Dastotdeg – Dwarf Fortress

1,665 words.

One of the interesting things about Dwarf Fortress is that your “save game file” (which is actually a huge directory of tiny files) contains not just your fortress, but the entire world around your fortress, including all of the other AI-controlled fortresses and civilizations on the map.

In RimWorld, if you get an itch to try something different, you simply save your game and start a new game with a new colony. If you don’t like it, you load up the old game and resume the old colony where you left off.

It’s not like that in Dwarf Fortress. You can only control one fortress at a time in any given game world. Deciding to leave a fortress is a major life decision. You don’t just “freeze” the game world at some arbitrary point, where it just sits there in limbo waiting for you to get back, you “retire” the fortress, turning it back over to the game’s AI to control while you are off building that new fortress somewhere else in the game world. You can come back later and resume control of the fortress if you want, but time will have passed in your absence and things will have happened. Things you might not approve of.

Sometimes the decision to leave a fortress is made for you, like when a vile force of darkness, otherwise known as goblin invaders, murders everyone in your fortress leaving you at the equivalent of the “game over” screen. It leaves a smoking hole in the map where that fortress used to be, forever haunted by the souls of those dead dwarves.
(Not really, but I like to think so.) You can even visit it if you want.

Other times you find that your fortress is quite successful with a huge thriving population and even a queen-in-residence. And you notice that there is so much activity and so many visitors and so much stuff lying all over the place that the frame rate has dropped from where it started at 100 all the way down under 20, sometimes as low as 7 or 8 during sieges. Sometimes that’s kind of a boon, like during fast-paced combat situations that normally happen in the blink of an eye. But most of the time, it sucks quite a lot of the fun out of the game as you spend most of your time just staring at the screen waiting for things to happen.

Such is the case with Dastotdeg, “Swordeven,” the fortress I created to get even with those dastardly goblins for destroying Avuzastel.

The mausoleum and first cavern level of Dastotdeg.

Seven dwarves who came to be known as the “Vengeance Squad” embarked in the spring of the year 253, just a short time after the Massacre at Avuzastel. They set out for the sole purpose of building a military outpost to kill the nearby goblins of The Silty Nightmares, the dwarves’ sworn enemies now. They founded the fortress of Dastotdeg-“Swordeven”-and the government of the Whips of Clearing.

The first two years passed uneventfully. No wildlife, no monsters, no goblins. Just building and preparing. Traps were carefully laid out. The goblins would find a gruesome surprise this time.

But in the summer year 255, disaster struck. The hill titan Mina Nithemawada arrived at Dastotdeg. Preparations had been meticulous for goblins, but none had been made for towering humanoids composed of amber, shooting webs. No less than four of the Vengeance Squad, the original seven dwarves, the best of the fighters, were killed in a disastrous calamity.

Later that year, the werebear attacks began. Many dwarves were infected by the insidious werebeast curse, including the mayor, when the dwarves discovered that nobody remembered to replace the front door the hill titan destroyed. That disaster was averted at least by corralling the infected dwarves in a room. Only the mayor survived the confinement, walled off from the rest of the fortress, slowly starving, and then she gave birth to a child. Miraculously, his werebear mother did not kill the child at the next full moon. Compassion overtook the dwarves and they enacted a plan to rescue the baby from starvation. The mayor was killed, but the baby was saved.

An entire family of werebears attacked Dastotdeg over the next year. They were all repelled without any more serious casualties. Then a Forgotten Beast managed to sneak into the fortress through a water source in the caverns late in the year 256, but the dwarves were lucky and the damage was minimal.

Finally, in the year 257, the goblins struck. Being the cowardly tricksters they are, they attacked right when the dwarves were distracted by operations in caverns deep underground. It was a small scout force. It should have been easy. But the dwarves couldn’t get themselves organized, and though the goblins were eventually defeated, losses were heavy. The dwarves couldn’t operate on the surface anymore, because they had spent so much time underground they had become severely cave-adapted.

The dwarves turned things around in the year 258. They took the lessons from the previous year and reworked their siege plans. When the goblin invaders came in the summer, the dwarves were ready. The goblin invaders fell one after the other, stumbling into cage traps and gruesome exploding weapon traps. The survivors fled in the end, leaving the dwarves untouched. They cheered, for they had finally avenged the Massacre at Avuzestel over five years earlier. Sadly only three of the original seven Vengeance Squad lived to see that day.

Gruesome goblin defeat at the hands of my traps.

The most appalling thing about the goblin invaders were their comrades: Traitorous dwarves, turned against their own kind. It was sickening! They paid for their sins in the end, though. The executions took place in a dark room underground.

The goblins returned again in the winter of that year, and they were repelled once again.

The next year, 259, the queen of the dwarves of The Systemic Tool took notice of the efforts of the Whips of Clearing and decided to move in, elevating Dastotdeg to a Mountainhome. A royal throne room was built for her. She witnessed the military tactics of the dwarves firsthand when the goblins attacked and were repelled yet again in the autumn.

But shortly after, another disaster struck when the Hydra Ngomstu Ospluamul Smaspest Lasut arrived. Many dwarves were caught unawares and gruesomely dismembered by its seven biting heads as it wandered inside the fortress and took up residence in an out-of-the-way corner. The dwarves assembled their forces and attacked the hydra, and managed to defeat the beast without any further loss of life.

And thus the year 259 ended, and probably my time with Dastotdeg, because of that sub-20 FPS thing in the end. It took about eleven days to play those seven years. I tried to enable the DFHack “Performance Tweaks” in the Lazie Newb Pack, which improved the frame rate by a whopping 1 or 2 FPS. I think the fortress is just too big now. There were about 225 citizens at last count, and probably 100 visitors as well, many of them trying to join.

But I also feel like I’ve accomplished my goal of avenging the Massacre at Avuzastel. At least partially. I wanted to take the fight to the goblin home territory, but since my dwarves were so severely cave-adapted, they couldn’t march in the sunlight more than about 10 squares before getting violently ill. I started to work on a plan to get the military accustomed to the light again (patrolling on the surface), but it’ll probably take a full year to reverse the cave adaptation.

So the *next* fortress will be a lean, mean 2×2 embark zone to control the frame rate. There will be no caverns to make the pathing too complex. I’ll be studying up on all the tips and tricks to optimize frame rate. And the dwarves will remain in the sunlight so they can march out to the goblin pits of the Silty Nightmares to destroy them where they live, and pursue them to the ends of the earth. Er, the ends of the Emeecamo, that is. Emeecamo, “The Eternal Universes.” That’s the game world.

Videos coming soon. Dwarf Fortress is a really fun game to record. I’m trying to make the game look appealing and accessible to people who don’t want to play it themselves. I can certainly understand why people wouldn’t want to touch this game. (“But it’s really easy once you learn it!”) I cut out most of the “drudgery” of the game and just leave in the fun parts.

UPDATE: Videos begin here. It’s seven parts, but I split five of them in half to keep them at or below 30 minutes, so it’s actually twelve videos, plus seven “deleted scenes” videos. (I split the videos in half because the “deleted scenes” video was starting to get longer than the video itself.) In total it’s 4 hours and 45 minutes of the eleven-day game. To be honest, the deleted scenes are mostly me trying and failing to pronounce Dwarven names, and my dog snoring. But since my script spits out a “deleted scenes” video with no extra effort on my part, I might as well upload it too.

For myself, this game is pretty much my entire world right now. I’m now like those people who first play Dungeons & Dragons, and they completely disappear down that cult-like rabbit hole where campaigns and character backstories and Critical Role is all they can talk or think about, and you feel like maybe you should call a social worker to intervene before they self-destruct, and suddenly you completely understand why your mother was worried about you when you were into D&D as a kid. You know what I’m talking about. Everyone sees those people on Twitter, right, it’s not just me? :) Anyway that’s what getting into Dwarf Fortress is like, too. It’s a sickness, really.

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