Kahdzbar’s Journal: Go Play Dwarf Fortess

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 12, 2009

Filed under: Links 43 comments

I was casting about for an MMO about which to do a Let’s Play. Someone suggested – perhaps jokingly, or perhaps out of a deep boiling hatred of me and my well-being – that I should do one about Dwarf Fortress.

I am trying to stick to games which can be fed into the webcomic mill and which can be recognized outside of the “obsessive masochistic genius manager” demographic, which is a little narrow for my purposes. This rules out text-based games that use ASCII art. I mean, there’s just not much percentage in trying to do a comic about a conversation between a capital U and a smiley face concerning an upside down exclamation mark that will be comprehensible to one out of every ten thousand readers.

BUT! If you’re craving to read about the gruesome and / or hilarious deaths of hapless Dwarven colonies, then Rutskarn has you covered. His first, second, and third attempts at the game met with the same rousing level of success that people have come to expect from first-plays of DF. Which I assume means he led a group of short unruly alcoholics into the deeps of the earth, where the lot of them died badly.

He’s currently doing a Let’s Play of his most recent attempt, which follows the exploits of the earnest, slightly befuddled, and probably doomed Kahdzbar. His journey begins here.


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43 thoughts on “Kahdzbar’s Journal: Go Play Dwarf Fortess

  1. MRL says:

    Will he rock the Kahdzbar? Rock the Kahdzbar?

  2. Mordiceius says:

    The best adventure in Dwarf Fortress was the Something Awful Lets Play with BOATMURDERED. http://lparchive.org/LetsPlay/Boatmurdered/

    If that LP does not have you crying with laughter, there is not a funny bone in your body.

  3. Rutskarn says:

    After a month and a half of Dwarf Fortress, I have become entirely convinced that actually running a colony would be simpler than playing this game.

    I like it quite a bit. I also hate it a whole lot.

    Also, Mordiceius has the right. If you’re looking for the real hot dwarf-on-rabid-elephant action, look no further than Boatmurdered. Well, look a little further, because I seriously have no idea what I’m doing and can use all the help I can get.

    I think I may have created the first LP where the target audience knows more about the game than the LPer themself.

    (Thanks for the link, by the way. Also, don’t play Dwarf Fortress. It’s bad for your health.)

  4. MisteR says:

    Shamus, you know you(‘ll ?) love that game. Please play it, and make it awesome.

    Thank you.

  5. Drew says:

    Stories of DF colonies can be pretty amusing. And you could use a tileset instead of ascii to make things a little better. On the other hand, I think what you’re doing is far more amusing, and the multiplayer aspects allow you to give us your “Heroes of Champions Online” posts, which are in many ways more amusing than the “Let’s Play” articles for me.

  6. LintMan says:

    @Mordiceius: Oh, the elephants! The elephants!

  7. Boatmurdered is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, and what makes it especially so satisfying is the fantastic ending to the whole saga.

    After reading it I was inspired to spend a few dozen hours learning the basics of the game. It was enough to grow a couple fortresses up to about 50 dwarves before it was too complex for me and the fortress failed. The only downside to the game is the convoluted interface; using it is more difficult than it needs to be.

    I would hesitate to call it an ASCII graphics game. It doesn’t actually run in a terminal, like nethack. It has a 2D hardware accelerated panel (that is, it won’t work without special support from the video card) made up of tiled images, many of which happen to be terminal characters. It’s a tile graphics game, and there are alternate tilesets that make it look a lot nicer.

  8. Scott says:

    Actually… you probably could make a comic about that.

  9. Boatmurdered is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, online or off, and what makes it especially so satisfying is the fantastic ending to the whole saga.

    After reading it I was inspired to spend a few dozen hours learning the basics of the game. It was enough to grow a couple fortresses up to about 50 dwarves before it was too complex for me and the fortress failed. The only downside to the game is the convoluted interface; using it is more difficult than it needs to be.

    I would hesitate to call it an ASCII graphics game. It doesn’t actually run in a terminal, like nethack. It has a 2D hardware accelerated panel (that is, it won’t work without special support from the video card) made up of tiled images, many of which happen to be terminal characters. It’s a tile graphics game, and there are alternate tilesets that make it look a lot nicer.

  10. neolith says:

    I’ve given DF three tries over the last summer, each somewhere between 10 minutes and a few hours and I’ve accomplished nothing in that game.

    I’ll try again once the games ships with a proper tutorial – I feel too old to spend days on learning the very basics of what the gameplay is about… :\

  11. SolkaTruesilver says:

    *Raises his hand*

    Guilty! Yes, Shamus! I want to destroy your life! I want to make sure you never, EVER escape from the grasp of Amok! I want you to be the slave of Urist McDwarf! MWAHAHAHA!!

    And there are some very nice graphic tilesets you can use. I am definite you could create quite a few 1-timer jokes with that game (a lot more than you did with Overlord, for example)

    and I feel Dwarf Fortress deserves some more media coverage… Since you cannot physically or philosophically have a more Indy-er game than DF, being more mainstream would be neat.

  12. Alan De Smet says:

    There is a brilliant game hiding inside Dwarf Fortress. Probably several brilliant games. But to get to them you need to fight past non-existent official documentation, overwhelming fan documentation, a terribly user interface that makes discovery a bear, “graphics” so cryptic and complex that it makes be pine for the simplicity of NetHack, and absolutely brutal difficulty. Unfortunately I don’t expect any of this to improve. The developer won’t open the source so others can improve it, and won’t spend the time himself because he refuses to do work on anything else until the simulation aspect is perfect, which it never will be.

  13. Sesoron says:

    Surprising, the first post went by without a reference to Boatmurdered. Good job catching it on the second, Mordiceius.

  14. Langwulf says:

    DF is the computer version of the Necronomicon.

    I failed my SAN check.

  15. TehShrike says:

    I’ll bet you could get a comic or two out of Mount & Blade.

    It’s got a character that you level, and fight with… that’s like an MMO, right?

  16. Per says:

    Well you could use the Stonesense visualizer to create screenshots that most readers could make sense of:


  17. Carra says:

    Too late to link to Boatmurdered I see!

    Looks like a game I might enjoy but I haven’t managed to bring up the patience required to sink in a lot of hours.

  18. Zerai says:

    Beat to the punch by Per, stonesense would give you comic usable images, still, i think you should use dwarf fortress as a reserve, since it might be difficult to get good images

  19. Zanfib says:

    Odd… is the chocolatehammer site down or something? Every time I try to access it I get an error.

  20. MadTinkerer says:

    The original idea behind Fortress Mode in DF is that you’re supposed to fail, and when you do fail, you get to explore a vast detailed set of ruins you’ve crafted for your adventurer in Adventure Mode. This is why Fortress Mode today isn’t deliberately “difficult” so much as “hardcore complicated”. Making it too much easier/simpler would both annoy the people who want a hardcore (in terms of depth of simulation) dungeon management game and end up defeating a lot of the fun of Adventure Mode if your fortress is too successful and never fails.

    So basically when you play DF you should expect to catastrophically fail early on, but you eventually get better and better and you find out more and more about how to make efficient and interesting fortresses that last longer and are progressively nicer places to live. Or just make a fortress with a bare minimum of self-sustaining function and put most of your dwarves to work building Rockbeard The Magnificent’s Ultimate Monument, quickly leading to it’s downfall, but hey: your monument will stand as a testament to your glory long after you’re gone, so it’s all worth it.

    EDIT: Shamus, it looks like you’ve used up all of ChocolateHammer.org’s bandwidth. ;)

  21. Tuck says:

    Discworld MUD! Discworld MUD!

    Screenshots (or logs) can be hilarious!

  22. Rutskarn says:

    Yeah, it’s down. Actually, I renewed the domain name just recently, so maybe the paperwork’s still getting filed or something.

  23. Nick says:

    Dwarf Fortress, personally, is only good if you use a picture tileset. In fact, starting with the tutorial here: http://afteractionreporter.com/2009/02/09/the-complete-and-utter-newby-tutorial-for-dwarf-fortress-part-1-wtf/ is good.

    It’s not perfect. the tileset is still a bit wrong at times, but it’s due to the game engine. If the creator ever gets around to releasing the next version, tilesets will be even better.

  24. RPharazon says:

    I love Dwarf Fortress with the fury of an angry god. Thor on a day without alcohol, perhaps.

    I found it two years ago, back when it was 33g or so. Very fun times. Very, very fun times. I have broken it several more times than I can count, and I’ve gotten to the point where even a 2×2 map with adamantine, magma, an aquifer, and a carp-infested river (there’s water but OH GOD WHY ARE THEY EATING MY DORFS), in an evil and savage area, does not faze me in the slightest.

    So I modded the absolute fuck out of the game, and now I have exploding human caravans, powerful elves, about 7 evil races, 4 of which breathe fire, and dwarves who go at the speed of light. Also, spontaneous material reactions, so I can create megaprojects at will. Also, I’m an ASCII purist, and tilesets are harder to “read” for me than the straight-up ASCII now.

    Shameless plug for my maps: http://mkv25.net/dfma/browseby.php?author=RPharazon

  25. Rutskarn says:

    Site’s back up, by the way.

    Proteus: Yeah, I can tell. If the knowledge you display in the comments is any indication, you could probably run an actual delve full of dwarves.

  26. SolkaTruesilver says:

    No offense. But I find those journal terribly depressing…

    and I am a hard fan of DF…

    How about reading Nist Akath? You never will know the definition of Badass before reading about Captain Ironblood.

    OR Morul, the Most Interesting Dwarf in the Universe. He is so mighty that he once whammed an orc 159 tiles away, and that orc splattered on the wall…

  27. Rutskarn says:

    No offense taken. These journals are, in fact, terribly depressing.

    It’s just that I’m going for “depressing in a funny way.”

  28. SolkaTruesilver says:

    It IS funny. No doubt about that. I really enjoy reading them…

    But I still find it depressing. A little like reading Charlie Brown, but worse, you know?

  29. MintSkittle says:

    When I actively played DF, I used Mike Mayday’s graphics edition:


    Also, there’s the LP Archive Dwarf Fortress:Headshoots


  30. Anachronist says:

    Shamus, I’ve been meaning to suggest this for a while, and this is as good an article as any: Would it be possible or feasible to cause external links in your posts to open a new browser window, so I don’t browse away from your blog?

  31. jokermatt999 says:

    I’ll just go ahead and n’th the “dammit, play DF” crowd. As others have said, there’s a lot hidden in that game, and once you learn to love it, you’ll find it’s worth it. If you can get through the logic in Champions Online, you can get past the interface and lack of direction in DF. The wiki is a massive help, as is having a DF player to possibly walk you through a first play. Once you get a feel for it, you’ll understand how it’s managed to gain such a rabid fanbase despite its problems.

  32. MuonDecay says:

    DF really is bad for your health.

    It’s not unusual for people to miss bedtimes when they get really engrossed by a game, but it is unusual to not even notice how much time has elapsed until after you had planned to wake up.

  33. GTB says:

    While this link is funny, I would still like to read about Shamus’s fortress. I think it would be hilarious.


  34. kikito says:

    I can’t believe that no one mentioned this before, so let me be the first.

    The initial learning curve is STEEP! You will need some good tutorials or you will just get burned because of the horrible interface.

    I wholeheartly recommend you to follow captnduck’s video tutorials. I started this game 5 (five!) times and dropped it before finding them.

  35. thvaz says:

    You call me a obsessesive masochistic but you don’t like when I point that you are too graphic centered.

    Well, my fault, I guess people should be allowed to be little tyrants at least in their own blogs.

    1. Shamus says:

      thvaz: I wasn’t being a tyrant at all. I was enforcing the social rules that sane people comprehend without prompting:

      1) Don’t call the host of a blog a whore on his own blog. (Duh?)
      2) Don’t call the audience pussies. (That’s just trolling.)
      3) Express contrary opinions in a civil manner. (Your comment offered nothing in the way of beginning a debate. It was just insults.)
      4) Know what you’re talking about (hint: A trip through my archives will give you a better picture of my views on graphics technology.)

      You failed at all of these. You didn’t even make it clear you took exception to “obsessesive masochistic”.

  36. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I’ll go with Shamus on that one. I remember a RPG called “Eschalon”… hmm.. or was it another name? Anyway, it was an indy-game RPG that he reviewed. The game is basic 2d, basic graphics, and he scored it very high.

    and stupid me, I read the spoilers, and I know I will NEVER forget them, and I will never be able to play the game because of it. I only blame myself.

  37. Allan says:

    I really want to play Dwarf Fortress, I tried so many times but I just cannot convert text like that into an actual picture of what’s going on, nevermind try to control all this nonsense with the keyboard when I have a perfectly functional mouse sitting on my desktop. So I just installed Dungeon Keeper and played that until satisfied.

    When DF gets an interface and graphics I’ll be interested. Probably would even pay for it.

  38. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Hoopleheaded csuckers, all.

    I too have abandoned DF REPEATEDLY. Stupid game.

    I loved watching it generate the world tho.

  39. Ruroshen says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who recommended Boatmurdered. No offense to Shamus–I love Star On Chest, honest!–but that was the most hilarious Let’s Play I’ve ever read, hands down. I’ll never look at an elephant the same way…

  40. Leon says:

    I’d like to jump on the 3×3 tower-cap bandwagon in favor of a Dwarf Fortress article. Its appearance is at least somewhat intuitive to viewers if you’ve got a tileset installed. (I recommend Mayday’s, which is already linked above.) Though it would be nearly impossible to make a screencap comic from it, the game lends itself perfectly to creating stories abstracted from the stuff that happens in-game. And you can definitely write like that.

    Footnote: Toady One has been coding non-stop since the previous release in September of last year, so it should only be another couple of months before the new version comes out and exponentially increases the amount of crazy crap you can do. (For example, part of the update that’s already been coded includes detailed and physically distinct tissue layers for skin, muscles, organs, bone, hair, etc.) Might want to hold out for that.

  41. TSED says:

    A couple of personal stories of DF to possibly make people interested:

    I had a fortress of about 70 dwarves, but was really skimping on my military. I had a fairly secure entrance with traps, so my military of about 6 was doing just fine.

    Then a goblin siege happened.

    Understand, by the way, that dwarves have some sort of sadistic internal timing that makes them go get a drink (which can take WEEKS game-time), then go for a bite to eat, then maybe go take a nap, then go on break instead of doing what you need to get done RIGHT NOW.

    My military fit this to the T. You see, the goblin siege was attacking in such a wave that their bodies had literally gummed up my traps. I had practically nothing left between the soft, gooey, dwarf-flavoured center of my fortress and the cold, sharp blades of the goblin invaders.

    When one lone military dwarf had finished eating and finally went up to the entrance. She had her crossbow, a few wooden bolts, and her chain mail / plate mail armour. All steel.

    She was severely lacking in training though, as she was only a marksdwarf and had spent all of her training time shooting at a stationary target.

    She then ran past the last line of traps and began shooting the goblins. Within seconds, 4 of the last dozen were dead. That’s better, but still… 8 goblins versus one untrained dwarf.

    She wasn’t taking any of that. After running out of bolts, she ran up to the goblins and began bashing in their skulls WITH HER CROSSBOW. Shortly after, another five goblins fell, and the rest began trying to retreat. She chased down and killed every. Last. One.

    I immediately promoted her to the general of my military. Since she had gotten three (3!) skill ups in hammerdwarf during that escapade, I switched her from a crossbow to a hammer. So she would actually spar. I planned on returning her to a marksdwarf some day, but not until she was decently skilled.

    Blah blah blah. A few months later, she was sparring in the barracks. She gave birth, through her many layers of steel armour, and didn’t even stop fighting. She picked up the baby and continued pummeling her poor partner into submission.

    She was an unstoppable monster. No matter what she was up against, she never took any sort of injury.

    How did my fortress fall? Well, she had a baby, right? That means she had found a lover. He was in the military. He was not immune to everything that ever existed. She watched him take a goblin arrow to the throat. Saw him bleed out in her arms.

    I soon had an invincible marksdwarf rampaging through my fortress, hunting down and killing every last dwarf. Oh, how the heroes have fallen.

    There’s this one time, I had a legendary carpenter. A woodworker, if you will, since he also did things like woodcutting and a touch of woodcrafting.

    At the time, I didn’t know you needed trapping enabled to make animal traps, and so I could NOT GET HIM TO WORK! He had wood, his carpentry shop was queued up, blah blah, but he just hung out in the dining room.

    I checked once, this ‘woodworker’ had 7 friends. They were ALL children. In his psychological profile, it said “Likes tentacle demons for their corrupt intentions.”

    … Uhhhh…

    This one happened recently. So, I was digging around in my new fortress, and discovered magma. Awesome, but this was early on and I did NOT have the manpower to work on harvesting this awesome resource. I ignored it.

    Well, it seemed to have melted through a wall or something, because a couple months later I noticed big red tile (I DO use a tileset) while I was going up and down watching my fortress. “Hmm, that’s odd…” Molten stone!? Weird.

    Apparently this molten stone had set something on fire and created ashes, however. A dwarf (a fisherdwarf, to be exact, also this was the middle of winter so basically a temporary bonus peasant) wandered in to clean it up.

    Remember when I mentioned the molten stone?

    So, this dwarf, content with doing such a good job cleaning up those ashes, decides to get a drink. Being a dwarf, that means one thing and one thing only – alcohol!

    Of course, she is not paying any heed to the fact that she’s a little ON FIRE.

    I watched in stunned silence as she marched down to the dining room, where I keep my food stockpiles early on in fortresses.

    Fortress population before cleaning: 18 dwarves, ~200 animals (mostly cats, but dogs, dromedaries, cows, horses, mules, dwarven frogs [modded], and donkeys in there too).

    Fortress population after the carnage: 7 dwarves, ~30 cats.

    There was a breathtaking explosion that set well over a hundred beasts on fire. They decided to scatter from this, and suddenly there was an army of FLAMING ANIMALS RAMPAGING THROUGH MY FORTRESS. A few dwarves were unlucky enough to get caught up in the blast, too.

    I was frantically working during this time period, locking dwarves in workshops, trying to section off burning areas, blah blah blah. I didn’t succeed, obviously, and the fortress entered a tantrum spiral.

    The most interesting part, however, is the exploding fisherdwarf did not die in the explosion. She managed to drag herself to her bedroom (somehow no longer on fire) with a mangled head and upper body, and a severely injured everything else.

    She then proceeded to die of thirst.

    Really, guys, if you haven’t played this game, you’re missing out. I didn’t even go into the many adventures with flooding my fortress, the time my main staircase got magma dumped on it (only way out of the fortress, too!), the time a cave in killed all my miners (and buried their mining picks) so the rest of my dwarves were doomed to slowly starve and go mad in their sections, building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, building a skyroad, or on and on and on.

    Truly, it is a glorious game.

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