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Dwarf Fortress Diary: The Basement Of Curiosity Episode Twenty - Night of the Self-published Werepanda

Tiger tiger burning bright, time to have a massive fight

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Last time on the BoC: Having finally achieved her dream of a breeding pair of chimps, at the cost of making a trade deal with the elves go very, very bad, fort founder Lorbam has become… strange. Increasingly distrustful of the outside world, she has decreed that the whole settlement be moved underground, and at midwinter, the overworld gates of the Basement will be shut altogether. Crikey.

Summer, Y7

If the fortress is to survive underground indefinitely, it will need plenty of new chambers dug out – Lorbam will need her miners to work at full speed. She calls for Nil and Ineth, the fort’s original power couple who first settled the site with her, and they come running, ready for the task. She calls for Uvash, the dark wanderer who lost one arm in a duel with an ettin, and then the other to a fracas with a giant bat. No answer comes.

Lorbam calls again, before catching wind of the grim faces surrounding her. Uvash was found dead a week back, perished of thirst in the middle of the booze stockpile. At first, foul play was suspected – there have been several unexplained deaths of late – but after careful forensic examination, the scholars of the Mechanical Home have come to a bleak verdict. It seems that with no hands, Uvash simply could not hold a mug, and nobody would help him drink. He died, pleading in a hoarse whisper, at the heart of a great wine cellar.

Uvash also died coated in a thick covering of Lorbam’s blood, but that’s almost de rigeur now – the haunted blood gets on nearly everything. I’m beginning to wonder if I should interpret it as a vision of Lorbam’s; does she see everything in the fortress as dripping with her own essence, her own sacrifice – a martyr complex written in cruor over the breadth of a city?

If the dwarves expect Lorbam to be taken aback by the news, they are disappointed. Their spiritual leader merely frowns, snorts in mild irritation, and orders the bards to be conscripted for the mining corps. Over the last couple of years, several of the fort’s population of itinerant poets and musicians have become full citizens of the Basement, and now they are to earn their keep. Bards Cerol and Obok are handed their picks, as well as a human poet called Vispol. They’ll have to learn on the job – and they’ll have to learn fast. By Spring, Lorbam wants nothing on the surface except ruins in the jungle.

You might wonder what Urist, the fort’s actual mayor, is doing during all this. She’s up in her tower, cooing over a fancy artefact earring a child has just constructed, and occasionally shrieking as she is overtaken by fits of grief. Urist hasn’t been the same since her breakdown upon losing her husband, and seems to be in a rough patch. While she is technically the fort’s leader, she seems content to sign off on whatever Lorbam desires, and keeps largely to her quarters. What will happen when Lorbam decrees the mayoral tower be abandoned remains to be seen. Urist shares it with the fort’s manager, the hulking fashion queen known as Twocrowns, and she’s not the sort of dwarf to meekly follow orders.

But that is tomorrow’s problem. For now, there is plenty to be done before the question of the tower even arises. All across the stockade, the pasture fences are being knocked down and the animals released, while access stairways are being filled up and stockpiles emptied. Even the trade depot is scheduled to go; while Lorbam is insistent on the fort’s isolation, Id the Snakebuster has quietly requested a subterranean depot be constructed from rose gold, at the end of a long tunnel that could be used to let caravans in from a bunker-like structure deep in the forest. You know, just in case.

The new trade depot, which is actually a lot nearer to Imush’s stonecrafting complex. Currently, whenever trading has to be done, the dwarves have to stagger up flights of stairs carrying huge barrels of stone figurines, before lugging them through the baking jungle heat to the depot, vomiting every few steps as the daylight makes them sick. as a result, the old depot is knee-deep in fermenting dwarf-barf by now.

If Lorbam even notices this insubordination, she doesn’t show it. She’s more concerned with her gigantic pet, the jabberer Medtob Hammercastle. After further training work, it has now become a War Jabberer, and stalks in Lorbam’s footsteps as her titanic enforcer. The chief sees the beast as an incarnation of her war-god, Zon: she has rubbed the beast’s purple plumage with charcoal dust, turning it a sombre dark grey, and painted its human-sized skull with a death’s-head mask in chalk. It’s quite intimidating.

But it hasn’t been Lorbam’s only project – she’s also trained the fort’s entire stock of big cats for war, militarising a lion, two tigers, a leopard and a pair of cheetahs. For some reason, the trained beasts begin straining at their golden chains with such urgency that the passage of time collapses further into its viscous sump, and so they are all freed. Quietly, and with a calculated glance at Hammercastle, Id beckons the cat-pack to his side, and adopts them. After all, doesn’t every pub landlord need a half-dozen weaponised big cats?

Dwarf Fortress doesn’t allow you to name pets, I don’t think, but for the record, Id has called his two tigers “Like” and “Subscribe”. The Lion’s called “Bell Icon”, the cheetahs are called “Comment” and “Share”, and the leopard is called “Monetisation”.

It’s a hot day, and Id is planning on spending the afternoon serving drinks in the cool of the tavern, getting to know his new pets. But shouts of alarm in the upper stairwell, followed by the clanging of the alarm bell, inform him otherwise. Before he even knows what the trouble is, he’s pounding towards it.

Given that the goblins arrived at exactly this time last year, everyone’s geared up for another one of their sieges. But the goblins are nowhere to be seen. In their place has come a werepanda – like a werewolf, but it’s a panda – and it’s a proper horrible one with big claws and all sick in its hair and stuff. The fort’s scholars are fascinated: just such a beast emerged from the goblin ranks during a full moon the previous summer, and tore its fellows to shreds – does the arrival of this beast, all alone, suggest the goblin civilisation has collapsed to lycanthropy?

Id is less interested in the academic implications. This is a monster capable of massacring twenty goblins solo, and it’s been spotted way too close to the fort for the gates to be sealed, or the population withdrawn from outside. Grumpily, the Snakebuster acknowledges that Lorbam’s policy of digging in beneath the earth might make sense, if the Jungle of Hides is now haunted by these monstrosities. But for now, he has to find a way to stop the beast getting inside the stockade.

Currently, the werepanda is ripping chunks of flesh from Goden the weaponsmith – he will not last long. Next will be the hunter Urvad, who’s standing on a low rise north of the main gate – he’s got no hope of getting inside without going past the beast. Id’s gaze flickers to the lever a few yards away – Urvad’s doomed struggle will almost certainly buy enough time for him to pull it, sealing off the fort and saving all inside.

The werepanda barrels towards the hunter, racing on all fours; Urvad fires off two copper bolts, but they seem to move like treacle, compared with the lightning speed of the abomination. Sweat beads on Id’s brow. The monster leaps, arcing towards Urvad, and… smacks him across the chops with a scroll?

Yep, that’s right. This raging nightmare of ailuropodal rage has chosen to completely hamstring its innate lethality by using a scroll as a weapon. What’s more, it’s a book it has written itself. About an elven forest retreat. And it’s not very good either. This werepanda has self-published its collection of mediocre elf fanfiction, and it’s taken a very fucking direct approach to sales.

The werepanda will still almost certainly kill Urvad, but doing it with a scroll will slow the process enough for Id to save the fort. He turns to go for the lever, but then he hears it:

Yeah, thinks Id, sod this for a game of soldiers. Leaving the lever untouched, Id hurtles out of the gate, bellowing in challenge, with Subscribe the tiger racing out ahead of him. Growling with insanity, the werepanda whips its head around to regard the new challengers, and smacks Urvad’s maimed body aside with a heavy paw. In just a couple of meaty bounds it is on the bridge over the fort’s moat, where it proceeds to have a thrilling duel with Id’s feline pet.

There’s no kind way of putting it: the tiger is complete piss. It couldn’t fight an egg and win. It just stands there, swiping with arthritic lethargy at thin air, while the panda batters the stripes off it. It’s a colossal beating. A truly epochal wellying, that makes everyone nearby wince. Id jumps on the werepanda’s back and starts pounding it, but his fists might as well be rain. All that monstrous thing cares about is using its own literature to turn a big cat into liquid.

It just goes on for page after horrifying page.

In the end, salvation comes from the most unexpected place. Despite having one hand like an octopus that’s been in a fight with a strimmer, Urvad the hunter recovers his crossbow, and (making what I imagine to be his best Judge Dredd face), plugs a shot right through the werepanda’s heart. The abomination totters on the bridge, lifeblood gushing out onto the macadamia wood logs, mouthing “buy my book” with increasing desperation. And then, with a muted thwt, Urvad launches a second bolt. It thuds neatly into the werepanda’s braincase, and it tumbles backwards into the moat. Job done.

The fortress is saved. Urvad is named “pandaheart” on the spot, and given magnificent new quarters as a Hero of the Basement. The werepanda, meanwhile, is retrieved from the ditch and mounted on a brimstone pedestal beside the bridge, as a warning to its kind. But it’s not all good news. Poor Subscribe, the war tiger, is in a sorry state. It looks like a sort of Garfield reboot designed by John Carpenter. It’s grim.

Id isn’t usually one for pity towards animals, but he saw something of himself in this tiger, in the way it essentially tanked for the whole of the Basement, and he desperately wants it to live. And so, holding back tears, the scar-clogged wrestler walks with his beast as it limps down into the fortress.

Next time on the BoC: As tensions erupt into violence beneath the earth, the new Lorbam reveals herself with a chilling demonstration of power. Much blood is spilled.

MARGINALIA

  • Following last week’s investigation into the art on the walls of Lorbam’s office, I thought I’d check out some of the engravings in the Basement’s entrance lobby. Some of my favourites were pieces entitled the Tired Spider (an image of Id), the Nourishing Avalanche (a picture of cabinets… maybe full of Ushat’s meals?), the Unthinkable Action (a picture of a leopard doing work), and the superbly named Brown Pulp (also a working leopard).
  • Just to keep you aware of what’s going on in Hades’ own aviary, there were no less than twelve separate fights going on in the Bird Hole during the course of the werepanda fight. Oh, and for those asking, the birds are eating nothing. Currently in DF, only grazing animals actually require food – while predators will kill prey, nothing is actually consumed. So, yes, the Bird Hole is in complete violation of the laws of thermodynamics. It is a crime against nature.
  • It was a proper challenge finding places to store all the esoteric shit heaped up in the old trade depot. There was a bunch of rope in there, and it took me ages to work out I needed to make a stockpile for chains, but only allow it to store chains made of plant fibre, to get them moved. Incredible. And I’m still trying to find the magic stockpile settings that will allow me to house the (literally unusable) barrels of termite ichor, leopard blood and other animal juices that I’ve been buying for my amusement over the years.
  • A small detail from the werepanda fight: midway through, a human scholar called Boshkuc Deathbasement (bet Lorbam’s properly wary of that name) ran up to the panda and swung a punch at it. This clearly aggravated the panda, as it briefly stopped pummeling the tiger in order to kick the academic’s leg into a cloud of blood mist. Let’s hope kicks don’t pass on the curse of lycanthropy, or that guy’s name could become all too literal.

    The situation on the bridge at the end of the fight

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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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