and what draws them to the products that Dwarven Forge makes.
The framing “narrative” as much as there is one, is based around the launching of Dwarven Forge’s third kickstarter, for their City Terrain set, after their earlier “Dungeon” and “Cave” sets. In particular, there are some concerns that due to overpromising on the kickstarter, if they don’t raise $2 million, they will end up going bankrupt. The “will they or won’t they make the goal” part of the
The profile of Stefan is far more engrossing – getting into not only what motivates him as a person who is into roleplaying (specifically designing a product that would motivate people to play in person instead of online), but also as an artist. There’s an scene in the film where Stefan goes back to Venice, where he spent some time after he graduated from art school, and he talks about the wear on the stones and about the stories those buildings must have scene – and that speaks volumes of the artistic motivations behind the Dwarven Forge terrain.
The film also does an amazing job of presenting Dwarven Forge’s terrain, visually. We get some really well shot closeups of the terrain, with lighting and dry-ice fog that makes it look like a miniature from a fantasy movie (and that’s not a bad thing – this is a product that you can buy after all). It kinda makes for a really strong advertisement for Dwarven Forge’s products, which is not what I expected from this documentary.
It’s an engrossing film. I don’t know if it’s one that I’d necessarily add to my collection, but it was definitely worth watching. The film is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and also on Amazon on DVD and Digital.