I'm making a strategy RPG, and I'm having trouble justifying the gameplay's core premise in light of some recent developments in the world I've built around it, and I need some help filling in the gaps.

The main premise of the game is that, due to mankind hunting dragons so close to extinction that they needed to flee the planet entirely, the ecosystem of Earth was so completely devastated that the entire planet is now a desert wasteland. There is only one source of water remaining anywhere, and the last bastion of civilization had been built around it: A large tower with a magical crystal on top, which constantly gushes out water like a waterfall. It's guarded by a church that preaches the ways of the ancient dragons in the hopes that one day they will return to set things right, as they promised the few virtuous humans they would one day.

The main character is a member of the church's military, a holy knight who leads a troop tasked with defending caravans as they deliver water to the most remote villages that are too far removed from the oasis in the center. Gameplay revolves around fighting people who would attack the caravans and steal the water for themselves, and if the caravan is ever destroyed, it's game over.

Here's the problem: if there's enough water for everyone living in this desert, why do so many people live so far away from it that they need it delivered by caravan? Why doesn't everyone just live close either to the oasis, or to manmade rivers that flow from it?

This is doubly a problem because the entire civilization is completely artificial. The entire premise on which it was built is a lie. Humans didn't destroy the Earth at all. Most of the Earth is entirely fine, and this "desert" the humans live in is actually completely fake. That magical water-making gem doesn't actually make water at all. It just absorbs all of the rainfall in a massive area and concentrates it all into one place, leaving everywhere else for miles and miles around a barren sandy wasteland. In reality, dragons invaded the planet thousands of years ago and destroyed nearly the entire human race. What little of humanity remains is kept alive in this fake desert essentially as livestock, so that the dragons can pick a portion of them to parasitize and wear like meatsuits so that they can survive in the Earth's atmosphere. The reason there's only one source of water in the whole desert is so that they can make sure all of the water humans drink is laced with a drug that suppresses the magical powers that humans no longer even remember they all innately have.

The dragons running the church, therefore, who engineered this entire civilization thousands of years ago, have a vested interest in keeping every human in this desert hydrated. Because in some rare cases, the magic-suppressing drug in the water wears off before you die of dehydration, and if that happened in the wrong place, the church's lies about the origins of magic would be completely exposed. So I'm suddenly realizing it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever, either by human reasoning or dragon reasoning, for entire villages to live in constant danger of running out of water, when there's enough water for everyone easily if they simply live by rivers.

Yes, the dragons want most of humanity to live in a constant state of hardship and desperation to make them more desperate and deferential to the church and to maximize the guilt they feel over their ancestors' alleged crimes against the great dragons, but they also need to make sure human magic, and the knowledge that humans can even do it, stays suppressed.

But if humans have constant easy access to water... I also have to come up with a completely different premise for what the heroes are doing and why they need to spend every mission defending an unarmed, slow wagon. Which would be less than pleasant.

Why would there be villages so far away from sources of water, and why would the dragons in the church allow these villages to exist?

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    $\begingroup$ To waste the meatbags' efforts on a pointless treadmill, of course. Prevent the humans from exploring or building schools or accumulating wealth or developing strong leaders...or asking questions...by needlessly hauling water everywhere. Imagine how much hauled water it takes to grow food near those villages! Everybody is busy from sunrise to sunset just to eat and maintain a hardscrabble existence. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Human tech level is not specified - are the caravan's animal-powered or some sort of electric / internal combustion / alternative-powered vehicle? If animal-powered, the amount of water needed for the animals to survive will exceed the amount they can carry over any reasonable distance, a water version of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation. There's a reason desert tribes travel from oasis to oasis, they cannot carry the water to sustain an oasis once they get there. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Alastor15243 fantasy creatures (maybe constructs or even disguised vehicles) may help, but the humans operating and guarding the caravans will need water. Water is a really heavy thing to move, and in a desert you need lots of it - once I went through 11 litres in 24 hours hiking in Arizona. There's a reason even ancient people with primitive tools put lots of effort into building and maintaining aqueducts to distribute water from one source to lots of farmland $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ @ribs2spare The end goal is to have it available, yes. It's a project with a pre-existing game maker, so don't get your hopes too high about production values, but I'm gonna do my damnedest with the writing and gameplay! $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Since the desert is an artificial construct, it may be suitable for wheeled vehicles, which can carry more much heavier loads than pack animals. Natural, real world, deserts have sand dunes and rocky areas that a camel can cross but that would destroy a wagon. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 0:54

6 Answers 6


Other resources

Many things are needed to keep a civilization flourish, and a variety of resources is one of them. Think of a 4X game, for instance. Water is important - but so are commodities like iron or coal. Same thing with luxury goods like gold. These outposts are resource settlements which collect important resources to send back to the central city, and the city keeps them supplied with water.

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    $\begingroup$ There have been caravans carrying salt across the Sahara, from places where there are large deposits to places that need it. In a low-tech civilization salt is used as a preservative as well as a seasoning. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ Mad Max: Fury Road. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ This is a good point, but it doesn't address a kind of side question, which is "If we want to get water from point A to point B, why not use a pipe?" $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MaxWilliams Long pipes are almost impossible to protect from attack and diversion. It is as though the guards they need at one moving location for the caravan are needed constantly at every point. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ @MaxWilliams Because then your caravans can transport the goods back to the Oasis - and the threat of loosing their access to water ensures that they trade. If they had a pipe, they might build up stores of water and then rebel! $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:39

The caravan carries the crystal around. The crystal restores local water sources, for a while.

Everything is as you have imagined it with the water, dragons, poison etc. But instead of a wagon of water, the caravan carries the mother crystal itself. It is big. To pull it might require a lot of horses, or maybe elephants. Usually it resides atop the big tower but periodically it must make rounds on the faithful out in the isolated settlements.

In settlements they have their own smaller towers, also controlled by the Church. These also gush water. With this water these communities can have farms. They are out in the remote areas because there is good farmland out there. Little by little the output of the local towers diminishes. They must be restored using the mother crystal and then they will be good for another period of time.

Bandits want the mother crystal so they can power up pirate towers in their own communities. These are desperate folks but if their motives are inspected, really they just want to have their own farms and grow barley free of Church oversight. Just possibly some of these bandits have a little water that is not sourced from crystal towers, and because of this, some bandits might be regaining intrinsic human magic. Everyone knows these bandits hate the Church, and so whatever insights they might have gained are roundly ignored.

Nonhuman monsters might want the crystal for other reasons. Humans are using the crystal for this water tower project but the crystal is older than that system and has other possible applications. There are things that know what those applications are. A piece of crystal might suffice. A wily and intelligent creature might try to strike a bargain with your players...

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    $\begingroup$ Alternately, rather than carry The One Crystal, they carry shards which share its properties but rely on the Mother Crystal at home. The shards are holy relics and guarded fanatically because they are essentially a font of water in a parched world. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:35

The dragons would not want humans making their own stuff. They would want humans entirely depended on things they get from the dragons without any ability to survive without it.

So the priests make lists of what they expect to need for the next few years and what would be kind of nice to have. The dragons then manufacture or collect from old scrap all the things they decide to actually deliver. Then they dump it into desert remote from humans who might see them planting it and make it look like an old ruin from the age before human betrayal or whatever. They then tell the priests the location and the priests send a scavengers to work this site their "scouts discovered."

The scavengers then work the site. They build a small settlement to support their operations. They find all kinds of useful things, removing any need for humans to build things themselves and even think about developing technology. They also dig up a steady stream of nice artefacts that prove that the history the priests teach is true and dragons were glorious. These can then be set up in churches as relics or given as gifts to influential people to buy their loyalty to the church.

All in all a nice scheme if I say it myself. Only real issue is that since the sites must be remote from habitation and all the locations with easy access to water have humans infesting them, you'll need to supply water with caravans. Well, nothing is perfect.


The crystal ist designed to maximize hardship.

As others pointed out resources would be a major reason to spread out. Additionally, the crystal requires some of those materials, if not supplied with certain minerals/salts/plants whatever it starts producing less water until it eventually stops. Gathering those materials is the holy duty of the citizens dispatched to those remote villages/outposts. Of course, gathering them is a tedious and tiring process.

A sinister way to keep the humans desperately supporting the very system that keeps them trapped.

To keep suspicion low when "harvesting" humans.

Especially when living in miserable circumstances people tend to come together more. If Steve suddenly is missing at the 5 am prayer to honor the water crystal in the church, people will look for him. The dragons need more than a few individuals, it would get suspicious quite fast. Telling the people that some wild murderers or kidnappers are on the loose does not really fly either.

When the dragons require a bunch of human bodies they take over one of the outposts/villages. Some are left behind and then they send in one of the desert monsters. Just another monster attack, that's why the caravans need protection (besides the thieves) easy to cover up and no-one will ask questions.


I don't see any major problems here. Places away from the rivers are inhospitable, but the question of "why do people move to inhospitable places" is well answered in the real world:

  • Resources

  • Political differences with the rules/rulers of civilized areas

As to why the dragons don't put rivers everywhere: These magic water thingies are rare. Do I look like I'm made of magic water thingies? Sucking up all the water for a continent sized area is a big spell! And you have to add in the magic suppression features. That's an aftermarket addition, it ain't cheap.

As to why the dragons don't force everyone to live on one place? They've ostensibly been hunted into near extinction, they have to take a hands-off approach or they'll give it away.

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    $\begingroup$ Linking to this: perhaps most of the plant-life that has "survived" can only tolerate small amounts of water, or short bursts of water (like many cacti or succulents) - planted too close to the rivers or the oasis, and they die off. So the farms have to be in the arid areas. Caravans bring water for the people (and the once-per-month watering of the plants), and leave with crops to eat in the oasis. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal That should be a separate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Malcolm
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 17:54

This reminds me a little bit of the "red rising" trilogy by Pierce Brown where your humans are the reds and dragons are the golds.
the humans are separated into multiply areas has the several main benefits:

  1. Different areas have different mineral deposits
  2. If a colony revolts it can be dealt with quietly without alerting the others
  3. Colonies are dependent on the water and can pose no threat to the capital on their own, meaning that the dragons only need to directly control the capital while far more humans can live on the periphery and be entirely compliant

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