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Activity zones are areas to which dwarves are constrained when performing specific tasks, such as fishing, dumping objects, or collecting water. Activity zones are optional for the performance of certain tasks (fishing, collecting water) but obligatory for certain others (dumping), and are used primarily to keep dwarves out of danger.
Activity zones can be placed in any revealed tile, including in open space, over a river, or on top of a building or stockpile. They are placed in one of three ways: rectangular, flow, or floor flow. From within the Zones menu, (i)Pressing e in the Zones menu cycles through each method, and pressing Enter begins designation. Rectangular zones are placed in the same manner as stockpiles, specifying two corners of the rectangle. The numbers in brackets after each type of zone indicate how many selected floor tiles can be used for that type of zone. Flow and floor flow are placed similarly to designating rooms from pieces of furniture using +/- to adjust the size (floor flow excludes walls). After that the zone has to be assigned to one of the listed tasks to become functional, by pressing the proper key. In some cases (hospital, pit/pond) additional orders can then be set from the same menu. The location of a zone is only visible while in the Zones menu, and any object lying on the ground will hide the presence of a zone tile. The maximum size of an activity zone is 31×31.
Dwarves will use these zones to draw water, to satisfy booze-less thirst, to tend to another thirsty dwarf (with the Give Water job), or to fill a Pond zone. Only tiles adjacent to water qualify as usable water sources - thus, if you want to place a single-tile zone, place the zone onto a ground tile next to the water, not over the water itself. This zone should not be used with wells - this is redundant, as they are already considered their own water source.
Remember that natural bodies of water usually contain aquatic wildlife, some of which may attack your dwarves, or at least spook civilians, and interrupt their tasks. Often it may be best to simply designate a safe body of water as a water source (i, set area rectangle using enter, w) and then restrict drinking and fishing to that zone (o-z-d-f) so dwarves aren't allowed to drink/fish anywhere else.
Normally, creatures cannot attack any dwarves through a well so long as the well is not on the same z-level as the top of the lake/river, thus building one will allow your dwarves safe access to water inhabited by vicious animals (as long as those can't climb).
When dangerous fish are found in the river, one solution is to dig an artificial channel and place a grate between it and the river proper, as fish cannot swim through grates, but grates still allow water through. However, beware the bug with flow and wall grates - taking water via U-shaped tunnel capped with floor grates may be safer. If you use a completely isolated smooth reservoir filled with pump-filtered water, it may still need protection, since the dwarf operating a pump stands right next to its water source tile. Placing floor grates over the river or channel may also protect dwarves by preventing them from falling in.
Carp and other non-vermin fish suffocate if they are not in water, so in some situations it might be possible to pump the water out of a lake or pond. Conversely, an open water body (river or sea) not only cannot be subjected to temporary drainage, but even if there isn't anything dangerous right now, it may arrive later.
Dwarves will preferably use these zones when fishing, using them up until their supply is exhausted before moving on to the next water source (and exclusively if designated as such by standing orders: o-z). As with water sources, only tiles adjacent to water qualify as usable tiles. Far-flung fisherdwarves fishing in a distant river or pool are a serious defensive liability in case of an attack, so designating a safer fishing zone and, optionally, restricting non-zone fishing in the standing orders menu will help keep your fisherdwarves safe. Dwarves can fish through a grate or even a well, provided there is water in the tile 1 z-level below the activity zone.
The capture live fish job can only be carried out at a designated fishing zone.
This will automate plant-gathering jobs in this area, necessary if you want your dwarves to collect fruit from the floor or trees. If there are fruit-bearing trees in the designated area, a dwarf will fetch a stepladder to climb into the tree. The ladder-using dwarf will drop harvested fruit to the ground for others to collect and haul. The details can be set in a sub-menu.
Garbage dump zones are areas in which dwarves will throw items marked for dumping - either with by using k-d (one item at a time), or d-b-d (bulk dumping; note that this designates all items on the tiles for dumping, even built furniture and items inside containers). Garbage dumps are not the same as refuse stockpiles, which can be designated to accept specific type(s) of refuse, such as animal corpses or bones, and then are automatically filled by haulers whenever the items appear on the map. Despite the name, garbage dump zones are useful for many things beyond garbage disposal; they can create quantum stockpiles, transport materials to a job site, send items to the trade depot when no caravan is present, drop rocks on enemies below, and numerous other uses.
The garbage dump may be inappropriately named, as it's more of a matter compression zone. The specifics are beyond human understanding; however, dwarves are in fact capable of compressing an infinite amount of matter into only one tile, as long as it is specified as a garbage dump. If for some reason Urist is yet again incapable of locating his favorite pair of cave troll leather socks, he should think to look among the black hole of matter that is the nearest garbage dump, as they could be snugly lodged between a few billion rocks.
Be aware that if a garbage zone is designated beside a cliff or hole (any open space, either natural or dwarf-made), garbage will be thrown into the open space. If a dump is designated over a ramp to the next level down, some dwarves may walk down the ramp to dump their items, while others may just toss their items down from above and onto those dwarves, injuring or killing them.
A pen or a pasture is used to contain tame animals. Once one is created, animals must be assigned to it individually by pressing N from the zone information screen. Dwarves will drag the assigned animals to the pen or pasture automatically. Domestic animals tend to aggregate at meeting areas instead, as will herbivorous ones, which will lead to probably starvation unless your meeting area is overgrown with grass or fungi for some reason. Any tame creature with the "grazer" token in the raws should be assigned to a pasture. This includes mules, cows, goats, horses, yaks, unicorns etc. Animals will not typically wander out of their assigned pasture even if it is not walled in, however animals will abandon their posts and will have to be dragged back to them if they are threatened by enemies, and an exposed pasture may lead to premature slaughter at the hands of invaders. Since pets can be assigned to pen/pastures and a zone can be created under a dwarven atom smasher, this is one of the easiest ways to prevent catsplosions.
- See also: Mass pitting
There have been multiple reports of hostile creatures escaping confinement while pitting. In previous versions, only "thief" type creatures, flyers, or large creatures like titans would escape using this system. The 0.40 behavior is still being investigated. Use of forbidden tightly closed hatches above every hole appears to prevent escape. See Mass pitting for more. If there are walls under the hole's edges rather than open space, they will allow grabbing and climbing, so you may want to dig out an overhang, or at least smooth these walls.
A Pit/Pond requires a ramp or hole with adjacent flooring on which a dwarf can stand. Designate the zone from the top of the ramp or hole, such that the zone designation is floating in the open space above the floor of the pit/pond. By default, the zone will be a pit. To change it to a pond, press P then f. It can be changed back to a pit the same way. Creatures can be assigned to a pit/pond through the P menu. If the creature is caged, a dwarf will release it from the cage (rather than bringing the cage to the pit). The dwarf will lead the beast to the pit and throw it in. If the pit is a ramp rather than a hole, the creature will then wander back out, as it will if the pit has some other exit path (which would include straight back up the hole for flying creatures). Note that some (or possibly all?) hostile creatures may escape on being released from their cage, possibly attacking the dwarf who opened the cage. See Mass pitting for more information on pit design involving hostile creatures. Additionally, dwarves refuse to pit dwarves, hostile or not.
The only real difference between a pit and a pond is that dwarves will attempt to fill a pond with water, carried by bucket from a water source. They will stand on the floor adjacent to the top of the ramp or hole, and toss the water onto the ramp or into the hole. This works even if there is a forbidden floor hatch covering the hole. Each bucketful increases the depth of the water in the tile below by 1/7. Once the water is dumped from the bucket, the dwarf will either drop the bucket and perform a different task, or choose to fill a pond zone tile again using the bucket (s)he currently holds. Dwarves will stop scheduling the Fill Pond job when the water depth reaches 6/7. Specifying a pond zone is one technique used for irrigation, in order to make mud for farming on areas without soil. Currently, no matter how large the designated pond area, only one dwarf at a time will try to fill the pond. In order to fill a large area quickly, it is necessary to designate multiple smaller pond zones (or several zones overlapping the same area).
To make obsidian or cleanse stagnant water with fresh water, the pond zone must be designated an extra tile above the magma/stagnant pool, so that the water falls for a full tile before contacting the surface.
If you have more than one pond designated as a water source, your dwarves may endlessly try to fill each pond with the other pond's water, making a loop of useless duty; this may be undesirable, although otherwise-idle dwarves performing this task won't be making any friends. Only dwarves with the Water hauling labor enabled will fill ponds.
Artificial ponds are considered to be the same as Murky Pools - you'll only catch pond fish from them (i.e. turtles). If you want to catch river fish, you must fish from the river's original tiles (or perform some DFHack trickery to mark your new tiles as being part of the river).
A sand collection zone allows dwarves with the item hauling labor active to fill an unused bag with sand for use in the glass industry. The 'collect sand' task is created at a glass furnace.
A clay collection zone allows dwarves with the item hauling labor active to create clay for use in the ceramic industry. The 'collect clay' task is created at a kiln.
Meeting area zones are zones in which idle dwarves and animals will congregate, similar to meeting halls. Additionally, immigrants will collect at a meeting area until their "migrant" status wears off. Note that the wagon you arrive with constitutes a meeting area until you designate the first meeting area of your own. If you start in hostile surroundings, it is important to do so, so as to get your dwarves and animals out of danger quickly. It is a good idea to have at least one meeting area of one form or another: It allows you to make off-duty dwarves and animals gather in an area where they are not vulnerable within the fortress. A meeting area filled with dwarves increases the social skills of idlers. It makes idle dwarves a little less idle. Because almost every dwarf visits a meeting area at least occasionally, it's an ideal place to site valuable objects and buildings. A meeting area exposed to sunlight will additionally prevent dwarves from becoming cave-adapted. Note that having dwarves socialize will often result in them forming relationships.
It is not advisable to have animals mill around in crowded meeting areas for a prolonged time, as they will pick fights with dwarves and other animals. While this may be negligible in the case of a hen, it also applies to your war dogs (although this can be partly beneficial, since all your dwarves will get combat experience from being bitten occasionally, especially the children, who mill around constantly). Designating a meeting area is done via the zone menu; type i, set up a zone, and mark it both "active" and "meeting".
A hospital zone allows wounded dwarves to rest and receive care and treatment. Dwarves can be rested and (mostly) treated in any free fortress bed but traction benches can only be used in hospital zones and designating a zone allows healthcare to reserve healthcare supplies: plaster powder, splints, crutches, thread, cloth, soap, and buckets so long as containers are available in the zone. The limits of storage in containers can be set in the zones menu by using (i) selecting the hospital zone and then H.
An animal training zone allows animal training. Animals cannot be trained unless they are in a training zone or pasture or on a restraint. To be tamed, they must be in a cage. For making an animal training zone, it is advisable to create a small room with a tightly shut door. The training zone should be combined with a pasture to keep in wild animals. This will make sure your animals don't escape when they are not being trained.