Into the deep: it's time to learn how to play Dwarf Fortress

What's new in DF2014: the "world activation release"

The new update is called “ the world activation release ” by its programmer, due to a focus on improving the liveliness of the randomly generated worlds. Version 0.40.01 came out on July 7 , and smaller bugfix patches have quickly followed. This is the first major update to Dwarf Fortress in two years. And it is major. Here are just a few of the things it adds:

  • "Birth, death (to the extent it wasn't handled before), marriages, site foundation as well as reclaims, basic succession and appointments/etc., invasions, as well as some more detail beyond world gen, like patrols, banditry and animal population handling."
  • "Fortresses can be retired and unretired. Losing is still fun but if it doesn't happen when you want, you can put it off for a while. Retired forts can be conquered (much more easily than they would be if you still controlled them), so don't be surprised if you have to reclaim instead of being able to unretire sometimes."
  • "The mind has been rewritten quite a bit -- people now experience emotions according to different circumstances (lots of awkward monologues there), and they consider actions differently."

Those details (and the rest of the patch notes) may sound impenetrable if you aren't already familiar with Dwarf Fortress. The important takeaway is this: Dwarf Fortress is a simulation engine for amazing emergent storytelling.

In fortress mode, you may receive political reports of the outside world, which is no longer wholly frozen in time while your fortress is running. Strike out as an adventurer and encounter people who are extremely aware of their friends and enemies, their ancestry, their political situation and what's going on out in the wilds. Rumors are spread, invasions are launched, and plots are orchestrated, both during world generation and during play.

In one adventure, Mispy Cavehush was a dwarven woman like any other, newly appointed to the ranks of the guards in the fortress of Wheelmolten. It was a rare time of peace; goblins freely intermingled with dwarves in the trade depot, and the Captain of the Guard was at ease. A peasant came by to request that the guards dispatch a wild yeti. Mispy came across an old dwarven man sitting by himself in a far corner of the fortress, and he had a tale to tell. The new conversation system is replete with options, including context-sensitive ones to inquire about recent events and local goings-on.

Litast followed Mispy out into the bright sunshine. A band of humans had joined the goblins milling around the depot. When they saw the grizzled old dwarf accompanying Mispy, they were distinctly unhappy. The humans and goblins scattered in a panic. Litast suddenly began violently kicking at a hapless human man, knocking out his front teeth. The human retaliated.

Frightened and confused, Mispy wondered if she had been taken in by a madman's delusions. Asking around, she learned from the undwarven visitors that Searglaze was just as ominous as Litast had suggested. When pressed for an explanation about the dwarf's outburst, the humans had only one thing to say: “It was inevitable.”

None of them, incidentally, were willing to take Litast's place in the expedition to Searglaze. Not up for bone-chilling horror, these humans.

On page three: how to build your first fortress.

Melissa is an author and information security researcher with a special interest in video game glitches and speedrunning. She has been playing Dwarf Fortress for years, is pro-dwarf, and vehemently anti-elf.