Note: Use the DayZ Database Map to orient yourself.
There’s no one end-all-be-all strategy for success in DayZ beyond playing with friends. Alone you are defenseless, no matter how much gear you actually possess. Alone, you are nothing but a target. Unfortunately, everyone in DayZ starts out alone, with naught to their name but a bandage, some painkillers, a flashlight, and a crappy backpack. The first mission of any newly spawned survivor is to get their hands on a weapon, some food, drink, and as far away from the coast as possible.
The question is where to acquire such valuable loot, and what to do with it? Let me try and give a few of those answers to you, so your first lives aren’t as inconsequential as my own.
Look for the emptiness
My biggest piece of advice for any new player is: find a safe server. You’ll want no more than four or five players online and it should be around dusk. In my experience, loot spawns more frequently when there are players to gather it, and if you’re the social type, you might find other survivors willing to help rather than kill you. Friendships out of need can be the strongest, so long as no one decides to stab you in the back and disappear.
When you have a server that seems fairly secure, be aware that you might need to die a few times before you can spend any significant time alive. No, that isn’t some sort of fatalistic philosophy on my part. It’s much simpler than that. You want a good spawn.
Any time you reenter Chernarus after dying, the game picks a spot on the coast close to some landmark, most times a city. There are around a dozen or so such locations, but only a few that are really worth your time. Ideally, you’ll want to spawn close to only two locations: Chernogorsk and Elektrozavodsk. I’ll call them Cherno and Elektro from now on.
On populated servers, both Cherno and Elektro are prime PvP locations, and for good reason. No other locations, to some extent even the northwest airfield, are so valuable in terms of possible loot. The risk of being shot or eaten most times is outweighed by the rewards brought by raiding either city. Nowhere else is the chance of coming across a ghillie suit and valuable medical supplies as high as in the two large coastal cities. Military loot, while far scarcer, is still to be had, and there are good defensible positions near and within either city.
Since you’ve chosen a low-pop server, the likelihood someone’s going to be looking at you through a scope are much less. To all but ensure your safety when hunting through Cherno or Elektro, keep a close eye on the zombie count in the debug monitor. Zombies do not spawn until a survivor comes within a certain radius of a loot spawn. Cherno and Elektro have tons of them, and if you see the number spike only when you enter the city, safety is more assured.
Buildings with a view
Inside Cherno, your first stops should be in the supermarket and church, in that order. Both buildings offer a large amount of usable equipment, from food, backpacks, tools, and most importantly weapons. There’s a chance you’ll come across a lucky ghillie in the church, though wearing it paints you in a light new players needn’t deal with. Elektro doesn’t have a church, so focus your efforts on making it to the supermarket. Zombies lose their aggressiveness (“agro” for short) when you enter a building or break line of sight and sound. They’ll still walk towards you, but if you absolutely must, go into the store and then out and wait for the zombies to walk out, then circle back.
After searching the church and market, shift your focus to the residentials. On the DB map, you’ll see little dots, squares and full circles. These are low, mid, and high value buildings, in that order. Though the chance of loot dropping is the same for each, the number of such drops increases substantially the higher value something is.
Residentials have a good chance of spawning maps, watches, and compasses. While the watch is as useful as it sounds, a map and compass combo is invaluable. I have a terrible sense of direction myself, and so knowing where I am and where the hell I’m going is as useful as a gun and ten magazines.*
If you feel emboldened by a full ALICE pack and a Lee Enfield, don’t be too shy about at least checking the fire stations in Elektro and Cherno. You probably won’t get the best stuff, but the chance is there. Be aware that you’re a huge target in those buildings, no matter how few players are in the server, but again, the rewards might be worth the risk.
The south side of a survivor going north
Don’t get greedy. Let me say that again. Do. Not. Get. Greedy. As a new player, do not assume you are in any position to out-think, out-maneuver or out-shoot anyone. If you have even the slightest suspicion that there’s someone else in the city with you (besides zombies, of course), book it out. You’ll agro zombies and you might pass up some valuable equipment, but if you took the time to seek a Cherno spawn on your first day in Chernarus, ruining it should not be on your bucket list.
You’ll notice a few green icons on the DB map. These are barns and farmhouses. While they don’t contain much in the way of high value loot, they are good places to catch your breath and plan your next move. Experienced players rarely go near them, and the medium and high value ones are usually close to a small town or at least a path to another town.
After you’ve made it out of Cherno or Elektro alive and somewhat equipped, the world of DayZ is your oyster. Steer clear of the northwest airfield unless there are still few players on server and it’s nighttime. Even then, hit the southern barracks and hightail it out of there. In your travels, you’ll come across others like you, and you’ll have to decide whether to shoot first or talk. Expect to die a lot, but in my experience, running into Cherno like a madman and leaving shortly after is a quick, if risky, way to ease your way back into the world.
*A little hyperbole goes a long way.