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How to set up your first Dwarf Fortress fortress for success

Build your first fortress and learn the basics of Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress screenshot showing two rooms, one with a stockpile and the other with four workshops. Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

Creating a functioning fortress in Dwarf Fortress isn’t as simple as just digging a hole and moving in. To keep things running smoothly, you’ll need to manage everything from Zones to Stockpiles to Administrators to Farm Plots. All of the moving parts of Dwarf Fortress are what create the game’s legendary “learning cliff.”

Our guide to creating your first fortress will walk you through every step of building your first fortress. A quick note before we get started: There’s no right way to play Dwarf Fortress, so everything below is based on our (many, many) hours with the game. Every step below isn’t strictly necessary, but they will all help you stave off the inevitable “losing is fun” moment and teach you (the basics of) many of the game’s esoteric mechanics.

Create a friendly world

When you create a new world from Dwarf Fortress’ menu, you’ll see a few parameters for the world you create. Your choices here can dictate how hard your game is to survive.

Dwarf Fortress’ world creation screen.
Creating a new world with friendly (well, friendlier) settings.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

For a relatively easy world to start with, use these settings:

  • Don’t worry much about the size of the world you create. Larger worlds require more resources from your computer, but give you more options for building sites. Until you get comfortable, keep it medium or small.
  • Limit the history 100 years long or less to keep other civilizations from spreading too far and claiming the best spots. This also reduces how long the world takes to generate.
  • Set the number of civilizations and maximum number of sites to medium or lower. You still want someone else out there to trade with, but too many other civilizations will take up valuable real estate. The number of sites controls how many settlements each of those civilizations have.
  • Until you’re ready for more fun (read: chaos), set the number of beasts and natural savagery to medium or lower. The number of beasts determines how many Forgotten Beasts roam your world. These are named, legendary, and deadly creatures that wander around causing problems. Natural savagery means you’re more likely to end up in a place with hostile (or giant) creatures.
  • Set mineral occurrence to everywhere. Lower settings mean fewer and less varied metal ores and minerals — and you’ll want options.

Once your world is created, it’s time to find a new home.

Choose your embark location carefully

Once you’ve created a world, you’ll need to pick an embark location. With enough hard work and planning, you can probably carve a fortress out of just about any location, but it’s much easier to start yourself with as many advantages as you can. The tutorial will pick one for you with everything you need. To pick your own, though, there are a few things to keep in mind — basically a manual version of the same things the tutorial does for you automatically.

There’s even a search function to help you out here.

Using Dwarf Fortress’ find embark location tool.
Finding an embark location.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Click the “find embark location” button in the lower right. There are a lot of options here, but the most important for your first several fortresses are setting Aquifer (Light) and Aquifer (Heavy) to No, River to Yes, and Soil to <= Some. Aquifers are underground water deposits that are a pain to deal with, a river is a source of water and fish, and soil gives you a place to plant crops.

The finder will highlight any places that meet those requirements, but you still have some decisions to make. Click on one of the highlighted areas to zoom in. While you mouse around, watch the information panel in the upper right (right click to clear the finder menu). For now, focus on the Trees and Other Vegetation.

Trees supply lumber that you’ll need for furniture, charcoal, and construction, so you’ll want at least Sparse here, but Woodland or Heavily Forested are better. Other vegetation means there’s food to find and gather that you don’t have to grow yourself — having stuff just lying around will save you trouble later.

There’s stuff to do before you even get started

After you’ve picked an embark location, you’ll get another screen where you can choose to carefully set up your caravan of colonists. There’s a lot going on there that you don’t need to worry about just yet, so pick “Play now!” to get started with a default set of colonists.

Assign Labors

Before anything else, open up the Labor menu (with the y key). This lets you decide which dwarves are available to do which jobs.

The Dwarf Fortress Labor menu.
Assigning Labors (jobs) to dwarves.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

You can dig a lot deeper with customization later on, but for now, let’s just assign the basics.

  • Pick at least one extra Miner, and click the hammer and lock button to make sure they only mine — we usually pick the default stoneworker as the extra one. Locking them makes sure they aren’t distracted and you don’t have to wait around for them.
  • The Woodcutter and Fisherdwarf are fine as is, but you can lock the Woodcutter if you want to speed up logging.
  • Scroll down to Haulers and set it to Only selected do this. Pick everyone not mining or woodcutting. This doubles down on your Miners and Woodcutter not getting distracted.

Designate Zones

Zones marks out where certain activities take place. For right now, set up Water Source, Fishing, and Pen/Pasture zones.

Creating a Water Source zone on a river in Dwarf Fortress.
Create a Water Source zone on the river.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Open the Zones menu with z, and choose Water Source. Find a stretch of river nearby and highlight it. Zones can overlap, so go ahead and make the Fishing zone the same stretch.

A Pen/Pasture zone is where your animals will hang out. Attending to the animals is a little more involved, so they get their own section.

Move the animals

There are two broad kinds of animals in your fortress: pets and stray animals. Pets have names, and stray animals covers everything belonging in your fortress that isn’t a pet — livestock, basically. You don’t have to worry about pets since their owners feed them and take care of them. The livestock, though, needs somewhere to hang out with vegetation (see above) to eat. If they’re not in a pen, stray animals tend to starve to death.

Dwarf Fortress screenshot showing how to set up a Pen/Pasture and assigning animals to it.
Setting up a Pen/Pasture.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Pick a Pen/Pasture from the Zone menu and place a pen near where your fortress will be (you can always move it later). Accept it and then click the button with a plus sign and a bunny to assign animals there. Assign anything too big to be a pet. (Anything can be a pet, but you don’t need horses and yaks wandering around your fortress.)

Before you move on, open the Citizen Information menu with u. Click on the Pets/Livestock tab to view your animals. Click the dwarf and dog icon off to the right to make any animals you want available as pets — this lets them get adopted and cared for. (You can’t make cats available as pets — they choose their own owners if and when they deign to.)

Strike the earth!

It’s finally time to start digging. Building above ground is possible, but all the best minerals (and metal) are underground. And digging out your home is a lot more efficient.

There are two ways to do this, and they depend on the terrain where you start out. Before that, though, let’s talk briefly about elevation and how Dwarf Fortress’ levels work.

Elevation and levels

Every level of elevation in Dwarf Fortress has two parts — let’s call them a block and a floor.

An illustration showing the three methods of digging in Dwarf Fortress.
The three directions of digging in Dwarf Fortress.
Graphic: Jeffrey Parkin

Aside from stairs, there are three ways to dig in Dwarf Fortress: dig, channel, and ramp. Each of these interact with the block and floor in a different way.

  • Digging moves horizontally, removing the block and leaving the floor(s) alone.
  • Channeling removes the floor and turns the block below into a ramp leading down to the level below.
  • Ramping turns the block into a ramp up to the level above and removes the floor above.

Dig horizontally

If you’ve got a hill near your starting location, you can dig straight into it to start your fortress. Open the Digging Orders menu (m) and pick regular mining (m). Draw out the area you want mined, and let your dwarves get to work.


If you’re somewhere flat, you’ll need to dig down. Channel down to the level you want, and then start digging horizontally.

Build a trade depot

A Trade Depot allows caravans of traders to visit and exchange goods with you. Trading is a great way to get resources you aren’t set up to make on your own.

Dwarf Fortress screenshot showing the placement of a Trade Depot.
Placing a Trade Depot.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Build a Trade Depot with b>T. It requires a 5x5 space for the Depot itself, three units of some construction material, and a three block-wide path that leads to the outside so the trader’s wagons can access it. It makes sense to make this your fortress’ entrance.

Build stockpiles early

Stockpiles are places where your dwarves store stuff — food, lumber, doors, beds, rocks, gems… everything. You’ll lay them out with the Stockpile menu (p). When you place one, you’ll get to chose what gets stockpiled there.

It’s fine to start with an All Stockpile for everything — just a place to collect your resources in one easy-to-access location — but it’ll quickly fill up with other stuff like wood and stone.

Dwarf Fortress’ Custom Stockpile menu.
Create a Custom Stockpile that excludes the materials that take up the most space.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Instead of an All Stockpile, make your first a Custom, and select everything except corpses, refuse, wood, and stone — those resources will fill up your stockpile too fast. Set up (at least) a Wood and Stone stockpile nearby to keep those out of the way, or you can just leave them where they fall for now. (A Food stockpile is a good idea too.)

Assign a Manager, Bookkeeper, and Broker

There’s a lot to keep track of while you’re trying to keep your fortress functioning. Luckily, you can assign dwarves to make your job easier. Open the Nobles and Administrators menu (n).

The Dwarf Fortress Nobles and Administrators menu with a few titles assigned.
Assign a Manager, Broker, and Bookkeeper.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

It’s a good idea to assign a Manager, a Bookkeeper, and a Broker right away. A Manager lets you order jobs from all of your workshops and they’ll handle the details. A Bookkeeper keeps a more accurate record of what resources you have and where. A Broker tells you what those resources are worth and deals with any trading caravans that show up. (At this point, the Broker is optional, but we’ve got the menu open, so why not?)

Eventually, the Manager and the Bookkeeper will need offices — a room with a door and a chair — but you don’t have to worry about it right away.

Build Carpenter, Jeweler, Mechanic, and Stoneworker workshops

Dwarf Fortress screenshot showing four workshops in a room.
Build a Carpenter, Jeweler, Mechanic, and Stoneworker workshop.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

There are a lot of specialized workshops that you’ll need eventually, but the first four to build are the Carpenter, Jeweler, Mechanic, and Stoneworker.

  • Carpenters build things out of lumber, like chairs and beds. Making things out of wood is faster than making them out of stone. Start with chairs for your Manager and Bookkeeper’s offices.
  • Jewelers cut any gems you find into more valuable pieces. Once it’s built, set it to Cut Gems and let it repeat indefinitely. This is a great way to earn money for trading (more on that below).
  • Mechanics build mechanisms out of stone. You’ll need these for things like levers and wells.
  • Stoneworkers build things out of stone. You can build almost anything out of stone except for beds, which will take some pressure off of your Carpenter.

Open the Build menu, and then the Workshops menu by hitting b>o. Hit p for Carpenter, j for Jeweler, h for Mechanic, and t for Stoneworker.

Use work orders to save time

Once you’ve assigned a Manager assigned and built a few workshops, you’ll be able to set up Work Orders to get things done. This is a lot easier than clicking on each workshop and choosing tasks one at a time.

Dwarf Fortress’ Work Order menu.
Selecting a task for a Work Order.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Open the Work Order menu with o. There will be a clipboard icon in the upper right that will add new orders. In this menu, you can search for what you need, or pick a workshop and then select tasks from a list of what they do.

As you get more comfortable with work orders, there’s a lot of customization that can happen here including creating standing orders and setting conditions for when the tasks are done.

Alcohol and meals are important resources

In order to be a happy and productive member of your dwarven society, every dwarf (even children) requires alcohol — dwarves will slake their thirst with water, but they’ll get unhappy and temperamental unless they get booze. They also need to eat roughly two meals every season.

That means you need to get your food and drink manufacturing set up pretty quickly. Both come from workshops: Meals are made in a Kitchen — Build (b) > Workshops (o) > Farming (f) > Kitchen (k). Drinks are made at a Still — Build (b) > Workshops (o) > Farming (f) > Still (l).

Both require resources to turn into meals and drinks. You’ll start off with some on your wagon, but you’ll need to find more soon. You can get fish by designating a Fishing zone and a Fisherdwarf (above), meat through hunting (under the Labor menu), and some plants from gathering (which needs the Plant Gathering Labor enabled and a Plant Gathering area that you can designate with g).


For a little more control, set up Farm Plots and start farming your own food. Farming requires a Planter in your Labor menu.

Dwarf Fortress’ Farm Plot menu.
Choose which plants to farm in each season.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

Farm Plots have to be built on some sort of dirt (not stone) — clay, loam, sand, and silt. To build one, open Build (b) > Workshops (o) > Farming (f) > Farm Plot (p). Once it’s built, you’ll have to assign a crop to each season. Plump Helmets are a versatile crop to start with.

A few crops can be planted underground, but others need to have access to the sky.

Seeds and plants

How a plant gets processed determines whether or not you’ll get seed to replant. Anything turned into a meal — either plants or seeds — in a Kitchen will not give you seeds. Plants processed at a Still often do give you seeds.

Dwarf Fortress’ Kitchen menu where you choose which plants are used for cooking and brewing.
Choose how seeds and plants are used with the Kitchen menu.
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games via Polygon

To make sure you keep a getting seeds back, you can control what plants get used for what purpose in the Labor menu under the Kitchen tab. Here you can turn on and off cooking and brewing for each type of plant you have. The other tabs similarly determine how seeds, drinks, and meats are used.

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