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A starting location (also called a starting site) is a group of map tiles where a dwarven settlement is located. Starting out in the right location is crucial to not losing. Beginning players have several things to keep in mind when selecting a site.
While Adventure mode can take the player across an entire world map, a starting location is defined by the number of area blocks that they select when starting a game - they can never explore or expand past those boundaries.
When starting dwarf fortress mode, the "Choose Fortress Location" screen allows you to choose your site. The right-hand pane shows its location within the entire generated world; the middle pane ("Region") shows the general terrain types and civilizations in the area; and the left-hand pane shows the "Local" map. The umkh and UMKH keys allow you to change the placement and size of your starting site within the local map -- any rectangular shape from 2x2 tiles up to the entire local area (16x16 tiles). The site you choose must contain at least one non-mountain/river square to be accessible to travelers as well as your settlers.
The far-right pane displays text information about the map tiles you have selected. Sites will usually span more than one biome type; to see the information on each biome, press the function keys (F1 through F8, depending on how many biomes are contained in your site). Each biome will be home to different creatures as well as different types of rock and rock layers.
Pressing tab will show other location information as well:
- What civilizations can reach the site (remote sites such as glaciers and islands are often accessible only to dwarven immigrants and traders; all other locations are usually accessible to dwarves, elves, humans, and goblins).
- What dwarven civilization you want your settlers to be from. Depending on whether you chose a civilization from the north, the middle or the south, you will get a combination of muskoxes, mules, horses or camels with your wagon. More importantly, when you select your starting equipment or make a trade agreement with the dwarven traders later you will only be able to select stones that are available at the locations of the other fortresses of your civilization. If you want to later import flux stone, bituminous coal or bauxite, you need to chose wisely. You can see what items you civilization has access to on the embark screen. If you are not satisfied, you can abort the game at that stage and start the same map again, on the same location, but choosing a different dwarven civilization. This might similarly determine what kind of metals and meat you can buy.
- The "relative elevation" of the site (useful for seeing how mountainous the terrain is)
- A "cliff indicator" (useful for the same reason)
It is recommended to choose the smallest site possible that still contains all the map features you want (river, magma, trees, etc.) Sites larger than about 6x6 (36 tiles) will run slowly on all but the newest/fastest computers, and even a 6x6 site will probably not run at maximum speed (100 FPS) on a fast computer once several dwarves immigrate to the site (see maximizing framerate for more details).
Most of the interesting map features (chasms, bottomless pits, magma, lakes, etc.) are hidden from view during site selection, but can be seen either by choosing to show them during worldgen, or by changing the SHOW_EMBARK_<feature> options in your init.txt file. This makes good starting sites much easier to find, although it takes away the "surprise" of stumbling upon these features on your own (which may be good or bad, depending on your play style).
Once you have chosen the tiles you want for your site, press e to have your settlers embark on their journey. You will then be prompted to choose what starting equipment and skills you want them to have (you can also choose to have them start with the default equipment and skills).
The pregenerated worlds page contains several pre-scouted sites (some downloadable), with descriptions of what kinds of resources are available in each.
If you are relatively new to the game, you will probably want to avoid Haunted, Sinister, and Terrifying biomes, as well as extremes of cold and heat, until you get a better handle of the game. These types of biomes indicate the ferocity of the wild-undeath you will encounter in these regions. Hot regions may never get good rain; cold regions may never have good running water; trees in either region will probably be hard to come by. The good news is that this still leaves you with a lot of options most of the time. Make sure you've got at least some trees and vegetation on the map.
All of these cautions can be ignored if you are attempting a fun challenge.
Although rare and difficult, it is possible to embark to a location where even your mountainhome will not have or attempt contact with your fortress. Make sure you at least have contact with Dwarves; Humans are also good trading partners and you will commonly run in the Elves too. Elves are trickier to deal with than Humans, but not by much, mostly by being picky about what they will accept in trade and limiting your deforestation habits. Antagonistic forces will include Kobolds and Goblins although they may also surprise you by wanting to trade (the Goblins, at least). This antagonism is not definite, however, and any of the civilizations save for your Dwarves have a chance of being hostile with you from the outset, as indicated by a red dashed line or a red "WAR" next to that civilization's listing.
Mountain squares will contain certain features, and each world map mountain tile is guaranteed an underground river, a chasm, and pits somewhere in the mountain tiles of the local view. Also, mountainous areas are worth looking into for the stone and greater probability of finding magma.
Water is also a valuable commodity, for the purposes of farming and drinking. Ocean water is not drinkable. (See Water below.)
Forest and swamp tiles with heavy vegetation are also beneficial for their ample supplies of wood. (See Lumber below.)
Some biomes will also contain unique types of fauna and flora. (See Vegetation below.)
Another consideration is elevation range. The game allows access up to 15 levels above the highest peak and 15 levels below the deepest valley, so steeper slopes means much more diggable area. The downside is lag; more levels also means more CPU burden (this can cripple a fortress - be careful).
The surrounding elevation is a matter of preference. Elevation is represented in numbers from 1 to 9 and the * character for changes in elevation greater than 9. If you want an extreme landscape, with sheer cliffs and drop-offs, then pick a location with a large amount of elevation change (elevation changes of 4 or greater.) If you'd like a flatter landscape, try to settle in an area with low elevation (1's and 2's.) Remember: the more Z-levels you have on your map, the more data your computer will have to process. More Z-Levels will result in decreased performance.
Pay attention to the layer types listed on the right when choosing a location. The ones listed in white are sedimentary layers, which have the most iron ores and are the only ones containing bauxite and bituminous coal/lignite. If you plan to have steel production, you will also need a supply of flux stones. Since flux stones are almost always confined to their own layers, keep an eye out for them; conveniently, most flux stones are also sedimentary, so you can satisfy both requirements at once by embarking in a region with layers of chalk, limestone, or dolomite.
Any layer listed in brown is topsoil. It can be used for farming even without water, but it only rarely contains small amounts of stone or ore.
Dark gray layers are igneous extrusive. If you want valuable metals like gold and aluminum, these are your best bet.
Farming won't get you much in the middle of a desert, though you can farm directly on sand. Try to find an area with a brook -- larger water sources can hinder mining. If the game warns you that you've selected an area with an aquifer, pay attention: it's likely going to be very difficult to get through it to the stone below.
Currently a permanent source of water isn't required because farms don't dry out; this is expected to change. If your map starts with even the smallest pond you can dig under it, drain it into the room (and down again if there's that much water), and build a farm on the residual mud – water levels of 1/7 can be ignored when placing the farm plot.
The amount of trees in the selected biome will be listed on the right hand side of your location selection screen. Treeless maps should be avoided by new players.
Trees grow on the lower surface z-levels, so make sure you have a nice large swath to chop down. Just because the biome says "heavily forested" doesn't mean you will actually have trees.
The local flora can be a good source of seeds, alcohol, and food for a just started fortress. Use the Gather plants designation to collect them for use.
Unlike in previous versions, you aren't guaranteed to find a source of magma, unless you have a volcano or magma vent at your starting location. Having a source of magma on-site is extremely useful for metal- and glassworking since magma-powered versions of forges and furnaces consume no fuel (except when making steel), removing the need to search for coal or make charcoal. The site selection screen can give you a good idea of whether or not you'll be able to get any: look for darker igneous rocks like basalt, obsidian, gabbro, and so on.
Towns created by other civilizations exist only for your benefit. Humans won't mind at all if you tear apart their main pub to build your tunnel entrance. Also, their buildings provide plentiful wood (a small house contains 34 wood logs. Other buildings have much more.) and other useful items such as prebuilt furniture and ready to sell trade goods. This does not apply to goblins.
Each tile on the "Local" map is 48x48 tiles. The Z-level size depends on the elevation. The maximum Z-level is +15 above the highest peak and the minimum is -15 below the lowest valley. [Verify]
Keep this in mind when planning for Mega_constructions
Region · Biome · Climate · Surroundings · Map legend · Calendar
Badlands · Desert · Flatland · Forest · Glacier · Lake · Marsh · Mountain · Murky pool · Ocean · River · Rocky wasteland · Sand desert · Swamp · Tundra