Roadworthy: Judge Jorge Graterol, AKA “Brujo”

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This week’s judge comes from Panama, where he is a psychologist and an avid gamer. He loves to run Dungeon Crawl Classics—and isn’t afraid to answer questions, either. Let’s meet Judge Jorge Graterol, AKA “Brujo”!

Roadworthy: Jorge Graterol, AKA “Brujo”!

What’s your name, where do you live (and game), and how would you describe yourself?

My Name is Jorge Graterol, and I am currently living in Panama—and I am an avid fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics! I have been gaming since 1995 and have never stopped collecting, playing, and enjoying games with others.

I am originally from Venezuela, but like other Venezuelans, I moved abroad due to a series of political and economic upheavals affecting my country and ended up in Panama about 10 years ago, where I currently reside and game at my favorite FLGS “Istmo Games.”

Back in Venezuela people gave me the nickname “Brujo.” In Spanish, it means someone that is a practitioner of magic or sorcery, and it was given to me due to my extensive library of role-playing games, especially back in the day of AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, Also, as a psychologist, people thought I was able to “read” their minds! So the name stuck and every single one of my friends knows me as such.

Tabletop role-playing games back in the late 90s and early 2000s in Latin America were a bit obscure, especially in my old city of Maracaibo. I was known for being one of the few that played in the area. The game was more known in the capital city of Caracas, rather than Maracaibo, which is far to the West. So I decided to let everyone know about it, and share with as many people as possible this wonderful hobby. A good chunk of local Maracaibo future DMs, GMs, and storytellers were spawned in my basement after hours of fun, where I introduced people to the beauty of the funky dice and the power behind adventuring in fantasy lands.

My basement was the hot spot for RPG gaming in the city for about a decade, and I hosted up to 3 games per week for several years straight to anyone curious and inclined to learn more about them.

I also talked on local radio shows and introducing the show hosts to gaming and letting people know more about RPGs. Spreading awareness of the wonders of it, and this, in turn, prompted me to study psychology, which alongside many things, had a component of role-playing and conflict resolution techniques, which I injected into my own games as I learned them and eventually finished college.

I made most of my current long-lasting friends at the table rolling dice and fighting endless battles for treasure and loot—mostly as a DM, but sometimes as an occasional player—and they have become an extension of my own virtual family, as almost all of them moved abroad, dispersed in the world by the winds of chaos.

Some of them, wonderfully, when moving abroad, opened their own gaming stores, like a good friend of mine that has the current top-selling Magic store in Chile, and almost all of Latin America! (Say hi to Daniel from Magicsur Chile if you ever go to Santiago, and ask him about his evil druid at my table…mwahaha!) I like to imagine my years of solid gaming inspired others to keep the hobby up in foreign lands, which brings a smile to my soul.

All of this has made me really happy. I also feel good when people remember me as being their first DM, and I always encourage others to keep on playing. Teaching newcomers the ropes, and giving them a good solid impression, and for this, and many other reasons, I decided to be an avid spreader of the “DCC Ethos,” so it can continue spreading far and wide as people enjoy what I feel is one of the best RPGs out there.

As a professional I have used RPGs as a therapy tool, too, applying it to children and their parents, helping them close relationship gaps and giving them guidelines to steer them into better socialization skills and mindsets.

 There is something about tabletop gaming that I have always considered “magical.” Making the unreal, the intangible, something that flows with reality into people gathered at the table, turning for a brief moment everyone at the table into a bigger part of a whole that lies deep within our minds. Evoking wonder and awe at worlds not easily seen but perhaps in dreams.

Every single time I set up a table and people begin playing, I am always looking at that tipping point, that special moment, so unique yet so common when directing a game, waiting patiently for it. And when it comes, when the feeling is in the air, when I can feel it in my very bones, it is that moment when I smile and realize the wonder of this simple yet extremely powerful “magic” that is role-playing.

My personal goal is to attain that feeling, that “magic” every single time I go out and play with the wonderful people that surround my table, and DCC helps bring it into reality with an amazing ease!

How did you first discover DCC?

Back in late 2014, when I was eagerly awaiting a new edition of D&D and began getting glimpses of the new 5th edition—having personally not seen much support at my own table for 4th edition, and jumping between systems for something to adopt as my new game of choice and that pleased my players as well—I was reading a small thread on OSR books and new retro-clones on the web and saw DCC mentioned out of the blue.

Most people were advocating old classics and their retro-clones, from B/X to 1st edition D&D and someone suddenly mentioned Dungeon Crawl Classics. The talked about the art style and how it was an OSR game, but of a more recent 3rd edition D&D, something new yet mixed with something “classic.”

My curiosity was instantly piqued and I decided to delve on the subject through the vast web of forums, blogs, and news sites dedicated to RPGs.

That was how I discovered the old, now defunct, G+ site dedicated to gaming, and some people heavily into the game that opened me to new vistas of gaming, as again, in Latin America the community is much smaller and does not have such a strong presence online. But in English, it is literally another world, a much grander and vast world.

In time, I decided to finally shell out some of my hard-earned money to buy a core book. In Latin America, the prices keep the hobby in a state of practically small luxury items, as our wages here are very low when compared to American dollars, but I was glad to know DCC only needed a single core book! This also made the choice much more appealing, so I got it through an online store for a superb price. When adding the price of shipping to Panama, it was still expensive, yet a very good investment, all things considered.

Shipping books is very expensive here in Panama, be it by air or boat, so I can only buy things once a year. That is why I had to wait for so long to buy my physical copy.

So I eagerly awaited the package containing my copy of the core book, and once I opened the pages and delved deeply into the system I was completely hooked on DCC!

I began to play it randomly when I had enough time (which as you grow older becomes more scarce), and this year I was able to dedicate enough time to finally run a full World Tour of 13 games at my FLGS!

You say “DCC is an Ethos” – can you talk about that for our readers?

That is a very special phrase, a motto I love 100% because it embodies for me the main difference between all other RPGs and DCC: the spirit of the game.

Some people, from my experience—especially as judges, referees, DMs, GMs, storytellers, and players at the end of the spectrum—see RPGs as a set of tables, rules, mechanics, and skills that let them explore worlds of fantasy in a certain way.

This is good and wholesome, of course, but for me—deep down and personally—playing RPGs, and especially DCC with its extremely light ruleset, has been a work of love. It is also a special mindset, expressed endlessly in the modules and core book, starting with the phrase “Remember the good old days ….” So, it has always been about that. The mindset of the game rather than the rules, mechanics, and skills. With DCC you no longer need to remember; you can make your own memories right away in the classic style of yesteryear!

Please bear in mind I am not implying any superiority or value scale to this idea when compared to other RPGs. This is very important to understand, as classical RPGs by their very nature are simply non-zero-sum games and within this lie part of their soul. So having said that, whenever you play DCC, it is of utmost importance to understand where you have to place yourself mentally to enjoy the game as it was conceived. And I believe within that lies its success, its charm, its intrinsic value beyond the commonalities of fixed rules.

Having said this, DCC is therefore not a game ruleset, but a way of playing RPGs. DCC is then an ethos: DCC is not a convoluted mechanic, a set of classes or specialized feats, options, and skills that define your player character, but rather a mental exercise in reliving the endless spirit of creation, the chaos innate to all dice rolls. The Weavers of Fate that lie tied to that particular “magic” living in the spirit of all people gathered at the table, expecting an outcome from an idea that might or might not survive the night—the adventure, the run through chance and randomness.

And this particular concatenation of ideas is what gives it its reason, its focus, and then turns it into an ethos when being exercised at a gaming table.

From the moment you randomly roll your stats, you are tied to what the whims of fate dictate—be it a gorgeous 18 at one end or a truly special 3 on another attribute—you are in a sense a creature of chaos trying to surface out of the muck of creation.

You then randomly, again, choose a class, equipment, and there your player character is born, tied to you as you are tied to your own reality.

Will that character thrive? Will it be a successful adventurer? A ruthless mercenary? Will it hoard enough wealth to consider his own life a success? Will it die unsung in a forgotten crypt or dungeon amongst other unlucky ones? Will it even make it through the funnel at all?

Mainstream RPGs usually give a more sanitized experience, with extremely “adequate” and “proper” ways of handling character creation like packages, experience point tables, encounter tables, skills to define an idea of a character concept, extensive rulebooks and splatbooks filled to the brim with shiny classes, and amazing rule-breaking combos of doom or that let you be anything you can possibly imagine.

Is that bad? No. It is actually pretty healthy. People choose these mainstream games for this shine, this appeal, this will of creativity given form in a canvas where everything is possible and you can even, if you dig into the ruleset, create a “perfect character.” A character that will collate perfectly to your own inner vision filled with the need to be this particular persona, or explore a character concept so personal only you and you alone can give it deep and wide meaning.

But DCC is different.

DCC does not present itself as this. It does not even imply it is better or worse or anything at all. DCC is its own beast, its own master and slave. It stands out for simply telling you what it can do…and the rest? The rest you can easily create yourself right away or consult with others or your own intuition. All DCC wants is to make you have fun the way it used to be back in the day, the hardcore experience feel, if not the ruleset.

I have heard people saying they believe the game is too “swingy.” That the random factor can penalize players badly, that this or that is too much, etc. But in the end, when you sit people at the table—and this I have seen with my own eyes—they come with a set of expectations, asking if they can do this or that. Then they are suddenly thrust with completely randomly generated characters in a system they barely know or understand, and then the funnel begins…you can see them letting themselves go.

And this is why DCC is an ethos. It is not the game itself, but the feeling of letting yourself go and trying to survive the funnel and all the adventures that might come afterward. The experience then becomes the way to play, the way to enjoy roleplaying within the system. It is not the correct way or the wrong way, it is a way, an ethos.

I have seen wonderful highly attributed players die the most pointless of deaths, when other characters, by sheer luck, keep trudging on and on, until the day their luck runs out. And they will go into oblivion themselves, or perhaps they will continue, bringing oblivion to the powers that be in the game world.

Nothing is certain, nothing is predetermined. It is you and your surviving set of player characters, eking out a living in a vast uncaring multiverse, being toyed with by powers that care little for them, as the secrets of the universe slowly unfold to them and within them.

Wizards slowly mutate. Clerics lose favor. Warriors grow weary. And even halflings luck runs out. Yet they keep on, always keeping on until they can’t keep any longer.

This might seem fatalistic to some, but it is actually super fun! Underdogs suddenly become survivors. Bright stars die quickly and are as quickly forgotten. It is a constant flux of energy, where the horizon always promises a new dawn of opportunities, enticing many players to go on one more adventure.

Just let yourself go. Don’t invest that much energy into a character that represents you from the start. Make a survivor represent you in the end and see him be born, grow, and then die, right at the table, without any remorse.

I began playing this way many years ago, and I believe deep down I was was just waiting for DCC to come into my hands to finally give my view a more deep backbone.

And there it was! It happened! DCC was waiting for me, after slowly walking through endless systems—some of them good, some of them bad—I always knew there would be something that managed to fit my own internal need. And I found it in this classic experience of dungeon crawling, and I’ve been happy with it since.

And yes, I am totally in love with the game. I think it shows!

Tell us about your YouTube show. What has that experience been like? What can we look forward to in the future?

My small YouTube channel started to try to bring more content in Spanish to the role-playing Spanish speaking community.

I always felt the Spanish speaking RPG community is too small and poorly represented on the net, so I decided one day to simply begin talking about my own experiences, rambling on, sometimes for hours about my thoughts.

All of my friends abroad in so many countries with so many different languages besides Spanish always tell me about how they miss the good old days of gaming at my local basement, so I named it “El Sotano del Brujo.” That is Spanish for “The Warlocks Basement.” I was being called “Brujo” by all of them, as I mentioned before, so the closest translation would be warlock.

I started talking, mostly to my friends, so they can hear me when they want. I love speaking, and you can see some of my videos are a bit long, but they also help me in a therapeutic way.

As an exile living abroad, the channel serves as an outlet for some of my own ideas. Seeing them on the net helps me give something back to the community, even if it is small. Plus, it helps me vent out a bit with topics that are pretty obscure to most people out there in Latin America.

I mostly do the videos to share ideas, and see what others think about what I share. My focus has always been to just let other role-players know about the things I like and that perhaps others might like as well in return.

Then I decided to begin speaking in English, trying to reach out to other people and it has been quite a success for my very small channel!

From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate all the comments and views. It has been quite a surprise to me to see so many people replying and commenting.

I wish communities in Latin America were as vocal and active online as the English-speaking ones, and perhaps one day it will be, so I will keep making more videos in Spanish—but will keep doing them in English as well!

One of my core beliefs is that, as a community, we all need to support each other, especially when speaking about DCC, which I have promoted endlessly on my channel. I just love the game and want to let everybody else know about it.

My current plans are finding enough time for me to translate and remake my Spanish videos into English, and keep doing more content talking about OSR and DCC specifically.

There is so much stuff to talk about. I have barely scratched the surface, but if you want to know, I think I will lean more towards talking in-depth about the practical value of roleplaying, not only as a game but as a tool in mental health and well being.

Also, I believe role-playing games fill a very special and often forgotten niche of bringing the joy of socialization and sharing with other fellow human beings. And personally, as a Venezuelan expat living in a foreign country, it has helped me a ton in finding and making new friends abroad, which is pretty important to all people that move to a different place and have to start practically from scratch again.

One of the things I have come to realize is that we are always alone, so busy with our own lives that we forget about others, and in my case, what better way than to share, meet, and talk to other people that enjoy this amazing hobby that is RPGs, and specifically DCC!

If you are curious, please check my youtube channel “El Sotano del Brujo!”

Tell us where you run your Road Crew games.

I run all my Road Crew Games at one of the most friendly and amazing FLGS here in Panama: Istmo Games!

I know the owner personally, and he is one of those guys that you can see at the store chatting with customers, making friends, and simply chilling out. The environment is super relaxing and the staff is super attentive and cordial.

Emmanuel is the face you usually see when you try to buy something at the counter, and he is a fountainhead of knowledge, especially for the most popular CCGs and boardgames. No other store has given me that experience here in Panama, so I will always promote them willingly to everybody.

The Store is called Istmo Games, and the owner is Marlon, you can contact the store or visit it using this contact info:

If you ever come here, be sure to give it a try!

What advice would you give to other Road Crew judges?

From my own experience, I think that time management is a must. Time management skills need to be learned and used without remorse. When you play in a public venue, you usually need to be on your toes to not drag the game too long, especially when you have new players at the table who are not used to sitting for such a long time. I usually give every player their say when possible, and when in doubt—to avoid players taking too much time when deciding a course of action—I use a trusty sand clock to signify that “time is slowly ticking,” this forces them to make a decision and the game keeps flowing.

If needed, I let the players know they can take a small break when sitting for every hour/hour-and-a-half of the game, so they can stretch their legs. I do so occasionally, too. Remember, you have to keep yourself healthy, as well!

Some of the sessions when I have had big groups I run standing up. Moving this way and that to try to accommodate all players, hearing them and then deciding what to do. This might not suit other judges, but again, you have to move a bit as a judge so players’ attention can always be on yourself. You need to control the table. Plus, it helps with circulation and general health, so that is a bonus! I can never repeat this too much.

Alongside time management, I believe that keeping it as simple as possible is a great tool for the Road Crew Judge, and you can do this by having pre-made characters.

I print and cut the randomly generated level 0 characters beforehand, and when the game starts I just give the players the small character sheets and explain briefly the things they can do, making special emphasis on the fact people can burn luck all the time they want, and as many times as they have luck to burn.

As a special dispensation, I let halflings burn luck for others at level 0, and this has made for some of the most dramatic scenes during funnels. Those little guys can really turn the tides when most needed, and I have seen heroics done by halflings that no other race has emulated. And you always need to remind players about how they can burn luck to pass a check. They always forget it, and it is one of the most fun mechanics the game has.

Besides pre-made characters, I try to keep all rolls tied to 1d4s, 1d6s, and d20s, so I bring several triangles and cubes and a ton of d20s to the table. As the funnel progresses you will see fewer people needing to handle so many d20 rolls, because the level 0 commoners will begin dying, but having people roll at once for all of their characters is actually a time-saver. And if you make them roll the d4s and d6s alongside the d20s, it speeds up the game and does not deter from the fun factor!

Another small change I make to funnels and general play is that unskilled checks (normally requiring a d10) I simply let people roll d20s and I mentally halve the result. This speeds up the game as well, as the less time you have to search for dice other than d4s, d6s, and d20s, the faster the game flows. Plus, if for some reason a character rolls an untrained skill check and rolls a nat 20, even if the DC is above ten, I consider it a partial success, giving at the very least a small hint.

A gravedigger might not know much about astrology, but on a partial check success (a nat 20) he can at least remember that one of his characters, or another character in the party, might roll the check with a better bonus, or have him provide a small +1 to the check made by another party member after he failed.

Even a failed climb check that results in falling damage can be helped with a nat 20 on the untrained skill check. An extra hand by a player, a small twig or rock that makes you not fall that hard, etc. The sky is the limit to how much you can mitigate with a partial success of an untrained skill check using a d20.

Another thing, as a judge, in my experience, it is better to never say NO to a player. It is much better to let them try anything and then explain that it might not work as they intended, rather than simply telling them no beforehand.

The less you say no to them, the more they will try to create and invent things that will make you frown a bit and then say “Hey! That might actually work.” Even if it is too strange or bizarre, you can always twist it a bit with some imagination, or let other players help it along. This fosters team effort, and even if the silly idea fails, the team feels it was still their effort and not an individual effort gone wrong. That they will get the knack of it with time and experience!

Another very important point to make is that I always keep a printout of cleric and wizard spells, plus reference tables and crit tables, handy to give to the players! This really, really helps your PCs during the adventure, as sometimes moving the solid brick of delicious information that is the core book is a bit of a pain on the table, so the more prepared you are beforehand the better!            

And, as a final recommendation, have fun! Sometimes as judges we are too focused on making the adventure run successfully that we forget to relax and simply enjoy the shenanigans and highly creative output of the players! Judges need to have fun too! So, relax and enjoy the game!

What is the gaming scene like in Panama?

Very good! People here are playing all the time from what I have seen at the store, and there are a good chunk of groups that gather at private homes or other venues. So, yep, extremely good and healthy.

When I arrived here 10 years ago I managed to find a 4th Edition D&D group right away, and several 3.5 and Pathfinder groups. You had to go to Facebook and begin making inquiries, but now it is so much easier.

I have had very few repeating players during my whole world tours, and almost all of them know about RPGs and want to know more or play at home at least weekly.

So the community is thriving and very enthusiastic about it. There are more friendly stores spread all over the city, about 4 more of them that I know of, and despite the fact that Panama is very small (only 2 million people in the capital, and about 4 million in the whole country) they have a very fluid movement of customers and players that enjoy RPGs, CCGs, and boardgames.

We had a recent Comic Con that was a blast! Full of people of all ages, willing to share their hobby ideas and interests, and even some nice cosplay to boot!

Perhaps you guys could come to Panama’s Comic Con next year? That would be great!

Panama has shown itself to be a very friendly nation to gaming in general. The fact is, I wasn’t even aware there were boardgame tournaments here! It has changed so much in the past 10 years for the better in that regard.

So if anyone passes through, be sure to check the local gaming scene! You will find something to quell your need to roll dice!

Interested in learning about our other amazing Road Crew judges? Click here for all the Roadworthy profiles!

Author: jmcdevitt

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