This is meant to be an optimizers guide to organizing your dwarves tasks. When this looks more complete, if someone has a suggestion as to where this might better find a home, by all means feel free to move it there. It is certainly not intended as a beginners guide, but rather as a way for veterans to compare notes. All input is of course welcome - treat this as a normal page, not my page.
Optimizing Skills Overview
Play the game for awhile and you'll probably notice some fairly basic facts. Experience in some skills is harder to earn than others. Skills which cause moods aren't all equally valuable. And having legendary dwarves in some skills is more desirable than in others. The key is figuring out what the best way is to get the legendaries you want in a timely manner and with the least waste of valuable resources.
Which Skills are desirable
Table: Skill Ratings. Bolded items are explained below.
|Skill name||Leveling Benefit||Desirability||Ease of leveling||Mood|
|Small animal dissection||Low||Low||VerifyHard||No|
Leveling benefit: skills which produce items with quality or add decorations to items have a high benefit, because skill has a substantial impact on the quality of the produced items. Further, skills like mining have a strong level-dependent effect and are thus also 'high'. Some skills simply take a really long time at low experience levels, and so have a medium benefit. Some skills aren't especially time intensive and there is little real effect other than a little bit of time saving, if at all, and thus rate as 'low'.
Desirability: Some skills are highly prized to make the most of limited resources. Others, no matter how hard to attain legendary in, aren't likely to see much use, or aren't valuable because the inputs are so common.
Ease of Leveling: Some skills are trivially easy to level, generally because materials are plentiful and work is fast. Other skills must overcome the hurdle of resource scarcity or because they take so long to perform that xp is gained slowly. Moderate skills are generally at the end of long production processes with multiple processing steps, making the availability of inputs unsteady under most circumstances.
Mood: Some skills are mood skills - a dwarf entering a mood will use his highest mood skill and gain 20000xp in that skill. A dwarf with no such skill will use one of the craftsdwarf skills. Keeping in mind which skills are mood skills is important because moods are a source of a tremendous amount of xp.
Comments on Specific Skills
Mining is desirable and beneficial because it increases stone retention rate - useful when you're mining valuable metals or rock to minimize losses. It is, however, also trivially easy to level, and skill beyond legendary isn't meaningful except as a very slight speed boost.
Crossbowmaking isn't especially desirable because crossbows can also be made by the Weaponsmith. While the difference in weight may be important for dwarves with few or no stat boosts, veterans won't even notice. Since crosstraining maksdwarves in wrestling and hammering is useful, marksdwarves should quickly become veterans.
Animal Care is raised quickly if there is an injured animal wandering about.
Strand Extractor benefits greatly from increased speed with increasing xp. Since the job takes forever when done by an untrained dwarf, even a few levels greatly increase the dwarvf's processing power.
Building Designer determines the quality of the designs on buildings he makes - an unshown quality modifier that is likely to effect mood boosts from seeing his work. High building designer skill greatly increases the odds of masterpieces designs, and are a boon to fortress mood. Highly desirable.
Strategy: Starting Skill Selection
Because not all skills are equal, not all uses of your starting points are equal.
- Each use of a starting point in a skill for a dwarf is more valuable than the last such point. Going from Novice -> Normal is worth 600xp. From Normal to Competent is 700xp. And so on. Thus, you'll get the most xp/point spent if you only take proficient skills.
- Some skills are absolutely essential and not easy to level. You'll need to start with some of these.
- Some skills are essential but easy to level. You'll start with none of these.
- Some skills are hard to level and highly valuable. You'll want to start with some of these.
- Each dwarf can receive two skills at proficient, thus you'll need to use combinations which are either mutually beneficial or likely to not be needed simultaneously.
- One dwarf will need some leader skills, and should be Proficient in one valuable skill and novice in 5 leader/broker related skills (generally including appraiser, judge of intent, and some method of persuasion).
- Barring extreme presumed need, military skills other than marksdwarf and armor user are easy to train and should not be selected.
What exactly qualifies as essential or valuable will depend on what your fortress goals are and what you plan to do. Some skills will be more valuable if you plan on using them early. Others will be valuable regardless of when you plan on using so long as you do plan on using them.
Example Starting Build 1
Strategy: Mood Skill Biasing
Strategy Basis: Minimal Necessary Initial Actions
Surviving until the first caravan is actually quite easy. You'll need to do exactly one thing on all maps - excavate enough to store your foodstuffs underground. You'll face no trouble from goblins and kobolds until the first winter at the earliest, barring settling on top of a goblin fortress (and then you may not have to do any digging at all!). This requires absolutely no skill investment in your initial dwarves - even one unskilled miner hacking into hard rock can achieve this trivially before spring is half-way over.
The most likely necessary second action is establishing an underground water source. If your map has no acquifer, no river, no ocean, and you expect evaporation (most time dependent) or freezing, you'll need to do that before the water becomes unavailable. (Maps with oceans will instead need to pump water to make it fresh). That's a lot of exceptions, so the actual likelihood you'll need to worry about this isn't especially high, and can be assessed on embark. As dwarves will do just fine without water until someone gets wounded, the really critical situation is a map with evaporating water and only surface pools, because you may never have water available again after the first summer or if it rains.
Some maps will have dangerous or annoying animals, especially if they take an active interest in your dwarves. In some cases mass drafting really is the solution (eg, macaques). But ultimately you'll want to restrict access to the area your dwarves are in. Generally you'll want to have accomplished this by autumn. Usually this means moving everything underground and providing military, dog, or trap protection to the entrance, although above ground solutions are possible.
All of the above require digging, and not more than can be expected of an unskilled miner or two in a *single season*. Thus, early survival generally makes no specific demands on your dwarves skills at all.
A lot of 'basic requirements', like growing food and providing beds, aren't really required at all in the first year. Distinguishing what is required from what is a good idea can help guide you in just how little of the "essentials" you can get away with, and thus how little focused on providing those things your starting dwarves can be. As the above analysis demonstrates, *any* seven dwarves are capable of surviving until the first caravan with well-chosen initial supplies. Shelter is the big requirement you cannot bring with you to start with.
Of course, the less you focus on providing basic necessities like food and drink, the more you'll have to be focused on providing goods to trade with the first caravan, as you'll want to buy to cover what you did not produce yourself.
Remember, this is not to say that you *shouldn't* provide ultimately essential services like growing food from the start. Doing so will make your first year easier. But that you can get away without doing it if you know what you're doing, and this opens up the starting build space quite a bit.
Also keep in mind that growing your own crops (especially for brewing) becomes more important as your fortress grows. While food demand can be met with purchased goods from caravans, you'll never supply enough alcohol without brewing some of your own. Just because you can get away without doing some things the first year doesn't mean that will continue to be true.