Dwarf Fortress Gameplay, Part 2

← Continued from Gameplay Part 1

(This post is the deconstruction of the actual gameplay that occurred in part 2 of the story “Ransackediron Restored”)

Author’s usual caveat: I am by no means a great Dwarf Fortress player. Be kind.

I’ve definitely gotten better at playing this game, because I was able to perform quite a bit in a short amount of time. Usually I miss a step somewhere along the line and end up kicking myself later. A lot of strategy games have a recipe for a “starting build,” or, the most important things to do first if you are to succeed later. I think I did most of the recommended steps.

Two months of game time is only about 10 or 15 minutes of real world time. In that time I did everything Stakud described in the story: made a modest hole in the hill, with a little fancy rounded design instead of a boxy grid; I set up a dormitory, started indoor farm plots, made a mason work area, various stockpiles were designated, and I constructed 7 beds. I chopped down only three trees. Version .40 (also called DF2014) introduced multilevel properly-scaled trees, which produces much more wood than before, so I have a decent amount of lumber already. But, I still only have a couple dozen trees altogether, and I want to conserve what I have now. In Dwarf Fortress, you need some kind of fuel to fire up your ore smelters, and if I can’t find any coal in the ground, I need to make charcoal from a wood furnace.

I started getting really nervous when I realized my indoor clay spot was small; indoor farm plots need soil or clay to grow on, otherwise you need to grab buckets and muddy the ground. I like to avoid that mud process if at all possible. I was able to squeeze in two 3×3 plots on the clay, so that should be ok to start with. After the thaw, there were lots of plants to pick, so that will help.

plantGathering

EVERYONE gathers plants, even Lokum

My biggest challenge will be the cistern. I was really hoping that the brook was there under the snow, but based on the few tiny frozen bodies of water underground I knew it was long shot. Clean water is important if we run out of alcohol, and stagnant water in these murky pools means I have to pump the water out before it flows into the cistern; that pumping acts a filter, so I’ve read [LINK]. Never tried pumps before, so this will be fun.

I’m expecting migrants soon, and it will be interesting to see what I get. I’m debating on the construction of Trade Depot right now. Autumn is when the first caravan usually arrives, but I wasn’t planning on making anything to trade with, since it doesn’t fit my story. However, I’ve found a lot of rough gems already, so if I get a gem worker in the migration, maybe I’ll cut them up into something more valuable to trade.

The last post was the first real part of the story, and based on that initial starting-build-gameplay I admit it’s a little boring story-wise. It’s always been my favorite part of the game, though. I just love that first mining designation, kind of like being the one who gets to carve into a brand new jar of peanut butter.

Upcoming plans are the cistern construction, butcher the draft animals (yay camel meat), and make nest boxes for the hens.

gameplay2_allDwarvesInside

The home so far

Ransackediron Restored, Part 2: A Dwarf Fortress Story

← Continued from Part 1

22nd day of Felsite, 500 years since the Record began,

Stakud “Closebolt” Urolalath, Mason and Bookkeeper for the Expedition Group Anuzlolor, “The Fair Letter”

More than two months have passed since we broke ground here at Anuzlolor. So much has happened, but still so much to be done. I will try to record all I can remember, lest the days to come erase the early ones from my mind. Perhaps this entry could even be used as a list to refer to when seeking subjects to carve onto the walls of our future Great Hall. That time seems so far away — and yet, right within reach!

Two days after our arrival, Stodir had hollowed out a small but comfortable hole for us all. It’s a strategic place from which we can both easily access local flora and make a stand to defend ourselves if the need arises. Stodir then went right to work on expanding the site, first creating a nook of silty clay (which Ushat claimed immediately for our first indoor garden; already we have sprouted plump helmets! Ushat, you work wonders!) That alone would have been enough, but still going strong, Stodir mined out a quiet dormitory for us all, a common area, and even a large work area for me. (As Mason, I require a great deal of space with which to both work and store my creations.) Humbled, I engraved into a wall, in full view of the common table, the standard of The Ferocious Galley. I like to think it makes the she-dwarves proud of our civilization every time they look upon it.

1st_engraving

The Hill of Mobbing seems to be nothing but a giant rock salt formation, with a few patches of silty clay. Amazingly, it is the hardest salt I have ever encountered. Already I have chiseled out some basic furniture for us all, even the table upon on which I write now. Olin believes a small rock salt Kitchen is in order so that she might prepare meals and season them at the same time! It reminds me that the time has come to slaughter our faithful horse and camel, before the meat on their bones withers away. Will Lokum be up to the task to give the order, though?

Ah, Lokum, our good-for-nothing leader. She has done but one thing since we arrived: haul supplies around; and everyone does that. She is supposed to be our hunter! Why won’t she even try to look for something to hunt? I’ve half a mind to take back my role as leader and order her out of the hovel, not to return until she brings home some game meat. But no, that would never do; I know the rest of the she-dwarves will stand by her side. I just wish I knew what her plan was. She is a mystery to me.

Turning away from unpleasant matters, the good news of course is that the spring thaw came, praise the gods! All of us have been busy foraging the plain for anything we can find. We have found a surprising assortment of plants scattered everywhere, from grains to greens to root vegetables. I don’t know how they survived the winter, but maybe the climate here is not as severe as we all thought. As long as we are careful with our seeds, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were able to maintain a quality outdoor garden in the few short months of the year that they can grow. (I know it goes against dwarfkind to spend so much time out in the light, but desperate times may require it – we must eat!)

The brook Leechfragments, as I feared, is much too far away to be of any use to us right now, so we must make use of the murky pools that dot the area near our entrance. Fearing disease from these stagnant waters, I think we will need to pump the water through a filter before we can store it in our future cistern. That complicates our plans, but I’m believing that Edem, who already has made us wonderful beds, can construct a pump for us while I aid Stodir in the design and mining of the cistern. By the grace of Rimtar, we will finish before the first frost in the fall.

All this work requires much needed rest, which is where I am headed off to now. Tomorrow Adil will create some nest boxes for the hens. Olin has kept eggs off-limits for eating for now, at least until a small brood of chicks have arrived. With any luck, we will have a bounty of eggs from dozens of hens next year. The roosters, however… well, we only need one of those, which means… ha ha, I can almost smell the grilled meat now! And the best part is that it won’t be hunted game requiring thanks to Lokum!

story2_workingDwarves

Stodir and Stakud, hard at work

The story continues next week…

For a breakdown of the actual gameplay, read on here.

If you’re enjoying this story, perhaps you might enjoy my original fantasy novel, By the Light of the Moons, available for download on Amazon Kindle.

Dwarf Fortress Gameplay, Part 1

(This post is the deconstruction of the actual gameplay that occurred in part 1 of the story “Ransackediron Restored”)

Author’s caveat: I am by no means a great Dwarf Fortress player. I make bad choices all the time, and I forget things most of the time. I actually think this is good for my story purposes, but I just wanted to get that part out of the way for all the pros that might read this and say “what the heck are you doing??” My goal is to have a successful fortress with smart decision making, but that may not happen – and that’s ok! Also, there will be design choices based more on aesthetics than efficiency.

After creating the randomly-generated world Anursil, “The Wondrous Plane,” I began the game in Legends Mode first, as I’ve never really explored all that this mode has to offer. I exported all the data so that I could use the amazing utility Legends Viewer which offers the ability to view the world’s extensive 550 year history in a more friendly, point and click interface.

Poking around this immense (500MB) tome, I came across a cool name – the Forgotten Beast “Siga Gravefatal, the Shadow-shaft of Caves” – and I saw that it was still alive. A few clicks later I saw that this beast destroyed and took over the fortress Vudthardatan just 28 years after the world “began,” and it just so happens to be the first fortress the civilization “The Ferocious Galleys” ever made. Amazingly, the game’s history had no one ever attempting to do anything there again, even after 500 “years.” My story was born: a dwarven team tries to take back their very first fortress. (Perhaps a little too similar to the Hobbit, yes, but that was going to happen anyway – we’re talking about a group of dwarves here.)

Once entering the game in Fortress Mode, I realized right away that the game was not going to let me embark on the site of the old fortress. The best I could do was take a spot right next to it. Any hope for an interesting story will be that Siga comes out and attacks me at some point, which should be fun.

Darn

Darn

Of course, it’s a cold, and somewhat barren place, which means my dwarves may not survive the winter. Luckilly there’s a tiny bit of a temperate biome nearby, so my site might have a few trees, a few plants, and maybe even part of that brook, if it isn’t frozen over. The elevation looks varied, which is always more interesting than flat.

embark_stats

Brrr

I was surprised that the game gave me 6 females and 1 male; great story fodder. I looked at the randomly created dwarves and tried to give the skills I needed to the dwarves best suited for them (my miner should be someone who doesn’t tire easily, etc). I gave the male all the traits I thought would have made him the expedition leader, because he’s the “hero” of my story. I’m kind of glad I made a mistake, because the story is more interesting that he isn’t the leader. Turns out that the “Judge of Intent” trait I gave the hunter made her the Leader. Interesting.

Another mistake I made was hitting the ‘e’ key accidentally (Embark!); thus the game started before I was able to make sure I had all the right supplies for the situation (hence, why in the story Stakud and Lokum fought over the anvil). Also, because of that ‘e’ stroke, I didn’t get to see what the random name of my Group or my Fortress was. Getting the Fortress name is easy (it’s right there in the next screen), but my Group name apparently only shows up when I engrave walls. So we’ll see if Stakud truly is inspired to engrave something cool. I’ll just fill in the Group Name to my story later when I find it.

When the actual game loaded up, there was my team on the cliffs, snow and silt everywhere, and a handful of trees. The brook looks to be only be a few frozen ponds. These will probably be murky pools once the thaw comes, but that remains to be seen. If so, my cistern plan will need to involve a pump, to “cleanse” the water. I look at what’s in the wagon, and I think I made as good a selection as any. There’s platinum in plain view, but I’m afraid to mine it yet, lest it increase my wealth value too quickly and bring a goblin ambush. I see right away where I want to start the digging.

Let’s strike the earth!

embark2

A plan forms…

Gameplay breakdown continues here.

Ransackediron Restored, Part 1: A Dwarf Fortress Story

← Read the introduction

15th day of Malachite, 550 years since the Record began,

Stakud “Closebolt” Urolalath, Mason and Bookkeeper for the Expedition Group Anuzlolor, “The Fair Letter”

After weeks of travel, we’ve finally arrived at the site of our future – and final – home. For our first night we’ve chosen a small cove in the Hill of Mobbing, overlooking a frozen brook strangely called Leechfragments the Perfect Rampage. Although it is early spring, you would never know it in this place. It is COLD, and snow covers nearly everything we see. I fear that “thaw” is a word rarely spoken in these lands, and I seriously doubt this brook will be rampaging any time soon. We must all work quickly to gather whatever edible plants and animals survive here, or we will surely starve. The two draft animals served us well pulling the wagon, but they will likely be slaughtered within days, for there is nowhere for them to graze; I’ve never eaten camel before. (WHY did we bring a camel??)

The women grumble under their breath, but I hear them. They wish they hadn’t come. I realize the situation is bleak, and but for a moment I too wonder what we’re doing here. Then, atop this precipice where I write, I peer to the west, and I can see it: the ruins of the ancient stronghold, hollowed out of a southern point of The Violent Walls mountain range. The fulfillment of my destiny is almost within my grasp! Vudthardatan, called “Ransackediron” in the Humans’ crude tongue, lies before me, the first fortress ever constructed by my glorious civilization Nidostdegel, “The Ferocious Galley.” It was a small band of dwarves calling themselves The Tired Arrow who struck the earth here, and on that day our realm started and the Record began. For the next twenty eight years my ancestors flourished in the city, until it was laid waste in the Rampage of Siga Gravefatal, the Shadow-shaft of Caves. That great beast, forgotten for over 500 years, has slumbered there ever since, burrowed deep in the bowels of the fortress, and none have dared approach its crumbled walls.

Until now.

Siga has appeared in my dreams more times than I can count, and each time I slew him with an axe cast in the heat of the same magma sea that once fired the ancient forges of Vudthardatan. But these are not just dreams, they are visions, sent to me from Rimtar god of Fortresses, for I am destined to reclaim our very first home! Alas, only a scant few believe in me, so I don’t have the force with which to launch an assault yet. Thus my small band of loyal followers and I will create an outpost here, and grow stronger, perhaps drawing more support once others realize we are called to greatness. Maybe even Siga himself will see our might from his lair deep below, and emerge on his own to try to thwart our plans before they can come to fruition. I say let him! I will meet him on the battlefield and take off his head just as I have dozens of times before! This truly is the Age of Heroes, and I intend to carve my name in its Memorial Wall of Legends!

Back home they laughed at me – all of them. Not a single male would join my cause. So be it. I brought with me six strong she-dwarves, and together we will vanquish the foe and restore glory to Vudthardatan.

Stodir, our eldest and strongest, is ready to strike the earth for the cause, but she believes she saw platinum in the mountains here. I’ve told her to wait its extraction, lest we draw the attention of marauding kobolds and goblins. There will be plenty of time to flaunt our wealth once we have settled in. In the meantime, I have sketched out a plan for her to mine out a small area of the hill for a temporary dwelling until the summer. Then we begin work on a water cistern deep below the ground where we can keep it from freezing – and so that we do not die of thirst.

We brought with us dogs that we could train as basic guards, but the crafter Adil has offered to take measures to automate our protection from intruders with elaborate traps she has personally designed. I hope she finds the proper stones for which to carve the mechanisms she needs to accomplish this.

Edem is a skilled woodsmith, but I fear she will be bored from the lack of trees here. Perhaps we will find some cavern-dwelling fungiwood for her to fell. As a last resort, there is always the elves who could trade their lumber with us, but let us pray it doesn’t come to that…

Ushat our Farmer has brought seeds to start cave plants for our underground farm, but I hope we can find more surface crops to harvest during a thaw. I would rather brew plump helmet mushrooms into a fine drink than eat them.

Olin, ever faithful friend, will cook and brew our crops for us until they run out. May that day never come, for her Dwarven Wine is like no other. Hopefully we can find game about these mountains to sustain us with meat and fill our bellies with Olin’s wonderful stews.

Which brings me to Lokum, our hunter, who usurped me and became Expedition Leader on the day we embarked. As adequate as she may be, I do doubt her abilities to guide us any further now that we are here. Already I’ve chastised her for bringing the anvil instead of more food. (I hadn’t noticed it in the wagon all this time.) We argued in front of everyone: she saying the anvil will be needed for the future smith, I saying meat first, she countering with her hunting skills… it went on for a long time. In the end, I accused her of ignoring my wishes from the supply list; she could only feebly claim they all thought I was dead on the day we left, which is why they packed and left without me. Ridiculous, of course, for everyone knows I am a deep sleeper. I believe they wish to create a name for she-dwarfkind by taking my destiny away from me and basking in it themselves. I will be watching them all, but Lokum the closest.

So of the seven of us, that leaves myself, Stakud, who will carve the stone for the glory of this place. The women have allowed me to name it Cilobaval, “Roofloves,” in honor of my long departed wife. I feel as if she is with me already. Tonight I will engrave images into our first mined wall to spur the hopes of us all. May Rimtar inspire me as I work the rock.

And Siga, take heed: your days are now numbered.

Atop the Hill of Mobbing

Atop the Hill of Mobbing

The story continues in part 2.

For a breakdown of the actual gameplay, read on here.

If you enjoyed this, perhaps you might enjoy my original novel, By the Light of the Moons, available for download on Amazon Kindle.

Dwarf Fortress: A Story-Maker

(This is just an introduction – if you want to jump right into the story, it starts in Part 1!)

“The Weretortoise Thabi Bithardolil has come! A large tortoise twisted into humanoid form. It is crazed for blood and flesh. Its eyes glow chartreuse. Its black scales are jagged and overlapping. Now you will know why you fear the night.”
-An actual quote from one of my Dwarf Fortress sessions

Thabi the Weretortoise sounded a lot scarier than it was. He was also slow.

Thabi the Weretortoise sounded a lot scarier than it was. He was also slow.

 

“His leisure activities are more complicated than most people’s jobs.”
– My wife Bethany, when describing me.

My wife’s quote above is a completely accurate statement about me; I love complicated hobbies, and Dwarf Fortress is an immensely complicated computer game that I love to play. Lately I’ve been binging on it, and I’ve been neglecting my writing. So, I decided to have some fun and flex the old writing muscles by putting the two together. Today begins a blog series where I will play the computer game Dwarf Fortress and create an epic story from what occurs during the game. Everything you read will be actual events that occur in the game, from the perspective of the dwarves, followed by a more geeky explanation of what transpired during that game session. I know I’m not the first person to do this, but I still hope you enjoy it.

If you follow the indie computer game market, chances are you’ve heard of Dwarf Fortress; this post is just an introduction to the game itself, so if you’re already familiar with the game, you can skip ahead to Part 1. For the uninitiated, sit back and get ready to have your mind blown as I introduce the basic concepts of the game today.

Dwarf Fortress is one of the most complex video games ever created (so agrees the author of the strategy guide you can buy from O’Reilly press). It’s programmed by one man, Tarn Adams, and he has been working on it for 12 years; it has been in players’ hands for the last 8. This past July, Dwarf Fortress released version .40, which means that the developer considers this game to be about 40% complete. The game is classified as being in the alpha stage of development, which supposed to be a stage so riddled with bugs and application crashes that most people are never allowed to see it. A beta version, which is an almost-final version looking for that last coat of polish, is likely a decade or two away. The game is free to download and play, in it’s (incomplete) entirety, and yet Adams does the unthinkable: he works on this game as his full time job. How does he feed himself and otherwise make a living? Through the generous donations of his loyal, somewhat fanatical, fanbase. He is living the dream a majority of indie game developers will never experience.

If that’s not impressive, take a look at what people are shelling out their money for:

Who needs graphics when you can have THIS?

Who needs graphics when you can have THIS?

Not very pretty looking, is it? And yet he makes $50,000 a year coding this game. FOR THAT? Is he a genius or a snake oil salesman?

The former, I assure you.

“But what are we looking at?” you ask. Those are called ASCII text characters, reminiscent of 1980’s style computer games before graphics really existed and were otherwise “required” for games. That’s just a static image above, of course; in the actual game, a lot of those letters and symbols move around because they represent things: people, creatures, leaves; some stay put because they are stones, walls, doors, etc. Here’s an annotated version of that previous screenshot.

r = rabbit. Easy, right?

r = rabbit. Easy, right?

I’ll admit, this view is confusing even for me to look at. It reminds me of the Matrix (others think so too), and although I’ve tried to be a purist with the original graphics, I just can’t do it. Instead, I use fan-created graphics that replace the original, so that it is easier to play. How’s this one?

The difference is like night and ... later that night.

The difference is like night and … later that night.

Still confusing? Yeah, it is, but that’s a big hurdle we just got over.

So graphics aside, what is this game about, anyway? Well, it’s really whatever you want it to be, but the general gist is to take seven dwarves (ha!) that have just arrived at a site and make a home for them. The dwarves should, ideally, come prepared with some basic tools and food, and they each have their own skills, so it’s just a matter of getting them to do what they need to do to survive. The tricky part is that you don’t really control the dwarves themselves, you control the tasks you want completed. This means you designate areas to be worked, such as mining out a hole, planting crops, or chopping some trees; or you might tell the dwarves you want a carpenter’s workshop built in a certain location, and later, tell that workshop to start making some wooden barrels to store supplies in. Ultimately, they will do all this stuff when they good and well feel like it. As your dwelling grows, you’ll get some migrants who’ll want to join you, your dwarves will pair off and make dwarf babies, and some will die due to old age or, more likely, tragic reasons. There’s never a dull moment.

Part life simulation, part city simulation, part strategy, part story-telling, part … it’s hard to classify the game, really. But where the game really shines is the amount of detail that goes into just about everything (and I mean everything). Here’s but a sample:

  • Your dwarves live in a randomly created world that will never be the same as the next world created by you or anyone else.
  • The world has hundreds of thousands of details: creatures, plants, mountain ranges, bodies of water, climate, biomes, ruins, roads, and cities and towns
  • Most of those details are named, right down to brooks and streams
  • The world has an actual historical record of events going back hundreds of years that you can read about. Events that take place in your game become part of that history
  • Although the top-down view of the game looks 2-dimensional, it’s really 3-dimensional; in addition to moving the screen left, right, up and down, you also can move it higher or lower, so you can see the dwarves and creatures move up and down hills, fall off cliffs, etc.
  • Creatures are modeled down to the finger and toe. Your dwarves that get in a fight with a crocodile might lose a finger or two, and their overall work productivity will forever suffer from it. (Oh, and clothing is down to the sock.)
  • Dwarves have likes, dislikes, have goals and dreams, can be bothered, annoyed, frightened, and even sent into a table-smashing tantrum.
  • Some games might allow you to “make clothing” and that’s it. Dwarf Fortress lets you makes you take a seed and plant it; once grown, take that crop and thresh it to make thread; take the thread to the loom and spin it into cloth; take the cloth and dye it a color; take the dyed cloth and make a piece of clothing. Like a sock. Do it all again to make the other sock. You can make them more valuable socks if you embroider them. Dwarves like valuable things, even socks, and get happy from it. Happy dwarves are less likely to smash tables. Less likely.

One last thing to always keep in mind – and this bothers a lot of people – is that, in the end, you will lose. It’s pretty much inevitable. Whether you run out of food (or worse, booze – dwarves need alcohol) and starve, or get smashed by a goblin army and their troll sidekicks, or you dig into an aquifer and flood the whole fortress, or you dig too deep and too greedily and find shadow and flame, eventually, you will lose.

So what’s the point?

Because losing is fun.

And that fun makes great stories.

The story begins in Part 1.