Emergent Death or Why Losing Is Fun!

This entry is part 16 of 42 in San Check

There are parallels to draw between D&D editions wars and Dwarf Fortress. 40d versus the latest version, ASCII versus graphic tilesets and so forth. That’s not what this article is about.

It’s not real ASCII! It’s Code page 437!

No matter your preference for how you play Dwarf Fortress, every Dwarf Fortress player will agree upon one thing. Losing is Fun!

Probably the most famous story of Dwarf Fortress is Boatmurdered. Another famous tale is the illustrated story of Bronzemurder by Tim Denee.

Bronzemurder Tim Denee

The beauty of Dwarf Fortress is the emergent gameplay. The game doesn’t provide scenarios and it’s not trying to tell you a scripted story. There are no objectives and there is no win condition. Your goals are determined by you. You decide your path (and hope the dwarves listen) in the simulated world of Dwarf Fortress.

“You have more complicated simulations in Dwarf Fortress than when you model the aerodynamics of a wing.”
- New York Times

I have played Dwarf Fortress since November 2007. I recall the date, because at the time my friend was spouting how this new game, Assassin’s Creed, was “so realistic.”

That’s not a knock on Assassin’s Creed. I had just discovered Dwarf Fortress, so his use of the word “realistic” seemed like a joke.

Yes, he was referring to the graphics. So while he was enjoying eye candy, I was farming underground mushrooms and making sure I had enough alcohol, so that my dwarves could survive their first winter (It didn’t go so well).

DF Learning Curve

When it comes to role-playing games, particularly those that are grouped with the OSR, the most memorable experiences are that of tragedy. Yes, there are bits of humor and shenanigans and the occasional act of heroism scattered about actual play. However, I’d argue that you are more likely to remember character death over the exploits of your heroic champion of invulnerability.

“While failure is a part of life, in Spelunky every play feels like a fresh chance to get it right.”
- Gus Mastrapa, Paste Magazine


Not everyone can get into a roguelike. That’s okay. Kay and I take turns playing Spelunky; we have a blast with every death. Others get frustrated.

What you read on The Delvers are not tales carefully crafted by my hand. I may fallback on modules, but what happens in actual play is up to the girls and our polyhedral dice. Yet, a story slowly emerges and comes to life, akin to that of Dwarf Fortress. This style of play makes The Delvers’ victories that much more satisfying. The story is told in the Campaign Journal after events, not during the game.

So, while the girls would be the first to tell you, “Ya, he thinks he’s B.A. Felton. He really spouts all that flavor text at the table,” it’s not a scripted game we are playing.

Also, like Dwarf Fortress, losing is Fun!

You want to destroy your interest in your favorite video game?

Try god mode.

Delve - San Check - TOC
[«««] PreviousNext [»»»]

  1. You know, for kids!
  2. Digger, Please!
  3. Semantic Railroads
  4. Mapping Progress
  5. Honeymoon Adventure
  6. No One Games in a Vacuum
  7. House Rules, You’re Doing It Wrong!
  8. WotC’s Poisoned Apple
  9. Oh Shit Run – An Outside Perspective
  10. Greyhawk Campaigns
  11. Nostalgia Vomit
  12. Dicing with Dinosaurs
  13. The Eye of the Dragon
  14. What Did You Do Over the Summer?
  15. It’s Like Cops and Robbers, but with Dice!
  16. Emergent Death or Why Losing Is Fun!
  17. How to Train Your Delvers (More WotC Snark)
  18. WotC’s Babel Fish
  19. More Nostalgia Vomit
  20. Fantasy Fighting
  21. Fighting Fantasy
  22. The Delvers 1985
  23. From Weird WotC to the creator of Giant Space Hamsters
  24. The Daedalus Complex
  25. There Is No Cow Level
  26. Double-decker Bologna Sandwich!
  27. It is Not a Secret Door if You Tell Me
  28. All Apologies
  29. Be the First to Solve the Mystery and Claim the Dungeon Treasure!
  30. Dungeon Treasure & Hidden Treasure
  31. You Unlock this Door with the Key of Imagination
  32. The Answer to the Mystery at The Delvers
  33. The First Keeper
  34. Sandbox Apophenia
  35. Nearly Enough Dice – Interview
  36. The State of The Delvers
  37. Vicariously Join Two Girls and Their Mom Around the Gaming Table
  38. Cassette Cover Art
  39. Bastion of the Boglings
  40. WotC Piss and the Last Boy Scout
  41. Campaign Timeline
  42. B4: The Lost City

The Delvers Podcast B-side