If you've ever played Dwarf Fortress, you're familiar with the crazy things that can happen when you let loose a team of dwarves on a fantasy world. The goal of the game is to establish and maintain a fortress, keeping it alive, healthy, and wealthy for as long as possible. The simulation of the world around and inside your fortress is intensely detailed, even insanely so. To get an idea, just keep reading. My first experience with Dwarf Fortress was an exercise in wonder, and I'd like to share it.
Also, please keep in mind the one motto that all Dwarf Fortress players eventually learn: "Losing is fun."
Part 1: The Reign of SenseSaint the Giraffe
RoastedTreaties was my first fortress. It was built in a hot jungle climate, with stagnant surface water and a lot of fruit trees. I tried to follow the wiki's suggestions for a first fortress closely, and things went quietly for the first several seasons. So quietly, in fact, that when I first started engraving tombs for my dwarves, one of the first carvings was of a legendary meal that the cook had made the previous winter. My engraver had exquisite taste.
Another interesting side-effect of following the wiki, though perhaps it was just a quirk of my own luck, was the way dwarf children were born in RoastedTreaties. Almost every baby was born while his mother was climbing the long central staircase that connected every level of the fortress. The baby would inevitably fall down the flight of stairs to the very bottom floor, and the dwarf mother would have to go chasing after him.
I was inexperienced with the game, so when a dwarven teenager went into a fey mood and took over a workshop I was confused and uncertain. What was I supposed to do about that? I let him work for a while, and built a second workshop so my other dwarves could continue crafting mugs and bracelets to trade with. I finally looked up what was going on, and was shocked to learn that if the fey dwarf didn't get all the materials he needed he would go insane. I checked the workshop. He wanted glass? How do you make glass? I scrambled to get the right materials, but I was too late. The teenager went insane, and started wandering the fortress, harmlessly babbling to himself. I felt bad, so I tried to make sure there was always sufficient food and drink for him. It didn't matter. He died of dehydration a month or so later, all while sitting at a dining table next to dwarves who were eating and drinking to their hearts' content.
This whole time the fortress was under a sort of siege by giraffes. They were not being violent or anything, but I had a number of dwarves gathering plants who would run away the moment they saw one. My inexperienced hunters would shoot off a couple bolts in their general direction, invariably missing, and then run for their lives. The big, brooding ungulates were distracting and unnerving everyone.
Everyone, that is, except for one ambitious farmer. Apparently he was sick of planting plump helmets. So, one day he threw away his shovel and picked up a tin crossbow, ready to catch him some giraffe for dinner. I don't remember this dwarf's name, but the battle that followed was certainly unforgettable. I read the report at length. After shooting, and missing, the farmer threw down his crossbow and began punching, kicking, and biting the giraffe. He beat the poor thing until it was a mess of bruises. After three days of endless punishment, the giraffe finally snapped. It vomited all over the dwarf, coating him thoroughly, and then kicked him three times. The farmer died immediately, his chest a gory mess.
The giraffe, however, went on a rampage. Three kills later, he had earned himself the name of SenseSaint, and RoastedTreaties truly was under siege. Dwarves could not go outside without SenseSaint trying to run them down and trample them to death. Though food stores were plentiful for now, I knew this could not continue indefinitely. I trained up a military, with the sole purpose of tracking down and killing SenseSaint the Giraffe.
I decided to err on the side of overwhelming force, and trained up ten marksdwarves. The result was a bit anticlimactic. They shot at SenseSaint from a safe distance as the beleaguered giraffe ran for his life. Sure enough, not a single bolt hit. I think one might have grazed the animal's cheek. He ran off the board and never returned, so I sent the dwarves back to train until their archery skills improved.
Part 2: Attack of the Pristine Bean
With this crisis ended, another began. The mother of the dwarven teenager who had died, a cook named Mosus, fell under a similar spell of obsession. She took over a workshop, and this time I made sure to check on her and get all the materials she needed. I like to imagine she continued the work where her son had left off, though she ended up needing very different materials. The result of her efforts was a wooden bracelet named StilledTattooed. At first I was excited to see my dwarves' first artifact. Then I saw the engraving. A large, sleeping forgotten beast.
To this day I'm unsure whether the game mechanics actually include prophetic warnings, but I took this as one. I trained up the military some more, preparing for invasion. Sure enough, not a year after the prophecy of Mosus was given, an enormous one-eyed lizard Titan showed up on the edge of the map.
By this point I had built an enclosing wall around my fortress, complete with mechanical drawbridges at each of the cardinal points. I sent a dwarf right away to push the lever in the dining room that would lift the bridges and secure the fortress, but he was too slow. The Titan was within the walls of the fortress, slowly plodding around, as if looking for prey.
Well, I hadn't trained up this military for nothing. I mustered the troops. The first bolt actually hit! And then chaos broke loose.
For some weird reason, this Titan could spit spider webs. He could also run really, really fast. My troops were overwhelmed, and quickly slaughtered. There was so much blood that a bystander named Ingus Sterusfikod turned vampire and made her first kill in the middle of the fray. In front of ten witnesses.
The battle raged from the surface down to the third floor. Citizen dwarves rushed from the dining room to join the fight, including the cook, Mosus, who it turns out was quite handy with a mace. Finally, after the stairwell was literally rolling with severed pieces of dwarf, a lucky dwarf landed the final blow. Bostu Berrydives the Pristine Bean (that's what the dwarves named him) shuddered, took his last breath, and died.
Part 3: Mayor Vampire
The death count was around 30, about half the fortress's population, and cleanup was complicated by depression, a shortage of coffins, and the spiderwebs clogging up the stairway. The new mayor had fallen prey to a cage trap, and when he finally went insane (I never could convince the dwarves to free him), Ingus Sterusfikod became the next mayor. She was killing a dwarf every couple months at this point, and though I made sure she was convicted for every kill, even the ones without witnesses, the worst punishment she ever received was a beating. Thinking her political influence was preventing her from being executed (I've since learned that dwarven justice requires a prison and a hammerer), I replaced her as mayor and assigned her to the military.
I had smelted a lot of gold at this point. I was making toys out of the stuff, for the thirty or so children to play with. I knew that sooner or later goblins would come, so I carved fortifications into the walls and prepared for the assault.
I was not disappointed. Unfortunately for my plan to get rid of Ingus, she had fallen into a trance a month or so before the invasion, and was still finishing up as the first goblins climbed over the walls. My soldiers performed admirably, though I was shocked to discover my walls were not keeping them out very well. I determined I needed to improve my defenses. I decided to build a moat.
The problem with the moat was that my fortress was much bigger underground than it was on the surface. The moat penetrated the first level at several points, so I dug it deeper so any goblin trying to jump in would fall to his death. It was not a foolproof plan, but I didn't know how to undig a moat. By the second invasion the moat was ready (or so I thought), and my tenacious vampire friend Ingus was on the front lines (or so I thought).
The discovery of the weak point in my defenses was quite comical, looking back. Just before the goblins made it to the walls, I found a miner stuck in the moat and instructed him to dig his way out and head inside. He did, and then went straight inside through an entrance I hadn't known existed. The moat had exposed a ramp, straight down into the training rooms on the first level, and I had completely missed it. I scrambled to move my armies in that direction, but the goblins were not so courteous as to attack in one place. They split up and attacked from multiple directions, some climbing down the deep pits to the second level, some climbing over the southern wall, and the largest contingent going straight for the unnoticed ramp after my homeward bound miner.
Ingus Sterusfikod ended up seeing very little of the battle that followed. She stuck around the southern wall, killed one goblin, and then stopped fighting in horror at the blood she had spilled. Why this disturbed her so much I'll never know, as she had already drained the blood out of enough dwarves to make Snow White a single woman, but her delicacy probably saved her by keeping her on the surface. The bloodiest part of the battle took place on the first and second floors, with dwarves who had no business being involved. My population of 150 dropped down to about 70, 40 of whom were children.
Roastedtreaties was winding down. I doubted they could survive another invasion of that magnitude. I built a wall to block off the ramp into the training room, and constructed a platform along the wall with ballistae. Ingus kept working with wood when she wasn't training with the rest of the militia, and for the time being she wasn't killing anyone. I knew it couldn't last, but I was grateful for the reprieve. If she survived another invasion, maybe I would give her a chance, find some way to isolate her from the rest of the dwarves but keep working on the things she loved.
The next invasion came like clockwork.The drawbridges went up. My militia deployed. The ballistae were loaded. Though all the preparations were in place, I had little hope for my fortress. I had only twenty half-decent troops against an army of at least 80 goblins, trolls, and beak dogs. The fortifications would not hold.
In the end, they didn't have to. Possessed by a sudden and unexpected battle lust, Ingus ran up the ramp to the ballista platform and leapt off into the midst of the goblin army. The fight that ensued was the stuff of nightmares. The report describes her biting into the heads of trolls and shaking them until their spines snapped, then tossing them aside. She fought like a tiger, destroying well over a third of the goblin army, including all the captains, all by herself. She finally collapsed on top of her own personal pile of corpses, unconscious, and bleeding from every single part of her body. The vampire had turned mayor, then soldier, than craftsdwarf, and now, finally, into a war hero.
The rest of the goblins who managed to infiltrate the fortress were picked off by the remaining militia, the traps, and some tavern-goers who happened to have their weapons with them. After I'd organized a quick civilian militia to pick off a couple stragglers still loose in the fortress, I went to check on Ingus. Miraculously, she was still alive. I deliberated over helping the dwarves find her. I had been trying to kill her, after all. My better side won out in the end, and I sent the doctor to go rescue her.
Part 4: The End of Roastedtreaties
Unfortunately, the battle did not turn things around. My fortress was just as vulnerable as ever, and more goblins would be coming soon. Ingus was lying in a hospital bed, attended to by dwarves who had no thread or soap with which to help her (my bad; it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what sheep are for in this game). The walls of the hospital were quickly covered in blood and pus from ruptured infections, then vomit from unprepared visitors, then miasma from the decaying bodies of those who didn't make it, and for whom I could never build coffins fast enough. Ghosts of the unburied wandered the halls. When Ingus died a few days later though, a crippled mess of wounds and infection, I made sure there was a coffin open for her burial.
There were only fifteen or so adult dwarves left, a small squadron of survivors. The forty children played with their gold toys, running back and forth among the rows upon rows of filled coffins on the fifth level. Perhaps I could have fended off one more invasion, for their sake, if it hadn't been for the werelizard.
I'd never seen, or even heard about werebeasts in Dwarf Fortress. I worried I was facing another titanic monster like Bostu, so I quickly threw up the drawbridges when I saw him enter the map. I mustered the military, in case he decided to attack the fortress. He didn't, though. Instead, he found two dwarf children playing in the only pool of water left on the map, far outside the city walls. He killed them mercilessly, and though they fought him tooth and nail and injured him severely, the end result was unavoidable.
I was mad. I'd seen enough misery among my dwarves already. I threw open the drawbridges and sent my militia out to face this child-killing freak. My dwarves wrestled him to the ground as he bit and tore at their arms, and then they crushed his skull with their fists. The injuries (on their part) were minor. I imagined I was ready for the next invasion.
I was so blind.
The next invasion came, and with it, the full moon. Two of the dwarves who had been bitten turned into werelizards themselves, just after I had mustered the militia to the surface. With all the soldiers busy fighting monsters among their own ranks, the fortress stood no chance. The goblins rushed in and laid waste. Unwilling to watch all those children die, I ordered the survivors to abandon Roastedtreaties and flee into the wild.
I decided I would build another fortress, a safer one. One that wouldn't rely on external fortifications, spaced out so far as to be indefensible. One with multiple stairways, so my dwarves would never be stuck in the lower levels because of spiderwebs or monsters. One with a proper hospital, so dwarves could be healed properly after bloody battles with the enemy.
And, preferably, one without any giraffes.