Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dwarves of Yore

Nobody else here plays Dwarf Fortress, do they? Didn't think so. There's no pressing reason to do so unless you really like free ridiculously complicated strategic simulations that automatically generate a complete and unique fantasy world for every player. I spent a bit of time with it a few years back and was fondly reminded of it recently by the news that a manual has recently been published (see for more info, plus links to hilarious comics).

It's the work of some dedicated nerd geniuses. On start up, if you let the program run for a while, it randomly generates the auto-computer-monkey equivalent of a Tolkein epic. If you let it run long enough, it can create  a detailed history of your new world over 1 gig in size, complete with epic duels between champions and demons, rise and fall of nations and empires, etc etc.

Mostly it's fun because it's nearly impossible, and if you can be bothered to learn the infamously difficult interfaces enough to control it, then it's hilarious fun. The game details the attempts of your group of seven dwarves as they attempt to start their own fortress in the wilds of the world. It's beyond ludicrous in its detail - dwarves have complex psychology and personalities, accurately simulated physiology, your town has illness, elections, realistic geology with aquifers and seasonal weather - but is nearly impossible to play. The interface uses ASCII graphics, so you can get an idea of how the game looks by animating an eighties telephone directory on a ZX Spectrum. Remember Granny's Garden? Well, like that but without the whistles and bells.

My best attempt lasted seven years, and went from seven beardy alcoholics with a cart up to being a sprawling and successful underground mining village packed with eighty or so skilled craftsmen and their growing families. 'The Crucible of Lances' (the random name generator, all in pseudo-Dwarven, is one of the funniest things about the game) was founded on rich veins of hematite, limestone native silver and beryl, so we quickly became famous for the quality of our stone crafts, our gems and the three legendary artefacts created by our crafters. One of which was a drinking mug studded with polished beryl cabochons and limestone spikes.

We had an idyllic few years thanks to our location in a remote if pleasantly sunny bamboo jungle. Occasional goblin childsnatchers were dealt with by the heavily trapped entrance hall (humane cage traps, mostly). Our hunters brought in turtles from the local ponds; our farmers grew Plump Helmets (a sort of subterranean turnip) in underground fields for stew and beer brewing.

Then they found the Mayor dead in his bed, entirely drained of blood.

After much investigation, it turned out one of the immigrants was a vampire from the elder ages of the world. Boden Thursillimar was just an alias for Nedrak Asklimmor. If I'd looked properly at his description, I'd have been more suspicious of a 147-year-old with rust-coloured eyes and an incredibly emaciated frame, but finding such info in the confusing menus of the game isn't easy.

Anyway, he'd infiltrated the town under the guise of a being a skilled metalcrafter, rising through the ranks of the town thanks to the immense social skills he'd gained in his long years. Having drunk the mayor, in fact, he was promptly elected as the new replacement due to his popularity. From his opulent chambers, he was even in charge of the manhunt that ensued. Strangely, nobody could find out who was responsible for the series of horrible murders that occurred over the next year, with men, women and even babies turning up bloodlessly in the sleeping rooms that ringed the main eating hall.

Alas, this was just the beginning of the woes of The Crucible of Lances. Two years later, just after we'd pissed off the elven traders by daring to offer them wooden trade goods ('That used to be a majestic tree! How can you offer us such a monstrous creation?' they said of the willow chest holding the limestone scepters and jewelry actually for sale), our hunters ran screaming into the main hall. A roaming group of fifty zombies had just wandered out of the jungle, determined for unknown reasons to destroy our settlement.

Given that the militia was at this point five badly trained farmers, the attempt to fight them off was a disaster. The captain of the guard was dragged down by a pack of two monsters in the very doorway of the halls, unable to fight back after an early hit bruised his internal organs so badly he succumbed to helpless vomiting as the undead clawed him to death. Everyone else hit the panic button, slamming the drawbridge shut and sealing the colony underground.

Where the Mayor gradually ate everyone.

Eventually, there were so few dwarves left he got caught. The outraged survivors hacked him apart and left him to rot, electing his killer as their new leader. This hardy dwarf, one of the original colonists and a skilled ranger, ended up being the last man standing. Those few who'd survived living in siege conditions with a blood drinking monster were already on the edge of sanity, and fought amongst themselves until thirst drove them to open the gates. Then a swarm of zombies caught and consumed them as they ran to the lake for water.

'Slayer' Ank Bodilndvar was left alone with the bodies of his friends and family. The zombies eschewed actually invading the fort, happy to roam the jungle outside. Ank's mind finally snapped a few days later as he attempted to bury the rotting remains of his companions, and he went into a beserk fury somewhere in the lower mines. All contact with the Crucible of Lances was lost.

Such is the genius of the game that this was all randomly generated. If I wanted to, I could have sent a new party to reclaim the colony a few years later, and all the stuff from the first settlers would still be there. The DF forums are full of similar tales of ridiculous complexity and horrible demises. Worth a look for any good nerd.

Not miniature related, of course. But you can't have it all.

1 comment:

  1. If that was a movie, I'd watch it: a cross between George Romero and Aguirre, Wrath of God.