Initial release: March 12, 2016
The DWARVENAUT is a movie about how Stefan Pokorny grew up as an orphan and went on to literally build an empire called Valoria from tabletop dungeons made from Dwarvenite (aka resin).
This film will mainly be of interest to anyone who has played tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and especially those who employ 3D dungeon floorplans and buildings. It also highlights the strength that both KICKSTARTER online crowd funding and GenCon Indianapolis (mainly 2013) have on gaming across and around the globe.
Stefan had a more than interesting upbringing, having been born to a Korean mother from a passing American, before being adopted, returned and adopted again; no wonder he's such a quirky chap when you meet him. This fim is more than just a way to highlight his amazing sculpting, artistry and design work, it is a look into a life that you would never have guessed at had he not laid himself open for this documentary.
Stefan is very proud of his wonderful dungeon and cavern designs and found it hard to understand how they could sell online, in stores and off his GenCon stand like the tastiest hot cakes ever, and yet his brilliantly detailed Cityscape failed to capture the imagination or the necessary funding, at least at first. Stefan was buoyant throughout the campaign though, only letting his guard down occasionally until right up until near the end of the show when Kickstarter finally ended and the fears of possibly losing his company abated as it hit the necessary dollar mark. Yes, Dwarven Forge was on the verge of disappearing because Stefan puts not just his heart and soul into his work but also his money. Thankfully the company lived to see another day.
It is possible that the DWARVENAUT will be interesting to non-gamers or non-role-players because it does show that sincerity, hard work, belief in yourself and your friends, and the internet can be the bringer of wishes. I have met Stefan on many occasions, not that he'll admit to remembering me, and have used Dwarven Forge dungeon pieces since around 1996/7 when it was first introduced to me at GenCon Wisconsin. Over the years I collected many of the sets and have now passed them on to my eldest son who uses them in his games and at his games club where they still cause players to gaze in awe at their excellence.
As I say I have met and spoken with Stefan and even enjoyed a drink with him but until I saw this movie I didn't know his back story - it really isn't something you can ask about nor is it something he was likely to just open up with over a pizza and a beer. He admits it in the film and it is often obvious that he, to put it kindly, enjoys his drink, but always after the event, you never see him under the influence during office hours, he is a consumate professional who perhaps consumes a little too much at times. He loves to be the central figure in the room. He is boisterous but not beligerent, often loud but never obnoxious, amusing but never detrimental to or at the expense of, others. He is a friendly chap and very enthusiastic about his work and Dungeons & Dragons.
Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, and the movie does mention it several times, including a trip to GaryCon, the event set up to honour Gary Gygax the originator of D&D, whether by his own accord or by the will and whim of the director Stefan is seen hosting a D&D game where he is the DungeonMaster and, one would assume his colleagues and friends are the players. There is nothing wrong with displaying your product being used in the context it is designed for, Stefan has a huge table filled with Dwarven Forge pieces, but anyone who doesn't know him that views this documentary will once again groan and whinge, quite rightly in my opinion, about the way D&D and Fantasy role-playing in general is envisioned. Stefan wears a cloak and wizard's hat whilst DM'ing and the players are all dressed up in pantomime clown clothes - well they may as well have been - they are wearing over-the-top Live Action Role Playing (LARP) gear, so OTT that only Americans and players of Ars Magica live would wear; true LARPers wouldn't be seen dead in the majority of the clobber on display here. The tabletop game is played with pen & paper and dice, not costumes and rubber weapons.
On a slightly unfortunate side; it has taken years to get the social stigma often associated with D&D by reporters, non-gamers, wargames players etc to a low, almost forgotten, definitely manageable, level, and sadly it is quite possible this film could have set the whole thing back 20 years and kickstarted (pun intended) once again the idea that we role-players are just a bunch of nutters (satan worshipping or not) that sit around in candlelit rooms casting weird spells and behaving like idiots from a forgotten age (nearly said Forgotten Realm then). We know that Stefan is a crazy, funny, generous, friendly nutcase and is obviously playing up here for the cameras, but alas other folk who do not go to GenCon or have never met Stefan will not understand his enthusiasm for the game and the people who play it, it'll just be "Here we go again!" especially if some country-bumpkin local newspaper picks up on it.
Role-Players and anyone who uses Dwarven Forge product will love the DWARVENAUT. Anyone who knows Stefan will love the DWARVENAUT for its encouraging look at a life that could have turned out so bad and yet has given so much enjoyment to so many. Critics can find as many nit-picks as they could ever want in the DWARVENAUT. In fact there is something for everyone in the DWARVENAUT, games players or not. You can find it on American Netflix, iTunes, Google Play and Xbox amongst other places. Find it, check it out, and if you later meet Stefan at a convention you will feel like you already know him. He has laid his life open and bared his soul and asked us to enjoy his roller-coaster world with him.
My thanks to Stefan who read this and replied:
Read your review, overall quite happy with your take. But, I respectfully disagree that the film shows ALL US Gamers as nuts....it's just me that's odd. I think that is shown well enough in the film. The film shows plenty of "regular" folks not in costume running games both at Gary Con and Gen Con. I would not cringe my friend:) Pick up a copy of the Blue Ray disc for an extra hour of great interviews with some of the luminaries of our field...I'm sure you agree the movie would not have been as interesting if it has shown a theatre of the mind DM rather than my own style of Theatrical D&D. In any case thank you for writing up about it:) I'll post it to my page:)