v0.31:Stonegears/Starting the game

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Running, loading and saving[edit]



Dwarf Fortress will start in a window titled "Dwarf Fortress". There are several options to choose from, the current choice highlighted in white, which can be selected with and . The one you want, Continue Playing, is the one you want, since a pre-existing game has been created for you. Simply press Enter.


On this screen you get to choose which saved game you want to play. Since there's only one, the only thing you can is hit Enter to load it. Loading the game can take several second or more, depending on the speed of your computer. There will be no progress bar or clock/hourglass animation to indicate progress. When the game is loaded the window will look like this:


At any time you want to save the game, you can press Esc from the main menu to get the game options screen; if you aren't at the main menu just keep pressing Esc until you are. The game options screen (which can be exited with Esc) looks like:


Use to select Save Game, then press Enter. The game will take several seconds to save (again, with no progress indication) then will return to the first screen you saw. You can then use or Page Down to select Quit and then Enter to exit the game.

Note that if you kill the Dwarf Fortress application without saving then all progress you've made since your last save will be lost. You can use this to your advantage if you want to undo some mistake, like one of your dwarves dying.

The main screen[edit]

Okay, back to the main screen. The game is paused, as indicated by the *PAUSED* in the upper left-hand corner, so you're free to take your time.


The left third of the screen shows a closeup view of your fortress site, the middle third shows the main menu, indicating which commands can be used by which keys, and the right third shows a zoomed-out map of your fortress site, with an X indicating the part of the map you're looking at in the left third of the screen. You can cycle through hiding or showing the menu and map by repeatedly pressing Tab.

The closeup view on the left shows a grid of tiles; each dwarf or creature in the game takes up one tile (see the notes section for weirdness on tile size). Your fortress site is 96 tiles from north to south and 96 tiles from west to east. This size is unchangeable, since the part of the game where a site's size is chosen has already happened, but don't worry: this is plenty big enough for a first fortress.

The closeup view is centered on the 3 tile by 3 tile square wagon, which contains all of your supplies. Since your supplies are piled on top of each other the game will cycle through showing different items.

Clustered around the wagon are:

  • Your starting seven dwarves.
  • A pair of cats, who help to keep down the local vermin population.
  • A pair of dogs, to eventually help guard your fortress.
  • A ____ and ____, which pulled the wagon here. They'll wander around eating grass until you butcher them for their meat, bones, fat and skin.

Looking around[edit]

You can move the closeup view around using the arrow keys. Each keypress will move the view by ten tiles in the given direction, and move the X in the map on the right by one square. If you get lost you can press F1 to recenter on the wagon.

To get a more precise and detailed you can use k to activate "look mode". An X will appear in the closeup view as a cursor to move around with the arrow keys; the cursor moves one tile by pressing an arrow key, and ten tiles by holding down Shift while pressing an arrow key. To the right of the closeup view will be a description of what's under the cursor. At the bottom it will tell you the tile's attributes, namely Outside, Light and Above Ground. At the top it will tell you what's on the tile, and what the ground is made of. If there's an animal on the tile you can use Enter to see a brief description of it. If there's a dwarf you can use Enter to see a detailed description of the dwarf (you can ignore the detailed description for now, unless you're curious).

Looking around, you'll see:

  • Various kinds of grass. Many domesticated animals eat grass, and will starve if they don't get any. Grass will be trampled away to bare soil if dwarves and creatures walk over it enough times.
  • Bare soil, in this case sand.
  • Trees, which can be chopped down for wood.
  • Saplings, which will grow into trees unless trampled to death first.
  • Shrubs, which can be harvested for food, unless trampled to death first.
  • Boulders and pebbles.
  • Anthills.
  • Honey bee and bumblebee hives. A beekeeper can harvest them for honey, which can be turned into mead.
  • Murky pools containing water.

To exit "look around mode" simply press Esc, returning you to the main menu.

Going up and down (changing elevation)[edit]

So far we've only moved around in the four compass directions. There are two other directions in the game: up and down. You use < to move up one level and > to move down one level (each different level is called a z-level). There are 15 z-levels of empty air to build up into and around 60 z-levels of (usable) ground to dig down into, so there's plenty of space for your fortress to grow.

On the far right side of the screen are two measures of elevation/depth:


At the top of the far right is a measure of how many levels you are from the surface. A green number indicates you're that many levels above the surface and a red indicates you're that many levels below the surface. At the bottom of the far right is an indicator of absolute elevation, where an absolute elevation of 99 or 100 indicates sea-level. The absolute elevation of 0 has no relation to the lowest level on your site, and the absolute elevation at the surface says nothing about the number of usable z-levels available.

Note that the horizontal distance between one tile and the next is the same as the vertical distance between one z-level and the next.

Also note that the tiles below the surface (except for those inside of murky pools) will be labeled Inside, Dark and Subterranean. Dark doesn't particularly matter, since light isn't required in order to see. The other two will be mentioned in situations where they're important.

Next tutorial page[edit]

You can immediately jump into the action with the page on digging and chopping down trees, or you can read one or more of these informational articles:


  • While the game is unpaused, you might see creatures which blink in and out of visibility. Those creatures are vermin.
  • A dwarf will sometimes be overlayed by a flashing symbol. See status icons for their meaning.
  • A single tile has some very strange size properties:
    • One tile is big enough to hold an entire dragon.
    • It's so small that two kittens can't both stand on it at the same time.
    • It's big enough to hold one standing dragon and an endless number of dragons which are lying down.
    • It's so small that only a single cabinet can fit in it at once.
    • A wagon is smaller than a full grown dragon. However, a wagon occupies nine tiles worth of space, while a dragon only occupies one.
    • Try not to think about it too hard.
  • The game has no means of looking at a vertical cross section of your site (a z-level is a horizontal cross section), nor can it give you a 3D view of your site. However, the third party utilities Stonesense and Overseer can be used to get a 3D view.
  • The wagon can be deconstructed to turn it into three wooden logs which can be used for carpentry, but that would dump all of your supplies on the ground, and there's plenty of trees around to chop down.