Interview with Tarn “Toady One” Adams on Dwarf Fortress

The Fortress was coming along nicely. We recently placed fresh Cage Traps in the area to create a Zoo for the populace, and offer more Trade Goods to the merchants. We were surprised when one of our first catches was a giant toad which persistantly claimed to be called Tarn Adams. At first we wanted to make it the centre-piece of our zoo, but after we caught a marauding dragon we had to find a different use for him. He could not be tamed, nor added as a pet, so we eventually decided to throw him inside the magma chamber interview him. This is what we learned…

Giant Toad

The interview cost us many brave dwarves…

Dwarf Fortress is a complex Strategy/Adventure game where, in all truth, Losing is Fun. In Fortress Mode (Strategy Part of the Game) you have to expand your Fortress to house immigrant Dwarves, prepare defenses against the Wilds, Kobolds and Goblins, while also creating a powerful economy to trade with the outside world. Your Dwarves have their demands and expectations. They need Food, Clothing and Alcohol to be content. To make them happy you need to build them bedrooms, meeting areas, workshops and more. In Adventure Mode you have a free hand to explore the world, complete quests, gather followers, and in essence, become a Legend!

The game is still being worked on, tweaked, improved with more things being added. Tarn together with his brother Zach started Bay 12 Games and Dwarf Fortress is their long-term project, their “Fey Mood” artifact. Started in 2002 it was said the game would take 20 years to fully complete.

We asked Tarn Adams about Dwarf Fortress, its background and future, as well as a few silly questions.

Interview with Tarn “Toady One” Adams on Dwarf Fortress

AlterGamer: What acted as your inspiration for the World of Dwarf Fortress?

Tarn Adams: For the world it was just the standard fantasy stuff like Tolkien, DND and Conan.  We haven’t really invested a lot in the world itself, since we’d like to randomize as much of it as possible in the end, although the slowness of that process has seen us embellish some of the stock stuff a bit.

AG: Currently we have Goblins, Humans, Dwarves, Elves and Kobolds who can be counted as the “Major” races. What other races do you plan to introduce, if any, and how will they compare to the current “Majors”?

TA: The next idea isn’t to introduce more stock races, but to slowly introduce randomized races and civilizations into the game.  We already have random creatures such as the forgotten beasts and night creatures you can bump into, but introducing a random civilized creature is trickier because you’d see a lot more of them, especially if a world you generate has random civilizations displacing stock civilizations.  This makes the game more likely to turn into gibberish, so we want to be more careful with exposition there.

AG: The countless Deities in Dwarf Fortress are randomly generated each time a new world is created. Will religion eventually play a bigger role, while playing Fortress or Adventure Mode? Will you have to create a temple to each Deity, or will there be a general “shrine” for Dwarves who are in need to go to? Will there ever be an option of Artefacts or Warriors dedicated to specific Gods?

TA: The current idea is that you’ll be encouraged to build temples to the gods that enough of your fortress residents worship, and that once we put in starting scenarios that explain the reason you are embarking, there could be an option to build a “fort” which centers entirely around some religious purpose or other — it could be that all of your initial dwarves belong to a particular religion and you are trying to build a suitable place of worship for pilgrims to visit, etc.  Whether not there are magical/miraculous effects from this is a different matter — the only things we have in the game right now are gods cursing people that profane their temples in world generation and death gods sharing the secrets of life and death with potential necromancers.  Once you have a temple set up, it would be pretty straightforward to have a tantruming dwarf get cursed for toppling a statue win the temple (since they do that already), but adding new effects in general is something we’d like to approach cautiously, since it’s easy to over-systemetize the magical benefits from religions (which feels wrong to us).

Your typical Dwarven Noble:

AG: The nobles (Kings, Lesser Lords, Mayors), currently, have the role of annoying their underlings, as much as they can. Will their roles be expanded in the future so that they are in some way or form more useful?

TA: Ideally the actions the player takes should be linked back to all the positions the dwarves hold in the fortress, so the fact that you’ll be able to do more things with your civilization later on will tie back to them.  It should probably be made more personal, though — your baron is now elevated from among your dwarves, instead of arriving as an immigrant like before, and the things that’ll fall out of that should make them seem more a part of your fort than something separate that you just want to throw in a magma chamber.  With the addition of guilds and religious sects and so on, hopefully things will be interesting enough at the upper echelons to keep it around.  I think it’ll take a while for them to seem like more than an annoyance though.

AG: There is currently very little magic individual Dwarves/Humans/Elves/etc can use. Will this change in the future? Will Wizards become special “Nobles” who will occupy your Fortress? Or will they remain Outcasts, and as such, enemies of your Fortress?

TA: Aside from the artifacts they produce, and maybe something here or there with the temples in the future, I don’t think of dwarves as being particular magical.  I guess some universes take the rune/earth route with them, and since we’re trying to generate arbitrary fantasy worlds, that might be fair to explore.  I don’t know if it’ll ever really be emphasized in dwarf mode though.  I don’t really like the idea of having contingents of fire wizard soldiers you order around and stuff.  We’ll have to see how it goes.

AG: Once your Fortress expands, and becomes the Capital, will it be possible to expand your civilization? Could we face the possibility of Dwarves leaving your Fortress to occupy new lands?

TA: The idea was that once one of your dwarves is elevated to a baron (and perhaps before), you’d be able to expand your barony etc., and if the monarch moved in, you’d get control of the entire civilization.  You’d be able to move around armies more like a strategy game, and zoom over to the local view of army fights when they happen.  Getting to these things has proved elusive, but it’s still the plan.  Playing two forts at once is a difficult project, and I’m not sure we’ll ever go there.

AG: How will War evolve in future versions? What dangers should we expect from the different races, which we are not met with just yet?

TA: There are two sides of this (ignoring adventure mode) — sending out armies from your fort as in the previous question (or sending surrounding hill dwarves from villages to get the numbers higher), and adding siege improvements so that your fortress faces more varied and difficult threats.  In order to be a challenge, sieging opponents will need to be able to break into a sealed fortress.  This is controversial among the players, since some people don’t like the idea of others digging through their aesthetically prepared areas and so on.  They’ll also need to be able to get around traps, and stop sending soldiers repeatedly into death traps.  Elves used to animate any trees around the fortress…  there are various possibilities.

AG: Do you plan on adding “technology” to Dwarf Fortress? Forcing Dwarves to think up new ways of smelting, item creation, weapons ,etc.? Rather than offering everything at the start?

TA: We don’t want to have a tech tree that you go from start to finish with in a single fortress, since the period of time you are passing through is small relative to the overall history and it would be weird to do independent discoveries with each subsequent fortress in the world, but we’ve tossed around the idea of having technology progress in the civilizations slowly and perhaps to have it happen in your fortress at times.  We aren’t really sure though.

AG: Vampires are an interesting addition to Dwarf Fortress, but how do they operate exactly? They always reminded me of the Vampires from the Witcher, treating blood like an alcohol, and being fairly capable of functioning without it.

TA: The original idea was to randomize all of it, but we didn’t get to that.  Right now not drinking blood just slows them down, but we don’t really have a set idea for them.  The idea is to let a broad range of behaviors take place to keep the random worlds interesting.

Dwarf Fortress

“Here is our gold, now give us your clothes and ale… all of it.”

AG: How will the Economy work, more or less, once it is back in full swing?

TA: It’s not settled enough to answer yet.  We’ve got items being built, stockpiled and traded between settlements in world generation, and that information theoretically can be used to handle supply/demand pricing and all that, and we’ve tossed around ideas for improving the trade agreements that are formed in world gen…  there was also the ideas for fairs, and there’s the whole tavern/inn idea.  Dwarves opened little stores before.  It seems like it’s just going to be built back in pieces.  The mess before partially came from dwarves having coins all over the place.  I’m still not sure how that particular problem is going to be resolved.

AG: Will we be meeting Bards and Musicians in the future? Taverns and similar miscellaneous structures?

TA: Taverns are still scheduled for right after the hero/villain stuff we’re working on now (which might take a while), since they are a great place to get an adventure going.  This includes having your fortress be able to accept visitors and lodge them and having taverns there as well.  We’ve had musical instruments in the game for a long time, and getting them to actually be used anywhere has been a goal which keeps getting put off.

AG: Are there things you would want to add to Dwarf Fortress, but feel they might be adding too much complexity or simply too difficult to implement?

TA: Time travel is pretty common in fantasy literature but difficult to pull off in a computer game, and basically impossible to pull off in DF without really extreme restrictions that make it almost worthless.  I’m sure the lighting and additional liquids we end up adding will probably not get up to levels I’d be satisfied with due to technical/etc. constraints.

AG: What one Alcoholic Beverage would you want to try from Dwarf Fortress?

TA: Not gutter cruor or sewer brew.  Sunshine sounds fun.  I’d like a cup of sunshine.

Dwarf Fortress

Fear the mighty Carp!

AG: Will the Carp ever return to its former glory? Will we face Giant/Dire Carps? What about Carp-People?

TA: I hope they stay carp-like and fundamentally non-lethal.  At the same time, all of the new creatures we added got giant/person versions, and I suspect the old creatures like carp might also see some movement there.  Overall, the fish are less likely to get them, because we have so many fish, but carp are special.

AG: If you woke up tomorrow, and were a Dwarf in some Fortress, what profession would you have and why?

TA: Trader.  Something that leaves the fortress.  Dwarf Fortresses are scary places to live.

AG: Thank you for your time Toady! We will now release you into the magma chamber outside.

Alex “WriterX” Bielski

About The Author

Aleksander "WriterX" Bielski
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Student of Psychology, he was identified as a Nut-Job even before he started the course. Having done some small work as a Modder for a number of titles, and worked as a Game Designer part-time, Alex now writes in third person. As Co-Owner and Editor of he aims high, while being armed only with a sling. In the future, he hopes to become a fully qualified Newspaper Editor, and purchase Google.

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