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

To be continued next week…

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

“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’ll need to wait for the first day of actual game play in the next post. 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.

My wife writes too – you can now buy her book

As We WaitToday my wife Bethany has released her first book, As We Wait: A Family Advent Devotional, for Amazon Kindle.

The book is a collection of devotions you and your family can read together for each day of Advent. You can learn more about the book at her blog. More formats, including paperback, will be available in the coming weeks just in time for the Advent Season.

If this year you are looking for an Advent season with deeper meaning and reflection, consider purchasing today. And let others know, too.

The Rise of Indie Authorship Credibility

great article over at IndieReader continues to drive home the message: readers are smart enough to choose the books they want to read.

Think about all the art out there:

Would you only buy a painting from an art gallery?  Probably not. If you saw someone selling their watercolor paintings at the boardwalk and you really liked it, you’d buy it!

Would you only buy a CD from Best Buy? Of course not. If you see a band play at a local bar and like what you hear, you pick up their home-made album and enjoy it on the way home!

Would you only buy jewelry from a “real” jewelry store or department store? Not if you saw some beautiful hand-made dichroic glass jewelry at  a local festival.

Would you only spend your money on Broadway shows in Manhattan? Chances are, your community theater puts on great shows that are well worth your time and money.


Why would you only buy a book that was printed by one of the major publishing houses? Why do they get to choose what you can and cannot read?

Send a message to traditional publishing with your wallet: buy indie books. Let the world know authors are finally in control of their work, and that readers are finally free to choose.