Screenshot: Dwarf Fortress (Bay 12 Games)

Dwarf Fortress is a game where when things go wrong, you know you’ll have a great story to tell. Because its systems are so intricate and complicated, you’re always hit with multiple problems at once, and sometimes one of those problems is a demon invasion.

Players often record their Dwarf Fortress exploits as written stories, dramatized for other readers. Dwarf Fortress is hard to parse as a game, and not just because of the ASCII art. To someone who’s never played, it can be hard to understand why people go so wild over what looks like a series of numbers and letters. If you’re already under the thrall of Dwarf Fortress, though, you’ll know just how the authors of these stories feel.

Here are some stories from Dwarf Fortress players that either made me laugh or made me want to salute the bravery of the poor dwarves caught in a clusterfuck.

Boatmurdered

This is the most classic Dwarf Fortress tale. It’s an old Let’s Play from Something Awful, where each player played a year of a single save at the fortress of Boatmurdered. It was aptly named: It starts off with a rampage of murderous elephants and ends with fire. Note to self: be careful with magma in my saves.

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Hamlet Of Tyranny

The dwarves from the Hamlet of Tyranny were almost entirely wiped out when they accidentally dug into the home of Ashmalice the fire demon. This demon had over five hundred kills since he came into being during pre-history, and he wasn’t that fussed about adding a few more when his slumber was interrupted. Rather than give up on the fortress, the dwarves decided to avenge their fallen brethren and take out the demon once and for all. It’s a tragic but heroic tale of dwarven hardiness.

Archcrystal

In the universe of Dwarf Fortress, Hell is real, and you get there by mining too deeply. Usually this means an invasion of demons and a rush to plug up a literal portal to hell, but the dwarves of the fortress Archcrystal have a different plan. They want to build a clear glass fortress in Hell and live there. This playthrough started in 2016 and is still ongoing.

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Bronzemurder

This is a short but astonishing comic about what happens when ordinary dwarves accidentally encounter a fell beast. Fell beasts are huge, terrifying monsters, and one of them landed on a pump that needed to be manually operated to fill the fortress with running water. Would you be surprised to learn that a lot of dwarves died?

Cacame Awemedinade, the elf king of the mountainhomes.
Illustration: Mechlin

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Cacame Awemedinade

Cacame is the unlikely elven king of the dwarves. Dwarves and elves tend not to see eye to eye. While elves love nature, dwarves need trees to make beds. Elves really hate to see trees cut down, and also love to make wisecracks about dwarves being short. As a short human, I think that’s really rank. Player Holy Mittens discovered their fortress’ king was an elf, and then dove into the game’s Legends mode to discover how Cacame ended up in the position. Given that his wife was injured in an elvish war then eaten by another elf, I can see why Cacame decided to ditch the elves for the dwarves. Having an elf king is so unusual in Dwarf Fortress that Holy Mittens chronicled their history in this 70 page forum thread, which is also readable in this slightly more digestible wiki entry.

The Fable Of Catten and The Eagle

This is the story of the dwarf Catten, his pet eagle, and the dragon they faced down together. As far as Dwarf Fortress tales go, this one is pretty inspiring, and it doesn’t end in the bloody death of everyone.

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The Legend of Tholtig Cryptbrain

Tholtig was a dwarven queen locked in a genocidal war with the elves, with a kill count of over two thousand beings. Tholtig led her compatriots to victory time and again, but at the cost of her family and eventually her fortress. It’s the kind of tragic tale you only find through scouring the entries in Dwarf Fortress’s Legends mode, which lets you browse the historical events in the world you’ve generated.

Glazedcoast

When you start Dwarf Fortress, after generating a world, you have to find a suitable place to embark and start mining. Each site will have different levels of evilness and savagery. Some could be enchanted forests, with fairies and brewable plants aplenty. Other places are haunted forests with ratpeople and rains of malodorous ooze. The fortress of Glazedcoast is the second kind of place, and the ratpeople are in the basement.

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The one story I always tell of my own adventures in Dwarf Fortress is The Time I Had To Kill All Those Puppies. It’s not a long one, but it is one of my deepest regrets. We were on a starvation spiral, and I had also forgotten to neuter any of the male dogs. The dogs went around impregnating all the other dogs, and we were just about knee deep in puppies. We had so many that my game slowed to a crawl, making the food problem even more dire. How could I solve both problems?

I felt awful about it, for sure. It took me a good few minutes to make the choice. But my dwarves were eating dog-meat pies and sporting puppy-leather armor by the time the butcher was finally through.

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What’s your most hilarious or most harrowing tale from Dwarf Fortress? Sound off in the comments.