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An ambush with cave fish men in a cavern.

An ambush is a type of attack in fortress mode where a small force of enemy humanoids attempts a sneak attack on your fortress. Smaller in scope than a full siege, ambushes are not related to the number of dwarves in your fortress. Enemies arrive in one or more separate "squads" of maybe 6-10 individuals that (try to) work and move as a team, similar to a dwarf military squad.

Unlike sieges, ambushes are not announced immediately, and the attacking units are only revealed when your fortress becomes aware of the attackers in a way that does trigger an announcement, either when they set off a cage trap or come sufficiently close to a dwarf, caravan member, or pet (they ignore non-hostile wildlife). Ambushes can also be discovered manually if the player happens upon on an invader corpse and some goblinite in one of your weapon traps (which do not cause announcements when they are triggered). Once an ambush squad is detected visually by a dwarf or pet, an ambush will generate a major announcement, the wording of which depends on the invader. There may be more than one enemy squad on the map, and each must be detected separately.

Ambushes, just like sieges, nearly always happen at the beginning of a season, generally in the first 15 days of the first month, often arriving with caravans, but can happen at any time. Note that elves will usually ambush with more than one squad (up to 50+), each of which has to be detected separately and triggers a separate announcement. If ambushers are caught in cage traps, they will be marked as Caged Prisoner in the unit screen. These prisoners can be dragged around between cages (or tossed over tall towers), although there may be a risk of jailbreak. If you abandon your fortress while an ambush is active, you will receive the message "Your strength has been broken." Finally, when the leader of an ambush is killed (or captured), but not the other units, they will stand around and "wait" for their leader; this is probably a bug.

Types of ambushes[edit]


An ambush! Curse all friends of nature!

Elven ambushes may occur if your civilization is at war with a neighboring elven civilization. These ambushes have the same structure as the elven sieges, where their numbers and the nature of an ambush may very well catch an unprepared fortress off-guard. They might also bring exotic beasts as they may do during sieges, as well as animal people that can fight alongside the elves.

As soon as an ambush is detected, a group of a dozen elves will appear at the map. Be aware that an ambush does not only have one wave of enemies, but detection of several scores of elves is highly possible. But as with elven sieges, the elves themselves are very poorly equipped and carry only wooden armor and weaponry. Clothing is also known to be dropped by slain hippies elves.


An ambush! Skulking vermin!

Kobold ambushes are triggered by a long enough string of successful kobold thievery. This usually only happens when kobold thieves manage to steal from an outdoor cache of some sort that your dwarves cannot access for some reason, possibly fallen goblinite from or during an ongoing siege. Kobold ambushes are mostly notable for being much more annoying than kobold thieves, and should not be allowed to occur.

It should be noted that the first ambushes from kobolds are full of recruits who have never seen a dwarf in their life, and will almost always scatter and run away instead of fighting.


An ambush! Drive them out!

Necromancers will also occasionally ambush your fortress, if you are in range of their tower and they opt out of a full-on siege. Necromancer ambushes consist of several necromancers, each one being detected individually; an early warning sign for a necromancer ambush is the presence of undead in non-evil biomes. The necromancers themselves are harmless, being regular old unarmed humanoids; however, very bad things will happen if they manage to find their way within sight of any left-over goblin sieges, corpse or refuse stockpiles, or (Armok forbid) last month's dragon invader. For this reason it is highly recommended that fortresses within sounding range of a tower internalize or atom smash all of their meat byproducts, and set standing orders to "gather refuse from outside" and clean up any meaty outdoor bits.

Cavern Dwellers[edit]

Cavern dwellers! Send them back to the darkness!

They just keep coming!
Urist didn't make it out. Don't be next, Bomrek.

Upon breaching the caverns, your fortress may occasionally be attacked by a large swarm of underground animal people, such as Olm men. As with most ambushes, they often remain hidden until they get close enough to attack, but unlike other ambushes, their numbers can be well into the dozens or more, resulting in alert and notification spam as a new wave of them is discovered, so while these appear to use the mechanics of an Ambush, they are somewhere between an Ambush and a Siege.

Cavern Dwellers are typically armed with shields and spears made of random military-grade metals, up to and including steel, but no armor. As such, they are easily dispatched by well-equipped Dwarven veterans, but their numbers can quickly overwhelm even your mightiest warriors if one of them is caught alone during a patrol. They can be especially deadly versus your civilians, as well as any inexperienced fighters or Monster Slayers.

They may attempt to relocate to a safer location in the caverns if they begin to lose, but they sometimes don't fully leave the map - amphibians may dive underwater and lie in wait to lick their wounds, which can have Fun consequences if your Masterwork Steel-clad dwarves dive in chasing a kill, only to drown when they can't get back out, leaving all of their equipment at the bottom of an infinitely-replenishing lake, potentially forever lost. If this becomes a problem, creating a swimming pool or other means of teaching your dwarves to swim en masse should become a priority, as should engraved slabs to prevent ghosts.

As caverns are always "indoors," massive clouds of miasma from their rotting corpses can also quickly become an issue for anyone doing work down there, as there are typically far too many to dispose of in a timely fashion.


Questers seeking an artifact may attempt to sneak in and steal their target from your fortress. If discovered, they may run away or attack, depending on their temperament.

Werebeasts from the wilds may attempt to ambush your fortress during a full moon. If discovered, they trigger a message similar to the one that is shown when a Megabeast attacks ("The Were(creature) (name) has come! ... Now you will know why you fear the night."). At the conclusion of the full moon, they return to their normal form and attempt to leave the site. If discovered in this state, they will still be announced as above, but with the details of their current form ("The Human (name) has come! A medium size creature prone to great ambition.")


  • Hidden ambushers do not display combat reports, but their combat actions may be included in other units' combat reports.
  • Upon discovery of an unconscious or otherwise incapacitated ambusher, the game will announce "There is a (creature) hidden away here." instead of the usual ambush announcement.[1]
  • Hidden ambushers are revealed upon death, without any announcement.

Adventure Mode[edit]

Ambushes also occur from Fast Travel in Adventurer mode. When traveling, other traveling figures are identified as asterisks, and if hostile, then approaching the region tile they occupy will trigger an ambush. Depending on the savagery of the land, you may also be randomly ambushed by the dominant predator(s) of the biome. Traveling alone at night in evil biomes adds the probability of bogeyman ambush.

When ambushed, the fast travel map will close and you will appear on the local map with your ambusher(s). If they're in view, they will be identified in a major announcement, but if obscured by terrain, distance, or lighting, then the announcement will inform you "You feel uneasy." As long as your ambushers can detect you or a party member, you will be unable to fast travel, as "You don't feel safe enough to travel."

Typical ambushes come from roving large predators (including giants, giant zombies, night trolls,) and patrols from a hostile settlement nearby (such as from enemy civs or raider camps.) Muggers harassing towns also trigger ambushes; though they don't appear hostile at first, they intend to commit crimes against persons and property, including yours. And angered settlements or raider groups may take revenge by sending assassins who will strike even in the safe confines of a city.

If you're unprepared for the ambush, you can evade it successfully by escaping your pursuer's view, using terrain, speed, and stealth, until you're able to fast travel safely. This is easiest against random predators who can't detect you at the time of ambush. When evading historical figures, fast traveling to another region tile adjacent to it will trigger another ambush, so you must get sufficient distance from them in order to successfully elude them.

See also[edit]

Military and defense
Managing soldiers
Design tips