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Dwarf Fortress diary: The Basement of Curiosity episode six - Through the Interesting Door

Death comes to the Basement

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Last time on the BoC: A new migrant, Urist, declared herself mayor, leading to a power struggle with former expedition leader Lorbam. A lot of politically controversial artefacts were made, and wrestlin’ dad Id got blasted into the mince zone by a pack of dingos.

Late Winter, Y2

We return to the Basement of Curiosity at the bum end of winter, in the mildew-stinking, sand-walled cavern that serves as the fort’s hospital. Id ‘Snakebuster’ is convulsing on a palm wood table, his limbs mauled, and his chest so badly houndwrecked you can see his lungs. He’s the very image of a bloke who’s learned the problems inherent in wrestling wild dogs.

But as ‘Doc’ Sakzul struggles to suture Id’s wounds, an astonishing thing happens: a great pool of blood appears beneath Id – and it is not his own. It belongs to Lorbam, the former expedition leader. This has happened once before – up in the Mayoral Tower while it was being built – and it can only mean one thing: an omen sent by Zon, the goddess of war and fortresses.

Id pulls through the surgery by the skin of his teeth, and the dwarves rejoice. Surely, the Haunted Blood has saved him. But some wonder if this gift has a darker meaning. After all, why would the goddess of war return the fort’s militia commander from death’s edge, if not to arm the Basement for a trial to come?

Id, for one, couldn’t care less – a look into his head reveals he’s still just happy to be a father, and – more pressingly – thinking about that Interesting Door he was considering while in the depths of a mauling. Could this intriguing portal be… the door to the dwarven afterlife?

Well, no, it’s probably just a particularly well-made door he walked past a while back, and happens to keep thinking about, getting increasingly psyched about it. Also: I didn’t manage to screenshot the second appearance of the Haunted Blood as I was too mindblown, but it was real as shit, and I still have no idea what’s causing it.

Look at the state of this guy. He’s like a frankenstein made of other frankensteins. Also the only clothes on his body that haven’t been gnashed into lint by wild beasts are two ragged socks, a single glove, and one silk shoe. I bet Id loves his one shoe.

Early Spring, Y3

When Id finally emerges, it’s to a fort growing into an industrial powerhouse under the guiding hands of Mayor Urist and Udil ‘Twocrowns’, the fort’s giant manager. Twenty new dwarves have arrived, bringing the fort’s population up to 86, and Urist is really turning the place from a weird parochial zoo to the mighty dwarven city she wants it to be.

A stoneworks complex has been set up in three large, rounded mining caverns near the surface: in the crafts cavern, political agitator and bin fiend Imush pumps out endless stone figurines of popular dwarves to sell to traders, while the masonry cavern is run by Twocrowns and her new apprentice Tirist Leaftrades, who has recently joined the working world at age twelve.

Tirist (not to be confused with Tirist the female miner) is a good kid – a sensitive lad who loves donkeys and drinking whiskey, and whose parents and two sisters also live in the fort. He was the one watching the cheetah in the hole with Udil back in Episode Four, and I like to think that was the moment she offered him the job (“I like the way that kid stares at big cats; I reckon he’s got what it takes to make stone chairs”). While we’re at it, I also like to imagine that the figurines Imush makes are essentially shit, brittle action figures of his mates, which he casually chats to about bins while he works.

Meanwhile down in the depths, the forge complex is now a two-storey cavern full of smouldering charcoal burners, blazing smelters and clanging forges, staffed by a half dozen dwarves. It’s been run up til now by Ingiz – the oldest dwarf in the fort at age 167 – but since she is a Lorbam loyalist, Urist (herself a much greater armourer than Ingiz), has taken over.

There’s also a big multi-storey barn being built down the west end of the valley. When it’s finished, the food processing industry will move there from the maze of grotty, sand-walled holes it currently occupies, but for now it’s a construction site.

There were quite a few interesting dwarves in spring’s migrant wave – here’s a rundown:

* A new doctor called Bembul, who’s not only way better at doctoring than current Chief Medical Dwarf ‘Doc’ Sakzul (in that he actually has training), but far younger at 24. Sakzul is geriatric for a dwarf at 161, and the second eldest in the fort after Ingiz.
* A kid called Dobar who, although only 6, seems to be in the running to become the Dwarven Mozart, with proficiency in almost every musical and performance-related skill.
* Udil Twocrown’s grandparents, who are – hilariously – both called Tobul. Grandma Tobul keeps making speeches in the dining room, while Grandpa Tobul keeps attending them and… getting aroused. Yeah, they’re odd.
* Iton Nefekerith, the mother of Avuz the soldier – and thus Snakebuster’s mother in law. Iton has towering academic skills which suggest she’s a philosophy professor, and her whole family situation sounds like a sitcom in the making.
* Asën is a legendary stonecrafter and thus a competitor to Imush – considering she’s quick to crack under pressure and seethingly angry, however, she could be one to watch.
* Etur is a hunter and chemist who is also our second exclusively gay dwarf, having moved here with her wife Deduk. Deduk herself is an excellent performance poet, who is already a hit in the Basement’s growing open mic scene. (I imagine Grandpa Tobul is that one guy who shows up to every reading, enraptured, with his weird toothless grin).

With the trade goods store moved down to the stoneworks, the base of the mayoral tower is now free for development, and so Mayor Urist makes a decision – this will be the fort’s gay village. The ground floor is made into an apartment for the vast gooseherder Athel (with an annex for his honking mates), while the first floor – previously Lorbam’s beast training area – will be made into two flats: one for Etur and Deduk, and one for asexual farmer Melbil.

The Basement’s LGBTQ+ community: From left to right – Athel the gooseherder, Melbil the farmer, Etur the hunter. (I drew this before I realised Etur was married to Deduk, so she didn’t make it in – this is not a case of bi erasure).

Say what you will about Urist, at least she’s not a bigot. Although to be fair, I reckon her newfound enthusiasm for diversity is largely an excuse to clear all of Lorbam’s zoo stuff out of her precious mayoral tower. She’s like when big companies sponsor pride as a marketing strategy.

Mid Spring, Y3

The elves roll into town to trade, and despite Urist’s strict proclamation that nobody purchases any wild animals from them, Lorbam just deadass buys a lion, and sticks it straight at the entrance of the banqueting mezzanine on a silver chain. Now all the dwarves have to nervously sidle past a lion when they go to have their lunch. But then if Urist won’t fund the zoo, what choice does Lorbam have? It’s another genius political move from the former expedition leader.

With the perimeter wall finished, the lumberjacks set to finishing off beloved Rakust’s treehouse, right as the kumquat and pomegranate trees it’s built upon are both flowering. It’s a lovely dwelling with green windows, and it’s sited poetically, as Rakust’s new bed will be placed directly over the patch of forest where he lay for 3 months with a mangled leg. Finally, he’s on top of the tree, with a place to rest his mended bones.

Rakust at home in his lovely treehouse.

But right as the house is about to be finished, Rakust’s curse strikes.

One of the Lumberjacks – a big, confident, gullible fellow called Besmar – tries to place a load of floor planks onto flimsy kumquat tree canopy, and plunges straight through, along with all the timber. He ends up lying on the forest floor, right next to the patch where the worms still grow muscly from Rakust’s blood, with his right leg and arm mangled beyond recognition

But that’s not all: he’s landed on someone.

Mistem the administrator – the pompous, bookish fellow who moved here with his wife Tirist the miner – has been flattened into paste. He was a key intellectual bulkhead in Mayor Urist’s modernising new guard, but now his life’s blood is mixed with kumquat juice in the rainforest loam, and there’s a plank of kumquat wood through his neck.

From the breweries, to the stoneworks, to the hammerers on the barn roof, and even to the miners in the deep, the fortress falls silent – for death has come. For a long moment, the only sound is the twittering of the caged sparrows in the basement zoo (and probably the cheetah groaning). And then the whispering starts. It builds to a murmur as Tirist sprints above ground to see her crushed husband – and as she stands over the body, what’s on her mind?

“I was near to a door. It’s interesting.”

Surely this must be the same door that Id saw – the door to the afterlife? But in Tirist’s grief, she’s thinking of something else: she’s thinking about the artefact Thinnedkindness, the Stranger of Apes. Imush’s protest piece against Urist, representing the fort’s founders.

After spending so much time at work with founding dwarves Nil and Ineth, is Tirist at last wondering if she’s got more in common with this rough and tumble place than her foppish, soft-handed husband? Or is she suspicious that her husband’s death may not have been an accident at all, but a statement by the anti-Urist lobby disguised as an act of chance?

Or is it a case of both things at once – is this Tirist’s ‘Alma off of Deadwood’ moment, where she realises that yes, her husband has been murdered, but that also she’s secretly quite glad of it? Only time will tell.

(PS this wasn’t actually the fort’s first death. That donkey we bought last spring was left caged in a storeroom all year, with no food, and I found its withered body when the dwarves went to pick up the skinks for their glass tank. Whoops. I’ll try to build it a memorial.)

Late Spring, Y3

The Deadwood comparison becomes a bit spooky when Tirist goes to dig a tomb for her husband on the fort’s lowest level: the rocks she breaks crumble to reveal shining yellow veins, and it transpires she has broken into a massive seam of native gold. By the time she has dug out a decent catacomb, the fortress is awash in the precious metal. From Mistem’s death, bounty has come.

In Mistem’s honour, the dwarves finally give the great banqueting mezzanine an official opening. They load it with mugs and musical instruments (taking care to step round the lion on the way in), then designate it as a tavern and throw an absolute rager in there, as a sort of combined wake and opening party.

The Great Harvester is open for business.

Once you designate a dining area as a tavern, the game assigns it a random name. In this instance, DF decided to call it “the Great Harvester” which I think is amazing, as it sounds like the perfect midway point between an epithet for death, and low-end UK pub chain Harvester. It’s all very BoC.

But while all is merriment in the new tavern, Mistem’s tomb is controversial. Pro-Lorbam dwarves have made the administrator’s casket from the very kumquat wood that killed him (Rakust mumbles it was the ‘nearest to hand’), and it has been installed in a mausoleum of beaten copper… and green glass, Lorbam’s symbolic material.

Mistem’s tomb – note the vein of native gold in the top left. RIP in peace.

When the fort’s senior dwarves gather to view the tomb, Mayor Urist’s brow furrows at the edifice. Looking into the hated green glass, she sees the reflection of a darkly smirking Lorbam in the crowd behind her – and it is too much.

Urist snaps. Right there and then, she lets out a roar of frustration, grabs an armful of gold ingots, and races off to claim a forge from her complex. This is her fortress, by Shin Puceemerald, and she’ll show these ingrates who’s boss!

But as Urist works, she’s driven to distraction by the sound of the party up above. A party of rowdy warriors from another fortress has come to visit, as well as a performance troupe called the Lizards of Order, comprising a human and a dwarf poet. Together with the fort’s population, they are getting thoroughly endgame shitfaced.

I really, really like to think the Lizards of Order are a pair of completely sick MCs. In fact, I just like to imagine all performance poetry in this game is rapping. And so from now on, that’s what I’m calling it.

Brimming with drunken confidence and admiration for the Lizards, a stonecrafter called Adil decides to get up on stage, despite never having rapped in his life (his poetry skill is zero). Nevertheless, he dubs himself “the poet of poems”, and proceeds to spit several bars of complete shite. Everyone hates it – apart from Id, who is standing about five feet from Adil, staring right at him, wearing just his socks, shoe and single glove.

Id may love it, but listening to Adil’s godawful rapping is the last straw for Urist. An unimaginative dwarf to begin with, she’s had all creativity driven out of her by the racket upstairs, and can’t think of anything to decorate her artefact with. So she just makes a pair of plain golden greaves, which she dedicates to the memory of her ancestor Sibrek Boardpointed (who nobody has heard of, or cares about), and names them “the dabbling dirge”. Presumably, she just names them after the noise that’s been driving her mad as she works. In any case, the greaves aren’t necessarily the political masterstroke she had been hoping for.

Early Summer, Y3

The annual monsoon is underway, after the clouds burst at the end of spring. Under a sky so overcast it seems like twilight beneath the forest boughs, Oddom is out picking fruit, as he does throughout the year. Today, he’s collecting bitter melons and birch fruit. But as thunder growls on the horizon, he becomes aware of another presence under the trees with him.

It is the kobold Fladasreelgus, crouched on his haunches, rain slithering down his scaly hide. And although he’s poised to run away, it looks like he’s desperate to tell Oddom something. And Oddom wants to listen. This time, the fruitpicker doesn’t alert Id to the kobold’s presence, and tries to encourage the creature a little closer.

Emboldened, Fladasreelgus opens his long, snaggly snout (I imagine he’s a real Jim-Henson-looking fellow), and hisses slowly. Even though the creature has no tongue, and Oddom doesn’t know kobold speech in any case, the meaning is clear as day from the look in Fladsreelgus’ eyes:

Run.

Just as Oddom realises this, a vile, blatting horn sounds from the woods to the north. It’s a sound every dwarf knows, and it can only mean one thing: the Goblins have come to the Basement of Curiosity, and they’re here to kill.

Next time on the BoC: The mid-season finale, in the form of a massive fight.

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Nate Crowley was created from smokeless flame before the dawn of time. He writes books, and tweets a lot as @frogcroakley. Each October he is replaced by Ghoastus, the Roman Ghost. You can email him at: nate.crowley@rockpapershotgun.com

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