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Dwarf Fortress's next big update will let you play its adventure mode with a proper RPG party

Before Dwarf Fortress's creators start working on its upcoming Steam version with fancy new graphics and an improved interface, they're going to put out a big update to tide players over. After Steam comes the magic system, which could take a couple years to implement. Thankfully, the new villains system, which Tarn Adams tells me he's been working on for more than nine months, is going to have a lot to it. As part of the new release, Dwarf Fortress's Adventure mode is going to get its biggest update in years, allowing you to control not just a single dwarf, but an entire party, RPG-style.

Most of what you've read about Dwarf Fortress probably has to do with its Fortress mode where you simulate building a fortress, guiding your dwarves as they create a civilization. But you can also play in Adventure mode and take a "ground level" journey through a world you generated in Fortress mode. It plays sort of like a classic roguelike, except in a massive world with all of Dwarf Fortress's wild procedural systems at work. 

We'd always kinda had in our mind to recreate the Ultima experience or JRPGs where you wander around with more than one character.

Up until this new release, you've only been able to control a single character, but that's changing and getting much deeper. Here's Tarn Adams explaining how the new system will work:

"Our adventure mode character generation was very simple. You couldn't pick your items, you just pick your skill list and where you start. Now we've revamped it so you start with a certain number of points allocated and you can just buy every little thing about your character, all the little items. We'd always kinda had in our mind to recreate the Ultima experience or JRPGs where you wander around with more than one character. And it's pretty [easy to implement], because we already had companions. 

"That's one of the things that's difficult in roguelike games, having friends or companions, because you have to do different AI for them and stuff. But we already had that. So it's not that hard to say 'okay, we're going to start you with some people who are joined up with you.' So you can create a party with X number of people, you can have an animal friend too. 

"Now when you start with a party of adventurers, you can start with like six people, and you control one and the others follow you like companions. But you can on-the-fly switch to one of the other ones, as long as it's your starting set of people. You can still get other companions, but you can have this group of people that you swap between.

Adventure mode image via Redditor Shimmybot

"If you go into a fight you can control one [and let the AI handle the rest]. But if you want you can switch over to the old school SSI [system]: One turn at a time, you control every little thing. It's a little slower but you get that feeling that you're in control of the outcome and you don't have people making bad decisions unless you're making them. It's a more satisfying way of doing it. So that's one of these pre-magic things for people to play around with and get a lot of story potential out of."

The primary focus of the villains release, meanwhile, will have big ramifications for both Fortress and Adventure mode. Basically, Dwarf Fortress will be adding much smarter bad guys, and the code for villains will also let you and your companions interact with the world in a much deeper way in Adventure mode.

"They're not all villains in the traditional sense of somebody evil, but they're plotters. They come up with schemes, ways to overthrow your fortress, like smuggling the artifacts out, turning one of your dwarves, trying to set up a coup to replace the leadership of your fortress. You'll have tools to investigate these things and try to catch them before things go wrong. And that involves a lot of the villain giving orders for a person to move over the map, arrive at your fortress or another site with a goal.

"All of those orders are just these sort of 'go here, do this,' and it's not different from the stuff we already have in adventure mode telling companions to build a log cabin or whatever. So you could tell your companions to go kidnap somebody, set up an embezzlement scheme, go off and try to create a corrupt network within this town to eventually overthrow the baron, or whatever. So you'd have this party of people and you send five of them out and they can come report back, and the code overhead is really very little different from the villain stuff we're already doing. 

"Suddenly you have all this power to do really interesting, almost mafioso-type stuff in Adventure mode. The heroic side of it is investigating a villainous plot and going up the chain and essentially doing pretty simple... there's quite a bit of spoon-feeding that'll happen at first, cause coding up investigations is hard. The finding of evidence and chaining of things together is a complicated project. … But I feel confident about providing an at least somewhat satisfactory investigatory experience, both in Fort mode and Adventure mode."

As for the kinds of things villains will do, well, here are some notes from the past few months of the Dwarf Fortress blog:

  • I've been working on several final plots for villains in order to round things out and make use of the new dungeons and so forth, as I mentioned earlier. These include corrupt imprisonment, framing, snatching, sabotage and trying to ignite warfare involving their enemies
  • I traced accounts for embezzlement networks and smoothed out some rough edges there, and made sure the mercenary groups based on organized religions (as opposed to generic worship) functioned correctly.
  • Before, prisoners were just prisoners, for as long as it lasted (escape/conquest/etc.) Now an embezzler might spend five years in the dungeon, not try to escape, and then go on to do something else, which is important as we move toward non-assassination problem-solving by villains. They should have the option soon to engineer false charges or otherwise corrupt imprisonment.
When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.