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Every time you create a world in Dwarf Fortress you can give the world some depth by generating a prescribed amount of history.

Is there any good resource or explanation of what happens during history generation?

Does the game do a complete simulation of the lives and activities of all the dwarves/elves/goblins of the world? Somehow I doubt it. I imagine something more like a random number of births and deaths are generated for each day and after your 250 years (or whatever) the resultant number of creatures need homes, so fortresses and roads are built to match their numbers.

What kind of information is out there about what happens during this simulation-only time in Dwarf Fortress? Is there any mod that lets me see what happened during history generation more closely?

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If you choose Legends mode when starting a new game in a world, you can see everything significant that happened during the generation of that world. And while you're right, it doesn't actually simulate the lives of each individual creature, it does simulate the lives of significant historical figures such as political figures and heroes. You can look at dwarves arriving to your fortress and see their history, which civilizations they belonged to, and what they've killed, if they were soldiers before immigrating.

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It's worth noting that only historic figures get tracked individually, but you are right to point out legends mode. –  C. Ross Oct 25 '12 at 0:48
    
@C.Ross - Do you know how DF determines who a historic figure is? –  SaintWacko Oct 25 '12 at 12:30
    
All named characters: adventurers, adventurer's cohort, political figures, heroes, all fortress dwarves .. probably deserves its own question. –  C. Ross Oct 25 '12 at 13:04
    
@C.Ross - Alright, edited my answer to reflect that. –  SaintWacko Oct 25 '12 at 13:29
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@SaintWacko: Also, everyone your character talked to in Adventure mode gets added as a historical figure. Everyone else is just generated on the fly and "forgotten" when you leave the site. –  Martin Sojka Oct 25 '12 at 13:33
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they are tracked on several levels which includes (might have other levels as well)

  • site level: the size of the population on the site, diplomatic relations with other sites

    this is simulated with heuristics and modifiers depending on how successfull they are, (no food means everyone dies (poor kobolds))

  • squad level a traveling group of people,

  • individual level these are called historic figures, everyone who gets a name is a historic figure and gets tracked accordingly

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