Dwarf Fortress – Things I Wish I Knew Sooner

This is a collection of mechanics and bugs that knowing about would have saved me a lot of grief.


Dwarf Fortress is a great game, but it also has its… quirks. This is just a list of things I learned over my first few games that I really with I knew starting out (and often felt like an idiot for not knowing). It’s not terribly well organized, and I may add to it later, but hopefully it will save some of you some frustration.

Basic Construction

Construction is fairly straightforward, so there are only a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, your Dwarves are stupid. If you tell them to channel out a large section of floor over an open space, they will almost certainly remove all the support from a tile sending it (and anything on it) crashing down to (and possibly through) the next floor. If you are removing constructed flooring and there is no natural floor underneath, you have to be doubly careful. Unlike construction, deconstruction does not require a tile to be unoccupied. It is entirely possible that a Dwarf will remove a floor tile, place the recovered blocks on the adjacent tile, then remove it, dropping the blocks on to whatever is below.

To mass cancel construction orders, you use the remove construction icon in the mining menu (the stairs with the nope symbol on them).

Stairs build from blocks under the construction menu are considered smooth floor; dug out stairs are considered rough. If you smoothed out a hallway and want to get rid of the ragged edges where the floor meets the stairs, you have to build them.

You can’t place floor under existing furniture. You can smooth or engrave floor under most furniture, but not all (altars are one of the exceptions).

Dwarves can do a lot of things diagonally: move, mine, engrave… but not build.

Constructions are invulnerable. If you are looking for magma-safe rock to build channels for your Magma Forge and Smelters, don’t worry; magma cannot melt floors, walls or closed doors, regardless of what they are made of (open doors are a different matter).

And finally, If you lay down the blueprint for a floor and overwrite it with a wall (or vice-versa), it will use the material you selected for the original construction, regardless of what you selected when you overwrote it. The only way to change materials is to cancel the original construction on that tile, then place the new one.

Room Values and Engraving

Most of your Dwarves won’t need a fancy room, but they do appreciate it. Rooms values are determined by the value of the construction and furnishings. Furnishings are fairly straightforward, and the only thing you really should know is that doors can be set as internal or external. Internal doors are viewed as a gap in the wall, allowing rooms to expand beyond them. External doors are viewed as part of the wall, and can be used to enclose a room.

Rooms can overlap, to take advantage of valuable tiles, but there are limitations and drawbacks. First, any room that shares a floor tile with another room suffers a -75% penalty to its value. The one exception to this is the floor tile under an external door which, like the walls, can be shared by multiple rooms without penalty. The 75% penalty does not change, regardless of how many rooms overlap. In addition, the engraving bonus for walls only apply to rooms that include both the wall and the floor tile it was engraved from. This means that unless the engraving was made from the doorway, it cannot be shared by two rooms without penalty.

The value of a room’s walls and floors depends on what the tiles are made of, as well as how they are made. Common materials like wood and non-economic stone have a value of 1, going up to 2 for things like flux stones (Calcite, Chalk, Dolomite, Limestone and Marble) or low value metals like copper, and 6 or 7 for easily made, semiprecious alloys like Billon or Brass. That material value is then multiplied by the type of wall or floor:

  • Rough Floor or Wall – 1
  • Smooth Floor – 4
  • Smooth Wall – 5
  • Constructed Floor – 7
  • Constructed Wall – 9

Smooth and constructed walls and floors made from bars or blocks (I am unsure about walls made from uncut stone) can be engraved to provide an additional bonus. This is an added bonus, not a multiplier, and is not affected by whether the tile is natural or constructed.

For floors, the bonus is straightforward: Material Value x10 x Quality (x1, x2, x3, x4, x5 or x12). So an engraving on a stone floor will vary from 10 to 120, while one on a brass floor will be between 70 and 840.

Walls are a little more complex. As stated above, a wall engraving only applies to rooms that include the floor it was engraved from. In addition, the material value for the engraving isn’t the material the wall is made from; it’s the most common material in the room. So a gold or gemstone pillar in an otherwise rock room will have significantly higher value than the other walls, but its engraving will not.

This leads to the major bug with engravings – they aren’t removed when the wall or floor is deconstructed or mined out. In stone caverns, this is not a huge issue, as you can smooth the floor, carve tracks to erase the engraving, then resmooth the floor. In soil layers, this is not possible, which leads to a further problem. Since wall and floor engravings are handled differently, they do not apply to the wrong type of construction. If you expand a room with engraved walls and cannot erase the engravings, those tiles will still have the wall engraving on them. Because the tile contains and engraving, you cannot order the floor to be engraved, but because it is a wall engraving, it will not be applied to the floor tile.

If you are trying to make a high value room, your best bet is to make it out of metal. Bars will work, but taking the extra step to make metal blocks will keep your inventory stocks more accurate, as the bars used to make walls and floors will still be listed, and the breakdown of placed vs available objects only applies to bars as a whole, not the specific metals.

To give an idea of relative values, take a 1×3 room. It will have 11 walls and 4 floor tiles (including the one under the door).

For rough stone, the room will be Meager, with a value of 15.

Smooth stone will improve that to 71, still Meager, but much closer to the 100 needed for Modest.

Constructed stone will further improve it to 127, which makes it a modest room, even without furniture or engraving.

If the rooms are engraved (and you somehow manage to get all the wall engravings inside), that would give at least an additional 150 value to the room, putting the constructed room at basic quality, and the smooth natural stone within striking distance of it (easily reached with higher quality engravings or some decent furniture).

By contrast, if you made the room out of Billon, which can be easily and cheaply made from ore (always make it from ore instead of bars), it would have a base value of 762, and even all the wall engravings wound up outside, the floor engravings would provide at least an additional 240 value, to make it a Fine room.

When making rooms for Nobles, Temples or Guilds, this is an easy way to increase the room value without relying on gem encrusted furniture. If you have a skilled engraver, you can add 5,000 to the value of a room with a single masterwork engraved Aluminum or Platinum floor.

Workshop Shenanigans

Farmer’s Workshop:

The various Process Plants tasks all handle different plants:

  • Process Plants – Turns plants into thread. This is mainly going to be Pig Tails, but also covers Hemp, Jute, etc.
  • Process Plants to Bag – Turns Quarry Bushes into leaves and Rock Nuts. If you’ve been harvesting Quarry Bushes, but don’t have the Rock Nuts to replant the farm plots, make sure this task is active.
  • Process Plants to Barrel – Turns Sweet Pods into Dwarven Syrup. Don’t do this. Due to a bug in the cooking algoritm, Dwarves only cook with liquid ingredients as a last resort. Unless you micromanage your cooking storehouses to force the issue, they will use up all your tallow before they touch Dwarven Syrup. Instead you can crush sweet pods into Dwarven Sugar at the Quern or Millstone.
  • Process Plants to Vial – Turns Valley Herbs into Golden Salve, which is a valuable trade good, but serves no other purpose

Clothier’s Workshop:

Making Cloth items only uses Plant Cloth (Pig Tail, Hemp, etc.). When setting up work orders, use the adjective “Plant” to restrict a condition to these materials.

There are separate tasks for Yarn items that use Wool Cloth. Their work orders use the adjective “Yarn”.

Thread made from Hair cannot be spun into Cloth, but can be used by Book Binders and Orderlies.

Glass Making and Pottery:

Loamy Sand is not considered Sand, nor is any type of “sandy” soil.

Sand is stored as Sand Bags.

Sand Bags are listed under Furniture in the stockpile sorting menu.

For work orders, they use the adjective “Sand-Bearing”.

Clay cannot be dug from Sandy Clay Loam or Silty Clay Loam. Any other Clay tile, including Clay Loam, can be used.

Clay is stored as Clay Rocks.

The stone Koalinite can be used as well.

Most clays will produce Earthenware items. Earthenware pots must be glazed to store liquids

Fire Clay will produce Stoneware, which is more valuable does not have to be glazed.

Kaolinite will produce Porcelein, which is even more valuable and also does not require glazing

Strange Moods

When a Dwarf takes over a workshop with a strange mood, you can find out (or at least get clues) to the items they need by clicking on the workshop. If you don’t have the items, the Dwarf in question will sit in the workshop until they go fatally (and possibly murderously) insane.

Stockpiles and Refuse

Do not make stockpiles that accept everything. One of the categories for stockpiles is Refuse, and you never want to store refuse with other objects. Objects that decay do so much more quickly in a stockpile with the refuse category active. This includes clothing, weapons and armor. Instead, create a separate stockpile for your bones, wool, etc. and maybe one outdoors for the things you don’t use.

Vermin remains are also in this category, so if you keep winding up with dead rats in your stockpile, that is probably why. Also dead vermin are all categorized as generic “Remains” rather than by individual type.

The Refuse stockpile is separate from a dumping zone. Refuse stockpiles are automatically filled and have an increased rate of decay. Dumping zones are where Dwarves take things that you have flagged to dump (the trash can icon). If the zone is adjacent to a cliff, they will chuck the item over the edge (useful for disposing of things in magma). Note that if you have a standing order to ignore outdoor refuse, they will also ignore orders to dump outdoor refuse.

Backpacks, Weapon Racks and Armor Stands (All Bugged)

Do Not Make Backpacks!

Backpacks are theoretically there to allow military Dwarves to eat while deployed. In theory this is true, but unless your only squads are on permanent assignment (training, patrol, etc.), they do more harm than good. When your Dwarf goes off duty, they get rid of their backpack, dumping all their food on the floor, usually in their bedroom. The food is considered “Owned” by the Dwarf, so others won’t touch it. It will stay there until the Owner does something with it or, more likely, it rots and fills the room with miasma.

Weapon racks and armor stands also do not work. I once saw a Dwarf store armor on a stand in the barracks, but I don’t know what prompted it. I have never seen them use a personal weapon rack or armor stand in an assigned room (or personal chest… in fact the only personal storage I have seen used is the cabinet).

Helena Stamatina
About Helena Stamatina 2992 Articles
I love two things in life, games and sports. Although sports were my earliest interest, it was video games that got me completely addicted (in a good way). My first game was Crash Bandicoot (PS1) from the legendary studio Naughty Dog back in 1996. I turned my passion for gaming into a job back in 2019 when I transformed my geek blog (Re-actor) into the gaming website it is today.

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