v50 Steam/Premium information for editors
  • v50 information can now be added to pages in the main namespace. v0.47 information can still be found in the DF2014 namespace. See here for more details on the new versioning policy.
  • Use this page to report any issues related to the migration.
This notice may be cached—the current version can be found here.

23a:Siege engine

From Dwarf Fortress Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is about an older version of DF.

A siege engine in Dwarf Fortress is half building/half heavy weapon, and includes both the catapult and the ballista. Both are formidable weapons of tremendous range (enough to reach from the mountain face to the map edge) and capable of dealing out horrendous damage. A ballista arrow will possibly kill or cripple each and every common creature in its path indiscriminate of friend or foe, and can severely injure even a dragon, and any enemy unlucky enough to be hit by a falling catapult stone is likewise in for a world of hurt (dwarves and tame creatures are magically immune to catapult ammo only).

Once constructed, they can be instantly turned 90 degrees in any direction, but cannot be moved - they can, however, be deconstructed back into their 3 parts, to be used elsewhere individually or together. Both the manufacture of the parts and the construction of the engine itself require a dwarf with the "Siege engineering" labor designated and use the "Engineer" skill, as does the manufacture of ammo for the ballista (and the de-construction of any engines, if desired).

The player determines when/if each engine is actively firing or not; when active, a single engine is crewed by a single siege operator. Ballistae require specially made ammo, ballista arrows, made from wooden logs at the siege workshop (and optionally tipped with metal ballista arrowheads that have been made at a forge by a weaponsmith). Catapults use simple stone as ammunition.

Building Siege Engines[edit]

In order to build a siege engine, you first need to produce (at least) three catapult or ballista parts in the Siege workshop; catapults are made from any 3 catapult parts, and ballistae are made from any 3 ballista parts. All parts are made from any type of wood at a siege workshop. Beyond that, "parts" are generic - there are no particular "sub-types" of parts beyond the distinction between those for the two different engine types. The quality of the parts has no effect on the siege engine's operation, so there is no need to produce high quality parts except to augment your fortress's architecture value.

Once you have the parts, you may then build the respective siege engine like any other building, selecting the parts that you wish to construct that particular engine with. The assembled siege engine is, effectively, a 3x3 building. It cannot be moved about other than by taking it down and re-assembling it at the new site. Siege engines do not impede movement, though, so you don't have to worry about building them in a corridor.

Using Siege Engines (simple)[edit]

o will let you change the orientation, whether the siege engine is pointing north / south / east / west. This takes effect immediately, it does not require a dwarf to come and turn the engine.

f toggles the current status between:

  • Not In Use: Operators will ensure that the siege engine is loaded, but will otherwise leave it alone.
  • Fire at Will: Operators will constantly fire and reload.

Once an engine is given orders to fire, a dwarf with the siege operating labor designated will respond and report to the engine. The dwarf(s) will (re-)load any siege engine that is not currently loaded; there's no way to prevent this short of disabling the labor on all dwarves (or otherwise blocking a path to it, perhaps by locking doors.)

Ammo is destroyed upon impact.

Special considerations[edit]

  • Both catapults and ballistae have narrow fields of fire - they will only shoot at creatures directly "in front" of them, and so cannot target anything off at an angle. They can be turned 90 degrees, but that often will not solve the problem. Unskilled operators have trouble aiming perfectly straight, and their shots will randomly veer off to either side, resulting in a field of fire roughly 19 degrees across. Highly skilled operators are supposed to fire perfectly straight; due to a bug, however, this does not happen.
  • Catapults have a minimum range - at least 30 tiles.
  • Catapults can and will fire over any creatures between them and their target.
  • Neither are affected by fortifications.
  • Operators are "civilians", and as such they will run in fear if enemy units come too close to them. "Too close" varies somewhat, but may be as far as 20 tiles.

Safety Warning[edit]

Ballistae can and will kill anything in their path! Ballista arrows appear to hit any units in any square that they pass through. They are devastatingly dangerous weapons, and should never be used with friendlies anywhere in their cone of fire, including the space the ballista arrowhead occupies when loaded on the engine. The shots appear to travel until they hit a wall or fly off the screen; the maximum range is about 150 tiles for an ordinary ballista. If the bolt passes through a tree, the tree will be destroyed, and while the Elves will not count it against your tree cutting quota, they will scold you for destroying the forests during their initial visit.

Surprisingly, catapults are relatively safe. Catapult operators will target enemies (and wild animals) if there are any in their field of fire. If not, they will loose the shot in a high arc that misses everything until it lands. It is perfectly safe to operate a catapult in the cave: just point it at a nearby wall of solid rock. A nice side effect is that this will in due time clear the whole area of stone.

Using catapults to shoot into the open may provide some meat: as said above, the operators will target animals if there are any. However, elephants don't take nicely if you slay some of them. You also have a slight risk of killing your own dwarves or caravan escorts if they happen to be hunting the selfsame animal (and hence are close to it).

"Fire at Will" does not mean there has to be anything to shoot at! The siege engine will simply continue to be loaded and fired, simply launching ammo (stone or arrows) downrange with no (visible) target if given this command. This can be good against unseen ambushes, but not if you are worried about depleting an ammo stockpile.

Using Siege Engines (advanced)[edit]


Siege engines can almost only shoot at targets right in front of them. The target may deviate only slightly, as the field of fire is about 20-30 degrees wide. Because of the huge blind spots, it is advisable to prepare the position so that the enemy will be channeled through the field of fire.

Siege operators are civilians! They will drop their work and run if the enemy comes too close, which is around 20 tiles. You should therefore place the engines behind a moat or a wall of fortifications that will keep the enemy at a safe distance, or shield access to their location in some other fashion.

Siege engines can shoot through fortifications, just like any other projectile weapon. As fortifications appear to provide some protection against incoming bolts and arrows, it's usually a good idea to protect the siege engine in that way. The siege engine only needs a one tile wide fortification to shoot out.

Skill and Quality[edit]

The quality of the siege engine parts has no effect on accuracy, and reload time is determined solely by skill level. The quality and material of the ammunition (in case of ballista arrows) determines the amount of damage inflicted.

Though there is no benefit to making high-quality siege engine parts (aside from boosting your fortress's architecture value), high quality ammunition does significantly more damage. The only way of obtaining high-quality siege ammunition is to have them made by a trained engineer, and the only way to train an engineer is to make parts or ammunition. Assembling and disassembling siege engines does not train the siege engineer skill. Dwarves will occasionally produce masterpieces long before reaching Legendary skill level, but be prepared to waste hundreds of logs until then. Bringing an engineer to Proficient level (the highest you could buy when starting a new fortress) will take about 120 logs. Becoming Legendary requires the wood of 600 trees.

The operator skill significantly affects reload time. It can take several days for an unskilled dwarf to load a catapult, while a Legendary operator with nearby ammo will get several shots at a running enemy. Due to a bug, operator skill has no effect on accuracy - in fact, highly skilled operators can have reduced accuracy when firing catapults because the stone's arc height will be calculated based on a perfectly straight shot while the stone will still drift sideways.

Operators are best trained on catapults, as these require nothing but cheap stone for ammo. It is recommended to have a number of dedicated operators that will follow no other line of work, and enough catapults for all of them to play with. As they're often going for a drink or sleep, you may get along with three catapults for four operators, and even two pieces would go a long way. Since the dwarf must hold the heavy stone in his inventory during the entire loading procedure, dwarves that have increased their Strength can load catapults much more rapidly than others, making them good candidates for operator duty. You should start training early: it can take one year for an operator to become Proficient, and two more years until he finally reaches Legendary level; by then he will have spent 300 rounds.

Loading ballista arrows seems to be much faster than loading catapults, probably due to the much lighter weight of the projectile.

An alternative approach is cross-training any highly-skilled dwarves who aren't doing anything useful at the moment. With a couple levels each in strength and agility, a decent-quality catapult, and an ample supply of ammunition nearby, a dwarf can become a Legendary siege operator within a few seasons at most, giving more flexibility in defense and several more levels for the fortunate dwarf. Rotating Legendary miners out to siege-operation and then to stone-hauling duties sets up an efficient cycle.

In Battle[edit]

Ballistae hit any unit that the ballista arrow passes through. This makes them an order of magnitude more effective in combat than catapults, which fire in an arc that hits only a few tiles per shot and is nearly useless against anything smaller than a troop of goblins. Also, ballista arrows fired through too many successive targets will be destroyed or lost. The limit seems to be roughly 5-6 goblin-sized targets hit before the arrow is lost.

A siege engine you want to use for actual defense should be not set to fire at will, as this likely means that it's not loaded and ready at the time you actually need it. You should train your operators on other pieces.

When the time comes, switch off all training engines and set all of the ones you'll be using to fire at will so the operators will be on-station; if some of them are currently not loaded, designate them to be disassembled to prevent your operators from loading the training weapons instead of firing the real ones.

Remember, operators are civilians. They do not care that the fortress is at stake: hunger, thirst and sleep always go first. That's why you trained more operators than you actually need; that's also why you disabled all other work that might distract them. The most effective way to ensure that your operators won't run off is to lock them in with the siege engine when the time comes.

Ballista battery[edit]

If you place ballistae close enough together, you can completely cover a two or three tile wide corridor. Because siege engines are 3x3, they need to be staggered, so each one fires through the edge of the one ahead of it. This can be dangerous for your operators. To minimize risk, carve fortifications to keep dwarves from wandering too far, and have only one entrance to the ballista room. There is still some risk that dwarves might wander into the line of fire, even with no reason to do so.

Three tile-wide corridor (battery room 5 tiles wide)
                ║+++║     ╔═══
Entrance++++++++++++╬++╬▐▀\◄═«  (~ammo~)
  • + - floor
  • - wall
  • - fortification

Due to the rare wild shot, the staggering should always be from one side to the other, and not put one ballista far ahead of the one it overlaps, as this may increase friendly-fire accidents.

Ammo storage should be kept nearby, ideally behind the engines. Expand the room as desired for more storage. Also note that ballista arrows are stored in furniture stockpiles, not ammo stockpiles.


Highly skilled siege operators are intended to be able to fire perfectly straight, but due to a bug they do not (Bug:6483). The following patch for version fixes this:

See Also: