Sunday, June 14, 2009

Isolation and Industry: Take Two - A Civ IV Roleplaying Story

As a followup to my attempt to roleplay the Khazad civilization in Fall from Heaven II as a reclusive people focused and acquiring and maintaining enough gold to fill their vaults (the story of which can be read here), I decided to try it again, only this time I was going to use Fall Further, a mod of the Fall from Heaven mod (so a modmod, I guess).

Fall Further is interesting. He basically took Fall from Heaven II, and threw everything he could think of, as well as a number of concepts from other mods, into the game to see what would stick. This mod features expanded mana types, several new civilizations, new terrain types and a host of other features, game mechanics and tweaks. Having some experience at playing the Khazad civilization, I thought I would give it a try with this mod and see how things would turn out.

Follow the link for the rest of the tale!

The Setup:

Fall Further (patch N). Khazad civilization. Objective: gather gold until the vaults are overflowing and then never let them dip below that threshold.

I decided to use the Perfect World 2 map script which created interesting setups, including large sections of hills and mountains. However, I discovered in my first game, that this script generates large maps. With Large as the selection for map size, I was probably a good 20+ turns away from my nearest neighbor with a scout. I had also chosen the End of Winter option, but it had the side effect of also altering resources,
so by the time I had finished researching hunting (since there were no less than 4 deer near my starting city), the world had warmed and the deer were gone. Interesting idea, but it seems to warm up too quickly. Perhaps there should be a much longer cold period in the beginning before the warming actually starts? Otherwise it just seems kind of pointless.

I also noticed in this game that I was near no less four unique features, each of which had their very own barbarian town! I don't know if this was an accident, part of the map script or part of the mod, but I thought it was brilliant. If this is not coded as part of the game, it should be! After all, it makes perfect sense that people would tend to settle near these features, especially if they give a harvesting bonus of some sort.

But, it turned out that this world was just too large for me to deal with, and the barbarians were out of control (with so much elbow room to start with, they were everywhere!). So I restarted with a standard-sized map. And then again. Finally I turned off the option for Orcish Swarms, which seemed to solve my barbarian problem.

The Setup, Redux:

Fall Further (patch N). Khazad civilization. Objective: gather gold until the vaults are overflowing and then never let them dip below that threshold.

I ended up settling on the following settings: Advanced Start, No Tech Brokering, Barbarian World, Living World, Wildlands, Aggressive AI, Epic speed, Perfect World 2 mapscript (Start Anywhere and Allow Panageas), Standard size.

Year 0 AG (Above Ground): Our first city was founded on a hill by the sea overlooking a marshy area between two small rivers and fields of poppies (reagents). A line of tall, strong mountains hugged the coast the south. More rugged mountains and hills swept northward. Fish and crabs were abundant in the nearby waters.

The Early Years:

As we explored our lands, we discovered that we had pierced the roof on a wide peninsula near the northern, icebound regions. To the north lay pine forests amongst a set of ruined, jumbled mountains. Not much there to interest anyone. To the south lay a wide valley with a small river running though it. And south of that, a thick line of hills formed a pass through an imposing mountain range, with a small pass to the east.

Atop one of the northernmost hills sat an Ancient Tower, built by unknown peoples. Aye, this looked to be a good spot to make our own. Some of the more adventurous dwarves fashioned small boats and learned the secrets of harvesting food from the bountiful coastal waters, becoming knowledgeable fisherman, and even building the Heron Throne to gaze out over the waves into the distance.

Development and expansion of the Great Halls of Khazad continues. In the year 77 AG, The Runes of Klimorph is founded and regiments of Soldiers of Kilmorph are prepared for our inevitable expansion which comes in the year 131 when Halowell, our second city is founded on a hill overlooking a river just to the south of Khazad.

In the ensuing years as we explored the lands, we discovered that we were not alone. Through the mountains to the south and on the western coast of the peninsula lay the Austrin peoples. Hailing from some unknown land to the far south were a strange lizard-folk. We didn't have much contact with the reptiles, but the Austrin quickly spread along our southern border, building cities in a lush valley just beyond the barrier hills.

The First Great War:

In the year 141 AG, the Austrin foolishly declare war on us for reasons we were never able to understand. Perhaps they coveted our renowned Dwarven Ale! An army of Austrin Hunters and Assassins occupy the Ancient Tower which lies just to the south of Halowell. However, they seem content to simply stay there, occasionally sending out a unit or two to try and hit exposed workers.

The Austrin had a significant stack of hunters and assassins who did nothing the whole war except sit in this Ancient Tower. I simply went around them and destroyed all their towns!

Year 152 - A third volcano bursts forth near Khazak. Clearly we have been blessed by Kilmorph, for this abundance of magma will surely help with our extraction and smelting of precious metals!

Year 155 - Mines of Gal-dur are completed, the greatest single mining operation ever created, tapping into no less than three extensive veins of iron ore.

Year 159 - A Dwarven Hero by the name of Bambur emerges from the shops. His skill at repairing machinery is unmatched

Year 174 - A Great Engineer is born

Year 176- Though it took a while to get the dwarves properly equipped for a war, once they were ready, there was no stopping the onslaught. An Austrin settlement by the name of Matanuska is captured, providing us with a seaport on the west coast of our spit of land.

Year 201 - Kolsehvahn of the Cualli declares war on the Khazad

Years 238 - 286: Three more settlements are founded, known by the names of Riylod, Kadar and Glulynn. Two occupy the now empty valley where the Austrin once frolicked, and the third was placed on the hills in a mountain pass on our eastern border to guard against Cualli incursions.

Year 287 AG: The Austrin capitol of Telynohn is taken and claimed as a dwarven settlement, consigning the Austrin to a mere footnote in the history books.

The Austrin proved to be little match. While they did have lots of troops, they were mostly hunters and scouts, great for skirmishing, but not able to stand up to a phalanx of stout dwarven axes! As I demolished the Austrin peoples, my empire expanded as rapidly as I could manage it, running no more than 20% science. I started losing money and had lower my science to 0% and eventually use the Motherlode worldspell, but by this time I had 8 cities, a nice size chunk of land, a defensible border with the lizards and the spell gave me a much needed infusion of gold (plus the extra hills are always nice for us dwarves). And now since I could more easily contain and control enemy incursions, my hard-working dwarves could get back to improving the land. Miraculously, despite the fact that the Austrin were heavily invested in recon troops, including numerous Assassins, none of my trebuchets were killed. Tragically however, the great Dwarven Hero Bambur did fall to the blades of one of those sneaky bastards!

Over the next forty years we dutifully pushed our Trebuchets back across the continent in the other direction while our armies trained and re-equipped for a push into Cualli lands. Beyond the mountains, across a stretch of desert we came upon the city of Aucheauthli. Our scouts waited atop a nearby hill as the first the trebuchets, then a sizable force of sturdy Axedwarves arrived. The city fell soon after and was claimed as a Khazad outpost in the year 331.

Another Cualli city, just a short distance to the east fell also and was burned to the ground at which point an emissary from the brutes offered us a kingly ransom for the simple signing of a peace treaty. They crawled into the throne room, debasing themselves as they planted their scaled bellies face-down on the floor. Would the great Dwarven Empire kindly accept two new technologies, all their gold, plus a small
city near our lands that was conveniently built on top of a hill? Of course we would.

By the year 348 AG, peace had fallen across the lands. Thus began the time of the Great Building. Rivers were tamed, hills tapped, every possible resource harvested and markets built to facilitate the delivery of said goods. Our coffers filled rapidly with gold and two more settlements were founded, one in a scenic mountain region and the other on the edge of the marshes to the east as a deterrent to Cualli expansionism.

The dwarves grew strong and prosperous, branching out to found other settlements. Our engineering skills were unmatched and we were regularly blessed with dwarves of genius who led us to the founding of a Master Fletcher and Smith who were able to equip our troops with quality weapons, though the price was steep.

I've played a few partial games of FF, but I had never set up a 'Master' building. I knew they were founded by Great Engineers, so I figured the Khazad would be a good choice. With Agrarianism and the bountiful fields of reagents, I was able to pile on the Engineer specialists (especially once I built the Mines of Gal Dur), and I had no lack of Great People to do my bidding. I ended up setting up a Master Fletcher and a Master Smith. The Mater Fletcher allowed me to upgrade my archers with 'Fine Bows' which gave them +1 defense strength (though we never were able to figure out how to throw our rocks with these things) for 15 gold each. A reasonable price, and I was already using the Dwarven Slingers as my main defense, giving them promotions that increased their strength on hills. The Master Smith provided no less than 3 equipment upgrade options for my melee troops. Unfortunately, they were all quite expensive. But what was probably the biggest bonus from establishing these Master buildings was the ability to build them in all my cities after that. Seeing as how they not only allowed equipment purchase but also gave a bonus to hammers, gold and culture, I spread them to every city that I could.

Then to our horror we met yet another peoples (these blasted non-dwarves seemed to be everywhere). These called themselves the Bannor and had the audacity to found a settlement on our doorstep in the former Austrin lands. This was completely unacceptable. War was declared and the city was burned. The Bannor empire lay across a rocky, shallow sea but they chose to stay on their side rather than tempt our wrath again. At around this same time, we received word that one named Buboes, the second horseman had appeared. But seeing as how no dwarf ever saw hide nor hair of
him or of Stephanos, these tales of evil juggernauts invading the lands were discounted as Old Maids' Tales, designed to keep the soft-brained people of the Sun Dwelling nations in check. There's no such thing as true evil, lad, only choices.

The Second Great War:

In year 398 AG: The blasted Cualli again declared war. At that point it became apparent that all of the "barbarian" hunters and assassins that had been haunting the Untamed Hills to the north were actually agents of our neighbors. Well if it was war these beasts wanted, then it was war they would have. Patrols were called back and sent to the front, as well as a reserve army from the capitol and an assortment of Stonewardens who had been scattered throughout the empire.

Year 404 AG: Rangers, Priests and Blowpipe-wielding lizardmen boil forth from the marshes and swamps near Stoville. The defensive trebuchets fling rocks endlessly, though several fall to assassins. And the stalwart Dwarven Slingers slaughter them by the hundreds as the Cualli try to storm the hill. But our folly was revealed. We had not yet built proper fortifications in this town, believing that it was safe from attack for a while. Our army was but a few miles out when the city finally fell and they quickly closed the distance, retaking the settlement before too much damage could be done. Three of the great beasts we called Greytrunks were sent to refortify the hilltop. They had been found wandering the deserts after the first Great War, and some of our more industrious hunters had tamed the great beasts, thinking they could be used in open field battles. But alas, we had not the skill to properly teach them in the ways of offense. Our industrious smiths discovered the secrets of the working of Iron, and so began the gathering of our first Champion level units, but it would be a while before any of them were battle ready and at the front lines.

And yet still more lizards poured out of the marshes. Their numbers were astounding. It took years for the Greytrunks to arrive due to the poor quality of the roads in the area. Our workers had not yet reached this newest outpost, and the only trails were horrid, narrow affairs left by the lizard people. Completely unusable for any sort of real commerce! The losses mounted on both sides.

"Twas a terrible siege, lad. One I wish I could fergit. Regular assaults on the town admist a hail of poison darts designed to wear us down. And wear us down it did. They surrounded the city and could be seen up on the hills and bluffs around the town in addition to swarming through the marshes. Ye could hear their strange hissing speech and croaking laughter echoing up from the swamps at all hours of the day and the night. They even began to move inta' tha hills bordering tha desert to the west. Day after day we gazed into that bleak expanse, lad, holding out hope for some sign from our kin. One of tha Greytrunks broke into a thrashing, uncontrollable rage one night. She killed two dozen dwarves and tore up a section of recently constructed palisade before we were able to put 'er down for good. We figured one of them Assassins had put something inta her food. We always tested the Greytrunks' meals on dogs after that. Aye lad, them assassins were what kept anyone from sleeping at night. No dwarf wanted to wake up dead in these stinkin' marshes. Our cold-blooded foes were masters of tha poisons. Some of them killed instantly. Others left a dwarf paralyzed, rigid and unmoving until they starved to death, or caused their victims to puke up blood and guts for three days straight until they finally passed on in a frenzied fit! Our boys tried their best, but there were no true healers with us. A Stonewarden was due with the reinforcements... if they ever arrived."

When help did come it was from an unexpected direction. The relief troops had been forced to divert north through the hills where they were able to dash through the marshes and take advantage of a gap in the blockade. Their arrival couldn't have been better timed, for another army of the cold-blooded bastards appeared in the wetlands to the east. Again the wave of green scaled bodies crashed against our earthen ramparts, and again many a soul was lost on both sides. Though the lizard casualties were too numerous to even begin to count, the sheer numbers of attackers still wore us down. The lone Stonewarden from the relief force was lost to an Assassin's dart. Tame bears and painted Greytunks outfitted for war thundered up the slopes alongside the Cualli Hunters and Blowpipes. Another group of dwarven reinforcements struggled through the desert to reach the city. The Axemen and Soldiers gave their lives to clear a path, allowing several Stonewardens and two Adepts skilled in the magics of Earth and Enchantment to arrive. One of the Stonewardens brought with him a trunk full of gold that was used to expedite construction of more solid walls and fortifications. Perhaps this would turn the battle! But the assault was relentless. The last remaining Khazad Greytrunk was slain, as were several units of Slingers. An Adept fell, then a Stonewarden. Things were looking grim. In addition to the diversion of troops to the south, the reinforcements that were designated for the siege relief were slowed in their arrival by the numerous Cualli raiders to the west of Stoville.

Every able-bodied dwarf that could be found was sent to the siege. Paramanders, Champions, Stonewardens, it didn't matter. We even grudgingly shelled out gold to draft a couple of units of Slingers in an attempt to hold back the tide. Those young lads fought bravely, but they were no match for the battle-hardened swamp-dwellers. The third wave of reinforcements finally made it through to the town, just when things were at their bleakest. The fresh troops were astonished to find that only a lone Stonewarden remained of all the military that had been dispatched to aid in the battle.

This was a truly epic siege. It would be 70 years before I was finally able to successfully secure the area. I lost the city early on, recaptured it the next year, and then fought tooth and nail to hold on to it as a seemingly unending wave of lizards poured over the surrounding countryside. Everytime a group of reinforcements would arrive, they would clear out some lizard troops west of the city, lose a few of their own to assassins and other attacks, make it into the city just in time to bolster the defenses, and then slowly be whittled away by the unceasing assaults. My army of doom that had annihilated the Austrin were all heavily-promoted axemen. And to a dwarf, they were slaughtered during the siege of Stoville. Slingers, Stonewardens, Hunters, Elephants, basically any troop that I could find was sent to defend Stoville. Combat occurred nearly every turn, though most of it was defensive on my part. Even killing the patrols that moved into my territory was tough going. The Cualli had a city of their own nearby and Stoville was soon surrounded by their culture borders.

I had my cities churning out Champions, Stonewardens and more Slingers, but my original lands were a good 10 turns away from the front, so it seemed like an eternity before the first ones arrived. Stoville was being assaulted every turn, the Cualli culture had expanded and completely surrounded the city, and experienced troops roamed the desert between this outpost and the nearest town, which happened to be Aucheauthli, captured from the Cualli in the first war. It was a fine town, situated on a low line of hills in the bend of a river with lots of floodplains. I ordered up buildings to make this into a forward training and outfitting post, but it would be many years before anything substantial was completed.

As the siege of Stoville continued, far back in the capitol, a young strapping lad came to the notice of the Elders. This one went by the name of Maros, and people claimed he couldn't be knocked down. and indeed, he won every tournament that he entered. He was quickly drafted into service, given the best armor and weapons that could be supplied and sent down to the front in a hurried manner. But he was not sent to the still-besieged city of Stoville. Instead he was sent farther south along the coast, were an expedition army was testing the resolve of these Cualli by marching several trebuchets through the jungle to chunk rocks at a city of theirs. Maros arrived with yet more trebuchets, but despite the constant rain of large stones, the lizards remained steadfastly entrenched in their city. Maros absorbed countless arrows and darts as the town was besieged for several years. But the Cualli were not easily broken. Those beasts will eat their own young before giving in! So Maros began a 10-year long hike through the hills to join up with the forces at Stoville.

Year 439 - 3rd horseman. Decius declares war, allowing me to remove their settlement they again planted on the southern coast (damn self-righteous surface dwellers don't know how to take a hint!). Lizards attack Citalamina, swarming the area and tearing up improvements.

Year 447 - A second plague hits. Though equally as devastating as the first, this one seems to pass quickly.

That same year a strange event occurred. "Tha' heavens shook and shimmered that day lad. I have ne'er seen a sky like that before, an hope tha I ne'er do again! A great disembodied voice cried out some nonsense about a fella named Basium with various words tattooed on him. None of us was sure what all this surface dweller foolishness was about, but so long as they left us dwarves well enough alone, it was none of our concern."

Only a few years after this strange event, some odd, thin folks calling themselves the Sidar send an envoy to inform us that they've bent their knees to Pentapach, ruler of the 'Free Imperial Balseraph Estates'! Who came up with that pompous mouthful of idiocy? Well, they could call themselves the Feathered Ostrich Fire Brigade for all we cared. As for the Sidar, why they felt the need to inform us of whose toes they were currently licking I have no idea, but inform us they did, only to depart soon after and never be heard from again.

Again rumors of these mysterious horsemen hit our shores. This time they claim that the one who goes by the name of Yersinia, has been slain. Whoop-de-do ya sky-huggin' pansies!

Maros, leading the newly merged army, sallies forth from Stoville, crushing the main Cualli encampment nearby and driving those that survived the assault back to their city. But next year, yet another sizable army of scaly foes moved on Stoville (how fast do these damn things hatch?!). But things had changed. No longer were the Cualli able to sit outside the town and attack whenever it was convenient. Any who hung around too long or attempted to regain the heights were summarily destroyed.

It seemed that after seventy long, blood-filled years, the siege of Stoville had finally been lifted! But moving on to offense would not be so simple. The lizards were smart enough to realize that the wetlands were their advantage where my dwarves were unable to make much headway (you try wading through a swamp when you're only 4 feet high!)

At some point around this time, every single other civilization in the known world declared a state of war with the Khazad. Seeing as how we had almost no contact with any of them, it must have been pure jealousy that was driving them. Perhaps they coveted our glorious mines? Or the secrets of our religion (it was interesting to note that everyone else claimed to be a staunch believer in Tree-Huggin'!)

Year 497 AG - Heralds began spouting off some nonsense about yet another Horseman of Doom (can't these surface dwellers come up with something new?) This one has the ridiculous name of Ars Morendi. And while our Elders scoff into their ale about these tales, a strange, penetrating fear falls across the hearts of the dwarven nation. The Elders react quickly to keep this fear from hindering our growth. Gambling Houses are
ordered built in many of the larger communities. Nothing can distract a dwarf faster than the thought of easy gold.

With this latest crisis taken care of, attention is turned back to the front. Maros and his weary army still haunt the hills in Cualli territory near Stoville. The marsh-sunk town proves to be impenetrable as its trails teem with lizardman units of all types.

Meanwhile, to the west, a surprise attack bears fruit for the dwarven forces, and an expansive Cualli settlement is captured and razed, its dead inhabitants consigned back to the marshes from whence they came.

End Game:

And there I called it quits, mainly due to the several minute wait between each turn. It is currently turn 500, with ~190 turns left in the game. The Khazad lie near the bottom of the score list, though we are 3rd in power and the magnificent Runes of Kilmorph religion is the one most widely followed with 13%. I have very little of the rest of the world mapped, and don't even know what lies beyond the border areas in Cualli territory.

Currently, the Armageddon Counter sits at 73. Ashen Veil has been founded, and surprisingly, is the 2nd most followed religion behind Runes of Kilmorph, despite the fact that no civilization acknowledges it as their state religion. The Infernals haven't been summoned, and there is no hell terrain. Most of the civilizations are evil. The only good one is Basium, and his summoner, the Lsjolfar, are neutral, tending towards the evil side. The Khazad are a little above true neutral, balancing out their penchant for city burning with the creation of a number of Paramanders.

We've finally begun bloodying the nose of the blasted Cualli, destroying two towns, one small, one large, within the last 20 years. We have 22 years until Machinery research is completed and have just received a new Great Engineer, who, with the Great Merchant I've had stashed, can start a Golden Age.

Post-game thoughts:

This turned out to be quite a fun game. I think a large part of that was due to the Perfect World 2 mapscript. This is now my preferred map type. Not only does it create interesting terrain features such as long mountain ranges and sizable deserts, it also has a lot of minor tweaks such as placing Ancient Towers on hills or next to the shoreline for maximum visual range. Combined this with the flavor start option in Fall
Further for unique starts in every game.

One problem I found consistently was the inability to effectively control territory with culture borders. Well, I guess inability is the wrong word. But it was definitely more difficult when I had a self-imposed limit on when I could build new cities. For example, the Bannor twice came and occupied the site of a former Austrin city which was just outside my cultural borders. I had already booted barbarians from the same spot more than once and had little option for preventing further incursions aside from planting my own city, which was not really a viable choice.

Once you get going, the Dwarven economy seems to take care of itself, especially once I started spreading the Stonefire Guild and the various Master's buildings (each of which give +3 gold). Is there any reason not to spread a guild to all your cities? The gold cost seemed minimal.

I found the Cualli cities to be tough eggs to crack. Their Blowpipe units, with a base of 2-4 first strikes, provide some hefty defense. Then on top of that you have Marshes all over their lands which they get a significant bonus for fighting in, and which slows down any opponents trying to push into their land. And for the icing on the cake, the jungles infesting their areas hinder the view, even from hilltop!

I hadn't realized this when I founded Stoville, but it was a mere three tiles away from the nearest Cualli city. And in-between the cities lay two tiles of marshland. This was a perfect setup for my opponent. They could take their trails through the marsh and attack me directly from their city, then easily fall back if things got rough. Their additional +40% strength in marshes made driving them out difficult. And Kilmorph help me if I tried to move my own troops through the marshes! I found myself sending my armies around the long way where they could stay in the hills. It also didn't help that I had no mounted troops.

I found it very odd to see the Armageddon Counter climb so high without the introduction of Hyborem. And it turned out that the Khazad were the 2nd highest contributors to the AC, behind only Pentapach, who founded Ashen Veil. Razing all those cities, while effective in winning the First Great War, could have potentially been disastrous if the Hell terrain had started spreading. As it was, nothing much happened in my part of the world. I never saw any of the Horsemen, and apparently thr computer AI had little trouble taking care of that threat.

Next up:

I plan to try this same roleplaying angle in Orbis. The fort ownership concept they have there really intrigues me and seems to be a logical solution to the culture problem I had with this last game. I don't know much else about the mod, though I understand that it has some pretty significant differences from Fall from Heaven. I figure my Khazad experience will help to balance out the unknown in regards to new or changed game mechanics.

Isolation and Industry - A Civ IV Roleplaying Story

I've blogged before about a mod for Civilization IV called Fall from Heaven II. In short, it's a major overhaul to the game, focused on a fantasy-oriented game with demons, elves, magic and of course, dwarves!

It's a very fun mod, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in a fantasy-based strategic game.

Anyway, on the Civfanatic forums, one player by the name of Shatner posted a story about a game where he decided to roleplay the Khazad (the dwarven civilization in Fall from Heaven), as isolationists focused on making money, and challenged everyone else to give it a try as well. In Fall from Heaven, the Khazad have a unique game mechanic called the Dwarven Vault. Basically, it provides happiness (or unhappiness) based upon how much gold you have on hand divided by the number of cities. To get the biggest benefit from the vault, you need to have 500+ gold per city. So, the rules for this game were as follows:

* You are not allowed to place a 2nd city until your gold reserves reach 1000 gold. And you must never let the Dwarven Vault drop below Overflowing (500+ gold per city)

* You must refuse any and all trades with other players, as well as Open Border agreements

The story of his adventure can be seen here, and below, you can find a summary of my attempts at this type of game!

Game setup: Advanced Start, Panagea, Barbarian World and No Tech Brokering

Khazak was founded in what would be later called 0 A.G. (Above Ground) on a hillside next to a quiet river overlooking the ocean. Layers of valuable marble lay nearby as well as a cows and cotton. This mission to the Sky-gazers world had been funded with great reluctance, and we had strict orders to show that it could turn a profit before expansion would even be considered.

As it turned out, we were actually in a backwater corner of the world, with three narrow land bridges connecting our section of the world to everyone else. The northernmost path was blocked by a mountain, and the southern two were firmly in control of the Bannor people. Isolation it seemed, would not be hard to achieve.

Small dwarven war parties were sent out to scout the lands. They found a number of suitable sites for future settlements, and also kept the barbarians in check, repeatedly raiding and burning a village near a small lake that the orcs stubbornly kept rebuilding.

Starting early on, the Bannor people found themselves constantly at odds with two of their neighbors, the Balseraphs and the Sheaim. The Bannor people were caught in-between these powers and knew only war for their entire lives. But unfortunately for them, they weren't particularly good at it, and their borders steadily shrank.

Acquiring the funds to prove to our sponsors that this expedition was worthwhile proved to be a long and arduous task. But Kilmorph smiled on our efforts, and we found valuable ores in a rock that fell from the sky (which some sages claimed was proof that there is a ceiling above the sky after all). But something clearly wasn't quite right with some of the dwarves. Perhaps that had stood in the sun for too long. Or perhaps this was an initial sign of the coming evil. Whatever the case, we had to deal with no less than four instances of troops who were caught torturing prisoners for fun. The first two times, the troops were summarily dissolved, by the third time, it seemed there was little we could do to halt the process entirely, so only a reprimand was issued, and the fourth time, well... the fourth time was none other than Bambur himself, and the old grayhairs simply muttered into their beards and suddenly found reasons to check the tallies on their gold reserves.

As we waited patiently in our splendidly walled city for the vaults to fill, the Runes of Kilmorph religion was founded in Khazad and skilled dwarven soldier-builders were drawn up into regiments, ready and capable of whatever tasks might be given to them. Not long after, we met our financial goals that had been set, and quickly founded a second settlement nearby called Halowell. Many troops of loyal Soldiers of Kilmorph marched to the new town and quickly erected palisades, walls, a monument and a temple. Within a short few years, our new settlement had all the amenities and its rapid development was a source of pride amongst the architects.

Due to our remote location and adamant refusal to open our borders to anyone, news of the outside was scarce. Oblivious to most of the happenings in the rest of the world, the Dwarven people celebrated their success and wealth, founding a third and then a fourth settlement. It seemed as if everything was going according to plan. We had almost yearly requests from one side or another to join them in their wars against other civilizations that we had barely even heard of, but every envoy was sent away empty-handed. Over the years, the attitudes of the other leaders became increasingly hostile, but none ever went so far as to declare war.

While my dwarves were slowly expanding their territory, things were getting a little wacky in the rest of the world. Keelyn founded Ashen Veil, which was immediately adopted by his Sheaim neighbors the next year, and the Hippus the year after that. It was not long before the Infernals also arrived on the scene (~turn 200, which is the earliest I've ever seen that happen on Epic speed). Evil was quickly encompassing the world.

The dismantling of the Bannor empire proceeded apace, and I quickly found myself with a new neighbor, the oddly strange Balseraph. The only reason the Bannor remained an individual nation at all was because his final two towns were locked behind my securely shut borders and he obviously had a strong moral compunction against swearing fealty to a king who openly sacrifices at the Altar of the Veils. With the Balserpahs came the Broken Lands and Burning Sands. In fact, as I would later discover, about half of the world had been converted to hell terrain by this point. Falamar had also converted to Ashen Veil

The Ljosalfar had (of course) founded and adopted Fellowship of the Leaves, and it turned out that they had a sizeable empire on the other side on the world-encompassing continent. But the only other good civ, the Malakim, foolishly declared war on Hyborem and found themselves also beset by Keelyn, the Lanun and the Clan (who were locked behind the Malakim and with whom we never even had contact). This eventually proved to be too much, and the Malakim bent their necks to the yoke of the Lanun. But interestingly enough, they were allowed to keep their tree-hugging religion and remained known as a Good civilization.

Surprisingly, during all this time, none of the AI players ever declared war on me. Most of them were hostile (except for the Lanun for some reason), and they continued to make various demands, but none seemed willing to rouse the legendary dwarven ire. But I knew it would happen eventually, and my small empire, now encompassing 5 cities would not last long against their combined might. The first gauntlet was thrown down by the Hippus as a stack of horsemen and Diseased Corpses attacked me through my new border with Keelyn.

They were resoundingly beaten and destroyed. Ditto for the next army that was sent my way. But now everyone wanted in on the fun, and I soon had war declarations from Os-Gabella, Keelyn and the Infernals as well. I pushed across the borders and found three nearby Balseraph cities, two of which were on hills. Unfortunately, the coffers were not full enough for acquisition of another settlement. And I didn't want to start razing a bunch of cities and drive up the Armageddon Counter (I was already advantage of every opportunity that I could to lower it), but something had to be done to keep the battles from ravaging the developed parts of my lands.

The dwarven elders gathered together in their deep halls for some serious discussion and finally agreed that something drastic would need to be done. In the dead of night, secret envoys were sent out to the beleaguered Bannor people. The Khazad borders were opened to select foreigners for the first time ever. Thankfully the Bannor population was pitifully small and they showed little willingness to venture into Dwarven lands. Another promise was made to the Bannor by the dwarves. We would strike at the Balseraphs and attempt to free the enslaved towns, bestowing any on flat land back to the Bannor, keeping only two settlements for ourselves, both of which happened to sit atop a lovely set of hills (well maybe not so lovely with demons, disembodied screams and other such nightmares stalking their hell-scarred slopes, but that would be dealt with later). To try and help bolster the pitiful humans, we also sent them free shipments of Iron from the famous Mines of Gal-Dur.

And so it began, Bambur led the main Dwarven assault force, consisting of Trebuchets, Stonewardens and Axemen. The dwarves had taken riding lessons, but alas, it turned out that there were no pigs to be found anywhere and the early experiments into cow-riding ended only in disaster. So this would be it. Solid dwarven muscle tramping off to battle on their own two feet. That's how it should be anyway. By Stone and Hammer and Rock and Thew we would prove our worth!

The first flatland Balseraph town fell easily and was returned to Bannor control. Unfortunately, their army had apparently not gotten the memo, so it fell to the dwarves to defend the town from retaliatory strikes. This sudden switch from attacking force to occupying policemen brought my progress to a grinding crawl before it even started. Eventually some Bannor defense forces arrive and I was able to move away from that town and approach the first target. But as the war machines slowly slogged through the scarred landscape, assassins and taskmasters jumped out from behind every rock, destroying many Trebuchets before they could even get in range of the city walls. So again my attacking armies ground to a halt, fortifying on nearby hills as more siege engines were ordered to the front lines. Unfortunately, it turned out that only one settlement had the know-how to create these magnificent rock-slingers, so production was slow.

And then, not two turns before I was about to launch a full-out assault, a Royal Guard moved into the town I was about to siege. Royal Guard, fortified, in a city, on a hill, and I only have a handful of trebuchets. This isn't good. I obviously needed more firepower. So more troops were called up, research into better weapons was ordered, but it was already too late. As my forces gathered in the hills, enemy armies from all the evil nations began marching into my lands. Every 10 years or so, a new army would approach. Sometimes it was the Infernals, their Imps driving the demons and undead forward. Other times it would be the Hippus, with armies of catapults, flanked by horsemen. But they always followed the same path than brought them right between the hills were my armies were gathering. These were destroyed every time, but my losses were just enough to keep me static. And the opposing forces began to field meaner and nastier troops. Ritualists, Berserkers, Arbequeses, and finally even a Phalanx. Things were not looking favorable for the dwarves...

And that's were I ended. Keelyn is the dominant evil power, with the Sheaim and the Hippus as his vassals. On the opposite side of the world, the Ljosalfar have the highest score and they, along with their angelic allies, are at war with the evil empires as well, but no cities have fallen for either side on that front.

I probably could keep playing and just hunker down, fortify the hills near my borders and snipe at any armies that try to pass by as I play tech catch-up, but seeing as how I'm fighting with Axeman, Soldiers of Kilmorph and Stonewardens and my enemies are now sending Phalanxes my way, that sounds a bit too tedious and frustrating for me.

Post-game Thoughts

Despite my imminent doom, this was a pretty fun game and I'll likely try it again. Being limited to one city for so long allowed me to build up plenty of soldiers so that any subsequent cities were quickly filled with whatever buildings they needed, which is a very nice way to expand. But I'm not sure what to do about the tech gap. I can see where disabling tech trading could help, since that will be limiting the AI to some of the same self-imposed player restrictions for playing as Isolationists. Despite having seen such an early founding and adoption of Ashen Veil, and also an early entry by Hyborem (who for once wasn't consigned to the icy wastes), the Armageddon Counter only stands at 22. I know I happened to get a couple of events that allowed me to lower it a bit, but I am a bit surprised that it's not much higher. Perhaps the elves had also been working to keep it low.

My attempts to bring the Bannor into it and break the Pact of Isolation were purely self-serving, and ended up having little effect in the long run. Having only five cities for production, I had hoped that the Bannor could at least contribute some warm bodies to the fray. Which they did, but it was not enough. And since my coffers were not full enough to support another town, I wanted some way to push control back towards the Balseraph lands without leaving a big empty area with a razed city were anyone could come along and plop down a new one. And ultimately, the city limit is what hurt me. I was forced to delay my attack of the hillside town for many turns while my funds built up, and by the time I could attack, the defensive forces were too much for me to overcome.