Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf FortressI’ve recently become addicted to playing Dwarf Fortress.  Dwarf Fortress is basically a simulator set in a medieval-fantasy setting where the player guides a dwarven expedition into the wilderness with the goal of building a new home.   Like most other such simulators, there’s no actual “win” condition; the game is simply a computer generated “world” with its own internal rules on how things work.

You don’t actually control the dwarves directly.  Instead, you assign various job roles to each dwarf, and they engage in those jobs if there are any available.  For example, you might decide to build a wall on a certain part of the map, so you create a construction job — defining the size and location of the proposed wall, as well as the materials that should be used to build it — and then wait for a dwarf with the associated skill (masonry, in this case) to start work on it.

The game eschews fancy graphics for the sake of improving game complexity.  Although you can easily install graphics packs which make the game prettier, the default game displays everything with extended ASCII characters (similar to Roguelikes).  This can be a bit off-putting for players who have grown up before the days of photo-realistic graphics and such.

Dwarf Fortress's default ASCII graphics

Dwarf Fortress's default ASCII graphics

Dwarf Fortress with a graphics pack installed

Dwarf Fortress with a graphics pack installed

The complexity of this game is just incredible.  There are just so many things for you to tell your dwarves to do.   There are literally hundreds of different materials in the game with which to construct hundreds of buildings and items in countless combinations.  It’s quite daunting to the new player, and I imagine many people never get past the initial steep learning curve (I had actually tried the game once before a year or so ago and couldn’t get into it).  You definitely need to do a lot of reading before you can succeed at this game.

Here are some useful resources for learning how to play Dwarf Fortress:

  • After Action Reporter’s Dwarf Fortress Tutorials – Pretty much *the* guide to getting started.  It’s very good (except Part 10 which is out of date) and gives you a good start in the basics of creating a sustainable home for your dwarves.
  • The Dwarf Fortress Wiki – Everything you need to know about every little thing in the game is here, in reference form.
  • Bay 12 Games Forums – The official forums for Dwarf Fortress, hosted by the developer, Bay 12 Games.  You can find the answers to lots of questions here.

These sites have been invaluable in helping me get started with the game.

Also, I would recommend a graphics package for the game, just to make it a little easier on the eyes.  The “Mayday” graphics pack is one I like.  The link on that site contains the full game with the graphics pack already applied.  (For the more computer literate among you, I prefer the maydayMIN-sans-highlight graphics version of the Mayday graphics pack since it doesn’t put a colored background around items and leaves the alphabetic characters unmodified.)

If this game sounds like your kind of thing and you decide to give this game a try, here are some pieces of advice:

  • You will abandon many fortresses in the beginning.  When you are just learning the game, you will make design decisions which you’ll soon learn were not that good.  Don’t go in thinking that the first fortress you build will be the one you’ll play for weeks.  You’ll go through many ‘scratch’ fortresses as you learn how to best place workshops and stockpiles, build retractable bridges, make underground farms, etc.
  • Don’t feel too pressured by time.  Though your dwarves start out quite exposed and out in the open (as opposed to being relatively safe within the depths of the earth)  you have plenty of time to establish a large fortress before you start to see any real threats from the outside world.
  • It is safe to ignore most of the game’s features.  It may seem incredibly daunting at first with all the menus upon menus upon menus, but you really don’t need to worry about 98% of that stuff.  When starting out, just focus on the basics: gathering/growing plants to make booze and food, felling trees for building material, and digging some caves to live in.  You’ll probably only need to build a handful of workshops to start: carpenter’s workshop, mason’s workshop, and distillery are essential at first.  I usually like to build a fishery, too, so I can focus on using plants to make drinks instead of food.  The other buildings and such *do* become important later on, though, but don’t worry about it when you are just starting out.
  • Don’t let setbacks discourage you.  When you’re first learning how the gameworld works, especially, things can go wrong.  One time I had my woodcutter dwarf get killed by an alligator right at the beginning of a game as I was chopping down trees near a lake.  Given that you only start out with seven dwarves, it seemed like a big loss at the time, but it really was no trouble; I just assigned another dwarf to the “woodcutter” role and he went off, picked up the dead dwarf’s axe, and started felling trees.  This also leads me to my final point:
  • Losing is fun!  Lots of crazy things can happen in the game.  I don’t know of many games where lumberjacks get killed by alligators, as in my previous example of a setback.   Also, I never properly buried the dead woodcutter, so he came back as a ghost and haunted my other dwarves later in the game!  I’ve had dwarves go insane because they were taken by a strange mood (a state that randomly befalls a dwarf once in a while which prompts them to try to build an artifact) but could not find the right materials to construct whatever it was they wanted to build.  The first time it happened, the dwarf went berzerk and started attacking other dwarfs until we was finally killed.  I’ve also had a sizeable colony of fifty or so dwarves almost starve to death as my underground farm stopped producing food (not quite a loss, but it was pretty close).

Here’s an image from one of the floors in my current fortress.  This is the “living quarters” floor.  I’ve built a bunch of small bedrooms for the peasants, plus a few larger groups of rooms (office, private dining area, bedroom) for the nobles at the bottom of the map.  The construction is not entirely complete — there are boulders strewn about and some of the rooms are not yet furnished.  The walls and floors, which initially start out rough when you first dig them out, have been smoothed.  You can see the natural veins of yellow limonite and red kaolite among the white chalk walls.  Some of the floors were made out of darker grey diorite tiles:

Dwarf Fortress Living Quarters

Dwarf Fortress Living Quarters

You can make some really nice looking areas in the game, if you’re patient.

I will leave you with one last word of warning, though: once you get into it, this game is very addictive!

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