What is Dwarf Fortress?

Dwarf Fortress is more than one game: You do not 'play' a strategy, rpg or sims: the bloody and medieval edition, what you play is a world. The game for you begins by generating world in which you play. Its geography, nations, everything to get you a lively fantasy world. What you get is your own experience: The world you play in is truly unique, the stories you see unfold did not, and will not, happen for any other player.

The Story of Zega Lukikonu, a human girl: Zega was born in the year 30, the only child of Guki and Gili. She spent her childhood at a hamlet in the village of Pricebaker, where she was married to Emtha Sensualsparkles from the village of Bluenesslure at the age of 12. They both ran away to the wilderness, only to be ambushed. Zega was killed by the giantess Islas Nutscourage at the age of 13. Her husband, Emtha, wandered the wilderness and was killed by the giant Aran Bristledrives years later when he was 69 years old. She was avenged eventually: her murderer, Islas, was eventually killed by the human Setoc in the carverns of Purgedmine, in the year 127. Setoc, the giant slayer, lost her right foot during the fight. She eventually gave up adventuring, settled down and died of old age. Her son, Uda, became high-priest of the Temple Of Bodices, and her daughter Iki moved out of the city to become a farmer...

Quite a simple story, something you could read about in a b-grade fantasy novel. Maybe it's the background for a minor side character? What makes it real is the fact that you can actually meet those people. Take a trip to the relevant town as an adventurer and have a chat with Uda. Maybe you can construct a mighty dwarven fortress and provoke a war with humans. Once they come to siege you, maybe Iki will be there, nervous and afraid of dying in a battle far away from her farm and children.

... Oh, and the giant Aran was killed the year 173 by the dwarf Müthkat, so both Emtha and Zega eventually got avenged. Müthkat lost her left eye during the confrontation, but she still wanders the wilderness while her husband Uda stays at home, taking care of their two sons.

Everyone you meet has a personal history, was born somewhere to someone. Maybe they have lost a close friend or loved one to a monster you can now defeat. Or perhaps they've already had their revenge. You, as the player can impact this greatly. Embark on a bloody rampage through the human capital as an adventurer and see the kingdom crumble to pieces. Build a new capital for the dwarves in a suitable location and see their empire prosper.

You want a dwarf? There's your goddamn dwarf. You want better graphics? Screw you. Dwarves can do lots of stuff. Like digging. Can you dig? Hell no. Play Dwarf Fortress. -anonymous source from /TG/ on 4chan

The game contains an incredible amount of detail attached to everything. From this, complex behaviour comes to life. Worlds that can breathe. Worlds you can influence. Worlds of your own personal Epics and Legends.

The illustrated epic of Bronzemurder, a fortress. Later on, continued by Oilfurnace.
As soon as she could raise a hammer at the age of twelve, Tholtig had joined her parents and grandparents on the battlefield. The dwarves had no choice, for their losses were so great that they needed every pair of hammer-wielding arms they could find. By the time she ascended the throne in 121, she had slain 48 elves and a Cyclops, but the amount of dwarves left capable of wielding a weapon numbered less than ten. Nonetheless, she led them to victory in her first assault against the elves, but it was a Pyrrhic victory that saw the deaths of two of her children, including her eldest son. -The Hall of Legends, The Legend of Tholtig Cryptbrain

I have seen the legendary artifact Abbokem created, and its creator Archacted being upset by its theft a few months later. The pursuit of Tlakala who miraclously escaped through a rain of crossbow bolts. Someone, somewhere could find a necklace made of rocksalt that does not dissolve in water. Does this sound like gibberish? It is because it happened only to me. No other player could have experienced it.

Example of map of a generated world.

So, how can I actually play it?

The game has two modes. Dwarf Fortress mode, which is basically a city-builder type strategy game. You embark with a group of dwarves and your goal is to build a fortress. Fight off goblins, create wealth, build a dam. Have fun.

It's like playing god with sentient legos. -They Got Leader

How do you go about that? Generally, you start farming to produce food, cut down trees and build log cabins or dig rooms in stone to give dwarves place to live in. As you would expect from starting a new settlement. Maybe produce some crafts and trade them away. If you are successfull, you will attract migrants and your numbers will grow, you will have enough manpower to start an industry (an industry of, say, harvesting mermaids for their bones) and military. Soon, goblins will learn of your location and start doing something about your presence (that is, they will try to kill everybody.).

It is important to note that you have nearly complete freedom in what you build. Making giant, water-powered Babage-like computers out of stones and gears is possible and a popular pass-time.

Thing is, your units are not just anonymous blank faces. They have likes, dislikes. They form relationships and if you are not carefull, they can become quite unhappy. With disastrous results. A dwarf that had his wife killed by elves and had to spend years sleeping on the ground in the rain because you did not bother making a room for him... Well, that dwarf can just flip out and actually kill someone who he thinks is responsible. Or maybe he will be the quiet type and just get depressed and stop eating ... and starve to death.

Ast Sozadmebzuth seems to be quite happy for a dwarfess with 7 children who just lost her husband. But then again, she can handle stress.

That still does not give you image of the gameplay. There is this ugly secret. The game is played mostly by keyboard and it does not have fancy graphics. The game does not exactly have great a graphics engine...

... and does not really look like this, but it can with some tweaking. Also, notice the magma. Magma is a very important solution to many, many problems. When in doubt, use magma. And as we continue on how it does not look, lets see ...
... the next specimen. A player-constructed dam of quite colossal proportions: 30 meters tall. But it still does not show us how the game actually looks ...
... this is much closer. In fact, you can actually play the game looking like this. On this screenshot, you can see dwarves in a dining hall, a nearby storage with barrells of food and drinks and some small bedrooms.
This one is pretty close. It depicts stables with horses & cows, a butcher's shop and kitchen. As you can see, the game is quite customizable: The default look might be ascii, but it is quite easy to change it to something else.

So, how the hell does it look? Well, it is played in text mode. Ascii. With the keyboard. Uhm. Well, look at it this way, no graphics team can really keep up with game engine features and level of detail. It turns out that just using glyphs and ascii symbols is the way to go, describe what happens to player and let him see it. It is like playing a book (Hence, those stories).

This is how it looks in default configuration. Grassy plain with a few trees. Dead goblins and dwarves. Pools of blood and one survivor (teal smiley).

Well, that was our ugly secret. Do not worry, it is actually quite easy, just watch a tutorial. Maybe read a tutorial. If you still have quiestions, read the wiki.

Also, it is understood that not mentioning the story of boatmurdered is a crime. I can only hope I mentioned it early enough to prevent my hammering. Remember, not reading it is aslo, a crime.

Ahem, second mode?

It is called the adventurer mode. It is basically an RPG, you take controll of an adventurer and go ahead to do whatever you want. Set trees on fire? Kill dragons? Die horribly to Giant Cave Spiders? Be sick a psycho?

I set out into the world, and promptly took a disliking to elves. Every little _ moving about seemed to be a group of anywhere up to six of them. For who knows how long I ambushed every one of them I could find, and killed every elf I could find. While I was doing this I took an interest in finding out how much damage you really could do to an elf, given enough time. Every damn elf I came across in the wild eventually found himself alone in the forest with my human wrestler, as I broke every damn bone in its body. This took several game days, you understand, but in the end I found that if you waited until they woke up after fainting, you could get away with giving them a massive amount of red wounds, yellow what wouldn't go red, gouge out eyes, and generally be a complete asshole. Long as you take it slow when they bleed, you too can become a psycho elf killer. -Zorgn

I will not say more, really. You have to watch a video to see what it is all about. I suck at explaining adventurer mode, sorry!

Are you more hungry than thirsty? Next time, remember to fill your waterskin and buy some food before setting out to the wilderness.

Oh yes, and one thing about the author

You might be interested on how this game is made. Well, it is the work of only one author. Someone decided to write game that he wants to play, did it and actually is set out to finish it. This makes the game a lot more impressive since it is something that huge teams did not actually manage to do.

And of course, there are grand plans. Basically, the goal is so that there are mechanics that allow various stroies to actually happen in game naturally (that is, not be scripted in any way.). Just consider this feature list for one release.

The first issue was tackling the sever problem with skeletons. The issue here is that when a skeleton is created, it strips away all of their rottable tissues, but that leaves the head completely empty (things like the skull are sub-parts), and this means the skull is essentially floating separate from the spine (which is also floating). Handling it correctly is a bit of project, so I just stuck the slightest bit of totally rotten muscle on them for now to hang things together. The only downside here is that you'll occasionally see muscles in the combat text for skeletons. It all raises the question of exactly how the bones are moving and supporting their weight in the first place, which I suppose will start to be answered when I get to the curse entry -Development log

But then again, there is the modding community, right?

Right! Of course there is modding. What kind of sandbox would it be if there were no mods? From Fallout to Elder Scrolls, there are many interesting small additions as well as total conversions. Since making new graphics for new content is not really an issue, modders can be pretty wild in what they create.

A giant that just asks to be fiddled with. What about creating a Cyclops by removing one eye?

The game is built so that modding is quite easy. Most of the data files are in plaintext format, easily editable. They contain pretty much everything you might want to change.

You can pretty much change anything you want: new civilizations, minerals, items, buildings, beasts...

Footer image by Balathustrius