Chapter 1. Introduction

Dwarf Fortress is a freeware game developed by Bay 12 Games for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X-based computers. It has been in development since 2002 and is the full-time passion of programmer Tarn “Toady One” Adams, assisted by his brother, Zach “ThreeToe” Adams. Bay 12 Games is entirely supported by the donations of the enthusiastic community of Dwarf Fortress fans.

Dwarf Fortress has two and a half game modes, but when gamers talk about Dwarf Fortress, they are usually talking about the simulation mode in which a player is tasked with building a dwarf city. The complexity of the simulation allows for wonderful, emergent game play as various game elements collide in interesting and challenging ways.

Two and a Half Game Modes

Unbeknown to many, Dwarf Fortress is not just a dwarven city building game. Dwarf Fortress actually has two game modes and a third, non-game mode: Fortress mode is the dwarf city simulation, Adventurer mode allows you to play a Roguelike adventurer and explore the worlds you have created, and Legends mode allows you to read the history of your world and the heroes, creatures, and civilizations that have risen and fallen in it.

Although this guide focuses on Dwarf Fortress mode (otherwise known as “fortress” or even “fort” mode) the other modes are not without their charms. Developing an adventurer in Adventurer mode offers the opportunity to explore an open world simulator and go on quests and adventures, even allowing you to explore your own, abandoned fortresses. There’s nothing like digging through familiar ruins to bring back fond memories of blood, terror, death, and despair deep underground.

As for Legends, this mode is, essentially, a history tome for the worlds you generate. Once you have created your first world Legends mode allows you to pour through the histories, events and descriptions that form the back story to your Fortress or Adventurer game. Legends mode is surprisingly engrossing—discovering that your current Fortress hero slew a giant, three-eyed, skinless mole in her youth is an exciting surprise!

Losing Is Fun!

If there’s one thing all Dwarf Fortress players should be prepared for it is losing. You will lose your first few games, and probably quite quickly. But do not fear! There’s a good chance that your losses will be quite amusing. My own first game ended with an insane dwarf chasing the only other fortress survivor around a massive communal dining table in the only room in the fortress that wasn’t flooded with water. After a chase that lasted days, the insane dwarf eventually succumbed to dehydration, collapsing dead at the sole survivor’s feet. The last dwarf was safe from the axe-wielding maniac, but trapped with no chance of rescue. Thus ended my first, tragic attempt at fortress construction.

If you find yourself overwhelmed playing Dwarf Fortress try to use your early fortresses to learn just one or two game features well. You may, for example, use your first fortress to learn how to dig and construct. With these skills mastered, you could then start a new fortress and focus on learning how to grow food and make goods. In due course you will have the skills to move on to trickier topics such as the military and engineering systems and the knowledge to handle all of these systems simultaneously. Playing Dwarf Fortress in this way can help turn the learning cliff into more of a learning hill (it will never be a gentle curve, sorry!).

When you do lose (and you will), enjoy your unique tales of doom and profit from the lessons contained in your losses. There’s no perfect Dwarf Fortress, and in the end, no goal to achieve other than having fun exploring this unique game. Embrace the dwarfy way; dig deeper, build higher, and use magma as a decorative feature! Yes, disaster is probably just around the corner, but it is far better to go out with a magma-induced sizzle than a sigh.


If you enjoy Dwarf Fortress, why not donate ( to Bay 12 Games and support the ongoing development of Dwarf Fortress?

Installing Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress is freely available from the Bay 12 Games website ( To download Dwarf Fortress, simply find the SDL version that matches your operating system and click the link. You will be prompted to save a zip file. Unzip the file to a directory of your choice and then run the Dwarf Fortress executable to start the game. You can resize the default window using whatever method your operating system relies on, or run it full screen. Many of the initial menu items will not resize to your new window, but once you are playing, the play area will fill all available space.

Many players find the PeridexisErrant’s Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack (a fan compilation of the game with a game launcher, tools and graphic sets, found at a superb way to get into Dwarf Fortress. The Starter Pack contains the Lazy Newb Pack launcher, a range of tile sets, and useful third-party tools; all preconfigured so they work out of the box. If you chose to use the Starter Pack, please keep in mind that all screenshots in this book are from the default game without any graphic sets or modifications. That being said, with a little imagination you should have no trouble running the Starter Pack while still following the instructions in this book.

Saving and Quitting

At any time when you are playing Dwarf Fortress you can save the game through the escape menu option. Doing so will return you to Dwarf Fortress’s main menu. Dwarf Fortress only permits one save per world: there are no do-overs! To continue your game, simply select Continue Playing from the main menu, press enter and then enter again with your world selected.

Dwarf Fortress only lets you play one fortress or adventurer at a time per world. As each game involves the player interacting with and adding to world history, two concurrent games in the same world are impossible. If you wish to play more than one game at a time, you must generate new worlds as required.

Should you wish to end a game, the escape menu will let you select Abandon or Retire the fortress. If you abandon the fortress the events that took place in your fortress will be written to the world history and the fortress will be left as a ruin. You may read your fortress’ history in Legends mode, or even see tales from its glory or fall recounted in artwork created in the next fortress you play in that world. If you retire your fortress it will be placed under computer control and will remain a living city subject to the whims of world events. You can even locate it from the embark map and resume control (R to Reclaim/Unretire a fortress from the embark screen) or visit it in Adventure mode, should you wish. If you visit an abandoned fortress in Adventure mode, beware! It is likely that that foul beasts have moved in and taken up residence in your dusty halls.

Once a fortress has been abandoned, retired or destroyed to the last dwarf you will be able to select the same world again to play another game of Dwarf Fortress, review Legends, or play Adventurer mode. It can be fun to play several games in the same world and get a feel for the gods, civilizations, and creatures that inhabit your unique realm. You may even see events from your earlier fortresses recounted in the carvings and artifacts created in your next!

The Keyboard Is Your Friend

Dwarf Fortress is not the kind of game that holds your hand and leads you away for a magical evening of fun. Yes, it will charm you, but it’s going to play hard to get and it’s going to present you with some big hurdles to overcome. The first challenge you face is using the keyboard to drive the game. At this point you couldn’t be blamed for shouting “Hello! 1980 called and wants its interface back!” In the age of iTabletDroid devices, wearable computing and shouting orders at your phone, keyboard-driven games seem archaic, but don’t worry—in time you will confidently direct the game with just a few keystrokes. Stick with it! Don’t forget that being keyboard-driven and largely graphics-free makes it very easy to convince bosses, partners, and parents that you are actually engaged in Serious Computer Programming Activities and not simply trying to figure out how to get rid of the zombie dog that one of your militia shoved down your well. As for the mouse, well, although some screens offer mouse control, it is largely non-existent in Dwarf Fortress and it is often easier (with practice!) to use the keyboard to get things done. This book will guide you through the specific key presses you need to use, but the most common are listed in Table 1-1.

Table 1-1. Common Dwarf Fortress key commands
Key Binding

Cursor keys

Moves focus around the map and controls some menus.

Plus and minus keys

Cycles through secondary menu options.


Selects an option.


Backs out of a menu.

Shift and left-angle-bracket

Drops player view by one layer.

Shift and right-angle-bracket

Raises player view by one layer.

Mouse wheel

Zooms and scales the map and interface.

Left click

Designates where the mouse pointer is located.

Right click

Moves the designation X.


Toggles TrueType fonts (on is advised).

Many keys are situational, and what a key will do changes depending on the menu you are in. Oftentimes, you will need to press two or three keys one after the other to move through menus and to activate the function you are looking for. Be brave; each set of key commands will be introduced to you at a reasonable pace over the course of this book.

Somewhat confusingly, you can often navigate a menu (such as the Designations menu) using the plus and minus secondary menu scroll keys rather than the key that corresponds to the menu item selection. This, and many other idiosyncrasies, are common in Dwarf Fortress. Don’t worry: in time, your hands will dance across the keyboard like a master piano player, but instead of playing music, you will be digging tunnels, forging steel war hammers, and activating enemy-melting magma bidets!

If you use a keyboard without a number pad, you may wish to rebind the Move secondary selector key bindings to something more convenient, because pressing the Shift key to reach plus and minus keys will get tiring. To change your key bindings press escape in Dwarf Fortress, use the cursor keys to select Key Bindings and find the secondary selector options under General. Next, cursor key across to Add Binding, press enter and define your new, preferred keystroke.

Mods and Ends

Dwarf Fortress has a passionate and creative fan base who have made a number of modifications and tool contributions to the community. Most well-known are the graphical tilesets that replace some of the Dwarf Fortress text map with simple graphics. Although there are purists who prefer the game as provided by Bay 12 Games, a large number of players enjoy playing with a tileset and other modifications and tools. Some of the most useful and popular contributions are featured below.


The following list highlights some of the best third-party tools for the game. If you’re new to Dwarf Fortress, you may at first want to stick with just the game (either the vanilla version or the Start Pack version) and Dwarf Therapist (which many consider essential and is included in the Starter Pack), leaving other tools for when your confidence has grown.

Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack (
The Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack, maintained by PeridexisErrant, is a superb all-in-one compilation of tools, tilesets, the game launcher and the game itself. From the launcher players can start the game, change the tileset they are using, launch other tools, and modify the game’s settings. It is recommended that all gamers new to Dwarf Fortress try the Starter Pack, as having tools and resources such as Dwarf Therapist and a selection of tilesets at your fingertips is extremely handy.
Dwarf Therapist (
If there ever was an essential tool for Dwarf Fortress, it is this one. Dwarf Therapist provides a graphical user interface for managing the labor settings of your dwarves. Currently maintained by DwarfEngineer, Dwarf Therapist runs alongside Dwarf Fortress and reads the current jobs, skills, and labors of your dwarves. You can easily adjust the labor settings of dozens of dwarves and then commit the change to Dwarf Fortress at the click of a mouse button. Dwarf Therapist is included in the Starter Pack.
Fortress Overseer (
Thewonderidiot has provided the community with a handy tool that lets you explore your fortresses in 3D. Create an enormous statue to your favorite dwarf and then fly around it in Fortress Overseer! Available in the Starter Pack.
SoundSense (
If you’ve already tinkered with Dwarf Fortress, you will have noticed that there are no game sound effects. SoundSense rectifies this by running alongside Dwarf Fortress and firing off a sound or a little voice acting every time an event happens. SoundSense is included in the Starter Pack, and was created by zwei.
DFHack (
Peterix and many helpers have provided a compilation of tools that access the game’s memory and modify or monitor game data. DFHack has features that let you prospect your map before digging, set up workflows, and make other advanced changes. DFHack launches automatically as a console window when the Lazy Newb Pack launcher starts Dwarf Fortress. Note that DFHack’s memory manipulation code may cause virus scanners to report a false positive.
Stonesense (
Created by jonask and now maintained by Japa, this clever tool links to Dwarf Fortress and displays an isometric, pixel art-style view of your fortress. While you cannot control Dwarf Fortress through Stonesense, it does offer a unique way to view your fortress and is a perfect companion to the game when loaded on a second monitor. Stonesense is built into DFHack and launched from the DFHack terminal window.
IsoWorld (
Japa has created IsoWorld, a utility for viewing maps exported from Legends mode in more detail. Using IsoWorld, you can explore the worlds you create in 3D, which is a great aid to finding interesting places to embark. Included in the Starter Pack.
Legends Viewer (
Legends Viewer (created by Parker147) is a standalone utility that reads the world history files that Dwarf Fortress generates, in order to provide you with a point-and-click history browser. Legends Viewer makes it a breeze to learn about the world you’re playing, and is a huge aid for players looking to immerse themselves in the worlds the game creates.


Numerous interesting and useful fan websites have been created to support Dwarf Fortress players.

Dwarf Fortress Forums (
If you’re looking for help and can’t find answers on the Dwarf Fortress Wiki, then the forums are a great place to look for aid. The Dwarf Fortress forums prove that you really can have a witty, creative, and helpful community on the Internet. No, really!
Dwarf Fortress File Depot (
Janus runs the Dwarf Fortress File Depot, a file storage hub for everything Dwarf Fortress. The DFD is commonly used to store game mods, tools, and tilesets.
DF Map Archive (
The DF Map Archive allows players to upload game recordings and game maps, and view and interact with them on the Archive. Dwarf Fortress players commonly use the DF Map Archive to show off particularly cunning feats of engineering or impressive megaprojects.
Dwarf Fortress Wiki (
The Dwarf Fortress Wiki is a vital resource for all Dwarf Fortress players. Maintained by volunteers, the Wiki has more than 1700 pages on just about every topic, and the many detailed articles are likely to answer almost any question that you may have on the game.


You may read about a dwarf called “Urist” on community sites. Urist is the community’s name for every dwarf whose failure to pull a lever, crazed tantrum, or obsession with recovering a lost sock has doomed a fortress.


There are several great graphics sets that will, in the opinion of some, considerably enhance your Dwarf Fortress experience. Several are included with the Starter Pack and can be installed via the graphics tab in the included launcher. Many others can be found at the Dwarf Fortress File Depot.


Due to the mod friendliness of Dwarf Fortress, many dedicated players have created complex modifications that add new creatures, workshops, weapons, items, and much, much more. All mods are available from the Dwarf Fortress File Depot and are discussed on the Dwarf Fortress modding sub-forum.

Total Conversions

Several moders have created total conversions for Dwarf Fortress. Many of these include more races, new constructions, new metals, items, and even tech trees. Four of the more popular and complete total conversions include Corrosion, Genesis, Legends of Forlorn Realms, and Masterwork.

Fan Conversions

Some mods aim to inject a little humor or to reference existing worlds and themes for amusing crossover potential. The most popular include Warhammer Fortress and Pony Mod, based on the Warhammer universe by Games Workshop and the My Little Pony universe, respectively.

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