Exploring Dwarf Fortress’ Legends Mode

Dwarf Fortress is a phenomenon in the world of procedural generation, creating worlds, simulating rivers, aquifers, travel, tree growth… It’s as well known for the awesome complexity of its generation and simulation as… The awesome complexity of its simulation, its bugs, some of which (like “Now that animals no longer wield weapons”, a bug we sadly never got to witness before it was fixed) are as hilarious as they can be game breaking… And its steep buy-in for new players.

But one thing isn’t really talked about all that much: Its Legends mode. Containing the history of the world you create (well, most of it. The rest is to be discovered in its other less talked about mode of Adventure Mode), it’s dry, but it contains many stories of interest, if you look hard enough.

And so, I created a world: The Eternal Realm of Omens. And I decided to explore some of its Legend Mode. Here are some notable stories.

The Folly of the First Dragon

Idräth Pearlgold was the first Dragon. Indeed, he was the only Dragon. A Red Dragon, he was associated with, obviously, Wealth, and Fire. And he died in the first Winter of the world. Settling in a cave that would come to be known as Slappedsewer, the Heart of Manges, his first target, his first settlement to raze, was the Dark Tower, the fiendish demesne… Maliceblushed. Assaulting the tower, he was quickly confronted by the Gecko Fiend, Ongul Cancerburies… Who he slew, with no difficulty. Seventeen goblins and the leader of the Dark Tower were killed, before he was slain by… A goblin who had never earned a name. And never would.

Indeed, the one he slew was more notable. Pearlgold died without even a description of him surviving. While Ongul was known, a bloated, one eyed fiend, with close scales and deadly webs, the creator of Healergriffon and The Skull of Witches, an artefact that should have made him immortal, bound him to this plane. Alas, it failed, but even them, he won a wrestling competition in nearby Armordrinker, a merchant fort celebrating its first ever festival, aptly called “The Festival of Gold.” He beat three dwarves, one a necromancer: Stukos Keyheaven, the necromancer Sarvesh Regaloar, and Kûbuk Quakedoaks.

From this one folly, and Ongul’s successor, the goblin Stozu Dreadallied, we already have six leads to further stories.

Taking Up The Leads

The Skull of witches is the simplest: A garnierite tablet, it read “I am Xungôon, Pukedgutters, once of the Underworld. By Lural, I bind myself to this place.” Healergriffon was an ancient vault, and it is stored there to this day, the year 250. Lural, his creator, is a death goddess of the human civilisation calling itself “The Realms of Winding.” She created one other fiend, who began worshipping another, and is worshipped by precisely one person, a necromancer known as Tequil Faithbuttered. But she has otherwise been silent. Perhaps her summoning of Ongul was merely due to her black humour, an object lesson in her other domain: Fate. Her only artefact, a scroll of necromancy called Windmirrors, the Momentous Terrors, was bequeathed to Tequil. Another lead, and one that often bears interesting fruit.

After all, necromancers live a very long time, if they succeed.

But what of the wrestlers? Well, the very first already has quite the history. Living 96 years on from his wrestling match, and dying of old age, his history is defined by two things: Serial adultery in his younger years, and wrestling. He lost precisely 2 of his many matches, although the majority, occurring in the yearly Cobalt Celebration, were with three people: Sarvesh, the necromancer, Kûbuk Quakedoaks, and Vabôk Kindledpaint. Both of the matches he lost had more participants, who weren’t these three. He was strong right up until the end, participating in many assaults on the dark places of the world, fathered four children with his first lover (the only son, Kumil Relictender, being killed by a cyclops, Nikuz Conteststrains, the Robustness of Rays), another daughter with his second lover, and one daughter and son with his eventual wife. He survived both of his sons, one of his daughters, one of his lovers, and his spouse, who he had divorced in the year 79… Returning to his first lover, Udil Channeledunites, three years later. He worshipped many deities, but only one that he truly cared about: Kåtâk Eagleleaf, the Yearling of Bears, the goddess of hunting.

He was a bookkeeper. And looking at just one of his wrestling partners, Kûbuk Quakedoaks, it seems they competed in more than just the ring… A milita commander, it seems the two competed for the affections of all three women in Stukos’ life.

So far, we have followed a chain just three links away from the first dragon, and already, we have a goddess with only one worshipper, the rivalry of a bookkeeper and a milita commander, and a tragic death. And we haven’t even gotten to the necromancers. Hell, we haven’t even seen the symbol of the dwarven civilisation to which these last two both belonged, the dwarven civilisation of… The Organised Dagger. That, we’ll get to last, for reasons that will become clear.

The Necromancers

Necromancers, as you might have guessed, live a very long time, if they ever actually die. And they lead very active lives indeed. Sarvesh Regaloar is a prime example of this, having lived throughout the recorded history of The Eternal Realm of Omens.

The three dwarves of Ongul’s wrestling match were all high ranking members of their Fortress, with Sarvesh… At the top. A manager, he was already crooked, embezzling funds for 40 years of his 67 year tenure as a manager… He only got caught after 40 years. Not bad for a dwarf. Imprisoned for eight years, he very quickly realised how short his life could be, and plotted to outlast everyone, as a necromancer. Worshipping the dark goddess of death and suicide, Vesh (he was, in fact, her first worshipper), he was, a year later, gifted with a slab, that shaped itself from his stone bowl… Burieddies, carried with Sarvesh for 70 years until he eventually sealed it in his vault.

On a spousal visit, Sarvesh corrupted his wife, bribing her with promises of money and power, and she, in turn, bribed the Captain of the Guard to let Sarvesh free. He stole an artefact of legend, a scepter known as Systemscribed (and lost it three years later), attempted to intimidate Kûbuk (Good job, Sarvesh. Unsurprisingly, he screwed up), and became a prophet in Armordrinker, preaching Vesh’s words of hopelessness. Eventually, he became a monk, part of The Faith of Goals. Several times, he and his wife completely failed to bribe or intimidate members of Armordrinker, including one of his own fellow monks. Settling in Tenderlenses in 139, it took him another year to become the abbot, and has spent his entire time writing books.

The blackly funny part is that he is now the abbot of a god of courage… A necromancer in an abbey, writing self indulgent works about his explorations, himself, his previous books, and at least one on his wrestling (which he always lost.)

Tequil Faithfulbuttered, the only worshipper of Lural, on the otherhand, has been a master spy, funded by several people, lieutennants of several groups, and owning many judges since her 63rd year of age. At first the corrupt leader of The Chocolate Beginnings, the criminal organisation of her first home of Roundtarget, she ruled it for another 62 years after she became a necromancer. Driven from several townships due to her not aging, she has nonetheless failed in only two things: Keeping hold of Grovebelches, a holy artefact (a hood. Go figure), and attempting to assassinate, for some reason, a dwarf called Etur Channeledattacked, head executioner of Roundtarget. Always contracted by the goblin bandit leader Ûsbu Chunkdevils. Etur herself was corrupted by the goblin Damsto Wraithred in 169, the corrupt beastmaster of Roundtarget.

Let us now return to The Organised Dagger, and look at one of the more annoying aspects of exploring a world’s culture and history in Dwarf Fortress: Seeing what dwarves in the culture look like, and what their symbol looks like.

Oh, and working out who their gods are. That’s a minor pain in the ass too.

The Organised Daggers

The Organised Daggers themselves arose in the southeastern part of The Eternal Realm of Omens, and, very quickly, clashed with two groups: The kobolds of Gabatlaylmus (who were also being assaulted by The Walled Pick, another dwarven civilisation, and obliterated in 33 by a hydra), and The Dungeon of Clashing, goblins. Rapidly encompassing both, they expanded quickly, making inroads into The Walled Pick’s territory by the year 70, and just then meeting The Silken Confederation (a human civilisation) in their own, more moderate expansion. But other organisations were making inroads. By the year 250, they have expanded over most of the southeast of the continent, but share their territory with many other civilisations, including The Hideous Evil, another goblin civilisation. Considering the enmity between dwarves and goblins, they may well have stretched themselves thin.

But this is easily told through the maps. What about their gods, their symbol, how the average dwarf of the Organised Daggers looks? Well… That’s harder. Because for the first, there is no link from civilisation to their deities or sub-organisations. And for the second and third, the only way is to look in adventure mode. So, obviously, I began with the deities. And this may still be an incomplete list. Six definitely female deities, five definitely male… And two insect deities. The domains of the male deities are Truth (The Angelic Honesties), Courage (Ator, the Goal of Rapidity), Rebirth, birth, and youth (Lir), Fishing (Råluk, The Nuts of Soaking), and finally, day and light (The White Twinkle. Cute.) On the female deity end, there’s… Oh boy… Thralldom (Belar), wealth, jewels, and minerals (Doren the Diamond), metals (Kadôl), salt (Migrur Bluewater), and mist, deformity, and disease (Zekrim Mazemirror.) Finally, Avum, the worker honey bee, controls the wind, the sky, the stars, the night, and the moon… And Bål, The Cloudy Dell, is the soldier ant deity of revenge, the rain, and plants.

Interesting lot! Migrur actually makes a lot of sense, so long as you remember that the most horrific areas of Dwarf Fortress’ worlds have fogs that corrupt and convert all to the undead (or worse), and that rotting bodies create the dread Miasma, clouds of disease and noxious stench. Otherwise… It would actually seem as though the culture values women as the breadwinners, the smiths, the creators, while men… Well, men can go fish, be cheery, be brave, and, generally, stay out of the way.

Alas, finding another aspect of the culture, their symbology, is, to put it bluntly, a fucking nightmare. The symbol of the civilisation and the symbol of the fort you make are two different things, and Legends Mode doesn’t, unfortunately, go into detail about the symbols of a civilisation (which, generally speaking, symbolise the culture of that civilisation), and finding out which is which means using explorer mode. In a busy dwarven citadel. Which lags the game to shit.

Nonetheless, this is a good example of the stories that happen in Dwarf Fortress’s legends mode, a mode that, on its own, can be worth exploring for the ideas about the world the game creates for you. And, apart from trying to find the civilisation’s symbol, before giving up… I enjoyed going through my own Legends to write this.

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Let’s Talk Adult Only Games – Is Writing All That Important?

Content Warning: While no imagery requires content warnings beyond “Not Safe For Work”, the article mentions mind control content, incest, and nonconsensual sex.


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Forging A Blood Pact: An Interview with Ana Valens and Callie G

Content Warning: The interview below discusses Blood Pact, a game with Domination/Submission themes, some tentacles, a succubus goddess, a lust spell, and other elements not discussed in the interview, but available both in the review’s content warning, and the content warning page of the game itself.


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A Brief Chat With Matt Phillips About Tanglewood (Interview)

As long time readers may know, I’m a big fan of learning from the older elements of game development history. So it was a little bit of a pleasure to have a brief chat with one of the creators of Tanglewood, Matt Phillips of Big Evil Corp, to get a glimpse of the kind of things you have to deal with when using a development kit from 1993, on a well known 16-bit system, to make a game in 2018.
TMW: As someone who grew up with older systems, it’s quite nice to see folks still making things for those older systems, what inspired you to go down that route?
The kid in me wouldn’t let it go – it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a 9 year old, proud Mega Drive owner. I also had access to a Commodore 64, so I was no stranger to the delights (and frustrations) of programming from an early age, and the dream never faded all the way through to adulthood.
TMW: There’s a lot that folks don’t really know about making games for older systems, so I’d like to start by indulging folks’ curiosity on creating a game for an older platform. Knowing that you were going to make Genesis cartridges, what sort of obstacles did you face, in the coding and hardware end?
The biggest problem we faced was that none of this old equipment works reliably any more. The devkit is from 1993, and parts fail on a regular basis. It’s quite frustrating when you’ve spent a few hours debugging a problem in the game, only to find out your code wasn’t at fault – it was another problem with the machine! When it works, it works BRILLIANTLY, though. I’ve yet to find a modern alternative that does such a good job.
Learning the language was a tough one, since resources for this kind of thing are few and far between these days. Further into development I started finding other 68000 programmers to talk to, and we struggled together to figure out some of the more intricate parts of the Mega Drive, and banded together to figure out optimisation issues.
TMW: Similarly, when building a game for an older system, there are limitations. What sort of things did you want to put in, but found wouldn’t really work?
The Mega Drive’s Achilles heel is its limited palette – it has 4 palettes of 16 colours, but three of those are reserved for transparency, so only 61 colours can be displayed on screen at any one time. Even worse, there are deeper rules about how those colours can be assigned to pixels, so we had to write a lot of tools to help arrange everything. Thankfully we found the right artists for the job, and they did most of the heavy lifting when it came to arranging colour usage.
Another issue is the slow CPU – although it certainly wasn’t at the time, the 68000 was a luxury compared to other consoles. There were a few things I had to cull in order for the game to run smoothly, the one that hurt the most was buoyancy on physics objects. Originally, Fuzzls could float on water, and would have been hilarious, but I had to rip it all out because it was only a gimmick and was very heavy on CPU usage.
TMW: Now, one of the hot button issues of the day is the games industry’s preservation (or lack thereof) … What would you, once the game’s reached the end of its sales life, like to do to preserve it for the future?
This is something I’ve thought a lot about, and I’d like to be the anti-corporation in all of this and release the game’s source on github on its 1 year anniversary – complete with raw assets. I can’t see sales coming in strong after a year, people would benefit more from studying – and maybe laughing at – the source code.
TMW: Well, thank you for talking to us, Matt, and, in conclusion, what sort of advice would you give to aspiring game devs of the future? 
Make games. Make a lot of games. Just keep making games. Small games, stupid games, experimental games, ambitious games, games on new platforms, games on obscure platforms, just keep doing it and you’ll end up with such a wide range of skills you’ll be able to walk into any studio. Don’t stick to one genre, engine, tool, or discipline, try it all out.
Tanglewood released on the 14th of August, and you can see my thoughts here.

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Going Back (?) – The 8-Bit Adventure Anthology, Volume 1

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Adventure games have quite the history, and it’s one with a lot of branches, and, interestingly enough, more than a couple of roots. For example, while it’s commonly accepted that CAVE, which was eventually renamed Colossal Cave Adventure, was the progenitor of Interactive Fiction (Due to the fact that anything earlier has been lost to time, it’s intriguing to note the history, as adventure games with graphics cropped up as early as 1980 (With Sierra’s Mystery House), and games with a point and click cursor (Controlled by the keyboard) came around 1983, with Project Mephius for the FM-7, a computer that released only in Japan. Indeed, part of the reason the timeline of game design is so messy is that European, American, and Japanese markets had their own home grown items that none of the others saw (Until later.)

Okay, so I’ve uncovered this… But how the heck do I open this door to the left? HRM.

Why all this preamble? To establish two things. That the adventures comprising this remake anthology are not, strictly speaking, firsts in the genre. Influential games, yes, but not firsts. But also that it’s fascinating to see changes and shifts, not just on the purely international level, but within individual nations. We’ll be briefly coming back to this, but first, the games!

The three games that comprise this trilogy were originally created in the mid 80s (1985-87) for the then humble Apple Macintosh, and, as such, were known as the MacVentures: Deja Vu, a noirish tale about an amnesiac detective down on his luck; Uninvited, a haunted house tale with the main character searching for their younger brother; and Shadowgate, a fantasy yarn that, despite the comparatively higher difficulty of the former two games, has a reputation for its gotchas and deathtraps. They had a graphic user interface, a selectable parser, and an icon based inventory, all of which were not, strictly speaking, new… But they might as well have been to the European and American audiences.

They did pretty well, well enough that a company called KEMCO ported them, with permission, to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and 1990. These are the games remade and presented in this anthology, and this, also, is interesting because the UI was changed, a controller led pointer was introduced (as in Project Mephius, several years previously), and Nintendo, a family friendly company even then, asked for… Changes. Some of these changes, I’m sure people are very grateful about: As far as I’m aware, the ten minute timer for one of Deja Vu’s “Solve this or die” puzzles (finding a cure for your amnesia) was gone. Yes, ten real time minutes. The interface was made tighter due to platform limitations, pentagrams were replaced by stars, and crosses by chalices, and, in an odd decision, it’s not the younger brother you save in Uninvited, but an elder sister.

Yep. That is indeed a greenscreen terminal filter. Yessirree.

In any case, that’s where we are today: Reviewing a port of a port of a trio of adventure games from the 80s. How do they hold up? Not that bad, actually! The Nintendo versions were not only notable for their changes, but a solid soundtrack that still holds up to this day, distinctive spritework, and an interface that, thanks to the fact we’re using a mouse rather than the NES controller, is highly accessible and a delight to use. Each could be played through over the course of an afternoon, perhaps less if you follow the ancient adventure game maxim of “Save Early, Save Often” , and only a few of the puzzles don’t have some signposting to their solution (There’s no clue, for example, that a certain ghost is afraid of spiders, sadly.) Be warned, however, that garbage items with no actual use in game abound. Old adventure games loved to do that, partly for realism’s sake (Yes, even then), but also partly to obscure solutions.

Being able to keep saves, and switch between them with relative ease? Oh yes, this is good. Having… Old monitor filters? Well, I guess it’s there? (Not gonna lie, if I wanted more eye strain, I’d just dig out my old BBC Micro and its CRT monitor. But they are nice filters.) And the writing of the games, for the most part, holds up. Deja Vu, being both a game of the 80s, and being inspired by the pulps, is perhaps the one that has aged most poorly, but there’s still some solid design there.

Also, the achievements. Ah ha ha yes, the achievements! It somewhat tickles me that the achievements for this trilogy all have to do with something you would either, unaware of this game from its heyday, stumble into, or, if you’re like me, a person amused by the death states of old videogames, actively seek them out: The deaths. Wait, you mean that lady wasn’t friendly? Gosh! And my shield could only take a few puffs of molten, superheated death spewing from a dragon’s mouth? Golly!

Well, we know we’re a dude. This much, we can be sure of.

As pieces of relatively faithfully preserved games history, this isn’t bad at all, although the “Volume 1” confuses me a little. After all, there were four MacVentures in total, so… Where would you go from here, General Arcade and Abstraction? Although it must be said, this trilogy did seem to inspire a wave of graphical adventure innovation in the West, from the Legend Entertainment games, to the Magnetic Scrolls series, each of which contributed, somewhat, to the eventual rise of the point-and-clicks we know and love today.

So yes, give these a go if you feel like experiencing some relatively solid 80s game design, and perhaps it might inspire you to check out other bits of adventure game history (Or, indeed, some of the other ports existing out there.)

The Mad Welshman enjoys older adventure games. Things tend to happen when he BITE LIP, however. Terrible things.

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