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The Song Of Onionbog, Pt 3: Turtle Biscuits

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In which I make biscuits, make money, and begin making sense of things before something happens that makes me say “What the fuck” many, many times.

To clarify, what I’m trying to do with Onionbog is tell a story that’s also a basic introduction to how Dwarf Fortress works and what it’s like to play. There’s too much talk about how inaccessible DF is. What happens if you try and fumble your way through the game after only a few hours spent browsing tutorials? Onionbog is what happens.

At the end of part 2 I’d just received my first load of immigrants, bumping Onionbog’s population from seven to twelve. This is the settlement’s first nauseous, trembling step in the direction of becoming a bustling fortress. Understand my pain when I say that the most useful migrant is the professional fish dissector, who I can at least immediately set to working the ponds around the swamp.

Let me give you a tour of Onionbog as it stands now.

1: This is the fort’s entrance. It’s at ground level on a goddamn swamp, so all kinds of weird crap comes crawling or flying or slurping in here and is subsequently killed by our cats. Look, here’s Kerion lugging some nondescript dead thing to the refuse dump (9).

2: Onionbog’s carpentry shack and lumber depot. You’d think we’d be able to build everything out of stone, but it’s not the case. Even a dwarf isn’t a big enough asshole to want to sleep on a stone bed, for example.

3: Our trade depot. Soon a trader’s caravan will arrive and I will attempt to unload about forty or fifty horrible stone handicrafts on them in exchange for two seeds and a pair of pants. I’m looking forward to that.

4: Our barracks. Originally this was Onionbog’s dormitory, but since I built everybody bedrooms downstairs this room is just a flophouse. It’s stunning how many dwarves will just bunk here instead of walking the 50 metres to their bedroom.

5: Our underground farm. A bristling grotto of plump mushrooms and cave wheat.

6: The food storage hall, with attached still. Sometimes I find dwarves drinking straight from the barrels in the still. Maybe it tastes fresher?

7: Our grand dining room. There is a horse in here. I went into its status and toggled it to be taken for slaughter, but the camp doesn’t have a butcher’s workshop or a butcher, so everybody in Onionbog is quietly hoping someone else will do the job. The horse lives on.

8: The stairs down!

9: Onionbog’s refuse dump. Here you will find dozens of tiny animal corpses rotting and popping under the sun.

We now proceed to the floor below, the workshops. Boy, do I hate this place. It’s like a teenager’s bedroom down here, if the teenager in question was into stonemasonry and gemcutting instead of Green Day and bongs.

1: Stairs up / down.

2: The masonry chamber. It’s a veritable swimming pool of rocks. I have no idea how the dwarves pick their way through it so fast.

3: The craftsdwarf workshop! This is where the magic happens, if by “magic” you mean “Ingish hitting a rock with another rock until one or both rocks start to look like something ethnic we can flog”.

4: The block/bar storage chamber. See, the mason can cut raw rocks into blocks for easier storage. I thought adding this room and telling my masons to make blocks would clean the place up. What it did was give me another room overflowing with fucking rocks.

5: The gem chamber! This is where we store gems and where my “gemcutter” migrant “cuts” gems. He has no idea what he’s doing. I can look at his skills and see that. Still, I let him at it, because why not.

Finally we proceed to the storage floor. Here you will find the storage rooms (1), for storing all kinds of stuff, and bedrooms (2), for storing dwarves. The bedrooms are full of more fucking rocks, I don’t know if you’ve noticed.

Summer passes in a haze of minor improvements. Kerion and Tei spend the whole time down in the bedrooms, smoothing the stone and thereby improving the rooms’ value and making for happier dwarves. The walled-off outdoor farm is completed, accessible from a tunnel off the underground farm, and I build a fishery, allowing my fish dissector to get meat and shells from all the unsettling life forms he drags back to Onionbog.

Things are going smoothly. Which of course heralds the arrival of more pissing immigrants. 9 of them this time, bringing Onionbog’s population up to 21, and among them are a bone carver and a small animal dissector. Great. Awesome. Top dollar. You know, I was sat here just hoping and praying for a bone carver and a small animal dissector.

At this point I realise the utter madness of trying to manage dozens of individual skills belonging to dozens of separate dwarves, and boot up fan-made program Dwarf Therapist (affectionately dubbed Dwarf TheRapist by the community). It takes me half an hour to get my head around it, but the moment my learning is over the software fuses itself with my consciousness. Right now I could not and would not play Dwarf Fortress without Dwarf Therapist. Here’s how it works:

Yeah, it looks like maths. It looks like homework. But it’s pretty neat.

Basically, by default dwarves in dwarf fortress will do what they know how to do. Some dwarves are good at one thing, some are multi-talented, and many don’t know their arse from their elbow. At its simplest, you want the berks in your fortress to do all the useless hauling jobs and/or staff the militia, and the professional dwarves to get on with their professions. The grid Dwarf Therapist presents you with is an infinitely quicker way of toggling different duties on or off in individuals. Your dwarves appear on the left, and all the different tasks they could be doing run along the top. How filled-in a square is shows you how good a dwarf is, and a blue square means the dwarf is doing that duty. Eagle-eyed readers will spot Goden’s High Master Milking skill in the centre.

Once your fortresses’ population passes, say, 15 dwarves, trying to remember everybody’s different roles is a lot like playing three-card monte with a number of cards equal to however many dwarves you have. Dwarf Therapist’s solution is to allow you to create custom professions quickly and easily (“Farmer”, say, whose duties consist only of tending to crops and foraging for food outside), and then assign your heaving mass of dwarves to a much smaller number of professions. So, while you might have 20, 30, even 70 dwarves, they’re categorised neatly into 10 different classes and therefore you don’t go mad trying to make sure you have enough people doing a certain thing.

With winter approaching, High Master Milker Goden Idithablel has a funny turn.

Jiim looked up from his sad lunch of raw mushroom and mushroom wine to find Ingish lurching up to him. Glad of the distraction, he welcomed her to sit down, but she would not.

“Goden has become tremendous strange!” howled Ingish. “I was producting in the crafts workshop, finishing a most fine goblet I will add, when Goden grabbed me by the guts and threw me across the room. With such a minimum of words he announced he was commanding the workshop, and that I should not bother him until he was done.”

“Done with what?” asked Jiim.

“He is not saying,” said Ingish.

The two of them then turned to face the door, as there was a commotion in the hall outside the dining room. They watched as first Goden came into sight, bent double and groaning with exertion, and then came the enormous tree trunks he was pulling behind him, one in each hand.

“Perhaps he is building a catapult,” Jiim ventured. “That would be wonderful.”

He wasn’t building a catapult. This was revealed after a couple of weeks, when Goden came staggering out of the workshop holding a fucking wooden bracelet. He dragged whole trees from the wood stockpile we have in front of the fort, all the way down the stairs, all the way through the rock swimming pool, to make a bracelet. A bracelet so beautiful that it’s as valuable as everything else in the whole of Onionbog put together, admittedly. I guess Goden’s method was mainly trial and error.

This happens in Dwarf Fortress with some regularity. A dwarf will be taken over by some kind of mood (or possessed by a mysterious spirit, in Goden’s case), then they’ll lock themselves in a workshop until their vision is complete. Woe betide the dwarves (and fortresses, in fact) who don’t have the materials necessary to complete the item, since the situation usually ends in the dwarf going mad.

Sometimes the procedure ends with the dwarf in question gaining incredible skills or talents. I eagerly check Goden’s profile. He still doesn’t know the first thing about woodcarving. Damnit.

The Autumn trading caravan comes and does its thing. My haulers lug four huge wooden bins overflowing with authentic dwarven handicrafts up to the trade depot, and my initial thrill at the sheer quantity of stuff they have for sale is tempered somewhat when I start browsing what the items actually are. Cave spider ichor. Fungiwood training swords. Horse cheese. A huge iron corkscrew. A dog intestine.

I end up giving them all of my crafts for a selection of stuff that I get the impression I might be needing in my economy later. Among my purchases are some sandbags (for the silk bags as much as the sand), some raw glass to train my gemcutter with, some thread, an extra pickaxe, some barrels of booze, and a lady donkey in a cage so Goden finally has something to milk and hopefully won’t lose his shit again.

Once the caravan leaves I realise I was playing the game waiting for it to arrive. Now it’s gone, I’m left with the shameful feeling that Onionbog is cluttered mess. Worse, word comes from Johon that he can’t plant Plump Helmet in our field anymore because there’s no seed left. No seed? What the fuck, people! I gotta get organised! As if to spite me, I notice somebody has let the donkey out of its cage and it’s now blocking the main corridor.

First of all, I decide to consolidate my immense supply of raw food into some prepared meals, which will cheer dwarves up and make the food last longer. I take Tei off mining duty and have a kitchen built for him, since he’s a bit of a chef. The first thing he makes? Biscuits. Made from a swamp turtle. Swamp turtle biscuits. Mmmmm.

I also designate Tekkud, one of my hauling dwarves, as a bookkeeper- somebody whose job it is to make a detailed inventory of everything we’ve got in the fort. I’m informed that the bookkeeper needs an office to work from, and I go to great lengths to accommodate his request.

Before:

After:

It’s basically a cupboard with a stool in it. Tekkud’s ass is over the moon regardless. His very own office! If momma Tekkud could see him now!

Within a week Tekkud’s first report comes in, causing me to begin saying “What the fuck” over and over again.

Jiim lifted his heavy head from his meal of turtle biscuits to see Tekkud Erlinfeb approaching, a stack of papers under his arm.

“Tekkud,” Jiim called. “Come and eat a turtle biscuit.” As Tekkud got closer, Jiim scouted the black circles around Tekkud’s eyes. When had the dwarf last slept?

“I’ve finished my first report,” said Tekkud, crumbling into a stone chair Jiim had carved back in the Spring. “I found a lot of strangeness.”

“What type or manner of strangeness?”

“It is in the food and the drink provisions,” Tekkud began, fumbling the papers onto the table. “There are many things I struggle to account. There is a strange meat in the corner, which I have identified as bugbat meat, but I don’t know what a bugbat is and nobody who lives here has ever seen one. Among our fish collection are a great many dead sharks which I suspect our fishermen are responsible for. I think somebody finally murdered that horse, because we have no horse anymore and in the kitchen are 6… no, 7 globs of horse fat. Not to mention the stews Tei’s been making recently.

“But the real oddness is all of the drink. Our food supplies are dwindling, but we have dozens of barrels of ale, beer and wine. Enough to last us for several years.”

I have HOW MANY barrels of booze? How on Earth did this happen? Jesus Christ. My God. The still is off limits until further notice. No wonder I ran out of Plump Helmet seeds. Tholtig was making enough Plump Helmet wine to drown the inhabitants of six or seven Onionbogs.

Having discovered this glitch in my economy, I decide to take some proactive steps to keep Onionbog safe. It’s time for me to draft a militia, set up a metalworks and get that blacksmith making arms and armour. I have no idea if or when invaders will show up.

This proves to be more of a pain than I ever could have imagined.

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