Home Strategy Win Conditioning: Dwarf Fortress

Every week, Win Conditioning explores the application of strategy and tactics to games without predetermined win conditions. SergeT3 premiered Win Conditioning with his article on Animal Crossing last Friday.

The Learning Curve

This about sums it up pretty well

Dwarf Fortress is one of the most interesting Indie game out on the internet today. On the surface, it seems extremely simple. ASCII graphics, small user interface, and text. What could possibly be complex or difficult about this game?

Oh, how about EVERYTHING.

Behind the simple graphics and unassuming interface is one of the most detailed and complex games you will have ever played in your goddamn life. If you try to open this game without any prior knowledge about it, you will have NO idea what to do and you will likely quit long before your dwarves starve or get killed by the elements. But, if you take the time to learn the game and get past the initial learning curve (pictured to the right),  you will find a rich, massively entertaining game that will be different every single time you play.

Think of it as the Sims on crack.

Now, I will give a few basics, but will not go into detail on how exactly to start a fortress, because it would take too damn long. There are a TON of resources online that are made just for Dwarf Fortress noobs, because the game is that hard to get into. However, I’ll share a few tips here because they’re important for surviving as long as possible before your dwarves start to have “fun.”

One thing you must understand about Dwarf Fortress is that while the graphics are in 2 dimensions, it does actually render the environment in 3 dimensions. There is an X, Y, and Z axis, so you can shift around the area, then using the < and > keys you can move up and down the Z axis. Using this knowledge, you can make huge underground fortresses and dig for magma and more.

(Note: From here on I am going to assume you have basic knowledge of how to move around the interface and where to go to build certain things. It would take far too much time explaining exactly how to build every little thing.)

Starting Off

Before you start, you’ll need to download the game first. I recommend downloading the latest version of what is called the “Lazy Newb Pack.” This pack comes with one of the latest versions of the game, but might not always be completely up to date. It also comes with graphical tilesets pre-installed, so you don’t have to look as ASCII graphics, and instead you get to play with small, detailed dwarf pictures and whatnot. It also comes with a few tools that can really help out with making sense of the game. Dwarf Therapist will be one of your best friends in this pack. It allows you to look at the list of your dwarves and what jobs they have enabled. More on this later though. The pack comes with other tools, but check them out on your own! A lot of this game is really self-discovery, so you can exercise that here.

Now, moving onto the game itself. First, make sure your starting area has a few basic things. This would include trees and other basic plants that you will use soon enough. Your dwarves can cut down these trees and pick berries from the shrubs, both extremely helpful things at the start of the game. After you pick a decent starting area, it’s time to set what your 7 starting dwarves will be, job-wise. There’s a lot to pick from, but generally have at least 2 miners, 1 wood cutter, 1 brewer, 1 architect, 1 mechanic, 1 mason, 1 carpenter, and 1 dwarf who is trained medically. Now, that’s more than 7, obviously, but these jobs can be overlapped as you see fit. You can also give 1 dwarf herbalism to gather berries, as I mentioned earlier. Now, you won’t be able to assign all these abilities right away, because you use points that are also shared with the items your caravan brings. You can add more points by taking away some unnecessary items, such as a couple ropes or crutches. You can always make more later. You should also bring some war dogs, cats, and hunting dogs. The dogs’ purpose are pretty clear. The cats are a different story, which I will go into later.

That’s one of the most basic set ups. Now, it looks complicated as hell, and you’d be right. This is because the entire game is insanely detailed. If your dwarves get into fights, they can break individual bones, lose fingers, cut specific arteries and the game will keep track of it all. That’s the kind of detail we’re talking about, and it’s everywhere. Every animal and enemy has the same type of detail, fluid dynamics are present, every dwarf has specific pathing, etc. This is important, because a little detail you overlook can effect a dwarf’s mood, which in turn can effect other dwarves and get your whole Fortress depressed. Or it will happen randomly. That’s always “fun.”

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up

However, you’re not concerned with that right now. Right now, you just want to get your Fortress set up, dug out and built! So, let’s start. From your starting area, dig into a cliffside. You can dig as far in you’d like, just make sure that the opening is at least 3 squares wide, to allow better dwarf movement and it allows things like caravans and others to enter your Fortress later in the game. You can build a few on this level if you wish, or you can dig down deeper into the earth. You do this by building a Down staircase on this level, and exactly 1 level below build an Up/Down staircase. You should build staircases in a 3×3 pattern so dwarves can move around each other. Make a stockpile for Refuse outside ASAP. This way, if your animals kill anything in the Fortress, one of your dwarves will carry it out before the garbage is everywhere making your dwarves sick.

Online Degree in Interior Design

At this point of the game, you get to be your own interior designer. Build your Fortress the way you want to, and in way that you think looks nice. Just make sure you have room for workshops, stockpiles, and eventually dormitories. When you build your first dining room, make it your new Meeting Room. Then, you can disassemble your original wagon, and officially move into your new Fortress. As soon as this is done, build a Still. Why? Because your dwarves are like you. They don’t want to drink water. They want to drink wine and beer, to get them through the working day. So, build them a still, and your brewer will get to work. Make sure he has enough barrels to fill with the liquid goodness as well, from the Carpenter.

Of course, if you brew too much you’ll run out of plants to brew with. So, you need to make a farm. You do this by wetting soil inside your caves to make mud. There are 2 ways to do this: either with a bucket brigade,  or by you building the farm space next to underground lakes to use floodgates for irrigation. Then, plant Plump Helmets all year round. You can plant other things as well, but make sure you have a good stock of Plump Helmets, because you can grow them year round and dwarves love to eat them and brew them up into liquor. And remember, hungry and thirsty dwarves are depressed dwarves.

I Love Cats – They Taste Like Chicken

However, on the hunger front, there is something you can do to help your dwarves. Remember when I told you to bring cats? If your team is running out of food and you have a Butcher’s workshop, you can have your cats butchered for meat. Now, the cats reproduce a lot, so this makes them prime material for food. The catch? If a cat adopts a dwarf as a pet (yeah, it’s not the other way around), then the dwarf will stop that cat from being slaughtered. You can do this with any animal you have, but cats are the first pick because they are easily replaced as the cats procreate.

Now, you once you complete getting the essentials (food, space, beds, booze), you need to set up some administration and get your dwarves thinking happy thoughts. Assigning nobles is as easy as going to the Nobles screen and putting a dwarf in that position. Easy as pie! You don’t need every noble right away, but try and get them as needed. Bookkeepers and Brokers are valuable early on though, so fill those spots ASAP so you can trade effectively when trade caravans show up. Now, to make your dwarves happy, they should each have their own bedroom, a dining room with tables and chairs where they can eat, lots of booze, and other things that would make YOU happy! A few other things you can do are smoothing or engraving the bedroom walls, getting more pets, things like that. Experiment!

That’s basically all you need to start Dwarf Fortress. I won’t detail any tips or tactics beyond this point because that would ruin the exploration that the game naturally encourages. Really, you just need to have “fun.” That “fun” will come in the form of a lava flow, goblin raids, or thieves. Through trial and error, you’ll figure how to deal with all of these nasties, and thus survive for as long as you can! Which will probably be when demons flood your fortress when you dig too deep, too greedily. The only other tactic you need is creativity!

And the magmawiki.

Until next time! (No clues for next week. PLACE BETS NOW!)

12 replies to this post
      • I think he’s talking about the comic you put up. It’s originally from xkcd.com and was showing the curve for eve online

    • I’ll say this, I just did a simple Google Image search. I found that, and posted it. I had no hand in changing the image, and for the credit I left the image link there if you click it. I didn’t mean to rip anything off or offend anyone.

    • It’s really not that hard once you get the basics. You know, how to dig/farm, how to build, and how to slaughter the bloody hippie Elves. Once you’re over the basics, then the real fun begins as you get to accidentally flood your forts, or perhaps intentionally flood the courtyard filled with Goblins. Really, it’s a game that will keep you on your toes, in a good way.

  1. I’m still trying to get into the dwarf fortress swing but uni keeps me a bay from it at times, and I got my recent addiction lately *coff* Minecraft *coff*. But still it’s an awesome game and like you said, the learning curve is absurd, but after that it’s one mof the most rewarding games I ever seen =D

    Dang I mean, some guys even made a Dwarven Computer powered by kittens!! (And before you ask, no… I’m NOT joking.. even the creators are amazed at how many new things people make with the engine).

    For learning the ropes and guetting a few tips on start, I recommend CaptainDuck’s Abosolutely awesome Dwarf Fortress Tutorial videos. Seriously the tips he gives help a lot for begginers (like me) and a good refresher on people that have been away from it for a while.

    LINKY POWER -> http://www.youtube.com/user/captnduck

    Start bu the first tutorial, even though it’s a bit outdated (like farms now need to be irrigated first, before they didn’t) but it gives the basic organization of the game… and afterwards I recomend jumping to the new one he’s making about Dwarf fortress 2010 version =D

    So yeah, DF, Love it,a adore it…. know how to play it well? HECK NO!! But I’ll get there… I’ll get there *comatose state by a window*


  2. i like this game, i appreciate its existence and what it does for gamers as a whole, its not my cup-o-tea.
    this game is great for the reason that you can buy a game that has had much less work put into it for $60, this game is free.

    • Yeah it’s kind of hilarious that some games are just reskins of last year’s model, and cost $60 + tax, while this game requires a PhD to play, but is free.

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