RPG Evolution - The AI GM: Worldbuilding with Dwarf Fortress

It can be daunting to create a campaign setting with a rich history. Fortunately, AI can do it for you.


Leave it to the Dwarves

A critical component of any D&D campaign is the history of the world, which can set the stage for epic quests and adventures. While creating a campaign history can be a daunting task, the game Dwarf Fortress can be used to generate a detailed history that can be exported and used in a D&D campaign.

This in itself isn't surprising. Dwarf Fortress, inspired by D&D, has been around long enough to be a major influence on Minecraft, which just closed the recursive loop by incorporating D&D into Minecraft.

Dwarf Fortress
is a simulation game that simulates a fantasy world, complete with history, politics, and conflicts. The game generates a detailed history of the world, including the rise and fall of civilizations, wars, and natural disasters. Using this history as a basis, DMs can create a rich campaign world. Here's how.

Step 1: Download Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress is a free game that can be downloaded from the Bay 12 Games website. It's available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you want your own world and not a randomly generated one created by the game, you'll also need PerfectWorldDF. There are several ways to customize the world to more accurately represent your campaign world, including weather patterns and geographical features.

Step 2: Generate a World

Once you have downloaded Dwarf Fortress, launch the game and select the "Create New World" option. The game will generate a new world, complete with history, geography, and civilizations. You can also determine how many years you'd like to run the simulator. I ran it for the maximum, a thousand years.

Step 3: Export the World's History

To export the world's history, select the "Legends" option from the main menu. This will display a detailed history of the world, including information on civilizations, wars, and historical figures. To export the history, select the "Export Legends" option, and save the file to your computer. If you choose, you can generate up to 1,000 years of history, although it will use up considerable CPU resources to do so.

Step 4: Convert the Exported File

The exported file is in a format that is not easily readable or usable in a D&D campaign. Therefore, you will need to convert it to a more usable format. One option is to use a tool like Legends Viewer, which can convert the exported file into a more readable format, including HTML or text.

The legends viewer has multiple sections, including Arts & Crafts, Infrastructure, Geography, Warfare, Other, Historical Figures, and Civs & Entites. If you run the program for the equivalent of a thousand years, you could spend hours browsing all the outcomes.
  • Geography describes different biomes like the Azure Dune, which includes three monasteries, a tomb, and a camp throughout its long history.There are entire landmasses, mountains, and rivers named throughout the world's history.
  • Warfare shows the victors and losers of conflicts, including the names of every character who died or was wounded. They're broken out into battles, conquerings, and raids.
  • Civs and Entities details civilizations by species, including new forms of goverment and religion. Historical Figures includes major named characters, which can range from necromancers (a common type in Dwarf Fortress) to Deities, Dragons, and Natural Forces.
  • Arts & Crafts covers everything else. Written content includes everything from choreography to essays, manuals to musical compositions, poems to short stories. Every items has an author and a name. Because Dwarf Fortress randomly generates results, including names, you can get some very interesting results. Eastunited the Violet Tongues (known in dwarvish as "Zuselbongnguk Goxasnam") is a legendary iron low boot that was created in Hellwalked by an unknown creature in the year 104 and was last seen offered by the human Sana Feastpoints to the human necromancer Iddim Empiresflashes in the year 341. And don't even get me started on Jackalcrazy, a legendary pair of pants (technically, tigerfish bone greaves).

Step 5: Use the History in Your Campaign

Once you have converted the exported file, you can use it to create a detailed history for your D&D campaign. The history can be used to create factions, cities, and events that can form the basis of quests and adventures. Additionally, the history can flesh out your own campaign world's gaps.

There are several quirks that come with using the game as history. As mentioned above, it uses a random naming convention that doesn't always translate well to fantasy campaigns. Using some of these names results in phrases like "Snackelbows."

Not all species are represented, so there aren't gnomes for example. Moreover, the high fertility rate of goblins means they inevitably take over. By the end of my thousand year history, goblins accounted for 21.17% of the population, followed by cave swallows (20.63%), bats (20.49%), cave spiders (13.09%), and weirdly, elves (4.64%). In case you're wondering, dwarves have it tough in Dwarf Fortress; it's hard to tell but they may have been eliminated completely by the end of the history, or at least small enough to be grouped under Other (8.47%).

But what you get from Dwarf Fortress is enormous. The fate of every character is mapped out, including creatures and monsters of a variety of types, who they encounter, breed, and die. They generate books and songs, all of them named, along with deities they venerate. There's so much to pick and choose from that you can easily discard what doesn't make sense and take what you like.

Although it's not commonly thought of as a form of AI, Dwarf Fortress is one of the few game simulations that's so accessible you can use it to engage a variety of ways, from writing fiction to fleshing out of your campaign world.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


It's an algothrythmically constructed story based on a set of inputs. The difference between DF's Curses process and chat GPT is a matter of degree and a learning engine combined with magical marketing that convinces people the algo is a thinking machine to fool dumbass executives.

This is 100% AI.
is it a learning engine or basically a set of random tables? Don’t know DF but would have expected the latter

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Small Ball Archmage
I'm a GM who really loves worldbuilding, but the idea of using Dwarf Fortress (which is a fun game in its own right) this way is really neat, if nothing else it can always be used to give ideas as interesting things happen and you make the connection, then write about it. Also, I think that one thing to be sensitive to is the fact that there's a lot of anti-worldbuilding sentiment in the hobby these days, so I sort of took @Grendel_Khan 's comment in that light, where one would automate worldbuilding because its being thought of as 'a burden' whereas for some GMs, that's taking away one of the funnest parts of GMing.


I couldn't get DF running on my Mac. Will try again later.

There should be a Lazy Newb Pack release or some similar bundle for the Mac out there. That might help.

Yes, Dwarf Fortress can gives some rather interesting results from its world creation. You get a map, civilizations with their own unique gods, and all sorts of characters, and one could take the results and customize things as needed. Legends mode can be really hard to follow, but there's a program called Legends Viewer (IIRC) that sorts through the data and makes it easier to view things like family tress, civilization histories and things like that. The Lazy Newb Pack I mentioned about usually bundles it in with its releases.

One of the last dwarf civilizations I worked with had a small pantheon of gods that included a goddess of mountains that takes the form of a wombat and a male god of pregnancy (wah-HEY!) for example. Then there was this human woman whose dream was to start a family but her civilization got wiped out when she was young and she spent her life wandering the world and taming wild beasts.


I had a quick play around and read through the 142 year history of a dragon that was rampaging across the land until finally being defeated by a great warrior. Quite cool to use for ideas to include some legends for a dragon in the campaign world. Instead of just telling the players that there is a red dragon, you can bring up some of the dragon's most noted deeds, like it decimated towns and felled the mighty heroes who went out hunting it, that even the mightiest archdruid of the wood elves was unable to defeat the dragon.


There should be a Lazy Newb Pack release or some similar bundle for the Mac out there. That might help.
Tried that. Still didn't work. I hear sound, but the screen is blank. Will start from scratch when I find some time this weekend.

Maybe history isn't all that creative? You could almost call it a pattern (or dare I say, predictable?): community grows, butts up against another community. 2 communities join by agreement or by war. Repeat process.

And here I thought donjon did it all! This is pretty awesome, and definitely more of a "program" than "AI."

Maybe history isn't all that creative? You could almost call it a pattern (or dare I say, predictable?): community grows, butts up against another community. 2 communities join by agreement or by war. Repeat process.
To be honest, this was my experience the one summer some friends and I broke out the ancient Civilization board game (either 1980 or 82 version) and decided we would play every night. Somehow, a summer full of it played every night - and cases upon cases of beer later - we were no closer to getting the game beat some how. But we learned part of the problem was mechanically, it didn't let you invade and take provinces - let's say an area could support ten people. Six were already there - anything you moved in, they depleted each faction until the grand total was ten. Ugh, what a slog. And then, as Minoa, I had a giant ka-boom.

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