Dwarf Fortress – Basic Guide

A plain-speak guide for folks starting a new Dwarf Fortress.

Guide to Basics

World Generation

Step one will be to create a world. The menu is all very straightforward here.

I find the following settings are usually exciting & not too slow to make:

  • Medium World.
  • 100 years.
  • Medium civs.
  • High & of sites.
  • Beasts & Savagery should be to your taste, I like both Very High.
  • Mineral Occurence: Frequent is pretty good.

Now, when your world is generated you can preview it and choose to save it.

Once the world is saved, you’re also able to view it in Legends mode from the main menu. This allows you to read the histories of the realm. I love the new Legends viewer!


This section is about choosing an Embark site and provisions.

When you enter the embark screen you’ll be offered a Tutorial. I haven’t played it yet, this is about choosing a site. Right away, you can click “Find Embark Location” to search for somewhere with “NO” aquifers of any kind. Anything else is to your taste or can be left alone to quickly take a look.

The search will sluggishly (progress shown) return green-colored areas of success.


From this point, you can [Right Click] to quickly close any windows or views.


  • Rivers are great for water and fish.
  • You can settle between two biomes or more, for more ores below!
  • 4×4 area recommended for performance.
  • Choose your Starting Civilization, it will show you where they are too.

When you place your embark rectangle, next you’ll be offered to Quick Start or prep carefully. Both are fine.

Preparing Carefully

In this mode you can Name your fort and group, create a symbol, and skill your 7 starter dwarves.

Assigning skillpoints:

Professions can be intermingled with some caveats.

  • Need: a Woodcutter, a Miner (Keep them separate for AI Logic reasons).
  • Need: a Cook, a Brewer, a Butcher.
  • Need: an Herbalist, a Planter (they can also get the array of livestock skills here).
  • Need: a Carpenter, a Mason – one of whom should also have Mechanic.
  • Optional: A Hunter or Fisher (Never assign both to one for AI Logic reasons).
  • Optional to support fisher: Fish Cleaner+Dissector.
  • Optional to support hunter: Butcher/Tanner/Leatherworker.
  • Optional: a leader with the organization skills (can be learned natually) of “Appraiser, Organizer, Book-keeper”.
  • Optional: a fighter with the skills Dodging, Fighting, Armor Usage, Blocking.

Trading Items – This can save 100-200+ in points!

  • Immediately look for cheap spider silk or other material alternatives to your bags, ropes, cloth.
  • Add a bit of raw wood and raw stone for initial workshops, it’s very cheap.
  • You can also pick animals in Prepare Carefully mode (you also get 2 yak/random wagon animals).

(Deadly Pro-tip: If you don’t craft what you downgrade here, it can be lethal!)

  • Downgrade wheelbarrow (cost 50) for logs (cost 3!) and craft them on-site instead.
  • Same for buckets, but this is very dangerous.

Do you feel prepared?

Basic Gameplay Guide for Dwarf Fortress

You will now receive an Embark message telling you about your mission to survive and the local animal predators. Heed it well and hit ok.

Now make sure it’s Paused (top right by map shows II or >)

[Spacebar] will pause and unpause.

Our first goals by Winter will be to have working Defenses, Kitchens, Beds, and a Trade Depot. But how do we make this happen?

In Dwarf Fortress, you do not directly control the dwarves. Instead, Dwarves will perform ONLY jobs which fit their “Labor.” For example, when a stockpile is created, a Job is created for any dwarf of the appropriate Hauling Labor to take a specific item there. That job is completed and deleted when done.

So now, take a look at your UI. This series of windows and their many tabs within are your keys to the kingdom. At this point, the UI is laid out so that “If you click every tab and window here before un-pausing, you’ll be in a good spot”

To get things done:

  • Create Zones (z), where work happens automatically if resources and workers with the correct labors enabled are available (buckets, step-ladders, fisherdwarves, animals & animal-handlers).
  • Create Designations, for Mining or Tree Cutting for example, or for item Dumping.
  • Create Orders at any level (Workshop level for specific or one-time orders, Manager level for repeating tasks).
  • Create Stockpiles (p) where goods are moved by an assortment of Hailing labors.
  • Place buildings (b) – Beds, Tables, Chairs and a Well are important first items. Also how Traps are placed.
  • Assign Nobles, who are required for some functions and make your life bettworse.
  • Assign Militia Commander in nobles, who allows for Squads creation.

So before your very first unpause most of this can be done, except maybe you can wait for the first migrants before you have a free guy to assign Sherrif or something.

Seeds Stockpile

  • It can be helpful that you have seeds only allowed in stockpiles where ZERO barrels are allowed. This way barrels are used for drinks and planters are not hauling heavy barrels around.

Kitchen Setup

There’s a few important things to remember about the Kitchen menu:

  • Seeds are sometimes only given when processed or Brewed. So, Forbid the cooking of anything which can be brewed!
  • You can keep some fat/tallows forbidden to cook, to use for soap instead.
  • Don’t cook seeds.

First Steps

As described above, you’ll want to make pretty much one of every zone available because they all have a function (dont worry about clay/sand though) then you can un-pause to get workshops built.

Now all those labors you learned about? They all have workshops. “Masons” and “Carpenter” workshops are most important to build first for blocks, doors, beds & barrels. “Crafter workshops” are also versatile and important for buckets. Mechanic shops can build mechanisms for drawbridges which can be a vital first line of defense.

Most importantly of workshops, create a “Kitchen” and a “Still” ASAP. This is how you get food n drink.

Each of these workshops has tasks which can be automated to a dizzying level of detail.

When you want to create for example an Easy Meal or to Brew a Vegetable:

I just say “add the requirements to start, add when to stop, set to repeat” and done.

Squad Creation

First you need the Militia Commander Noble assigned.

You will probably start with a militia commander squad with one poor sod as your first Squad.

Labor X Military Caveats

Maybe this is fixed, but if not it must be known. You should never assign a Squad to a Dwarf who has the following labors for AI Logic Reasons:

  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Wood Cutting
  • Mining
  • Hammerer (Loyalty Cascade warning)

Squad Schedules

Any month, any amount of Squads can be assigned multiple orders.

For example “2 dwarves of Squad A train and 2 Dwarves of Squad A will patrol and 4 of them will guard a certain spot in X month”

  • Tip: Rotate your Squads! Dwarves should ideally get 2-3 months off, every 2-3 months of duty.
  • Tip: You can have 2-3 schedules so that different months, any squad is always on duty.

Squad Uniforms

Each body part on a dwarf has layers. So you can cover each part in a soft and hard layer.

You can also specify that the hard pieces be made of metal.

Until you have a full set of armor for everyone, I recommend that “Uniforms are worn OVER clothing” in the early game.

Armor Set for Militia example

  • Hood with metal Helm

Cloak with metal chain shirt and metal breastplate (or cloak and leather chest armor).

  • Trousers with Greaves

I am not sure if the tip “You need to add both twice for both feet/gloves protection” applies still but:

  • Glove(s) with Gauntlet(s).
  • Sock(s) with High Boot(s).
  • A shield.
  • A weapon of their choice.

I think that’s it from me.

Written by Polarbark


  1. My biggest struggle is finding, and planting seeds. I see my UI says “7 seeds” but I can’t plant them any on my farming land.

  2. Another tip, Mining is a great way to boost your Dwarf’s strength and picks are DEADLY weapons. As they deal Edge damage with high chance to impale and dismember.

    They scale off the mining level so it’s great to recruit from your minding cast.

  3. Regarding seed storage: I’ve read about the bags only trick in several guides, but in actual game.play it doesn’t seem quite that straight forward to me. I am new so kindly disregard if I get something wrong here.

    1. The barrels contain not necessarily the seeds, but the seed bags. They _shouldn’t_ bring the barrel, just the bag, provided of course you have enough bags for your seeds,
    2. Seeds are perishable and if they are stored in bags only, they perish faster.
    3. Seeds stored in bags only are not considered protected and will attract vermin, including flies who increase rotting rate and cats cannot interact with.

    From a beginning fort perspective where farming isn’t a massive operation anyway, I’m implying that keeping seeds in bags inside barrels might be the best solution after all.

  4. Unless it has changed in this version, the first 2 migrant waves are hardcoded (you’ll always have them no matter what).
    Then migrants will come if an outpost liaison of your civilisation talk to your leader.

    So reasons can be:
    – Your civilisation is dead (the first 2 migrant waves are created from thin air)
    – For some reason the outpost liaison couldn’t talk to your leader
    – No luck (sometimes it takes years between migrant waves)

  5. Mason skills were changed with this version. Mason isn’t related to crafting items at the workshop anymore, stone carving is the new mason. Mason seems to be about building buildings and other constructions, possibly taking over some of the role architect had since that skill is gone. Stone smoothing is now its own separate skill from engraving called stonecutting.

  6. I just found out about this game a few days ago, saw posts on Twitter about it. It seems Interesting and I might get it. Game has been in development longer than I’ve been alive.

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