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Dwarf Fortress diary: The Basement Of Curiosity episode nine - Titanfall

The War Mayor cancels the apocalypse

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Last time on the BoC: Following near-disaster at the gristly green hands of a goblin raiding party, the War Mayor Dashmob usurped the throne of mayor Urist, and began a campaign to modernise and expand the fort’s small but spirited military. A tomb complex was built, a dead donkey was put on display at the zoo, and Amost, the daughter of fortress mascot Id, engaged in some incredibly eerie playtime.

While this is a less illustrated Basement than usual (as it originally grew out of a prologue for the madness that will become episode ten), I’d like to compensate you with the knowledge that this was the week where the series finally invaded my subconscious. On Saturday morning, I woke from an anxiety dream in which the Basement itself had achieved limited sentience, and had found a way to seize control of my login to the RPS back end. Like a newborn god exploring its powers, the Basement had embarked on a spree of shitposting, and was spamming the site with janky machinima made in Garry’s Mod. By the time I emailed the rest of the editorial team to beg them for help, it was deep into a series of videos featuring a low-res model of He-man in a Hawaiian shirt, berating a vortigaunt janitor with crackly audio clips from 1990s American standups. It sounds odd, but on reflection, I think that’s exactly the sort of content the Basement would produce. So there we have it: it’s entirely possible that the Haunted Blood has now begun replicating itself inside my mind. Sweet dreams.

Mid Autumn, Y3

As the autumn monsoon hammers the valley, further spreading the slick of mysterious (and possibly holy) blood through the fortress’ surroundings, a train of migrants arrives, bringing the settlement’s population to ninety-seven. The newcomers are a fairly unremarkable bunch, and Dashmob is already eyeing most of them up for conscription, although there are some noteworthy figures: Logem, the fort’s first mechanic, a pair of skilled hunters called Kadol and Minkot, and a new diagnostician called Avuz, who brings the fort’s medical staff up to three.

The season proceeds calmly, and the newly organised fortress settles into a deep rhythm of dwarven toil. The underworld sings with the sound of chisels, while above ground, the hammers of the carpenters thud away in tandem with the beat of the rain on the forest’s leaves. A new cluster of wooden structures is built at the valley’s heart, and at last, head chef Ushat’s food stores are hauled out from the sweaty burrows dug in year one, and into a dedicated above-ground storehouse. The dwarves are still eating monstrous traybakes of snake offal and alfalfa, but at least now they’re storing them in dry barrels.

Some of the delights on the menu in chef Ushat’s kitchen. Also, I loved how, when I looked in the food stores to see what was on offer, I found stacks and stacks of eagle gut biscuits still left over from the first month. I bet everyone always pretends to be really full when Ushat offers them around, and it’s only her gnawing away on them.

The new food store. Notice the “animal pasture” to the north, which is essentially just a huge mire of black sand and Haunted Blood, with a load of depressed cows, llamas, goats, peacocks and pigs wading round it, waiting to die.

The gold mines on the tomb level are extended, flooding the ore stores with heaps of bullion, while the tavern known as the Great Harvester is finally fitted with its full complement of granite furniture. Taking a brief respite from his savage regime of training with the Salves of Shade, Dashmob strides out into the bustling drinking hall (which only smells a little bit of dead donkey), and wipes his brow.

Seeing the dwarves line-dancing in time to the sick flows of the Lizards of Order (the travelling MCs who arrived at the end of Spring), quaffing papaya wine from fresh-forged bronze mugs, the War Mayor feels proud of what he has achieved. This is no longer the grubby bolthole it was when the oddball Lorbam set up shop in year one with dreams of building a zoo, or the disorganised vanity project Urist turned it into. No: the Basement is becoming a true fortress, and he, as well as the dwarves sparring in the barracks behind him, are willing to fight to keep it that way.

Perhaps one of the most charming moments I’ve had in this series was the little report which popped up to inform me that Monom “handshake” Boknonudib, the dwarf responsible for one of the most savage kills of episode seven, had “grown attached to a silver whip”. It turns out this was the flail they had looted from the victim of their signature move during the battle of Carambola Ridge, and a look into Monom’s mind showed them absolutely overflowing with euphoric thoughts about said whip. While the classic jester’s response would be to make some “hurr hurr BDSM” joke, I thought it was plain adorable. I just loved the idea of Monom getting really excited about this totally sweet whip they found, and imagined them cracking it all the time like they reckoned they were Indiana Jones.

But while Dashmob is undoubtedly in charge of the fortress, he is not without respect for his predecessors. Lorbam has been allowed free reign to pursue her weird animal projects, and she is currently bouncing with excitement, since the cage traps set up in the woods have finally caught a quartet of dingos. The rowdy hounds are carted up to the training level of the mayoral tower (which has been reopened since Urist’s abdication), along with a cage full of rattlesnakes, and Lorbam sets to work teaching them, dingos and snakes alike, to be Good Boys.

This training project generated the fantastic report “the dwarves now know a few facts about rattlesnake training”. May we all experience such personal growth in our lives.

Late Autumn, Y3

The rains die down, and as relative cool descends on the Jungle of Hides, the fort enjoys a flood of visitors. First, a pair of dwarven bards come to perform in the Great Harvester (are they here to battle rap against the Lizards?) and then hot on their heels comes the dwarven caravan from the Mountainhomes. This time, the traders have brought a whole train of heavily laden wagons, their wheels driving deep ruts in the black forest soil.

In those wagons are huge quantities of metal ingots for the forges, including iron and steel for better military kit, as well as iron crossbow bolts, steel breastplates, and a whole assortment of gleaming weaponry. A bumper selection of offal barrels for chef Ushat completes the order (today’s menu includes marmot lung, ocelot heart and giant bat tripe), and a vast quantity of Imush’s crafts are sold off to pay for it all.

There’s some disruption in the fort during the traders’ visit, as Lorbam is called away from her training work to do her duty as the fort’s broker, and in her absence, the snakes and dingos go completely mental. It seems that if she isn’t shouting at the beasts twenty-four hours a day, they revert to a wild state, and begin immediately doing a frighten on passing dwarves. Still, at this point, everyone is used to Lorbam’s zoological antics, and is in high enough spirits to laugh off the odd lunging dingo.

Early Winter, Y3

As the traders count their dwarven cash and leave the valley, another visitor arrives: Fladasreelgus, the now-familiar kobold interloper. After this many visits, the dwarves know he is no threat. But after the summer, when he presaged the appearance of the goblin raiders, they also know he can be a herald for much worse things. The War Mayor is just considering sounding a precautionary alert across the valley, when a deafening, pacific-rim-style monster noise shakes the treetops.

It’s kaiju time.

The titan’s name translates to “the hairy glacier”, which also sounds like the worst WWE finishing move ever.

A forest titan, as old as the world and formed from the gathered sap of a million trees, has arrived to kick the everloving shit out of the fortress. As it stampedes ponderously towards the fort’s front gate, trumpeting viscously, the Basement’s hunters and herb-gatherers run for shelter, fearing that even the mighty walls of macadamia wood will not protect them.

But for Dashmob, this is a dream come true. He’s been itching for a fight ever since he took power and began arming the fort, and while his fledgling army isn’t yet ready to repel a full goblin invasion, the Titan offers the perfect chance for an almighty flex. And so, jumping up on the ramparts, he offers the assembled citizenry a speech about cancelling the apocalypse (probably while taking a hearty chomp out of a giant bat’s stomach lining), and chops his axe down in the beast’s direction.

The gates are opened and, smashing their weapons on their shields with excitement, the Salves of Shade and the Squashed Golds rush out to meet the monster in battle (followed moments later by Id, as he realises there’s wrestling to be done). The Titan roars and stamps the ground in challenge, but if it expects its foes to quail before it, it is sorely disappointed: the dwarves fall upon it like management consultants on a failing rail contractor.

Axes thud away into waxy amber limbs, knocking off chunks left, right and centre. Shield rims chip off toes, fists crack jewelled hide, and spears sink deep into the Titan’s orange flesh. The creature manages to smash aside two of the Squashed Golds, leaving one recruit with a badly cracked ribcage, but Dashmob’s dashing mob are simply 2 fast, and 2 furious.

Listen, I really wanted to do a massive, completely amazing battle picture for this episode, but I got really tired and decided to make a diorama out of broccoli and some lego men instead. Still, I made some plasticine mandibles for the titan, and beards for the dwarves, and even dug out some old warhammer axes for them, so this still counts as maximum effort.

Soon enough, the eldritch behemoth is down on its haunches, wheezing and leaking golden fluid from a hundred wounds. Lorbam looks down from her tower in sorrow. The beast would make for an attraction that would make the whole world flock to her zoo, but this is not her fight. This one belongs to the War Mayor, and he grins as he takes a run-up on the stricken Titan.

After building up surprising speed, the Mayor bounds up onto the creature’s shattered forelimb and leaps, axe raised high above his head. With a sound like a chisel being hammered into a candle, the axe splits the monster’s chest in two, and a living god dies. Dashmob barks in triumph, and raises his axe, dripping with resiny gore, to rapturous cheering.

Buzzing with wild new confidence, the soldiery chant their mayor’s name, but after a while, the crowd realises there is a commotion back at the fort. Up on the walls, someone is screaming hysterically.

It’s Urist, the former mayor, who lost her husband – and some say her mind – when the goblins attacked in summer. The poor dwarf is prone to reliving her trauma, and often stops in the middle of everyday tasks as some small detail brings the horror and the grief cascading back in again. But this time, her distress isn’t due to any flashback.

As their heads turn in the direction her shaking finger is pointing, the soldiers’ eyes go wide. Some drop their weapons. Dashmob is so caught up in his triumph, he is the last to catch on and follow the gaze of his troops. But when he does, the blood drains from his face. Under a gathering twilight, the jungle to the East is aglow with torches. And from the darkness between the trees, a sea of eyes is aglow.

It’s only a bloody goblin army.

How’s that for a cliffhanger?

Next time on the BoC: Is this the end for the Basement?

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Nate Crowley

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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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