Man cancels life: went insane, part 3

I’m trying to learn Dwarf Fortress the hard way. (Check out parts one and two.)

Summer had arrived, and some of the effects of my having chosen a hot biome became apparent. The surrounding land was no longer green and the various ponds and puddles dotting the countryside had dried up. Even the stream looked a little thinner to me, but thankfully it never dried up. My dwarfs found reason to resort to drinking from it more often than they would have liked, as my inexperience led to occasional booze shortages at various stages of the fortress’s history.

Having gotten the fortress up and running I felt it was time to tackle some tasks before they became pressing, like preparing for trading and setting up a military. The military screen was, to be honest, almost completely incomprehensible to me, and as no foes had bothered me so far I elected to deal with trading first, even though I didn’t expect to see a trading caravan before autumn.

I thought the opening before the entrance would be a suitable location for a trading depot, and in the image above you can see I have ordered plants to be gathered to clear the ground. I can’t recall whether that was necessary to be able to place the depot or if I did that because it appealed to my sense of neatness. To the best of my knowledge trading didn’t require anything else beyond a depot and a trader, so on that score I believed I was set to go.

My first step in creating a military was building barracks. I placed beds and cabinets and chests plus a weapons rack and an armour stand in the former meeting area, which allowed me to create a room to designate as the barracks. So far, so good. I still couldn’t make much of the military screen but I was able to create a squad headed by (and consisting of) my newly appointed militia commander, which I assigned the barracks to. My brave militia promptly set out to find equipment so I considered this task successfully completed.

My elation was short-lived as the first crisis struck my fortress: one of my dwarfs was taken by a strange mood! He demanded a metalsmith’s forge to work in and I didn’t have one yet. I didn’t really want to lose one seventh or potentially more of my workforce, so I had to alter my expansion plans. Metal industry now had crash priority.

The equipment my dwarfs had brought with them included an anvil so I was able to build a forge which my fey dwarf quickly claimed, but that didn’t get me even halfway there as he demanded metal bars I didn’t have. So next I had to build a smelter to smelt ore to create metal bars. A smelter needed fuel to work, obviously, so I also had to construct a wood furnace to burn wood into charcoal. This was all quite commonsensical and straightforward enough, though again I was limited by the speed at which my miner could carve out the space for the new workshops. Some of the buildings needed to be designed by an architect before they could be built, and the bastards always seemed to take their time which also slowed things down, but eventually I was able to produce metal bars, though the only metals I had found so far were copper and gold.

Copper and gold weren’t good enough for the moody motherfucker.

I ordered some modest exploratory shafts dug but didn’t really expect to find more suitable ores any time soon, and my miner had other things to do, too. It looked like one of my workers was doomed to the madness I knew unsuccessful strange moods to bring. I just hoped his would be the quiet kind.

At this point the fortress received its first migrants. I had heard the horror stories of migrant groups of dozens of dwarfs, mostly children, but this first group of mine had only five dwarfs in it, all of them able-bodied workers and most welcome. One came with martial aptitude and was quickly drafted to double the size of my militia.

The modest size of this first immigrant group might have been more than a lucky break. I had heard speculation that both migration and invasion rates depended on the wealth of the fortress and I had deliberately tried to keep the value of mine down, by electing to not smooth walls or build anything I didn’t need. I also had mostly avoided smelting the native gold I had found as I didn’t plan to start producing gold items any time soon.

Summer in The Fair Hills proved to be one menace after another. Soon after the migrants the first kobold thief arrived. It was discovered in the entry tunnel, near the barracks. My militia decided to ignore it which lead me to suspect there were nuances to Dwarf Fortress’s military system I wasn’t entirely cognizant of. Looking at the military screens again I discovered that the militia’s schedule was set to ‘idle’. I set it to ‘active/training’ and was rewarded by the announcement that my militia members had become military dwarfs. I felt like I was on the right track, but when they also chose to ignore the next kobold spotted next to the barracks I finally realised that I needed to manually order them to engage the enemies. Learning is fun!

Time flies when you are having fun. While I had scrambled to bootstrap my metal industry for the benefit of one dwarf doomed to die, to learn how to set up and operate a military, to house my newly expanded workforce and expand food and booze production to maybe meet the new demands, summer had ended and autumn had come, and with autumn came the first trading caravan. It was time to learn how to trade. The stakes were high: I had run out of booze and my fey metalworker still waited for materials; the caravan could save him. I ordered crafts and jewels to be moved to the trading depot and let the broker know he was needed there. This all seemed suspiciously easy.

The traders unloaded their wares and my dwarfs hauled my trade goods to the depot, but my broker was in no hurry to report to duty. I found the broker, who was also the bookkeeper, in his office, counting plump helmet spawn. After he was finally finished he returned the pot to the stockpile, grabbed a drink, then grabbed a plump helmet, took it to his office and ate it there. After what seemed like an interminable period of dicking about he finally got around to start working on what he felt was his most important task at the time: he headed for the the stockpile, grabbed a random bin, hauled it to his office, and sat down to record its contents.

Now, I love this mechanic. I genuinely adore the fact that an NPC in the fort actually has to count every single item in it for you to know just what your stocks contain. I admire the bloody-mindedness required to implement this feature; it is not something a professional game developer of today could or would ever do. This is inherent to the charm of Dwarf Fortress: Toady doesn’t listen to anybody but the voices inside his head as he works on his artefact.

This commitment to a vision is a two-edged sword, of course: it’s great when you like the features it leads him to implement, but it’s more than likely that you won’t like all the things he’s adamant about including, or his development priorities. Dwarf Fortress isn’t being made for us, the players. It is his toy project, but it is sufficiently grand and sprawling that many people can find some aspects to like. Enjoying the fun bits, unfortunately, requires enduring or working around the bits that are not fun, and your mileage will vary on both.

But much as I approved of bookkeeping I had some trading to do right now, so I decided to give that responsibility to somebody else. None of my dwarfs showed any particular aptitude for it so I picked a likely candidate and made him the broker. He soon made his way to the depot and I could proceed.

Trading proved straightforward enough. The trading screen listed the caravan’s goods on one side and the fort’s on the other, and you could mark what you wanted to trade. Now, the interface could have made better use of the screen estate; often there wasn’t enough room to display an item’s name, and to see what it was I had to open another screen. Some of Dwarf Fortress’s screens do use the whole window while some, like the trading screen here, only use a 80 by 25 character area, which I suppose is a throwback to the game’s apparent console origins. The current incarnation is an SDL application and could do better, but Toady does as he pleases.

I marked all my mussel shell crafts and cut gems to be sold and requested a selection of metal bars, booze, food, seeds, clothes, and some armour and weapons, before proceeding to donate all my wares to the trader and getting nothing in return.

I didn’t mean to, and I’d like to be able to blame the interface: even though it does have the clearly marked “t: Trade” option, that “o: Offer marked to Becorcog” looked all the world like “make an offer to see if the trader accepts it” to me. Really, I was just dense. Possibly I was tripped by my understanding that the trading process included some haggling with the trader and my mistaken assumption that making an offer was how you went about this. To make matters worse I didn’t notice my error then and there: I thought I had concluded the trade successfully and closed the screen. It was only later, when the caravan had departed and my supposed purchases were never moved from the depot to my stores, that I understood something had gone awry.

My poor possessed dwarf realised it straight away and the disappointment was too much for him. Before the broker had taken two steps away from the depot he went insane. He stopped eating and drinking and eventually perished from dehydration in the dining room; the first death in the fortress.

This occasioned another priority job for work in the fortress: it was time to build some burial chambers. I had failed him in life, but I would not fail him in death.

Next: I meet the neighbours.