40d:Help! My civilians keep running into combat!

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This article is about an older version of DF.

After the bodies start falling, and sometimes even before, citizens will run like madmen right into the middle of a combat situation. We'd like to think of it as natural selection, but all dwarves are potentially that stupid.


Corpse looting[edit]

The most common cause is the death of a friend or enemy. A dying creature who carries objects drops those objects on death, and your dwarves just can't wait to start looting the corpses. Even the presence of hostiles will only deter them if they get close enough to be spooked, and then there's often no telling which direction they'll run - it's usually the wrong one. This behavior only occurs after someone dies. To prevent this behavior, as soon as bodies are generated immediately forbid (d - b - f) all objects they were carrying and their corpse - including all parts thereof - possibly to be reclaimed later. Dwarves will then cancel jobs to retrieve the forbidden items.

As of v0.28.181.40a, an option is available to automatically forbid objects and corpses killed on the map. You can access the options via the following key combo: o - F

Outside tasks[edit]

The second behavior which leads to civilian dwarves in avoidable combat situations is dwarves who try to take jobs which take them outside. The very simple way to deal with this is the order o - i - dwarves stay indoors. This might give you a lot of cancel job messages and dwarves may also still crowd your fortress' entrance(s), which is often not desirable (see details below).

The source of this behaviour can be really a more general version of the previous (as they may be trying to do a job 'take item to depot' for dropped items), but can be generated by any object or stockpile that's sitting outside. Dealing with this in detail can be much harder unless you've kept your stockpiles inside and kept track of every object outside, because finding them to forbid them can be difficult, especially on larger maps or maps with many outdoor z-levels.

Of course not all outdoor jobs are going to be item collecting jobs. Woodcutters will want to chop designated trees (deselect them to stop this or turn off the labor), planters will want to harvest or seed an outside plot, fisherdwarves are going to want to go fishing (turn off the fishing labor), trappers will want to trap and hunters will want to hunt (turn off these labors). You'll want to turn off gathering refuse from outside as well using the standing orders menu: (o - r - o).

Rescue missions[edit]

One last behavior which can (rarely) bring a civilian into combat is an attempt to rescue a wounded dwarf. Unfortunately you can't 'forbid' a living dwarf, but you can disable the "Health Care" job for the dwarf attempting the rescue. You may need to draft then undraft him to reset his health care job.


"All dwarves stay inside"[edit]

You can order all your dwarves, or just non-soldier dwarves, to stay inside by using the standing orders menu: o - i. However this is often an ineffective solution because the prohibition only kicks in when a dwarf actually steps outside. Thus, if combat (or other enemy deterrence systems) are at or near your entrance, telling dwarves to stay inside will not help - they will still try to take these jobs, walk outside (right into a combat situation), and then realize they aren't supposed to be there, cancel the job, walk back inside, and try to take the same job again.

Setting only soldiers to go outside is not a cure-all, since soldiers can still generate Pickup Equipment jobs and run one by one into a hail of goblin crossbow fire. Idle soldiers will still head for outside statue gardens or spar at outside barracks unless you un-designate those rooms.

Also, dwarves will go outside even under this order if there is something inside they want that can only be reached by a path that takes them outside, for instance running across a wall providing a beautiful target to aforementioned goblin crossbows.

Entrance design helps. If the only way to your entrance is through a protected "outside" area (using open ceilings (skylights) and/or a brief walk across a patch of surface surrounded by aboveground walls) your dwarves will remember the "stay inside" order when they reach the outside area. Keep this protected area a bowshot or sharp bend away, behind the actual entrance (or trapped hallway), and you should be good throughout Goblin christmas.

Remove distractions[edit]

As described above, as soon as a siege or ambush occurs, turn off the labors of dwarves who have outdoor tasks (woodcutting, fishing, trapping and hunting), un-designate (d - x) trees or shrubs that were set to be cut or gathered, and forbid (d} - {f) anything outdoors that your dwarves might want to fetch (such as freshly-cut logs). Continue doing this as the combat progresses and bodies and items start dropping. Turning off refuse hauling, as described above (o - r - o), may help. So can telling dwarves not to collect bodies: o - g if you use stockpiles for dead dwarves (which you shouldn't).

Batten down the hatches[edit]

An easier solution to manage is locking all your dwarves inside, for instance by raising drawbridges. This tends to break invader AIs however, as they will just mill about outside (not walking forward into your traps) because they can't find a path to a dwarf. It also makes it more difficult to get military out to the invaders because when you open the doors your dwarves will start taking outdoor jobs again.

Martial law[edit]

One last solution is to draft all your civilian dwarves and station them somewhere deep within your fortress. It will generate a lot of unhappy thoughts, and kill your productivity for the duration of the siege, but it will stop them from being stupid. Watch out for newly recruited dwarves who are set to equip armor or weapons, however: they may attempt to run out into the fray to equip themselves if 'Soldiers can go outside' is selected.

Forward barracks[edit]

Create your barracks, a food stockpile, weapons and armor stockpiles, small meeting hall, etc. near the entrance of your fort for your military dwarves to use. Have the rest of your fort separated by lockable doors. When fighting occurs, lock all non-military dwarves in the back of the fort where they can continue working undisturbed. Forcing all incoming traffic to move through your barracks has the added benefit of making it likely that any sneaky thief will be discovered in the middle of your sparring ground -- with predictably gruesome results for the thief.

The forward barracks concept can be extended by placing the barracks so far forward that they are on the surface, outside the fortress proper, forming a castle of sorts. This requires encircling walls or channels on the surface to force enemies into a designated approach path and block others, so there is more work required of the player. One benefit is that the "soldiers can go outside" order will keep civilians out of the castle, and thus hopefully out of harm's way; also this will consume large amounts of those stones that clutter up the fortress.


The existence of this problem is a strong argument for doing as much as you can to give your dwarves little reason to go outside. The fewer reasons your dwarves have for going outside, the fewer dwarves you will lose to crazy dwarves wandering into the line of fire. It has the side benefit of greatly reducing your casualties from ambushes. Strategies like building a trade depot indoors, behind a retractable drawbridge, will help keep your dwarves out of danger.

Providing indoor pastimes (like a sculpture garden, zoo, meeting hall, or a meeting area zone) will make dwarves spend their break time in the fortress rather than outside. This will prevent dwarves from hanging around outside, which will lessen the likelihood that they will get caught outside when siegers arrive. Creative use of water resources to create an underground forest can limit danger to woodcutters. Hunters, haulers and other dwarves who have business outside will still be at risk.