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On the surface, Dwarf Fortress doesn't look like much, but under the hood of the game, in which you have to build up and keep alive a colony of dwarves, there is infinite complexity – the engine simulates all aspects of the game's fantasy world, from history to physics, down to the smallest detail. When creative players are let loose on it, some incredible moments arise, ranging from exceedingly funny to morally dubious – just the way life is. Here are some moments from Dwarf Fortress history, in which players went too far.

Dwarf Fortress: The pitfalls of pitfalls

Lava is both a danger and an opportunity for Dwarf Fortress players.

Lava is both a danger and an opportunity for Dwarf Fortress players.

Let us begin with an example from the game's subreddit, where you can find a lively debate about pitfalls. Pitfalls are a useful thing – you can use them to defend your fortress against enemies or execute prisoners in them without having to force your dwarves to commit murder. However, the game's community wouldn't be itself if there wasn't an urge for perfection, optimization and experimentation.

So, naturally, the discussion covers a wide variety of things. Should the bottom of the pit be made of lead, because its density leads to more deadly falls? How to get around the problem of piling corpses that slowly fill up the pit, slowing the fall of subsequent victims? Yes, the game physics simulate that. Oh, and to answer the question, build a flood system to flush away the mortal remains. That way your murder pit is always squeaky clean. You’re not a barbarian after all.

Using a single spear on the ground to impale the victim is something you should definitely avoid, by the way. While it is stylish, there is a chance that the prisoner will parry the onrushing spear and instantly become a legendary warrior because of this feat.

The seasoned veteran of Dwarf Fortress naturally sees an opportunity here: if young dwarves could be trained to be strong soldiers in this way…

Dwarf Fortress: Hardcore Kindergarten

Dwarf children are not very useful in the game, so players often just enclose them in a hole with enough food to survive to adulthood.

Dwarf children are not very useful in the game, so players often just enclose them in a hole with enough food to survive to adulthood.

If you think this idea is macabre, you are certainly not fond of the era when many experiments with so-called kindergartens were conducted in the game. You see, dwarf children are not particularly useful for a fortress – they can do simple auxiliary work, but otherwise, their usefulness to the community is limited. Players often just enclose them in a hole with enough food to survive to adulthood to get them out of the way.

But what if they could be trained from an early age to withstand any danger? Then the investment in offspring would be worthwhile. So experiments happened. Dwarf children were locked in rooms where dogs mauled each other to death, or had to endure being repeatedly exposed to small amounts of lava – all this was supposed to serve the purpose of mental and physical hardening.

A much more effective solution, of course, was to assign each warrior a baby to take with them when they were training against automated spear traps equipped with wooden spikes (to reduce lethality) – the children strapped to the warriors received a fair amount of dodging experience for surviving that ride.

Dwarf Fortress: Drunk cats

Dwarf Fortress players love cats, okay?

Dwarf Fortress players love cats, okay?

Players of Dwarf Fortress are not monsters, of course. This case proves it. After the introduction of taverns into the game, cats mysteriously died off en masse in all forts. No matter where you looked, the cute four-legged friends threw up and died shortly after, leaving fortresses open to be overrun by disease-bearing rats. The community put their heads together and soon found the cause: when dwarves get merry, they spill alcohol.

Since cats in the game like to be near the dwarves and thus came into contact with puddles of beer and wine, they got alcohol poisoning while licking clean their drink-covered fur. The game simply estimated the amount of poison ingested as a result as too high, which is why the mass exodus occurred – a mistake that has fortunately been corrected since then.

Now, this of course is not a moment in which players went too far, but we need to balance the scales a little bit. So when you read our final historical anecdote, keep in mind that Dwarf Fortress players love cats and are therefore by nature redeemable, okay?

Dwarf Fortress: The Merpeople Incident

What happens when the bones of merpeople become the most valuable material in the game?

What happens when the bones of merpeople become the most valuable material in the game?

Probably the most borderline evil player moment in Dwarf Fortress history was the short era of the game involving merpeople farms. Merpeople, like humans, elves, goblins and many other creatures, inhabit the fantasy world in which the titular dwarves live. When they were introduced in version 0.28.181, merpeople had a modifier that massively increased the value of their bones.

Unfortunately for the creatures, this made them the most cost-effective thing a fortress could possibly farm. Fortunately, they live in the sea and since they are intelligent creatures, it is impossible to farm and exploit them industrially. Right? Right? Well, about that…

For the community, these challenging circumstances only made the whole thing more appealing – in the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, "Life, uh, finds a way."

Experiments with merpeople began to find the most efficient way to breed, slaughter and dissect them. Players invented trapping methods and various prisons, as well as ways to instantly separate offspring from the rest of the group, they optimized breeding rates, and devised processes of automatic killing so that their dwarves wouldn't have to feel remorse for the mass murder of an intelligent species. Can we count that as empathy?

Eventually, a plan was hatched to dig a pit under the ocean and use trap doors to lock the merpeople in cages, force them to breed, and immediately plunge their children into an abyss to their deaths. See, players found out that merpeople children yield just as many bones as adults, so there was no more need to actually wait for them to grow up.

The developers usually let the community have its way – after all, the mechanical complexity and the resulting freedom is precisely what makes Dwarf Fortress work. It’s what makes it such an incredibly unique story generator. But this digital industrial genocide, perfected over the course of a 28-page forum thread, was too much even for Bay 12 Games, who had seen a lot heinous actions committed by players over the years. There was never an official statement about it, but a patch released soon after significantly reduced the value modifier for merpeople body parts to remove the incentive to economically abuse the creatures. Also, the code that controls the morality of dwarves was expanded to make the mass murder of intelligent life a depressing affair for the bearded mountain dwellers, putting an end to such aspirations.

Dwarf Fortress is a fascinating window into our innermost selves. It answers the age-old question of what we would do if we had absolute power over the life and death of entire species. Given the answers so far, it's a good thing it's just a game in the end.

If you want to dive into the infinite vastness of Dwarf Fortress yourself, you should get started with these beginner tips.