Archive for the ‘A Hole to Die In’ Category

A Hole to Die In: Chapter Four

03 Nov

(Stream today. Usual time. Usual place. And now for some DF.)

My favorite part of an excavation job is the walk-through afterwards. There’s nothing like seeing one’s plans, inert and sterile on a scrap of parchment, breathed to life by a ragged group of marginally brain-damaged dirt artisans. It’s almost a religious experience, comparable to meeting one’s god in person and finding out he’s a hunchbacked janitor with a lazy eye.

This was the layout I’d drafted up for the fortress, which I’ve formally titled “the hole.” It’s a bit of a technical diagram, so I’ll provide annotations below. These annotation have the same aim as the rest of this document, which is to aid future archaeologists in determining what each room and corridor was apart from a mass grave.

Number 1 is the entrance. Perhaps some day, in some far-off, prosperous future, someone will make a door for it.

Number 2 is in theory a storeroom. I put it next to the hallway so people can access it more easily, and next to the workroom so artisans won’t have far to go to get their raw materials, such as stone. This, it turns out, is not a concern. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Number 3 is the provisional work area. This is where the wood burner will burn wood, the smelter will smelt, and the mason will turn rocks into useful differently-shaped rocks. I also commissioned a food preparation area, because it’ll give the workmen something to do and there’s no need to disillusion people just yet.

Number 4 will be the location of the dining area. By this, I mean that there will be tables and chairs here, not that anyone will dine here with any consistency. The actual eating will take place hunched over the barrels of stored provisions—or, sooner rather than later, wherever the rats are hanging out.

Number 5 is where we’re putting the beds. I might put in a staircase leading down. I have absolutely no idea what I’d put down there, but it seems like the thing to do.  Read the rest of this entry »


The Two Caps

31 Oct

Now’s as good a time as any to give you all the game plan. As previously mentioned, I’m going to be spending a lot of time this coming November working on a contribution to NaNoWriMo. This will limit, but not eclipse, the time I’ll have to work on the Dwarf Fortress and Cahmel LPs. That’s part of the reason those have taken longer to work on than I thought; I’d like to get both of them to a decent stopping point, which, in the case of DF, is proving difficult even from a gameplay perspective. Main point is that both of those will be uploaded before I start posting novel chunks.

Teaser/spoiler: under the jump is an image from the DF update. It’s a pair of self-portraits done by the man himself, rendered in the early stages of his first and second expeditions.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Hole to Die In: Chapter Three

24 Aug

I’ve observed something about the mindset of a laborer, and I’d like to share it with you. I think it goes a long way to explaining how I got my start last time around, and goes even an even longer way  towards describing how I got my stop. It was why my little band had elected to come with me this time around, and why they would follow my instructions cheerfully and without dissent, and why they were all going to die of exposure, exhaustion, or violence inside of a month.

See, the average person wants their mental model of the future and their role in it to be as simple as possible. Ideally, it will be expressed entirely as a task: dig a tunnel, patrol a canyon, reload a crossbow, pray, etc. Most people will be perfectly content moving from task to task without regard for the bigger picture, so long as they have the strong impression that whoever’s calling the shots knows what that bigger picture is. It’s a logical system for any society more complex than twenty people, because at that point, the system will be inscrutable enough that untangling it and figuring out how it works becomes a full-time job. It’s a depressing enough career, and there are few compelling reasons to make it a hobby.

So that’s the situation they’re all used to: follow instructions from on high, work up a sweat, always deliver on what’s asked of you, and then watch the ineffable structure of things come gradually and pleasingly into being–a dream made manifest by their hard work and dedication. I could coast on that mindset for a long time before they noticed they were sleeping in puddles and eating cockroaches.

If all of this sounds like an elaborate epiphany, you should know how it came about. Probably it had been simmering for months now; what brought it to a boil was when Sticks asked me, politely and without any accusation, what it was that I wanted them to do, specifically. It was when I noticed that they didn’t just want a speech from me, or a ticket home, or a magical cookie. What they wanted was direction. What they wanted was the illusion of a benign authority. That was when I first realized that I had a choice between pretending I was leadership material and getting left by the group to be eaten by coyotes. I gave the issue a minute’s solemn consideration.

“Okay,” I said, “Right, let’s get serious. I am being serious, now, and the thing that came just before was something that was not serious. As a token of this newfound seriousness, which I would personally rank as one of my top ten most leader-like qualities, I would like to command that all of you start digging into that hillside, there. I command you all to do a good job, and to create a place that will through processes that are currently impossible for all of you to wrap your heads around become a sustainable home. Now I command you to get to it while I go over to those rocks, away from the campsite, where I will be doing something that I command is not sobbing like a baby.”

I thought that went well. I went over to the rocks, spent a little bit of quality time, and then trotted back to supervise. What I discovered was Mule and Ox digging into the side of the hill while everyone else sat self-consciously around the laden wagon.

“I can’t help but notice that you’re all sitting around,” I said. “I command someone to explain why.”

Jaw spoke up first. “Well, we’re not miners. So we just sort of assumed we weren’t supposed to, you know, get in the way of Mule and Ox.”

“I see. Perhaps you’re not familiar with the process, so I should point out at this time that it is difficult to dig incorrectly. That is, only the most hamfisted and incompetent of dirt artisans can manage to ruin the empty space where soil used to be. Having handpicked each member myself, I am confident that every dwarf on my team has it in them to move peat from one geographical location to the other with minimal trauma.”

“I mean, okay. It’s just not our jobs. That’s all.”

“That’s a fair point. Your skills do lie elsewhere. But tell me, have you ever heard the fable of the grasshopper and the ant?”

I was really, really hoping she’d say yes. I was all but positive that it was the perfect illustration of my point, and would win me the argument on the spot. But she just furrowed her brow and said, “It rings a bell. What’s it about?” and all of the sudden I had to remember the damn story or else completely lose my momentum.

“Ah,” I said. “Well. As I recall…that fable, that is the fable in which…” I grasped at the first story that leapt to mind. “The idealistic nobleman watches a dozen men and women die because he is a failure as a leader and a person.”


“Yes. Yes, that’s the one. Grandmother used to read it to me when I was a kid.”

“I don’t–”

“And the moral of the story, of course, is that we’re all put here on this planet for the same reason: not to die a bloody death.”


“And to listen to your leader.”


“Go dig a tunnel, please.”

They got up and got to work. Well, most of them did. Most of them got up, anyway. That’s when I went back to the rocks for a brief vacation.

We got a foyer dug out without any problems. At least, no fatal ones—I heard Sticks talking to himself about sand, and aquifers, and rock salt—I personally didn’t see the relevance. All of those were things below the surface of the world, and there was still a great chance none of use were ever going to live to dig that far. Because before we could start worrying about expanding downwards, we were going to need to establish a food source. I was about to learn that this, much like everything else in this life, was easier commanded than accomplished.



A Hole to Die In: Chapter Two

18 Aug

When I was a young dwarf, I remember how I used to have a vague and ignorant fear of the Outside—of the woods and fields that lay, sun-warmed and tranquil, outside the reaches of our subterranean city. Now I am older and wiser, and I have set aside these childish fears, and I have replaced them with objective and well-informed terror.

It took us a long time to reach the spot I’d picked out. I’d already resolved that I was not going to give my enemies the satisfaction of watching me starve to death, so I had little recourse but to situate myself out of their view. With any luck, nobody would stumble on us until our deaths had graduated from bad joke to anthropological curiosity. I would have to remember to leaves some primary documents lying around, if only so that future archaeologists would find the answer to the question, “Why did a small group of dwarves dig into the side of their mountains, live off rotten fish for a month, and then eat their own picks?”

During the journey, I got to know my crew; this, despite my best efforts. Similar to how one does not grow attached to one’s livestock, I felt I should try to avoid associating with these people as much as possible. Besides this, they were all criminals. I may have lost all of my shame, and my illusions, and my optimism, and my joie de vivre, but I hadn’t entirely forsworn my standards. Even if I had been ignorant of their criminal nature, none of them—excepting Jaw—was particularly pleasant to converse with. Mule and Ox had vocabularies consisting largely of body language and odors, Sticks gabbed witlessly like a prisoner trying to stall his execution, Foods was suddenly stricken with a very familiar sort of dread, Hammer was taciturn, Weed was an idiot. None of them said a thing of importance on the entire journey, excluding the time Hammer pointed out that we’d just managed to run over a squirrel and that it probably had a day’s meat on it.

Sticks balked at the suggestion. “Why would we eat a squashed rodent? We’ve got plenty of food in these barrels.”

I laughed so hard I was sick. Very, very sick.

We made it into hill country without running into any troubles, and I became conscious of the need to choose our graveyard. For hours, it made for a strangely fascinating game. Would I rather die behind that hill or that one? What would be the ideal nook to starve to death in? Should I go with the valley with all the lovely trees in it, or would it be more poignant to kick off on the banks of the river? I might even feed a few fishes. That would have a kind of symmetry to it.

Eventually, I was forced to acknowledge that one spot was as good as any other, and that all I was doing was delay the inevitable. And it was two ours after I acknowledge that when I brought myself to say, “Stop the wagon.”

“Bathroom?” asked Foods.

“No. This is where we’re setting up.”

“We can push through a few more hours before making camp.”

“Let me rephrase that. This is where we’re setting up permanently. Right here.”

Everyone blinked and looked at one another. “Wait,” said Sticks, finally. “You mean this spot is near where the fortress is going to go?”

“This is precisely where the ‘fortress’ is going to go. Welcome to Fort Foxhole. Grab a pick and let yourselves in.”

They chewed on this. They were expecting something, I realized. More accurately, they were expecting two things. Firstly, they were expecting something more from the site itself. I’d picked a not-unappealing little valley in the midst of some hills, with a nice little copse of trees handy and a cliffside of silty loam we could bore into. It was as good a location as we were likely to get…and it looked exactly like the past fifty miles of countryside. There wasn’t much destiny to the place, I’ll admit that. No massive rock that looked like an animal if you squinted, no flanks of limestone leading up to the front entrance like the hallway of the gods, no ocean to crash against nearby rocks and declare, loudly and clearly, that this was a fortress for dwarves of Grit and Bravery. It looked like this land had been several centuries caught in the throes of nothing much interesting, and that it was as surprised as anyone to discover that this was about to change.

And they expected something else from me: a speech to mark the occasion. I did my best to oblige them.

“Get to work,” I said. “Try not to die before we’ve got the foyer dug out.”



A Hole to Die In: Chapter One

10 Aug

A Hole to Die In: The Memoirs of Kahdzbar Drinkollt, impotent pawn in the games of Gods and Men.

Chapter One: The Crew

The four assassins that had been sent after me while I was in bed had succeeded at killing one thing: pretense.

When the guards arrived to take me to the labor office, it was not with a sedan chair and a bottle of chilled stout, as it had been before. There was no foreman with curled whiskers and ribald toadstool jokes, no garishly patterned curtains made of elvish carpet, no pot of incense that smelled like a spice cabinet had found religion. In place of these things were two men with spears, heavy mail, and expressions that seemed to say, “You think you don’t want to be here?”

I tried to break the ice with an introduction. The bigger one responded by trying to break my ribs, which, if I’m being honest, was probably the most concise and illustrative introduction I could have hoped for. Thinking back, there wasn’t much actual malice in his blow—less dungeonkeeper, more goatherder. The way the guard saw it, his job was to carry a spear, a very heavy suit of mail, and a mildly deranged dwarf to a specific location, and as long as none of those things were irreparably damaged upon delivery, he was probably still going to be paid at the end of the week. He had simplicity and clarity of purpose, and I envied him. Don’t read too much into that, though. I was going to be envying a lot of people over the next few days.

I kept quiet on the way to the labor office. When I arrived, a clerk presented me with a list of names marked “potential expedition members, for your consideration.” He started to pull his lunch out of a bag, and by the time he had unwrapped his sandwich, I had already marked seven individuals and was holding the list out for him to retrieve.

“That’s it?” he said.

“That’s it.” It’s obvious he wasn’t expecting me to be done so quickly. I could see curiosity and apathy wrestling one another behind his beetling brow, and finally, he said, “You don’t maybe want to talk to ‘em first?”

“I’ve already talked to them.”

Them, and all of the other inmates at the Kazakhim Prison Complex.

I’d had the foresight to drop in during visitor hours last week and interview anyone who was eligible for a suspended sentence. I had put a few things together after waking up, and suffice it to say, I was not surprised to discover that the majority of my crew the first time around had been very recently paroled when they were given the “option” of accepting the position I offered. Several of prisoners I met this time around had asked what had happened to good ol’ [X], or to their old cellmate [Y], and I’d had to respond, “The name itself is not familiar, but if you could give me a physical description and maybe take a guess at which of their attributes would come to the fore in a gruesomely prolonged starvation episode, I could probably guess at who you’re talking about. Oh, and they’re dead.” “Dead?” they would ask, eyes goggling. “Dead,” I would confirm. “How did he die?” they would ask, and I’d reply, “Awfully. Slowly, painfully, without any closure or accomplishment to speak of, and in the company of bitter enemies. I can say without reservation that it was the absolute worst possible way for a man to die. If there was a shred of justice in the universe, just a single, solitary shred, I would have gone the same way. But I haven’t. Yet. So tell me, have you had any experience with agriculture?”

You might call my approach cynical. I confess that it was. But the inescapable truth of the matter is that there were twenty names on the list the clerk handed me, and of those twenty, I had interviewed fifteen at the jail. Four of the others were prisoners I hadn’t bothered interviewing, because they had nicknames like Hacksaw Hadghaz and Flevish the Flenser. The last one was my own grandmother.

I have enclosed a description of the seven I recruited. To protect the identity of the individuals involved, I have devised for each a nickname.

My first addition to the team was Foods. Foods knows how to farm. Foods knows how seeds work, how one irrigates soil, how one brings a crop to completion, how one gets the most from a harvest. Best of all, he is motivated to do a good job by hundreds of years of proud family tradition, and by the knowledge that if he screws up I will probably have a psychotic episode.

Sticks is capable of swinging and axe and picking up pieces of wood without falling over. When I asked him what his strengths are, he said he had a “good memory.” That didn’t seem to impress me as much as he thought it would. He said he was sure there would be an application for that, and I told him yes, he could remember peoples’ names for them. He was confused, asked if that was going to be a problem. I almost cried.

Hammer doesn’t say much. She’s an affable non-talker. Fine with me; she knows her way around metal better than I do. Maybe if I put her in charge we’ll have actual tools this time around.

Evidently, the woman named Jaw used to be a con artist. The principal goal of a con artist is to convince a subject—a mark, technically speaking—that everything is alright, even as the mark’s situation grows steadily worse and they find themselves dug into a hole they have little chance of escaping. I’ve made Jaw my second-in-command.

Ox and Mule go together. They’re not related, or in a relationship, or even particularly good friends, but they are cell mates. Apparently they both tried to knock over the same bank, and were imprisoned together on the assumption of being in cahoots when in fact they’re just not very creative. They’ll suffice as labor.

Weed: She’s not terribly bright, and she’s not terribly articulate, and she’s not very strong, and she’s susceptible to the elements, and she’s clumsy. But she’d murdered one less person than candidate #8.