04 September 2012

Dwarf Fortress Chronicles: The first six years

I've been playing Dwarf Fortress for a while now, slowly getting into the game, reading online guides, the wiki etc., battling the interface more than anything. I started out simple, with small fortresses and simple chains of productions, the dwarves only getting one or two different kinds of food, not producing my own weaponry etc. I cannot claim to have gotten too much deeper into the game but I slowly learn more and more game mechanics. This is my third attempt at a large and long-term game. The world is set to be full of goblins because in my first two attempts I never got an invasion besides the horrific and unstoppable attack by undead hordes (those of you who don't play DF may not realize that even blood and hair left in your kitchen will reanimate and kill your populace. And killing a zombie involves smashing every one of its fingers to paste...). This fortress was going to be different. Here come the first six years.

I had chosen the site of my fortress wisely. There were trees and a river, so I would have wood and fresh water. There were hills and mountains to make an easily accessible first level, digging out the first rooms of the fortress horizontally, to expand into the deep at a later state. My seven dwarves were well trained for the initial tasks a fortress would hold. When they arrived and got to work on their new homestead, the mood was cheerful and filled with hope.

The first things that were dug out were a work-area, a small underground farm, storage rooms and quarters. Then a dining hall. Then, with the first migrants arriving, expanding of living quarters. I soon had a well going food economy going, the dwarves were planting tasty Plumphelmets underground and wild strawberries, the seeds of which had been purchased from an elven caravan, above ground. There were three things the fortress would need before it could hope to survive actual attacks: A cistern to hold large amounts of water, so that a siege could be stopped at an outer wall, and a working militia to actually do the defending part.

The dwarves dug down a level and started working on more living quarters, a hospital, a second subterran farm, siege workshops to fuel the war machine and digging the cistern. At the same time I had the masons build a large wall around a sizeable area around the entrance of the fortress. Not only would the wall hold room for the livestock to graze, but also a refuse pile and some farming, as well as some bee-keeping. I opted for a wall, two squares thick and two stories high (on the outer square), with a guard-house by a length of trench spanned by a draw-bridge that would be the only entrance into the fortress-grounds. Digging the cistern took a long time but in the third year of the fortress, year 128, I could open the underground canal linking the river to the reservoir and fill it up. Things went well for a while, the first militia-units were founded and trained with crossbows manufactured at the fortress and a random assortment of melee-weaponry bought from caravans. A few kobold thieves and snatchers found their end at the hands of the ranger squad and more and more migrants arrived.

The dwarves were also having babies like mad. Things were going well, the production of new quarters was keeping up with new arrivals and food was never an issue. The only problem was drinking, as barrels were immediately moved to the food storages to hold fish and berries and the like, thus leaving none for alcohol to be brewed in. The growing population allowed for a greater militia, even if only to keep them busy, so by the time the actual attack hit in the fall of 131 (the year henceforth called The Dark Year in the history of the fortress) the troops numbered forty dwarves, two squads of crossbowdwarves, one with melee weapons and one unarmed wrestlersquad put together of unwanted latecomer migrants.

The goblins came from the North-East, up on the hill. Their leader, a female goblin riding a giant rat, had a small troop of fourteen macegoblins with her. The first dwarf to fall was a fisherdwarf who was haplessly fishing at a small pond in the area. Three of the goblins left the main group to hunt him down, his reaction of running away was way too late. The goblins had arrived. I ordered one of my crossbow-squads to get into the guard-house by the bridge, as it had arrow-slits carved into its sides. Crossbow-squad two and the axedwarves were to defend the courtyard, while the wrestlers were sent to the bridge itself. The goblin leader turned out to be a coward, letting her troops go infront and staying back herself. The two armies met and the clash was horrible. The goblins, all of them equipped with metal weapons and armor were severely outmatching my dwarves, who started dying like flies. It didn't help that I had sent out my two close-combat squads to meet them infront of the wall either. I sent in the crossbow-squads to help the dying close-combatants, which turned the tide of battle but when everything was over, I had lost fifteen militia dwarves and around eight civilians who had been outside and couldn't flee in time. Fourteen of the goblins had died and their leader fled the scene, probably to come back with more forces.

I had learned my lessons from how bad the battle had gone. I built a second guard-house in the corner of the fortress so an incoming army would have to walk through a hail of bolts before getting to the bridge. I would have to train new soldiers.

Before I could do anything of the like, winter hit my fortress and it would be even more devastating than the battle itself had been. Now the problem with winter in DF is not the lack of food. You grow most of your food underground and I usually have a ton of supplies stored anyways. But drinking is something else entirely. Like I wrote before, I couldn't brew as much alcohol as I wanted to and the dwarves, usually drinking alcohol all day, had to revert to drinking water. But the water in the river freezes over during the winter and to make things worse, the water in the cistern had become stagnant and, apparently, undrinkable. Dwarves started dying of thirst. This was really, really bad. When there is a war, you have control over who engages the enemy, selecting those who are not really essential to your fortress economy to be in the army. The thirst was killing random citizens, peasents and masons, grown-ups and babies. The wounded of the battle were, of course, among the first to die. I didn't know what to do, ordered a well constructed above the edge of the cistern, hoping that would help. A well is a complicated construction, needing the work of several different dwarven specialists before it's finished and that was a big problem: The situation was already out of control.

Corpses of dwarves were littering hallways, living quarters and workshops, spreading smell and bad mood alike. People losing their friends and children became distraught with the situation, throwing tantrums instead of working. Children were neglected. The draw-bridge to enter the fortress-grounds collapsed, taking a farmer and a baby with it. I had to let the dwarves dig a hole into the outer wall so that the dwarves outside wouldn't be stuck. New burial receptables couldn't be produced as fast as people were dying of the draught. I could only hope that the specialists like the building designer and the mason would live long enough to build that well.

They did. The well was constructed and dwarves flocked to it. Some more still died of thirst, apparently unaware of the rescue that was at hand, but things got better eventually. The population had just dipped to 99, after having been at over 140 before the goblin attack, when a group of new migrants arrived and the weather started to thaw. I fixed the out wall and started to re-train a militia force, replacing both former close-combat squads with a single one and filling up the ranks of the crossbow-squads, which had sustained casualties by dying of thirst. I updated my plans on what to do when under attack, only to abandon them when that spring a minotaur would attack but this will be the story of another entry...

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