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Slabs are decorative buildings, which can either be used similarly to a statue, or engraved into a memorial at a craftsdwarf's workshop by an Engraver. Slabs must be constructed at a mason's workshop (Alt+slab) and require one stone.
Slabs can be used to increase a fortress's or room's value. They can be considerably more useful for this than statues, since poor layout decisions will not trap dwarves.
You can create a memorial hall (functionally identical to a sculpture garden) from any slab's query menu. Memorial halls appear to serve as additional meeting halls: free dwarves will congregate in the area and receive happy thoughts from the decorations. Unlike statues, slabs do not block movement.
Memorials are a type of slab that memorialize a dead creature. Once engraved, they can be built as an alternative to coffins when you're unable to bury their corpse properly. Failure to memorialize or entomb a deceased dwarf or other residents may lead to unexpected consequences.
To create a memorial, you must first have a blank slab available, then order an engraver to turn it into a memorial at a craftsdwarf's workshop (using Alt+s: Engrave memorial slab). You'll then be able to pick the particular creature you're memorializing.
When placing the memorial (listed under 'slab' in the build menu), pressing x in the materials menu will expand the list and let you pick the specific memorial you want to use.
An engraved slab can be read in fortress mode using t-Enter-v and contains information on the arrival and death of the creature it's dedicated to. If it slew any important figures or fortress dwarves, it may be noted on the slab as well.
If you're not sure how a dwarf or creature died, engraving and placing a slab may reveal it. In the case of military action, the killer is listed at the end of the entry. If, for example, a drawbridge atom smasher squashed your dwarf, that will be the engraved folly.
Like blank slabs, you can create a memorial hall from a memorial's query menu.
Oddly, it is also possible to engrave memorials to invaders, forgotten beasts, and even merchant wagons (not just the merchants, but the wagon itself!). This can be used to create trophy halls full of goblin skeletons and weapons, or to memorialize a deceased warrior's kill list inside of his tomb.
Memorials work inconsistently for merchants' escorts--some deceased caravan guards are not included in the list of potential memorial subjects. This behavior is presumably a bug, but you can avoid problems by placing dead caravan guards into coffins whenever possible.
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In adventurer mode, slabs may be used as signs, or be engraved with the secrets of life and death in necromancer towers, guarded by an undead army. To read them, you need to pick them up with g, enter advanced interaction menu with Shift+I, select the slab, select a to read it and voila! You can raise the dead too. Basic reading skills are required to do this, so make sure to start your adventurer with some reading skill.
A slab is also found in the bottom of sealed vaults, which contains a different kind of secret.