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Reports are messages detailing either combat (both practiced and real) between creatures, or events that took place during a mission. The list goes on for quite a while (up to 11 pages, in fact), but only relatively recent combat or missions will have detailed reports (accessible with ) attached, out to a year.
Combat reports are the best renderings of battles, giving detailed information not otherwise revealed by simple characters standing next to or near one another. Since combat involves two (or more) parties, every battle will give at least two reports, one from either side of the fight. Each combat report is a record of the cumulative actions of the creature in question; goblins that get wounded, run away, then get struck down will not generate more than one report, for instance. Do not confuse reports with announcements, which pertain to non-combat events.
Types of reports
New reports generate flags on the side of the screen while unread. All flags/indicators disappear from the main view after you visit the Reports menu by hitting. The tiles depicted below are those that appear for the report type.
C: A combat report is red, and will be reported on the main menu as "<creature> is fighting!" Note that a hunted animal will be considered fighting.
H: A hunting report is green, and describes that "the <profession> <name> is hunting."
S: A sparring report is in cyan, and will be indicated as "<dwarf> is sparring."
M: A mission report is in yellow, and will be indicated as "Mission Report: <mission name> (Set out <season> <year>)"
S: A mission spoils report is in yellow, and will be shown as "Spoils Report: <squad>, <season> <year>"
T: A new tribute report is available, and will appear as "Tribute Report: <site government>, <season> <year>" in yellow
I: A new Interrogation report is available. It will appear in the Alerts in cyan.
The contents of combat reports are basically textual battle records, and detailed ones at that — every battle event is recorded in the report.
Mission reports have an animated map on the left side of the screen. A path is traced out from your fortress to the destination and events are "revealed" on the right side of the screen.