v0.31:Military design

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This article is about an older version of DF.
This page is one of several inter-related articles on the broader topic of defending your fortress and your dwarves. Military design focuses on the training, organization and deployment of your military and how to prepare them for any situation. For a general overview of the threats that will challenge your fortress and things to consider when preparing a standard defence, see the defense guide. For tips on laying out your architecture to protect your military, see security design. or complex traps that are not a minor/optional part of a larger defensive plan (but might be adapted or plugged into one), see trap design.
Editors & Contributors - Please see the discussion page before posting.


The role of a military force in fortress defense can be central or non-existent, depending on the player's overall approach and strategy. Their one advantage is mobility - they can go where no static defenses exist, to rescue or support other dwarves, or escort a caravan through unknown or deadly threats. Only military can take the fight to the enemy (doomsday devices excepted).


One of the important parts of a military is to have dwarves with high physical attributes, and that requires training them up. See cross-training for suggestions on various attribute training plans.

The "Danger room" method is a quick and effective way of both training shield/weapon/dodge skills and reducing your cat/child/baby population.

A very effective and less exploitive way of training is making your military fight captured invaders or wildlife, especially with training weapons equipped. See mass pitting.

Daylight training room[edit]

Put a weapon rack on the surface near your entrance and make it a training room by designating it as a barracks. Training dwarves will be in position if there's trouble. This also helps prevent cave adaptation in your military. You can use an archery target or armor stand this way, too.

Archery training / Marksdwarf training[edit]

A couple tips/troubleshooting for training your ranged military (feel free to add!):

  • If you use archery targets, make sure you have one for each dwarf in the squad and assign each target to the squad.
  • If you use live captured targets, you dwarves are most likely to shoot if they have no path to the target.
  • Force your dwarves to stand next to fortifications (touching them). You can use burrows or walls for this.
  • Every marksdwarf needs a quiver.
  • Make plenty of ammunition and assign 100-200 bolts per dwarf to each squad, instead of the default 200 or so per squad.
  • Don't have any arrows or bows in your fort.

Basic military training Setup[edit]

Since the military update, training can be quite tricky at first but once you use the following steps (aimed at training without danger rooms) it should be reasonably manageable. Start with these preparations either at your first or second migrant wave, if your first wave is kinda small and you need more time its still okay, but by the time the third wave arrives you should have step one complete.

This tutorial does not go into the deeper areas of "why" to do this, or even how you use certain panels like the military panel and schedule. All that info is found somewhere else on the Wiki already (I checked).

Step 1: Roughneck Squad (a.k.a. Suicide Squad)[edit]

You will need:

  • 10 sets of bone/leather armour, or any cheap but reasonably effective armour you can get your hands on... it does not have to be anything pretty... suggestions on armour can be found further below
  • 10 melee weapons, axes work great and make these dwarves additionally useful as cave woodcutters later on, spears only work for military and hammers if you plan to draft the survivors as future marks-dwarves. If you can try to mix axes spears and hammers though... crossbows or any ranged weapon + ammo takes too long to set up for it to be useful and most importantly, DO NOT USE TRAINING WEAPONS!
  • 10 expendable dwarves... really important is to have as close to 10 as possible (+10 is overkill, 9 or 8 works, 5 or 3 does not...) their stats do not matter other than you do not want to use your best dwarves for this, use peasants/cheesemakers that have no or only 1 or 2 friends, become ill quickly, heal slow or are weak and flimsy.
  • 1 bed or other "barracks" building (armor stands, weapon racks etc etc all work)

Lets start!

  1. Make a 10 man squad in the panel, the sole purpose of this squad is to prevent an early goblin attack to cripple your military before its even trained and equipped properly. Try to pick people with as few friends as possible for this, it does not matter if they are flimsy in stats or if they are extremely susceptible to disease, we literally do not expect these dwarves to survive a decent siege.
  2. Assign them the predefined "leather armour" uniform in the military panel by pressing (or make your own cheap and fast uniform, anything you have fast on hand is good, even metals if you brought it with embark, have an anvil, wood, and have enough of it). If you do not have everything for the uniform for every dwarf then stick to leather and bone, and let a dwarf or 2 be dedicated solely to crafting everything those cannon fodder dwarves need, once they trained crafting stats you can use them to craft the leather parts of the armour the "real" military squad is going to need.
  3. Once you have your 10 man "Suicide Squad", make a barracks with your barracks item (bed, armour stand weapon rack etc...) next to your entrance or next to your most busy area (preferably outside) and assign our roughnecks to it, now make them active in the squad menu so they will hang around in the barracks constantly, waiting for their chums to show up for training (and sometimes even train!)

Try to have only 1 entrance in this stage, or at least only 1 "outside camp", it's easier to defend.

More on early defences below.

Step 2: Conscripts (a.k.a. Conscript reporting!)[edit]

You will need:

  • 6 Sets of decent armour, more info about it below
  • 6 Weapons, preferable "something" like 2 spears, 2 axes and 2 hammers, if you 'really' want marksdwarves flip the hammers for crossbows and also craft some bolts but I advise against it for now.
  • Your roughneck squad from step 1
  • 6 New dwarves with decent to good stats, basically anything goes as long as they are not susceptible to diseases, not weak or flimsy, do not tire fast or have some other military related traits handicap.

Proceed to...

  1. Create 2 (yes, 2...) new squads, put 3 dwarves in each squad and try to make them "compatible" (don't put dwarves that are friends or hate each other together, don't put spouses together). Give them the decent armour as their uniform. Now go in the schedule panel and make it so 2 dwarves minimum train year round for both squads. (in other words, 1 can break from training and can eat//drink/be useful while 2 train)
  2. Now make it so your roughneck squad gets some breaks in their training, something like only half of them have to train each month, so they can be used as haulers or whatever you need dwarves for at this point... If you haven't gotten an ambush by now expect one to show up any day, defend with your roughneck squads only, keep your conscripts as last resort and preferably never counter-attack any enemy further then 20 blocks from your entrance.

Step 3: Standing army[edit]

You will need:

  • Your roughneck squad (if some survived)
  • Your 2 "conscript" squads
  • 3 or so more decent armour sets
  • 3 or so crossbows and for each crossbow 1 quiver
  • Minimum of 100 bone bolts or 50 metal ones and 200 wooden bolts per crossbow
  • Flasks and backpacks for everyone
  • 3 Archery targets

Proceed to...

    • Once your 2 squads of 3 dwarves with decent armour show they are battle worthy (at least "competent" at their weapon and armour but more is better), take out 1 dwarf from each squad, and put them in a new 3rd squad (set the new squad up just like the other 2). Disband your roughneck squad if some survived up until now and spread them over the 3 squads evenly, make sure you are not using any seriously wounded dwarves!
    • Add in 1 new dwarf in each squad, give him a crossbow and decent armour. Try to aim for at least 3 squads at this time, each holding 2 melee dwarves and 1 crossbow dwarf.
    • Make lots of wood bolts and some bone or metal bolts, metal is by far better but can still be too costly at this point, bone bolts are very easy to make and do reasonable damage but come in small stacks...
  1. Now set those marksdwarves to carry the bone or metal bolts for combat in the ammunition panel and the wooden for training, a total of 100 combat and 200 training bolts will do, be sure to make a quiver! This is also a good time to be making backpacks and flasks for each of your military dwarves.
  2. Make sure any squad is set so 2/3th is training while 1/3 is off duty throughout the year, keep check on your bolt supplies and any medical "incidents".

Once a squad has reached "talented" for everyone, start melting 2 squads together, but keep the basic makeup of 3 melee dwarves for every 1 marksdwarf in each squad, add in a fortress guard of weak and flimsy dwarves that wear the same armour as our roughneck squad, but also get crap wooden crossbows (so they suck at melee, they will beat people with them occasionally and you dont want your dwarves to die from them).


Basically these uniforms "work" but they are not the best option see the armor article for more about this.

Use the "Cheap" outfits in the armor article. They are maxed out protection for their material.
If you KNOW you have full suits of armor for the recruits, use replace clothes and exact matches. This lets you wear the full set without
a XXCave Spider Silk RobeXX leaving you less protected,

Cheap "I have no metal yet" uniform:

  1. Leather shirts+
  2. Leather trousers+
  3. Leather gloves+
  4. Leather caps+
  5. Leather armors
  6. Leather low/high boots
  7. Bone gauntlets
  8. Bone helms
  9. Bone greaves
  10. Wooden shields
  11. Melee weapons (non-training) or Crossbows

Basic uniform:

  1. Leather shirt+
  2. Leather trousers+
  3. Leather caps+
  4. Leather hoods+
  5. Leather gloves+
  6. Leather mittens+
  7. Leather shoes+
  8. cloaks+ x6
  9. Socks+
  10. Metal helm
  11. Metal mail armor
  12. Metal gauntlets
  13. Metal greaves
  14. Metal shield
  15. Metal melee weapon (non-training)

Advanced "I have the resources" uniform:

You can order your dwarves to wear more than one piece of same type, typically you would want three suits of mail armor and six cloaks. Armor article possibilities of this is detail.

(+ counts as clothing)


Archers are deadly, but vulnerable to melee - crossbows as clubs just aren't the best, but you can't have archer towers every 15 tiles across the map (well, you can, but that sometimes would be tedious) - sometimes you want to take it to the enemy. Beyond that, mixing or matching is largely up to you.

Squad management[edit]

Ordering multiple squads around can get tiring. It's best to set most of your dwarves to follow a good regimen of training, guarding important burrows, and patrolling routes along the fort by programming their schedules. By preparing a number of different alerts with different schedules, you can largely manage your military by swapping a few squads to different alerts. With the majority of your squads patrolling the fort, you're free to take one or two squads of your highest-trained soldiers out to take care of some business.

Keep in mind that dwarves are bloodthirsty fiends. If a creature crosses their path, no matter the odds or whether they've been ordered to stand down, your dwarves will open pursuit and attack until either it or they are dead. Keep an eye on your dwarves, and if they're going to be in combat it's a good idea to make sure there's a few highly-trained melee dwarves in the squad with them.

If trained to (near-)legendary in dodging, fighting and a weapon of choice, and armored up with steel or better, one lone hero can take out several squads of goblins without a scratch. But combat always has a random element - Fun happens.

Strategy & Tactics[edit]

Roughing it[edit]

Always have your soldiers carry food. They will each need a backpack to carry it. This keeps your soldiers from wandering off to eat. You can also have them carry alcohol or water in waterskins or flasks, though water isn't recommended for the long term, as it makes your soldiers sluggish - always remember to keep the booze stockpiles full. For an around the clock guard, have them sleep on the ground while on duty. Hopefully the sounds of combat will wake them up before they get killed. Sleeping on the floor causes unhappy thoughts.

Wait for my signal...[edit]

When ganging up on dangerous creatures (such as megabeasts), keep them far, far away until all your units are in position, and try to ambush the target in an area with no other creatures. If your dwarves get too close, they'll smell blood and charge in, regardless of what you do. Getting all your units into position, pausing the game, and then turning them loose at once, can achieve the desired advantage of numbers against formidable opponents.

When under siege or other attack, keep the entire squad far back from the exit until they are all armed and armored, and ready to roll as a unit. Having a good lockable front gate will also avoid this.

Militia and armed civilians[edit]

Besides professional, full time military, it's quite useful to incorporate part-time soldiers or armed civilians into the mix.

  • See also Cross-training for suggestions on training attributes & civilian/military mixes.

Gobbo season open![edit]

It can be a fairly decent idea to keep mass numbers of cheaply-made crossbows (or your lower-quality rejects) and bone/wood bolts on hand, and all expendable dwarves in one mass military squad set to use crossbows (and leather armor, if you have enough). What dabbling marksdwarves lack in speed and accuracy, they more than make up for with incredible enthusiasm, as a hailstorm of pathetically-aimed bolts will tear over anything stupid enough to move. Not nearly as effective or useful as properly-emplaced marksdwarves with high skill and proper equipment, but a good emergency measure, especially if you keep your craftsdwarves busy churning out cheap ammo from spare bones from the kitchens and cheap crossbows from fishbones from the dining hall.

Non-hunting hunters[edit]

Sometime you will embark in an area devoid of (huntable) wildlife. In that case, you can turn on the Hunting skill for all civilians and use the military menu to arm (and more importantly, armor and shield) them. Normally turning on hunting will cause dwarves to wander outside looking for wildlife, and turning it on on all your dwarves would delay your economy greatly - but without wildlife, no hunting jobs are generated, and they go about their business armed and armored. Note that if X number of hunt-able animals do appear on the map, that many dwarves will then go hunt them. Do note that hunters will sleep on the ground when they are tired instead of walking to a bed, which will result in unhappy thoughts.


Any dwarf with the Woodcutting labor designated will carry an axe, even when they are not cutting wood. If one (or more) of your starting seven have one rank or more of axedwarf, no unhappy thoughts will be generated if they are drafted into active service. This dwarf might serve to fill several or all above-ground activities, such as Plant Gathering, Architecture and Masonry for bridges and defensive walls, above ground farming, and any hauling, as well as wood cutting. Later, a squad of dedicated woodcutters, possibly with some training in axedwarf, masonry and other skills, can respond en masse to orders to cut trees, providing mutual support and finishing off a large section of trees and getting back to safety that much faster. Actually training them in axedwarf is optional, but certainly helps.

Note that so long as you have no tree designated for cutting (or have no path to those trees), the woodcutters will not respond. However, if you do, as many woodcutters as trees will respond to those locations - it's recommended that if/when you do, you centralize the designations to allow them to more fully support each other.


The above tactic can also be used with Miners. When you activate a miner with a pick into the military with no weapon designated, they fight with the pick they are holding and their skill is their mining - and it's not hard for a miner to gain legendary miner skill quite quickly. Parallel problems arise when designating areas to be mined, but careful use of locked doors or hatches on mineshafts can prevent too many from responding to an area to be excavated.

A dwarf will hold either an axe or a pick, depending on which labor is activated - it's not possible to activate both at once; the game does not allow it.

Siege operators[edit]

There are four important things to remember about siege operators:

  1. They are civilians. This means that when manning (dwarving?) their stations, they will flee if enemy units approach too close. Doesn't matter if there is no actual path, it's the mere distance that triggers it. On the plus side, they don't get unhappy thoughts from being "Activated" for the military - it's just another civilian job.
  2. Training siege operation is slooooow. Start early.
  3. Siege engines do not fire quickly, so you want high skill to make the few shots you get count.
  4. Once trained (some years later), they can be trained up in other civilian skills that are useful whenever they're not at their stations. (See cross-training for suggestions.)

A guide for siege engine operations[edit]

Please bear in mind that this is VERY long term stuff (10 years). Only by having highly trained siege operators and high quality siege weapons can you shoot accurately.

  • Start off with two miners and a wood cutter trained to proficient siege engineer status
  • After your fortress has about 50 dwarves, build a siege workshop, place it at the front of your fort near the battlements and designate a custom stockpile within the battlements that can take only ballista arrows. Designate another custom stockpile that can take only regular stone.
  • Make sure only one of your dwarves is set to have siege engineering as an active labor. Change that dwarf's orders to have nothing but siege engineering enabled. It may help to give that dwarf a custom profession title (such as SIEGE) to distinguish that dwarf from others. When new Mechanic or Siege engineer dwarves arrive, make sure to disable siege engineering for them.
  • You'll need wood. Lots of wood.
  • Get the siege engineer dwarf to build 18 catapult parts, place them inside behind fortifications (which catapults CAN shoot through), designate a custom stockpile of regular stone within the battlements.
  • Train six dwarves to legendary status with mining or another fast-training skill: their high attributes are absolutely necessary for siege operating. All operators should have no job orders other than their stat-training and siege operating. When there is no mining to be done, set six catapults to "fire at will"
  • After the catapult parts are done, get the siege engineer dwarf to build about 100 wooden ballista arrows. Don't bother with metal arrowheads as they'll use 3 pieces of metal each, and that certainly adds up.
  • Now that his or her skill is at a high level, your siege engineer dwarf should be able to build superior quality (*) siege engine parts with about a 75% success rate. Build about 40 catapult parts and 40 ballista parts.
  • Build ten catapults and ten ballistas with a MINIMUM of superior quality (*) components in an alternating sequence along your well stocked battlements. Dump any inferior components.
  • By this point your miners/operators should be at a high level of skill, possibly legendary. This gives your superior quality weapons a devastatingly high rate of fire and awesome accuracy.

An alternate training program[edit]

This works well if you have a secure above-ground enclosure, a statue garden or farm plots with a surrounding wall, or a privatized plateau, as it can avoid cave adaptation while training (and the engines could be placed where they also have a useful field of fire). At a minimum, a wall with an interior area of 6x6 is barely adequate for two practice engines, stairs up and recovery trench, but a training facility could be built entirely underground.

Embark with a Proficient Siege Engineer. (Training takes far too long, and it's not a moodable skill.)

After the first caravan departs and your fortress begins to settle in, build your Siege Workshop near access to the topside if possible - parts are heavy, and clutter a workshop quicker than other finished goods. Manufacture a half-dozen or a dozen (or more) of one type of siege weapon part, enough for 2-3 decent engines - higher overall quality is better, if you have the logs and time to spare. Choice between ballista/catapult is up to you, but don't worry about building up ammo supplies - you will have some stone lying around, and one ballista arrow per engine is enough for training. No rush, don't have to be done until your operators are actually ready to practice.

If possible, build theses close to the dining hall and barracks/bedrooms - not too close (see noise), but close enough to reduce travel time. Dig a channel (double-wide if for ballista ammo) on one side that can catch ammo, and add a wall (or drawbridge) behind that, plus a ramp or stairs down behind the engines to access the fallen ammo in the trench. (If ballistae, take precautions against accidental friendly fire accidents.) If the location allows the engine to be turned and used when needed, so much the better, but this is mainly for training for now.

Side view

    ss>  |       ss> = siege engine (fires to right)     |  = wall or drawbridge backstop
   X...__         X  = stairs/ramp                          ... = access tunnel to trench
                  __ = bottom of channel for ammo catching       

Once your first wave of immigrants shows up (first Winter or second Spring or so), pick a bunch to become "military" - don't decide who will become what, not quite yet.

Put them to training on pumps, mining through soil and/or bookkeeping to improve attributes. "Tough" recruits chase more attributes and go into military training, where sparring will be dangerous and injuries expected - "Very Strong" recruits, with no other attributes, become siege operators, for lugging heavy ammo (and to avoid hurting each other during sparring). (Agility is universally beneficial, dealer's choice.)

Set your chosen few to firing the siege weapons into the wall asap, as soon as they have some useful attribute increases - you aren't looking for uber-dwarves, just something above peasant level. If you want, use cross-training to allow them to become useful masons when the need arises, though this delays their siege training. (This can be done sooner if you have a lot of urgent building projects, or later once they have achieved acceptable levels of siege operator.)

If you want to manufacture more ammo, you can set a stockpile adjacent to the engines and designate some haulers, and that will speed training some, but the walk down to retrieve ammo is not a long one.

Add more trainees and training engines as your work-pool grows. Final numbers depend on your needs, defensive plan and environment.

Once they've trained to Legendary (some few years?), they can be fully cross-trained to be productive while not firing the engine. Give them beds near their final stations, and don't forget to train replacements before accidents happen.


War dogs can also be assigned to dwarves who go outside frequently, whether military or civilian. Then when the dwarf encounters danger, the war dog runs at the danger while the dwarf runs away from it. Unfortunately, war dogs are slower than dwarves with high agility, and do not shadow the dwarf perfectly. Try to not assign more than one or two dogs to a dwarf, the loss of happiness from a assigned dog dying (Assigned War/Hunting dogs are pets) can lead to FUN. Also, dogs can't be reassigned once they are assigned, To get around this, have the dwarf you want to be guarded train the dog.

Military and defense
Managing soldiers
Design tips