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Here are a few things to keep in mind when playing Dwarf Fortress.

Above all, one must remember that losing is fun! Be prepared to lose a few fortresses before you get the hang of things – it can be easy to accidentally kill the entire fortress while playing around with the different mechanics. But remember: losing means that next time, you'll remember how you lost! In a big way, Dwarf Fortress uses the principle of learning from one's mistakes.

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  • Keep in mind that Dwarf Fortress doesn't have a "win" condition, just one lose condition {all your dwarves die}, with many ways to accomplish it.
    • It's not a guaranteed loss if you only have children and insane adults left. Migrants might come and kids might live long enough to grow up.
    • You can also {Retire Fortress} and put your hard-won experience to use building a new, better fortress elsewhere.
  • Learn the controls. There are lots, and learning them may seem daunting at first, but once you get the basics down (like how to check the status of your dwarves or the hotkeys for building certain structures), you'll find yourself playing much more efficiently.
  • Save often! Although it can be a hassle to have to quit out and get back in, it's a lot better than, after a crash, having to build that long hallway of stone-fall traps, plant the whole bag of plump helmet seeds, and make that shipment of steel battleaxes for the caravan next year, all over again.
    • Consider enabling the seasonal auto-save feature by editing your /data/init/d_init.txt file.
    • NOTE: you need several hundred MBs per save; if you run out of harddrive space, Dwarf Fortress will "pretend" to save correctly, but your save will be unloadable. Opening other saves to verify that they still work, then exiting, will corrupt your previously-working saves as well. Make sure you have sufficient free space before launching Dwarf Fortress!
  • Plan ahead a little during construction. When building your first couple dozen rooms, consider that in the future you might want to make certain busy hallways wider so dwarves aren't always climbing over each other. This will be a lot easier if you put rooms back an extra tile so you don't have to rebuild everything.
  • Think three-dimensionally. You have a Z-axis - things will be much closer when they're downstairs one floor, than if they're 20 tiles away down the hallway. Also note that, with the default tileset, your display of the fortress is not square, so north/south distances will appear longer than east/west distances -- they aren't.


  • Dwarves thrive on alcohol. If a dwarf drinks only water, the rate at which he gets tasks done decreases. If the fortress has no alcohol for years, things will slow down quite a bit.
  • Dwarves also need food, obviously - and a good cook (and a nice dining hall) go a long way towards keeping your fortress happy.
    • Don't cook all your alcohol or all your seeds (or all the things that leave seeds). (z >> Kitchen).
  • Dwarves tend to get trapped easily. They like building and digging things from certain directions, so try to make sure there is a way out (and keep an eye on them just in case they try something crazy). Also keep in mind that workshops block certain squares, so if you ever notice that your jeweler dies after constructing a workshop with a door on the east side, that's why.
  • Digging, wood cutting, and engraving are noisy. Keep your sleeping areas away from noise and your dwarves will get a good night's rest.
  • Traps can help take care of invaders at no risk to your dwarves. Any fortress can build a bunch of stone-fall traps. Cage traps are also easy (you can make cages out of wood).
  • Having a dwarf with the Appraiser skill to be your broker will help a lot when trading. Otherwise, you can't see how much an item is worth.
  • Chaining some dogs by your front door may deter thieves.
  • Remember that dwarves can be assigned new jobs at any time. If your carpenter has died, your cheesemaker can start making beds. (He won't be good at it, since he doesn't have the skill, but lowest-quality beds are better than sleeping on the ground.)
  • Idle carpenters? It's hard to have too many barrels (or too many bins... beds for the next wave of immigrants are pretty handy too). Idle masons? You can fit a lot of doors and statues into your fortress, and a ready supply of blocks can speed up later constructions.
  • Too many immigrants? Don't know what to do with them? Have you started an army yet?
  • When setting a water source (for designated drinking zones) or a fishing zone, remember that only walkable tiles are valid - you need only mark the shore.
  • When in doubt, wall off the outside world and do soldier training for a year.
  • Soap is important. If a dwarf is injured, soap will be necessary to clean the wound, otherwise infection will set in. Make sure to set up a hospital to prevent your dwarves from wasting all your soap.
  • Do not take on an armoured opponent with your fists; you will lose. Wrestling is not very effective and the use of quality metal weapons is strongly encouraged. (Make sure you don't attack with training weapons either!)
  • Don't dig too greedily or too deep without a proper army - expecting a couple rookies to fend off a giant cave spider (or worse) results in much fun. Make sure to properly train and equip your soldiers before breaching the depths. Equipment and training are vital to the defense of your fortress.
  • Wood is primarily needed for beds and bins -- large pots work better as containers for food and drink in most situations, and can be created by any stonecrafter from your most plentiful resource: rock.


  • To find a dead dwarf, go under status (z), then select stock>>corpses. Hit tab, and use z to zoom to the particular dwarf to find a hint on where and how he died.
  • Don't like all the stone laying around? Instead of using a stone stockpile create a 1-square garbage zone and dump (designate, bulk, dump) the stone. Reclaim (d, b, claim) the stone after it's been dumped. This way, you can store an unlimited amount of stone in just 1 tile! (This is especially useful when the tile in question is next to your mason shop). You can also use the mouse to paint which stones to dump. See stone management for more information.
  • Miasma from a garbage zone won't spread diagonally. Making your garbage dump a 1-tile room dug diagonally into a corner means you won't even need a door.
  • Usually the closest available material (to the dwarf!) is used for tasks such as (for example) building a floodgate, but not always. To prevent frustration, you can create a custom stockpile (e.g. for bauxite) next to your workshop and link it to the desired workshop. This also prevents your mason from hauling stone across the map from wherever he happened to be when you ordered a new door.
  • The Standing Orders (o) screen can be used for a variety of useful settings, like having your dwarves temporarily ignore wood and refuse or making your weavers stop heading into the caverns to collect spiderwebs and get slaughtered by wild animals.
  • Hitting x when building a building (especially a cage) expands the list of items, so you can pick a specific one by quality or content (a nice bed for a noble's bedroom, or a rare beast for your zoo).
  • If you're scanning the outdoors for your next swath of trees, move your view up one level. They will appear as little rectangles on a field of dots and will be easier to spot.
    • Speaking of timber, try designating some high-traffic lanes (d o h) outside radiating away from your front door to the trees. Your dwarves will stick to the paths somewhat, and probably trample fewer saplings. (They also won't mess up the ground and leave a bunch of ugly sand spots scattered around on a sandy map.)
  • Take preventative measures to avoid cave adaptation. Only one of these is necessary.
    • Build a walled statue garden outside your fortress.
    • A protective wall around an outdoor well or other meeting area also works well.
    • In any central stairways, dig up to the surface. Any dwarves moving through that central stairway will receive their daily dose of sunlight. You could do the same for a meeting hall or statue garden, but just do it underground.
    • You could even rely on the one activity that every dwarf does with regularity - drinking. Store the fortress's booze supplies in a well-defended tower atop your fortress.
    • Keep in mind that you still probably want to minimize access points to your fortress. Really, any opening could be used by animals or enemies to get into your fortress. You should be able to close it in again afterwards, and the light will remain anyways, as once a tile becomes light, it doesn't stop being so. (Well, not yet anyways; though putting in a glass roof might not be a bad idea if you feel like it)
  • Trade for basic items like meat and wood. They're cheap, and it's easier than gathering them yourself. It's amazing how many logs you can get for a couple mugs. Keep plenty of valuable supplies for trading; a single skilled craftsdwarf with a steady supply of stone can potentially purchase every single item of value from every caravan that stops by.