Dwarf Fortress – Guide for Newbies

Where to Download the Game

All credit goes to Kasa!

First to download Dwarf fortress (DF for short), I will be using the Meph tileset launcher as I find the visuals it provides as well as the simplified configurations very user friendly. Also it should be noted unless I am mistaken Meph is working on the new tilesets to be used for the steam release.

The Launcher Set Up

When you first open the launcher you might be overwhelmed but all the options and in due time you may start experimenting with them but for not we will only be doing some basic changes, most of which will be optional:

For now the only settings we will be using are the Init tab(Optional), Balance tab(optional), Soundsense(optional), Therapist, and DFhack(optional)

  1. Init Setup (Optional):

The launcher should have you on the init page by default, if somehow you jump/start on another tab just select init from top row just below the dwarf head(trust me, that’s a dwarf) icon that says armo.

Using the Drop down menu under graphics set TTF Font to Masterwork(optional). If you are color blind like myself you can use the drop down box beside color to change the color to color blind mode but I honestly found it harder to see with it. Else keep it spacefox, or change it to whatever color you like. Under FPS & Sound I’d recommend turning off FPS Display if you don’t want it hovering at the top of your screen during gameplay. This is where you can turn off DF’s sound by default if you intend to use Soundsense.

  1. Setting up soundsense (SS) (Optional):

Click on soundsense, it should be the 8th option on the top bar. When it first runs it will tell ask you to find DF’s game log. That can be found in the DF folder inside Meph Tileset folder. Once you set that for Soundsense it will start to download the entire sound library for DF. The music/sound for DF is pretty limited so I recommend this step for more varied sound in your game. If you do set up soundsense turn off DF’s default sound else both DF and SS will play at the same time.

  1. The balance tab (Optional):

Now this is not required but if you are new to DF and not a stubborn goat like myself I’d recommend making sure aquifer is turned off (red x beside it). It should be off by default but it’s nice to check. *Note: An aquifer is an underground infinite water source that can easily flood EVERYTHING underground. There are tricks on getting through them and using them to your advantage but for now I’d STRONGLY recommend turning them off to give you more options when embarking, or if you turn it on starting your fortress somewhere that specifically has no aquifers. Warning this guide does not handle how to deal with aquifers so if you choose to build your Fortress on top of one your on your own. I’m not heartless though so here is the wiki page on dealing with them:

  1. Dwarf Therapist:

The Therapist tap is the 10th icon on the top of the launcher just before TileGenie and is ALMOST required to play DF. What it does is give you a nice clean layout and easy way to inspect your Dwarves and assign jobs to them. You can turn it on right now but we can’t actually use it will we have some dwarves, just make a note of where it is right now.

Note: Almost required is not really correct, DFhack does a nice job of making managing jobs inside the game fairly easy but I prefer the clean loadout Therapist provides.

  1. DFhack (Optional):

DFhack does not have it’s own “icon” in the launcher other than the ability to hide it on the init page which I recommend you DO NOT do. When launching Dwarf Fortress DFhack will launch automatically so we won’t be doing anything with it for now. For more info on DFhack options check out the doc page:

Starting the Game

Now them time to begin, if you have set up SS launch that first and make sure your DF sound is turned off. Once that is done on the init page click the button that says “Play Dwarf Fortress”, it is time for us to STRIKE THE EARTH!

A few things should have just happened, if SS was installed you would have heard a chime. If you did not check your volume mixer and make sure it’s not on mute, also check the SS window and turn up SS’s volume if needed. Interestingly enough the DFhack box should have popped open for those into programming or the older crowd it looks very similar to command prompt. For now leave DFhack alone we will be doing something with it in a bit.

For now click on create world in the DF main menu. Once you click on create world you’re gonna have to wait a bit while it loads. Once it’s done we will be on the world creation screen. This is where we generate our first world, for now I’d set everything to Medium and set mineral Occurrence to frequent. You may also set world size to small or smaller for a faster world creation but it will also have less places for you to embark on.

Once you do that hit “y” to start world generation, then go make yourself a sandwich it’s gonna take a while for the game to generate a world for you.

Note: You can stop history generation at anytime if you want to start playing right away, else unless you changed history length from Medium to anything else it will keep going till it hits 250 years.

Literally 250 years later!


Hit enter to accept the nearly made world give it some time to load(this will take a bit but it only needs to do it once per world) and it will return us back to the main menu, this is normal since all the steps so far was JUST make a new world. I mean yada yada 7 days ya?

Finding a New Home

So now that we are set up select “Start Playing” and if you so choose you can press the “r” key in order to rename your game folder. This is useful if you want to create multiple worlds and want a reminder what each world contains. For now select “Dwarf Fortress” to start fortress mode. The first thing you will see is the Dwarf Calender being updated, every new world starts on the 15 on Granite.

So before we select our home I’ll explain what we are looking at, the left map is the local area. This is where are fort will be set up, you can set the specific local area using the umkh keys on your keyboard and if you like you can hold shift and use UMKH to make the livable area bigger. The bigger the area the more resources you will have, but at the same time it will put more strain on your computer. Dwarf fortress may be an old game but like Minecraft the longer the game runs the more resources it will eat.

The middle map is the Regional map, it’s the general area that we will be selecting to live. Lastly the right hand map is the world map. Before we get to finding a home let me explain what are the things you can find in each area and what we are looking for.

The Biome name:

On the top of the window to the right most side of the screen is the name of the area, this can tip you off as to what to expect if you decide to live there. The jungles of shock? Most likely it’s gonna have a lot of trees, The royal spikes? Most likely your looking at a mountain region no trees but lots of stone.

Type of Biome:

Just below the area name is the type of area we are looking at. There is a full list of all the biomes on the wiki and I’ll leave a link for you but for now I’ll quickly go through the ones we will mostly see.


  • Lots of water with little to no stone can be temperate or hot and has a lot of plant life but it’s hard to build a fort with no stone.


  • Lots of trees a few ponds and depending on the local area stone may be hard to find, if there is a mountain then no problems, else DIG DEEP! You might need to cut a path for caravans to make it to your fort.

Note: There are many types of forests running from hot to cold.


  • Comes in 3 types, Grassland, Savanna, Shrubland. The temperature may vary but they are more or less the same with few trees possible stone and metal underground lots of ponds and small plants. Grasslands are unique in that they are the only place to find valley herbs.


  • Low amount of plant life, can range from very cold to very hot but a surprising amount of animals to hunt.


  • You can’t live straight on an ocean tile but one that has land nearby can give you an excellent source of sand and sea food.


  • Like the ocean’s you can’t live straight on top of a mountain but you can have one near your local area. Usually light on plants, soil and water but lots of stone and metals.


  • No plants, hard to reach soil, no stone and no metals. You won’t get caravans anytime soon and will have to dig deep just to survive, grow food, and not freeze. Good luck.


  • Much like a grassland but frozen and very few plants. If you find a river it will be frozen 24/7


How hot or cold an area is, generally you want to be living in a temperate or warm area but it’s possible to build a fort in any temp just keep in mind scorching areas will literally melt your dwarves and animal’s fat killing them if exposed too long, while freezing area’s will kill them from exposure to frostbite if left outside too long.

Warm is probably the absolute best area to live in since nothing will ever freeze, next up being temperate where things will be frozen during winter and early spring.


This one is pretty self explanatory trees are needed for woodcraft but I it’s possible to get by without trees. Ether through trading for wood from caravans or digging into a cavern and finding the various underground trees DF has created.

Other vegetation:

The level of various other plants that can be found in this area. No vegetation means no foraging and grazing your animals, thick means you could very easily feed your dwarves and graze your animals for a VERY long time.


Ok this one is unique, it’s basically how likely something is to kill you for living in this area. It works pretty close to a D&D alignment chart.

GoodSereneMirthfulJoyous Wilds
NeutralCalmWildernessUntamed Wilds

I won’t go into details to save time but I will leave a link to my crutch the wiki. The short of it is Calm areas will have the least amount of things that will try to kill you followed by wilderness. You may think Serene would be best till a Unicorn gores you to a wall, and don’t bother with anything in the evil spectrum. Odds are you will wind up in an undying area and being strangled to death by one of the intestines you brought along as a snack for your dwarves.


Ok under Surroundings we will find several things.

If there is a stream, brook, river it will show up here. Flowing water is good, flowing water means water wheels for power and easy access to drinks for our sick dwarves (they drink water as a last resort).

After that several features can be listed on an area, sand, clay, soil, ice, aquifer, flux stone layer, shallow and deep metals.

Most of these are self explanatory and I’ll go into little detail on them but I’ll try to be better with some of the odd ones.


  • Needed for glass, no sand means you need to trade for it if you want to make glass items.


  • Needed for pottery same as sand in the regard.


  • You need this if you want to plant crops.


  • Frozen water


  • See above explanation for more details, basically a layer of infinite water underground.

Flux stone layer:

  • One of the odd ones, this is a layer of “flux” material stone that is used in the creation of pig iron and steel, typically we want this but it can be traded for.

Shallow metals:

  • Metals close to the surface and the easiest ones to access. *Note: You can have an area with Shallow Metal and areas with Shallow Metals, one having only 1 type of metal and the other having several. More is better.

Deep metals:

  • Same as shallow but with much more valuable metals deeper underground.

OK. Now with that out of the way, let’s finally look for a place to live. (I PROMISE THIS TIME, I MEAN IT!)

There are a lot of controls on this screen but you can ignore just about all of them. If you want you can manually move your cursor around the map using the arrow keys looking for an ideal place to set down but I would suggest you hit “f” to open up the search function.

After pressing “f” you can filter the map to find an area to meet your needs. You can use left and right on the arrow keys to change the settings and up and down on the keys to select categories. X and Y is how big you want your local starting to be, remember bigger means more resources but also will kill your FPS faster. Things should be pretty self explanatory such as how much rain fall you want in a given area.

Settings I recommend for your first time playing are:

  • X: 4
  • Y: 4
  • Savagery: Low
  • Flux Stone Layer: Yes
  • Aquifers: No
  • River: Yes
  • Shallow Metals: Multiple
  • Deep Metals: Multiple
  • Soil: Some
  • Clay: Yes

After you have your settings hit enter, once it’s finished searching if it found areas matching close to your fitler it will flash those areas one color and flash all other areas that don’t meet your filter a different color. Hit ESC to browse the filtered areas, once that is done hit embark.

Embarking, What to Bring

So it’s time to finally embark and you are met with several options. You can hit play now if you want to jump right into setting up a fort but it will be with… A sub optimal set of equipment, perfectly doable but you could do so much better. You may also see several pre-existing “profiles”, these are item and skill choices that have been made by other users and saved into a file in the DF folder for quick set up for other players.

You can find out what’s IN these profiles by visiting the DF wiki or by going to Meph Tileset V5 – 44.12\Dwarf Fortress\data\init and opening the embark_profiles.txt file. I won’t be going over these at this time because after we start our own profile these will make more sense by themselves.

We will start off by selecting prepare for the journey carefully, this will let us choose our dwarf skills and starting equipment. What I’m about to suggest is just my personal set up, as you play DF you will start to understand what YOU want and need for your style of play. That said I will try to explain what does what and some tips to abuse the system. So for now go ahead and hit enter on prepare carefully.

You will start with 7 randomly generated dwarfs on the left hand side of the screen they each have 10 “skill points” but to use these skills points cost costs us some embark points (located on the lower right hand side of the screen). Again you can ignore most of the commands here since we will only be using a few of them. The rest of the commands deal with things such as customizing our dwarves names, or naming our fort and dwarf “party”. The “s” key lets us save our customizations as a profile in case you want to load your specific customizations against quickly for next time.

We will deal with skills in a moment let’s start with the actual items we can bring, hit tab to switch to items. Once you do you will see a nice list of all the things the game has decided we should bring. Equipment is on the left animals are on the right. Again a lot of these items are self explanatory, picks are for mining, axes are for fighting and cutting trees, you have various plant seeds some weird meat options (I got dogs spleen!) booze wheelbarrows lets our dwarves move heavy items faster. Some medical supplies, and most importantly and ANVIL. The reason why this thing is important is that you can’t make one of these, if you don’t bring one you will have to wait for your first caravan to buy one of these off the traders. Now it’s not actually that important if you don’t plan to smith early and a lot of veteran players opt to not bring an anvil to save on points. For now I suggest you hit “-” minus on your keyboard while highlighting an item, this will remove the item (or one of them if there is multiple) from your list and refund you the points.

Once you have gotten rid of everything press the right on the arrow key to shift over to animals. Personally I have not experimented a lot with animals so I can’t unfortunately give you a lot of info on how to best use them luckily there is a lot of information available about animal husbandry and the shenanigans you can get up to with them. For now I would choose to bring 3 female hunting dogs, 1 male hunting dogs, 2 female cats and 1 male.You add animals by scrolling to them with the arrow keys and hitting “+” on your keyboard. Cats and dogs breed really quickly and dwarves are known to go insane if you kill a cat that has adopted a dwarf as an owner. To prevent this you can build a cage and keep extra kittens/puppies in them and use them as a food source (welcome to dwarf fortress! We literally eat puppies and kittens!). The reason why we are bringing these guys is because cats will kill vermin in our fort which prevents the vermin from eating our food and hunting dogs have a very wide enemy detection range which we can make use of to defend our for from sneaky kobolds.

You may read up and choose other animals as well if you desire like the Goose which lays a decent amount of eggs and gives a lot of meat when butchered, but I won’t be covering that for now. Once you have your pets hit the left on the arrow gets to move back into our empty item column. To add a brand new item to our column hit “n” on the keyboard. Ok here is where the good tricks come, you COULD bring things like bags and barrels with you but those cost points, instead you can choose to bring items that will automatically COME with barrels and bags. The neat thing is barrels and backs will only hold 1 type of item and only of that item to a max amount.

To survive our first year without making our own resources we will need 60 units of booze and 40 units of food. If you want to cheat the system I would pick 40 different types of meat, each type of meat comes in it’s own barrel but meat from the same animal will be put into the same barrel. This means if you pick horse meat and horse tripe both of those will go into 1 barrel, but if you pick horse meat and sheep meat that’s 2 free barrels for only 4 points! This applies to most items on this list. Again for max gains pick 40 different types of meat, and all the types of drinks. You select an item by scrolling to it using the arrow keys and hitting enter. This will add it to your item list and you will have to use the “+” or “-” keys to add more or less of this TYPE of item on the list (you will need to do this for drinks to add them up to 60) pressing “n” again will bring us back to the item selection list. Do the same with seeds since each seed comes with a free bag. We will be covering efficient farming techniques latter so for now I would recommend you grab 18 of all seed types and 32 of the dimple seeds, we will be using them to make dyed clothes to trade to the caravans ideally.

Under digging implements I like to bring 7 picks, that’s a personal thing but when i’m digging my first fort I like all my dwarves to be digging. Under weapons bring at the cheapest axe you can find, you will need one to cut trees. You used to be able to get some starting wood from breaking down your wagon and making a wooden axe to cut trees, but wooden axes don’t cut trees anymore. Bring an anvil if you would like, there is no difference between steel and iron, take an iron one it’s cheaper. Bring 1 to 3 of the cheap types of cloth, you will use cloth in patching up dwarves and cloth also comes in it’s own free bag. Same goes for Sand 1 of each for the free bag, under powders grab the plaster. If a dwarf breaks a leg we will need it to set the bone. Repeat 1 to 3 for the threads for the bags and med supplies and I would recommend 2 ropes. 1 for tying a dog near the entrance of our fort as an alarm system and 1 for a well. There are so many more options for items to bring, like 1 of each milk type for making cheese and getting a free bucket but save your points for now because we are gonna set up are dwarves next.

Dwarves and Skills

We are now ready to move on to setting up our dwarve’s skills, if your still on the item page hit tab to move back to the dwarves. To assign skills to the dwarves you use the up/down arrow keys to select the dwarf you are customizing and the left/right arrow keys to shift between the dwarf and the skills and the “+” and “-” keys to increase and decrease the point total. DF has an odd trick where it looks like your dwarves skills start at 5, but in reality they are at 0. Using you 10 points you can bring a skill up to level “10” for 5 points .

Most of the skills here are useless to us right now when first setting up a fort so I won’t go over all of them, but as I did before I’ll leave a link if you want to check them out in more depth.

It’s also here that dwarf therapist finally enters the scene alt+tab out of DF (If your full screen) and select/run meph’s launcher. Along the top of the window select the 10th icon Dwarf Therapist(DT for short). I’ve essential for easily setting up our dwarves for our initial embankment and we are going to use it to see which dwarves will be good for our starting roles.

On DT on the top to the right of the “optimization” is the windows tab, select it highlight Docks and then make sure everything is turned off and turn details is turned on. Once you have details turned on you will see on the right hand side of the screen a new section of DT give us a detailed summary of our dwarves, including a list of Roles that that particular dwarf is suited for! I usually base my skill assignment of these roles but it’s more a rule thumb, the roles I look for are:

Craft Dwarf/weapon/armor/metalsmith:

These 4 roles share the same skill set so if a dwarf has any 1 of these I set them up as my blacksmith.

Carpenter/Wood Crafter/Bowyer:

As with our blacksmith these skills share affinity with each other so I make this dwarf our carpenter

Mechanic/Architecture/Mason/stone worker

One of the major roles in our fort, they will be crafting just about everything from artwork to trap parts for us.

Chief Medical/Bone Doctor/surgeon/nurse/wound dresser – anything that sounds medical related really

This person I set as our “Doctor”, dwarves are a bit lacking in the common sense department so we may need someone to patch em up.

Now that we have DT set up it’s time for the dwarves and a list of roles we are shooting for let’s talk skills.

The skills I’ve found most useful when starting a fort:


Increases the speed a dwarf will dig, will ALSO increase the damage a dwarf does when attack with a pickaxe,

A miner dwarf might possibly deal the most damage out of all your dwarves when attacking with a pick.

This skill will level up fast so it’s not strictly necessary to put points into it, but setting it to 10 (Professional) lets us dig out our base faster.

Note: I like setting mining to 10, then setting teacher to 6 or 7 then setting Dodge to 8. I use this dwarf as my Military commander and by giving him the teaching skill they will teach other dwarves it’s skills, increasing their skill levels. I also like equipping my military with picks. They act as my miner force and my army.

Wood cutter

Increase tree cutting speed, this will level up quick enough on its own, I usually have my Carpenter cut trees


Pretty much all things wood craft related will be done by a carpenter, I usually also make them my wood cutter.


The key dwarf in fortress build, you can max this skill out for fancy stone furniture in the beginning but it will also level very quickly on it’s own.

The Smiths (Weapon/armor/metal)

I usually make 1 dwarf have some skill in all of these with a focus on armor smithing. Combat can either end very quickly or last a long time and armor will help make sure it ends in your favour.


Grower is just a farmer, the higher the skill the faster they plant and harvest, Herbalist works the same way with gathering wild plants as does brewer with drinks.


I wouldn’t bother raising this one, your cook will probably be the first one to reach legendary status when feeding a fort of 200 dwarves.

Military skills (Axe dwarf, dodge ect)

This one is a toss up, if your building an army early a few points wouldn’t go a miss but your dwarves can train this skills on their own time as well.

All medical (Wound dresser, Diagnostician)

I put 1 or 2 points in all of these skills for my fort Doctor.

Social skills

The dwarf with the most social skill becomes the “Expedition Leader” by default and will use these skills the most.

Note: If you would like to save on time and skill points I make my social dwarf have 1 rank in all social skills then I make them my book keeper, broker, and manager. I don’t put any points into these other skills because the will level up on their own naturally.


This skill lets you know how much everything is worth when opening your status screen, I don’t put points into this since it will get trained as your broker trades with merchants.


This to me was the single most important skill in the game, at the same time I never put points into this since even at 0 points it’s just as effective as if it was legendary. When you assign a dwarf as a bookkeeper and give them a chair + table AND set them up to give full reports you will know EXACTLY how much food/stone/plants ect you ACTUALLY have. Ya that’s dwarf fortress will only give you a rough estimate on how many supplies you actually have with you till you have a bookkeeper. Till you have one your inventory is a mess, do you have 20 seeds or 28 seeds? Who knows!

You can mix and match your skills as you see fit and with DT you can figure out which dwarves are suited to each role. Honestly this is only of minor importance because soon you will get immigrants coming to your fort and your initial 7 dwarfs will become just another statistic in the crowd.

Note: Dwarf Hack, that little command prompt like box that we mentioned WAY back at the beginning? I use the Enable Labormanager command once I have my embark set up and that script will automatically assign dwarves to whatever job I need doing in the fort, from smithing to digging. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot easier than trying to manage 200 dwarves by myself.

Volodymyr Azimoff
About Volodymyr Azimoff 13957 Articles
I love games and I live games. Video games are my passion, my hobby and my job. My experience with games started back in 1994 with the Metal Mutant game on ZX Spectrum computer. And since then, I’ve been playing on anything from consoles, to mobile devices. My first official job in the game industry started back in 2005, and I'm still doing what I love to do.

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