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8 things you should know before starting Dwarf Fortress

dwarven fortress It might be the hardest and most complicated game out there. It has less of a learning curve and more of a learning cliff. You are in charge of everything and there is an endless stream of things that require your attention.

East dwarven fortress The beginner’s guide will help you get started on your way to that cliff.

Learn to love the phrase “losing is fun”

there is no way to win dwarven fortress — no end screen, no real goal. There’s the ostensible goal of becoming a mountain home, a capital, but the game doesn’t really end there. And that means every fortress you build will eventually fail. Maybe it falls to an enemy attack or your own management mistakes or maybe you just get bored.

There is a phrase that has been adopted by the dwarven fortress community: “Losing is fun.” The new version of Steam includes a tutorial and a healthy help menu, but your early strengths will still fail. Because there are many ways to fail.

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Screenshot of Dwarf Fortress showing an alert showing a list of jobs that failed because they were interrupted by giant wrens.  There are pools of blood from the wren's victims.

Sometimes you lose to giant, killer wrens.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

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we have described dwarven fortress like barely contained chaos. That’s where a lot of that “losing is fun” thing comes from. In the screenshot above, the keep failed because every time it cut down a tree, a flock of giant wrens would kill the cuter, along with any pets they could reach. They were all dead within minutes.

Discovering (or creating) new and exciting ways to fail is the fun of dwarven fortress. Accept that.

Location, location, location

Once you’ve created a world, you’ll need to choose a shipping location. This is where you will build your new fortress house. We go into more detail in our guide to building your first fortress, but here are the important things to look for: no aquifers, at least some trees, and at least some soil.

Select a Dwarf Fortress boarding location.  There is an information panel on the right that shows what is present in the location.

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Look for a boarding place without aquifer and with many resources.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Aquifers are underground water reservoirs that will slowly flood your fortress and are a pain in the ass. Trees supply wood to build furniture and workshops. The soil allows you to plant crops for agriculture.

Don’t dig too much at once

When the time finally comes to start digging your fortress with the excavation orders menu (m), don’t overstretch your miner(s). It’s easy to get carried away and start drawing the entire base right away. However, that backfires, as miners will take a long time to work and leave parts unfinished if you give them too many options on where to dig next. Instead, work in small sections at a time with a purpose and wait for the miners to finish before continuing.

And remember that it is faster to dig through dirt and loam than it is to dig through rock.

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Do not overdo it in the corridors

You can make your rooms any size you want, and your hallways can be as wide as you like, but digging takes time, so there’s no point in making things bigger than they really need to be.

Hallways should only be one block wide. Your dwarves can go over or through any structure or piece of furniture, and they don’t crash into each other, so you don’t have to worry much about traffic jams.

Assign nobles and administrators to work for you

There’s a lot to keep track of as you try to keep your fortress running. Luckily, you can assign dwarves to management positions and make your job easier. You will do this in the Nobles and Administrators menu(n).

The Dwarf Fortress Administrators and Nobel menu with three assigned roles.

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The Nobel and Administrators menu.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Here, you can assign jobs like Manager to handle work orders and Accountant to keep track of your resources. Eventually, the manager and bookkeeper will need offices, a room with a door and a chair, but you don’t have to worry about that right away.

Use warnings to decide what to do next

Periodically, alerts and warnings will appear in the upper left corner. You’ll get news about the weather and births here, but you’ll also get reports about jobs that can’t be finished for whatever reason.

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Screenshot of the Dwarf Fortress with an alert window stating that the fortress has no plants to convert to alcohol.

The warnings will tell you what your fortress needs.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

You will receive warnings if you do not have materials. See the screenshot above for an example: the fortress has run out of plants to turn into alcohol. You will also receive warnings about not having barrels to store alcohol or warnings about running out of building materials.

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Use these warnings to plan your next move. If you’ve run out of plants, grow or collect a few more. If you run out of materials, expand your mines or cut down more trees. If you need something specific like barrels or blocks, create a new work order for them.

Keep your dwarves (relatively) happy

Generally speaking, your first handful of strongholds probably won’t last long enough for your dwarves’ happiness to become a real problem. That being said, there are some pretty simple things that will keep them happy for longer.

Examining the thoughts of a Dwarf Fortress dwarf.

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A dwarf’s most recent thoughts are in the overview panel, or you can dig deeper in the thoughts tab.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

You can check on each dwarf by clicking on them and looking at their Thoughts. Look for negative emotions to see what you help. (You can also get there from the The citizens menu with u.)

Some common causes of unhappiness and their solutions can be:

  • Build some beds in a carpentry workshop. Place them in a room with four walls and a door, and turn that room into a bedroom or sleeping area.
  • Place some chairs and tables (built in a carpenter’s or stonemason’s shop) in a gathering area area so they have a place to sit. Also, make sure your gathering area is indoors or underground – dwarves don’t like to get caught in the rain.
  • Collect and grow different plants: dwarves get bored drinking and eating the same thing every day.

Remember losing is fun

the point of dwarven fortress it is often failing in new and creative ways. Don’t think of a collapsed fortress as a failure. Instead, think of it as fun. Every strength is an opportunity to learn something new: something you should have done before, something you shouldn’t have done, or something to better prepare for the next time.

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