DF2014:Advanced marksdwarf training guide

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This article is about the current version of DF.

Marksdwarves are fairly buggy, and often refuse to use archery ranges, or stand in front of them, and fail to fire their crossbows. This guide goes into details explaining known bugs, and getting your marksdwarves to train properly, as well as going into details regarding various ranged weaponry.

Understanding ranged weaponry[edit]

In vanilla Dwarf Fortress, the raws define three types of ranged weapons, each with their own skill and ammo.

Ranged Weapons
Ranged Weapon Ranged Skill Melee Skill Ammo
Crossbow Marksdwarf Hammerdwarf Bolts
Bow Bowman Swordman Arrows
Blowgun Blowgunner Swordman Darts

Of these, dwarfs can only craft crossbows and bolts. Bows and blowguns are gained either through trade or recovery from downed enemies. If playing a modded game, replace crossbow in the following with one of the above weapons, and proper ammo type.

Equipping your marksdwarfs[edit]

The minimum outfit[edit]

At a minimum, each dwarf requires the following to successfully use the crossbow.

  • One crossbow
  • One quiver
  • One stack of bolts for each marksdwarf to fire

A quiver is equipped on the upper body slot. Due to a bug, sometimes a marksdwarf will fail to pickup a quiver if wearing heavy armor. A workaround for this is given below. Wood and metal bolts are generated in stacks of 25. Bone bolts are generated in stacks of 5.


Crossbows can be made with wood or bone at a bowyer's workshop, or out of metal at a metalsmith/magma forge. Metal crossbows can be forged out of copper, bronze, bismuth bronze, iron, steel, or adamantine. Quivers must be made of leather at a leatherworks. The base material of a crossbow appears to have no effect on the lethality of ranged bolts. However, when marksdwarves end up in melee, they will use their crossbow as a hammer, thus it is recommended to make dense metal crossbows.

Quivers and bolts[edit]

Please note that bolts are assigned to a squad, not to individual dwarves. If you have a squad of 10 marksdwarves, you need to assign at least 250 bolts to the squad. 500 is better.

Quivers can hold between 25 and 49 bolts, and dwarves will pick up multiple stacks if necessary to reach a number in this range. In other words, dwarves will continue picking up stacks of bolts until they've got at least 25 in their quiver (or they run out of squad-assigned bolt stacks). Bolt stacks are collected in last-in-first-out order (LIFO); that is, dwarves will always go for the newest bolts in your fortress, even if there is an ammo stockpile three steps away from them. Each squad with marksdwarves must be assigned ammo; as they deplete it, Dwarf Fortress will automatically add additional ammo to the squad if there is some in the fortress, again following the principle of LIFO.

Avoiding equipment issues[edit]

The mining, wood cutting, and hunting labors have an "invisible uniform" that conflicts with military equipment. When these labors are enabled, a dwarf will drop all assigned military equipment when going off duty. When ordered back on duty they spend extra time collecting their equipment, and may ultimately report without some equipment. For that reason it is recommended that you disable mining, wood cutting, and hunting on all military dwarves.

Problems have been reported with ammunition stored in bins. Dwarves will take additional time to reload since they "lock" each other out of the bin, and may even fail to do so entirely. Disabling bins in ammo stockpiles is recommended. If you choose to use bins, keeping a large oversupply of bolts may limit potential problems.

An "equipment mismatch" error sounds dire, but it's just a diagnostic message telling you that a dwarf's assigned equipment changed while the dwarf was en route to pick up the previously-assigned equipment. In almost all cases the dwarf will automatically collect the newly-assigned equipment without player intervention. One reported cause of frequent equipment mismatch spam is ammo stored in bins.

Setting your marksdwarf's barracks[edit]

Understanding possible training activities[edit]

The first rule of marksdwarf training is you do *not* assign them a normal barracks. If they have that, they will prefer to train as hammerdwarves with their crossbows vs. actually shooting bolts. Furthermore, as the game gives precedence to melee training, they will almost never use an archery range even if one is assigned if they have a choice.

When training, a dwarf has four possible options, which they will take in roughly this order:

  • Squad Training
  • Individual Combat Drill
  • Spar
  • Archery Training

Squad training and sparring require multiple dwarves (and yes, marksdwarves *will* spar as long as they're novice hammerdwarves, training their melee skills while doing so). Except for archery training, dwarves require a standard barracks to conduct any of the above activities. Notably, it is possible to actually train marksdwarves via demonstration, both Crossbow and Archery skills being trainable this way. By combining this with training orders, it is possible to make Archery Training the only valid option, and thus get them to train consistently.

Building archery ranges[edit]

Thus, the first step is to build a room with a bunch of archery ranges. The room must be large enough that the marksdwarf has a one gap space between them and the target; I just make their "barracks" 10x10, and put an ammo stockpile in it. Notably, (and this is a change from previous versions) the dwarves *must* be able to walk up to the the target; placing a channel in front of it will prevent them from training.

Once you build your range, you must define it as a room. Make it so it touches the far wall, and don't worry, range rooms can overlap. You have to do this for each archery target. Make sure the shooting direction is correct! In addition, your marksdwarf squad MUST at minimum have train set on each archery target. One dwarf can use one target at any given time.

A properly setup archery target

Repeat this for each range; you'll have 5-10 targets overlapping each other and assigned to your marksdwarves squad (in these screenshots, they are the "Home Guard")

The military management screen[edit]

This is by far the most difficult part. Fear the 'm' menu, for it eats children. The m menu is confusing on the best days, but this guide will walk you through it.

The first and default page is the positions page. Ignore it for now, because you want to make the right uniform for your marksdwarves. Press n to bring up the uniforms screen. Do yourself a favor and just delete the default archer uniform. It's wrong and will not work properly.

Create a new uniform with c and add the following:

  • Crossbow (do NOT use individual choice, ranged; you *will* end up with dwarves who think an axe is a ranged weapon)
  • Shield (optional)
  • Leather armor
  • Leather headwear
  • Leather legwear
  • Leather handwear
  • Leather footwear

Press m to switch from "Partial matches" to "Exact matches" in the upper right. This appears to fix most of the issues that result in your dwarves not picking up quivers. You might be able to get away with over clothing however.

Here's what it should like if you did it right:

Uniform that gets them training

Now press p to go back to the positions menu. When you create the squad, it will ask for a uniform. Normally, this works as you'd expect it, assigning the uniform to an entire squad. However, if done with the captain of the guard position, it will *only* assign to that spot. You can look at the top of the screen to see what your dwarfs will train as (i.e. 10/10 Marksdwarfs). If needed, after selecting your recruits, then switch to the e menu. Select your squad, and then a position, then press U (that's capital U) to bring up the uniform selection screen.

Highlight your crossbow uniform, and press shift + enter to assign it to all positions in the squad. If you then check the positions screen, at the top, it will say 10/10 marksdwarves, instead of 1/1 markdwarf 9/9 wrestlers, which is what will happen if you leave it on defaults.

10/10 Marksdwarves

Handling ammo[edit]

We're almost done. Go to the ammo screen.


If you're setting this by hand, here's what to know. Each squad needs the correct ammo. Bolts are assigned on a "per-item" basis, i.e., a given stack of bolts that's marked for training will only be used for training and vice versa. Unfortunately, an old bug prevents this from working; if you have multiple ammo types, and some are set Training-only, and others are set combat-only, your marksdwarves *will* get stuck and fail to train, or fail to fire. The only way to get this to work is if all ammo assignments in the fortress are set to both "CT" in the UI.

By default the top slot reserves ammunition for hunters. If you don't have any hunters you may want to remove that reservation from the ammunition screen to free up those bolts for your military.

Switching bolts types reliably[edit]

Forbidding/Dumping is respected by the game when assigning ammo, so you can use the stocks screen to, for instance, dump wooden/bone bolts when you're not training and load metal bolts for combat. First delete the ammo assignment for the training bolts, then dump them from the stocks screen (DFHack's enhanced inventory is useful from this), and finally add the new metal bolts to the ammo screen. Reverse the process to get them to change back. (Be sure to set both CT flags in the ammo screen each time.)

Squad training orders[edit]

Now, for the magic bit that gets them doing nothing *but* training. Open the schedule screen with s and look at the orders. The default is "Train, 10 minimium". This is WRONG!

Default Training Order

Press x to delete the order. The schedule screen will change to show no scheduled orders.


Press o to pull up the give order screen. Press o until 'Train' is set, and then press + so it shows minimum 1, like this. Then press shift-enter to give the order. The screen will look like this:

train 1

after giving train 1 order

Now do it again, until you have as many orders as total members of your squad (using a macro will allow you to repeat the process easily). You can give more than 5 orders, you just have to scroll in the orders screen to see it. When you're done it should look like this, after doing it 10 times.

Multiple train one orders

Copy and paste the order to all the months. You can also set Sleep in Barracks at need to increase their training time, though this will raise the stress levels of dwarves in the squad due to tired thoughts.

You're almost done. Activate your squad, and after they finish picking up equipment, watch your bolt supplies vanish as your marksdwarves do nothing *but* archery training.

Why this works[edit]

Squad training and sparring require multiple dwarves (and yes, marksdwarves *will* spar as long as they're novice hammerdwarves). Training, minimum of 1 forces them to work solo. Since they don't have a normal barracks, they can't drill, which leaves Archery Training as the only possible way to train. Since reloading on marksdwarves continues to be erratic, they'll frequently report "No Orders" or similiar once they've finished archery training until the game notices that a given dwarf is out of ammo, in which case they'll go pick up more.

Archery training grants less experience than live fire (8XP per bolt vs. 30XP), but no micromanagement, no hauling, one setup, and you can ignore it until you get that glorious announcement that Urist McMarksdwarf has become an Elite Marksdwarf.

Stopping melee charges[edit]

Do not use the station scheduling order!

When a dwarf has line of sight on an enemy, they'll do one of two things: run away; or run up and fight. While they're running up to the enemy, dwarves will fire bolts if they have any, but then engage the enemy using their crossbows as hammers instead of firing. Therefore, it's imperative that you create physical barriers which make it impossible for your marksdwarves to charge the enemy. Nothing else will suffice.

Some sources claim a Defend Burrows order may restrict marksdwarves to the area defined by the burrow. The full effectiveness of Defend Burrow orders at stopping a melee charge is unknown.Verify

The easiest way to accomplish this is to use fortification pillboxes (also known as archery towers), with a patrol order that causes them to break line of sight.

For patrol routes, marksdwarves will not reliably take a Pickup Equipment order as long as they have line of sight on their enemy; they will usually stand there and glare. Have them go through a door or something, and as soon as they lose sight of the goblin/forgotten beast/demon, they'll immediately go find bolts and reload.

An alternative approach is to forego all of this scheduling stuff, and use direct move orders. Station (move) your marksdwarves to the spot where you want them to stand, making sure that this spot is physically separated from the enemy. Remember that each dwarf will actually select a random spot within 3 tiles of your station-spot, on the same Z level, and try to walk to that spot. Make sure every such reachable spot is on your side of the fortifications.

In all cases, you must remember that dwarves can and will climb walls or fortifications to reach the enemy. To prevent marksdwarves from suicide-diving over the fortifications onto the killing ground below, build a roof (a floor on the next Z-level up) to physically block their vertical movement.