Series co-creator Christopher Dane and production assistant Claire Finn explain how a two-player tabletop betting game was designed and made for Ren: The Girl with the Mark, and then turned into a Kickstarter reward.
Chris: In one stand-alone scene in Season One, the script called for two jailors (brilliantly played by Richard Highgate and Ivan Moy) to be interrupted playing a game. That’s all the script said… a ‘game’. Now, Ren being a fantasy series, most of the props needed in the entire series would not be something that you could just buy off the shelf, and that was the case with this ‘game’.
So a couple of days before that specific scene had to be filmed, I started thinking about what kind of game would be appropriate for these guards and the environment they’re in. First of all I thought that maybe these two had been soldiers before they became jailors. So the game might have been something they would have played during active duty. Soldiers would maybe play the game while waiting for battle in a camp or on guard duty on the ramparts of a fortress. In both cases the game would have to be easy to pack up when called into battle or when an officer would approach. In both cases it would have to be a simple, uncomplicated game that wouldn’t drag out. In other word, it couldn’t be chess.
The idea of a basic money game, rather like roulette but with dice, began to form. I drew up a game board and a set of very simple rules… or so I thought. Turns out nobody actually understood my notes, and I’m not even sure the team doing the Kickstarter live launch was playing it completely correctly! Unfortunately, I was away on other business the day that scene was filmed, so the actors weren’t able to ask how to interpret the rules.
Claire: I think we were painting the guards’ room, a couple of days before we were sheduled to shoot those scenes, when Chris passed on the task of making the game. I drew of lot of inspiration from real-world historical games when I thought about the design, like Nine Men’s Morris or a viking game called Hnefatafl. There have been a lot of archaeological examples found where boards for playing these have been scratched into wooden barrel lids or roof tiles in a really haphazard fashion, probably whenever groups of bored soldiers got together on watch.
I wanted the board and pieces to have a similar feel, something that had maybe been made by the jailors themselves on a long evening and could just be folded up, with all the pieces – and your winnings! – inside and carried away at a moment’s notice. So I went rummaging around in the costume store and found an old leather apron which had previously been worn by one of the Lyngarth villagers. After a suitable amount of “distressing”, ie. kicking it around in the carpark to made it look really grubby, I marked out the lines of the board by burning them on with a soldering iron and adding some charcoal.
The pieces were also very simple to make; these were just off-cuts from a sawn-up branch that were then painted, but I liked to think that the players could have used anything to hand – stones, acorns or even bits of dry bread.
The dice probably took the longest to make, and originally I wanted these to be made of bone, which is another common material that was used for making gaming pieces historically, but it proved to be too difficult to mark the shaped runes. In the end, the game had wooden dice which I carved by hand, before cutting out the runes and adding a bit of paint to make them stand out on camera. I’m sure they were not very evenly weighted, but for these jailors that could only have been a plus!
Chris: The game Claire produced looks absolutely amazing on film and is another example of how you make a show look and feel real.
About a year after filming the series we did some pick-up scenes that included, you guessed it, some close-ups of the guards playing the game. If you look at the behind-the-scenes video that was made that day, Claire is actually on tape saying “Only Chris knows how to play this game” with a laugh and a bit of a shake of the head. That prompted me to sit down and really think about the rules. Once they were drawn up, another of our production heroes, Hans, road-tested them with his gaming group in the Netherlands. He suggested a few changes and additions, and that is the basis of the fully-fledged game we have today.
I just want to talk briefly about the name. In the unique tongue of the North King that we are constantly expanding, most names are made up of two words, each with a double meaning. In this case ‘Dohl’ means money/coin and ‘Leg’ means game/play. So the game is actually called Money Game or Coin Play… depending on what part of Alathia you are from.
Claire: The fact that the game looked genuinely handmade was really important to us, so when we were thinking about the Kickstarter Rewards, we got in touch with The Historic Games Shop, a company that handmake many historic board games, like Nine Men’s Morris in fact. Jon has done a fantastic job recreating Chris’s vision, so I hope anyone who gets hold of a copy of Dohl’Leg enjoys playing it, and I hope you are smarter than me at understanding the rules!
Grab your copy of Dohl’Leg right now on our Kickstarter page, and support new episodes of Ren at the same time. But hurry – the Kickstarter ends at midnight GMT on Saturday, February 29th.