DFHack modding guide

What is the difference between a script and a mod?

A script is a single file that can be run as a command in DFHack, like something that modifies or displays game data on request. A mod is something you install to get persistent behavioural changes in the game and/or add new content. Mods can contain and use scripts in addition to (or instead of) modifications to the DF game raws.

DFHack scripts are written in Lua. If you don’t already know Lua, there’s a great primer at lua.org.

Why not just mod the raws?

It depends on what you want to do. Some mods are better to do in just the raws. You don’t need DFHack to add a new race or modify attributes, for example. However, DFHack scripts can do many things that you just can’t do in the raws, like make a creature that trails smoke. Some things could be done in the raws, but writing a script is less hacky, easier to maintain, easier to extend, and is not prone to side-effects. A great example is adding a syndrome when a reaction is performed. If done in the raws, you have to create an exploding boulder to apply the syndrome. DFHack scripts can add the syndrome directly and with much more flexibility. In the end, complex mods will likely require a mix of raw modding and DFHack scripting.

A mod-maker’s development environment

While you’re writing your mod, you need a place to store your in-development scripts that will:

  • be directly runnable by DFHack

  • not get lost when you upgrade DFHack

The recommended approach is to create a directory somewhere outside of your DF installation (let’s call it “/path/to/own-scripts”) and do all your script development in there.

Inside your DF installation folder, there is a file named dfhack-config/script-paths.txt. If you add a line like this to that file:


Then that directory will be searched when you run DFHack commands from inside the game. The + at the front of the path means to search that directory first, before any other script directory (like hack/scripts or raw/scripts). That way, your latest changes will always be used instead of older copies that you may have installed in a DF directory.

For scripts with the same name, the order of precedence will be:

  1. own-scripts/

  2. data/save/*/raw/scripts/

  3. raw/scripts/

  4. hack/scripts/

The structure of the game

“The game” is in the global variable df. The game’s memory can be found in df.global, containing things like the list of all items, whether to reindex pathfinding, et cetera. Also relevant to us in df are the various types found in the game, e.g. df.pronoun_type which we will be using in this guide. We’ll explore more of the game structures below.

Your first script

So! It’s time to write your first script. This section will walk you through how to make a script that will get the pronoun type of the currently selected unit.

First line, we get the unit:

local unit = dfhack.gui.getSelectedUnit()

If no unit is selected, an error message will be printed (which can be silenced by passing true to getSelectedUnit) and unit will be nil.

If unit is nil, we don’t want the script to run anymore:

if not unit then

Now, the field sex in a unit is an integer, but each integer corresponds to a string value (“it”, “she”, or “he”). We get this value by indexing the bidirectional map df.pronoun_type. Indexing the other way, incidentally, with one of the strings, will yield its corresponding number. So:

local pronounTypeString = df.pronoun_type[unit.sex]

Simple. Save this as a Lua file in your own scripts directory and run it as shown before when a unit is selected in the Dwarf Fortress UI.

Exploring DF structures

So how could you have known about the field and type we just used? Well, there are two main tools for discovering the various fields in the game’s data structures. The first is the df-structures repository that contains XML files describing the contents of the game’s structures. These are complete, but difficult to read (for a human). The second option is the gui/gm-editor script, an interactive data explorer. You can run the script while objects like units are selected to view the data within them. You can also run gui/gm-editor scr to view the data for the current screen. Press ? while the script is active to view help.

Familiarising yourself with the many structs of the game will help with ideas immensely, and you can always ask for help in the right places.

Detecting triggers

The common method for injecting new behaviour into the game is to define a callback function and get it called when something interesting happens. DFHack provides two libraries for this, repeat-util and eventful. repeat-util is used to run a function once per a configurable number of frames (paused or unpaused), ticks (unpaused), in-game days, months, or years. If you need to be aware the instant something happens, you’ll need to run a check once a tick. Be careful not to do this gratuitously, though, since running that often can slow down the game!

eventful, on the other hand, is much more performance-friendly since it will only call your callback when a relevant event happens, like a reaction or job being completed or a projectile moving.

To get something to run once per tick, we can call repeat-util.scheduleEvery(). First, we load the module:

local repeatUtil = require('repeat-util')

Both repeat-util and eventful require keys for registered callbacks. You should use something unique, like your mod name:

local modId = "callback-example-mod"

Then, we pass the key, amount of time units between function calls, what the time units are, and finally the callback function itself:

repeatUtil.scheduleEvery(modId, 1, "ticks", function()
    -- Do something like iterating over all active units and
    -- check for something interesting
    for _, unit in ipairs(df.global.world.units.active) do

eventful is slightly more involved. First get the module:

local eventful = require('plugins.eventful')

eventful contains a table for each event which you populate with functions. Each function in the table is then called with the appropriate arguments when the event occurs. So, for example, to print the position of a moving (item) projectile:

eventful.onProjItemCheckMovement[modId] = function(projectile)
    print(projectile.cur_pos.x, projectile.cur_pos.y,

Check out the full list of supported events to see what else you can react to with eventful.

Now, you may have noticed that you won’t be able to register multiple callbacks with a single key named after your mod. You can, of course, call all the functions you want from a single registered callback. Alternately, you can create multiple callbacks using different keys, using your mod ID as a key name prefix. If you do register multiple callbacks, though, there are no guarantees about the call order.

Custom raw tokens

In this section, we are going to use custom raw tokens applied to a reaction to transfer the material of a reagent to a product as a handle improvement (like on artifact buckets), and then we are going to see how you could make boots that make units go faster when worn.

First, let’s define a custom crossbow with its own custom reaction. The crossbow:

    [SIEGE_CROSSBOW_MOD_FIRE_RATE_MULTIPLIER:2] custom token (you'll see)

The reaction to make it (you would add the reaction and not the weapon to an entity raw):

    [NAME:make siege crossbow]
    [REAGENT:handle 1:1:BLOCKS:NONE:NONE:NONE] wooden handles
        another custom token

So, we are going to use the eventful module to make it so that (after the script is run) when this crossbow is crafted, it will have two handles, each with the material given by the block reagents.

First, require the modules we are going to use:

local eventful = require("plugins.eventful")
local customRawTokens = require("custom-raw-tokens")

Now, let’s make a callback (we’ll be defining the body of this function soon):

local modId = "siege-crossbow-mod"
eventful.onReactionComplete[modId] = function(reaction,
        reactionProduct, unit, inputItems, inputReagents,

First, we check to see if it the reaction that just happened is relevant to this callback:

if not customRawTokens.getToken(reaction,

Then, we get the product number listed. Next, for every reagent, if the reagent name starts with “handle” then we get the corresponding item, and…

for i, reagent in ipairs(inputReagents) do
    if reagent.code:startswith('handle') then
        -- Found handle reagent
        local item = inputItems[i]

…We then add a handle improvement to the listed product within our loop:

local new = df.itemimprovement_itemspecificst:new()
new.mat_type, new.mat_index = item.mat_type, item.mat_index
new.type = df.itemimprovement_specific_type.HANDLE
outputItems[productNumber - 1].improvements:insert('#', new)

This works well as long as you don’t have multiple stacks filling up one reagent.

Let’s also make some code to modify the fire rate of our siege crossbow:

eventful.onProjItemCheckMovement[modId] = function(projectile)
    if projectile.distance_flown > 0 then
        -- don't make this adjustment more than once

    local firer = projectile.firer
    if not firer then

    local weapon = df.item.find(projectile.bow_id)
    if not weapon then

    local multiplier = tonumber(customRawTokens.getToken(
    firer.counters.think_counter = math.floor(
            firer.counters.think_counter * multiplier)

Now, let’s see how we could make some “pegasus boots”. First, let’s define the item in the raws:

    [NAME:pegasus boot:pegasus boots]
        (you don't have to comment the custom token every time,
        but it does clarify what it is)

Then, let’s make a repeat-util callback for once a tick:

repeatUtil.scheduleEvery(modId, 1, "ticks", function()

Let’s iterate over every active unit, and for every unit, iterate over their worn items to calculate how much we are going to take from their movement timer:

for _, unit in ipairs(df.global.world.units.active) do
    local amount = 0
    for _, entry in ipairs(unit.inventory) do
        if entry.mode == df.unit_inventory_item.T_mode.Worn then
            local reduction = customRawTokens.getToken(
            amount = amount + (tonumber(reduction) or 0)

-- Subtract amount from movement timer if currently moving

The structure of a full mod

For reference, Tachy Guns is a full mod that conforms to this guide.

Create a folder for mod projects somewhere outside your Dwarf Fortress installation directory (e.g. /path/to/mymods/) and use your mod IDs as the names for the mod folders within it. In the example below, we’ll use a mod ID of example-mod. I’m sure your mods will have more creative names! The example-mod mod will be developed in the /path/to/mymods/example-mod/ directory and has a basic structure that looks like this:


Let’s go through that line by line.

  • A short (one-line) script in raw/init.d/ to initialise your mod when a save is loaded.

  • Modifications to the game raws (potentially with custom raw tokens) go in raw/objects/.

  • A control script in raw/scripts/ that handles enabling and disabling your mod.

  • A subfolder for your mod under raw/scripts/ will contain all the internal scripts and/or modules used by your mod.

It is a good idea to use a version control system to organize changes to your mod code. You can create a separate Git repository for each of your mods. The README.md file will be your mod help text when people browse to your online repository.

Unless you want to install your raw/ folder into your DF game folder every time you make a change to your scripts, you should add your development scripts directory to your script paths in dfhack-config/script-paths.txt:


Ok, you’re all set up! Now, let’s take a look at an example raw/scripts/example-mod.lua file:

-- main setup and teardown for example-mod
-- this next line indicates that the script supports the "enable"
-- API so you can start it by running "enable example-mod" and stop
-- it by running "disable example-mod"
--@ enable = true

local usage = [[

    enable example-mod
    disable example-mod
local repeatUtil = require('repeat-util')
local eventful = require('plugins.eventful')

-- you can reference global values or functions declared in any of
-- your internal scripts
local moduleA = reqscript('example-mod/module-a')
local moduleB = reqscript('example-mod/module-b')
local moduleC = reqscript('example-mod/module-c')
local moduleD = reqscript('example-mod/module-d')

enabled = enabled or false
local modId = 'example-mod'

if not dfhack_flags.enable then
    print(('Example mod is currently '):format(
            enabled and 'enabled' or 'disabled'))

if dfhack_flags.enable_state then
    -- do any initialization your internal scripts might require

    -- multiple functions in the same repeat callback
    repeatUtil.scheduleEvery(modId .. ' every tick', 1, 'ticks', function()

    -- one function per repeat callback (you can put them in the
    -- above format if you prefer)
    repeatUtil.scheduleEvery(modId .. ' 100 frames', 1, 'frames',

    -- multiple functions in the same eventful callback
    eventful.onReactionComplete[modId] = function(reaction,
            reaction_product, unit, input_items, input_reagents,
        -- pass the event's parameters to the listeners
        moduleB.onReactionComplete(reaction, reaction_product,
                unit, input_items, input_reagents, output_items)
        moduleC.onReactionComplete(reaction, reaction_product,
                unit, input_items, input_reagents, output_items)

    -- one function per eventful callback (you can put them in the
    -- above format if you prefer)
    eventful.onProjItemCheckMovement[modId] = moduleD.onProjItemCheckMovement
    eventful.onProjUnitCheckMovement[modId] = moduleD.onProjUnitCheckMovement

    print('Example mod enabled')
    enabled = true
    -- call any shutdown functions your internal scripts might require

    repeatUtil.cancel(modId .. ' every ticks')
    repeatUtil.cancel(modId .. ' 100 frames')

    eventful.onReactionComplete[modId] = nil
    eventful.onProjItemCheckMovement[modId] = nil
    eventful.onProjUnitCheckMovement[modId] = nil

    print('Example mod disabled')
    enabled = false

You can call enable example-mod and disable example-mod yourself while developing, but for end users you can start your mod automatically from raw/init.d/example-mod.lua:

dfhack.run_command('enable example-mod')

Inside raw/scripts/example-mod/module-a.lua you could have code like this:

--@ module = true
-- The above line is required for reqscript to work

function onLoad() -- global variables are exported
    -- do initialization here

-- this is an internal function: local functions/variables
-- are not exported
local function usedByOnTick(unit)
    -- ...

function onTick() -- exported
    for _,unit in ipairs(df.global.world.units.all) do

The reqscript function reloads scripts that have changed, so you can modify your scripts while DF is running and just disable/enable your mod to load the changes into your ongoing game!