The Hill Titan Cometh

What happens if you force an overburdened camel to trudge through waist high water for days on end? It decides it has had enough, apparently:

A humpy ride

Watching this unfold made me realize that in a way, this was all I’ve ever wanted from a video game. It’s the fulfillment of the promise of a fully realized virtual world. It’s emergence: “The rise of complex systems and the revelation of patterns from a multiplicity of simple interactions.”

Welcome to Dwarf Fortress, and let us tell you a story. “Us” refers to Dwarf Fortress–the dwarven life & death simulator–and me, because we created this story together.

Welcome to Mabduganam Febontak, the Ashen Blind Arrow Arm.

"Ashen Blind Arrow Arm" is oddly fitting for this story

What you’re seeing is the residential wing of the fortress. There is no easy way for me to show you the fortress because it extends for several leagues into the earth, past forges and smelting grounds, unexplored caverns and metal ore veins all the way into rivers of magma. But today’s story concerns the surface, the hills and the wilderness that lie beyond the maw of my dwarven city.

It concerns the arrival of the Hill Titan Erthok.

The austere look is what gets me

He is big, he is tough and he is on fire. No mere dragon this one–all dragons do is breathe fire and swoop. This thing is an infernal beast, an encaged inferno, bringing destruction in his wake, scorching the very land he treads on and leaving behind smoke, ash and cinders. He is a frickin’ force of nature, setting the entire valley on fire in seconds.

The inferno looks like an inferno when playing, I assure you

Who and what is he? Why does he roam the lands of Emaathira seeding chaos and forest fires? Was he always this way? Is he mortal? These are the questions I have no time for as I scramble to batten the hatches and burrow my dwarves–recall them from their surface tasks into the safe granite depths of my fortress.

Most scramble through in time. Inod, the best brewer in Febontak, is out gathering plants. It seems increasingly unlikely he can beat the living, raging firestorm to the gates–it’s going to be him or the fort… and dwarven life mandates sacrifices.

As the drawbridges pull shut, I watch as Inod paces outside them, until finally, resigned to his fate, he makes a beeline for the approaching hill titan. He’s no warrior, but he’s going to collect his fifteen seconds in the spotlight. He doesn’t last five. The firestorm and its harbinger pull on ahead.

At this point two things happen. One, the hill titan vanishes, engulfed by the smoke. Two, the mad one-humped camel from before has killed its merchant owner and tried to storm the fort, only to promptly trigger a cage trap and jail itself at the entrance. Febontak’s industrious haulers have moved the camel into a stockpile full of caged goblin theives, kobolds and assorted scavengers, freeloaders and vermin that plague the fort. Shortly before the fire begins, this is what’s by the entrance:

You can do some fun things with goblins in cages. Umm, magma.

The giant drawbridge keeps the titan out, but not his handiwork, so the fire spreads into the meadow where the caged goblins are held. In cages made of wood. Yeah, the cages begin to burn down and the entire roster of the stockpile breaks free. Goblins, kobolds, ravens and one mad camel:

It's a bloodbath. On an unrelated note, funny as hell.

They burn too, but not as fast. The mad camel isn’t done raging.

In watching this ruckus, I’ve let the titan elude me. I look for him in the dense swathes of smoke and in the fire that is currently raging across the entire valley; until something catches my eye.

Notice the little pond here before the fire hits:

It's David vs Goliath, folks

This pond is connected via a flooded tunnel to a well in my fort, it’s the only fresh water supply the dwarves have. Here is the pond shortly after the fire hits:

Goliath wins. Also, Mr. One Hump is having a field day.

The water is vaporizing; the level has fallen from 7 to 1 (7 being the highest it can go before spilling out and flooding) and the banks have dried out, leaving a gentle muddy slope. A slope that leads into a dried out tunnel and up a well in the middle of my fort.

Now I know why medieval castles had secret entrances

Suddenly it is very clear where the hill titan has gone. Whatever he is, he acts with malevolent purpose. With an escalating sense of dread, I seek the well. If he moves up and towards the entrance, he will find the barracks and my militia, waiting in freshly minted copper armor, weaponry and accompanied by war dogs. If he ventures down into the depths of the fort and into the residential complex, well, let’s hope he doesn’t do that.

The bad news is he’s near the stairway and about to head down. The good news is a lone crossbowdwarf and his mutt were on a break and are coming up the stairs. He will cook them alive, but it will buy the fort a precious few seconds.

What of the goblins? Engaged in mortal combat in a fiery arena with the mad camel, apparently:

The Goblins have decided to keep their distance

From the amounts of goblin viscera and blood lying around, I’d say the tempestuous camel is winning.

Originally this write-up was eight delicious pages of Camel vs Goblin

She’s certainly giving them a fight!

The crossbowdwarf and his mutt should be cooked alive by now. When I see how that fight is going, it hits me. Something so simple and obvious, I burst out laughing for having overlooked it. The fiery monster walked through a filled pond, through a submerged tunnel vaporizing the water around him, and the pond wasn’t dry by the end… the hill titan is wet! He’s not on fire anymore! (I picture the otherworldly abomination rising from the well, dripping wet and shivering.) He only has a hard shell protecting him. By the gods, now this will be a fair fight.

Bring it on, Erthok.

The war dog is on him in seconds, but it isn’t going too well for the mutt:

The war dog stands up.

…And the hill titan can hurl fireballs.

The crossbowdwarf is taking his time, using his dog as a distraction, taking careful aim, and then:

Note that the hill titan caught in his own flames doesn't hurt him. It doesn't matter at this point.

A copper bolt finds a way past the shell and deep into the titan. He falls. Just like that, it’s over.

The war hound doesn’t make it. I watch as the crossbowdwarf slowly picks up the corpse of his burnt friend and carries it to the barracks. I lose track of what happens to the body after that. It will eventually find its way to a refuse pile, but for now, I like to think he’s mourning.

The rest is just cleanup. Someone pries apart the shell, and it is sent to a stockpile where it can be forged into armor for the victorious dwarf. Someone else will be along to clean up the pool of dog blood before it stains.


And so a new piece of lore is born in the lands of Emaathira, a new piece of cherished history for the dwarves of Febontak. The landscape is still on fire, and it will be months before the forest begins to recover,

You will want to enlarge this

but the tale of how Erthok, the mighty hill titan who razed valleys to the ground was felled by a pond, a war dog and a single copper bolt is well on its way to becoming a legend.

Dwarf Fortress is many stories told at once, and this was just one of them. Many mysteries remain: Why did the elven merchant drag his camel through water for days? Why were all these dwarves killed in their sleep while alone in their bedrooms?

All victims were drained of blood. Methinks one of the dwarves is secretly a vampire.

I intend to find out.

Old comments from the w0rdpress days

Lazy Reading for 2015/05/10 - DragonFly BSD Digest said:
10 May, 2015 at 1:01 pm

[...] Yet another Dwarf Fortress story. [...]