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Dwarf Fortress Diary: The Basement Of Curiosity Episode Fifteen - A Miner Inconvenience

How can you even bite someone's teeth off?

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Last Time on the BoC: The dwarves partied through a siege. The tantruming Udil claimed her first life, before starting an apocalyptic pub fight. The underground was revealed, in all its dank glory.

Spring, Y5

Some time has passed in the Basement, and things have gotten… a little bit off-kilter.

Tirist, the miner who lost her posh husband to falling timbers in year two, has claimed a workshop in the craft cavern, gripped by a fit of wild energy, and is determined to create a masterwork. She is roaring for materials, and if she doesn’t get the supplies she needs to make her artefact, she’s potentially going to go berserk.

But Urist already has her hands full with rampaging dwarves. Udil, the tantrum-throwing furnacehand, has only grown more and more angry in the opening weeks of the year, and is now openly terrorising the fortress. Her endless fistfights have made her really good at fighting, and now she can fell a bard – seemingly her chosen prey – in just a few monstrous strikes.

So comfortable has Udil become in the ways of the fist, that in a recent assault, she managed to give birth in between haymakers to a poet’s face. This is the child that was birthed. Behold Zasit the indefatigable: I expect great things of them.

Udil has essentially become Grendel from Beowulf. Every few days, she will swagger into the Great Harvester with the ease of a tiger that has lost all fear of mankind, and the place will fall into a deathly hush. Smirking cruelly, she will pace towards a group of quailing performers, who will quiver with fear as they attempt to hide behind one another. Udil, however, has no pity – she’ll just grab one like a chef plucking a lobster from a tank, and batter them to death in full view of the tavern’s aghast crowd.

Just one example of the persecution that Udil doles out to the fort’s artistic population on a daily basis. In this instance, the bard was lucky to survive the encounter.

It’s gotten to the point where the dwarves have had to designate a stretch of the mining tunnels leading from the crypt just to stack dead bards in, and still Sheriff Oddom seems too cowardly to do anything about the situation.

Sheepishly, I will admit this was all my fault. It turns out that the only punishments delivered automatically are those for production order violations. In the case of all the serious crimes, you have to convict dwarves manually, no matter how many witnesses saw the misdeed. I would not work this out for some time, and as a result, the whole fort spent most of spring living in terror of this seemingly untouchable brute.

If Urist is hoping for Lorbam’s help in dealing with this maniac, however, she’s shit out of luck: the fort’s founder is outside the gates, buying vast numbers of new animals for her zoo. The elves, you see, made such a tidy sum selling beasts to the fort last year, that they’ve come back with a whole menagerie, and Lorbam is getting stuck in. In her latest haul, she has acquired two blue jays, another lion tamarin and another lorikeet, a koala and a kangaroo, a great horned owl, a white stork, a kestrel, a tiercel peregrine, a wolf, two warthogs, a one-humped camel and a black bear.

She also buys a slug, which comes in an oaken cage large enough to hold an elephant. Zon knows why it doesn’t just crawl out through the bars. Presumably it’s given up on life. Whatever the case, it’s dropped into the green glass terrarium containing the captured goblin, to add to their humiliation. I like to imagine the two become firm friends, however.

Here’s the state of the zoo in early summer. Check out the new Beast Room carved out around the entry staircase (featuring the kangaroo, the koala, the bear and the wolf), and the stark, foreboding Goblin Room over to the far left. Also, notice the brutalised rattlesnake in the reptile house at the bottom… this was the result of a failed rattlesnake breeding programme, which will not be repeated.

If Lorbam can hear the terrified screams of the bards from downstairs while she’s making her deal, she doesn’t show it. She certainly doesn’t seem to care about the increasingly hoarse bellowing of the miner Tirist, as she slips further and further into fury without the delivery of her promised materials. This is a mistake, because before long, the frustrated creator reaches their limit.

With an almighty growl, Tirist goes berserk, and rushes towards the stairs that lead to the Great Harvester. In a perfect moment of comic timing, however, she runs straight into a gaggle of terrified bards fleeing from Udil below. The bards clobber Tirist ineffectually with their instruments, while a brave child hammers at her neck with a toy sceptre. None of it so much as bruises the miner, who has grown incomprehensibly mighty in three years of rock-hewing.

Nevertheless, the sheer size of the mob pins Tirist long enough for Dodok the glassmaker to sprint in and deliver a vicious kick to the back of her knee, felling her for a moment. Immediately, Bembul and ‘Doc’ Sakzul, the fort’s two medics, are on her and slamming their boots into her skull with zero regard for the hippocratic oath.

The struggle on the stairs: that red exclamation mark is Tirist, being rushed from all directions (including from below) – the purple dwarves are the doctors. Apparently also a goat or a goose got caught up in the burliness, going by the ‘g’.

But Tirist has a titan’s strength, and leaps to her feet, shrugging off the entire crowd. With a bark of challenge, she leaps at Ineth — one of the fort’s founding pair of miners, who she has always had a simmering dispute with, and who happens to be passing by on his way to excavate new chambers for the zoo.

Ineth turns with a grunt of surprise, and barely has time to register the berserk dwarf charging at him before her pick is embedded in his left lung. Ineth staggers back from the fight, a little taken aback by the sudden appearance of a pickaxe in his chest, and Tirist is about to pounce again, when the tag-team of doctors catches up with her and tackles her to the ground.

The dwarves are angry now. Ineth is well-liked, and they won’t stand for this shit. Imush the stonecrafter comes out of nowhere with a flying kick to Tirist’s tongue, bursting it like a slug under a truck wheel. A bard darts in next, snarling with aggression built up during months of being terrorised by Udil, and bites Tirist in the lower front teeth, sending them sailing off in an arc. The sound this attack makes does not bear thinking about.

Tirist isn’t getting up from this one. Dodok is now peeling her left leg apart like a cheestring, and the Doctors have reduced her feet to bleeding, shapeless lumps. But she’s a long way from death yet. The job needs finishing. Luckily, an executioner is at hand: wheezing, and with a trickle of blood staining his beard, Ineth walks grimly over, and rolls up his sleeves.

Ripping the pick from his own chest with a wet, sucking hiss, he pulls back for a mighty swing with the tool, as if he is about to break into a fresh seam of granite, and powers it through a mighty arc, right into Tirist’s skull. Still, she does not die. Prising the pick free, Ineth winds up again, and delivers no less than three more horrifying blows, as the other dwarves hold the berserker down.

At last, the grisly work is done, and there is silence. The two doctors help Ineth limp to the hospital, Urist meets eyes with Lorbam, and an agreement is made. Tirist will have a proper burial, as she did good work for the fort. But her rampage has to be the last of the infighting. There has been enough blood shed by dwarves – the madness has to end here.

Without giving her a chance to commit any more atrocities, Udil is dragged down the staircase by Oddom, and chained in a dank circular chamber, her newborn crawling around her in circles. There she will stay for the next year, or until she loses her mind. It’s a harsh penalty, but the fortress can’t handle any more dwarf-on-dwarf brutality.

Justice is served. That’s Udil’s cell in the top right – I’m still holding out hope that they will be reformed by this experience, but it seems unlikely. Still, people keep bringing her food and water, so she’s not in bad shape.

Tirist’s tomb is there at the bottom of the screen – she has been honoured with a traditional gold and copper mausoleum, but with red window glass instead of green, to show she died a traitor. She has also been separated from the crypt of her husband Mistem. Her memorial slab reads “united with claystone”, since that was always her favourite rock.

In something of a breath of fresh air, the following days bring the fort’s first migrants in many seasons – 22 in all, bringing the fort’s population up to a cool hundred. Among them are:

* A mysterious lone miner called Uvash, with several goblin kills to their name, who should be a natural replacement for Tirist. Ancient at 161 years old, they are a dark figure, prone to hate, cruelty and intense privacy, and given to snapping their fingers when bored. Unusually for a dwarf, Uvash has no interest in aesthetics. “I guess I just don’t appreciate art,” they think to themselves, snapping their fingers, as they saunter into the fort.

* A scrawny, ill-kempt monster slayer called Angir, who was a fish cleaner for 140 years before taking up the sword to pursue his current profession. He’s presumably here to make his name in the newly-discovered underworld.

* Inod, a famous bone doctor and Angir’s wife, who has clearly heard about the basement’s pub brawls and decided she can make a living here along with her husband.

* Iden, a professional trader who will have a hard time wrestling the job of broker from Lorbam.

* Geb, a petty criminal who has fled a human city, seeking to make a new life on the frontier. Geb is an expert with a crossbow, and brings with him a small band of hunters, rangers and trappers, each with their own bows.

* The migrants also bring with them an assortment of chickens, turkeys and ducks. They go straight in the Bird Hole.

Seeing as this new wave has blessed the fort with a good deal of decent marksdwarves, Urist has decided that it’s time the fortress had a defence force again – but this time, one that fights at range, and from behind cover.

To that end, a tower is built outside the gates, accessible only via a tunnel dug from the eastern end of the craft cavern, and with its upper deck fitted with rows of golden arrow-slots pointing in the cardinal directions. The theory is, should enemies show up, the tower could be filled with crossbow-wielding dwarves, travelling in safety via the underground passage, to fire down on them with impunity.

On the first day of summer, a deep, ululating shout comes from the northern jungle, with a curious double echo. Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound friendly. Perhaps the tower will see use sooner than expected…

Next time on the BoC: Another thrilling fight. And another. The new sniper tower gets a test run, and the justice system turns sour.

MARGINALIA

In order to streamline the storytelling in these diary entries, I’ve decided to reserve space at the end of each episode, as a place to include any interesting trivia that came up while playing, but which didn’t really fit into the main narrative. It’s a chance to let me share some fun details, without losing the pace of the story:

* By now we’re into the fort’s fifth year, and many of the long term residents – especially those who work underground – are afflicted with cave adaptation. They are slow and clumsy when outside, and in some cases dizzy and nauseous. As a fun consequence to this, the route to the trade depot is now marked with a grim mire of vomit.

* If you’re worrying that there hasn’t been much building work going on amidst all the fighting, fear not. The ‘New Fort’, as I’ve started calling it, is still being dug out underground, but it’s taking a long time to get it cleared up and furnished. Expect a grand reveal in a couple of weeks.

* There was a successful artefact creation this week. Ingiz the smith claimed a forge, and used gold bars, a beakdog paw, some rattlesnake bones and a cow hide to make BIGWIND, THE PILLARS OF HARMONISING: an astonishing gold chainmail shirt, emblazoned with an image of itself, which has somehow been fashioned from a withered beak dog paw. I can see this being combined with the golden greaves known as the Dabbling Dirge to create a hell of an armour set.

* A look at the food stocks revealed that, incredibly, around 80% of the fort’s caloric intake is coming from goose eggs and alfalfa sprouts. This does not feel terribly dwarven, and things may need switching up. A revamp of the fort’s food and drink industry is on the cards when the new fort is opened.

* We now have our first peaceful goblin resident! Nako Trapdemon is a poet, and has the honour of being the witness whose testimony was used to finally convict Udil. I fear for Nako’s life.

* While checking out some of the disreputable characters loitering in the Great Harvester, I noticed the absolutely horrible musical instrument owned by a macedwarf called Amost. It’s pictured below. In Amost’s other hand he holds “The New Hamlet”, the story of a human dancer in the town of Bowelhammers, written on giant sparrow parchment. I like to imagine he considers this to be a sequel to Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

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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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