If you’re not a person who plays games that look like they launched on Usenet in the eighties, demand the player learn approximately a million complicated commands, and have no compunction about suddenly and utterly destroying all of your hard work, you may not be familiar with Dwarf Fortress, surely the most complex game ever made.
Dwarf Fortress (officially, Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress) is a freeware management/building/roguelike game whose most popular mode has the player attempting to lead a small group of dwarves in their efforts to literally carve a new home for themselves in the wilderness. The game generates an entire planet with three-dimensional terrain all the way down to hell. You have to manage growing food, constructing tools, and fighting monsters to begin with. But the game also models each dwarf’s personality down to individual likes, dislikes, mental health, fears, and dreams, as well as their skills and health. Combat is highly anatomical down to individual organs.
The game’s absurdly complex systems, procedural generation, and tendency to madden or massacre the player’s dwarves has lead to a burgeoning genre of Dwarf Fortress stories that describe the step-by-step process of the complete destruction of a dwarf fortress. Here are just a few of the best.
What makes Matul Remrit one of the very best of Dwarf Fortress stories? First is its format. Not content to merely recount the events of the fortress, this story integrates original artwork and music to provide the atmosphere. Beyond this, the whole story is written in a ‘dwarfish’ pastiche of the over-detailed real in-game reports with terse, melodramatic prose. In this, it’s the most successful at capturing the random, hyperspecific consequences of running a Dwarf Fortress.
A well-known classic of DF Let’s Plays, Boatmurdered was a relay game played on the Something Awful forums that started well but quickly spiraled into hilariously awful death and destruction, beginning with elephants getting loose and eating dwarves and ending with a pyromaniac trying to drink magma, starting a fight, and setting herself and everyone else on fire.
Bronzemurder, similarly named but not to be confused with Boatmurdered, is a short and beautifully illustrated DF tale by Tim Denee. It tells the story of how a beautifully constructed and well-run fortress had an intractable problem: a giant winged iguana resting on the lowest point of its water pumping system. Naturally, it all quickly spirals out of control.
Tim Denee also illustrated this story of an attempt to found a new fortress in a difficult land. Like many Dwarf Fortress stories, this starts well, but leads to the classic “they dug too greedily and too deep.” In this case, specifically they were looking for adamantium, the rare mineral that only appears in columns in the magma far below the earth, where ancient monsters wait. Just remember: “losing is fun!”
Or, if you like winning, Nist Akath is an extremely lengthy tale of a very successful Dwarf Fortress. It may seem like endless pages of minutiae at first, but don’t worry, it picks up later on. By the end of it, the author is generating off-the-charts mobs for his dwarfs to take on, because they’ve outpaced any of the procedural content. Ever want to see a mob of dwarfs kill a dead god?
Roomcarnage stands as perhaps the finest testament to Dwarf Fortress’s world-creation systems and the bizarre landscapes they can generate. It begins on a “terrifying glacier volcano” that rains elf blood. It is also notable for extensive use of animated gifs of gameplay to illustrate the story, which gives somebody with little experience with Dwarf Fortress a better idea of how dynamic and chaotic the game can be. In the gif above, a vampire is engulfed in a lava trap! Do you see him?
For pure chaos and destruction, you can’t do better than Sparkgear. For this game, players passed around a save file with the rule that you only had 24 hours to play your turn, but could do anything you wanted during that turn. Obviously, this resulted in total fortress destruction after total fortress destruction, but the Dwarf Fortress true believers keep resurrecting it into newer and nuttier iterations. Sparkgear will never die!
For Gemclod, the Something Awful forums returned to play Dwarf Fortress in a round (a ‘succession game’, but with a new twist. In addition to thirteen overseers who would control the game, many dwarves were named after forums posters who also produced journals, art, and even songs about the story. It’s an epic in the way only Dwarf Fortress could generate: utterly mad. With lots and lots of blood. Seriously, lots of blood.
Finally, this succession Dwarf Fortress Let’s Play is unusual for the extremely high amount of combat it features. The fortress was set up near some undead magma-powered dwarfs and nearly constant sieges, and battles. The dwarfs of this community became some of the most hardened badasses ever, including one mother who killed her own children by carrying them into battle … as weapons.