Home > Fantasy, Tutorial > The Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial for Dwarf Fortress – Part 14: “Embarking… to your doom!”

The Complete and Utter Newby Tutorial for Dwarf Fortress – Part 14: “Embarking… to your doom!”

June 2, 2009


I’ve written a book – Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress, available at O’Reilly and Amazon! It covers the current version and takes you from knowing nothing to being a confident Dwarf Fortress player!

A while ago I promised a final tutorial (although I’m always open for to pleading for more) on how to use the custom embark feature of Dwarf Fortress. This is a handy part of the game as it lets you customize exactly what sort of dwarfs you take with you and allows you to set their supplies to your exact specifications. Read on for more information!

Embarking the custom way

So you’ve chosen your perfect location, as per the previous tutorial, and now you’re ready to embark. What you want to be doing now is selecting “Prepare for your journey carefully” from the embark menu. You will now be presented with your list of dwarfs and the skills they can access.


Have a fiddle with your controls. The left-right arrows move between the list on the left (dwarfs) and the list on the right (dwarf skills). Select your first dwarf, then arrow over to the skill list and scroll through it. Currently this dwarf has no skills assigned. Find “Mining”, hit “alt+down arrow” and keep hitting it until the dwarf is set as a “Proficient Miner”. Do the same for “Mason”.

You have now made your dwarf a pretty good mason and a miner! Note, there’s a zero next to his name? This means he can’t accept any more skills. Most of the time you’re going to be giving each dwarf a couple of skills, but one or two dwarfs might be given some outlier skills (leadership skills, for example) to ensure you have a broker from the get-go. There are many strategies when it comes to skill selection, we’ll cover some samples later.

Meanwhile, get back to a dwarf using the arrow key. You’ll see at the bottom the “c” menu for “Customize” and “v” for “View”. Hit “v” and have a read about your dwarf’s personality. I usually look for the most ‘friendliest’ and mark them in my head for any possible leadership skills.

Head back to the list (“space-bar”) and then hit “c”. Here you can modify a dwarf’s nickname and profession name. This is handy if you want to make a note of how you’ve skilled each dwarf, or just for your own amusement, of course! Once you’re done there, hitting “Shift+F” or “Shift+G” takes you to a group and fortress menu list. Fiddle around here and come up with a creative name if you want!

When you’re done, (you may have to hit F9 to head back out of the menu), hit “tab” to go to the item list. Many items will be on your list already, on the left, with animal options on the right.


As in the last menu, use the arrows to move left and right and the up down arrows to move through the list. Head across to the animal list and hit “alt+down arrow” a couple of times to add 2 dogs to your party. Go down, add a couple of cats as well. No, make that three of each, then you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting one of each sex. That’s handy for reproduction, so my mum tells me!

“Alt+up arrow” reduces the number of items. Reduce the number of battle axes to one. I usually don’t bother taking two steel battle axes as one skilled woodsman with a single battleaxe is quite enough and getting rid of one will free up some points you can use for other things. As for the rest of the items, that depends on your strategy. For now, hit “n” for “New”. You’ll be taken to a huge menu of purchasable items.


Lets add some turtles to the list of stuff we’re going to take. Meat/Fish is already selected, so scroll across to the right using the right-arrow and scroll down to “Turtle”. Hit enter, you will now be taken back to the main goods menu and you’ll see turtles added to your list. Hit “alt+down arrow” until you’ve got 20 turtles. Note, the points available to you will go down as you do this – your available points are in the bottom right corner and the point cost of each item is listed next to the item.

Lets add some Dwarven Wine the other method. Hit “n” for new, then start typing “wine”. Pretty soon you’ll be left with only one option, Dwarven Wine. You’ll note that the “Drinks” part of the menu is highlighted, you’ll need to use the arrow key to scroll across Dwarven Wine, then hit “enter”.


You can now increase and decrease the number in the usual fashion. Lots and lots of drink is a good idea!

Embark Strategies

You now know enough to navigate around the somewhat confusing menus. But what you don’t have is an strategy for what to buy when you’re embarking. Thankfully, there are some really good ideas presented on the Dwarf Fortress Wiki Starting Builds guide and of course, more ideas over on the Dwarf Fortress forums. I suggest going and reading the starting builds guide, there are some fun ideas there – for example, taking no axes, a little wood and then forging your own axes on site (saves you points for other items!).

Take all the advice there and then think about the location you’re embarking to. If it seems likely to be a frozen waste, you may chose to modify the builds presented as many are tailored for fairly ideal locations. That being said, there are some interesting ideas for builds centered around extreme fortresses too!

When you’ve spent all your points and modified everything you want, hit “e” for “Embark” and enjoy your new fortress!

Categories: Fantasy, Tutorial Tags:
  1. June 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    You mentioned on twitter that you’d be putting all the guides together in a PDF. I would really appreciate such a file. I’m trying to get a local group together for a succession game, but they’re all DF newbs to greater or lesser extents. A handy little PDF I could shoot out to them would be totally awesome.

    • Mysterion
      June 14, 2009 at 6:38 pm

      PDF available here. Enjoy!

  2. Zenshu
    June 3, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Any chance we could have one on machinery? It’s one of the more confusing aspects of DF and the wiki doesn’t explain it particularly well.

    • Scott
      June 4, 2009 at 12:12 am

      I second that.

      I must admit I was a little disappointed after reading the magma article because it didn’t include anything on pumps and such (though I did still learn from it). Maybe expand it to include a pumped magma-fall, or an obsidian manufacturing facility, or both!

    • June 5, 2009 at 8:34 am

      I’m thinking of doing a tutorial on pumps, windmills and obsidian farming. We’ll see!

    • Met
      June 7, 2009 at 7:10 am

      I must say that such tutorials would be most appreciated.

    • Morague
      September 24, 2009 at 8:31 pm

      I would love o see a tutorial on pumps, windmills, etc as well. Please! The wiki is sadly lacking in this area :/ I am currently trying to get a screwpump set up to lift the lava one level & no matter what I do it is simply not working. I have had to channel to get the lava pool the right size but because i channeled I can’t place the screwpump. Bah!!

    • September 25, 2009 at 8:24 am

      OK, I will deliver one! But not right now – the wife is due to have a baby any day now!

    • zakk
      January 8, 2010 at 5:16 am

      congrats. thanks for the tutorial. i would never have even played this game if not for you. i kind of messed up on the first fortress( flooded an entire level) but just started a new one and im plannin on making a huge above ground city with a safe room in the mountains.

    • January 8, 2010 at 5:45 am

      Awesome! I was planning an inverted glass pyramid once. Maybe next time 🙂

  3. Michael
    June 4, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks a lot for the guides, the game wouldn’t be playable without them, or rather they are much more playable with them.
    Just a heads up, 13 isn’t currently linked to 14.

    • June 5, 2009 at 8:34 am

      No prolem, they were great fun to write!

  4. Ryan
    September 11, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Agreed on a pump/machinery article! These have all helped my game immensely and made the game all the more enjoyable!

  5. Angellus
    October 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm


    I hope that everything is going allright with the baby 🙂

    I just wanted to say that I will be printing this pdf on school on the first chance I have 🙂 Thanks for it!

    p.s. I am an experienced player of DF, hoping to use this to get new insights AND put some friends to play, as far as a manual for DF, this seems to get pretty close!

  6. Grammar Nazi
    December 11, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    tough you made a good guide , you should mention where should we embark , and what to do if we embarked on a site without moutains

    -Grammar Nazi

  7. Grammar Nazi
    December 15, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    oh yea , and during the course of the tutoral(for fun only) , i did squash alath so that he will stop mandating glass

    • Scaraban
      July 12, 2010 at 3:52 am

      on mine he would not stop demanding trifle pewter furniture/ items, when i had no resources to make them, then he started punishing ppl, which left less to try and find materials for trifle pewter… vicious circle…

    • July 12, 2010 at 5:23 am

      Sounds Dwarfy!

    • Fanklok
      September 16, 2010 at 6:43 am

      Almost happened to me but fifteen minutes after he mandated the pewter stuff a new mayor was elected.

      Also a tutorial going waaaaay into detail about military and equipping multiple weapons and stuff. I’d like to know how to give my hunter a sword and still use his crossbow (he likes swords and kinda went really emo when some goblins attacked him and killed his dog).

  8. Animal King
    January 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    i have looked at this game before and disliked it. But now thanks to this guide i have finaly found a good base building game that i will recommend to my friends.

  9. Thomas
    January 27, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    First of all: Best tutorial i ever saw. THanks!

    (i saw all 14 of them :P)

  10. dfortbeginner
    January 31, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    thanks i just started playing a few days ago when i saw someone else playing. This tutorial is AWESOME!. I was looking at the wiki and stuff and i wondered if you could do some more tutorials. For example can you do like tutorials on Magma Pumping, how to make a waterfall, how to bypass aquifiers and like to use them for waterfalls and as a powersource. Could you basically make more tutorials to expand upon the wiki. It has lots of information, but very little explanation

  11. dfortbeginner
    January 31, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    thanks this tutorial set is awesome. It basically teaches everything which is great.

    I was wondering if you could make more tutorials on some topics.
    Magma Flows
    Waterwheels and how to make power from them
    Also could you make power from Magma
    What is power used for? how is it stored?
    If you couuld make magma go in like a waterfountain

    How do you make those death chambers and stuff?
    How do you take captives and like through them off buildings and stuff?
    Can you transport the captives using military dwarfs??? how do you do all of that complicated stuff?

  12. Pat
    March 2, 2010 at 3:07 am

    Anyone know what I did wrong? All of a sudden my dwarves have stopped hauling food and drinks. I have plenty of empty barrels and room in my food piles but food is withering in my farms, my stills, kitchen, and fishery are all piling up with food/drink, and my food piles are shrinking instead of growing.

    I checked via the Stock menu and my barrels aren’t forbidden and I do have dwarves that have all the hauling labors and they are idle.

    I can’t figure out what I did.

    • March 2, 2010 at 10:21 am

      Really not sure. The forum geeks might know?

    • Pat
      March 3, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      I figured it out (well, someone on the bay12 forums did). Somehow I had turned on Ignore Food (o -> f). Changed it back and my dwarves how stop leaving fruit on the vine and booze in the still. Pheew.

  13. Felipe C
    May 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I’ve tried to play this game a couple of times in the past, and with your tutorials it was the first time i’ve actually got to enjoy it. All the other times i’d end up not knowing what to do and simply give up the whole thing.

    Thx, hope we see that extra tutorial on the advanced stuff soon.

    Cheers from a warm land.

  14. Exenon
    June 18, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    A really good tutorial ! I was a complete and utter newbie when i started, and now i am getting the game ! Even if am not a real good player now, still its a really good tutorial ! Its clear and much more detailed then the other few at which i looked at, but remains clear and self explanative.

    A tutorial on machines would be really great !

  15. Genemos
    June 20, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Awesome tutorial. I think great additions would be irrigation, and thus also mechanics/screwpumps and lots of other stuff. Also, the World generation tools has been changed a fair bit in DF2010.

    Awesome work none the less

  16. Rincewind
    August 17, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    thanks a lot if it wasnt for this tutorial i will be still trying trial and error!

  17. Leatra
    October 8, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for these tutorials. They saved me lots of hours of trial and error.

  18. Leatra
    October 15, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I’m surprised that you still didn’t made a tutorial for Adventure Mode yet. It’s really fun to send limbs flying away, breaking bones one by one and killing everybody in a town for no reason! Every Dwarf Fortress player should experience it.

    • October 16, 2010 at 10:08 am

      I should try it some time! I need to find a good guide 😀

  19. Immortal
    November 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    First of all i would like to thank you for this fantastic guide, without it i would never been able to learn to play dwarf fortress!

    As DF 2010 is out now, it would be great if you could use that to make such a nice starting pack as the one we can download here. I have tried to make a new world in DF2010, but settings for world generation and searching seems different, and all my worlds seem to be missing either lava, wood, sand, a river, or something else… If i just had the embark save ready i guess i could learn the other changes from the wiki without a new tutorial, but world generation is realy hard.

    Thanks again for the excellent guide!

    • Immortal
      November 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      Also i cant get the nice graphics that is included in your pack to work in 2010. I tried download the new mayday graphics, but they look very different, the whole world seems much brighter, and the menu background is grey and not black… looks realy weird. 😦

    • November 25, 2010 at 5:20 pm

      I would check the DF forums or wiki for all the different tile sets for 2010 and then chose the one you like best.

    • November 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      There is a newby pack for 2010, without tutorial but with a bunch of tools and whatnot. There might be a fresh nice world in there. I linked it a few blog posts ago. Try there?

  20. Pogophobe
    May 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Just a quickie to say many thanks for these excellent tutorials. They have opened my eyes to this immersive game. Hope the budgeoning family is going well.

  21. July 27, 2011 at 1:40 am

    Silly question, but how does that PDF scribd thing work?

    I’ve tried to download it, but it keeps asking me for money.

    • July 27, 2011 at 5:43 am

      Reall? Oh, that is odd news. Actually, I would just play along with the web version, more accurate.

  22. Speakafreak
    August 13, 2011 at 1:26 am

    I’d really like to see a machinery guide. Your tutorial helped me figure out how to play Dwarf Fortress, and I’ve got a few great fortresses going on now.
    I can’t figure out how to pump water and magma, or how to use windmills and water wheels effectively=/

    • August 13, 2011 at 1:39 am

      You probably know enough to work it out from the wiki or some of the YouTube guides – give them a go? No current plans to write more!

    • Speakafreak
      August 14, 2011 at 12:43 am

      I play the Mayday tileset and it’s hard to find tutorials on youtube with that set. I find the ASCII set pretty confusing.
      I’m just gonna give up on it for now, I’ll wait until my first fortress falls due to enemies, no food, or whatever, then start up a new one and experiment.
      Thanks for the reply!

  23. Lord Allagon
    August 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Hey, you should say that every type of meat comes with it’s own barrel, and same for booze and plump helmets. And, you should always embark with a number of booze which ends in 6 or 1, since you get another barrel!
    Great tutorial!

    • August 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm

      That is an excellent point!

  24. March 23, 2013 at 6:35 am

    there is a way to build a fort WITHIN flat ground. all you need to do is
    1. Remove trees and bushes and boulders.
    2. channel area you want to make entrance.
    3. make ramps.
    4. profit!
    use this is you have a hard time doing the base building thing

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