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Skills and Professions are two different things, and are distinct from labor preferences, which are distinct from jobs, but all four are closely related.
The skills a dwarf has in an area determine how well that dwarf accomplishes jobs in that area. A dwarf's labors can be turned on or off by the player (by viewing that dwarf's preferences for labors, v p l ), and determine what sort of jobs a dwarf is allowed to do. A dwarf may have great skill, but until you designate the appropriate labor and queue up some corresponding jobs, and then the dwarf actually responds and takes and finishes that job, nothing gets done. Skills increase in level with experience; every time a dwarf completes a task successfully, the corresponding skill will increase by an amount of experience. Once the experience total reaches the amount required for the next level, the skill level will increase.
Profession tends to describe what a dwarf does best, as defined by their skills, not what labors they are currently designated to perform. Their profession is usually, but not always based on their best skill. A dwarf with cooking at level 1 and no other skills has the profession of "cook", but a dwarf with cooking 14 and armorsmith and weaponsmith and a dozen other skills all at 12 is also seen as having the profession of "cook".
Any dwarf can have any labor activated, even if they have absolutely no experience or levels in that skill. They are still the same profession. The only difference is the speed they complete the task, and/or the quality of the final product. So by turning different labors on/off, you can have your legendary armorsmith designated with the cooking labor, and your expert grower making weapons - probably a bad plan, but nothing stops you from doing that.
When Activated for the military, a dwarf's profession temporarily changes to a military one, but they will return to their civilian profession (if any) when de-Activated. (Note that dwarves with military skills in excess of Great skill (level 10) will become a hero, abandoning any civilian professions and becoming permanently military.)
- (If you are a new player and find yourself boggled at the variety of skills for your starting seven dwarves, see Starting build for a general discussion on and examples of starting skill selection.)
Professions are determined in one of two ways. For the majority of the population, the highest skill or skills of a dwarf determines their profession. Also, as your fortress grows, some unique professionals will arrive, one-of-a-kind dwarves who perform a very specific function in the community - even if that function is not always appreciated or welcome. Such immigrant nobles will be labeled with their noble "professions", regardless of any skills. Also, a dwarven "baby" or "child" will carry that label as their "profession" until they are adults. (Appointed noble titles do not affect professions, but may affect skills used and improved.)
Activating or de-activating a dwarf for the military changes their listed profession from civilian to military. Having some military skills along with civilian skills does not make a dwarf a professional soldier. If a Wood Cutter has some levels in Axedwarf or a Hunter has some levels in Marksdwarf, they are still a Wood Cutter or Hunter, civilian professions, until they are activated. A dwarf with novice level of Axedwarf and Legendary Brewing will be activated as an axedwarf if that's their highest weapon skill, while a dwarf with high skill level in axedwarf and novice level in brewing will be a Brewer as a civilian if brewing is their highest civilian skill.
A dwarf's profession also governs the possibility and likelihood, relative to the rest of the population, of entering a strange mood.
Some non-dwarves will show professions that are not available to dwarves, like "Thief", or non-dwarf soldiers with non-dwarf weapons, like a pikeman.
In Adventure Mode, there are professions that are not available or relevant in Fortress Mode, like Drunk or Pikedwarf.
Professions, colors, & skill categories
Different professions are associated with a different color of dwarf. If the profession changes (due to skill levels increasing), the profession may change and the color of the dwarf with that, if appropriate. (See chart below for colors associated to skills and professions.) A dwarf with the "peasant" profession is a dwarf that has no skills above dabbling level and/or only has skills as shown in the "No profession" box below plus isn't an active military member.
Some professions relate directly to one specific, (usually) dominant skill - "Bowyer" or "Wood Cutter" or "Wood Crafter", for example. However some professions are a general category for similar skills - "Woodworker", in the instance of the previous 3 examples, would imply similar expertise with 2 or more skills in that one category. The exact math varies as to how and when one particular profession vs another is chosen due to differences in and combinations of skill levels, but usually it's the highest skill(s)*. If two skills in different categories are tied, it's the one listed first for that particular dwarf.
- (* Many of the "category" professions seem to be based off of the number of levels above no skill/dabbling and whether the highest skill is "double" the increase of the lesser ones.)
On the unit page, your dwarves are always listed by profession in the order below (provided you have any of that type) - miners first, peasants last* (represented in the "No profession" category below). The colors displayed in this chart are the default Dwarf Fortress color scheme; if you have altered those, your colors will, obviously, be altered as well.
- (* and children (not shown) following them in (dark) RED.)
- (Note - Exact colors may vary with different tile-sets or color settings in init.txt. The above are correct for standard DF.)
Social skills, Broker skills, swimming and throwing do not affect profession. Military skills do not affect civilian professions (until they become Heroes).
When a dwarf is activated as a soldier, their listed profession is generated by their best weapon skill. Armor user and Shield user do not affect these military professions. Note that in the military menu you can assign a dwarf a different weapon, to fight or train with, than what is listed as their profession. A soldier with no military skills above dabbling is called a "recruit".
When increases in a dwarf's skills cause their profession to change, an announcement is generated. Any dwarf can change professions if they train (enough) with a different skill.
Custom profession labels
It is possible to give a dwarf a custom profession name, similar to giving them a nickname, through the units list or by viewing them individually, or before embark if you are "preparing carefully" by viewing them in that menu. This custom label has no effect on color, or on the actual profession that the dwarf is associated with in the game. You can label them as Dyer or Duke or Dragonslayer, Wood Cutter or Weaponsmith or the Grand Wazoo, but if their skill levels determine that they're a Farmer, then they're a Farmer, until their skills change that.
A skill reflects the amount of experience a dwarf has. With (or without) that skill, they can be assigned one or more different labor preferences in their individual labor menu, general activities that you approve them pursuing. Once they accept a particular assignment, a job is generated and they proceed to apply their skill to that job.
A single skill can be applied to many different jobs. For instance, a Bone Carver might carve a totem out of a skull, craft bone practice bolts for a crossbow, create bone armor, or carve bone crafts to trade. Higher skill levels may increase the speed at which jobs are performed, the quality of the items produced, or both.
Note that many labor preferences, especially hauling, have no associated skill, do not generate experience, and do not improve with practice.
Starting a new skill
Dwarven peasants and members of other trades can learn a new skill by having the labor associated with the skill turned on in their preferences screen. The first task related to their new skill they preform will grant them the "Dabbling" skill level. Dwarves may then advance through the skill levels listed below.
To reach Novice level in any skill requires 500 XP. Reaching each successive level requires an additional 100 XP, so to go from Novice to No label requires 600 XP; No label to Competent requires 700 XP, and so on. The following figures are the cumulative XP needed to go from unskilled to any given skill level.
Although Legendary is the highest skill level displayed, there are actually five skill levels above it. These are known to have an effect on item quality; a Legendary dwarf will make masterpiece items 15% of the time, on average, where a Legendary+5 dwarf will make masterpieces 27% of the time (and exceptional items the other 73% of the time). Skill beyond Legendary+5 does not increase the probability of creating a masterpiece item.
You can't find out exactly when a dwarf gets to Legendary+5, but it will happen 1000 XP before their eighth attribute if they have no other skills -- so when they get eight attributes, they are at Legendary+5. Although skill is capped at Legendary+5, experience is not capped at any level; a dwarf can keep gaining attributes by using a skill that has long since maxed out.
Skills with odd associated labors
Each skill has a corresponding labor which is usually named similarly - Miners do Mining, Carpenters do Carpentry, etc. However, there are some exceptions:
See also: Labor