Back in one of my early games, I had run out of all food except for plants, and I was constantly brewing. Then I noticed my dwarves dying left and right.

I really can’t think of a more appropriate way for a fortress to fail then by the dwarves brewing literally every edible thing into alcohol and subsequently starving to death.

Written by anonymous

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Roburky’s Dwarf Fortress Diary (Mirror)

Dwarf Fortress is a management game from another world. So detailed is its simulation of harsh and bloody dwarven existence that reading the creator’s development log is like reading updates from a deity as it puts together a new planet.

22nd May 2008: Handled talking to babies.
9th November 2008: Remembered to make ribs internal.
3rd January 2009: Wrote up organ strikes, but it keeps crashing when I hit the spleen.

You’ve likely already come to a conclusion whether you’re a person capable of delving beyond the alien interface to meet this amazing game for yourself, but before you make any further judgments, allow me to tell you a story of a band of dwarves who left their dwarven city, and established a new settlement that they called ‘SquashedBrains’.

I started this game shortly after Dwarf Fortress’ introduction of the third dimension, back in 2007. It was an exciting time for those who had played the previous versions, with lots of new features to experiment with. One of these was the ability to build constructions. Previously, you could only mine out the rock and create rooms out of what you left behind. Now you could build walls, and potentially make buildings of your own on the surface.

I felt it was clear that I should start a Tower of Babel project as soon as possible. How high could we go? Was there an upper limit to this world? What would happen if I reached it?

We began the construction next to our main fortress entrance. It was five tiles wide, and five tiles long, with a staircase in the corner. It was fiddly work, as constructed walls and floors had to be designated one tile at a time, but things were nevertheless progressing well. I had a team of very highly skilled masons working on it full-time. On the third floor, however, all of my masons got themselves stuck. They had chosen to build the walls before the floors, and had walked along the top of the walls of the level below, built a new wall on top of it, and left themselves no route back to the staircase.

I assigned some peasants to be emergency masons to try and finish the floor to let them out, but their unskilled hands were not working fast enough. My stranded dwarves were starving to death. Drastic measures were called for. I designated the wall they were standing on for demolition.

The result? Massive structural collapse. The screen is entirely obscured by clouds of dust and smoke. But it’s a kind of success. The masons were now lying on the grass outside the tower, unconscious but unhurt. The only casualty was my fish dissector, who died in the middle of the collapse, according to the message log. I presume he got hit in the head while passing by underneath, but I couldn’t really tell what happened with all the smoke.


It wasn’t until a whole game year later that I noticed what the single teal coloured stripy square was on every level of my fortress. Using the ‘look at’ command that gives you detailed information on the contents of a tile, I discovered that symbol meant ‘open space’. It seems that much of the tower had collapsed onto a single square, and punched a hole through my entire goddamned fortress. There is a gap in the floor of my tomb, my prison, my mighty statue party room, the mayor’s bedroom, and several stairways. Seven levels below the ground, beneath all of the holes, there is an almighty pile of stone and a pool of blood. That, I suspect, was the resting place of the fish dissector.

My dwarves are a practical people. We used the hole for an elegant solution to our stone clutter problem. Whenever you expand your mountain home, there is always the question of what to do with all of the stone that gets mined out. Once upon a time, we would create an enormous stockpile outside and carry them out one by one and stack them in orderly rows. Then I changed to ordering my masons to build stone blocks out of it all, which took up much less storage space, and could be used to construct higher quality buildings. Over the years, however, it still took up too much space.

But thanks to my failed career as a skyscraper architect, we now had a handy garbage chute on every level of the fortress. Some quick setting up of rubbish zones over the gap, and then designating some rock for dumping, and all the useless clutter in our home gets chucked down the hole to join the fish dissector’s bodily fluids at the bottom. A new age of efficiency for the fortress began.


Then the hydra came. Which was rather inconvenient. With all the ambitious construction projects going ahead, I hadn’t actually got around to developing a military to deal with the monsters that Dwarf Fortress throws at you.

I called all of my dwarves inside, forbade them from leaving, and prepared to press them all into emergency military service. The hydra sprinted across the map, directly towards my fortress entrance next to the collapsed tower. It forced its way through the front door, and was caught by my single cage trap as it charged across the entrance hall.

I was honestly surprised to see that work on a giant monster. My fortress was saved, but I now had the problem of an enormous multi-headed mythical creature in a little wooden cage. It was sitting in my animal stockpile alongside the cows and camels. I dug out a room a little way down the cliff from my fortress entrance, and put the hydra in there, surrounded with engraved pillars. It would be a shrine to the fortune of SquashedBrains.

As soon as this was done, however, a titan arrived. It entered the map behind a visiting dwarven trade caravan. Their armed guard immediately sprang into action, and the most unbelievably epic battle that I have ever observed – through the medium of textual wound and status readouts – took place.

The dwarves piled on to the approaching titan, but it rapidly killed the majority, and sent the remainder fleeing for their lives. This left a single caravan guard to fight the colossal text entity on his own. This axe-dwarf was described as ‘unbelievably agile’, and was fighting the giant creature bare-handed, his weapon having been irretrievably lodged in the titan’s shoulder early on in the struggle. This duel went on for days, possibly months of in-game time. They were both tired and over-exerted, and would occasionally slip into unconsciousness. The titan was dripping in dwarf blood from head to toe. There were steel axes sticking out of his arms and hands, and he was trying to beat down the dwarf using a steel helmet stolen from a dwarf corpse. Eventually, finally, brilliantly, the dwarf was victorious, and the titan fell.

My one actual, trained soldier slept through the entire event. All he got to see of the titan was its bones being made into crossbow bolts as the saviour of SquashedBrains and his caravan went riding off into the sunset. Having only narrowly avoided destruction by two different giant monsters by sheer chance, I decided that I needed a military. I drafted almost half of my population into the army and set them training. They didn’t manage to get much training done before another calamity struck: a goblin horde arrived, and was going to besiege the fortress. Could my luck possibly hold?

Back in 2007, there was a bug with Dwarf Fortress that meant that goblin sieges often didn’t actually attack your fortress. If they didn’t see a dwarf, they would mill around on the edges of the map, and eventually go home.

These goblins did see a dwarf, however, because most of my untrained army decided to launch an attack on the legions of mounted goblins and their superhumanly tough human swordsmen leaders. Needless to say, the eager dwarf combatants were cut to pieces without landing a single blow. Attempting to mitigate the destruction, I marked their bodies and equipment as forbidden, which would prevent the civilian dwarves from coming out to retrieve them. By the time the goblin army left, there was was a field of rotten dwarf corpses spread out in front of the fortress. I decided, with the enemy gone, that it was probably safe to let the other dwarves bury the poor bastards.

But Dwarf Fortress is designed for even this eventuality. It turns out that dwarves react to walking out into a battlefield covered in putrified blood and rotting corpses by vomiting in horror. There’s far more spew out by the river now than there was blood in the first place.

Not all was bodily fluids and horror, however. One of my soldiers had been looking after a baby, which survived the siege. Her soldier friend then adopted the child, and then later had a baby herself. So she was soon carrying two babies with her everywhere. Needless to say, she really wasn’t getting a lot of soldiering done. I decided I would turn her back into a civilian until the kids grew up a bit.

In fact a lot of the dwarfs that died had friends. Friends who had to pick up rotting chunks of their former buddies off the ground, and have consequently been incredibly miserable. They’ve also been periodically getting angry at the world and smashing random stuff in the fortress. One dwarf lost one too many friends in the battle for him to recover. He went mad and threw himself 13 levels down the garbage chute. He’s now lying unconscious at the bottom with his legs smashed to pieces. Nobody wants to help rescue him.

The aftermath of war is horrible. And in the game.

With so many dead, incompetent, war heroes, I needed a proper place to bury them. I had recently found an underground bottomless chasm, and I decided a mass tomb overlooking the edge would be a fitting and impressive location. Between each coffin was a pillar lovingly engraved with images of cackling goblins and dying dwarves.

When it was finished, I started digging channels on the layer above, to divert water from a nearby river closer to the main fortress so I could make a well. But I accidentally cut the channel into the tomb. The river is now flowing through the tomb, creating a waterfall into the chasm.

One dwarf was caught inside when it happened, burying her friend, and she has been swimming against the flow for a season, now. She’s going to die, but at least she’s improving her swimming skill, and has been “comforted by a lovely waterfall”.

War was bad. But fantasy fauna would be worse.

A dragon arrived.

I suppose I survived the first two giant monster attacks through luck, and situations outside my control. SquashedBrains was out of luck, it seems, and no random occurrence was going to make this dragon attack easier on the fortress.

I had, of course, made some preparations for monster attacks. I had removed what was a very easily accessible stairway direct to every floor on my fortress, and instead put the western entrance to my fortress inside my lead tower of towering doom. On the first floor down I had set up a barracks and an archery range, so my remaining marksdwarves-in-training would never be far away from an attacking beast. They were still entirely untrained, but it was the best we can do that this stage.

Ramul Kortilrane the dragon swooped down straight towards the base of my tower. I called the dwarves back inside, and locked the doors. He arrived and stood there between the decorative statues by the gate.

I wasn’t going to be bullied off my own land. I sent the marksdwarves out to the ground floor of the tower. I had cut some fortifications into the walls on this level so that my crossbow-armed dwarves could shoot out at nearby targets. They marched up the stairs, … then cowered in the back corner away from the dragon. The dragon got very excited by this. He knocked over a statue, and began breathing fire all over the tower. Then he leapt straight up to the windows and melted the dwarf standing furthest forward.

I unlocked the door and instructed cowardly marksdwarves to get back outside. There was no point risking lives if they weren’t going to use the fortifications properly. I don’t really know what happened next, as everything was obscured by smoke. But it must have been a truly heroic battle, because, when it cleared, both the dragon and all of my marksdwarves were dead.

Of course, there were quite a few things on fire, too. And that fire was spreading. A fire spreading in ASCII. I lost an additional nine dwarves before I even realised what was happening. Developer Tarn Adams has created some amazingly detailed systems for temperature and fire in this game, but teaching dwarves how to react to those conditions is still on his to-do list. For all the intricacy and cleverness of the dwarf simulations, they had no way of dealing with a burning fortress. Soon another goblin army arrived to siege the fortress. Their work would not be difficult. The entire thing was ablaze, and my sixteen remaining dwarves were all bedridden, incapacitated with severe burns.

And that is how the tale of the fortress of SquashedBrains came to an end.

[Get Dwarf Fortress here, and check out the video tutorials here.]

Written By RPS on June 14th, 2009 at 8:40 pm.


Stories of murderous carp have been a part of the Dwarf Fortress lore ever since they were introduced. Here are just a few of those stories:


I just recently started playing the 40d version. There weren’t any carp in the version I used to play years ago.  I thought the claims of murderous carp decimating dwarves were exaggerated, until I lost my entire embark party to a single carp…

– Kraega

Once I lost my seven dwarves to a river full of carp and immediately reclaimed. The game gave me 70 dwarves. It turned out that even they weren’t enough.

Do not underestimate these foul riparian beasts!

– darkflagrance

I remember this one carp, that had killed over 100 dwarves, by sitting in a pond and eating them while they passed to get their pig tail sock. It got to the point where I was sending out my whole army, only to have them pulled in and drowned. In retrospect, my mistake was not using crossbow dwarves, but still. In the end, I decided to boot up the companion, overpower a dwarf, give him 100 swimming, strip him, throw him in, and let them do battle. THAT is the only way to injure a carp.

– Randomonioum

I lost my first fortress to carp.

They killed a hunter who was walking around. Then they killed the peasant who came to claim his garb. Then they gravely wounded the next peasant. At this point I’d finally figured out what was happening, so I made their items forbidden and cut my losses.

Except that I hadn’t dug a well yet. Dwarves kept coming to the river for water to treat the injured peasant and ended up dying or getting seriously hurt, which in turn caused more dwarves to get more water and… you see where this is going. I didn’t figure out how to make zones until it was far too late, and the resulting tantrum spiral caused my dwarves to descend to a level of barbarism that played out much like Bioshock under the Mountain.

So I guess the lesson is to build wells and flee from the terrifying carp.

– monk12

I literally stopped playing the game for a year due to the unkillable supercarp in every source of water available. They swam in the channels I dug, they muscled their way through the grates, and they killed my dwarves dead with their giant carpy teeth (thus polluting the drinkable water).

At some point it got so bad that in order to get fresh water, the dwarves had to go a bit upriver. Then they got devoured by carp there, thus polluting the water.

So they had to go a bit more upriver to get fresh water (ignoring the pond I built and closed off with an actual floodgate this time; I’m still not sure why they ignored it); at which point they got killed by a carp, thus … I’m sure you can see where this is going.

At that point, the strewn out chain of dwarves trying to get past the waterlogged corpses to fresh water was attacked by goblins and hacked to pieces. It was one of the most ridiculous chains of events I’ve ever experienced.

– Marcin

My dwarves worked vigorously for years on an impressive underground canal system unmatched by anything save Roosevelt’s TVA. The final step in its construction was the channeling out of the thin strip of rock that separated the canal from the river. By itself it was a precarious task, as it required building stairs two z-levels down a cliff face. The river happened to be embedded in sheer walled canyon. But that’s not all; the river was swarming with sadistic carp. Fears aside, this canal needed completion, so the first miner goes down the stairs and begins channeling. The first channel is dug out, and the river back floods into the canal, sucking the water, and incidentally the carp, toward it.

Instantly the river flares up frothing white as the carp surround the miner on all sides and go absolutely mad. Chunks fly everywhere and the miner disappears in the bedlam. The site is now more dangerous than a room full of berserk goblin hammer lords as the carp are sucked up against the grate of the canal entry in worrying numbers.

However, the show must go on, and three more miners are sent in, each meeting the same fate. It is then that I notice that that most recently fallen miner has a child, and that child became apparently curious of the whereabouts of her mother. Before I can do anything, the child is already at the channel entry, investigating the puddles of blood and floating bodies stuck to the grate. The carp have at her, and instead of running, she sits down and cries. I watch in horror as the child defiantly manages to avoid be pulled into the river, and is slowly nibbled and bitten to agonizing death by the insidious carp. The child dies in place after having every limb removed one by one.

I threw up in my mouth a little bit, and sent in my legendary super-agile miner to finish the job. He dug that channel so fast the carp didn’t even notice his presence. A hatch cover was placed over entrance to the stairwell and forbidden, forever. The child’s bones can still be seen in a pile on the banks of the mighty channel—now named in her honor.

– Joel Clark

Further reading:

Sleepy the Dwarf

Written by Amy Wilson

My husband and I decided to try out Dwarf Fortress after all the hype about it. We have just gotten into the second year with our fortress, and the most entertaining thing has been one of our dwarfs, Dumed.

We initially pronounced this with the accent on the 2nd syllable, Du-MED. But after watching him in action for a season or two, we changed it to Doomed.

He was our building designer guy originally, and at first, we didn’t need him for much. So when we needed someone to crank out a few mechanisms for us, we drafted him as our Mechanic. Then we finally got our Still up and running, and he wasn’t doing much, so we made him our interim Brewer until some immigrants arrived. Then it was time to start building our trade road and a bridge over the outside and underground rivers. Suddenly, we needed him for everything.

Dumed was in high demand and had all kinds of tasks backed up, but was still operating at his previous “I’m on summer vacation and don’t need to do anything” level of ambition. He was On Break. Then he had to get some water. And man, was that walking through the hallways tough work. Better sit down for a bite to eat before ya get light-headed. Everyone else was working at a breakneck pace to ready the fortress for winter. But not him. We were Doomed.

After 2 trips to the well (don’t have any ale since he can’t work up the energy to spend a few minutes in the Still), a lunch break, 2 other breaks where he sat around in his room admiring his Fine Door, and a nice long nap, he finally decided to get to work on that underground bridge. He grabbed a rock from the stockpile and headed towards the bridge, playing leapfrog with all the kittens in the hallways along the way. Almost there, he gets winded. Whew! That has to have been at least 2 rooms and a small stretch of hallway that he’s navigated so far. Don’t wanna overdo it. Gotta take another break. DAMN YOU DUMED!So he drops the rock IN THE DOORWAY leading to the underground river, PROPPING THE DOOR OPEN. Immediately, we get across the bottom of the screen, “UNDERGROUND RIVER STARTS TO OVERFLOW”. No kidding. Luckily, when the floodwaters swept down on our poor Doomed fortress, they pushed the rock a few squares forward and out of the doorway, allowing the door to close and stop the raging waters.

Eventually the waters receded, and now we have a sapling growing in our hallway.

A Fluffy Victory

So, I’m just wandering along through this forest, looking for a cave where I could maybe kill some dragons or something and get their fat loot. This was shortly after I had gotten my throwing to legendary +2 (remember this).

I came across a cave and thought, “Well, maybe it’ll be filled with giants or something.”


There was a bronze colossus.

He told me his name then proceeded to bum rush down the side of the mountain after me. Tripping over my feet, I tried to run away and disturbed a nest of fluffy wambler bunnies at the bottom of the mountain. They immediately spread forth in a great cloud at my feet. So, I did as any adventurer would do. I stuffed them in my backpack in an attempt to make some money out of this encounter.

Maybe I could sell them or something.

The bronze colossus was coming up from behind when I was struck with the awesome idea to begin throwing these bunnies at the bronze colossus.

The result was astonishing, and I could do nothing but stand up from my computer with my fist held high in the air, because I had just beaten the game.

Written by Discontent