Have You Played… Dwarf Fortress?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Which of the Dwarf Fortress sub-games should I play today: the fortress mode which has come to define the entire project; the adventure mode I’ve argued before is an easy gateway to the game’s simulatory wonders; the fictional encyclopedia it creates at world gen, full of procedural histories; perhaps the arena mode, where you can pit the game’s real and fantasy creatures against each other, to see who would win in a fight between a dragon and half a dozen elephants?

Or perhaps I’ll just spend some time on the game’s development log, the charm of which more than justifies continuing to support the game’s donationware-funded development. Here’s part of the latest entry:

Poetic, musical and dance forms will be generated by culture. There will be both knowledge and skill-based components to this — so you can’t compose a poem of a variety you aren’t familiar with, no matter how good you are, but once you learn the rules, the quality will depend on your skills/atts. It’ll start with the poet’s general skill, and they’ll also develop specific skill with the form, in a way that’s probably most analogous to what we were planning with combat styles. I didn’t expect this to come before those, but it did. The quality of the outcome should depend on broader cultural familiarity or varying qualities/depths of knowledge, but I’m not going to get into any of that yet: just a knowledge check box to get started and then a few related skills.

Procedural poetry written by procedural dwarves according to styles determined by the culture into which they’re born. What does elven poetry sound like? How might a dwarven baby dance if he been raised by the goblins who snatched him as a baby? These aren’t silly questions, just things we may soon find out.

The tired cliché of Dwarf Fortress is that it’s hard to learn how to play, by which people mean, “It will take you a weekend of concerted effort before you start having fun.” But give a free download of Dwarf Fortress a weekend and it will give you a lifetime of entertainment.


Top comments

  1. Mr Bismarck says:

    I built a giant golden dragon statue. The head was a reservoir for lava, which fell through a giant open maw into the hollow body and was then pumped back into the head to repeat the cycle.

    The sole purpose was so that I could catapult my Mayor through the dragon's mouth and watch her disappear off into the distance. On fire.

    Because she banned the export of mittens.

    It's worth learning how to play.
  1. Cinek says:

    Isn’t Dwarf Fortress one of these games that everyone say they played, but very few actually did?

    • Breadnought says:

      It’s the EVE Online of city builders.

      • Ashrand says:

        As someone who has played both, Dwarf Fortress is much easier to understand

        • wyrm4701 says:

          And more exciting.

        • Distec says:

          I dunno. I pretty much “get” Eve, despite there being areas I have no expertise in (Market PVP, Industry). But DF has felt impenetrable every time I’ve tried it.

          Maybe it will click on a future attempt .

    • Cardinal says:

      It’s easy to bounce off, but rewards perseverance.
      There’s an O’Reilly book that eases the pain… link to shop.oreilly.com

      • Cinek says:

        Proof that you’d be better off learning a programming language than playing this game. Programming language can be self-tough, dwarf fortress requires wikipedia-page tutorial for installation and a book for “getting started” with the game. 248 pages of a “getting started” book. In 208 pages you can learn everything about concurrency in C# and actually have some fun project at the end that you’ll be able to show off to your friends. How about that?
        If the developer of DF would take even 1/5th of the time he did to make DF interface a nightmare it is now and instead study basics of usability and UI design – he would be a much better person and human kind wouldn’t waste time on digging through that shithole of the UIs.

        • Arcanestomper says:

          Just because someone wrote a book on it doesn’t mean you actually need the book. You probably will need the wiki. But studying two or three wiki pages and spending a few hours messing with it is by no means comparable to learning a programming language.

          Edit: Which isn’t to say you don’t have a point. I have taught myself new programming concepts in the same amount of time it took to learn dwarf fortress.

          It’s just not really as hard as people make it out to be, and there are very few games that can compare to it’s level of depth and detail.

          So yes, if you’re going to compare optimal time spent you might be better off learning a programming language. But that’s honestly true of pretty much any game that you aren’t actually being paid to play. And if you’re going to spend that time playing a game of some kind anyway, then dwarf fortress is worth a go.

          • jrodman says:

            As someone who has studied many complex games and many programming languages, programming langues are far easier to learn than Dwarf Fortress. Really.

        • Argembarger says:

          “If the developer of DF would take even 1/5th of the time he did to make DF interface a nightmare it is now and instead study basics of usability and UI design – he would be a much better person and human kind wouldn’t waste time on digging through that shithole of the UIs.”

          It seems like you’re pretty worked up about this. I don’t see how improving Dwarf Fortress’s UI would affect who Tarn Adams is as a person.

          Until Tarn gives us a UI revision, it’s obviously not a game that’s gonna be on your personal playlist anytime soon, but why so much vitriol towards it? It really doesn’t have to affect you personally unless you allow it to. Just go play one of the DF-likes that are out there. Or read some of the community stories. Plenty of people, myself included, derive a great deal of enjoyment out of the game despite the problems. We collectively keep Tarn afloat through donations because we like his game and anticipate even greater things from it someday.

          The thing’s free, it’s his personal project, he doesn’t force anyone to donate, and there exist alternatives aplenty. It just seems like your ire is a tad disproportionate.

      • Bugamn says:

        I thought you were joking. Then I clicked the link. Now I am tempted to buy a copy, even though I know how to play.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Nope. Loads of people play it, a popular format is the “pass and play” community fortresses which can be pretty hilarious, each player relating his misadventures and criticizing the failures of his hapless predecessor.

      I spent at least a hundred hours on this game and eventually got bored of it because I felt there was nothing new to discover, and especially that making cool megaprojects was too tedious and time consuming because of the bad dwarf AI for digging (i.e. designate a whole 30-level 5×5 pit at once to dig out and you’re guaranteed that dwarves will kill themselves). I don’t regret my time with it though, it was an awesome journey of discovery.

    • Spacewalk says:

      You don’t play it you survive it.

    • frightlever says:

      Enough people have played for the donations to keep 1.5 devs in food and board for about eight years.

  2. Gothnak says:

    I played it twice… And both times gave up before even mining a moderate section out of a hillside. It makes me sad because i think i’d love it, but i just don’t have the time these days to spend learning everything about it.

    • Nice Save says:

      Shameless self-promotion – this comment and the story itself has inspired me to go back and continue building my guide to the game. It’s aimed at complete newcomers and provides a savegame to help you follow along more closely with the steps. It’s not complete, but the basics are in place (that’s kinda misleading, there’s nearly 30,000 words there already):

      link to bay12forums.com

  3. ts061282 says:

    Too many good games these days don’t require a correspondence course to enjoy. The devs must be well off because not building in graphics is an extraordinarily frivolous decision.

    • basilisk says:

      The graphics aren’t really the worst problem. Learning to read the ASCII doesn’t take very long and there’s a lot of fully graphical tilesets that you can use.

      The main issue with DF is that the interface is a complete nightmare, and while it’s understandable that Toady doesn’t want to do anything about it until the whole thing is feature-complete, it’s also quite clear that the whole thing won’t be feature-complete for many years to come.

      I played a lot of DF some years ago, but stopped after a major patch broke many things and introduced yet another new and very poorly designed menu that I found impossible to navigate. I’ll probably return to it one of these days, though. It’s a marvel on many levels, but it’s one of those things where its greatest strength, namely the incredible dedication and ambition of its sole developer, is also its greatest weakness.

      • Razumen says:

        Yes, the worst thing about the UI isn’t that it’s archaic, it’s that it’s inconsistent from one section to the next. If Toady had strictly followed at least some convention when adding new menus it would be a LOT better.

      • varangian says:

        Yeah, the interface seems to be something that just grew rather than being designed. Every new feature just gets assigned to whatever key hasn’t been used already (very few at the top level) and if it can’t fit in there shove it onto a sub-menu and so on. I donated a year ago and Toady offers rewards – a bit of art or a story ISTR – but when he asked me what I wanted I said I’d prefer he just added some simple filters to some of the lists. So when selecting dwarfs for a squad you could filter out anyone without combat skills, or dwarves with babies (as the dwarf orphanage has yet to appear), that kind of thing to save on the endless scrolling. Played a bit with a latest build but it seems my wish was not granted, still it only took an hour or so to get my ninja menu delving skills back.

        I think his main error is getting too excited about new features without properly thinking through and tidying up features that are already there. So you get fruit trees! Stepladders! Dwarves on stepladders picking fruit! Dwarves falling off stepladders! All good fun about which I do not give a toss whilst a vampire from the bright idea of a year or two back can still rampage through the fortress pretty much undetectably unless I care to spend my time reading through a couple of hundred dwarf CVs trying to spot the one who’s way more skilled than he/she should be for a mere 100 year old.

      • Crafter says:

        video gaming is not my main area of competences, but for all the projects where I have heard ‘we will do the UI/UX later’ or, ‘I have finished my app, now I need somebody to design it for me’, the UI/UX ended up sucking big time.

    • fishyboy says:

      actually wasting time drawing graphics for a game where you want to focus on developing other aspects (which is moreso wasteful because there are already hundreds of user-drawn tile sets) would be frivolous. their approach may turn off the dull-witted modern gamer but i’d hardly call it frivolous.

  4. maccy says:

    The tutorial on the wiki, which starts with installing the game (turns out you can get that wrong) is an excellent resource link to dwarffortresswiki.org – it’s dangerous to go alone.

  5. Crispy75 says:

    I played Dwarf Fortress, mastered its interface and had tremendous fun with it. I even narrated what turned out to be my most successful and narratively satisfying game, which you can read here: The Histories of Bouldergloves

    Then I became a father, and that was the end of having enough free time to play Dwarf Fortress!

    • Artist says:

      Dont worry! In a few years you can teach your kid how to become a proper dwarf master, hehe!

    • Dilapinated says:

      Ahhh that was excellent, thankyou!

    • fabulousfurrygingerfreakbrothers says:

      Fantastic write-ups, Crispy. D/Ling DF now because of your stories. Should divert me from Football Manager, which can only be a good thing.

  6. Joshua Northey says:

    This was ok to play around with for a few hours, but the amount of learning involved before you really understand it is much higher than it is worth bothering with unless you are unemployed or a college student. It is a cool proof of concept, but it is frankly a terrible game.

    • Bios Element says:

      Drawing is hard and takes a lot of time to learn! So It’s frankly a terribly hobby…See where i’m going with this? A learning curve does not make it a terrible game, just a terrible learning curve.

      • GHudston says:

        That’s not a great comparison really. A talented artist is going to end up with something of far greater value than a talented Dwarf Fortress player.

        • P.Funk says:

          So we’re making value judgments about gaming now?

          Lets be damned honest here. Most people who pull the “valuable time better used” line are wasting enough time playing games half the time to actually learn to do a decent hobby or craft anyway and could in a few months of effort produce a nice cabinet or maybe learn to play a song or whatever.

          However these people aren’t REALLY complaining that its too involved to learn, that if you try that hard you should have a real hobby. They’re complaining that they’re spending too much time learning before getting that endorphen rush. They’re complaining that the time wasted doesn’t equal pointless entertainment fun that most 9-5 with kids types seem to classify ‘appropriate’ gaming when you have no spare time as. They’ll burn hundreds of hours a year on absolutely nothing, but because you don’t get instant gratification you can’t easily write it off as “just a game, I worked hard today”, all that rubbish.

          The only real people who can claim gaming should or shouldn’t be X thing are those who spend less than a dozen hours a year toying with cell phone games and spend all their spare time on hobbies or work from home. Everyone else is just being a penis.

          • Distec says:

            I don’t even DF and this is a great post.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            Distec- Actually it is a horrible post. Here is why:

            “Lets be damned honest here. Most people who pull the “valuable time better used” line are wasting enough time playing games half the time to actually learn to do a decent hobby or craft anyway and could in a few months of effort produce a nice cabinet or maybe learn to play a song or whatever.”

            I don’t think this is true at all, at least on gaming websites. I think you have a lot of people like myself who used to be in college or only semi-employed 10 years ago, and back when they were 13-26 or so they could dump 40 or even 80 hours into gaming a month.

            Now these people are adults with jobs and kids, and the amount of time for gaming is maybe more like 10 or 20 hours a month. The time becomes more valuable.

            When you have an 80 hour a month gaming entertainment time to fill sacrificing 10 hours of it to learn some crazy game is fine. When you have 10 it may not be.

            “However these people aren’t REALLY complaining that its too involved to learn”

            Actually that is exactly what I am complaining about.

            “They’re complaining that they’re spending too much time learning before getting that endorphen rush.”

            Well the whole point of gaming is to tell stories and have people make decisions and then have them feel good about being rewarded/punished for those decisions. To the extent a game makes that hard to achieve it is generally a less well designed game.

            “They’ll burn hundreds of hours a year on absolutely nothing,”

            “because you don’t get instant gratification you can’t easily write it off as “just a game, I worked hard today”, all that rubbish.”

            Yeah FTL, or EUIV, or Endless Space are totally nothing. You are trying to set up this false dichotomy where people who don’t like DF must all be Candy Crush players.

            “Everyone else is just being a penis.”

            No you are being childish and pretty clearly don’t have adult responsibilities. Not everyone who disagrees with you is some farmville loving moron. Some people just don’t have time to throw away on badly designed performance art pieces that pretend to be games.

          • Argembarger says:

            Joshua, Dwarf Fortress provides thousands of players around the world hundreds of hours of enjoyment, endorphins, and stories to tell. But it’s only worth putting the time in to learn it if it’s your cup of tea or if you really want it to be your cup of tea. If you think it’s a waste of your time, you’re probably right.

            Accusing people who don’t play Dwarf Fortress of being impatient, instant-gratification-seekers who couldn’t appreciate it if they tried to is just as false of accusing Dwarf Fortress of being “a badly designed performance art piece pretending to be a game”

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Depends how you like to spend your time, really. For me the journey was far more interesting that the destination, just discovering all those lovingly crafted game mechanics was really fun. I also loved reading through Toady’s notes, until I realized the snail pace at which those features would make it into the game… and often at the cost of any semblance of gameplay or playability. Beyond that, since I’m not very good at giving myself goals and megaprojects are too tedious for my taste, I gradually gave up on the game. I do hope to get back into it though.

  7. Mr Bismarck says:

    I built a giant golden dragon statue. The head was a reservoir for lava, which fell through a giant open maw into the hollow body and was then pumped back into the head to repeat the cycle.

    The sole purpose was so that I could catapult my Mayor through the dragon’s mouth and watch her disappear off into the distance. On fire.

    Because she banned the export of mittens.

    It’s worth learning how to play.

  8. Headwuend says:

    It also teaches you to find quick and reliable ways to kill migrant children.

  9. Voqar says:

    I’ll stick with DF derivatives like Gnomoria, Rimworld, and many others that are less rough around the edges and that don’t require as much of an investment to get going.

    • Artist says:

      I must have them all! Too sad how Towns ended, btw..

      • jonahcutter says:

        Rimworld is quite good. It of course can’t compare to DF’s monstrously complex depths, but you can get get some satisfyingly difficult and random situations in a play through.

        It is also very accessible and playable right out of the box. With an attentive dev providing regular updates, to boot.

        • Grendael says:

          Yeah. I enjoy it. And tbh most DF derived games. GNOMORIA Probably being closest thing to DF. Although i don’t like the 3D iso thing or had going on. Feels hard to deal with.

    • Shiloh says:

      Yeah – I prefer Gnomoria. I know it’s simpler, I know it doesn’t have the depth or complexity of DF – but I prefer it.

      I got mildly addicted to DF and had a decent fortress going until some FUN happened and, well, you know the rest – thirst, starvation, descent into madness and anarchy, rain falling upwards and cats sleeping with dogs.

      And in the game.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’ve played it two times, years apart. Both times I got really into the fortress mode and then lost my motivation and stopped playing after I lost my fortress to some catastrophe. It’s a great game, but I think it’s not for me (at least at the moment). When I build something in a game, I want it to endure and not suddenly lose everything just because a dwarf didn’t reach a lever in time.

    • Xagothae says:

      There are no ways to win… just lots of ways to losehave fun. Embrace the chaos!

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        Oh, I know that. I just discovered that I don’t really like it. When I build a fortress over two weeks and then lose it, then no, losing is not fun.

      • Alberto says:

        In fact, I’d say the victory conditions are Losing in a Dramatic / Silly/ Fun way. The game is a narrative engine, not a citybuikder in a classical approach. Experienced players recall fondly their most catastrophic fortresses.

        Mine was when I tried the stop the underworld demons by breaking into the aquifer layers, in hopes the water would drown them. It didn’t work. But my expedition leader survived because he was fishing outside. His lazy ass saved him.

        In a certain way, it’s like a pinball match: you’re going to lose, no matter what, so have fun and do a good score!

    • sventoby says:

      You can reclaim a lost fort and try to survive with a new civilization in its ruins.

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        I tried that, but I didn’t like that the fortress turns into a huge mess with corpses and all the stuff of the fortress lying around everywhere.

    • Rizlar says:

      I’m probably going to lose all DF cred now but…

      If you force-quit the game it doesn’t update the save. So you can just reload from whenever you last saved. I did this a lot when learning the ropes… especially when you start playing with water or adamantine or the military, where one wrong move can just fuck everything. Yes, I am encouraging you to save scum.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        Yeah, exactly. You can also enable an option that automatically backs up your fortress every season, so you can resume play from any of those in case of fuckup.

        The game is tedious though, there’s no way around it. It’s a price to pay to enjoy the rest, such as the wonderfully gory combat system. I personally can’t stand making stupid little rooms for 50+ dwarves, even with community-made tools. The game just doesn’t scale well beyond one or two dozen dwarves.

        • Premium User Badge

          Bluerps says:

          Oooh, I was unaware of the automatic backup. Maybe that wasn’t in yet, when I played it last. With that I think I might actually give it another try some time.

      • Alberto says:

        And why on earth would anybody do that?
        The whole point is watch your folks die horriblidicously because of You Totally Screwed It, learn from mistakes, have a good story to tell and cheerfully start another embark.

        And please, take screenshots of the most epichilarious combat reports.

        • Rizlar says:

          Because “I’ve played it two times, years apart. Both times I got really into the fortress mode and then lost my motivation and stopped playing after I lost my fortress to some catastrophe.” (from the OP)

          If you are learning how water behaves and drown your whole fortress cos you missed a corner tile you may wish to keep experimenting with water without having to do a fresh embark.

          But I agree with the sentiment – any experienced DF player would be better off taking challenges as they come.

          • Premium User Badge

            Bluerps says:

            Actually, I think I agree. If I were reasonably confident that I could find a way to deal with any challenge the game throws at me, then I would probably try to build another fortress. It’s the near certainty that I would lose my next fortress (and probably the next ten after that) that turns me off.

  11. mike2R says:

    I find it hard to figure out why I love the game so much.

    The graphics, even with a graphics pack are basic.

    The interface excessively obtuse (though does have the benefit of being keyboard driven, so quick to use once you do master it).

    Its incredibly deep, but that can equally be a criticism since much of the depth is an irrelevance if you want to play it as a game in the sense of ‘winning’.

    It’s also far too easy – once you’ve learnt to play of course, which isn’t – the whole “losing is fun” thing is a myth perpetuated by the players; its very easy to make a self-sustaining impregneable fortress once you know what you are doing.

    Proper management of you dwarves basically requires extensive third-party tools and memory hacking utilities to provide organisational options that really really should be included by default.

    Its buggy, and unless you are incredibly careful (and knowledgeable of underlying systems) every fort dies from FPS death when it inevitably starts to run at a speed that the player finds intolerable.

    The military system literally took me a year to really get me head around.

    And yet, and yet, and yet… it is one of my absolute favourite games. It is just utterly engrossing, once I’ve got a fort up. I’m always buried in a mass of plans and options and things that need to be done, and other things that need to be done so I can get to the other things.

    I think its the freedom. Since there is little, beyond the basics, that you *have* to do, I’m free to play with it as a fascinating toy that can be turned into almost anything (as long as anything is, you know, roughly a fortress populated by dwarves). It very much isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who want what it is, it is unequalled.

    • Xagothae says:


    • Gasser says:

      I’m a pretty avid play and still have only the loosest grasp on military equipment, uniforms, etc. I usually focus on trap/pit defenses and try to swarm any attacker with superior numbers.

    • Orful Biggun says:

      Thread winner, right here. Ya nailed it. Freeedom! :)

      Oh, and count me among those who absolutely love the game but still haven’t grokked some of that bizarre, arcane thing known as a military system. Haven’t played in months, really need to get back into it given the big update, but I’m dreading that part.

      I think I’ve got a solution for me and like-minded individuals, though. See, we don’t need mere “help”, or a walk-through, or a wiki (even a crazy-detailed one), or a tutorial, or a YouTube LP, or even a 200+ page book, or anything like that, really.

      No. You know what we really need to help us with those military system issues?

      A Pocket Toady.

      Pocket Toady! It’s … Toady, you know, but he’s … little … yeah, um, and he’s free to people who’ve logged 100+ hours in the game but still can’t fully grasp the military system, screens, weapons/armor and equipping and all that rot!

      He’ll just kinda sit there on your desk and watch you play DF, right? And the next time you can’t figure out how to get five pair of mittens on your dwarves BEFORE you put the gauntlets on? WHAM! Toady into the breach! Then he’ll step in and solve your whole “no socks” conundrum, and insta-fix the often cited problems with dwarves who refuse to wear matching shoes … or even those who insist on wearing only one shoe … and therefore get flagged as naked, which will trigger negative thoughts, which THEN will trigger a tantr … oh yeah, you know what’s coming.

      But not with Pocket Toady at your side! Um, well, at the side of your mouse! And that’s just equipping the dwarven hands and feet! There’s so much more! Such issues are nothing to Pocket Toady, after all. He’ll get you up to speed in no time! And don’t worry about maintenance, either; he won’t eat much, I mean four or five cereal flakes and a 2-liter cap of Dr. Pepper would probably last him a month, although he’d probably prefer a few choice plump helmets and a thimbleful of ale …

      Included will be a self-addressed Pocket Toady-sized envelope so when you’ve mastered it you can ship him back! Don’t be selfish, someone else will be wanting to use him (I’m not entirely sure how many Pocket Toady’s are available, these days …).

      But wait! If you call right now … Pocket Threetoe! Lol … okay, I’m done, I got nothin’ :) …

    • Rizlar says:


      As for the military issue… I ended up making about four rotatable squads. Each would be scheduled one month on, one month off, to keep them happy. For each month on, one of the two squads would be training, one would be patrol. So there would always be one squad patrolling and one squad training.

      However I never did work out how to increase their skills efficiently. They would basically just be sparring or whatever, developing some basic skills. The only way I ever managed to train dwarves to a high level of combat proficiency was through the use of the well documented ‘training rooms’ filled with automated pokey wooden spike traps. But I never got the hang of getting the dwarves to leave babies and pets outside, so all the bits of brain and stuff proved to be a major drawback.

      • NooklearToaster says:

        The solution to your problem is cage traps.

        Piss off every goblin on the armok-forsaken planet, open a hallway into your fort and just line the whole damn thing with cage traps. Once you catch an entire siege worth of goblins, strip them of everything they own and pit them into an arena next to your training room.

        Combat gives something like 10x the xp for skills, so letting the group that’s training tear through them all will buff a lot of combat skills FAST. Then you just let them spar the rest of the month so they can teach each other anything new they learned during their last “battle”.

        Now I just need to learn how the medical system works :/

        • Alberto says:

          You make a big bedroom, with tables, coffers, bags, cabinets. Designate that as a zone “Hospital”. Appoint a Medical Dwarf to care after the wounded.

          There’s only a slight chance of him being a vampire and feeding on the patients.

        • Rizlar says:

          Ah yes, I remember spending ages making an arena with cage disposal chutes from the z-level above. Don’t remember using it much though, some horrible fate must have fallen upon the fort shortly after it’s completion. Gonna have to give it another go!

          As regards hospitals, the tricky bit is making sure the Chief Medical Dwarf is there to assess injuries. Maybe it’s just a case of having a dedicated medical staff with hauling jobs disabled.

      • mike2R says:

        I haven’t really played since just before the last big update, so I’m not sure if this is out of date, but I found training by sparring worked fine with a couple of tweaks.

        The first is literally a dfhack tweak, that makes military dwarves spar more often, and possibly even increases their xp from doing so. This is enabled by default in the starter pack from PeridexisErrant (link to dffd.bay12games.com).

        The other is small groups – groups of two spar a lot more than groups of 10 (who tend to spend huge amounts of time waiting for each other to conduct demonstrations). Obviously squads of two dwarves are not ideal, but the byzantine military system has you covered there.

        You can issue multiple orders for each squad each month, and specify the number of them that should obey each. I tend to have my melee dwarves as fully professional (no civvy work) and each squad of ten will have maybe 4 on guard each month, with three groups of two training – set the same for each month, the game will rotate which dwarves do which. They don’t become unhappy from training (though possibly another auto-loaded dfhack tweak fixed this, I can’t recall) so this is fine.

        Crossbowdwarves are generally a true militia, anyone who isn’t essential (so most haulers, and anyone who is doubling up on a profession) will get gradually drafted into crossbow squads, with leather armour so they aren’t slowed down when doing civvy work. These will have an archery range assigned, and a few dwarves training each month with the rest inactive so they do their civvy jobs.

        This tends to give me melee dwarves who level up pretty quick, and a great mass of archers who may level up a bit slowly, but can still overwhelm anything with sheer numbers. Custom alerts can also be used to give finer control than just everyone training, or everyone activated and under direct control.

  12. Ashrand says:

    Kinda sad about the negative comments in this here comments thread.

    I love Dwarf Fortress for most of the reasons people here seem to think ill of it, the non-graphics mean that new content can (and is) added at pace that other games can only dream, and what interests me about games isn’t what they look like but what i can interact with.

    The fact that it’s almost pure design, no art, next to no music, means the breadth of the game is so fast there are still things i haven’t done yet, simply because i too focused in other areas.

    And while i do encourage everyone to listen to Graham and just try it over a weekend, i also agree that it stands apart in a way almost no other game does, and you might get to the end of a weekend hammering at it and decide the fantasy isn’t one you want to pursue (an experience i had playing Skyrim) on the other hand, infinite adventure! so it’s worth a go

    • Cinek says:

      “but what i can interact with” – and what you interact with is arguably the most f*** up interface in the history of games… all of them.

      If RPS would make an episode of Do Don’t about DF it’d have 100 000 characters long bulleted list of interface design “don’t”.

      And they’d still probably miss half of the things.

      • iucounu says:

        Weirdly though when you learn to navigate it, the terrible interface becomes part of its charm. There’s a gnostic pleasure in it.

        • Rizlar says:

          Yeah, the interface is extremely functional once you know all the shortcuts. Of course having to learn all the shortcuts is quite a big drawback, but I cannot help but disagree every time someone says the UI is shit. Everything is just a series of keystrokes – when you know that building a wall is b, shift+c, w it takes like a second, once you get used to it it’s extremely efficient.

          • LionsPhil says:

            It really isn’t, and the people who say this really need to learn something like Vim or (shudder) Emacs, so they can discover what a good “complicated” keyboard-driven interface is like.

          • Rizlar says:

            Who cares? So it could be better, so it could be more user friendly or mouse-driven. It’s still very functional once you get into it.

          • Cinek says:

            “Who cares?” – every player that tried to play DF and bounced off it’s shit UI. That would be good 95% of people. It might be functional for you, but reality is that UI is not only inconsistent, but it’s a whole maze of non-functional BS.
            As someone put it below: “Every time I go back to it, I end up having to relearn all the finicky bits. Which is basically everything.” – that’s one of the ways you recognize shit UI.

          • Rizlar says:

            You realise the person below was actually talking about game mechanics, not the UI.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Dwarf Fortress is a car without seats, or a body, or steering wheels, or pedals. All anyone who loves it says to these complaints is “You will love it and the strong engine and great handling once you figure out how to control the engine with your bare hands. It is not too hot!”.

  13. karthink says:

    I’ve spent a couple of hundred hours playing DF since 2009, and I still love the idea of the game far more than the game itself. Every time I go back to it, I end up having to relearn all the finicky bits.

    Which is basically everything.

    From the channel/floor/roof system (that makes even building a simple ramp unintuitive) to waterwheel based power transmission systems.

    Still, I got half a dozen crazy stories from my time with the game, and for now I’m content. I cannot be bothered to get adjusted to that awful interface again.

  14. FredZepplin says:

    I like reading about the game, but have learned that I just hate playing it. I’ve made multiple multi-day attempts to get into it, but every time I bounce off hard. All the fussy, finicky, micro-management that goes into setting up every little thing… I found that I’d have to go through the same tedious set up for each new fortress and then some dumb shit would go wrong and I’d have to start over. No thanks. And oh god, the military. I never figured it out.

    And while I’m lettin’ it all out, all of the detail of the dwarves’ thoughts and psychology is interesting, it really is. But it’s buried inside an utter shit interface, so you’re stuck reading all of that detail in size 9 type in a terrible font, in text columns that literally span the entire screen.

  15. FredZepplin says:

    Quick plug for Rimworld. It’s DF-inspired and scratches many of the same itches. You direct a rag-tag bunch of survivors on a random planet in an often harsh environment. It’s got psychological simulation (including mental breaks!), a very satisfying construction system, a tight food-management simulation (including the option to go cannibal if necessary), a detailed health system (I had a guy who’d lost his jaw to frostbite, it takes him forever to eat) and on top of that combat is actually quite tight in a Jagged Alliance 2 kind of way.

    It’s on alpha number 8, but feels very complete as is. “$30?!” you say. It’s worth it. I’ve put dozens of hours into it so far, and will grab it the next time I ever think of trying DF again.

    link to rimworldgame.com

    • geldonyetich says:

      Yes, RimWorld is good. Although, it should be noted, it has a different focus than Dwarf Fortress’s fortress mode because it has more of a narrative focus. It’s not about managing hundreds of dwarves and seeing what you can make and how long you can keep the fortress going before it implodes. Instead, Rimworld is about progressing the story of a close-knit group of less than a dozen spacers as they try to survive long enough to escape the hostile planet.

      (This is an aim they’re probably going to ultimately fail in because space pirates keep making suicide runs on them, to the point where they’ll actually drop ARTILLERY to make it happen, and you can’t put your spaceship parts under the mountain where they’ll be protected from barrages.)

    • Crafter says:

      I have also played dozen of hours to Rimworld.
      I start a new colony with each release :).
      The game is very fun to play to, it is not without issues though :
      In long games, the delay between two attacks become very short, to the point where I often don’t have the time to cremate the bodies of one wave before the next one arrives.
      Hauling. Hauling is the worst part of the game. It should be a quasi anecdotic task, but it always end up as the bottleneck slowing my colony (unless I affect an ungodly amount of colonist as pure haulers, which is the same). Not only it is inefficient, but if you look at colonist hauling objects, their movements are also purely robotic, going from one stack to the other. For me it is really where the illusion is shattered and I only see algorithms going through tasks.
      Hand to hand. It seems to have been added as an afterthough, and it shows. You need to micromanage your H2H fighters or they will just stay where they are, possibly getting shot by everyone around them.
      Random bugs, like colonist choosing tasks such as extinguishing the closest fire base on the absolute distance, ignoring walls and then making dozens of round trips because of that.
      No possibility to reserve your more potent medicine for real injuries, so either you micromanage your medicine stacks or you let your doctor use the last high quality medicine for a bruise while somebody with shattered organs is needing his help.

      I really hope that Tynan will be able to solve these issues, the game is still pretty fun to play.

  16. geldonyetich says:

    Have You Played… Dwarf Fortress?

    Yes. I mean, no. I mean, DWARF FORTRESS PLAYS YOU.

    That said, I prefer fortress mode because it’s a more coherent game. The adventure mode is basically a roguelike, but suffers for not being as dedicated at being a roguelike as Crawl or ADOM would be. It ends up being weighted down with a bunch of randomly generated lore that doesn’t really go anywhere because it’s not like your hero has anything to do with it. It is, at least, a good way to re-visit the inevitably destroyed fortresses as a tourist/archeologist.

    • GHudston says:

      I’m still baffled that adventure mode is a thing. I mean, it’s great for those who enjoy it, but it seems to miss the point of everything that makes DF stand out as something unique.

  17. G97_BoKeRoN says:

    I played a few times. It’s captivating how the lore of the game changes with in-game actions, like how the craftsmanship reflect relevant incidents.

    In my first play, a dwarf fell down through a collapsed floor. I couldn´t reach him, so he starved to death. Some time later, his ghost spawned and haunted my fortress, so I made a great effort to reach his body, and made a pharaonic tomb in his name. For a long time, all the artists of my fortress depicted this on their artwork.

    (Sorry, poor english).

  18. Distortion says:

    I’m pretty sure there will never be another game that will give me a story about a Minotaur coming to my fort, hitting a dwarf so hard his pants fall off, then proceeds to beat the dwarf to death with his own pants, then kills half the fort wielding the pants, only to finally fall to my militia captain who had to hit him in the head for 3 solid days with an iron crossbow butt before he finally died.

    And none of that specifically programmed to happen. just systems coming together to let it happen.

    Yea, it took a long time for me to get comfortable with how to play, but it was so worth it.

    • Razumen says:

      Damn, talk about an unlucky day to wear pants…

    • Alberto says:

      A giant with a (superior quality) sock wiped out one of my early colonies, before stepping on the only trap, being inpaled by a spike and bleed to death.

      One survivor, a child too young to even carry the corpses away. All his family and friends rotted before his eyes, next to their killer’s corpse.

      Some time.later, the ghosts of the fallen started haunting him and he abandoned the fort.

  19. NMorgan says:

    Dwarf Fortress? Nope, never heard of it. It looks really ugly. How do I play as an elf? (Yes, I am trolling.) Also, RPS needs to review Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead which, too, employs ASCII by default. It’s pretty much DF’s adventure mode in a sci-fi post-apoc setting. Very roguelike, such apocalypse. Wow.

  20. Biaxident says:

    Seems like it is basically the best game ever but I just don’t have the time to invest to learn it.

  21. captain nemo says:

    Pc Gamer were doing a series called ‘A Newb’s Guide to Dwarf Fortress’.
    link to pcgamer.com

    However it has not been updated since December which is sad.

  22. mpk says:

    DF is a game that needs dedication and patience and time and understanding and also a tiny little bit of sado masochism.

    I enjoyed it a lot, and then I stopped enjoying it and now I’ll never play it again.

  23. GHudston says:

    Never have I loved/hated a game as much as Dwarf Fortress. It’s an ugly, confusing mess of obtuse, poorly designed menus and needlessly complex features. It’s awesome.

  24. DXN says:

    I love Dwarf Fortress because: link to dfstories.com

    It’s been a while since I played, but I picked it up again recently — the current main version (forked I think) of the Lazy Newb Pack is very good, and makes exporting and viewing Legends and maps very easy which is nice.

    My most recent Fortress was in a peaceful, resource-rich area and was prospering well, helped by a lack of nearby goblins or elves. After a few years things were ticking along well at about 70-80 very happy dwarves. The mayor was well-liked and competent, though she brooded on death and constantly ordered coffins to be built and banned their export. The sherriff/hammerer on the other hand hated the law, tradition, loyalty, and valued art above all else, though she found no satisfaction in it. Yes, the fort was ruled by a goth and a punk.

    Over the years a number of murders had gone unsolved (in fact the sherriff did almost no law enforcement at all, taking no action against those who failed to build enough coffins for the mayor) . However one summer’s night the murderer, who had previously gotten away with it by accusing the witness who found the body, made a mistake and killed someone in front of several witnesses. It was the mayor. The sherriff sentenced her to 150 days chained in a cold, dark cell at the very bottom of the fort, to be given 30 strikes of the silver punishment hammer thereafter. All surplus coffins were sold to the next caravan. The mayor fell into despair. However the rest of the dwarves soon got on with their lives, and even *re-elected* the mayor while she was still imprisoned. Of course, she started ordering more coffins.

    One full-moon night in early spring, a fell beast appeared: a human were-ass, muscular, covered in lanky, pale yellow hair, braying with a horrible bloodlust. The alarm quickly sounded as the beast charged towards the peasants fleeing for the safety of the underground. The militia were inside, still scrabbling for their weapons and amour. One dwarf stood to check the beast before it could unleash carnage on the civilians, though she herself was unarmed and unarmoured: the sherriff.

    For agonizing minutes they spun and charged around eachother, the were-ass attempting to bite and kick and smash, the sheriff dodging, weaving, darting in now and then to land punches, avoiding every attack and keeping the monster’s attention. As the last of the peasants disappeared underground, the were-ass delivered a driving punch to the sheriff’s stomach; stumbling backwards, vomiting in pain, she tumbled down the riverbank and the were-ass leapt on her, broke her arm and beat her head to a pulp. The militia pulled it off her and, furious with vengeance, reduced it to a bloody pile of meat, though it was able to smash several of them to pieces beforehand.

    The mess was cleaned up, the bodies interred, and though many grieved, they recovered with only a couple of minor fell moods, and the fort continued. The deadline for the mayor’s execution arrived and passed, unenforced.

    One month later, on the next full moon, another terrible braying sounded out. Ready this time, the militia piled into their armour, grabbed their weapons and charged outside to confront the invader: a human werebeast child, come to seek its dead parent. It found no one save for the thirty angry steel-plated militia, and was quickly dispatched, though it too was able to rip several of them apart first.

    The mess was cleaned up, the bodies interred. But as a grim mood settled on the lavish meeting hall, some dwarves started to act strangely. Roaring and going berserk, they began to transform… into were-asses. Each one was able to rampage for minutes before being brought down, and infection and despair quickly spread. Despite best efforts, the chaos could not be contained. The madness took the whole fort and left it littered with corpses.

    That autumn, when the caravan arrived from the mountainhome, all they could hear was the manic laughter of the mayor echoing up through the gore-soaked fortress from the jail cell far below.

    She knew they would need coffins.

  25. falconne says:

    It really doesn’t take as long as people say to learn to play it and like Paradox games it’s the kind of thing that’s fun just to learn to play. If you like the idea of the game but hate to look at it, try starting with a game like Gnomoria that will teach you the basics of DF. When you want something deeper, then you can switch over to DF and it will be a lot easier to pick up.

    If you’re looking for a DF-like that captures the spirit of DF, the best I’ve found is Prison Architect. As it turns out the closes real world analogue to DF is to run a profit driven private prison for violent criminals.

    • Cinek says:

      As a hardcore, long term Paradox gamer I disagree. Paradox games are a pleasure to learn, learning DF is like reading a Java manual while not having a clue about programming. Only Java manual is actually ordered and made in some logical, structured way, which is complete opposite of DF.

  26. zeekthegeek says:

    Just a reminder while in the past stonesense only allowed you to view your fortress with graphical isometric tiles, now you can play the whole game that way. It looks something like this: link to dwarffortresswiki.org

    Its distributed with DF Hack nowadays (which it requires to run anyway) but the easiest way to get going is with easy packages like the “Lazy Newbie Pack”

    Just discovered the lead dev of Stonesense has also created a tool to export DF world saves into Minecraft.
    link to dffd.bay12games.com

  27. Chicago Ted says:

    It was inevitable.

  28. Canuckde says:

    A few useful tools to help people get started, I’m still a total newb, but this got me through (after several attempts stopped by running out of time):

    Captnduck’s DFVIDTUTS2012 tutorial, there is also a downloadable save so you can play along:
    link to youtube.com

    And the Dwarf Fortress starter pack, which has plenty of tile set options and all the tools and utilities you might want pre-installed and ready to work, just download and play:
    link to dffd.bay12games.com

    Even as a total newb, it’s addicting to design crazy traps or fortress designs… or to enjoy the (for example) crazy story that led to the expedition leaders lower front teeth sprayed across the entrance of the fortress (which later were carried off one at a time to the refuse pile), but standing victoriously over the corpse of a weremarmot whose head was 1 shot by a pickaxe, which only managed to kill a dwarf who was nicknamed useless because he had no skills.

  29. Argembarger says:

    For anyone with a bone to pick with Dwarf Fortress’s user interface, might I recommend:

    A. Dwarf Therapist, or similar labor-management tools. They aren’t always available for the very newest version, but you can just play whatever the latest supported version is, lots of people go that route. Labor-management is, in my opinion, by far the most (ahem) labor-intensive part of this game.

    B. Playing an old version with fewer features. All the old versions of the game are available. Go grab version from 2007, the final release with only two dimensions. It’s a lot more approachable, and has a pretty good balance of complexity and fun. It’s even supported by Therapist-like management utilities; go look up 23a’s Utilities page on the Dwarf Fortress Wiki. By playing in 2-D, you also bring yourself closer to the famous Boatmurdered, which segues nicely into

    C. Read user stories. Most of the fun of Dwarf Fortress is rooted in the emergent situations, the complex cause-and-effect interactions between all of the creatures and objects, and the player culture. Dwarf Fortress can range wildly from drama, comedy, action, and horror, many times during a single play-through, and the whole thing is interspersed with this nearly-mad level of detail. You don’t need to know which tissue layer exploded into gore, how much sweetmeat can be butchered from a crundle, exactly how Urist feels about kaolinite, or exactly which teeth Urist lost when he got hit with a kaolinite jug as a kid and how he feels about his brother as a result, but the point is that you could find out all and more if you wanted to, and you don’t need to actually play the game to experience anything it has to offer. The only advantage to playing the game is being in charge of the story being written, and to be able to more quickly parse the ASCII-style world, which

    D. is not necessary because many beautiful graphical tilesets exist and are maintained by the awesome community over at Bay12.