Plotting the Generational Fort

Posted 2019/07/08
Last updated 2019/07/08

One of my desires for The Shade Tail is to host a little diary of Dwarf Fortress games and how they progress. One of these games has been knocking around in my head for a few months now, but I haven’t felt ready to put it into true motion. It’s also been something I’ve wanted to save for a proper chronicling. Perhaps this will be the first game I’ll write about here.

TL;DR: An extremely small population cap when starting out will force care and deliberation to ensure the success of future generations. The challenges in this game will revolve around safety and socialization.

The idea is the generational fortress, a game where you know intimately who lives in your fortress and see their stories unfold by limiting the number of dwarves. There was a thread (or post?) on the Bay 12 forums that touched on this and gave me the idea. What I like about this idea is that it provides a slower-paced game with room for a lot of roleplay elements. One of my favorite things about Dwarf Fortress is that it can spin amazingly complex tales over the course of play, but I don’t feel I pay enough attention to them in my own forts at times with how many dwarves I need to look after. With less dwarves to keep track of, you simply must care for the ones you have. They must prosper and give rise to the next generation.

Concerning Fortress Population

So a very important part of this idea is setting the soft population cap very low (around 15) to prevent an influx of migrants, the hard population cap around 110, and then I’d like to keep the baby cap at around 5. This will prevent the arrival of new dwarves to the fortress and put an end to further pregnancies when the five-baby limit is reached. Waiting begins when these two caps are met.

The caps are so low, and it will be an extremely slow process to populate the fortress. Dwarven babies become children at one year old and children become adults at 12 years old. This means that it will take around 12 years until the next functional generation of adults is ready if no babies or children arrive as migrants before the soft cap is met.

The hard cap is unlikely to be met at a worryingly quick rate. By the time it is met, I think it’d be worthy of the prestige of fortresses with such high populations (becoming the capital, seat of the monarch!).

Then there is the tricky issue of dwarves socializing, marrying, and rearing children. This is a somewhat known issue in Dwarf Fortress, and I’ll address it in the next section.

Considerations and Challenges

One of the biggest challenges that comes to mind will be keeping dwarves safe.

The embark area’s alignment will need to be mostly tame due to the initially small, struggling population. My usual games tend towards neutral regions and I’ll likely go with calm or wilderness surroundings. Mirthful surroundings and joyous wilds will be preferable to untamed wilds if aforementioned neutral options are unavailable.

Military strength is definitely worth some careful planning. The low population means that the pool of military candidates will have shrunk considerably. Some dwarves are more suited to soldiering in temperament than others, and the correct temperament can be hard to find in a small fortress. Dwarves who are not suited to military life and find it stressful will be more likely to lash out and begin a tantrum spiral. For any fort this is dangerous, and especially a smaller one.

In my games, I don’t usually allow women into the proper military because they carry babies into battle with them. This is something that I will need to be extremely careful of in this game. Many female dwarves are inclined towards martial pursuits and indeed have good temperaments. For these ladies I will be keeping a “home defense division” that has a purely defensive function and will act secondary to the male squads. They will be reinforcements where needed in other words. Mothers need not apply until their babies have grown.

So regarding baby production: dwarves are notoriously finicky with socializing. It’s apparently only possible (or most efficient without burrows?) for dwarves to socialize and become friends in taverns. They need to be standing adjacent to one another. You’d think miners or crafts workers side by side for years in their professions would naturally become friends and yet…

I digress. This is currently where the relationships mechanic stands.

Marriage will therefore be a challenge especially in the second and later generations. Dwarves do have a long lifespan and the rush to marry and reproduce is not quite to the forefront as in humans, so I’ll need to be patient and monitor where things progress. If you don’t take steps to ensure that dwarves socialize, they will very rarely become more than passing acquaintances. Leisure time will come naturally when the fortress gets established, and hopefully they will feel inclined to hang out in the tavern. I won’t go the route of using burrows to force interaction because it is not very roleplay- and immersion-friendly.

Wealth limiting may also be necessary for a good amount of time. Producing only what is needed, and not focusing as much on items for export. A few items with higher values will be fine to get what is needed from caravans, and artifacts will be marked as offerings. Wealth and population are attractive numbers to monsters, thieves, and sieges. There is no reason for a tiny outpost to be sitting on a trade value of hundreds of thousands. I’d like to keep it under 100,000☼ until around 50 dwarves. By then there ought to be a good enough military to keep individual troublemakers at bay.

Unmet moods, accidental deaths, “accidental deaths”, tantrums, and side effects of the justice system will need to be addressed as they come up. Most of these are things that you can’t easily plan for. My fortress layouts are usually very generous with personal living spaces, however, which immediately reduces stress.

And finally: I’m easily bored. It’ll take some energy to not restart or retire for “just a bit”.


For roleplaying purposes, the fortress will be placed far away from other sites. Perhaps in a desert or other difficult terrain. In my mind this is reason enough (in roleplay) for dwarves to avoid traveling there. If the population drops under 15, it is ideally so uncommon in terms of frequency that it justifies a small wave of migrants to travel the distance.

The embark build will be unremarkable. Labors will be assigned according to custom professions that cover every industry. The starting animals would be sheep, guineafowl or geese, two female cats, and dogs. Dogs will be culled extensively to ensure good strength first and foremost, and later other stats.

And for layout, the fortress will be centered around a “stairwell” concept. I’m going with a stairwell layout because it’s more compact horizontally. Dwarves will need not trek along so many tiles from place to place. Levels will be categorized according to farming and animal keeping in soil or clay layers, craft industry, communal spaces, and residential spaces. This will total four distinct “zones”.

This is a layout that is somewhat more difficult to defend, so a good entrance is a must. Caravans shall enter a tunnel and into a sort of holding bay that can be easily defended from invaders. However, invaders are not anticipated to be an issue for some time.

To Conclude…

My hope is to have fun weaving and witnessing the awesome tales that Dwarf Fortress is capable of and known for. There will be an emphasis on creative thinking, chronicling, careful watching, and getting into the minds of my fortress citizens. There will probably be less !!FUN!! that most other players seem to enjoy because the goal is a very long game. By playing it safe, being adaptable, improvising, and using strategy, I should have a lot of excitement and great times putting this idea I’ve had a while to practice.