In Dwarf Fortress's first major update in 16 months, dwarves have learned how to lie

Imagine the difficulty of simulating the "narratively interesting" parts of existence, as Dwarf Fortress creator Tarn Adams told me in 2016 he wants to do. Imagine the vastness of that task. Now imagine it, but with lying. With fake identities. With a deep-rooted system that lets you simply tell any AI-driven character you come across, "I am someone else," and having them accurately and appropriately respond—unless you blow your cover. That has to work, too. Those kinds of realistic conversations are a cornerstone of the latest Dwarf Fortress update, 0.44.01, released in late November. It's the first update since mid-2016, and with the invention of lying, we're now 2 percent closer to simulating existence.

There's a lot more to this release, of course. Adams calls this the "artifact" release because its main new mechanic is the introduction of a world map and the option to send your dwarves out on quests to retrieve special artifacts. Lying and assuming fake identities tie into those quests. This is a big new feature for Fortress mode, the colony management sim Dwarf Fortress is mostly known for. But it also works in Adventure mode, the still-very-incomplete RPG system that lets you explore randomly generated Dwarf Fortress worlds from the ground level. This is more of a D&D experience.

As Adams describes in the notes for the 0.44.01 update:

"In adventure mode, you can assume a cover identity… If you choose to link your identity to a civilization, you'll be carrying that baggage with you, especially when you are being interrogated by goblin guards, so one should be prudent."

As usual, there's some fun to be found in the patch notes:

  • Goblin site denizens demand an identity instead of immediately attacking every stranger
  • Fixed bug preventing monster slayers from visiting those forts with monsters to slay
  • Made animated skulls, hair and other bits easier to pulp
  • Made thirst/hunger and being pushed out of the way less likely to terminate dances
  • Fixed bug causing religions to worship too many gods, with duplicates
  • Stopped people from being enough to satisfy a need to see great beasts
  • Stopped returning pet dogs from petitioning for sanctuary like rescued prisoners

A 0.44.02 release followed .01 a day later with a few more bug fixes. If this release follows the typical Dwarf Fortress pattern, expect a few more updates over the coming weeks that polish off the rough edges, before work moves on to the next version—which is likely months or a year away.

So what's next for Dwarf Fortress? Adams writes "Overall, many of the changes occurred under the hood, in preparation for the myth and magic release, but now the magic release will be able to incorporate artifacts of all kinds without additional delay, so hopefully it was time well spent." 

When I talked to Adams earlier this year about all things Dwarf Fortress, he talked about what an undertaking magic is. "It's never been a dream system, it's been like a dream systematization of what the little nuts and bolts of magic are, so that we can glue them together however we want and surprise ourselves," he said. "It always comes back to surprising ourselves. We'd really, really like to have a system like roots, or something, growing into different parts of the game...Magic should feel magical and mysterious, and not necessarily make perfect sense, not necessarily feel like it belongs but feel like it's a part of the setting.

"It's just like, you get surprised in Dwarf Fortress the first time when you pour water and it comes up the end of the pipe because we have a pressure simulation. That's what magic should do. Magic should surprise you with how consistent and logical it actually is, but not because you're learning little rulebooks, but just because it feels like it belongs."

Artifacts were a step on the road to magic, and magic won't work until Adams integrates his creation myth generation system, which he's previously shown off in a 2016 GDC talk.

After that, he'll be teaching dwarves to understand property, laws, and customs. And since dwarves now have a framework for lying about their identities, a capitalist society with mass greed, theft, and corruption should come easy.