Man cancels life: went insane, part 6

I tried to learn Dwarf Fortress the hard way. (Previous installment here, first part here.)

And so my first dwarf fortress had fallen, and it was time to reflect on what I could learn from my failure. Somewhat alarmingly what I came up with was “don’t let too many dwarfs become upset at once”. This was not particularly insightful or interesting but it was the only lesson I could draw from Ustuthodom’s fate.

How to address that issue? Part of the answer was giving the dwarfs more reasons to be happy by improving their living areas more than I had in my first fortress. The proximate cause for the tantrum spiral had been a bunch of civilians dying at the hands of the invaders and to prevent that from happening I’d need better defences; clearly doors alone would not suffice. I hadn’t got around to building drawbridges in my first fortress but I’d make sure to build some for the second. It was my impression that a raised bridge in a corridor was an impassable obstacle.

Thus armed and armoured I created a new world, drawing on my experience from the first time, and finally managed to locate an okay spot for a fortress in a rainforest. When The Corridor of Excavations, as my group of colonists called itself, arrived at the location I was somewhat disappointed that the area was altogether flat and I couldn’t simply tunnel into a convenient cliff face. I had to dig a hole straight down in the dirt to get started and I only hit solid rock several levels down. Still, earth was struck and Geshudardes, or “Fortressauthor”, was founded.


The entrance wouldn’t stay a hole in the ground, of course; that’d just be embarrassing. Eventually I paved it and built a guardhouse over it. The guardhouse does have an upper level but the accommodations and murder holes for a squad of marksdwarfs were never finished. To the south-west is the entrance to the trading depot, placed sensibly underground this time around.

Setting up the initial colony went much faster this time as I was more familiar with the interface and had a blueprint of my first fortress to follow. I allowed plenty of room for expansion, being more aware of how much space a mature colony would require. I also paid extra care to passive defences; I was determined this fortress would not fall to invaders or any other kind of menace I’d encountered in the first game. Soon enough I had created a self-sufficient colony well protected from outside threats. All the approaches to the fortress were blocked by raising bridges that, as far as I was able to observe, were both impassable and invulnerable to building destroying monsters.

The levels of dirt between the surface and the fortress proper gave me plenty of room for agriculture, and for water I replicated the cistern design from the first game. The canal from the river to the reservoir was the one potential weak point in my defences though it featured multiple grates, some carved in solid rock, and floodgates were normally kept closed. I was still worried that some lithe building-destroying aquatic Titan might manage to break in, but that never happened; I don’t know if it’s even possible.


This time around my farms were more extensive and easily able to feed my fortress. The invaders kept killing my cattle in the first game, so in this game I moved them indoors as well. The extensive pastures had the bonus of providing me with lumber, too. A bit of the trapped entry corridor is visible at the top of the picture, as is the since walled-off side passage that provided access before the main stairwell was finished. I rather wish I hadn’t dug it in the first place.

Below the layers of soil we find the trading depot, the drawbridges, the garrison of The Muscular Ropes — the first militia squad — and the main stairwell. There’s quite a bit of corridor between here and the guardhouse above and all of it is trapped.


The depot is isolated by drawbridges on both sides, allowing safe access for me and risky access for the traders. The depot is made out of gold, just because I could. The grand stairwell, decorated by a central statue, is the only entry point into the fortress below. The drawbridges ought to keep everything out but I frequently kept them open until the last moment to lure attackers into the traps; they seemed to magically know whether the way in was blocked or not. The squad is at hand just in case, though I preferred to not risk any of my dwarfs if it could be avoided. They mostly kept busy chasing away the occasional thieves and kidnappers.

To help keep my dwarfs content and non-homicidal I provided them with comfortable housing and excellent dining. The central feature of the habitation level is the legendary dining room.


This level is also where the food and drinks are prepared and stored. I had to expand my food stockpiles a few times as the stores just kept accumulating. Calibrating food production to consumption was an ongoing process over the game and I usually erred on the side of caution.

The level also houses some other services, like the jail and the kennels. I had a few prisoners over the game, mostly guilty of violating production orders; one of them might have even survived the experience.

I also provided my population with a number of entertainment options to help keep their mood up, mostly housed on the level just below the living quarters.

Please ignore the fact that the pool room is misaligned.

In the north-west quadrant we have a firing range for target practice and a court built around the well, flanked by the public offices and private living quarters for the mayor and the manager. The manager didn’t actually require such elaborate quarters but I was feeling generous.

To the north-east you can see the hospital and a room with a pool. The pool occasionally had pond turtles in it but they kept disappearing; possibly they were eaten.

To the south of the pool room is the arena, where the dwarfs could watch my militia practising their martial crafts on poor prisoners caught in my cage traps; next to that is the zoo where exotic animals are displayed. South of the zoo are the nobles’ tombs and memorial rooms for those departed who could not be buried for whatever reason. The grandest tomb, of course, belongs to the duke.

As far as nobles go, he wasn't so bad.
For a noble, he wasn’t so bad.

You might notice that, while I’m happy to carve walls when the occasion calls for it, I don’t generally carve floors: I just find them very ugly. Yes, there can be aesthetic considerations in an ASCII game.

The top three popular subjects for engravings in Fortressauthor were historical scenes related to The Godly Torches, the dwarf kingdom the colony was part of, and specifically scenes related to the history of Fortressauthor itself; fine works of craftsdwarfship; and elves getting murdered by minotaurs.

Also featured on the most valuable artefact created in Fortressauthor.
Also featured on the most valuable artefact created in Fortressauthor.

The south-west corner features the garrison occupied by marksdwarf squad The Diamond Moments, a pet cemetery, a statue garden and the burial chambers for the common dwarf. There’s more of them out of frame. I tried to always have extra capacity available: dwarfs have a remarkable talent for dying, even when isolated from most obvious threats.

My fortress unfortunately did spend a lot of time completely isolated from the world above, thanks to alternating sieges by goblins and humans. Why did the humans make war on me? Funny story, that.

After I had successfully traded with the human caravans from the Confederation of Flax a few times they decided to send an envoy to work out trading agreements with me; much the same arrangement I had with the Mountainhomes. Alas the diplomat they sent, Ino “Onslaughtsticks” Genceshsipkat, never quite made it to my fortress. He had the misfortune to arrive with the human trading caravan mere moments ahead of an army of goblins from The Seducer of Symmetry. While the caravan guard bravely engaged the goblin hordes, the traders and the diplomat rushed for the safety of my trading depot as I stood by ready to raise the bridge the moment they were through. However, just before Mr. Genceshsipkat reached safety, he surprised a kobold thief who had stealthily made his way towards the depot.

When Mr. Genceshsipkat spotted the thief, he stopped dead in his tracks and then ran in the other direction. I do not mean to imply he panicked when he saw the knife-wielding kobold; perhaps he coincidentally at that very moment decided that honour dictated he join the brave guards at their last stand. Whatever his motivation, he ran unarmed straight into the massed goblins.

It didn't go well for him.
It didn’t go well for him.

The human kingdom he represented must have assumed I had something to do with his failure to return from his mission, and the next humans to visit were not traders but soldiers. There weren’t very many of them; I probably could have broken that siege. But as I had no quarrel with the Confederation of Flax and only desired to trade with them, I raised the bridges and waited for them to leave. Apparently they decided I didn’t seem all that hostile after all, as the following year brought another caravan and a second diplomat, who were promptly slaughtered by the concurrently arrived goblins. This lead to a couple more years of human sieges.

The third diplomat they sent made it to the fortress, and a trade agreement was negotiated successfully.

Unfortunately the goblins had once again come to besiege me soon after the diplomat, and I was loath to let him leave. I feared he would just get slaughtered and that I would, once again, be blamed for it. I intended to host him until the goblins packed it up, but it turns out humans are not very well suited to life in a dwarf fortress. Perhaps it’s the low ceilings, or the lack of sunlight, or the diet of mushrooms and cat biscuits; I’m not sure. Nevertheless the poor man went insane and I had to put him down for the safety of the fortress.

It was at this point that I resigned myself to constant sieges and gave up the outside world as a lost cause. I didn’t need it, anyway; I had everything I needed right here under the ground. Even trees: apart from the few trees growing in the idle pastures there were trees aplenty in the three expansive caverns I could access if I really needed to. And it’s not like I needed wood for my metal industry any more.

Our words are backed by MAGMA-POWERED FORGES.
Our words are backed with MAGMA-POWERED FORGES!

I was safe from all threats and my metropolis of some two-hundred and sixty dwarfs was completely self-sufficient.

So, um, was that it? Had I won?

Dwarf Fortress, of course, has no built-in win condition. Fortresses continue until they fall apart or are abandoned out of boredom. The latter was the case here. The frame rate just kept going down, the amount of boring micromanagement never let up, and ideas for better ways to do things kept accumulating. After a point I just could not bring myself to load up the game any more. And there ends my Dwarf Fortress experience, for now. If I ever pick it up again I’ll start a new fortress.

NEXT: The conclusion.





5 responses to “Man cancels life: went insane, part 6”

  1. BellendSebastian Avatar

    Dig deeper, dig greedier.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      Glazedcoast got a better postscript than anyone could possibly have hoped for when Bleaktea dug too deep. Sublime!

      Every time I read a Dwarf Fortress diary series I want to play the game more, and Walker's series is no exception. It's particularly reassuring to learn that his second attempt actually turned out to be a slightly dull success. I had envisioned a dozen failed fortresses, brought down by simple errors, before I really got anywhere.

      (My one attempt thus far ended when two necromancer armies attacked in quick succession; I managed to fend off the first lot somehow, but the second was too much. Alas, I hadn't yet worked out how to make traps or doors, and had foolishly assumed that any attacks would likely come after I had achieved something a little more than digging rooms and making a staircase.)

      It is also less reassuring to hear that the fiddly micromanagement ends up becoming suffocating. Maybe I should go back to my Goblin Camp diary. But on the other hand, development on that seems to crawl, and it doesn't seem like there's that much in there yet that is really interesting or amusing.

      1. BellendSebastian Avatar

        I just picked up playing it again last night, since CubeWorld is currently unavailable, and it's a lot of fun to have my dwarves slowly all going insane. Turns out I shouldn't leave the corpse of a dwarf in the middle of the main thoroughfare. Who knew!?

      2. Simon_Walker Avatar

        Dwarf Fortress is really not that hard a game, possibly because it's barely a game. It's trivially easy to make sure your colony is self-sufficient and at least mostly protected from most threats, to the point there's really no fortress-ending danger unless you deliberately go about creating one. Like starting in an evil biome. And if you do, it's equally futile to expect any sort of game balance in the hordes of doom, either.

        I rather wish you would go back to your Goblin Camp diary, if only for the sake of contrast: Goblin Camp is decidedly balanced as a game and has a very explicit risk-reward mechanic. It is much more difficult as a game than DF. It's also, counter-intuitively, more realistic, despite being much simpler. Complexity doesn't equal accuracy. But more of that in part seven, which I will honestly most definitely get finished this weekend.

        Development of Goblin Camp isn't crawling; it's suspended, as the dev is much too busy with the day job. Of course, the source is free, so theoretically somebody could pick up the slack. Alas, I don't really like C++.

        Still, there are some things that can happen to your goblin camp that would be quite amusing. To me, anyway. You already got the cannibalism spiral, which is the first rite of passage for all GC players. There's couple of more waiting.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          Well… maybe I will revisit it. I'd probably have to start another new camp. And write less about the minutiae of what's going on (for lack of knowledge about what matters).

          Alas, I still have no coding powers to speak of. Though if anyone wants a guessing game written in Python, hit me up!