Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dwarf Fortress: Summitspear troll battle

(troll drawn by Buttery_Mess)

This is the third installment of my latest Dwarf Fortress series (the first is here; the second here), but while the others are annual reports, this is merely a (true) story from early in our third year.

Deep underground are many fierce monsters. Our miners know the danger, that at any moment they may break through a cavern wall and come face to face with death's cruel grin and horrible hunger.

Our miners know the danger, and accept it, for we are dwarves. And the depths are also full of great wealth. But our greatest fear is of unleashing such danger on our families. So we try to block off those passages into the deep caverns, so the creatures can't follow us home.

But sometimes, we overlook one...

It was a beautiful spring day in 253. Sibrek Standardkeys, the eight-year-old daughter of Mebzuth Mergedpost, marksdwarf in the Triangular Planks, and Logem Wheeleddie, macedwarf and captain of the Posts of Weakening, was playing with her kitten, when they both got thirsty. So she ran up the stairs into our pantry.

As she was working to tap a keg of Dwarven ale, her favorite, Sibrek heard a noise and looked up to see a huge humanoid monster, with long grey fur, massive hands, and large tusks and horns - a troll! She screamed.

Eshtan Flagtwinkling, 16, was at the other end of the pantry, looking for some Longland beer, when he heard the scream. But he was too far from the girl to save her - not that he could do much, without weapons and even without training, against a creature more than four times his size. And they were the only two dwarves in the pantry.

We'll never know why the war dog, Dodok Primegalley, happened to be there. Normally, she stuck close to her master, Endok Silverbristled, our mason/mechanic. But he was sleeping. Perhaps Dodok had smelled the troll. Or maybe it was just a happy accident, that she ended up in the pantry right when she was needed.

But either way, she knew her duty. The girl's scream brought her running, and that caught the troll's attention, letting Sibrek escape. The huge creature charged at the dog, punching her cruelly and knocking her down. Each blow did terrible damage, then it gouged out her eye with a tusk.

Dodok struggled to fight back, but her teeth couldn't seem to get a grip. The troll gored her in the chest with its horn, then jammed it into her brain, killing her instantly. The troll wasn't even scratched.

(art by lizkay)

Sibrek's screams were bringing dwarves running, but they had no idea what was facing them. Rith Pagemastered, an 18-year-old farm worker, ran down the stairs to find herself face to face with a troll, blood everywhere.

But as the troll turned to face her, Monom Razorcontest rushed up behind it. Monom was only 18 herself, but she'd been undergoing military training. Unfortunately, she'd trained as a marksdwarf, shooting at targets from a distance, not in melee.

Even more unfortunately, she'd been off-duty, so she had no crossbow bolts with her. Undeterred, she ran up to the troll and began beating on it with her light wooden crossbow.

Her blows did little damage to the huge creature, but the ferocity of her attack seemed to surprise it. At any rate, Rith was able to escape down the stairs, and it was a moment before the troll followed - into our grand dining hall, crowded with our citizens, their children, and even a litter of puppies!

(Summitspear dining hall and hospital - click image to embiggen)

You have to realize what a shock this was. This was the secure heart of our fortress! This was precisely where our civilians were trained to come when danger threatened.

We had a moat all around the fortress. We had strong walls. We had bridges we could raise to keep danger away from our loved ones. We had war dogs stationed at the entrances, to detect thieves. Our defenses were all built to keep danger from this place.

Furthermore, this was the heart of our fortress in another sense, too. We dwarves love to eat. We love to drink. And we like to do both in grand surroundings. Well, this was our grand dining hall. This was the most glorious part of our fortress, the place we admired the most, a shining symbol of everything that is Summitspear.

And now a filthy, stinking troll, covered with blood (none of it his own, unfortunately), stumbled directly into our home, our safe haven, our heart.

Monom ran down the stairs after him, but struggled to get around the tables and overturned chairs, and through the crowd (of course, she still had no crossbow bolts). The troll still seemed to be confused. It took a wild swing at a young weaponsmith, 17-year-old Ustuth Helmedcrowns, but missed, luckily for him. But it wasn't likely to keep missing.

Among the dwarves and the puppies, there was one young dog in the room, still untrained and barely more than a puppy, himself. But his instinct and his courage were sound. He grabbed the trolls arm, just as Monom got through the crowd and started hitting it with her crossbow again.

Vucar Dentedshields arrived about the same time - another marksdwarf, but again without any crossbow bolts. But he joined Monom in beating on the troll with his wooden crossbow, as well.

Luckily for both of them, the troll again focused on the dog. Their blows still weren't doing much damage, but every time it grabbed the dog, they were able to knock its hands lose. And the dog, though untrained, was surprisingly agile. They were all buying time.

Eventually, the troll caught the dog with a tusk to the chest, but by then, other defenders started to arrive - some even with bolts for their crossbows! Mebzuth Mergedpost was the first, shooting an iron bolt into the troll's stomach, finally doing it some serious damage.

Mebzuth had been at the other side of the fortress, organizing combat training, when she heard that her daughter was in danger. She nearly flew across the compound!

By the time she arrived, Sibrek had escaped, but Mebzuth didn't know that. And at that point, it was immaterial. Dwarves were in danger and Mebzuth had been trained to defend our people.

The troll started to run. Unfortunately, away from his attackers was further into our fortress, in the same direction our children had been running. Mebzuth shot it again, then a bolt from Monom Tongspatterns, Captain of the Guard, struck the troll in the leg, causing it to fall.

Everyone attacked. Mistem Glazechampions, mother of four, even struck the troll with her bare hand, probably bruising her hand more than the troll's arm. But her children were there.

The wounded dog, though panting heavily, was still game, and he was joined by Tekkud Pagebolts, the trained war dog of our militia commander, Etur Focusedpicks. As the dogs grabbed the troll, more crossbow bolts struck it.

And the troll became enraged. We'd thought the troll a terrifying sight before this, but we hadn't seen anything yet! The troll stood up, shook off the dogs, and charged at them. It pounded on Tekkud, the war dog, knocking her down and then goring her with a tusk.

But this did draw the troll away from the stairs, away from our most vulnerable citizens. Monom and Vucar continued to bash at it with their crossbows - not doing much damage with each blow, but the damage was accumulating. They kicked and punched the troll, too - whatever parts of it they could reach.

Eventually, Sibrek's father, Logem Wheeleddie, arrived, with his steel mace. He bashed at the troll as the dogs kept it occupied. And although it was Monom who stunned the troll with a blow to its head, Logem is the one who finally killed it, bashing the troll's skull into its brain with his mace.

Or was it dead? We've all heard that trolls have remarkable recuperative properties, though it's hard to imagine anything repairing that kind of damage. Just to be sure, we had the body dragged out of the fort entirely.

When it was over, we had to praise our gods for our good fortune. Not a single dwarf had been killed, or even harmed. Not a scratch! We lost one war dog (we're entombing Dodok in our Hall of Heroes, in honor of her brave sacrifice), and another was bruised and battered, but looks likely to recover.

That young pup who flung himself into the fight seems to have lung damage. We'll have to see how that turns out. [Note that animal caretaking isn't yet implemented in Dwarf Fortress.] It would be a shame if he doesn't make it. But even so, we came out of this just unbelievably well.

And we're scrubbing the troll blood from our dining hall - and picking up the troll teeth that litter the floor (I think the children are already fighting over them).

Logem gets the kill, though he'd rather the honor go to Monom Razorcontest, the young marksdwarf who so bravely fought through the entire battle. For her part, though, she just seems embarrassed at arriving at a battle with an empty quiver. Well, the young are easily embarrassed, I think.

And maybe we've all learned something from this. I hope so.

Note: Part four is here.


Chimeradave said...

How did the troll get through all the defenses?

WCG said...

Rats, I'd hoped I'd made that clear, John. The troll didn't have to come through our outside defenses, because he came up the stairs from the caverns underground.

You can't see the caverns until one of your miners breaks through to them (and even then, you only see that part of it). Until then, you have to send miners to dig exploratory tunnels, just to see what's there, and that includes digging stairs downward, deep underground, into the unknown.

The first time they break through into a cavern, the game stops and there's an announcement of that, so you can plug up the opening. But when it happens again, elsewhere, there's no notice, so it's really easy to overlook.

Usually, a stairs breaks through the roof of the cavern, so only flying creatures can escape that way. They can still be very dangerous, but only a few creatures can fly.

In this case, an exploratory stairs ended up next to a cavern floor section. I didn't know about it, until the troll discovered the stairs and just came up the tunnels into the heart of our fortress. (There wasn't anyone in the deep tunnels at the time, so the troll didn't encounter a dwarf until he was right in the middle of them.)

Goblins and other attackers come from off the map, traveling on the surface of the world just like trading caravans. To get into our fortress, they have to come through our defenses. But there are dangerous creatures living underground, too.

It's like Moria in The Lord of the Rings. Dwarves dig deep underground until they disturb some great danger living down there. Let me tell you, trolls are far from the most dangerous creature they're likely to find.

Chimeradave said...

It is clear, I'm just a bit dense I guess. It seems to me you need to build defenses around the mines that are just as strong as around the doors to outside.

WCG said...

Yes, you're probably right, John. And maybe I should have planned it that way from the beginning (I didn't).

But the "mines" are just everything underground, including the places the dwarves dig out for the fort itself. You have to send tunnels pretty much everywhere, just to find the minerals you need.

The smart thing might have been to skip a level and create a bottleneck somewhere, something that was easy to defend. Of course, as the fortress continues to grow, we have to keep digging out more rooms.

More importantly, there's no real danger underground unless you break through into the caverns (and, especially, if you fail to plug up the hole afterwards!). Well, there are a couple more possibilities, but just in special locations.

But right from the start, there's danger on the surface. And there's always a limited amount of time. You have to prioritize, and surface defenses are definitely a priority.

Later, as the dwarves dig deeper, the danger underground grows. Lava - magma - is very useful to a fortress, but it's usually at the very bottom of the map (more than 100 levels below ground).

The caverns themselves are useful, and I might even want to move the fortress - or part of it - down into one of them. Obviously, before I use a cavern, I'll need defenses down there, but right now, we're still exploring.

Someday, I'd like to try a fort where I dig downward right from the start, and plan to set up my fortress inside a cavern far underground, right from the very beginning.

But there are difficulties with that, too, because trading caravans arrive on the surface - and we need to trade, at least while the fort is young. (Besides, I just enjoy the trading.)

Also, it's hard to get an effective military right at the beginning. On the surface, we can rely on dogs and traps, at first. But there are bigger dangers in the caverns.

Well, there are just a lot of options in this game - and a million ways to play it. I wanted to do an above-ground fort in this one, but I still don't even have walls all the way around it. There's a lot of work involved (for my dwarves, I mean, not me).

Chimeradave said...

darn it, you're gonna make me a player of this game aren't you? What I'd try is a base right near the magma and have basically just a guard post and trading post by the surface. And then a tunnel leading down, down, down, maybe I'd need a pit-stop in the middle.

WCG said...

John, it's a great game - and free, too. On the other hand, it's not the slightest bit user friendly. The developer lives on the voluntary donations of his fans, but I'll bet most who try the game give up in disgust before even getting started.

If you do want to try it, I highly recommend the Lazy Newb Pack. Even then, you'll need the wiki. One of these days, I might write up basic instructions just on what you need to do with the Lazy Newb Pack. After that, there's a decent Quickstart guide at the wiki.

Re. your idea, that would work. But note that you have to haul goods to and from the trading post, so you don't want it too far from where you make them/need them. An efficient fortress has everything close to where you need it, because it takes time to haul goods long distances.

WCG said...

For anyone who wants to try Dwarf Fortress, note that I just posted some instructions for beginners here.