|This article is about an older version of DF.|
Your First Fortress?
- If you are a new player looking for a solid basis to survive the first couple of months or years, check out the aptly named guide on your first fortress. It includes a basic starting build aimed at being fail-safe.
- If you're trying to plan the future, try what should I build first?
- If you're looking for specific, personalized examples of starting builds, see starting build design
A starting build is a personal strategy for choosing the initial supplies, equipment, and skills of your initial seven dwarves when starting a new game in fortress mode. These skills and items which you assign to your dwarves will have a large impact on life in your new fortress, especially in its first year.
This page attempts to give advice on some of the many gameplay elements which influence the flow of your game based on your goals. These include: choosing a fortress site, the starting build itself, as well as challenge builds aimed at providing new or unusual challenges to advanced players.
But one thing should be made clear - there is no "best" build, no "perfect" or "clearly superior" final mix of skills and items. There are too many variables to connect, not the least of which is... you! Your play style, what you, as an individual player, consider preferable for the proper mix of fun and challenge. And then there is the environment, where your dwarves will arrive, the creatures, the resources available, and so forth.
Items are tied to starting skills, and starting skills are tied to the expected environment for your chosen embark, and all are tied to your preferences for playing the game - not all sites require (or invite) the same approach, and no two players would take the same approach to the same environment.
So while suggestions can be made, and new ideas presented for your consideration, ultimately the final "best" mix for you will have to come from your experience, which will begin to grow during your first game. Without understanding "everything", some decisions will just have to be guesswork - and even later you never know "everything".
 Components of a Starting Build
A starting build must be seen as a whole - the embark location affects the needed supplies, and influences what skills may be most needed or useful. Along with this is player preferences - if you wish an economy based on prepared meals, glass, or steel, each of those have very different requirements. Likewise, if you want to play a military game, fighting off sieges with huge battles, that's a very different mix (and different site requirements) than if you want a calm location to build your perfect mega construction.
With only 7 dwarves, you can't take every skill, so you have to balance what you do take. At this starting phase, each dwarf can only be assigned a maximum total of 10 skill levels, with no single skill starting higher than "5". With 7 starting dwarves, you could have no skills at all, or take 70 skills all at level 1, or 14 skills all at level 5* (2 per dwarf), the highest allowed at embark, or (most likely) something close in between the last two, but closer to that last.
- (* Note that an unskilled dwarf starts with all Skills at Level 0. Adding +5 Levels is then Level 5. This is true regardless of how many "points" a level costs when first buying skills at embark.)
Once play starts, dwarves can learn any and all skills - these choices only determine what sort of "head start" they have, what they are good at when they first hit the ground. See experience for a discussion of increasing skills during game play.
The considerations are several:
- Maximizing starting skill ranks vs. generalizing and having more skills covered at lower levels.
- Balancing multiple skills for a single dwarf, so they aren't constantly needed for two different tasks at critical periods
- Military vs economic needs
- Your goals vs "basic survival needs" to keep your fortress healthy and happy.
- Speed that a skill can be trained in game
- Demand for a skill during a game
- Whether quality or speed are significant considerations for tasks/final product
- Balancing the desire to create wealth (with high-value products) with the need to maintain morale (with low-value but commonly used products, like beds, which normally are made from wood).
- & most importantly - your playstyle - what you think is "fun"!
While there are some arguable "no-brainer" choices (or are for each player, according to their playstyle), the final few selections are often a coin toss, or close to. And there is often more than one way to skin a cat - in fact, while many players recommend never starting with more than one cat, starting with many cats (breeding them for leather, bones and meat) and a skilled leatherworker and/or bonecarver is one way to go with (part of) a starting build. Until you have some personal experience, the various suggestions and advice may mean little, but will have more meaning after your first fortress inevitably fails - losing is fun.
So don't over-think it at first - you'll make a good guess, dive in, and learn far more than we can explain here.
 Matching skills to a dwarf's personal profile
Taking the time to preferences can be very advantageous; if you have a dwarf who likes steel, clear glass, crossbows, siege engine parts, or something else equally interesting, they're an ideal candidate for matching skills (specifically for these examples, armorsmith, glassmaker, bowyer, or siege engineer).iew each of your individual dwarves and matching skills to their
Likewise, if they have any obviously relevant personality strengths or weaknesses, those should be factored in. Some are obscure or ambiguous, but some ("Is constantly active and energetic") are a clear sign.
The starting items are what is needed for your dwarves to survive until they are self-sufficient, or at least until the first yearly caravans will keep them afloat. The first won't show up until Autumn, so that's more than 2 seasons your dwarves are on their own.
A dwarf eats about 2 meals a season, and drinks about 4 drinks in that same time. For 7, that's about 30 meals (7 dwarves x 2 seasons x 2 meals) and about twice that in alcohol. You can bring all of that, or your hunters, plant gatherers, fisherdwarfs, growers and brewers can provide some or most of it. It's always safer to bring enough, and see how things go - losing a fortress to starvation before the first caravan is a painful process.
Most of the finished products are expensive to buy pre-embark, and so a minimum is recommended - maybe a pick or two for immediate mining and basic defense, maybe an axe or two for better defense and cutting wood, thread, cloth or a rope for a well, maybe a few leather to make bags, and call it good.
But you can make any and all of those from scratch if you are willing to wait - and your surroundings don't kill you first. Raw materials are much cheaper, in the form of ores, wood, leather and so forth.
 Your civilization
On the map menu, if you hit Civilizations that your dwarves can start from, if there is more than one. Each can have access to different starting equipment and material to offer you - some will be significantly better or worse supplied, and some may be lacking one key item you desire, while another will lack something else equally as critical to your plan. Unfortunately you will only find out when selecting your items, after selecting a location. To chose another Civilization requires a start-over. Another important difference is whether your civilization is at war with one of the neighbours; This results in early attacks on your fort and, obviously, no trade caravans from them.twice, you will see a list of possible
If you don't like the civilization you chose, or wish to compare what each has to offer, you must useand select "Abort Game", which puts you back at the main game menu. You must then Start again, reload the game world, and find the same embark site - this is not difficult if you made careful notes, but is still a bit of a pain, no doubt.
Every such re-start gives you a different mix of dwarves with different names, personalities and preferences, but the civilizations are part of the map and stay constant. The default civilization chosen for you will vary, however.
 Saving a starting mix
Once you have the mix of items and skills that you like, you can hitand save it to a template with a custom name. In a later game, you can pick that profile when you embark. If your selected civilization does not have some of the desired items in your template, this is announced clearly, and a different civilization can be tried as described above, or you can continue and change your mix.
If you match skills to the preferences and personalities of your dwarves, it may be an idea not to include any skills in such a template, as they will simply be applied in the original order to the current dwarves as they appear on the list.
If you find additional items that you wish to add (perhaps another type of cheap meat, or an ore not previously available), you can edit those in by hitting, overwriting your old template.
- (You can also go into the .txt file, located at data/init/embark_profiles, and edit in the SKILLS or ITEMS as you want - the syntax is fairly straightforward.)
 "Play Now!"
This option gives you an automatic, low-powered and generalized starting mix with no thinking involved. When you pick this option, you start with:
& six dwarves with Novice (+1 skill level) in each of the following skills...
- Engraver/ Mason/ Mechanic/ Building Designer
- Gem Cutter/ Gem Setter/ Woodcrafter/ Stonecrafter/ Bone Carver
- Fish Cleaner/ Butcher/ Tanner/ Weaver/ Clothier/ Leatherworker
- Carpenter/ Bowyer
- Wood Cutter/ Brewer/ Cook/ Grower/ Herbalist/ Wood Burner/ Furnace Operator/ Lye Maker/ Potash Maker
- 1 iron anvil
- 2 steel axes
- 2 copper picks
- 12 barrels of alcohol (60 units)
- 2 barrels of meat (two random types, 10 + 5 units)
- 2 barrels of plump helmets (10 + 5 units)
- 5 Plump helmet seeds (w/ bag)
- 5 pig tail seeds (w/ bag)
- 2 dogs (breeding pair)
- 2 cats (breeding pair)
- 2 draft animals (random species, random gender)
As a challenge for an experienced player, this is not uncommon. But even as a starting player you can do much better if you choose the "Prepare for the journey carefully" option and do just that - prepare carefully, as described below...
 "Prepare for the Journey Carefully"
Good advice. This option allows you complete control over your starting mix of skills and beginning items. By default, your dwarves start with no skills, and you are offered the following items, which are very similar to the "Play Now" mix, but all are optional and can be sold back and changed according to your preferences. Each item costs a number of "points" - you will buy both your starting items and the starting skills for your dwarves with one pool of combined points, 2060 total.
(This choice also allows you to select/create the Fortress name yourself, rather than have it randomly generated.)
The point costs for the default items are listed below.
Default Items Cost
Comments 2 Copper picks 40 (20 each) for mining 2 Steel battle axes 600 (300 each) weapons and woodcutting 1 Iron anvil 1000 required for any
20 alcohol, random1 40 (2 each) 4 free barrels 20 alcohol, random1 40 (2 each) 4 free barrels 20 alcohol, random1 40 (2 each) 4 free barrels 5 Plump helmet spawn (aka seeds) 5 (1 each) 1 free bag 5 Pig tail seeds 5 (1 each) 1 free bag 15 meat or fish of one random (cheap) type 30 (2 each) 2 free barrels2 15 Plump helmets 60 (4 each) 2 free barrels2 (no dogs, no cats) (see articles) Total = 1860 pts 200 pts remaining,
but items can be "sold back"
and/or others bought
- 1. There are only 4 different alcohols to choose from at this stage, so if two or three of the same are randomly chosen, it's quite possible to start with 40 or 60 of the same type. A wider variety is usually better.
- 2. A barrel can hold up to 10 dry items (or 5 wet). One of these barrels is only half full.
With the above items, your point pool starts at 200 (visible in the lower right corner). This is not close to enough points to buy full skills for all your dwarves, but you can sell back any or all of the above items that you choose and recover the points, spending them as you prefer. This is often achieve quickly and easily by taking only 1 axe (300 points returned), but the possible options are infinite. Some players return the anvil, for an additional 1000. Returning all equipment is worth 2060 points total, but unused points are of no use after embark, once the actual gameplay starts, so spend now or waste them.
Useto switch between selecting Skills and Items. Use the 4 directional keys or number pad to navigate to highlight the different choices/columns, and or to choose more or less of the highlighted item or skill. When viewing items, hit to go to a menu for any "new" items, that are not currently listed, including any you removed by reducing the number to 0; select the item, hit , then increase the number desired as above ( or ) in the main menu.
If you cannot buy additional skill levels, you are out of points and must return some items for additional points. Higher-priced items will automatically be removed from viewable new items if you do not have enough points for those selections, showing only what you can afford with your current points.
At this stage, pre-embark, skills cost a number of starting points, equaling monetary value. Later, during fortress mode, all skills will be trained by practice, and "cost" is no longer a concern. All dwarves start with "No Skill" and the first additional skill level (Novice) costs 5 points. To buy the next level would cost 6, and so on. To buy up Proficient (the max allowed to start with), costs 5+6+7+8+9, or 35 points.
A dwarf can start with up to 10 additional levels, regardless whether that's 10 skills at Novice, or 2 skills at Proficient. So, if you are going to buy the maximum skills allowed (highly recommended), that can cost from between 50 to 70 points each, but usually around 400+ for all 7 dwarves.
Each dwarf can (over time) learn any or all of a wide variety of skills. Dwarves with little experience in a skill will work slowly and ineffectively, while dwarves with higher skill work faster and/or produce a significantly higher quality product. Some skills are not used often, and/or produce no "quality" in the final product, or produce qualities that have little impact on the game - for these it's questionable whether investing in high starting levels is worthwhile, but that's often a judgment call.
- For example inexperienced herbalists will gather stacks of only one or two plants, and often nothing at all, and inexperienced farmings will often plant stacks of only one or two plants. This results in a small overall output which takes many containers to store in, less effective food preparation in the kitchen, and more space needed for stockpiles.
- Inexperienced miners work very slowly and are less likely to recover mined gems or valuable ores. Mining can be levelled up quite quickly by mining soil, but taking two dwarves with at least some points in mining is recommended in many cases.
- In nearly all workshops, inexperienced dwarves who create items will only rarely produce high-quality goods, and take a long time doing so. Skilled dwarves work quickly and produce high-quality items far more reliably.
Dwarves improve their skills on a learning-by-doing-basis. Dwarves who have specific labors will attain Dabbling status as soon as they complete one job of that type. (Certain jobs, such as building workshops, won't make your dwarves more experienced. But most will.) As the number of jobs they do increases, their skill will increase as well. Overall, "levelling up" the dwarves' skills quickly is a good game goal to set. Doing so may result in your dwarves efficiently creating a magnificent fortress filled to the brim with valuable items and furniture. (Or it might not.)
 Which skills do I need, really?
The only thing that you absolutely must do in the first year is get your food supplies into a food stockpile, preferably inside, otherwise your food will rot on the ground and your dwarves will starve. Anything else you want to do can be accommodated by sufficient investment in initial food supplies and/or skills. This means the options for possible starting builds are vast because virtually any set of starting skills for your dwarves is viable (and that's before you even think about equipment, which adds more variables).
In the longer term, the following skills will be "used", to one extent or another, by virtually every fortress - but that doesn't mean you "need" or even want to invest points in them to start. You could even manipulate the fortress (see challenge) to completely avoid one or more, but these are the skills you will find it exceptionally hard to avoid creating jobs for:
- Mining - to dig your fortress, and gain stone for projects. Only possible to avoid using if you're secretly an elf.
- Carpentry - beds can only be produced from wood (rare moods aside)
- Masonry - to build walls and stairs, and fashion dwarven furniture from stone. Possible to work around, but incredibly hard and annoying to do.
- Growing - your farmers' work echoes throughout so many other tasks, it's stunning
- Brewing - all dwarves "need alcohol to get through the working day"
- Butchery - to control the inevitable catsplosion. Killing your processor is not a good idea.
- Mechanics - if you want traps, and most people will. Also needed for most machinery
- Building Designer - mandatory for some buildings and constructions, but skill only improves speed a tad and increases structure value
- Broker skills - most importantly appraiser - for trading
- Record keeper - the game is virtually unplayable if you can't use the stocks screen.
Of the above, Masonry, Growing, Brewing, Cooking, and Mechanics are generally worth considering as "highly desirable" starting skills for your dwarves. Carpentry is used, but opinions differ - on one hand, wood items are just not worth that much value-wise (10's of dwarfbucks vs 100's for stone furniture or 1000's for armor or prepared foods, for instance), so the difference in monetary value between high-quality and no-quality is minor for wood products. However, high-quality beds are one of the easiest ways to help make and keep your dwarves happy (since every dwarf will encounter a bed regularly), so some players swear by it. Mining is important but also fast to train, so one or two (semi-)skilled miners is usually ample. Once you have some seeds, your Grower can produce any above-ground plant better than in the wild, so Herbalism is often used only early in the game to gather some sample plants and never again, so "unskilled" covers many players' needs there. You will almost certainly have animals to butcher, but skill in butchery produces nothing of "quality" (meat is meat) and speed is usually not a consideration for the typical demand (butchering unwanted offspring, like kittens), and you'll be able to easily train a bonecarver (or end up with legendary skill from a mood) and tanner off a migrant, so these three are less critical to start with. A minimum of Leadership skills are highly recommended to start with at the Novice (1 pt) level - it'll make your life much easier (especially Novice level of Appraiser, at least).
Of course, even near-certainty that you will use these skills doesn't mean you have to start with dwarves already skilled in them. Remember, any skill can be used untrained, and/or get trained on the job - it just means a slower process and/or average lower quality product than if done by a dwarf with a higher skill level. All of the above essential skills can be used untrained if you so choose, but you will use them.
Every other skill is only useful if you want it to be. Skills have to be balanced against your play-style, the environment (danger, ores, other resources), the relative value of the final product, and what you must give up to gain those skills. You will often want some 'non-essential' skills, often vastly more than something as useful as masonry (for example, many fortresses are interested in establishing a metal industry, and should invest starting skills there).
Ultimately the answer to "What skills do I need?" is "Whichever you want". Choosing a mixture of these commonly used skills and your desired specialized skills will make starting up your fortress easier and more efficient.
 What considerations could inform my skill selection?
Things which may influence your choices of skills:
- Some skills are harder to gain experience in than others - requiring valuable resources or taking an extended period of time, and thus inconvenient to train from the ground up. Investing in some of these extensively in your initial dwarves can make those industries much less painful to start. For example, metal-related skills generally eat metal bars, and thus the less time you spend training metal workers up to a decent level, the faster they'll be churning out high-quality items for you, and the fewer bars they'll waste becoming skilled. On the other hand, despite its importance, skills like mining train relatively quickly and barring extenuating circumstances (expected need to accomplish particular digging projects in the first month or you'll get mauled by a Giant for example) there's little need to actually invest your starting skills in it - they can learn on the job.
- Keep in mind that some skills are used to make legendary artifacts, and successfully making an artifact will give the dwarf a lot of experience in the used skill. It can be worth investing in some skills solely to bias your artifact skill pool in the hopes of getting a legendary dwarf in an industry you want to really get working on a year or two in. (See Strange moods for more info.)
- While its possible to feed your fortress on nothing but caravan goods, you'll never come by enough alcohol that way, so you'll eventually need to grow crops for brewing, and dwarves will literally go crazy if forced to drink nothing but water for long periods. Thus you'll want to plan for farming eventually - not that you need to bring a highly skilled Grower, but it'll certainly be very helpful. Likewise, a skilled brewer produces higher quality alcohol (though the quality is hidden!), which improves your dwarves' mood, as does a skilled cook with the foods they prepare. However, most food can be eaten raw, and so long as they are not starving there is life.
- If you plan on settling in a dangerous area, consider including at least some military skills, if not a dedicated soldier, or several. The nature of the environment should dictate the military skills chosen (for example, marksdwarves will be an ineffective counter to expected roving hordes of skeletal wildlife).
 Generalist vs Specialist
Any dwarf can have any labor designated, and they will perform that task and learn or improve that skill, even if they have no skill related to that labor when they start. So you don't need an example of every skill. A skilled dwarf will produce a better quality product, and/or do it faster, but if that's rarely used, "faster" doesn't mean as much. Many jobs have no real "product", and so no quality modifiers - plant gathering, wood cutting, wood burning, smelting, animal trainer, etc. etc. merely produce "stuff", not "quality stuff", or may not be used very often, and/or not be used much after the first year of the fortress. There are as many opinions about balancing generalists with specialists as there are players.
Some skills are also trained up fairly quickly or cheaply, especially where the task consumes no (valuable) materials, or doesn't matter in the final product - mining, furnace operator, wood cutting, butcher, tanner, glass making and (especially) administrator skills being only a few examples.
Another consideration are attributes - a dwarf with 10 skills at Novice each has 5000 experience, or just over 2 attributes, while a dwarf with 2 skills at Proficient has 7000 experience, or almost 3 attributes. One extra Agility can make a big difference in tasks, one extra Strength or Toughness make the difference in an unexpected combat, etc. etc.
 Combining Skills
Some skills are highly time-consuming, and working at different jobs levels up specific attributes. One could level up a miner until he becomes mighty and ultra-tough - and then turn him into a soldier, or retire him to haul stone. If you plan on doing so, it may not be a good idea to give this guy a second critical job that will demand a lot of time away from their focus. There are many parts to a suit of armour, so armoursmithing will take more time than weaponsmithing - once you have one weapon per soldier, he's done. Masons, miners, growers, and any craft that your fortress will base their economy off of (glass, stonecrafts, armour, etc) will take a lot of time.
Since tasks will take place in specific areas, another approach is to combine tasks into dwarves who will take care of a specific industry, or spend all their time in one generally narrow part of the fortress - the forges, or the kitchens, or outdoors, for instance. So combining Farming with cooking, rather than mining, for example, and turn on only Haul Food, not Haul Stone. Woodcutter/Herbalist/Mason/Axedwarf (for outdoor walls/projects) might be another combination - the possibilities are endless.
Some combinations follow naturally in sequence to each other, but also can conflict with each other. One animal is butchered, then the leather is tanned, and the meat is cooked. But if you have 5 animals, several will rot before one dwarf can process all of those. A highly skilled craftsdwarf is often better suited at sitting in their workshop and having others deliver raw materials to them, than going out and obtaining their own raw materials themselves.
Many builds recommend combinations such as:
- Outdoors: Woodcutter/Plant Gatherer. Add Axedwarf for added security.
- Mason+____ : In many fortresses, the Mason is a very busy dwarf. He could be a spare miner, have abilities that are only rarely needed, or do tasks that can be accomplished quickly like building designer.
- Farmer/Cook, Farmer/Brewer. Basic two-person food team.
- Farmer/Herbalist, Farmer/Brewer/Cook. One bold dwarf to farm and venture outside looking for wild plants, the other to keep busy in the still, kitchen, and indoor farms.
- Boss: Novice Negotiator/Novice Judge of intent/Novice Appraiser. This guy will be your Leader and Trader; you can make him record keeper too (the default), at least to start with. Combine this with a single time-intensive task such as Masonry and optionally turn off all hauling tasks right at the start of the game. Or keep him a generalist, or combine with one of the other options.
- Weaponsmith/Leatherworker: If they're not arming your military, they're making leather armor for them.
- Craftsdwarf, depending on your strategy - e.g. glass maker, weaponsmith or armorsmith, sometimes combined with related tasks from that industry (furnace operating, wood burning). Typically an item hauler in the initial months of your fortress, this dwarf may become one of your most valuable dwarves later.
Not all combinations have to "look right" together. A weaponsmith will most probably not spend nearly 100% of their time creating weapons - what they do with the other part of their time may have nothing at all to do with forges or smithing.
- Grower/GemCutter (or Grower/x-Craft): When gems are found, he's there, otherwise he's outstanding in his fields.
- Mechanic/Brewer: usually produces the mechanized defenses, but does moonshining when it's called for.
- Miner/______: This dwarf will quickly become legendary in mining, and then retire to pursue something else full time. On call for important veins of high-value ore.
- Brewer/Appraiser/Leatherworker: several typically low-demand skills
- StoneCrafter/Herbalist - after quickly finding above-ground plants for seeds for the first season, they never go back unless something goes wrong.
- (x-Craft)/Armor User: Plan for the future - armor using is slow to train in if this dwarf is ever going to join the military.
You can max out one skill and have several lower-level skills additionally, or just several skills that are not maxed out - the combinations are (almost) infinite.
Combinations like these often have one moodable skill and one non-moodable (or a less desired moodable skill at lower level), so any mood will improve the desired one.
 Combining Skills for Moods
Strange moods will create a Legendary skill of the "moodable" skill with the highest level, and moods take hold of dwarves with different professions at different rates. Some skills are "moodable" where others are not. Another consideration is to place desired moodable skills with non-moodable, to ensure that both the professions and highest skills stay as preferred. Usually this involves one "craft" skill and one "farmer" type skill, such as Armor/Cook, or Weapon/Brewer. This can take some manipulation, and is not of primary concern to many players.
An experienced player can start out with no skills for their starting dwarves, 2 copper nuggets and an anvil - and nothing else - and have everything they need. So what is "needed" is up to what you think is "fun" vs. "too hard" etc. etc. etc.
Some basics are recommended for all builds. Unless you plan to DIY, you definitely need to bring one pick for each miner, and if you plan to gather wood, you need an axe, which will become a weapon in wartime. Also a minimum of about 25-30* food and about 55-60* alcohol, which should get 7 dwarves through to the first caravan in Fall. Everything else depends on your strategy and on how tough or leisurely a challenge you want the game to be.
- (* A single dwarf eats about 2x/season, and drinks about 4x/season. With 7 dwarves that's ~approximately~ 14 meals per season and 28 alcohol per season, or ~28 meals and ~56 alcohol until the end of Summer. The Caravan is due sometime in Autumn, usually early Autumn, in the second week or so, but the first won't have enough to keep you going until whenever the next one arrives. Hopefully you'll have some food and brewing industry going by the first, or soon after.)
Note: Many builds recommend that you bring many different cheap foods, in quantities ending in a "1" (1, 11, 21, etc.), and alcohols in amounts ending in a "1" or "6". This is to maximize the number of free barrels you start with; dry foodstuffs fit 10/barrel, and (pre-embark) alcohol fits 5/barrel. More barrels will let you build a larger stockpile for your first winter and conserves the wood you need to cut and shape in the early game for beds and other necessities. (Seeds are 100/bag, and you don't need near that many of any one type, so 6 bags max with this approach. Even if you don't plan on growing much cave wheat, starting with 1 seed and getting the free bag, and planting that one seed later and dumping the result could be worth it.)
 Items for moods
When a dwarf is taken by a strange mood, they often need obscure material or they will go insane and die, possibly with severe consequences to an entire fortress. Bringing along some of the harder to find ores (cassiterite, sphalerite, bismuthinite, garnierite) and shells (cave lobster, turtle), and putting those aside, forbidding their use "just in case", is spending a few points on an insurance policy. Bringing along a few bits of cloth thread is a good idea. Just in case.
 Free Equipment
Dwarves who start with the ambusher skill may get some leather armor, a crossbow and some bolts for free.
- As of 27.176.40, this appears to only be true if they have no civilian trade skills - military and social skills are fine, and administrator skills so long as they are not higher than Ambusher. Replace any of those skills with something civilian and they show up in street clothes.
 Different starting cultures
Before actually hitting "embark", you often have the option to choose one of several starting dwarven cultures (one of the options shown when youthrough the various sub-screens). Different cultures will have different meats, fish, stones and etc to offer, and occasionally even different types of armour. The only way to know which is "best" is to remember exactly where on the 3 maps your embark site is, select one culture, embark and see what they have to offer, then hit and "abandon game", and try it again with a different culture and compare. A real pain, sometimes. (Make a note about your exact starting location, don't trust it to memory.)
 Site considerations
Each fortress location offers particular challenges and opportunities, and can make different demands on your starting build. The starting builds below should be adjusted depending on the region your fort occupies, the specific vision you have of your fortress, and what it will take to stay alive where you're going!
 General Surroundings
Simply put, if your surroundings are evil or savage, your dwarves have a higher risk of suddenly facing personal combat before they are safely behind their defenses. Consider bringing extra weaponry, in the form of axes, picks or crossbows (see free equipment). Hand in hand with those, consider skill mixes that include axedwarf, mining (the skill used to wield a pick), marksdwarf, or wrestling (a solid unarmed-combat skill).
The same is true if you are embarking near an exposed magma vent or an open chasm - these features can be seen on the embark map, but it's impossible to tell if they are "open" to the surface or not, until you are there in person.
Be sure to include some source of water on the map, preferably running water. Water is (almost) essential for any fortress. In Cold and Freezing climates streams and lakes will often be frozen year-round and your dwarves may quickly die of exposure, in Hot climates murky pools will dry up, and in Dry ones rain will only rarely re-fill them, if ever. Choose Temperate or tropical zones for an easier game.
If an aquifer is present in the first soil or stone layers (visible on the pre-embark menu), it may bar all access to stone and ore until you find a way through the water barrier. Bringing some stone for building, and ore for your first basic needs, may be critical.
Mountains often have abundant ores, but at the loss of trees and plants. Magma and rare metals lure settlers here, but giant eagles and chasm dwellers are potent threats. You'll want to include a sufficient amount non-mountainous areas in your embark area to obtain lumber and food - or, failing this, to pack a lot of extra food and logs.
Flatlands with at least some trees and gatherable plants can also make for highly successful fortresses. Advantages over mountain zones include abundant trees and plants, guaranteed agriculture both on the surface and underground, and (unless frozen) more abundant water. There are even (rare) magma vents. More water also means a high likelyhood of an aquifer being present. Make sure to check on embark.
The greatest disadvantage is the potential lack of exposed stone to mine. Fewer elevations means fewer exploitable z-levels. The first level(s) below the surface is often soil of some type, which offers no building materials or ores. However, soil is mined much more quickly than stone (x3-x4 faster), and expansive accommodations (rooms) can be achieved quickly even by untrained miners. You will find stone, you just have to go down a bit for it - but that's what dwarves do, isn't it?
With many features in common with some of the above locations, beaches are often a mix of ease intermingled with bouts of extreme difficulty. Minerals and trees are often abundant, as well as farmland and sand, but there is often no drinking water unless the biome has a flowing water of some sort.
By definition, the settlement will fall between (at least) two biomes (one land, one water), potentially hazardous if the player expects a peaceful oceanside meadow, without realizing the terrifying ocean is full of amphibious zombie whales.
 Desert, Glaciers, and Barren
Treeless (or near-treeless) biomes are challenging sites for a fortress: you get most of the disadvantages of a flatland site without having access to nearly as many trees and plants. However, near-lifeless zones such as glaciers are wonderful for those with slower machines, as there's little to burden the CPU but your dwarves and livestock. Deserts and barren areas often have sand; with a sufficient source of energy (preferably magma), you can build almost anything out of unlimited glass.
Hunters should be replaced with fisherdwarves and a fish cleaner (although the latter can be easily trained). Depending how much water vs. land, more starting wood and ores might be helpful. Swimming is rarely useful in Fortress mode, even at the beach, and can be trained.
 Sample starting builds