Tutorials/Survival in an infinite desert

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This is a tutorial on survival in an infinite desert, whether it's a customized world with desert as the only biome, a desert superflat preset, or a large biomes world, where the spawn just happened to be in a desert.

Introduction - The Challenge of the Desert[edit]

The Desert biome is one of the most difficult biomes for a player to survive and prosper in, owing to an extreme scarcity of essential resources in the natural environment. Typically no trees are available to make planks for even wooden tools or a crafting table. Without even basic wooden tools there is no obvious way to obtain cobblestone, and so there is no way to enter even the "stone age". Without a crafting table, crafting is extremely limited. Even basic survival becomes a real challenge in a desert, and very different approaches are required in order to make actual progress.

If you spawn in a Desert biome in a normal game, you probably just need to get somewhere else, fast - check out the Survival section, build a starting shelter, collect materials for travel shelters, and start exploring your way out of the desert, to somewhere more hospitable. This whole Tutorial only really applies if you intend to remain in the Desert biome indefinitely.

Creating a Desert World[edit]

Customized or Superflat[edit]

To create an infinite, endless desert to survive in, simply create a new world, change the world type to superflat, and choose the preset “Desert”. Then start the world.

Or to create it to be more like the normal Minecraft desert (in which you can mine for ores instead of having to raid villages for minerals), go to create a new world, change the world type instead to customized and change the biome to “Desert”. Then click done and start the world.

Customized vs Superflat comparison[edit]

There are some fairly significant differences between the "superflat" desert Preset, and the merely "customized" desert. The superflat desert will have a much more limited range of resources (block types, mob types, etc).

Edition and Version Differences[edit]

Console Editions[edit]

In console editions, there is no Customized world type, but your Superflat world can be customized to have most of the features of a normal Minecraft world. It should have a deep layer of stone so that ores can spawn.

Java Edition[edit]

Java Edition, like the Console Edition, doesn't have a Customization option as such, except as a sub -option of Superflat. However, a world type called 'buffet' effectively replaces it, but it is not as customizable.

Extra Challenging Options[edit]

For (greatly) added challenge, turn off generation of all structures in the world creation customized settings. Another very good challenge, not quite so difficult, is to turn off generation of just villages and temples, but leave generation of mineshafts and strongholds. These structures are much harder to exploit than villages and temples.

Let's Go![edit]

Now, since the only point of creating this Desert world was for the challenge, set the mode to Survival and play on!

Survival[edit]

Survival Options[edit]

Normally if you spawn in a desert, you would try to find a more hospitable biome as soon as possible. If you have set yourself the challenge of desert-only survival, that's not an option.

In a desert-only game, the easiest route to making progress is to find a village, desert temple or abandoned mineshaft. These structures have resources that are incredibly precious because they cannot be obtained anywhere else in the desert biome. (You can also obtain resources from dungeons and strongholds, but dungeons are hard to reach and are not guaranteed to have the items you most need, and strongholds are far from an easy option, being an end-game related structure).

If you can't find a village or temple or mineshaft, or if takes a long time to find one, you will need to take other approaches to survive while you are exploring.

Immediate Survival[edit]

Very few of the normal survival resources are available in the desert, particularly before you have found a village or temple. A different approach is needed for initial survival.

During your first day, collect dirt (if you see any - there is none in a Superflat Desert), some cacti, maybe sticks, and most importantly sand. You get sticks by breaking dead bushes with your hands. This is the only source of wood in the open desert, but unfortunately you can only obtain sticks, not wood planks. Cacti are useful as defensive structures and defensive 'weapons'. Sand is your general building material. Dirt is the rarer, specialized building material, critical to build a roof or covered opening (eg a doorway). If you can't find dirt, or are in a Superflat Desert where dirt does not spawn, you will need to craft a lot of sand into sandstone right away in order to be able to build a secure shelter.


Shelter[edit]

A 5x5 "Day 1" desert house made mostly of sand, with part-sandstone roof, in a Superflat Preset Desert. Note the 2-deep 13x13 trench, "bridge" blocked by a cactus, "doors" of sand + cactus, "doors" and "windows" dug down an extra block outside to prevent zombie babies entering, cacti on roof to deter spiders while observing from the roof via a 1x1 "skylight" hole .

First build a shelter mostly of sand blocks. Sand is the most abundant material. Dirt is more scarce, but you will need either dirt or sandstone for your roof (since sand obeys gravity). First identify a source of dirt blocks (except on Superflat). Then pick a low sand hill in an otherwise flat area, flatten the sand off the hill by removing it and use those sand blocks to build your shelter house. You may want to leave a few 1x1 empty block spaces high in the walls as "windows", since it will be a long time before you are able to make glass or light sources. Make sure any windows are at least 2 blocks above the outside ground level, otherwise husk and zombie babies can enter through them. When you add the dirt or sandstone roof you may want to add a "skylight", though there is a risk of a mob coming through the hole (if you allow a path for mobs to walk on to your roof). Keep an area of the house that is not visible from any window, so you can hide there from the ranged attacks of skeletons, witches, and from creeper line of sight to avoid explosions. As you will have none of the normal tools or weapons, even mobs that are ordinarily not very dangerous become a real threat to you.

Instead of blocking the doorway with a door (you don't have any way to make those) or a sand pillar, block it with a cactus. Either a 2-high cactus, or a 1-high cactus on top of a sand block. This will allow you to see out, and will also damage any mob coming up to your door. Make sure you have at least a 3 x 3 clear floor area in the house so that you can stay out of activation range of creepers (or at least, one creeper). Maybe on your first night just make a 1x1 hole in the roof (too small for spiders to come through) and no 'windows' so you don't have to worry about creepers or ranged attacks. There is the possibility that an enderman could fall through the 1x1 hole, but if one does, just don't look at it until it goes away.

(Tunneling out of a trap is rarely an option in the desert because the sand will collapse. For the same reason it's problematic (but not impossible) to build lower levels under your house for storage, workspace, greater safety, or mining. See #Mining below for more information)

If you can't find any dirt, you are in danger and in difficulty. Unlike in normal biomes you can't just dig a hole and cover yourself to survive the first night (in pitch darkness). If you have time, craft some sandstone. If not, (in Customized only) you could tunnel a short way into a stone cliff face (very slow, with your bare hands) to make a small cave, and then block the entrance with a sand and/or cactus. Or find a naturally roofed cave, and block first the inside and then the outside of the cave with sand/cacti. Or dig a 1x1 wide or 1x2 wide hole (no wider) down into the sand and surround the hole with 4 cacti in a cross shape, diagonally adjacent to each other, as tall as possible. That makes a survival shelter that should get you through the night. In the morning, make finding dirt your top priority, and failing that, craft sandstone - more than you need immediately, since you can't re-use it, it is destroyed when you break the block. In a Superflat Desert you must make sandstone; none of these alternatives (apart from the "cactus coffin") are available.

In theory a small house with 5x5 walls needs 32-34 sand for the walls, plus 25 dirt or sandstone for the roof. In practice you can get away with less. You could use 10 blocks in a 3 x 3 pattern above the floor space (not above the walls), plus 1 block on the wall to anchor that 3 x 3 to the wall = 10 blocks. You could clip the 4 corners (but not the middle) off the 3 x 3 block and reduce it to 6 blocks, but if you go down the minimum blocks and are using sandstone, don't make a mistake! It takes a long time to break sandstone with your hands, and breaking it doesn't drop a sandstone block, the block just gets destroyed.

Desert Shelter Construction Plans[edit]

Detailed construction plans for a 5x5 "Day 1" desert house are here: Tutorials/Desert Shelter

Defenses[edit]

On your first or second day build a defensive system around your house. Dig two-block-deep trenches (or two-block high sand walls) in a square or ring around your house, at least 3 blocks away from your house walls. So for a 5x5 walled house, dig an 11x11 or 13x13 square ditch. If you dig rather than build, as a bonus this will collect most of the sand you need for a sandstone-roofed house. The 3 block margin is to stop creepers blowing up your house. Put a bridge across this trench (or doorway in the wall) only one block wide and block it at night, or whenever you are away from your house, with at least one cactus on the inward side. Make sure there are no loose blocks in your trenches (or up against your walls); ensure that it is fully two deep / two high everywhere (except at your cactus-protected bridge or doorway). Otherwise mobs will cross the ditch or wall. Mobs may fall into the ditch, in which case you can easily (though slowly) kill them with your fist.

Bear in mind this ditch system will not (yet) stop spiders, so don't wander out at night and be careful coming out in the morning (particularly for creepers). Add some cacti in the zone between the ditch and the house will stop spiders or at least harm them and alert you if they are there. If you have time put a few cacti on your roof for the same reason.

If you place a cactus on top of sand, it's very safe for you: you can walk or run into it without being hurt, because the sand is slightly bigger than the cactus. The only way to hurt yourself is by jumping or falling into it. This also means this type of cactus will only hurt spiders (when they climb up on it), not other mobs. For any cactus you are likely to have to move around near to, the cactus-on-sand method is best. For outer defenses that you don't normally go near, you can put the cactus straight on the ground so it is more likely to do damage.

On the next day (or sooner if you can work fast), add a second, outer trench ring, so that if the first trench ring is destroyed by a creeper you are not holed up inside your house and vulnerable to a second creeper destroying the house. Losing your house walls will be instant death because you will not be able to defend against the zombies and husks.

Also, add a wall of cacti (either later as an addition, or as an alternative to the ditch system). You can't place cacti next to each other and you can only place them on sand, but if you make a ring of zigzag (diagonally adjacent) cacti around your house, this will form a solid wall. As a bonus, mobs can be tempted into running into the cacti, taking damage, though this is a slow way to kill them. It helps if you are also hitting them at the same time. With the zigzag arrangement, if you get diagonally on from a mob it will attempt to path through the (too small) gap between the cactus, and repeatedly hit the thorns until it dies. The cactus destroys any loot drop though so it's better to finish mobs off with your fist if possible. Also if the mob suicides against a cactus you don't get experience. The cactus wall will also not stop spiders, though it will damage them slightly as they cross over it.

As the cacti grow higher, they will do more damage to spiders that climb over them, making the spiders easier to kill by the time they reach you.

Strengthening your shelter[edit]

Sand is a weak material and subject to gravity which means it fares pretty badly if a creeper manages to somehow get through. Reinforcing the core of your main house should be a priority, after immediate survival.

If dirt is available it's possibly not worth the effort of crafting sandstone when you first build your house because this process takes at least 4 times longer (plus crafting time) and sandstone's blast resistance is only slightly higher than sand. However, later on, start replacing the innermost walls (and floor and ceiling) of your house with sandstone, or at least, the walls and ceiling of an inner 'sanctuary' room.

Also, because you don't have normal tools, if you place sandstone incorrectly or change your mind, it's very time consuming to remove, making any placement errors or redesign a real hassle and any part of your house that is not made of sand, you can't place a cactus on, which can weaken your defensive options (you could however have a lower level of sandstone with sand on the top surface to allow you to place cactus).

Long term, if you have a crafting table and a bucket for water available, building your house from concrete could be a far superior option to sandstone.

Temporary or travel shelters[edit]

If you are exploring long distance and not able to return to your original shelter, or have searched in all directions for one day's (return trip) travel from your original shelter, create new shelters along similar lines. Sand, dirt and cacti are your best building materials, particularly for quick portable shelters when travelling, because they are easy for you to destroy (move back into your inventory) without serious tools.

First a 5 x 5 (exterior) sand block house, 3 blocks high (solid roof at the 3rd level). Cactus for a door. Then, a 2-deep ditch at least 3 clear blocks distant from the walls. Then, a zigzag cactus ring and then an outer ditch. Or you can make a very simple portable shelter with:

  • 5 x 5 block sand walls, 3 blocks high, with empty door spaces 2-high in the middle of each wall (40 blocks total)
  • 4 x 2 cacti for 'doors' (8 cacti, but more is good)
  • 9 solid blocks (dirt is most portable) for the roof space (or 8 if you want to leave a 1x1 skylight)
  • 4 solid blocks (eg dirt) for "lintels" above the doorway spaces (since sand will fall down into the space)

Optional:

  • 1-high sand block under the skylight, topped with a cactus to prevent endermen visiting.
  • 1-high sand block on the roof, topped with a cactus to discourage spiders parking on your roof, and make your shelter more visible from a distance (eg on your way back to your main base after exploring.

You can either disassemble this shelter with you in the morning and take it with you, or you can leave it in place to start create chains of 'waystation' shelters. If you leave it in place, be sure to build a tall pillar with cactus on top near it or on top of it, as a navigational marker.

If you don't have dirt and are using sandstone, since you can't re-use the sandstone, carry multiple lots with you (or craft it each day), and leave each shelter in place. Leaving the shelters in place anyway is a good idea, as it allows you to safely make your return journey to your spawn base, in stages.

Food[edit]

Thankfully, Minecraft does not consider the need of human beings for water (perhaps all the cactus takes care of hydration). However, from Day 3, if you have not yet found a village, or earlier if you have been injured (from falling or fighting mobs) you will need food. In the naked desert there are very few options, as most passive mobs, such as pigs and cows, cannot spawn. While sugar cane can grow in the desert (if there is water), sugar is not edible in Minecraft. You can make pumpkin pie and cake with sugar, but this requires many other ingredients that are difficult or impossible to acquire in the desert.

So, in a Customized Desert the only food source is really rabbits, and you will probably have to eat them raw, which is not very nutritious. In a Superflat Desert, not even rabbits are available (see further below for your options in this scenario).

Rabbits[edit]

Rabbits can sometimes be difficult to catch. At this point in the game, you'll only be able to hit them with your bare hands, but if you are persistent you will eventually kill them. If you are lucky enough to be near water, chase them in to water. They lose their speed advantage in water and you catch them more easily. Of course, the drops will fall into the water so be prepared to swim after them. Also, don't get lost chasing rabbits and lose your way back to your shelter. That can be fatal.

In addition to rabbits dropping raw rabbit, they also drop rabbit hide, which can be used to make leather. However, leather is not much use without a full sized crafting table.

If you are lucky enough to have any grass blocks, you may get flowers. With flowers you can tame and breed rabbits. This then turns them into a renewable food source. Otherwise you may have to keep wandering around the desert to find more rabbits after you have killed off all the rabbits in an area. If there are no flowers nearby, kill skeletons for their bones, because you can craft bone meal and use that to fertilize grass blocks to grow additional flowers. As long as skeletons keep coming, you can create a permanently sustainable food supply this way. Alternatively, if you are able to mine fossils, you can craft bone meal from those, but that will be extremely difficult without at least stone tools. So your renewable sustainable food chain (without a village farm) looks like this:

skeletons or fossils --> bone --> craft bone meal --> spread on grass blocks --> new flowers --> breed new rabbits --> rabbit meat (probably raw, see below)

When breeding rabbits, note that they are very stupid and often kill themselves in falls (in fact they will follow a flower to their death, if you just want to slaughter them without having to chase them). Keeping them alive for farming can be challenging. They need at least a 3 high wall (or 3 deep trench) or they will jump out. Make sure your bunny enclosure doesn't give them the opportunity to fall. However, be careful roofing over your bunny enclosure, you don't want it to spawn monsters. If you can find water, an enclosure with water near the edges might keep them from suiciding.

Seeds?[edit]

Again if you have any grass blocks, and more dirt, use the dirt to 'grow' more grass blocks, use bone meal to grow tall grass, harvest lots of tall grass and eventually you might get some wheat seeds. However, make sure to remember that you can only grow the seeds in a village farm that has already been turned into farmland, because you can't make a hoe so you can't convert dirt to farmland. And unless you get a crafting table, also from a village, you can't even turn wheat into bread. Without a village, probably the best use for seeds is to save them until you have managed to obtain two chickens from the incredibly rare zombie chicken jockeys. You could then use the seeds to tame and breed the chickens.

Mob drops?[edit]

Rarely a mob will drop a potato or carrot. This is very beneficial if the player is about to starve; however, it is not useful long term. You still lack a hoe with which to make farmland. The potato or carrot is good for only one meal, probably raw, but it's probably best to save it, in case you come across a hoe or farmland. However, hoes require either wood planks or cobblestone, both of which are hard to acquire in a desert. Farmland can be found in villages, but these will already have ample crops. A carrot might be more useful for enticing rabbits into a pen.

Spider eyes can be eaten, but the net effects are usually worse than not eating them. The poison does more damage than the food value is worth. They are only worth eating if you are already badly injured down to around half a heart (so the poison damage will have little or no effect). Still, since you are very unlikely ever to be brewing potions, you may as well stockpile spider eyes for the most desperate of food emergencies.

Gross zombie cannibalism[edit]

The only other short term option for food is to kill zombies or husks that come to your house at night and eat the rotten flesh. Because of the risk of poisoning, only eat this flesh when you are safe inside your house. If you create any solid barrier you can stand safely behind the barrier and slowly kill a zombie by hitting it with your fist. Before the rotten flesh despawns, quickly remove your barrier (for example, cactus), dart out to collect the flesh, dart back in your house and replace the barrier.

The slightly good news is that, because your combat ability is weak, you probably will fight only in the day, when there are fewer mobs around. So, you will probably mainly be eating rotten flesh from husks rather than zombies.

In a Superflat Desert world without any structures, zombie cannibalism is your only option to survive. There are no other food sources available.

It's not hugely different on a Customized Desert world without any structures. It's quite likely that your sustainable food chain will also be ultimately based on eating the undead (via the skeleton to bonemeal to flower-growing to rabbit-breeding chain, see above).

Cooking?[edit]

Due to the problems obtaining cobblestone, you are unlikely to have a furnace with which to cook your food. However, even if you do obtain a furnace (eg from a village or by blasting cobblestone with a creeper explosion), you still probably won't want to cook your food. The reason being that wooden fuel is much too precious and limited in supply in the desert biome to waste it on cooking food. (See Fuel below).

Village Farms[edit]

Food becomes much easier when you locate a village farm. At that point, you can finally move beyond bare subsistence and survival. Given that you still can't afford the fuel to cook your food, the best food item to farm is probably carrots. Always replant after harvesting. Be very careful not destroy farmland. Since it is extremely hard to obtain a hoe, you are unable to create or recreate farmland. Without farmland, you can't grow crops. Every block of farmland is precious. Be sure to use, or create, paths (or water) adjacent to every farmland block, so you never have to step on farmland. Every time you step on farmland you risk irreversibly destroying it. Farmland is not only useful for food for yourself. It is essential for keeping villagers happy and encouraging them to breed. This is critical because you need as many villagers as possible, of as many types as possible, in order to progress by trading.

Fuel[edit]

Even if you get a furnace, the supply of fuel for the furnace is extremely limited. You only have sticks, and these are non-renewable in a desert biome. Once you have broken all the dead bushes in an area, you will get no more sticks. And it takes a lot of sticks to power a furnace even for a short time. So you will probably want to conserve all your sticks for the most critical operations, bearing in mind you will also need sticks to craft tools and weapons if you ever manage to obtain cobblestone or iron (sometimes gained from mob drops). As noted above, cooked food is a luxury you almost certainly can't afford. Because of the shortage of fuel (if you lack a pickaxe to mine coal) arguably one of the most important iron items to craft is a bucket. That has the highest claim on any iron you find (with the exception of an iron pickaxe). With a bucket, you can switch to using lava as fuel. Lava is highly abundant in the desert biome, far more so than wood.

A small amount of wood for fuel can be obtained by breaking the furniture inside village houses. It's not advisable to burn doors, but the functions of fences (which the furniture drops when it breaks, along with wooden pressure plates) can replaced by other much more plentiful blocks (sand walls for example, or sandstone walls with sandstone slabs for "windows"). The pressure plates might be worth hanging on to in case you want to automate some doors or traps. The highest priority on fuel is definitely to smelt iron ore. Be very careful to exactly calculate the burning time of each precious wooden item, and feed the next type of item into the furnace as soon as the fuel slot is empty.

A strong recommendation would be not use any wood for fuel until you have smelted enough iron for a bucket. Once you have a bucket, obtain lava and use that for fuel, conserving any wood and sticks.

In a scenario with no villages or other structures, your only initial fuel will be sticks, making it even more important to conserve fuel until you have a bucket for lava.

Weapons and Tools[edit]

Your starting weapon in the desert will be your fist, or if you prefer, a stick or a chunk of cactus. These all do the same amount of damage, and are a very slow way to kill any mob. You will pretty much only be able to kill single mobs, mobs that are stuck behind a defensive obstacle you have created, or maybe a wounded one that breaks through. Almost any mob at full strength can easily kill you, and multiple mobs in the open will be very likely to kill you, because you have weak weapons and no armor.

No wooden weapons can be crafted without planks, apart from a bow (sticks from dead bushes and string from spider kills), but even a bow requires a crafting table, which requires planks. A village will usually provide a crafting table, but not planks. With a crafting table, however, you can bypass wooden tools and weapons and go directly to stone tools and weapons, if you can get cobblestone by other means (without a wooden pick which is the normal way). Alternatively, you can craft an iron pickaxe if you obtain 3 iron ingots from zombie drops. Statistically, this would require killing about 120 zombies.

Your best chance to get weapons are from a village chest or from mob drops. Your first real weapon if have not found a village with a crafting table is likely to be a bow dropped by a skeleton, or less likely an iron shovel or iron sword from a zombie (this mob type is rarer in the desert biome, as it is 80% replaced by husks which tend to be unarmed).

Once you find a village with a crafting table, you can quickly craft a bow. You can collect arrows from skeletons, but there is almost no chance of crafting arrows, due to the lack of chickens for feathers. This means the bow must be used sparingly, for tight situations, emergencies, or very high value targets.

In a village with a blacksmith, there is the possibility of weapons in the blacksmith's chest; as even an iron shovel is a huge improvement as a weapon. In addition, you have the option to trade with villagers for weapons. For example, you can trade paper for emeralds and then emeralds for weapons or armor or tools, next section. Trading with villagers is an excellent way to escape the limitations of the desert biome.

It's a similar story with tools. It is very difficult to make any 'technological' progress without some kind of pickaxe, or any 'agricultural' progress without some kind of hoe.

Mining[edit]

Digging, tunneling and mining in the desert is challenging because the sand will collapse. It is problematic (but not impossible) to build lower levels under your house for storage, workspace, greater safety, or mining. Mining and tunneling in general are made very difficult by the scarcity of roofing material and the gravity effects on sand. Further limiting factors are usually the lack of tools, time, and light. Tunnel ceilings need to be built from above, before digging a tunnel through sand. Otherwise it becomes a ditch, and/or you suffocate in it. Similarly, mines will tend to be strip mines or open cast mines rather than underground mines.

For large scale mining probably the best approach is to mark out a large square, and cut steps down the side of the square in a continuous spiral. For example, a 16 x 16 square will allow you to dig down about 60 layers without needing roofing materials or light sources. (You might want to check your altitude with F3 before starting a mining project). Without tools, progress will be very slow, and you will be potentially wasting ore as well. Arguably, there is not much point starting a mine (except a sand mine) unless you have first obtained some kind of pick somehow.

It's probably a good idea to build some survival shelters at the top of the staircase and at intervals along it, in case you get caught by nightfall or by something blocking your path back to your house.

An alternative approach is to make your spiral steps go down half the way around, then come back up again. This has the advantage of giving you at least one escape route. It allows you to lure a creeper down one entrance, to try to get it to explode at the bottom, and still escape through the other exit. It might be an idea to block the exit with sand blocks to make sure you don't have another mob blocking your way when you try to escape.

Creepers cannot only help you mine stone or cobblestone, they can also (in Superflat for example) help you mine down to those useful layers first. If you are good at persuading creepers to explode, without harming you too badly, you can use a series of creeper explosions to dig down. This could save you a lot of time and effort. The other really good thing about creeper explosions is that they will cause some of the affected blocks to drop as items. This probably the only way to achieve those drops without some kind of pick.

If you mine down to a solid (non gravity affected) block layer, and if you have any source of light (torches or lava), you can then mine in the normal way.

Cobblestone mining strategies for Superflat Desert[edit]

Your primary objective for mining in endless desert is to obtain cobblestone and so 'Enter the Stone Age'. The Sand Age, Stick Age, and Cactus Age are decidedly less famous - and for good reason. In a Superflat desert, with no tools, you face digging through 8 layers of sand (about 48 blocks worth before you're roofed over by sandstone) and then through about 52 layers of sandstone, by hand. That is no mean feat. The intent is to expose stone and then persuade a willing creeper to blast it into cobblestone. Then, there's the whole problem of getting a crafting table, but that's another story. Here are some strategies for the "Big Dig" - in all cases, first use F3 to check your altitude, and check the world settings, so you know how far you have to dig.

Double Staircase[edit]

  • Mark a central point with a tall marker, facing west, so the setting sun will cast a shadow hopefully.
  • Mark off a distance from the central marker, on either side equal to the depth you need to go down. Don't get this wrong. Add a little extra (not much), if you are unsure.
  • Each day dig down an equal amount on each side.
  • Keep a careful watch on the sun and make sure you can get back up in good time.
  • Build one or two tiny emergency survival shelters leading off the side of the staircase in case you mess up (at least 4 blocks away from the staircase, but can be just 2 high by 1 wide).
  • Dig only a one block wide staircase (to prevent spiders spawning or entering your staircase).
  • Wall-off both of the top entrances to the staircase, and leave sand pillars behind you along both 'legs' of the staircase at intervals to stop anything sneaking up behind you (but be prepared to remove them quickly if a mob comes from in front of you. Leave these walls and pillars there from day to day. Just destroy and then replace them as you move through.
  • Once you've cleared the sand on both 'legs', you need to mine 312 blocks of sandstone (52 x 3 x 2). By hand, at 4 sec per block that will take you a minimum of 1248 sec, around 25 minutes. Expect to use up several full days on the project.
  • Once you are finished, remove all the pillars and open up the walls. Then, entice a creeper to chase you down the staircase. At the bottom, turn around and provoke the creeper into blowing up right at the bottom, on the exposed stone. Timing is everything.
  • Repeat indefinitely, until you have mined all the cobblestone you need, or all the cobblestone in the world, or (more likely) died due to a timing error.

Single Staircase[edit]

Twice as fast as the above method, but more risky. As above except:

  • You need to mine 156 blocks of sandstone (52 x 3). By hand, that will take you a minimum of 624 sec, around 10-11 minutes. Expect it take at least a couple of days.
  • When you get to the bottom, build a mob-proof chamber (at least 4 back from the bottom of the staircase, with at least a 2 block straight drop, and with space to hide from ranged attacks).
  • Draw creepers down the staircase from outside, but be sure to be secure in your shelter before they get to the bottom.
  • You probably will need to partly rebuild your bottom shelter after each explosion.

Shaft[edit]

Three times as fast as the single staircase, but possibly more dangerous and requiring more patience.

  • You need to mine 52 blocks of sandstone, 208 sec, about 3.5 minutes. Possible to do in one day if you are efficient and focused.
  • Build a small surface shelter to prevent mobs entering, with a 1x1 skylight.
  • Bring a huge stack of sand.
  • Inside the surface shelter, dig straight down beneath the skylight, watching the sun.
  • Each day when you need to get back, pillar jump back up the shaft using the stack of sand. Time this operation so you get used to how long it takes.
  • Once you reach bottom, create a mob-proof shelter as per the single staircase.
  • Then create an open passage running away from you, of at least 24 long x 1 wide x 2 high and wait for creepers to spawn.
  • Drawing creepers down the shaft is not possible, you just have to wait for them to spawn, and deal with everything else that spawns.

Digging straight down is normally a very bad idea, but in a Superflat world it's (probably?) safe. As long as you don't forget your sand stack! However, the need to dig the 24 block long passage for spawning more or less completely negates the advantage of the shaft over the single staircase method.

You can also use the Shaft method to dig illumination shafts into your staircase once it starts disappearing a long way under the sandstone. However, don't do this until you are deep enough that the fall will definitely kill any mobs that fall down the shaft. Also, don't forget your big sand stack, just in case you make a mistake and fail to connect with your staircase, meaning you can't walk out, you will have to pillar jump out.

Explosive Digging Assistance[edit]

As noted above, while tediously digging down through the sandstone, you can persuade creepers to help you by exploding. As a bonus, they convert the destroyed sandstone to collectible items (useful for building your bottom shelter perhaps). However, it's debatable whether this is worthwhile, as it increases the risk of being killed by a creeper for not much gain. The creeper will destroy a wide area outside your 1 block wide staircase (or shaft), so the useful work is only probably 3-4 extra blocks. You will also have to rebuild or reshape your staircase, so overall possibly not worth it unless you are extremely confident with safely triggering creepers.

Rivers, Grass and Flowers[edit]

If you are using customized world generation rather than superflat world generation, (or the Desert "M" variant biome?) a river may appear, which will have a low bank, allowing grass and/or flowers to spawn (as the grass is still in the “River” biome). The grass blocks can be 'grown' by adding adjacent dirt blocks, and growth of flowers and tall grass can be boosted with bone meal.

Very rarely there will be a wide enough space here for an oak tree to spawn. In that case, be sure to create a tree farm from any saplings you collect from it. As trees are almost essential for normal survival, this would be very useful. Once you have trees, almost all of the special difficulties of the desert biome go away (apart from Husks).

Finding a Village or Temple[edit]

After creating your infinite desert, once you have secured a shelter, explore the immediate area around - being careful of course not to lose the way back to your shelter. As with any game it helps to build a high pillar near your spawn point and/or initial shelter, so you can find your way back to it. Climb the nearby high peaks in the morning, and scan the horizon at midday. If you see a desert temple or a village, build a temporary shelter at the point you spotted it and go to the village or temple the next day. If not, get back to your main base and explore in a different direction. If you have explored in all directions one day's travel from your main base, you will have to start using small shelters as way-stations to increase your search radius.

The most important items you can retrieve from a Village will be the crafting table from the library and tools - most importantly a pickaxe - from the blacksmith's chest. Iron and diamonds can be taken from villages and temples for tools and dirt can be taken from villagers' farms. Ores do spawn in the desert preset, but only on the bottom 3 layers. However without a pickaxe you are unable to build a furnace to smelt any ores (or cook any food). The furnaces in a village blacksmith are also extremely useful.

Actually, the best possible item you could find in a village would be some kind of sapling. They can be found in blacksmith's chests sometimes. If you find a sapling, start a sapling farm. Make sure you are never so greedy for wood that you forget to farm leaves for more saplings than you cut down. Once you find a sapling (or actual tree), most of your problems are basically over. You have renewable wood. Wood means tools, weapons, fuel, charcoal, light sources. Wood means pickaxes, which means cobblestone, which means stone tools then iron tools then diamond tools. With one sapling or tree, you are back to playing a normal game of Minecraft - just in the desert.

(If commands are enabled, you can use commands if you couldn't find any: /locate Temple and /locate Village, although you are playing on Survival mode, as otherwise there really isn't much point in a 'desert survival' challenge, in which case cheats are not enabled. However, if you are really stuck, you could copy your game world, recreate it as Creative, and use the /locate commands above or just fly around to locate the nearest village.)

Defending a village[edit]

The immediate problem when you have found your first village is that you are probably still very weakly equipped, and the from the first night you stay in the village you will risk drawing normal mob attacks on the villagers or (for a large village) causing a zombie siege on the village. So what you need to do is build a shelter near the village, but outside of its radius (at least 33 blocks), and go into the village only during the day. You might want to just collect food (remember to replant it) and the crafting table, and any tools, and leave.

Unlike a normal game, it is extremely important to keep all the villagers alive, because for many resources in the game, even basic ones, trading with villagers is your only way to obtain those resources in the desert biome.

If you want to stay in the village - which has many advantages - you need to secure the village and the villagers BEFORE you take up home there. (Using a bed to avoid the zombie siege is not an option, again due to the total lack of planks). Go in during the day each day to build up defenses, being sure to leave before dusk and get a good distance away.

To secure the village, again you can use two-block-deep trenches or two-block-high sand walls. Check out the village and figure out the smallest trench/wall system that will cover all the occupied houses in the village. Check for sandstone and cobblestone and plan to hug these regions of hard stone, not cross them with a ditch - breaking rock takes too long by hand. Even if you have a precious pickaxe, it's too valuable to waste on this kind of activity.

Ignore the unoccupied houses and farms at first. Leave them outside your walls or trenches initially. Later, you can include these into your defensive system.

Find every house with a door and mark it (eg with sand and a cactus on top) - villagers will live in it, so it's a priority for protecting. Find the houses without doors - unoccupied houses. Take any torches from inside or outside of the unoccupied houses and block (fill) the doorway with one or two sand blocks so no villager or mob will go in there. Redistribute all the torches in the village evenly so that the occupied houses at least are lit, and preferably the areas inside your wall/trench system are also lit. If you don't have enough torches, move doors from some of the houses and add them to one central house. This should move the villagers to that central house, keeping them closer together and easier to protect. Alternatively, move all doors and torches to the largest most central building to concentrate the villagers in one protected, easy to defend place.

Then when all your defensive preparations are ready, do a last double check of your perimeter and make sure there are no gaps a hostile mob can sneak through (except spiders probably, but they are the easiest to deal with). Then prepare to spend your first night in the village. Track all the villagers. When they are indoors, block them in by putting two blocks of sand in front of the door. Also, put two blocks on either side of the door to stop mobs attacking on the diagonal. Also put an inner wall of sand 2 high inside the building to keep villagers going next to the walls and being attacked by mobs "through" the walls.

This should keep them safe until morning. However villagers are very dumb and will go outside while mobs are still alive. Desert villagers also seem completely oblivious to the fact that Husks roam freely in the daytime. Because of this stupidity you probably need to keep all the villagers imprisoned for their own protection in one main building. Make yourself a little room in the building so you can go in there to trade with them without them all escaping. It really is for their own good!

Doing It The Hard Way - No Villages, Temples, or Structures[edit]

If you challenge yourself by not allowing generation of villages or temples etc - or if you just can't find any - your situation becomes very difficult indeed. You can obtain shelter, safety and food using the techniques described above, but you can't obtain any tools and your crafting is extremely limited. You have no easy way to access cobblestone items, and also no way at all to create a crafting table (no source of planks). However, with only a two by two crafting grid, even if you had cobblestone, you are unable to craft even stone or wooden tools. Without tools and with only very limited crafting, progression beyond basic survival is not possible.

Cobblestone[edit]

In theory one way to get cobblestone would be to expose cobblestone blocks and then persuade a creeper to explode on or near the block. There is a 1/3 chance this will drop a cobblestone (item). Repeat until you have 3 cobblestone, and with sticks from breaking dead bushes you could create a stone pickaxe. A pickaxe (of any kind) is a revolutionary breakthrough that would allow you to "advance to the stone age" and start mining stone - except you still don't have a crafting table. That can only be created with planks (or found in a village library). And only a crafting table can create tools. Similarly, TNT could be used to create usable cobblestone, if enough creepers were killed to obtain enough Gunpowder (5 units), except that TNT also requires the full size crafting table to create. There is also the problem of how to detonate the TNT - probably the creeper is the only viable means if you have no structures. If you already have gotten to the point of having stone tools, you can create a lever (using 1 cobblestone and stick, obtaining the stick from a dead bush) or mining iron ore in order to craft flint and steel, provided you can find flint/gravel.

Detonating the TNT in a desert Temple will create cobblestone items from the cobblestone blocks in the floor. (Get the items from the chests first!)

Planks[edit]

It could well be argued that the most severe limitation in a desert-only game is the lack of wooden planks. Without planks, almost no weapons (except a bow) and almost no tools can be created. Even if a full crafting table is available (from a village) there is no way to get the initial (plank-based) wooden tools and so no easy way to obtain cobblestone, in order to progress to stone tools (and weapons) and then on to iron tools etc. Desert biome villages do not contain any trees or wood planks in their regular construction (they may sometimes contain saplings in blacksmith's chests). Roof and wall components are made of stone, not wood. There are some fence components (tables and lamp posts), but these can't be crafted back into planks (though they could be burned for fuel, which is also very scarce).

One possibility for obtaining planks in a desert biome would be to find a natural cave or ravine and then dig down (which would be very slow without basic mining tools) and attempt to find an abandoned mineshaft which is a treasure trove of wooden planks (but home to deadly cave spiders).

(Note that at the time of writing there is a bug [1] reported with the /locate Mineshaft command, so don't rely on that to find an abandoned mineshaft until the bug is fixed.)

Light[edit]

The desert is slightly forgiving in that it has higher ambient light levels at night. Nonetheless, monsters will spawn. Obtaining light sources in the desert is very challenging. The basic light source is a torch, but these require coal or charcoal. Charcoal requires wood blocks, which are totally absent from the desert. Coal ore does exist, but mining it requires a pickaxe, which requires wood planks, which are again absent from the desert. The best long term sustainable light source is probably lava, but if you do not have the capability to make a bucket, the only way to use lava is to move your base to a lava source and perhaps slightly extend the effect of the lava by digging shallow trenches for it to spread from the source. If you have a bucket you can make "lava lamps" from stone-lined holes.

Even in villages there are only a small supply of torches, and no means of creating extra ones. You will need to redistribute the small number of torches optimally to prevent monster spawning, and construct your defensive perimeter to be no bigger than the area you can protect from spawning. (In a village because you have a crafting table, you can also craft sandstone slabs to inhibit spawning.)

If you do somehow obtain a pickaxe, light becomes much less of a problem because you can mine coal, and make torches from coal and sticks (from dead bushes) even with your basic 2x2 crafting grid. With a pickaxe and a 3x3 crafting table you are home free, because you can mine cobblestone, make stone tools, make a furnace, and then (if you can find fuel, see above), progress to iron tools and beyond.

A possible approach - the creeper trap[edit]

  • Build basic shelters as described above
  • Find a cliff with exposed or near-exposed cobblestone around or below ground level
  • Build a ditch or wall in front of this and tunnel straight back (1x2) for shelter
  • Create a 'creeper trap' - a ditch with one entrance, but that's otherwise hard to get out of, that as far as possible is lined with cobblestone
  • Tempt a creeper into this trap and provoke it into exploding, near as much cobblestone as possible
  • Retreat into the tunnel to avoid damage
  • Stay in your tunnel until it is safe to come out and collect the broken cobblestone
  • Welcome to the Stone Age!
  • Just kidding, you can't actually make any stone tools or weapons until you get planks for a crafting table.
  • If there was such a thing as a stone knife, you could probably make that, but there isn't.
  • What can you do? Not much without a crafting table. Really not much. You are stuck in the pre-Neolithic: your best weapon is a bow, you're farming rabbits for food, and living in buildings made of sandstone and cactus.
  • Maybe go on a quest to find a tree or a sapling. Somewhere in the vast desert, there probably is one.
  • Who knew, the pivotal discovery underpinning all of civilization was the plank? Somebody tell Sid Meir!

Possibly Helpful Mods[edit]

2x2 Extender[edit]

The most useful mod in the endless desert setting would the 2x2 Crafting Grid Extender mod. However at the time of writing this Mod is no longer maintained and does not work with current versions of Minecraft. The Mod has (or had) a number of features that would make the Desert challenge easier, or remove the challenge altogether. These include

  • Hand Picks - allows you to make a small pick on a 2x2 crafting grid
  • Hand Tools - allows you to make other tools on a 2x2 grid that can perform all other normal functions, though often at a slower rate and always with less durability
  • Crafting sticks to planks - while the previous items make the desert less of a frustration, this one is basically = "Desert Game Over"

The (locked) forum page of the Mod is here:

2x2 Extender

The Bone Age[edit]

This is a set of data packs (and so will only work for 1.13 or above, not for 1.12 or lower versions of Minecraft). There is a graduated set of datapacks from 'easiest' to 'hardest', describing how easy it is to get to having a 3x3 crafting table, and/or wooden tools (or better). There is also an option 'no wood', the hardest of all, where you never get a crafting table or wooden tools, but you do get some alternative ways to advance, or at least make life more bearable.

It implements some or all of the following (depending on which specific datapack is selected):

  • Crafting basic tools (equivalent to wooden tools), but using bone rather than wooden planks
  • Crafting planks from materials native to desert
  • Crafting a crafting table directly from materials native to desert

The datapacks can be found here:

The Bone Age

Hypothetical Mods[edit]

The following mods, either individually or in combination, would reduce or eliminate the frustration level of endless desert survival:

  • Crafting planks from anything else native to desert, for example from sticks, or sandstone, or lava (cooled!) or obsidian.
  • Recycling planks by destroying existing wooden objects (village furniture).

Slash and Burn: Raiding techniques for Temples and Villages[edit]

Desert temples[edit]

A picture of an open chest inside of a desert temple, showing some of the loot available once a desert temple has been found.

If you have a pickaxe, just dig down two blocks away from the blue terracotta on the floor in any direction. If not,

  • Go outside and dig up 16 blocks of sand.
  • Dig out a piece of orange terracotta on the floor. Do not jump in!
  • Place blocks of sand into the hole until it is filled up.
  • Dig straight down until you are two blocks away from the floor.
  • If there are mobs, kill them.
  • Punch out the pressure plate in the middle of the floor.
  • Take anything you need out of the chests. Bones are good for bone meal, and any iron, gold, diamonds, or emeralds are also definite needs. Also, remember to dig out the 3x3 layer of TNT underneath the sandstone floor.
  • Using the jump-place technique, pillar your way out.

Villages[edit]

Check to see if the village has a blacksmith. If it does, and it has 3 iron, make a bucket, if it has 3 diamond, make a pickaxe. Use the crafting table in the library. If the village has no library, take all the valuables and head on for the next one. If the chest has enough materials to make a bucket and a pickaxe, with 3 of something left over, make an axe.

If the village does not have a blacksmith:

  • Destroy all the crops. Don't bother replanting, as you won't be coming back here.
  • Eventually take all the wool and torches. They may come in handy later on.

Summary[edit]

  • Find dirt or craft sandstone or find a small cave for shelter on your first day, or you will die on your first night, because you can't make a roof.
  • Don't fight anything, if you can help it. You're too weak. Use defensive structures and only ever fight with a strong defensive advantage.
  • On Customized, you may be able to find dirt/grass, water, flowers, rabbits, maybe even seeds. If only you had any tools (a hoe or a pick even)!
  • If structures are allowed, find a village and use/steal the crafting table. Requisition the torches. Steal the furniture for furnace fuel.
  • Guard the villagers carefully so you can trade with them. Stay out of the village at night until you have made the villagers totally safe.
  • The most likely way to "Advance to the Stone Age" is to get a village crafting table, and then either find an iron pick in a blacksmith's chest, or trick a creeper into "mining" some cobblestone for you.
  • Save your sticks for making tools and weapons. They're too rare and valuable to use as fuel, unless there are no villages to provide furniture to burn.
  • Save your furnace fuel for smelting iron, not cooking food. Eat raw food. It's, er, good for you.
  • Save your first iron for making a bucket - use stone tools, not iron tools, because stone doesn't use fuel, and you are incredibly short of fuel
  • Once you have a bucket, use lava for fuel and go crazy with the furnace. Smelting! Cooked food! Yes, the Bucket Age is the high-point of Desert Biome civilization.
  • If you find a living tree (in Customized only, and very rare) or saplings in a village, it's "Desert Game Over" and you can now transition to a normal, wood-based game of Minecraft.
  • However, on Superflat with no structures, you are stuck as a pre-Stone Age hunter-gatherer forever. You eat dead people, and your only tools or weapons are scavenged from dead people. Who will never drop what you really need - four lousy planks, or failing that, a pick and a hoe - the legendary tools of the gods. So, there is no way to ever progress beyond that. Just a grim evolutionary dead end.


See Also[edit]