Mining 101: Learn To Play Dwarf Fortress

He's happy. You can be happy too!

Dwarf Fortress is, in so many ways, the very apex of PC gaming. It is its alpha and omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. It’s almost impossible to imagine another game ever approaching its scope, complexity and cold brutality. We should worship at its all-knowing feet. Of course, 99% of us will never be able to play the bloody thing, thanks to it having history’s most obtuse control-set. Help is at hand, in the form of a free online class.

The remarkable experiment in crowd-sourced knowledge that is the University of Reddit has turned its hive-hand to Tarn Adams’ mega-magnum opus, with 4-year DF vet Nekromancer hosting an free, online, live-streamed How To Play class on August 3:

“Dwarf Fortress Basics is a class for beginner to intermediate players. I will be covering all aspects of the Fortress Mode from world generation, to more advanced topics such as military and nobles,” he says. If you want to join the currently 111-strong DF student roster, get thee here.

(Link via BoingBoing).


  1. Ralphomon says:

    Aww yeah! This is great. More people need to have DF in their lives, if only for the sympathy and understanding when I end up spending 24 hours at a time playing it.

    • Kdansky says:

      If only that one guy writing it had the common sense of spending a few days on a basic UI…

      I’d be happy if the menus were in alphabetical order, and the hotkeys were decently placed. As in: Don’t use IJKM for navigation when there are perfectly reasonable arrow keys on my keyboard. These two things would make worlds of difference.

      Of course I’d like slick controls like a Blizzard game. But I’m reasonable: Alphabetical order. Hotkey selection that makes sense (use a letter that actually occurs in the word it selects, arrow keys for directions). Nothing more.

      Cue the angry fanboys, telling me that the interface can not be done before everything else is finished. Which is an “argument” proven wrong on a daily basis by everyone writing code.

    • HeavyStorm says:

      @Kdansky, seconded, and strongly. UI comes first, not last, in game. DF isn’t a business app where the customers and product availability are priority, it’s a game so the user comes first.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Agreed as well on the UI.

      I understand, I see that there is a great and complex game there. I just can’t play it. It’s not a matter of ASCII rendering (although that doesn’t help when you start), it’s a matter of “how do I get things done”.

      And btw, even for business apps, UI counts. Like they say, you can have the greatest and most sophisticated business methods in the backend…. if your frontend doesn’t let the user access them easily, it’s worthless.

    • ankh says:

      Its also free and the developer doesnt give a fuck about UI. I respect that.

    • GHudston says:

      Respect it all you want, it’s still a terrible, terrible decision.

    • Vagrant says:

      I respect that you can rebind all the controls you want. And the UI used to be a confusing mess, now it’s just a bit messy. Its’ cleaned up a lot since the first time I tried playing it, a few years ago.

    • Ralphomon says:

      Yes, that would make the game much more accessible. It’s all well and good me and the other fanboys saying “take the time to learn the controls and it gets fun” when a lot of people don’t have the time/patience/sheer bloody-mindedness required to memorise the Byzantine menu heirarchies, and with good reason.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      I don’t. It’s free so he can get away with it, but any real product, the UI is an incredibly important element.

    • bonjovi says:

      some people seem to forget that he made that game for himself, not for you. He likes the UI and it doesn’t really matter that you don’t.

      My experience with DF was painful and short, but i like the idea that there is a game like this out there and people that are able to play it :-) same thing goes for Eve

    • Gnoupi says:

      @bonjovi – That’s a bit silly to say that. He released the game, and is open to suggestions, it’s not just “his and only his” thing.

      As it is public, we are just making a statement that it’s a pity that such deep game is so hard to access, because of its UI.
      Of course he can do whatever he wants with it and even repaint the menus in blinking pink if he likes.

      And of course since it’s free he doesn’t have to care for “lost sales” because of the UI.
      It doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people are repelled from a (probably) great gaming experience, and that it’s a pity.

    • Consumatopia says:

      It doesn’t need a UI, it needs an API that would let someone else build the UI. (Though it’s possible the collection of helper apps will eventually grow into a decent UI even without an API.)

      Considering that the developer talks about this going on for decades more, there are some worrying scalability concerns. No multicore is the obvious one. But looking at the path development takes, it seems to be easier to add new kinds of things to simulate or micromanage (e.g. bees) then it is to improve higher-level things like social or economic processes.

      Or to put it another way, it’s a game about leadership and scale that’s built by someone who doesn’t care about leadership or scale.

    • Gnoupi says:

      @consumatopia – it is actually much more difficult to make and hard to maintain an API allowing people to access the game status and control it, than to make your own GUI, especially if the game is evolving a lot.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Well, yes it’s easier to make a GUI. It already has a GUI–colored, animated text. It’s not easier to make a well-designed GUI, because that’s really hard.

      Given the lengths people are going to hack this thing, it isn’t clear how “maintained” such an API would have to be. Certain there wouldn’t need to be any backwards compatibility–all those helper apps break with every release and the makers happily fix them. Even just having function names would be easier than peeking at memory.

      What I think I would have do if I were an insane recluse simulation programmer is put the user interface and simulation in two separate processes and release the source of the interface. The UI’s source would serve as the documentation for the API to the simulation.

      Ultimately, if you are correct that building a well-designed GUI is easier than list a just barely good enough API, then the developer is correct to disregard this whole thing–the game itself involves so much complexity and micromanagement that I’m not sure clickable icons and better graphics would actually make the game any easier to play.

      EDIT: Actually, this is all besides the point. I don’t care how hard it is to design an API. The reality is that if you’re planning to work on a project for more than 20 years, then code modularity becomes really useful, even if you’re the only developer who ever sees it.

    • Mut says:

      As a die-hard PC gamer, I feel as if it’s my duty to play this game, but gods, that interface is terrifying!

    • Jhoosier says:

      The UI doesn’t make sense until it does. I’m of the opinion that it would go a long way towards increasing the popularity of the game – not to mention donations – if Toady would improve the menus and so on. The mouse input was a huge boon, and simplifying the menus and such would be useful, but it might also be pointless if more things get added that clutter/confuse the UI again.

      If I really wanted to influence him, I’d just sit by him and whisper, “Think of all the added donations a better UI would bring in.”

    • Stardog says:

      The UI is fine…It’s a case where knowing the key presses is 100x faster than any clickable UI would be. Like AutoCad vs Google Sketchup.
      “I’d be happy if the menus were in alphabetical order, and the hotkeys were decently placed. As in: Don’t use IJKM for navigation when there are perfectly reasonable arrow keys on my keyboard. These two things would make worlds of difference.”

      You can use the arrow keys, and how can you tell if they’re decently placed if you don’t know how the game is played?


      There isn’t even much to learn.
      All you need to know is this:


      You are a god-like being. Not one of the dwarfs. The game is like Caesar 3 + Minecraft + Dungeon Keeper. You give people jobs, and choose what they build/chop.


      Download the Lazy Newb Pack – link to

      Turn Aquafiers off. Set graphics to Ironhand. Load Stonesene Utility. Press Play.

      Press ENTER, ESC, Y. Wait for world to generate. Arrow keys view world (you are not selecting a start point). ENTER.

      Press ENTER to Start Playing. ENTER again. Choose a location to play in. This is a 3D cube area you will be stuck in for the rest of the game. For now, just make sure it has water. Tab flicks through more details. Press E to embark.

      Hover over MAYDAY-CUSTOM (sets up basic jobs for your Dwarfs) and press ENTER. Press E to embark. Now we are in-game.


      SPACEBAR to PAUSE. TAB twice for a large view with the menu to the right. Alt-tab to Stonesense and press F9. Nice view. Arrow keys look around.

      In DF, arrow keys looks around, and SHIFT+greater/lower than moves up and down layers. Scroll wheel in Stonesense does this too.

      We should cut down some trees. Press D. Chop is already selected. Now draw a rectangle across some trees (press ENTER for the top-left corner, and ENTER for the bottom-right).

      Now SPACEBAR to unpause. Your woodcutter dwarf will chop them down. AWESOMEEEEE.

      Now press P, W. Draw out another rectangle with arrow keys and ENTER. 3×3. ESC to finish. Dwarves will take the chopped wood to there. AWESOMEEE.

      Now you can do stuff with that wood, etc.

    • MadJax says:

      Or You could all stop bitching about the UI and realise that Tarn has already said he will clean it up. But first he has a LOT more to implement before he can consider cleaning it up.

      His reasoning being that he COULD spend a week or so getting a decent UI, but after two or three more features go in, he’d have to do it again, and then again. Better to get the features in, THEN clean up the UI. At least that way he’ll know what he’s dealing with exactly.

    • triple omega says:

      I’ve played/attempted to play DF like a year ago with the help of captnduck’s tutorials. IMO what really hurts the playability of DF is:

      1) The UI, as mentioned. Too many (illogical) combinations to remember and too many similar combinations to remember correctly.

      2) No intro, tutorial, or layered gameplay. This is a big part of what made me give up in the end. You basically need to use at least 60% of the game’s options in your first playthrough. You can’t deal with it one step at a time. On top of that the game is completely unplayable without an outside tutorial, as you have no idea what you are supposed to be doing without one.

      3) Everything is a fucking chore to do. This is very subjective, but I think a lot of people will agree with me here. I can’t stand the fact that something that seems like a very simple thing to do on the surface takes so much effort to actually do. The amount of actions and waiting time required to get anything done just seems disproportional to the end result.

      4) The game is extremely unforgiving. This shouldn’t be a bad thing, but because the game is like an enigma without instructions you can screw up something without even knowing what you did was wrong. Thus the old trial-and-error method isn’t going to work. This really adds to the inaccessibility of the game.

      If I had to pick just one thing to improve, then I’d go for an in-game tutorial or step-by-step campaign. I can deal with the rest for now, but learning how to play is very hard and VERY boring at the moment.

    • Zogtee says:

      You can discuss and argue DF all you like, but it always comes down to one thing. The GUI is a huge barrier to a lot of people who would otherwise probably enjoy the game. I would be happy if we could admit that and not immediately kneejerk into fanboy mode and pretend it’s not a problem.

    • jrod says:

      @Kdansky Just an observation: the IJKM hotkey setup probably comes from an equally byzantine app called VIM. Some might call it the “dwarf fortress” of text editors. It uses a very similar set of keys for navigation – maybe Toady writes all his code with it and was thus influenced by it?

    • steviesteveo says:

      There’s a limit to how much you can expect a developer to do for people who “don’t have time” to learn how to play their game.

      Until the game can play itself there’s always going to someone who complains that some part of the game is impossible to understand with the amount of potentially unfocused attention they gave it and there’s always going to be someone who sat down and learned how to do that bit. That’s really just the nature of the Internet.

    • Reapy says:

      When I got into it a bit, I found that the biggest hurdle was actually trying to figure out WHAT to do as opposed to how to do it. When everyone yelled and said the UI was garbage, I found that it was mildly annoying sometimes, useful in others, and plain annoying as crap in other areas.

      The things that ended up really annoying me though were gameplay style problems, that were not necessarily part of the UI. When I finally got my hands on bauxite so I could work with magma, you had to micromanage it. Put it in a forbidden stockpile, then, when you want to use it, you have to make a special stockpile in a room with a mason shop and lock the door with the dwarf in it so he will select the bauxite to make the stone crafts (levers/floodgates etc) rather then just saying “make me a bauxite floodgate”, as you can do for weapons and armor for example. This ones on top of the endless voting list I think.

      Some other things I disliked were the tedium of building large dormitory areas. It would be nice if you could define building and furniture/door placement patterns and stamp them down. I believe there are hotkey programs for this or it can be done with macros maybe, either way it is very unclear to a novice.

      Good tileset support is a must. I think sometimes it is a little confusing to select different tilesets and worry about them coming out to scale properly. An in game select tileset feature I would think is critical…because while using ASCII to save time is nice, I don’t think it takes much longer to draw a stupid little dog icon instead of using a d. Either way the community seems to have it pretty much set on getting icon sets out there, which go a long, long way to helping the learning curve.

      Dwarf therapist is 100% required I think, and honestly that is another type of management tool/UI that should be in the game.

      Anyway all this said, I think the biggest thing I disliked was how hard it was to expose the intricate detail that is in there. I haven’t played the branch of updates that added the underground after last years big update, so maybe there are some strides forward there, but really it was hard to go find a dwarf that was in combat and/or watch a good play by play of how that dwarf’s body parts got separated and throw about the ground.

      I do agree with toady’s idea that the UI can wait, because it might be that say a dwarf therapist style interface works for the game now, but in the future there might need to be some other way to manage it. I also know that when working a coding project for years and years you need to stay motivated and do the things you want to do, and not let the boring debugging and polishing code bog you down to the point you are going to vomit if you look at the thing any more.

      It would be nice if he could expose a part of the source code to allow some open source development of the UI portion of his code, and he just provides the API into the main part of the game to allow a UI wrapper that can manipulate the game and display what is happening under the hood as it likes.

      I think even if he broke the API with every update people would be pretty happy with it, the ones who want to play right away and don’t mind the alpha like interface can dive in, while casual people can wait for an update to the client.

    • PFlute says:

      @steviesteveo: That’s ridiculous. I love DF, but the UI concerns are all incredibly valid. If Toady can’t meet some basic standards for interfacing with players, you can’t blame players for not bridging the rest of that gap.

    • Heinrich says:

      I’m just going to throw in on the side of the shitty UI here for one reason: have you seen how much crap you can do in this game? It’s preposterous. Any UI is going to seem obtrusive and confusing with this much detail. Although, that said, I would like to see some sort of improvement eventually.

    • ffordesoon says:

      If I had Tarn Adams in a room with me right now, I would say, “Dude. Mouse.”

      EDIT: Oh, and an official tutorial campaign. That, you know, works.

      And the ability to mod the interface as opposed to just the tileset.

      And and and and.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      The last major release replaced all of the graphics and input code under-the-hood (switching it to SDL), so there is now some mouse control and the UI is much better organised into menus and submenus.

      @Reapy – Allowing/banning uses for different material types can now be done in a specific menu, so no more micromanaging the magma-proof ones, etc.

      I think the biggest reason the UI won’t get updated is that the core fanbase have overcome that and are just enthusiastic for whatever madly complicated simulation that Toady adds next. Last I checked he’s adding naturally expanding cities with crypts beneath them (and necromancers that can raise the dead from the crypts) and diseases like lycanthropy. Since it’s a single-developer project being given away for free, he’s more likely to work on what he enjoys working on and that existing players will enjoy most.

    • Kamos says:

      Saying dwarf fortress is “too complex to have a good UI” is absurd. Good UI is not something that magically makes the game accessible to everyone. It is UI that allows the user to deal with the system’s complexity without adding its own problems and complexities. Is that really what it does right now?

      It is also absurd to say that you can only develop the UI once everything else is in place. Guys, there is whole science for things like that. If no thought is currently being given to usability and how people (other than the dev) play the game, then the honest answer is that the UI is “messy by design”. And that is alright. I would probably do the same thing if I were in his place. ;)

      It’s just a shame because, as someone commented above, the game could probably have 100 times more players (and donations) if more people could actually get past the first screen.

    • jalf says:

      it’s a game so the user comes first.

      Well yeah, and for this particular game, the user it is targeted at is called Tarn Adams, and apparently, he has no problems with the UI.

      The rest of us are allowed to play it, but face it, we’re not the core audience for his game.

    • zeroskill says:

      I wouldnt have gotten into Dwarf Fortress not being for the Lazy Newb Pack. About the UI, if you really want to play the game, you will get used to it pretty fast, however, yes, its not for the casual gamer. Dwarf Fortress is mostly played by people that in general have to do alot with PCs, use professional programs as a part of their jobs, like programmers (specially video game programmers) and photoshoppers that are used to use keyboard shortcuts every second of their lifes.

    • steviesteveo says:

      @ PFlute

      That’s true but I’m particularly replying to Ralphomon who pointed out that players may not have the “time/patience/sheer bloody-mindedness” to learn the UI and I’m saying that developers can’t really be blamed because their players don’t have time.

    • Ralphomon says:

      @steviesteveo I don’t disagree with you. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what I think, because I’m looking at this from the privileged position of one who knows their way around the DF interface like the back of my hand (well, for most things – still not really sure how to get military working properly). Yes, one can’t blame Toady if people don’t have time to work it out, but on the flip side of that, his game would be more popular if it had a slightly more sane/intuitive interface for the newbies. That said, it looks like he doesn’t really mind: I’m not one for the “it’s his game, it’s not for Joe Public” argument, but it looks like he’s happy with the state of the following his game has, and he’d rather concentrate on enriching the ‘gameplay’ features like wars and magic and beekeeping and whatever rather than the ‘metagameplay’ feature of a clear UI. I’m not complaining (except recent changes mean I cannot find a good source of bituminous coal for love nor money), and neither (I assume) do the rest of the fans. The people this really hurts are those who’ve heard about how deep and complex this game is and really want to play it but the first steps of even learning how to play the game are too much of a hassle.

      I was going to say something about how I wouldn’t want an in-game tutorial because I don’t think it would fit with the feel of the game, but my thoughts are too jumbled, so feel free to ignore me about this if you disagree.

    • steviesteveo says:

      Definitely, I’m actually the opposite in that I’m one of the people who never took the time to learn the interface and I can’t blame the developer that I went off to update Facebook instead of learning how the game works.

      I find the interface tricky, probably because I’ve played it for about 10 minutes, but there’s pretty widespread proof that if you give Dwarf Fortress the time and attention it needs the interface lets you do impressive stuff. That’s not to say it can’t be improved, of course.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Well yeah, and for this particular game, the user it is targeted at is called Tarn Adams, and apparently, he has no problems with the UI.

      The rest of us are allowed to play it, but face it, we’re not the core audience for his game.

      The problem with that argument is that he depends on donations from DF players as his sole source of income.

    • Nesetalis says:

      I love dwarf fortress, but i never play it anymore, mainly because he hasnt updated the things i want to play with… The early game holds no challenge for me now, and the late game, i hate the ministers and the constant war :p

      as for the UI, its not great, no doubt, but i’ve never found it that difficult, but of course i’ve played nethack for years, used to the hjkl keys from vim, and nethack’s vikeys (i prefer numberpad keys turned on though :p)
      Worst part of the DF UI though, is the fact that the damn UI doesnt match in places. Like one double screen where +/- go up an ddown on the left menu, and pgup/pgdown go up and down on the right.. then annother window its swapped..

      what he needs to do, is write a generic UI class, and reuse it as much as possible. Especially a frames class, preferably with arrow keys to move a cursor up and down, or between frames instead of relying on -/+ and */

      otherwise, the game UI doesnt bother me.

    • Kdansky says:

      I wonder how I can work with Visual Basic 2010 daily without (much) complaining, if complexity always results in usability issues. DF may be complex, but it’s child’s play compared to something like an IDE. A good UI needs (a lot of) work, I’ll grant you.

      Nobody can force tarn to make a decent UI, but I am absolutely sure that someone will write a (less deep) clone of DF at some point, slap a GUI on it and sell five million copies for 10$ each, like Minecraft. Tarn will be bitching so hard that our ears will start to bleed when he realizes he could have become a millionaire and instead chose to live in his mom’s basement.

  2. Bobzer says:

    Or you could just go here:
    link to

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I learned the basics from CaptnDuck’s video tutorials a few years ago for the old “40d” version. Apparently he’s done new ones updated for the current version.

    • Donjonson says:

      Jesus.. Dutch dude, I don’t want to watch your tutorial for your life story, just the tutorial please.

    • President Weasel says:

      I learned the basics from Sippycup’s tutorials. The man has a soothing voice that seems to say “I know this control system is ridiculously obtuse, but just chill out and don’t worry and I’ll explain and it will be fine”.

    • starclaws says:

      I recommend captnduck’s first set of tutorials atleast. It is not a follow along type tutorial. As it is kind of hard to do that. He moves kinda fast but he is showing you how a basic fortress is set up. He even helps you in getting a pack I believe. I used a pack for a while and then went back to semi ascii as I prefer it more.

      5ippycup is more explanatory though and looks great as well. I think this would be a more of a starter menu learning and navigation.

      Best way to get used to it is to start a fortress and get used to the menu and get a fortress dug out and planned. Get farming, brewing, masonry, carpentry, fishing, logging, some crafting, and a trade depot going.

      Then there is always the extensive wiki and irc channel: #bay12games
      Both will be really helpful.

      If you don’t like the idea of an extensive game-play type game… Then there is always Bulletstorm. Linear and explosion-esque for you simpletons.

    • Heliosicle says:

      captnduck taught me how to play, then I forgot.

    • Gnoupi says:

      @starclaws – there are extensive gameplay type games which are easier to access, mostly from the UI.
      No need to call simpletons people who don’t have the motivation or time to get past that dreadful interface.

      You can have a deep game which is actually pleasant to the eye and easy to control, it’s not incompatible.

      If I need to spend a day learning how to play the game, during which I don’t have fun, I will indeed prefer going to play Bulletstorm or the like. Because basically, I play games to have fun, simpleton me.

    • jrod says:

      I much preferred 5ippycup’s videos… even if you don’t play the game those let’s play vids are hilariously entertaining.

    • anonymousity says:

      Or chess the real simpletons game that interface is so easy. I mean lets all forget easy to learn hard to master because hard to learn easy to master is more relevant. Having said all that I love dwarf fortress and have wasted countless hours on it.

  3. Njordsk says:

    I really really REALLY REALLY want to play this game, but as soon as the ascii drops in my eyes 80% of my motivation vanishes. It looks sooo deep…

    • Glycerine says:

      I’ve not actually played it mind, but apparently there’s some quite nice visualisation tools you can get for it – one is called ‘StoneSense’ i believe.

      I had the exact same issue as you, but haven’t got around to actually trying the game with any of the new visuals yet.

      Edit: A google image search for StoneSense throws up a nice overview.

      link to

    • Hanban says:

      There are some nice graphic sets that makes it more bearable. Give it a shot, I swear you will find some manner of enjoyment through the game.

    • Arona Daal says:

      There are Graphical tilesets you can find on the df forums.
      Or you simply (like i do) get the Mayday Pack ,Unpack and enjoy:
      link to
      Other useful Tools for df:
      Dwarf Therapist (may not work with the newest versions of Df,check the Version numbers):
      link to
      And heres the Online Wiki for DF(This one u WILL need to get anything complex like Soap Production going):
      link to

      Strike the Earth!

    • The Colonel says:

      Just grab the lazy newb pack. So much simpler.

    • ChemicalRascal says:

      Don’t worry. When you get used to it, the ASCII becomes like the matrix. You don’t see a b, d, g anymore, you see blond, brunette, redhead…

    • President Weasel says:

      Like the man said, get the Lazy Newb Pack. It comes with a decent tileset right out of the box, no ASCII to worry about. It also comes with the mighty Dwarf Therapist program, without which the game is unplayable by anyone other than masochists or madmen.

    • Mungrul says:

      You may see blonde, brunette, redhead; I see badger, dog, goblin.

      In relation to the article, I’ve often thought of offering lessons via remote desktop support software like LogMeIn. Dwarf Fortress deserves to be world-conquering.

  4. Coins says:

    DF isn’t that deep. If the ASCII bothers you, get Mayday’s green texture pack, or the Stonesense visualizer and scream in joy as most of DF’s difficulty vanishes.

    • 4026 says:

      Hm. Stonesense and graphics packs do help… to an extent. But I tend to find that the biggest hurdle with DF is just the godawful UI. After a while, even in ASCII, the ol’ matrix-vision thing clicks in, and I start seeing dwarves and goblins and beds and water instead of letters, numbers and punctuation. But no matter how long I play, manipulating the interface to get my dwarves to build a wall is always a pain in the ass.

  5. The Colonel says:

    For over 2 years I’ve been referring to captnduck’s youtube videos to learn how to play (and re-remember how to play). He recently did a comprehensive 2 1/2 hour one using the lazy newb pack. He also has a great great accent.

    • Rinox says:

      His Dutsssschh accent puts me off, tbh. :-D (and I can say that, because I’m a Dutch speaker. But not Dutch.)

    • President Weasel says:

      I’m impressed a duck can speak decent English at all, even if he has a bit of an accshhent because of the beak.

  6. killerkerara says:

    If the ASCII is overwhelming then I recommend the LazyNewb pack. It has a built in installer for a few good texture packs and lets you disable things like aquifers if you don’t want to have too much “fun”. It really made things easier to comprehend and let me get into the game.
    link to

  7. Zakkeh says:

    I love this, having played it off and on enough to know how to survive. Dwarf Fortress has the best community, unless you ask about digging into the circus. Then you’re asking for trouble.

    God help you if you ever diss lava

  8. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    I swear the ascii actually burnt my retina’s, quite sad that I don’t get to play it, oh well, minecraft will have to do ;P

    I tried getting into it, I even dug out a cave, I think all my dwarves ended up going mad because I couldn’t do anything.

  9. Maxheadroom says:

    Does it mention anywhere what time it starts? It’s not that silly American time is it? where I’ll have to either get up at 4am or take the day off work

  10. Frye2k11 says:

    New York Times on Dwarf Fortress last week :

    link to

    Always nice to see what mainstream media makes of it all.

    • JackShandy says:

      The annoying thing about that is that they take a break from talking about dwarf fortress halfway through for a page worth of “And how’s your social life? Do you have a girlfriend? Are you getting enough to eat?”

      It’s condescending. I didn’t come for an interview done by their mother.

    • Tei says:


    • ankh says:

      Yeah that interview was extremely condescending. I bet if it werent for the moola the dude would have told them to fuck right off.

      Edit: I realise that i probably feel this way because i dont have a social life nor a girlfriend and im not getting enough to eat. :)

    • adonf says:

      You can usually skip the middle part of articles in American newspapers. It usually goes like this:
      – start with a topic
      – switch to something vaguely related but not important enough to warrant its own article
      – go back to the original topic for the conclusion.
      (Based on a sample of two articles I just read in NYT and the New Yorker.)

    • Limey says:

      I think that’s pretty unfair. It’s always interesting to know more about the person behind the creation.

    • Burning Man says:

      There was precisely ONE question about his (lack of) girlfriend. And the text accompanying that was entirely in Toady’s own words. It wasn’t phrased nastily, the reporter never passed any judgements, he simply enquired and left it at that.

    • Acorino says:

      It definitely wasn’t condescending just because the statements about Toady’s life weren’t all happy sunshine. But then, I watched the “Crumb” documentary recently and that put everything else into perspective! ;)

  11. TimA says:

    Good stuff. I really don’t think DF is as difficult to play as some people make out, but tutorials are definitely required.

    Captain Duck’s video tutorials, as posted above, I also recommend very highly. Such an amazing game.

    • Sassenach says:

      There is a fair bit of exaggeration for comic effect regarding the obtuseness of Dwarf Fortress. But it does seem to put people off. Starting slow and referring to tutorials on the wiki makes learning the game trivial.

    • jrod says:

      Learning to play is the fun (and “Fun”) part of the game.

  12. Binary77 says:

    As much as i appreciate the opinions of (most) people on here & it does sound interesting, i fear that i may never have the time to properly get into Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft. From what i can tell, they don’t exactly seem like ‘pick up & play’ titles.

    I’m still trying to catch up on games that i never had chance to play when i was little, let alone stuff like this. I am getting sick of the standard FPS tripe that keeps getting churned out though & would love to get into something more complex, that won’t sap my time & social life.

    Any suggestions? I nearly always play action games & feel like a break. I think Project Zomboid is my best bet so far.

    • Temple says:

      There was a pc gamer demo for minecraft a while back. Give it a google and see if you like digging.
      Minecraft you can play as much as you want -I still haven’t done anything special in it and have had a blast. With a better laptop I’d probably play it far more and make myself a big castle or something.

      DF, on the other hand, has to be played properly or you die. The lazy newb pack and the corresponding youtube tutorial are great for explaining, but I still find myself playing it as a turn based game as I pause it and check everywhere to make sure nothing has gone wrong. Not sure I’ve even completed a year yet.

      I actually used the wiki link to as my helper.

    • Binary77 says:

      Okay, cheers. I think i’m always gonna feel like a philistine if i don’t at least give one of them a go.

    • BoZo says:

      Minecraft is very much pick up and play.

      DF is the exact opposite though…

  13. alh_p says:

    It’s not the ASCII or interface which get me with Dwarf fortress, it’s the spiraling micro-management which gets in the way of the development of my fort. Either that or it is what “makes” a fortress. Personally I really like the planning, building and training but would rather not have to remember to queue up another 30 “brew” or “refine coal” tasks.

    • 4026 says:

      You know you can just set those tasks to repeat forever in the workshop screens, right?

      Q –> direct cursor to your workshop –> select task using Numpad +/- –> press R

      That is, IIRC…

    • Rinox says:

      Yeah, or just have them managed by the manager. You’ll still have to give him a command, but you can do large and specific orders through him.

    • alh_p says:

      Cheers, I know and while that makes things more bearable than visiting each workshop and manually qyueing 10 jobs, the manager still requries alot of micro if you have any industries up and running! Ensuring adequate supply for basic production of alcohol, etc gets to be the main headache which causes me to abandon fort. That said, I’ve never really got to the stage of sanitising caverns to create “safe” logging areas so i probably only count as a light-weight in terms of DF experience.

      I dunno, for me when playing DF starts to mostly be a logisitical chore (ensuring continuation rather than development and advancement of my fort), I’m afraid I switch off. The forts’ demands just balloon beyond my apetite to knuckle down and provide them! Maybe it’s too close to my real job… :)

      Nothing has the ambition or scope of DF though, so i always periodicaly return to it.

    • jrod says:

      @alh_p I know what you mean – I had the same issue. I found capping the population at 50-60 yields a much more manageable fort. I also started a dwarven “natural selection” program where I would take the excess untalented dwarves and give them a nice warm bath in some magma (well away from main fort so your halls don’t become haunted). Then I wait for the next batch of migrants, separate the keepers from the discard, and well… more magma baths. Rinse repeat until you have a team of superstars :-)

  14. Sinnorfin says:

    The interface could not be better i think, Its arranged fantastically logical and useful considering how many aspects you control in that game.

    • alh_p says:

      Don’t you think mouse control would be more accessible? maybe not, I used the keyboard exclusively pretty quickly. Funny how i started pressing shift whilst scrolling in excel at work, hoping to jump 10 lines at a time! :)

    • Harlander says:

      I didn’t have too much trouble with the interface until the new Military screen came out, which really makes no earthly sense at all.

      (There is some mouse control currently, but the things it can be used for are quite limited)

    • Chris D says:

      I think any game where the recommended method of play is to have two separate programs running at the same time could probably stand to have a better interface.

    • Sinnorfin says:

      Well, yeah there is truth there,i meant that it could not be better with keyboard only..

      Mouse would be good, but i guess that would’ve happened by now if it was easy to do..
      And yeah Dwarf therapist is essential atm..

      But as far as its keyboard only i still think it does a very good job.. a lot of shallower keyboard-only game had harder to learn interfaces.

    • Chris D says:


      I suspected you had to have something a little more specific in mind when you mentioned the interface, so fair enough.

      I think Mouse control would have happened by now if the designer really cared about making the game playable for anybody else might be a little closer to the truth.

      While, as you say, other games may have had harder interfaces I think something like Nethack can get away with it because it’s a relatively simple concept: one guy in a dungeon. Dwarf Fortress’ difficulty is that it’s a complex concept with a difficult interface. It’s essentially multiplying the difficulty.

    • formivore says:

      No I’m sorry but having to use ijkl to navigate the screen is just inferior to mouse control. I remember there was some things you could do in the main screen with a mouse, but not enough, so I just gave up and did everything with the keyboard.

      It could be like a situation where mouse control isn’t worth the half of the keyboard you lose. But I don’t think such situations really exist if you institute a smart keybinding scheme.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      While, as you say, other games may have had harder interfaces I think something like Nethack can get away with it because it’s a relatively simple concept: one guy in a dungeon.

      Except a lot of the major Roguelikes have fairly robust graphical /gui treatments available. Nethack in particular has a wealth of options. Granted, most of these are community generated, but it makes me wonder what DF is doing different in that it doesn’t spawn these sort of things to the same extent. It’s not like it hasn’t been around long enough, and it’s not like there isn’t any interest in giving DF something like a functional GUI. I guess it’s just the open source (or the lack thereof, to be specific) issue.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      Roguelikes with robust GUIs? I can only think of ToME, and Falcon’s Eye (Nethack)… and I guess Dungeons of Dredmor now :).

      Most others offer a tileset version that has the exact same keyboard-based interface as the ASCII version.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      I was thinking of the Nethack variants as well as Dungeon Crawl/Stone Soup as being the big open source examples that are still widely played. The latter has a highly playable mouse enabled GUI not present in the console version. I probably used the term “robust” in a purely relative fashion, though.

  15. zeroskill says:

    Good to see Dwarf Fortress gets some press lately, was enjoying the New York Times article. This game deserves all the exposure it can get.

  16. Boarnoah says:

    Lovely game except for the clunky interface

  17. geldonyetich says:

    I think that Penny Arcade did a similar segment on modding your Gameboy Advance. A completely different subject, but the theory is sound, considering Dwarf Fortress is about as user friendly.

  18. OrangyTang says:

    Related, has anyone played Goblin Camp? I’ve been keeping an eye on it’s development for a while now.

    link to

    Obviously heavily DF inspired, but it looks like having at least one eye towards having a usable UI – for a start it seems to let you do everything with the mouse (although there are hotkeys for advanced users). Which is how it should be IMHO.

    Tileset support for non-ascii graphics is coming next version too.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It has a better UI than DF. Not necessarily a good one. Well, they got rid of a lot of micromanagement, which is definitely good.

      It’s also deliberately lacking in depth, intended to be more of a strategy game than a crazy sandbox. It’s fine. But I’d very much like to see more Dwarf Fortress-alikes that go off in different directions too.

    • Rabbitsoup says:

      God damm you beat me to it Tang.

      Goblincamp is where it’s at!

    • jrod says:

      is it actually a game now? last time i tried it it was pretty short on features and things to do.

    • BurningPet says:

      What do you mean tileset support coming for the next version? i personally created a 95% complete tileset for the version that came out few months ago and i seem to recall few other tilesets already in development, apart from the basic default incomplete set.

  19. Rabbitsoup says:

    There is a good looking alternative to dwarf fortress with a great UI it called goblin camp. It’s open source, highly modable and you can get to play as the goblins! go check it oot.

    link to

    • thebigJ_A says:

      It’s not really a replacement for DF. It may be easier for new people to get into, but it’s much shallower, and doesn’t scratch the same itch. I doubt anyone who’s fallen in love with DF, and it’s absolute wealth of options, could be satisfied with Goblincamp. I know I wasn’t.

      You’re going from one of the (if not the) deepest, most complicated games ever made to a pale imitation.

  20. BobsLawnService says:

    I wish that Dwarf Fortress had come out when I was 13 and had time for these things.

  21. RaveTurned says:

    The UI may put some people off, but the fact is that the donations to DF are enough for Tarn to earn a living working solely on his pet game. This suggests that plenty of people are enjoying the game regardless, and that perhaps the idiosyncratic UI isn’t as big a deal as some people think (or as they would like it to be). Whatever the reasoning behind Tarn’s decisions, he’s clearly Doing Something Right.

  22. DD says:

    Ahh I love Dward Fortress. They need more of this kind of thing to get people interested..

  23. allthingslive says:

    Ooh! I already know how to play Dwarf Fortress and have actually uploaded a few tutorials on my YouTube channel, but I’ll have to check out that stream, maybe he’ll tell me something I don’t know :P
    And also, the UI is definitely not that bad. The UI seems awful if you can’t play the game, but once you look at all those symbols, understand what is happening and know what to do, the UI is simple. It would be nice if it had a clickable alternative, because then you wouldn’t have to have both hand on the keyboard most of the time, you can just chill with a mouse in hand, but it’s really not a big deal.

  24. Raptor007 says:

    Gameplay elements > UI > graphics > number of people playing

    This isn’t an incorrect choice, it’s just not what most people want. Too bad for them, they are missing out on a great game.

    And honestly if you can’t download the Lazy Newb Pack and follow along with an online tutorial, you probably won’t enjoy the games complexity.

  25. Chirez says:

    So, one of my close friends plays DF a great deal, and persistently links me to the bay12 homepage and recites changelogs in the hope of getting me interested.

    I played the game a little, in the past, and would like to play it more, but frankly in its current state it is effectively unplayable. Now, that statement is bound to draw the ire of those who do actually play it, but I’ll take some time and clarify my thinking on Dwarf Fortress, a subject which has taken up a fair amount of contemplation.

    DF is written by one guy, for his own reasons. He understands its intricacies in a way nobody else in the world can replicate. He and the game are integrated to the point where the UI is essentially irrelevant to him. The game’s devoted fans, and most regular players have given a great deal of time and effort to learning the interface, to the point where doing anything is second nature and so of course seems to make perfect sense. If a player is willing to study and absorb the intricacies of the game, then it opens to them, and all of the wonder inherent in its scale and depth unfolds.

    What those people really need to understand is that to everyone else it’s utterly incomprehensible. To anyone unwilling to portion off a decent chunk of mental space to mapping out every tiny detail of perhaps the most complex game ever built, it is fundamentally inaccessible. To me, and to a huge swathe of people who might like to play it, it is actually unplayable. Oh, we could learn, but I for one have neither the time nor the inclination. The truly frustrating thing is, there is no actual reason that it should be necessary.

    Even something so simple as the graphics can be explained in fairly simple terms. There is a vocal contingent of DF players who will say that the game should be played with the basic ASCII graphics. The problem with this is that when I see a letter, or a symbol, I do not immediately connect it to a specific object or creature. Yes, that can be learned, but why should I learn to parse a game’s output when I already have an understanding of all the things in the game based on their appearance. In short, when I see an 8bit picture of a dog, I understand that it’s a dog. When I see a d, I understand that it’s a letter, and a sound. Not a dog.

    Both telling the game what you want to do, and understanding its responses, involve learning everything entirely from scratch. Effectively it would be like making a text adventure whose entire interface is in Klingon. You have to learn the language before you can learn the game. It presents an unnecessary barrier to entry before you can even begin to play.

    I think Dwarf Fortress is an incredible creation, which will only get more so with time. I think that it could provide incredible experiences to a far greater number of people than are currently engaged with it. I think that so long as it remains defiantly obtuse, that will never be possible. I think that is a very great shame.

    Also : Good luck following any tutorial or guide. By the time you have finished watching it, the game will have been updated and everything you just learned will be irrelevant.

    • jrod says:


    • thebigJ_A says:

      Your “Also” is completely untrue. I learned to play via cptnduck’s tutorials, then put the game down for more than a year. When I came back to it a few weeks ago, everything I’d learned was still relevant. Sure there were some new things, but they followed the same rules as everything else. Finding out there were now chickens that lay eggs, for instance, didn’t distress me in the slightest.

      You don’t like the ASCII, fine, neither do I. That’s why I play with Phoebus’ tileset, and actually get an 8bit picture of a dog.

      Yes, there’s a sharp learning curve. Thing is, you don’t need to understand everything. Feel free to ignore things, and experiment. Once you have the basic concepts down, you figure stuff out as you go. The fundamental ideas are consistent, so once you’ve figured out, say, brewing alcohol, setting up a clothing industry or whatever uses those same rules and commands. It’s far easier.

      The learning is part of the fun. You are supposed to fail. The game’s motto is “Losing is Fun”. And it is, so long as you understand that going in. You learn from your mistakes, then start over feeling smarter and ready to try something else.

  26. mod the world says:

    I stopped playing DF when the GUI was dumbed down for console noobs. It’s too casual now for me.

  27. tentacle says:

    I think the difficulty of DF is somewhat overstated. There’s an initial step to take to understand what the hell is going on, but 5-10 mins of youtube tutorials will get you started. Most of the confusion arises from the fact that there’s SO MUCH depth, features, options, etc present.
    But approach the game the right way and this isn’t a problem. Ignore all these more advanced aspects and just try to set up a fortress that can feed itself. I stuck to just that for like the first three weeks of playing and had a blast. Like minecraft, it was fun just to build the fortress, mine ore, and watch my dwarves run about. Only after I was really comfortable with the basics did I start to worry about surviving attacks, building weapons, micromanaging my dwarves’ skills, furnishing the fortress beautifully, ensuring a good balanced diet and enough beer, etc.
    You can advance into the deeper end of the pool gently – it’s fun all the way.

  28. Saiko Kila says:

    I don’t think the game is too difficult. Maybe it needs a certain mindset or approach to get it going, but I have never watched more than two YouTube tutorials (which were outdated by then), instead I focused on a wiki, a forum (which is very helpful) and the like before playing… And I’ve never lost a fortress (unless willingly abandoned), even my first fort is still up and running. Of course I started venturing into savage or evil biomes only after learning how to play. Also, I can’t imagine playing a fort consisting of more than 20-40 dwarves without Dwarf TheRapist.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      I have old, thick notebooks, filled with the names of every dwarf, my planned occupation for them(in case I draft them to something else that needs doing at any quality NOW), and what skill I plan to have them mood in. I sort of miss having the motivation to organise to that degree, but I absolutely love Dwarf Therapist. Mind you, the in-game interface for labours has improved, it used to be just a great big list, now it’s got categories(woodworking, farming, crafting, etc) so it’s easier to wrestle with. Still not up to the task of drafting the whole fort as weavers to pick up all that giant cave spider silk before a forgotten beast arrives, then as masons to wall the caverns off before they get slaughtered.

  29. Nidokoenig says:

    The UI definitely has some problems with consistency, but once you’ve played with it for a while and you grok it, the mad genius behind it is apparent. Remember, you’re taking direct control of every job in a village of up to 200 dwarves/kobolds/ponies/whatever you care to mod in. If nothing else, a big part of the problem people have with the interface is that it can’t make the slightest guess or inference about what the player wants to do.
    A friendlier game would stop you deconstructing that bit of floor above the dining hall where 80% of your dwarves are partying, Dorf Fort lets you bring three ceilings down on the trade depot in quick succession while the elven caravan is unloading and grab all the loot. A friendlier game would question why you’re building a butchery and tannery in the noble quarters, Dorf Fort lets you marvel at a dwarf bone scimitar made from the baron that forbade the export of stone mugs AFTER the caravan had left.
    Don’t go into Dwarf Fortress just expecting to have fun. Go in with a plan. Decide you’re going to build a wooden volcano, an underwater city, a gigantic phallus, then work out which of the options will help you achieve that, the fun will come as you work out how to achieve that.

  30. TH0TH says:

    For those who find the UI impenetrable, Mouse Fortress can help by making most things selectable in the right click menu, as well as the new version having a radial menu, but afaik the old version works fine and might help some of you;
    link to
    link to

  31. pakoito says:

    I tried to start playing again a couple of days ago. Got everything set up with LazyNewb, watched the 2h30 2011 tutorial video, got the game started, made the basics for the fortress to more-or-less run (sleep, eat, farming, crafting) and then I realized I didn’t have an endgame to aim for. I’m not a builder person, and the exploration was tedious and problematic at best…

    I need serious halp.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      Well, building is usually the main thing in this game, but the other is getting a military together, then pushing your wealth up into the stratosphere to get some Fun. See what ores are on your map and what you can trade for from the caravans, check the wiki for effectiveness and get your dwarves armed and armoured, then pump up fortress worth to get goblins and megabeasts to notice you. This does involve learning to use the military system, though, and you’ll want to learn to use burrows to keep civilians inside during sieges.

  32. utharda says:

    Going to respond to the ui wars comments here.
    Perhaps one day df will have a nice, acessable ui. Perhaps one day, df will be a very different game. Right now though, df is… a little like an autistic child*. Its deep, its smart, and interacting with it is painful. Its not so much a matter of learning the ui and the menus as it is a matter of adjusting your brain to df. Then the ui actually starts to make sense. *

    *(other than the issue of e leading directly to embark from the careful preparation screen, without a confirm. I’ve accidentally embarked with no skills way way to many times.)

  33. thebigJ_A says:

    The best way to play DF is via the Lazy Newb Pack. And not just for newbs, either. It contains everything you could want or need. Tilesets, easy init setting, DwarfTherapist (this is essential, I want to hug the creator), various hacks, stonesense (cool isometric visualizer), etc.

    I’ve especially grown to love Soundsense. Turn DF’s volume off and run it while you play. It adds sound effects (even some dialogue) for everything that happens in the game, as well as some kickass music that puts me in the mood. I’ve grown to depend on it. Now I can just listen and tell that my hunter just started shooting an elephant, or some military dwarfs are sparring, or Urist McBonecarver ran out of bones, etc. etc. It’s pretty sweet.

  34. Pelvis says:

    The UI is fine. Anyone who says otherwise needs to quit being a noob and sink some time into learning its oddities. Admittedly, it takes some time to learn, but it’s so much more efficient when you can just type “d, n, d” to dump, or “b, C, w” to build a wall rather than click through menus. The letters to access certain menus are questionably assigned, but a little repetition makes navigation easy. I’d rather Toady One work on the game mechanics than waste time changing the interface before the game has implemented all possible commands.

    I do believe he would do well to get some help with coding though. Updates take a long time, with v1.0 being years, possibly decades away. Maybe he has control issues. There are plenty of talented modders and coders who would be happy to contribute. Maybe even just one or two like-minded folks to help implement some of his ideas and speed up the process.