Dwarf Fortress’ Adventure Mode morphs the game into a turn-based RPG

Dwarf Fortress is many things. Most fans of PC gaming know it as a byzantine simulation of a colony of dwarves. Look closer, however, and you’ll also find that it’s a byzantine simulation of geologic forces, weather systems, and tidal movements; language, psychology, and poetry; medieval combat, of course, and even siegecraft. But the reason that I love the game so much is that it also simulates its own history, with tales of epic heroes and powerful artifacts strewn all across its procedurally generated digital worlds. Starting Wednesday, those histories will be more accessible than ever before.

On April 17, Bay 12 Games and Kitfox Games are adding Adventure Mode to Dwarf Fortress on Steam. It turns the colony sim into a turn-based third-person isometric adventure game, one where players can create not just their own singular character, but an entire party of adventurers. That means you’ll be able to retire that fortress you’ve been working on since the Steam version was released in 2022, and then explore its abandoned ruins in the third person.

But why stop there?

The new update for Dwarf Fortress can limit the available character character options based on the type of sentient civilizations that live in your particular world. Starting locations in Adventure Mode will even be based on where towns including those inhabitants exist on the world map.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon

Also included in the Steam version of Dwarf Fortress is a module called Legends Mode. With it, you can explore the ancient history of the digital dimension where your dwarven fortress has been built. Like the wizard Gandalf poring over ancient texts in the archives of Minas Tirith, you can read about dozens of fantastical artifacts that have played a role in the creation of that world. Then, in Adventure Mode, you can attempt to hunt them down.

Combat in Dwarf Fortress shown from above, with trees occluding visibility at the edges of the nighttime scene. Blood spatters the ground near a long-eared goblin.
Combat in Adventure Mode uses a complex initiative system that divides all possible actions into half-second increments. That means you’ll be able to grapple with goblins, turning their clumsy swings into opportunities to disarm them. Developers tell Polygon that improved UI elements are on the way to make initiative easier to understand for newcomers.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon

The developers shared an early version of the update with Polygon earlier this week, and since then I’ve been using it to create and explore a half dozen different worlds. For the latest world, I let the simulation run for 250 years before I dug deep into its historical record. What I found there was amazing — and surprisingly easy to navigate thanks to a modern, mouse compatible, hyperlinked interface. I was quickly able to drill down into just one of my world’s 116 historical artifacts, and read about its creation and who has wielded it in the nearly 180 years since its creation. I even know who last possessed it more than a century ago.

A menu screen from Dwarf Fortress showing the data of an entire world in menu form.
The Planet of Typhoons lists nearly 25,000 historical figures, but only 116 artifacts.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon
A menu from Dwarf Fortress showing the details of an individual legendary item.
The silver mace Mazerang, called Kureungong in the original dwarvish, was last seen in 144.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon
A section of text detailing the history of a single historical figure from a world in Dwarf Fortress.
Digging further into the historical record, we have the life history of Mazerang’s previous owner.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon

There’s no guarantee that I’ll find Mazerang, the legendary silver mace created in Dreadfulname by the dwarf Zasit Grizzleshoots, but I’m going to give it a try. The only question is if I’ll go after it with a traditional party of humans, elves, and hardy dwarves, or lean fully into the fun of Dwarf Fortress and roll up another penguin-man. Or maybe a dragonfly man… or a dingo man… or …

Dwarf Fortress’ graphically enhanced version is available on Steam. You can also find the original, still-incomplete ASCII version at the Bay 12 Games website.

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