Monday, September 18, 2006

Dwarf Fortress (6): Intermediate Farming Strategy (by Thom Moyles)

Thom said this was a "basic guide" when he sent it to me, but it's well beyond the basics (which I covered in the previous post). So I'm calling it the "intermediate" guide, and thanks to Thom for making it available to us.

Farming, the Basics
It should be noted that almost all of this information is available in the Dwarven Fortress wiki, which is a tremendous resource. I’d suggest just having it open while you play and it’s entirely worth it just to sit and cycle through pages using the Random Page link and even if you don’t entirely understand, reading each page as it comes. Eventually it will all fall together.

The intention here is to provide a good basic strategy for developing farms in your first year. Ideally, you should already know how the interface of the game works, since I’m not too helpful in that regard. If you’re thinking “How do I make a Still?”, you need something even more basic than this, which is still really basic, which is what it’s like dealing with DF because the game is scary amounts of complex. Conversely, if you already know how to make a farm and make it through the first winter without scraping by, this isn’t going to be very helpful either. I’m hoping that there’s enough people who are in-between that this will wind up being useful to somebody.

Lots of people like to take sweet pod seeds over the other crop types, mainly because once you start processing them, they produce a 1 sweet pod to 5 food items payout, which is great. However, doing this requires you to build a Farmer’s Workshop in order to produce Dwarven Syrup and I believe a Kitchen to then cook the syrup into food. While this is an excellent plan, I prefer to leave it for the second year, since for most people, the object of the first year is to provide enough food to make it through the winter without losing any dwarves.

With this in mind, I think Plump Helmets are the easy choice. Their main advantage is that they don’t have to be cooked to eat, so you don’t have to build anything to process them and they can also be brewed into dwarven wine, a process that I’ll talk more about later. The initial allotment of Plump Helmet Spawn is probably going to be enough for the size of farm that you’ll be able to build in the first year. You may consider bumping it up to 20 or 25 if you feel confident about your ability to get a good-sized farm up and running quickly.

It’s also a good idea to bring along 5 or so seeds of the other crop types, including sweet pods. You likely won’t plant them in your first year (or in very small amounts if you do); however, they will become more important later, so it’s a good idea to have a small stockpile of these seeds that you can start growing once you’ve got the safety of your settlement assured.

The First Year
Surviving the first year is made much easier if you have your farm up and running. In fact, I would say that it’s the most important part of your beginning settlement. It may seem daunting at first; however, it’s more than possible to set up a floodgate-controlled farm and collect a decent harvest in the first year. The key to doing so is keeping all of your dwarves busy and highly specialized. When mining, don’t bother with digging anything other than an one-by-many corridor driving for the underground river and a room large enough to have a mason’s workshop and a mechanic’s workshop, if you’re going to be doing floodgate mining.

Don’t have your key dwarves do anything other than their job-specific tasks. Hit [v]->[p]->[l] and have your miner only mine, your mason only mason, etc. This means that they won’t get distracted by things like hauling duties early on, where speed is of the essence.

Once you hit the river, dig out your farm, which is where you’re going to have to make a decision of Nile-style natural flooding or using floodgates. I prefer floodgates, even though they take longer, because of the level of control that you have. With Nile-style farms, you’re at the whim of the river in terms of when it floods and you don’t have any control over whether it floods again, wiping out crops and possibly dwarves. Monsters can also come into your fortress through these farms, whereas the floodgates will lock them out.

There’s an excellent write-up of both the floodgate technique and Nile-flooding here:

I would suggest having a large-to-medium sized room (6-10x8-10, with supports of course) and then just plotting most of it for plump helmets. Although you’re only going to be able to get as many seeds as you brought into the ground, if you’ve worked quickly and gotten your Still set up, it’s possible that you may be able to plant more before winter comes (more on the Still and why it’s important later). Place it so that you can easily expand it later and also so that it doesn’t block off future development (digging deeper into the mountain, etc.).

When the farming plot is set up, make sure that your farmer(s) only have Farming (Field) highlighted on their labor lists. Also add Farming (field) to all your other dwarves as well as their regular tasks and if you only have one farmer, I would suggest making him only work on Farming as well, at least while you’re getting that first crop in the ground. Remember that by pressing [a][b] and [c] while selecting the farm from [q] allows you to select which crops you will grow for each season. Use [+] and [-] to select Plump Helmets and press Enter to make sure that you have them selected for all the available seasons.

It’s also a good idea to place a food storage area very close to your farm. This is because food storage areas hold not only the completed crops; they also hold the seeds, so you’ll have a constant stream of dwarves going from your food storage to your farming plots. Having them run back and forth all the way across the cavern means a lot of lost time.

The major workshop that you should build if you’ve followed the basic principles of what I’ve written so far is the Still. The Still is really helpful in that dwarves love alcohol and when they have enough to drink, you’re going to get a lot more production out of your workforce. All of the basic crops can be made into alcohol and should be at some point, since each dwarf usually has a personal preference for a certain kind of alcohol over another and will be happier if what they like is available.

Place the Still close to the food storage area and the farm itself, since the Still requires finished crops and will produce barrels of alcohol and seeds (which is important and I swear I’ll get to it). Because of this, it is also advisable to have a large number of spare barrels, which can usually be had by buying as many different kinds of foodstuffs during the initial goods allocation. Buying one each of all of the 2-point meats is a good way to do this and should provide with enough barrels for the first year at least.

The First Winter
When winter hits, your farm will dry up and you won’t really have to do anything to do until next year in terms of actual farming. You will have plenty of time to build and you should be able to build 1 or 2 additional medium-to-large-size floodgate farms given an experienced miner. In fact, the greatest obstacle to this is actually getting dwarves to haul the floodgates from the masonry to the farms. I swear that the weight of the things actually causes them to avoid the job, even if they’re set to do it.

One tip for dealing with the first winter in terms of not starving is strangely enough, to have not much to trade. This doesn’t mean not having anything to trade at all, though. If you’ve hit obsidian, you can make 2 short swords and this should be enough to buy all the meat the dwarven caravan can carry. Not only will this get you more food, the number of migrants that you receive is based on the caravan’s report on your fort. If you have most of your workshops set up outside (note: not verified at all to have any impact, I suspect that it does though) and don’t have many crafts to trade, it is possible to not get any migrants at all in the first winter, beyond the metalsmith, who always seems to show up. This may actually make things a little more difficult during the next year when you are short of dwarfpower; it will make survival easier if you’re worried about starvation.

If you do have enough food, which should mean good (double-digit) stores of meat, fish and plant, you should use your still to turn your plump helmets into dwarven wine (hey, we finally got here). Put the task on repeat and carefully monitor your levels of plump helmets. If the number gets too low, stop production, since you don’t want to run out of food. If you are producing wine, it will be really helpful because not only do dwarves work faster/harder when they have available alcohol, the process of creating dwarven wine also produces plump helmet spawn, in greater numbers than it took to plant the initial plot. Which means, the more wine you make, the more seeds you have, so the more plump helmets you’ll grow next year, which you can turn into wine, etc. Once this feedback loop gets rolling and you have a couple of Proficient Farmers, your fortress shouldn’t have to worry about food or alcohol shortages so long as you keep building new farms.

Good luck and as it says in the documentation, remember that it’s fun to lose.

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