Dwarf Fortress’s Adventure mode woke up the little gritty Indiana Jones in me

Dwarf Fortress are many things. Most PC gaming fans know it as a byzantine simulation of a colony of dwarves. But if you look closer, you will also discover that it is a byzantine simulation of geological forces, weather systems and tidal movements; language, psychology and poetry; medieval battleof course, and even siege work. But the reason I love the game so much is that it also simulates its own history, featuring stories of epic heroes and powerful artifacts spread across the procedurally generated digital worlds. Starting Wednesday, those histories will be more accessible than ever before.

On April 17, Bay 12 Games and Kitfox Games will add Adventure Mode Dwarf Fortress on Steam. It turns the colony sim into a turn-based isometric third-person adventure game, where players can create not just their own unique character, but an entire group of adventurers. That means you can leave the fortress you’ve been building since the Steam version released in 2022 and then explore the abandoned ruins in the third person.

But why stop there?

The new update for Dwarf Fortress can limit the character options available based on the type of sentient civilizations living in your specific world. Adventure mode starting locations will even be based on where cities, including those inhabitants, are located 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. This allows you to explore the ancient history of the Digital Dimension in which your dwarven fortress was built. Just as the wizard Gandalf delves into ancient texts in the archives of Minas Tirith, you can read about dozens of fantastic artifacts that played a role in the creation of that world. Then you can try to track them down in Adventure mode.

Battles in the Dwarf Fortress, shown from above, with trees blocking the view at the edges of the night scene.  Blood splatters on the ground near a long-eared goblin.

Adventure mode battles use a complex initiative system that divides all possible actions into half-second increments. That means you can grapple with goblins and turn their clumsy movements into opportunities to disarm them. Developers tell Polygon that improved UI elements are on the way to make initiatives 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 half a dozen different worlds. For the newest world, I let the simulation run for 250 years before digging deep into the historical record. What I found there was astonishing – and surprisingly easy to navigate thanks to a modern, mouse-compatible, hyperlinked interface. I was able to quickly delve deeper into just one of my world’s 116 historical artifacts, reading about its creation and who has handled it in the nearly 180 years since its creation. I even know who last owned it over a century ago.

A Dwarf Fortress menu screen showing an entire world's data in menu form.

The Planet of Typhoons mentions almost 25,000 historical figures, but only 116 artifacts.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon

A Dwarf Fortress menu showing the details of an individual legendary item.

The silver mace Mazerang, called Kureungong in the original dwarf, was last seen in 144.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon

A section of text describing the history of a single historical figure from a world in Dwarf Fortress.

Digging further into the historical record, we find the life history of Mazerang’s previous owner.
Image: Bay 12 Games, Kitfox Games via Polygon

There’s no guarantee I’ll find Mazerang, the legendary silver mace created in Dreadfulname by the dwarf Zasit Grizzleshoots, but I’ll give it a try. The only question is whether I go after it with a traditional company of humans, elves and cool dwarves, or whether I fully immerse myself in the fun of Dwarf Fortress and roll up another penguin man. Or maybe a dragonfly man… or a dingo man… or…

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