Dwarf Fortress’s Adventure Mode brings the sim’s chaotic spirit to CRPGs

Key art for Dwarf Fortress' Adventure Mode
Enlarge / See that fortress over there? You can explore it. And then die, when someone in your party remembers a tragic incident involving meat and perishes of sadness.

Bay 12 Games/Kitfox

“I’m crying for some reason,” says Tarn Adams, demonstrating Dwarf Fortress’ “Adventure Mode” for a Discord stream full of games writers and PR folk. His adventurer is crying, that is. “Something must have upset me. Probably the dead bodies… I have great grouchiness, though.”

Adventure Mode, out today, builds on the graphical version of Dwarf Fortress and the work you’ve put into it. The adventurers you create and send out into the world traverse the overland and underground places you yourself crafted. This allows you to both appreciate the realms carved out by your imagination and also be a kind of dungeon master for other adventurers (with, hopefully, an easier fortress-swapping mechanic to come soon). You can also generate a new world if you prefer the simulation’s weird choices to your own.

Release trailer for Dwarf Fortress‘ Adventure Mode update.

Everything about the standard simulation version of playing Dwarf Fortress applies to playing it as a hardcore CRPG. Everything has layers, all is described, and the combination of deep logic and utter silliness is unmatched.

Tarn Adams and his brother, Zach Adams, creators of Dwarf Fortress, noted some of the games’ differences from traditional role-playing games in their demonstration. The people you encounter aren’t put there by narrative-minded designers, eager to guide you onward in your quest. They only know what they are capable of knowing, as determined by the simulation. You can ask about the temple you’ve been tasked with clearing out, and they might just say they have no idea. This kind of cold calculus changes with difficulty level, but don’t expect everyone you meet to be a font of useful exposition.

The same goes for combat, which is just as brutal as in the core game. Tarn took on a bear in his demo, the hard way. “Let’s put away our weapon. Let’s wrestle with the bear. You gotta wrestle with the bear, right?” he said. Tarn gripped the bear’s leg, but the bear, being a bear, easily broke free. A companion with a crossbow then aimed for the bear’s neck and hit true, and the bear started vomiting. “Let’s see if he’s paralyzed… ‘Cannot breathe, sensory nerve damage.’ Okay,” he said.

There is a long list of all the conditions that affect the bear, including the fact that it cannot feel things in its lower half. When they looted the body, the party got back the iron bolt stuck in its neck but also discover another iron bolt, seemingly from a previous encounter with adventurers. As with standard “Fortress Mode,” the game happens before you play—and after you play. Adventure Mode puts you into your maps two weeks after the ruination of your fortress; there’s a real sense of impermanence to everything, which is probably good, considering your chances of getting out alive.

Adventure Mode is out in beta today. You can activate it by choosing the beta branch of the game while in Steam. (I’ll update this post when I see how to dive into the beta for Itch.io copies).

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