Dwarf Fortress’s roguelike adventure mode arrives on Steam in April, bringing with it my favorite feature: ‘Your adventurer can literally slay the dragon that slew your dwarves, and your next fortress can make a statue of it’

The graphical version of Dwarf Fortress released on Steam this time last year sold half a million copies in a month, a spectacular feat for one of the most complex videogames ever made—especially because that release wasn’t even the complete game. While the colony management Fortress mode has always been Dwarf Fortress’s main draw, the ASCII version of the game also features Adventure mode, a roguelike that lets you take control of a single character and explore your fortress in the style of a roguelike RPG. In a trailer during today’s PC Gaming Show, the Dwarf Fortress team revealed that mode is launching in April with spiffy new graphics and mouse controls.

“As with Fortress mode, the game will also see some additions to make it more approachable for new players, beyond the new menus, portraits, and map graphics,” co-creator Tarn Adams told PC Gamer. “Even more so than Fortress mode, new adventurers can find themselves aimless and lost, and we’re going to add some optional tutorial and guide structures in place to alleviate this, which still maintain and advance the simulation aspect of the game for all players.”

At a glance Dwarf Fortress’s Adventure mode may seem similar to a classic roguelike (Dungeons of Dredmor, say), but it’s very much its own thing, without the concrete goals or RPG systems. “The game doesn’t have a single main narrative, so we can allow the player to attempt what they like, and sometimes they can pull it off (or die horribly),” Adams said. “This is related to how we approach emergent narrative in Fortress mode, not using strict numbers but instead using e.g. a detailed bodypart and material system to try and make combats feel more ‘realistic’ in some sense. Fighting is always dangerous, but you can stack the odds in your favor. Or not fight at all! There are plenty of things to do, though currently combat is still very much front and center for adventurers.”

Adventure mode actually began life as a way for players to explore their fortresses after losing a game, preserving them in time like homebrew D&D modules. “Your adventurer can literally slay the dragon that slew your dwarves, and your next fortress can make a statue of it,” Adams said. “That level of connectivity between playthroughs differentiates it from most other RPGs.”

Keen-eared Fortress players (or people like me who’ve been looping the fantastic soundtrack on Spotify all year) may notice a new track in the trailer above; Adams confirmed that there’ll be new music and sound effects when Adventure mode arrives. The most visible addition since Fortress mode’s launch is probably the new procedurally generated portrait system, which the developers have shown off a bit in blog posts.

“We’re still adding components, but even now between the colors, face bits, and hair styles, there are millions of combined variants if you don’t count clothing or injuries (which we also represent),” Adams said. “People get rightfully jaded by exact numbers, I think—the sheer numbers aren’t nearly as important as the overall variety, and I think we’re doing pretty good there! It’s tough to change poses when doing pixel art compositions like this, for instance, and faces develop a certain sameness based on where we can comfortably place different eyes and so forth, but we’ve already taken some steps to shake this up using head dimensions and have several other things we can try to give each individual their own look.” 

The portrait system will also be moddable, and the most impressive bit is that it accurately pulls from Dwarf Fortress’s text descriptions, which are pretty dang detailed. Here’s an example a player uploaded to Imgur many years ago: 

“He is short and just incredibly fat. His jade eyes are somewhat narrow. His medium-length sideburns are braided. His very long moustache is arranged in double braids. His very long beard is neatly combed. His hair is clean-shaven. He has very low cheekbones and he has a broad chin. His dark brown skin is wrinkled. His ears have small lobes. His lips are thin. His nose bridge is slightly convex.”

Hopefully a future mod will allow us to type in our own descriptions to generate dwarfy self-portraits (the procedural generation is already mod-friendly).

Adams said to expect more previews of Adventure mode’s new graphics, features, and UI as April 2024 approaches.

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