Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress has been described as a game where you micromanage a collection of absent-minded, depressed, alcoholic midgets with beards into building an underground house in the middle of a hostile wilderness.

You might not be able to tell, but that's a hallway full of rotting bodies.

Just The Facts

  1. Dwarf Fortress is roguelike in graphics, The Sims-like in simulation, and Norse in violence.
  2. Each game is set in its own procedurally generated world, built anew from the geology up.
  3. Dwarf Fortress does not have a learning curve. It has a learning cliff, flowing with no fewer than 999 lavafalls.

Some Dwarven Lore

The above summary manages to leave out the spectacular violence that will ensue from the goblin raids, cave-ins, surprise magma floods, and unhappy dwarves, punctuated by assaults from beasts forgotten by Time and so vile that Nature herself goes "LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" whenever somebody brings them up in conversation. The only good news for your Dwarves is that the mundane wildlife has chilled out in recent versions, so your Legendary Weaponsmith is less likely to get curbstomped by a carp if he has to cross a river.

Eloquence in its purest form.

The game simulates surprisingly realistic geology (with certain exceptions), and somehow generates civilizations, complete with long histories of murdering the shit out of each other. The game is in a sort of open alpha at the moment, standing at an estimated 31% complete; we are forced to assume that, when finished, the game will fully and perfectly simulate the Universe, judging by its current progress. Eventually, it's supposed to generate complete fantasy worlds and storylines. Basically, it'd be like if your computer could write The Lord of the Rings or Dragon Age at the push of a button.

The Mediterranean is made of blood, apparently.

Dwarf Fortress can be is difficult to learn, because of its complicated menu layout and extremely old-school graphics. If it's in 3D on this page, it's a screenshot from one of several external visualizer doohickii that lets you marvel at the flagrantly physics-smashing structures you build. There are tutorials and graphics modifications that make learning a possible goal as opposed to the sort of Herculean task undertaken only by the insane and the head-explodingly insane. Once you realize the extent of your freedom in the game, you'll be pretty well addicted. The opportunity to hunt Unicorns and turn their bones into crossbow bolts for hunting more Unicorns doesn't hurt, either.

Be warned! There is, technically, no end to the game; your fortress can continue chugging away until the end of time if you have more spare time than any human being should. Seriously, I will kill you and steal your life. But, I digress. You should keep in mind, the game's motto is, "Losing is Fun!" Don't be afraid to chip away at that warm rock to find out what's on the other side, or chase veins of precious metals. The odds of digging too greedily or too deep aren't that great, right?

Legends among the Dwarves

Some beings from the game have become so legendary that their names are, to this day, spoken with awe among the community. These are people generated by the game, although in some cases player intervention helped. Some notables are listed below.

This is both his front door and the least ridiculawesome thing about him.

Captain Ironblood, The Dwarflord. Ironblood was an ordinary dwarf with a badass name to begin with, but in time would become elected to the office of Mayor of Nist Akath, a hellhole otherwise known as (variously) "Fucking Freezing" and "Where The Undead Come, And Frequently, To Meet Ironblood's Axe". Generally it depended on whether there was a zombie invasion at the time or not. Through a legendary lifetime of skull-crushing, Ironblood became one of the most combat-dominatingly powerful dwarves in the universe. Among things he killed in absurd ways are a hydra he strangled in defiance of all logic, a rebellious craftsman he beat to death with a stone cabinet(!), and over 4000 skeletal elk. His tomb, unused since he decided to beat Death's face in and just ride off into the Sunset on a goddamned dragon, is rigged so that any robbers will collapse the entire multi-story fortress onto their soon-to-be-2-dimensional heads. Ironblood was so badass that he held diplomatic meetings while crushing the skulls of goblins stupid enough to besiege the fortress, no doubt using them as demonstrations as to why the Elves should shut the hell up about their precious trees. Ironblood is basically a paragon of everything a Dwarf can become in a player-run fortress, with the aid of the extremely modifiable game data to create sufficient challenges (once he exceeded the power level of everything that existed to begin with).

The Elven Elf-Slayer. Artwork by Fault.

Cacame Awemedinade, the Elf King of the Dwarves. Most Elves are despicable cannibals, manipulators of the wood economy (for their own nefarious ends), and incredible pansies. In short, they are embodiments of all that is Un-Dwarven. Awemedinadinijad is the exception who proves this otherwise infallible rule, and thereby the worthiness of all Elves to die horribly on Dwarven axes. His home village was gloriously incorporated into a Dwarven Empire, and by way of Dwarven Meritocracy, he became a Guard and eventually King, somehow convincing the Dwarves that he hated his kin as much as they did. Probably it was the part where Elves ate his wife that made the case that he was just as hardcore about murdering Elves as anyone else. Awesominidade has become renowned for his combat prowess, which is said to exceed even that of the mythical 'Chuck Norris', though his name is difficult to pronounce. Cacame's past is a pretty spiffy example of Procedurally Generated Gold, and his promotion to Legendary Badass (which did require some modifications to the game) is evidence of how flexible the system can be.

Pictured Above: The Ideal Dwarven Woman. Art courtesy burningpet.

Tholtig Cryptbrain the Waning Diamonds, Last Queen of the Dwarves. Tholtig's tale is pretty fucking depressing; supposedly, it's tradition to tell it when a warrior dies of a heart attack, random fireball, or goblin whip (otherwise known as Dwarven Old Age). She was the last living scion of a dying race of Dwarves, and had to bury basically her whole family. Beset by thousands upon thousands of the lemming-like Elves, each member of her family was a legendary hero, but apparently having infinite troops tends to give you an advantage, because the Elves came out ahead over the centuries due to a combination of not dying from age and being all-around deceitful jackasses. In the end, only Tholtig remained, at which point she probably went "fuck it" and revealed that she was secretly Thor with breasts, nabbing the record for most sentient creatures ever killed, which was something like two thousand damned dirty Elves and also a cyclops for some reason. Tholtig is pretty much a fan-fucking-tastic example of the game's history-generator at its craziest.

"I Hollowed Out a Mountain and Built a Dragon Head in It Because This is Dwarf Fortress"

Many players, having mastered the challenges in the game as it's written, find themselves bored just keeping up with invasions of murderous goblins and mind-boggling creatures describable only as Insanity Made Flesh. Such players take the game to a whole new level, and create Megaprojects. There are many, such as the source for the above quote.

It's hard to notice the abundance of brightly colored stone when your brain is busy shutting down due to excess awesome.

Undergrotto is sort of like the section title, times a bajillion. It doesn't matter that that's not a real number, because somebody saw a map and decided, "I'm going to hollow out this landmass and build a city in it, because this is Dwarf Fortress." Actually, the Dwarves skipped the building, because that's for suckers. Some brilliant planner basically mapped out how to dig out goddamn everything made of stone down there, carving it from the living rock. Between a palace crafted pretty much entirely from enough precious metal to make Midas' head implode and a temple to the God of Blood whose centerpiece is a 90-story drop through a mountain and the entire vertical space of the city into a 5-foot square pool, it's hard to say what's most impressive about this place other than all of it.

If I had one of these, I guarantee the Treasury would pay attention to my suggestions.

The Bloodfist is the Dwarven way of kicking physics in the balls. This masterwork boat (the work of the same fine gentleman who crafted our title image) is suspended in midair by windmills. Morbo would have an aneurysm. Before the impossible windmills, the ship was apparently supported by the restless souls of those who perished in its construction, eventually numbering over 300. Standing completely free when its docking bridges are raised, the Bloodfist is armed with enough ballistae on each side to stick an elephant to the far side of the Grand Canyon (that's actually just one ballista, they're pretty much badass). The Dwarves won't tell us how it works, but apparently this thing is run by some sort of psionic crystal computer, and goddamn, we'll take their word for it. This is a steampunk airship built of ginormous chunks of wood, with some stone and bronze thrown in for good measure, and bearing a uranium-ore reactor to heat its boilers. That's right. If some hypothetical god-being were to smash this doomsday ship to the ground in a puff of sudden natural laws, the damn thing would only go nuclear. It's pretty clear that the Bloodfist is blackmailing Mother Nature.

You will never accomplish anything more impressive than this. There's no shame in that, though, because nobody ever will.

Flarechannel cannot be considered a Megaproject. This is because it is a Megafortress. More or less the entire map has been converted to a colossal display of Dwarven artifice, right down to the color-coding of the stone. Goddamn mountains were leveled because they were "in the way". Dwarves apparently don't give a shit about modifying the geography when it casts a shadow somewhere they'd slightly prefer to be a bit sunnier. It's a good thing the Dwarves of Flarechannel don't actually exist, or we'd wake up one morning to find Everest had been demolished to make room for a water park so amazing, Poseidon would destroy it yearly for no other reason than that it makes everything he built look like a pile of shit.

Dwarven Engineering

Dwarves are renowned masters of fucktastically ridiculous machinery. It's not particularly surprising that the assholes will go out of their way to create overly complicated ways of making machines that don't even make sense, for no reason other than to mess with the races that spend their time doing other things (like the Elves, which, if their populations are any indication spend every spare second breeding). Here are some popular examples.

The Merharvest: It's not particularly unreasonable that certain creatures have unusually valuable body parts. For instance, dragons are basically walking piles of valuable spell components and magical organs that couldn't possibly function if physics weren't drunk off its ass. What is somewhat unexpected is that mermaids were once just as valuable. Their bones, for whatever reason, used to be just as pricy as those of the much more dangerous fire-breathing superlizards, although recent marked fluctuations (and/or a sudden acquisition of morals) seem to have changed this. Naturally, while the value was still high, several entrepreneurs decided to overcome the primary difficulty in obtaining their precious, precious skeletal systems, which was that mermaids are generally underwater and dwarves are famed for their skill at drowning. Numerous designs were tested, with the ideal being a system whereby several mermaids and a single merman would be catapulted from the ocean floor into a room (where they would be forever chained and forced to breed) and their freshly-born offspring flushed into the butcher's shop for easy harvests, although ultimately no perfect design was found. It is suspected that the sudden flood of mermaid bone into the market drove the price down, and this combined with Elven activists decreased the incentive for further research.

The above image is the GUI, and the next two words in this article are a pun.

Dwarf Jobs: Sometimes, dwarves have ridiculous ideas. Some of the jackasses decided that it would be convenient to have a machine to do math for them, even though it's well-established fact that a single dwarf accountant can do enough math to not only determine the number and value of every single item in a fortress, but also determine that value from the present until the end of time, in advance. Still, dwarven engineering is basically predicated on stupid ideas, and so the concept of Dwarfputing was born. Numerous designs exist, from ones that operate on trapped kittens to infinitely more badass ones that operate on magma pools as a medium for data storage, but the king of them must be the Dwarfculator designed by a madman by the name of BaronW. Although it relies on the (significantly less cool than magma) power of stone gears and wooden axles, this monstrosity is capable of solving any basic mathematics operation with 6 or fewer significant digits (as long as 3 of those are before the decimal). For the half of you who don't know what that means, it doesn't matter, it's just saying that this mountain-sized calculator is better at math than 99% of Cracked's readers (including this author, because fucking long division). There's also this monstrosity, but we're really not sure how to describe it in a way that makes sense, other than, "it's a computer built within a computer game what the fuck".