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Trading in Dwarf Fortress first occurs in the first autumn after establishing your fortress, with the arrival of the Dwarven caravan. Trading is a good way to acquire resources that are not available or are rare in the local area. It also allows for more freedom in selecting starting gear or purchase of additional skills for the expedition party, because items can always be obtained through trade later.
Trader is the term used at your trade depot to refer to your fortress representative when dealing with merchants in a visiting caravan (r - "Trader requested at Depot"). As a profession, the term applies to visiting merchants and dwarves whose highest skill is Appraiser.
Building a trade depot is a pre-requisite for trade with caravans that arrive at your fortress.
While it may be convenient to build a Trade Depot outside at first, it is usually a really good idea to move it inside or build walls, bridges and other fortifications around it to protect caravans and your goods from animals (guzzlers), thieves and goblins.
Everything that is on your map belongs to you, except:
- the items that are on merchant animals and wagons
- the items that are on the trade depot (they belong to the caravan until they are moved out of it)
- items worn by non-fortress units are initially forbidden, but can be claimed via unforbidding and dumping them
|Suggested trading procedure|
|Arrive at fortress location|
|Create goods||Build Trade Depot|
|Check depot is accessible|
|Wait for caravan|
|Set goods to be traded||Wait for caravan to arrive at depot and merchants to finish unloading||Wait for the diplomat (if any) to reach your leader|
|Wait for goods to be hauled||Turn your leader's labors off so they don't get distracted|
|Conduct meetings with the diplomat|
|Request trader at depot|
|Turn your trader's labors off so they don't get distracted|
|Turn trader's and leader's labors back on|
|Retrieve bins from depot to reuse|
Trader to depot
Before you can begin trading, your fortress's representative trader must be at the trade depot. Select the trade depot with q and then request the trader. Be sure that b reads "Only broker may trade" if you want your broker to represent your fortress. If it reads "Anyone can trade", a random, probably unskilled dwarf will volunteer to conduct the trade. Pressing b will toggle this setting. Once your trader has arrived, select the depot again with q and enter the trade menu. In the trade menu select the items to offer from the right and the desired items from the left. All caravans have a weight limit which cannot be exceeded, and the allowed additional weight is displayed in the lower right corner. If your broker (specifically, not necessarily your trader) has at least Novice or better Appraisal skill, the value of all items will be displayed. Once the proposal is ready, press t to propose the trade, but merchants will not agree unless they make adequate profit. Be sure to use trade, not offer o, as this will make a gift of the selected items. The amount of acceptable profit is determined by the trader's skills and the merchant's mood, described below. Merchants may attempt to propose counteroffers if they do not accept the proposal, which can then be accepted, rejected, or further amended by the trader.
With more experienced traders or pleased merchants, even marginally profitable trades can be successful, and counterproposals can be rejected safely, offering the same trade again. Note however that a low profit margin for the traders may not be desirable - it has been suggested that both export and profit numbers influence the size of next years caravan and, in the case of the dwarven caravan, immigration numbers.[Verify]
Goods brought by caravans rarely have base quality higher than superior, and decorations on a good rarely exceed superior as well.
Trading cue colors
- Brown Items have been created (or modified) by your fortress. They can be traded away or offered as a gift.
- Gray Items were created by another source. They can be traded, but if one of these items has been selected, the entire selection cannot be offered as a gift.
- Purple Items are under a no-export mandate. If they are traded away it will result in disciplinary action (see justice) against the dwarf that brought the item to the depot.
- Green Items have just been gifted to the caravan and they will not trade it back.
- Red Items have been seized from another caravan and cannot be traded as is; you will need to decorate them or turn them into other items for them to become "valid" trading items.
Note that containers (barrels, bins, etc.) will be displayed according to the origin of the container, not the contents. So a foreign barrel holding locally-produced beer will display as foreign (white). Once you view the container, the locally-made contents are displayed as local (brown).
If your trader has Novice or better Judge of intent skill, there will be a line added below the merchant's dialogue describing the caravan's attitude. Their attitude rises with successful trades (especially if they get lots of profit) and falls when you propose deals they don't like.
- (trader) seems ecstatic with the trading
- (trader) seems very happy about the trading
- (trader) seems pleased with the trading
- (trader) seems willing to trade (Default, at least for humans)
- (trader) seems to be rapidly losing patience
- (trader) is not going to take much more of this
- (trader) is unwilling to trade
The happier you make a merchant, the less profit margin he will demand in a trade. If merchants reach the lowest level, no further trade will be possible, and they will immediately pack up and leave your depot. Since annoyed traders are more likely to reject deals, you should be generous in initial negotiations. Skilled negotiators seem less likely to offend traders with unsuccessful deals.
An easy way to capitalize on this mood system is to perform several partial trades. First trade for a few items, offering goods twice the value of the items you ask for (e.g. offer 2000☼ for 1000☼ of his stuff). This will likely make the merchant ecstatic about trading with you. Exit the trade screen, unpause briefly, and then return to trading with a vengeance. With the merchant in such a good mood, he is more likely to counteroffer than reject a trade outright.
Pressing s from the trade menu will seize the selected items of the merchant's. If you seize goods from a caravan, the merchant will respond "Take what you want. I can't stop you." and then leave immediately without the seized goods. Items cannot be seized from the dwarven caravan, and other races will not buy goods stolen from one of their caravans (then marked in red) unless they are tricked into asking for them via counteroffer, or the items are "laundered" by decoration or used to create other goods. Seizing goods will hurt diplomatic relations, but is not grounds for an automatic siege.
Pressing the seize button while no goods are selected will result in the merchant interpreting your seizure as a joke. This apparently does nothing to benefit or hinder your trading.
As a side note, if you deconstruct your trade depot with a caravan in it, all the caravan's items will drop to the ground, to be readily hauled away by your Dwarves. This does not mark the items as stolen, and the caravan will leave. However, next year's caravan is partly based on the profits from the previous year - so if you are relying on that race's caravans for needed items, you're hurting yourself in the long run.[Verify]
Another way to steal without marking as stolen is to forbid the trade depot just before they leave, causing them to leave their goods at the depot.[Verify]
If you establish your hospital at the moment the first elven caravan arrives, or if you add the first coffers to it, your dwarves will take all of the cloth and thread they can carry off of the elves.
Note that the civilization attached to a particular caravan will keep track of the value of items the caravan was carrying when they set out to trade, and they will compare this value with the value of items they return home with. Regardless of what method you use to confiscate items from a caravan, even if you came to possess the goods through no fault of your own (an ambush killed the caravaners, for example) the parent civilization may decide that you stole from them and send a siege instead of a caravan the following year. It is prudent to take measures to protect caravans visiting your lands!
o You can also give away items, as gifts to the leaders of the civilization you are trading with. This presumably helps relations between yourself and the other faction, though there is not yet a clear correlation between the value of the offerings and the improvement to relations. The exact effects of offerings on trading are unknown but it is believed due to the offerings' net trade value being counted towards the traders' profit, possibly with a modifier (possibly a multiplier of more than 1 as a bonus or less than 1 to compensate for the improved relations)[Verify], which in turn increases the quantity and variety of trade goods brought by next year's caravan. Also the King requires offerings to be made before his arrival. You cannot offer items that were not made at your fortress; the traders do not want your spare Goblinite clothes..
Unless you are looking for fun, under no conditions should you offer or trade items which are wooden or used wood in their creation (glass, for example) to elves, as this will insult the traders, and may cause them to leave or even damage relations enough to provoke a war between you and the elven civilization you traded with. They will be equally insulted by you trading back their wood-related items.
Miscellaneous Trading Advice
- Thieves and thieving critters tend to follow caravans. Expect assaults and intruders.
- Be careful about asking traders to bring lots of individual lightweight items (such as meat and fish) as it can result in traders taking a very long time to unload their goods. Unless the path to your depot is extremely long, though, this is unlikely to cause significant problems.[Verify]
- On a similar note, if you have sold a large number of low value goods (such as all the loincloths and cloaks scrounged from a siege,) it can take a caravan months to pack it all up, to the point where they're still on the depot when the next one comes. An incoming caravan can occupy the same depot and trade with you, but if they both try to go through your entry tunnel at the same time they will become gridlocked against each other, resulting in the destruction of wagons and loss of trade opportunities.
- Create your trading depot inside your fort, preferably in the beginning. Place a 3-tile wide path (which must be free of obstructions such as stairways, traps, minecart tracks and boulders) to the entrance of the fort and position war dogs along it (chains do not block wagons); this will help to protect the traders and keep the depot close to your supplies. The war dogs will also catch any stealthy enemies who try to sneak in through the trade entrance.
- All caravans will bring extra food (meat and edible plants), wooden logs, and cloth/leather (for making clothes) if the supplies of your fortress are low enough, independent of whether or not you requested them. This does not apply in the case that the weight limit is exceeded by (other) items you requested. The supply situation, as observed by traders, is based solely on the number of unforbidden items in your fortress, stockpiled or not; thus, it is possible to trick caravans into thinking your supplies are low by forbidding all of your relevant stocks immediately prior to their arrival.
- In order to avoid this behavior, you should make sure that, for each dwarf in your fortress, you have the following unforbidden items:
- Define your trade depot as a burrow. When traders arrive, you can add your broker or another dwarf, perhaps one you want to train in trading, to the burrow. They will head to the depot immediately, and stay there until you remove them from the burrow.
- Each trade you make (regardless of value) will increase your trader's skills by 50, distributed among Comedian, Flatterer, Intimidator, Judge of Intent, Negotiator, and Persuader. Each skill seems to gain around 5-15 experience points, but the sum will always be 50. The skill gain occurs as soon as the "t" button is pressed - if the offer is rejected, the dwarf will still gain 50 points. If the same offer is subsequently accepted, no additional skill will be gained.
- Selecting "only broker may trade" ensures that you will start negotiations with a decently-skilled trader, but also requires a significant wait while your broker makes his way to the depot (possibly months if he is "on break"). Selecting "anyone can trade" will result in a poorly-trained trader arriving immediately. Once your fortress is producing enough goods to buy out the caravan, waiting for your broker is unnecessary; allowing your commoners to trade spreads out the trading skill gains and eliminates the micromanagement of trying to get your broker to the depot in a timely manner.
Each friendly race will send a caravan per year, linked to one season, which is autumn for dwarves, summer for humans, spring for elves, and winter for goblins. It is rare for your civilization to be on peaceful terms with goblins, however. In the first year, only a dwarven caravan will arrive, although it will only arrive in late autumn, about a month later than in previous versions. Caravans will only show up if that race considers the fortress site accessible (as denoted on the embark screen), with the exception of dwarves, who always arrive unless they are extinct.[Verify] Caravans appear to enter the map from a random direction which does not coincide with the relative direction of the originating civilization, and they may appear from different directions or z-levels each year. Caravans may leave without trading if it takes too long to reach the trade depot. Caravans will embark on their journey back exactly one month after their arrival, whether they have succeeded in reaching the depot or not.
Note that if traders or their animals are prevented from leaving, they will eventually go insane.
Also worth mention is the pathing behavior of the entire caravan. If one member of the caravan reaches a block in their chosen path (i.e. a raised drawbridge that was lowered when they entered the map) the entire caravan will re-path, instead of encountering the obstacle one by one. This behavior can be useful when attempting to free "stuck" wagons--a trader on foot encountering an obstacle will cause the stuck wagons to turn around and path to a different exit, if available.
- "Greetings from the mountainhome. Your efforts are legend there. Let us trade!"
The dwarven caravan:
- arrives in autumn.
- carries metal bars, leather, weapons and armor, food and booze, and more. Dwarves alone may bring steel and steel goods. They can still bring steel (and steel goods) and pig iron bars even if they do not have access to iron, but will not bring iron products.
- is heavily guarded.
- sends a liaison who will speak with the Expedition leader, Mayor, Baron, Count, or Duke to negotiate an import-export agreement (unless the Monarch is present).
- influences the number of immigrants received (if the caravan leaves intact).
- will not cause sieges when repeatedly destroyed or lost.
- is the only caravan to arrive during a fortress' first year.
- always arrives regardless of embark location unless the dwarven civilization is extinct.
- cannot have its goods seized from the trade menu.
- may not arrive if your civilization lacks any notable figures.
- "Greetings. We are enchanted by your more ethical works. We've come to trade."
The elven caravan:
- arrives in the spring.
- carries cloth, ropes, various above-ground seeds, plants and their byproducts, logs, wooden goods & weapons, clothing and armor, and may carry tame exotic creatures.
- Is unguarded.
- does not accept some items in trade:
Elven traders do not like to be offered any tree byproducts. Forbidden items include:
- Wooden items (including subterranean mushrooms such as tower-caps)
- Items derived from wood - ash and charcoal, as well as lye, potash, and pearlash
- Items made from clear and crystal glass (due to the pearlash used) - green glass appears to be perfectly acceptable
- Items decorated with any of the above materials
- Obsidian shortswords (since they have wooden handles)
- Soap (made with lye)
Offering or trading forbidden items will cause the mood of the trader to drop rapidly, causing them to refuse to trade any more that season and leave immediately. Additionally you will be called uncouth, crude, and barbaric for not understanding their customs.
However, stone and metal items, even when charcoal is used in production, are acceptable (since the elves are unfamiliar with metalworking, and do not know that charcoal is used to make metal items). Items made from silk are acceptable, as are all non-wooden plant-derived products such as cloth and thread. Items made of bone (totems too), horn, shell or leather are acceptable, so are meat and fish. You can also transport your goods to the trade depot in a wooden bin, as long as you do not try to sell the bin. Living animals are acceptable, as long as the cage or trap is not made of wood.
Be especially careful with reselling decorated items from other caravans, as non-wood/glass items may have decorations of wood or clear/crystal glass. All such items that elven caravans sell are also unacceptable to sell back to elves, as the dwarves have no means of proving that they were made in an "elf kosher" way.
Because they do not utilize wagons, elven caravans have a much smaller weight limit than dwarven and human ones, making trading heavy items like furniture problematic.
- "Once a beautiful tree, and now? It is a rude bauble, fit only for your kind."
- "Greetings. The craftsdwarfship of the dwarves is unparalleled. Let's make a deal!"
The human caravan:
- arrives in summer.
- carries metal bars, sand, leather, cloth, wood, food and booze, ropes, waterskins, quivers, backpacks, metal weapons and clothing and armor, cages and a few domestic animals.
- carries only large-sized clothing, which is unusable by dwarves.
- is moderately guarded.
Goblins and Kobolds
A goblin caravan will only arrive if you mod the game, primarily because their entity lacks the entity tokens needed to make use of pack animals and wagons. That, and one of the tokens (presumably babysnatcher) makes them hostile to all non-goblin civilizations. These same caveats apply to kobolds.
The goblin caravan:
- will arrive every season, four times per year
- brings mostly food and cloth
- does not send a liaison or a guild representative
- does not make import/export agreements
Outpost liaisons (from your own civilization) and foreign Merchant Nobles (if added with the TRADE responsibility) will arrive with the caravan to speak to your noble dwarves (and they will speak to those dwarves, even if they have to wait at their bedside in the hospital for months after the caravan has left), appearing on the map edge at the same time as the caravan (though in a different location). Meeting with them allows you to request specific items for the next caravan to bring (at a premium price) or take requests for production for the next caravan (for which the merchants will pay a premium).
Current trade agreements can be viewed through the Civilization menu (c). These trade agreements are cleared when a liaison of the corresponding civilization enters the screen, so they are generally not accessible after the caravan has arrived.
In the event that your leader is replaced, killed, or taken by a strange mood, the liaison may decide to leave your fortress "unhappy". Curiously, this will not occur if your leader is otherwise unable to perform the "conduct meeting" task. You can currently lock a liaison in a room and he will wait years to attend the meeting your noble is constantly conducting (and all subsequent diplomats appear to wait in line for the first to finish); this behavior is presumably a bug.
Whether having successfully met with your leader or given up, a liaison who has decided to leave but is prevented from reaching the map edge will eventually go insane.
If caravans are destroyed (intentionally or unintentionally), the items may remain for use. Traders caught in a cave-in will flee as if they were attacked, but will leave all the items dropped by the caravan behind. Pack animals carrying items are affected just like a normal tamed mule and must be killed in the cave-in for them to drop items on the ground. It is however much more likely that the pack animals will only be stunned or rendered unconscious, and flee shortly after recovering from the hit.
While caravans can defend themselves, they don't like being ambushed. An encounter with unfriendly creatures resulting in the death of any merchant or pack animal will cause them to retreat and forget about trading with you for the season. Repeated caravan destruction (intentional or unintentional) will strain diplomatic relations and may result in a siege.
Ambushing or seizing a caravan and letting a survivor escape seems to have a more detrimental effect than simply annihilating the whole caravan.
If a caravan has arrived at your trade depot and is unable to leave for about two months after they finished packing up their goods, the merchants and animals will go insane. This can result in a bunch of merchants attacking your dwarves, or just standing around moping until they starve to death. It is not known for certain if this hurts diplomatic relations, but most likely it's the same as any case where the entire caravan fails to return home.
If you have locked the caravan into your fortress to hold out against a siege, it's a good idea to station a squad of soldiers near the trade depot in case the merchants go berserk. You may also want to make the depot a restricted area to encourage civilians to go around it. Alternatively, you can design the trade depot using drawbridges, so that it can be sealed off from the rest of the fortress during a siege.
If you want the merchants to leave safely, you can build four or more tunnels to each corner of the map, connected to your fortress only by drawbridges. As long as there is no other way to enter and exit your fortress, invaders and merchants will both go towards any tunnel that you activate. You can lock the merchants into the trade depot, and then open a tunnel entrance on one side of the map to make the invaders head towards that tunnel. When they get close to it, you can close it, and then open the entrance on the other side of the map, and let the traders out of the depot. If your fortress and depot are in the middle of the map, this will give the traders quite a head-start to get away.
Merchants can leave the map from any map edge-- including underground map edges. If an unobstructed path through your fortress reaches an edge, then blocking an overland path will cause the merchants to travel underground. This can be useful, if you're suffering a prolonged siege; it can also be dangerous, if your underground regions are less secure than your surface.
Caravan guards cannot be starved, dehydrated, or driven to insanity if prevented from leaving, their employers and animals will however.
If an large amount of items is sold / offered to the caravan, it may take a while to load it all, especially if you chose to keep your precious bins and traded your items individually.
- Aggressive, untrainable creatures (captured goblins, for example) cannot be traded; when a dwarf attempts to move the caged animal to the Depot, the creature is set free.
- If your hospital isn't already stocked with the specified amount of thread/cloth, your dwarves will carry off as much from the caravan as they need to fill it. Bug:66
- Caravans show up very late in the season. Bug:1756
- One outgoing trade caravan can run into another incoming trade caravan, leading to them getting stuck in the entrance to your fortress, wagons breaking, trade failing, and other problems. Rarely, this can even happen out in the open, when they are surrounded by plenty of space to maneuver. Bug:5687
- Killed caravan guards can't be memorialized Bug:5755
- If a caravan attempts to leave in late Winter/early Spring, they may try to path over any large frozen body of water. If the water thaws while the caravan is on it, the caravan will become magically stuck in mid-air for the majority of the year (until the water refreezes). At this point, if they are still alive, they will leave the map normally.
- When merchants leave with an animal, the merchants seem to be dragging their beast of burden instead of leading it. If the animal is incapacitated but not dead, the merchant will continue to walk at the same speed, dragging the unconscious beast
- If a merchant's chosen map edge exit is guarded by a hostile creature (including those on a restraint), the merchant will wander back and forth repeatedly and eventually go insane rather than path to an alternate exit.
If you order your military to kill merchants from your own civilization, a bizarre result of the way loyalty is handled makes the members of your military who attacked the traders become enemies of your civilization, but members of your fort's government (dwarves of this faction are referred to as separatists). As enemies, they attack your other dwarves (citizens), but as members of the fort, they still follow orders. Allowing citizen militia dwarves to attack the separatists will give them opposite loyalties of the separatists, (i.e. loyal to civ, not to fort), or loyalists, who do not follow orders. And then, if a separatist or loyalist kill a citizen, they become enemies of the civ and fort, making them Renegades, who are essentially complete enemies of the citizens.
To prevent the cascade from spreading, order the original separatists away from the fortress and let them fight amongst themselves. If the results are renegades, it is okay to allow other dwarves to kill them (by stationing them nearby). If the results are separatists/loyalists, then you will need to separate them somehow.
- Deconstructing the Depot will cause merchants to leave your fortress and abandon any goods in the Depot because items are not available until the building is fully deconstructed. However any animals they had caged will still belong to the merchants and only become friendly, you won't actually own them. According to Toady One, this is actually working as intended, and is not really an exploit or bug: "...the reckoning comes when they return with lesser value, and it has the same negative effect (it'll be listed as a disaster rather than an intentional seizing -- the depot could be destroyed, for instance -- but it counts for the same value if I remember). The overall wording could be changed and the interaction could be deepened to recognize this or that, but it's working as intended."
- If you wait some time (2-3 months[Verify]), you can "claim" animals by linking a lever to the cage and opening it, the animals will be released in a tamed state. Check the unit screen before releasing them; if the creatures still show as Merchant creatures, they will wander off the map when released; if they show as Tame creatures, they will stay once released.