I just retired my first good, semi-successful fort in Dwarf Fortress. I decided jot down a few comments while the memories are still fresh. My fort, Commonbread, lasted 6+ years, survived 4 goblin sieges, had 150 dwarfs at its peak, and generated more than ☼1.6M in value.
My two principal mistakes are related: I picked a cold embark location, and I opened my gates to fight a goblin siege during late-autumn. My 30-dwarfs military had been training for more than a year and was pretty decent: the siege was pushed back with one casualty. A number of dwarfs were injured during the siege and went to the hospital to get patched up. Unfortunately, because the brook was frozen, they did not receive any water and 20 of them died of thirst.
It would have been possible to leave my gates closed and let the siege last for however long. I could have continued playing, but because of some limitations I imposed on myself (explained later), I decided that their deaths would signal the end of the fort. After engraving memorial slabs to the fallen dwarfs, I retired Commonbread.
My fort layout was not optimal: dwarfs had to slowly carry stones across long distances, the stock piles were too general and too far away from related workshops. It was to be expected because to keep things simple, I challenged myself to keep the entire fort on one Z-level until I had used all the available space.
Another mistake was distribution of labor. I should have created a few classes, e.g., “farmer”, “miner”, “stone worker”, “wood worker”, “hauler”, “military”. This would’ve made it easier and faster to temporarily switch dwarfs. I also learned that some professions, such as fish dissector, small animal dissector, and animal caretaker are practically useless.
I was also a bit too eager to make wooden spikes in a map that had not many trees; when I had to build beds or barrels, I was often out of wood.
More than anything, this fort was a great vehicle for learning more about Dwarf Fortress. I learned how to use burrows to get my dwarfs to safety during a siege. I learned how to create military squads, how to make them train, how to move them around, and how to attack enemies. Making wooden spikes and wooden spike balls is a great way to raise money quickly for when the trade caravans come. A wall and a raised bridge is a great way to keep an army away. Some industries that seem unimportant at first, like a clothier, seem to become more important as time passes; I had a number of dwarfs unhappy with the crappy old clothes they were wearing.
Most important lesson (re-learned): Dwarf Fortress is incredibly addictive and immensly fun.