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Sparring is a form of (usually) non-lethal combat engaged in by soldiers to train their combat skills in fortress mode. Sparring takes place at barracks; off-duty soldiers will engage in mock combat with other off-duty soldiers, causing incidental injuries as they go but gaining valuable experience (albeit only from 25% of all attacks). Dwarves tend to knock each other around while sparring, so build your barracks at least 10 tiles away from such hazards as water, magma, and the chasm. Furniture in the barracks (such as beds) will not impede sparring, and sparring soldiers cannot harm other creatures, even if they are in the same tile. Sparring also does not wake sleeping dwarves -- it is a common sight to see two dwarves wrestling on top of a bed while another dwarf sleeps in it, oblivious.
To assign a soldier to sparring, you must take his or her squad off duty. This is accomplished by opening the military screen, selecting the soldier from the list, choosing to view the selected squad, then toggling the duty status until it displays "Squad is standing down". You must have at least two melee soldiers off duty before sparring will begin, although they need not be of the same soldier class. If the conditions are met, the soldiers will automatically choose to spar at their own discretion.
Rotating soldiers between an always-off-duty training squad and a series of on-duty patrol squads can be an effective way of training soldiers without having to assign off-duty status to each soldier directly. Squads tend to travel everywhere together, including during their training time, so dwarves of similar skill levels can be grouped to enhance the effectiveness of their training.
Note: The champions are under no obligation to not crush your windpipe with a single blow. This is not a karate class, this is a bunch of dwarves punching each other until they learn not to be punched. You do not get a fancy rainbow of belts, and you are not guaranteed to survive. But you will learn to roundhouse kick, insofar as a dwarf can roundhouse kick.
When soldiers spar, they practice (and thereby gain experience) with whatever weapon and armor they have been assigned, including shields. Thus, in order to train axedwarves, it is necessary to assign the recruits axes, and so forth with all other weapons. The weapon you wish for them to spar with can be chosen through the military screen, and then the weapons selection.
It is possible to severely wound a partner during a sparring session. When practising with wrestlers, the worst injury that is likely to happen is a broken bone, although even this can be fatal in unfortunate cicrcumstances. Do not be surprised if you see a recruit or wrestler die of suffocation. Even minor damage to nervous tissues in the brain, neck, and spinal cord never heal and dwarves with these injuries will never spar again although they will still fight, and if equipped with a crossbow, they will still shoot at archery ranges.
If a military dwarf gets a minor nervous injury before gaining much combat skill, you may want to release him or her from duty so that dwarf can at least serve your economy as a hauler (or Fortress Guard), and a new dwarf can claim their weapon and armor to practice with.
In the event that a soldier is injured while sparring, the soldier will rest until he or she recuperates, just as with any other injury. In the event of a broken limb, it will take at least a full season before the soldier will be available for action once again. Mangled limbs and other injuries may take much longer, if they heal at all.
If a soldier accidentally kills another, the accidental killer will receive an unhappy thought. However, killing another during a sparring session is not a crime and will not be punished by justice.
Sparring injuries can be very brutal to a fort's soldier population, leaving many dwarves with moderate injuries if precautions are not taken (see below). If your troops get injured frequently by sparring, it's a good idea to keep a solid proportion of your soldiers on duty so that you don't have too many injuries in case of a siege or ambush. If your troops are getting injured, however, you should take precautions.
The following tactics can help your dwarves avoid sparring injuries:
- First and most importantly: Double-check what weapon each trainee is wielding. Do not let miners in with picks or woodchoppers in with steel battleaxes - either can cripple half a dozen dwarves.
- Equipping armor and shields. Bronze is good, iron better, steel best of all. Quality matters, each level represents 20% higher effectiveness of the piece--up to double for masterworks. Note that dwarves can wear plate body armor overtop chain body armor. See Using Armor for more details.
- Equipping soldiers with weak silver or wooden weapons is an excellent way to reduce the risk of injury. These do only half of the damage of iron weapons. Note that wooden melee weapons can only be obtained by angering the elves and inciting them to attack. Beware, as it can be time consuming to force your soldiers to switch back to metal weapons in the event of a siege or ambush; if your soldiers enter battle with their sparring weapons they will be much less effective.
- It is strongly recommended to send soldiers through a basic training regimen by allowing them to spar without weapons until they achieve several levels in Wrestler skill, then begin their training for weapons directly. This can help reduce the amount of injuries suffered, as Wrestler skill is used to determine the probability of dodging attacks in addition to its offensive purposes.
- Likewise, the more training your soldiers get in Shield user, the more likely they will be to avoid injury. Thus it is safest to give your soldiers plenty of Wrestling practice, while equipped with armor and shields, before cross-training them for weapon usage.
- You might also want to buff up a dwarf's stats before sparring by assigning them to do jobs such as mining, engraving, or siege operating. This can increase a dwarf's Toughness (and thereby resistance to damage), although it may also increase Strength, which increases damage inflicted.
- It is worth noting that Guards spar just like off-duty soldiers, when they are not on patrol. Recruiting directly from the Fortress Guard and Royal Guard will help ensure that even the newest recruits will have at least some training should they be sent into battle.
- Avoid letting dwarves spar in a room containing a full channel. While channelling a river of magma through the barracks may seem like a fun idea, they can end up dodging into it. Real Fun.
Soldiers armed with crossbows will not spar; the equivalent to sparring for a crossbow-armed dwarf is shooting at an archery range. As with sparring, the crossbow-dwarf's squad must be set to stand down. Unlike sparring, dwarves do not need partners to practice archery. The dwarf must be equipped with a crossbow and a supply of wooden or bone bolts; metal bolts will not be wasted on target practice. The shooting range must also be designated properly from the archery target (see that article for more information).
Marksdwarves do not gain any skills other than Marksdwarf while shooting on a range, so it may be useful to get them involved in a few unarmed, armored sparring matches in the barracks to improve their odds against return fire (or close-quarters combat once they run out of ammo). If you choose to forego this melee training, marksdwarves can safely be assigned leather armor--without the Armor user skill, metal armor will slow them immensely, making them much less effective in combat.
Marksdwarves use the Hammerdwarf skill when they run out of ammo and resort to melee combat. Crossbows don't make very dangerous melee weapons, even if they are metal, but even moderate experience may be enough to keep your soldiers alive until reinforcements arrive.
Live combat training
Soldiers gain experience in martial skills much more quickly during actual combat. For obvious reasons, it is best to boost your soldiers' experience by sparring before they enter a real battle. Goblins captured in a cage trap and released into a closed room count as real combat for the purposes of marksmanship training. Stripping the goblins of their weapons (see discussion here) can make them effective single-use sparring partners for well-armed dwarves. Leaving the goblins in their armor increases the duration and benefit of the single sparring session, but also slightly increases the risk of a dwarf getting hurt.
An untrained soldier can easily suffer a career-ending injury from a goblin invader, whereas a well-armed and armoured Legendary Champion can cut a swathe through an invading column without taking a scratch--at least, so long as there are no enemy archers on the field.
Miners fight with their pick, and use their mining skill to wield it. An expert miner can quickly level-up when sparring 'unarmed'; watch out for injuries.