Beards, Fear & Incompetence: A Dwarf Fortress Diary (Part 1)

I have recently started playing Dwarf Fortress.

I don’t mind telling you, I’m really starting to think that I should have taken up heroin instead, if we’re judging hobbies on their addictiveness and their potential for life-destruction.

For those of you who don’t know (and there can’t be many), Dwarf Fortress is a game in which you try to keep a mob of dwarves alive for as long as possible, despite the fact that everything in the game world, the user interface and even your own curiosity are actively conspiring to murder them at all times. It models everything you could ever possibly think of, and to steal a line from the rather fantastic Quintin Smith, the whole thing amounts to one great big failure engine.

Dwarf Fortress is Sim City if it was smoking Minecraft-flavoured crack. It’s Transport Tycoon if it was recited to you in binary by a computer running DOS version six point insane, and in my opinion it’s nigh-on impossible to play without two things.┬áThe first is the a Tileset (I’m using the Mayday one for this game), which actually makes the game look like a game and not like someone has hit a keyboard with a hockey stick, and the other is Dwarf Therapist, which eases the pain of discovering how useful your dwarfs are at things (if anything), as the standard UI is a mess of menus, toggles and switches that don’t share common functionality and can cause ruin with an accidental keystroke.

Dwarf Fortress is deep (to give you some idea of how deep Dwarf Fortress can be, one of my dwarves is an extremely good Dyer, and at one point in this diary another one of the beardy little blighters produces a masterpiece of a barrel) and the learning curve can be pratically vertical at times.

I should point out at this point that I don’t think I’ve ever done particularly well at any management game, but at least in Dwarf Fortress everything going to shit is considered fun (as in “I tunnelled into hell and awoke a literally countless number of demons, which caused a tremendous amount of fun”), so considering I don’t really know what’s going on, I’m surely going to have the best time ever!

Right?

Summer

My dwarves embarked on their legenday journey in the summer, arriving at the site of the Outpost Mamotkadol in the opening days of Granite.

Upon arrival Kivish Ustuthcilob, the expedition leader, demanded that work begin immediately on the fortress that would be known from here on as “Plaitedhatchets”. A tunnel was dug into the side of the hill by which the wagon stopped, and quickly the dwarves created a stockpile of the various sticks, bits of plants, and socks that they had brought with them.

Except for one of them, who wandered off to go fishing. That’s Thob, my Fisherdwarf.

Not long after this a small underground farm was plowed and seeds planted, and it was then I realised I had made a rather large error. It turns out┬áthat this meagre collection of furrowed clay and piles of miscellaneous tat was all I could fit into the hillside at this height (Dwarf Fortress is a 3D game but it only displays things in 2D, so you have to shift up and down the Z-axis yourself), which isn’t an awful lot when you consider that I needed to build a home for what could end up being a couple of hundred Dwarves. My rather rapid filling of the first floor of Plaitedhatchets came as something of a surprise, and is fairly typical of the lack of forethought which you will see a lot of throughout this diary, but it meant that I had simply expedited the inevitable: it was time to go down.

Going Down

As Nish Mosusathel’s pick struck the silty clay that made up the entrance floor to Plaitedhatchets, he struck Magnetite.

This was quite exciting, as it marked the first time I’d struck stone in my (admittedly short) time playing DF – what mysteries would he find down there?

The answer, it quickly transpired, was soggy stone, which is… not great. Soggy stone means there is water nearby, and water tends to be a little bit drowny if you go pouring it into tunnels, from what I understand. It would appear that there were quite a lot of murky pools knocking about in the area in which I had set up camp, and it was with great care that I hollowed out my second floor: a collection of rooms that would become workshops as well as a dining hall and culinary area which would allow my Dwarves to create, eat, and tear dead animals into teeny-tiny pieces, depending on their moods.

Further below lies the dormitory, a place where the denizens of my fort go to sleep, as well as Kivish’s office: he is the Manager, Bookkeeper and Broker of Plaitedhatchets (which is hilarious in itself as I don’t know if he can even read or count), and it’s up to him to make sure that every single mushroom and chunk of Yak fat is accounted for. As you can imagine, this is a hugely time-consuming job that requires the illiterate, numberblind fool to spend days, weeks, or even months updating the stockpile records, eating at his desk and hardly ever doing any fun stuff like mining or dying, and I have rewarded him for this by giving him an office which is essentially a cupboard with a table and a chair crammed in and the door shut before they can fall back out.

Still further down are the mines, which are yet to be properly excavated, but are already returning treasures; I’m just not sure whether all this Tourmaline and Picture Jasper is worth more or less than the Hamster remains my fortress is almost constantly knee fucking deep in.

And with that, our tour of the nascent fortress Plaitedhatchets is complete. In summary, it’s an accident waiting to happen under my oafish, fat-thumbed command – but at the moment I’m rather proud of the little community that’s blossoming on my monitor.

Going On

As it stands, things are going well and my hopes for the future are high. There’s plenty of food (and booze, more importantly), crops are growing well, and mining is proving reasonably fruitful (I think).

Problems? Yes, there are a few. First off, I don’t have a supply of fresh water – only a few “murky pools” dotted around the place that I can’t imagine anyone would particularly fancy drinking from. This isn’t a tremendous problem so long as there’s booze; a healthy dwarf will always choose alcohol over water, but from what I understand injured dwarves need water.

I also am currently completely defenceless, which is potentially an issue in a game in which virtually everything wants you to stop being alive, right this very instant – and they aren’t concerned about asking you to facilitate their wishes in a rather rude, face-slashing sort of manner. My total military might consists of some angry thoughts and an axe the boys brought with them, and the only thing stopping all the undead Elephants and Snailmen in the world from just wandering around my fortress and smashing the fleshy, hairy little dolts to death is a single claystone door, which could be as secure as those beaded curtains people hang from kitchen doorways for all I know.

As such, I want to build a moat with a drawbridge. This will keep the bad things out and keep my dwarves safe, but there’re two simple yet terrifyingly large problems with this plan: I don’t know how, and I have a feeling I’m going to either flood my fortress or drown a Dwarf or seven trying.

Still, I’ll be fine so long as no migrants arrive.

Shit.