Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. -- Gene Fowler

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Gaming Interlude

A dwarf
And now a brief interlude: A story spun from a computer game. I play a game called Dwarf Fortress, which is known to have one of the steepest learning curves known to mankind. It took me two weeks to become comfortable with its basics, and after a couple of months I'm still learning things every time I play.

I don't mention this game because it's difficult, as a prelude to some kind of 'things that are worth doing are sometimes difficult' speech. I mention it because this is a writing blog, and if there's one thing Dwarf Fortress does, it's produce stories. There's a place on the internet where such stories are collected: DFstories.com. I intend to submit my own to the site. Read a few. They're amazing. Really. And having played the game I believe that the events they describe really happened during play. I personally recommend The Hamlet of Tyranny and The Fable of Catan and the Eagle.

The game is so very detailled that mundane things sometimes turn out to have staggering connections to each other. Other times it simply unfolds as a stunning tale of bravery, callousness, or plain idiocy.

For example, recently I played a season's worth of time (a strategy I've implemented to keep myself from losing track of time and going to bed at three in the morning) and some striking events unfolded in my fortress. The forgotten beast Rushan came to visit, an enormous (I kid you not) eyeless nuthatch with deadly blood. Despite the giggles I got on reading the foul beast was an exceptionally large songbird, forgotten beasts are generally regarded as fearsome foes. So I prepared for the worst. I tried to block its advance into my fortress from the caverns below, but my dwarves had been exploring there in search of spider webs to weave into silk and so there was very little time. One of two planned floor hatches were successfully installed to thwart the beast's advance up the staircase, but it chose another route and was shortly menacing my poor collector dwarves with its fluffed-out midnight blue feathers.

Site of the battle
Fortunately I'd had the foresight to install a contingent of militia in that area. One of them, the militia commander, had as a fighting companion a war jaguar, bought from the elves and trained to rip out the throats of the enemies of the fortress. This jaguar, on seeing the heinous ... nuthatch ... leapt straight at it, biting and clawing, holding on as tight as she could. Meanwhile her master and two other militiamen hacked at the beast. The jaguar did the hard work of distracting the thing, her mighty paws soaking up Rushan's blood as she attacked. Not long afterward the beast fell to the axe of the commander.

I was amazed at the courage and tenacity of the jaguar. Without her intervention, I might have lost several dwarves to the power of the forgotten beast Rushan. It's possible Rushan was just an unmitigated wimp, booted out of the Menacing and Really Scary Monsters Club by its betters. But I didn't overlook the jaguar's valiant sacrifice. I noticed its paws were all infected. At this time I didn't attribute it to the warning about Rushan's deadly blood. A deadly oversight.

The jaguar staggered, collaped, and finally made it up sixteen or so flights of stairs to hang around the dining area, a common gathering place, where she wandered around piteously for a while before expiring. I tried to put her into a cage, thinking restricting her movements would help her survive a bit longer, but no dwarf came to complete the task before the poor cat was on her way to the afterlife. I hold out hope that someone, possibly the militia commander, will eventually craft an object to commemorate his feline companion's bravery.

The next stage of the story involves the warning about Rushan's deadly blood, which I won't detail here. Long story short, an increasing number of dwarves, the heroic jaguar, and countless pets have infections in their feet from the blood that's been tracked around the fortress since the battle.

I've written the beginning of a story that describes these events, and it's been a lot of fun. I'm drawing off what happened in the actual game (with a few minor liberties, such as the addition of a sage character for a bit of dry exposition), but the characterisation is my own. Although I looked at my captain of the guard's information closely this week and realised that my portrayal of him in the story is almost completely dead-on to his game-generated personality. The story of the great battle with Rushan will find its way onto my Associated Content page soon.

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