What is Dwarf Fortress?

Above anything else, Dwarf Fortress is a complicated game.

Enough has been written about this already, so this will simply link to some of the better articles for a background understanding.

Dwarf Fortress is a single-player fantasy game. You can control a dwarven outpost or an adventurer in a randomly generated, persistent world.

Although Dwarf Fortress is still in a work in progress, many features have already been implemented…

Tarn Adams (developer of *Dwarf Fortress*)

“Losing is Fun”

—Community motto

Dwarf Fortress is a mixture of classic turn-based fantasy adventure games and sophisticated city building that has been confounding observers since 2006. It’s visuals appear incomprehensible and its learning curve not just steep and unending, but slippery and sometimes electrified.

To look at Dwarf Fortress it is easy to imagine it as an anachronistic throwback to the likes of Rogue and Nethack, a cute little sort of retro tribute. However the truth of the matter, which becomes rapidly more apparent as you learn exactly what is being done within the game, is that this is not a primitive or old fashioned game. Dwarf Fortress is spectacularly sophisticated. The world that the game generates for you is created in the sort of meticulous detail that would typically demand several hundred pages of appendices at the end of a JRR Tolkien novel. Each created world has a history, legendary figures, towns, cities and people. You can create a world that is artificially aged up to a thousand years, or you can start with a younger world, either approach bringing with it different challenges. A new world might be untamed when a more established one might be home to established communities of potential foes such as goblins.


Players are responsible for the cultivation and management of a virtual ecosystem — a colony of dwarves trying to build a thriving fortress in a randomly generated world. Dwarf Fortress unfolds as a series of staggeringly elaborate challenges and devastating setbacks that lead, no matter how well one plays, to eventual ruin.

Many simulation games offer players a bag of building blocks, but few dangle a bag as deep, or blocks as small and intricately interlocking, as Dwarf Fortress. Beneath the game’s rudimentary facade is a dizzying array of moving parts, algorithms that model everything from dwarves’ personalities (some are depressive; many appreciate art) to the climate and economic patterns of the simulated world. …

The NY Times Magazine