So, I'll start with a short summary:

I wanted to have magic world with other-than-agriculture based civilization. I gave them magic dungeons. I'm afraid that there are many problems I didn't take in account.

My situation is this:

In a fantasy world with magic [but no RPG levels stuff], there are multitude of magic dungeons spread across the land - some of them smaller and single leveled, some of them larger and even multileveled. These dungeons, rather than existing within the ground exist outside of space, connected to the world in small entrance only. Their entrance is only open for 5 days, then they need to "recover" and close - it is inadvisable to stay trapped in dungeon for the closing period, but it has been done(animals inside go madly attack any tresspasser within). Recovery time is 40-20 days for level 1 dungeons, 20-10 days for level 2 dungeons, 10-5 days for level 3 and higher dungeons. [EDIT: THE DUNGEON EACH HAS ITS OWN REGULAR CYCLE - THE AMOUNT OF DAYS NEEDED TO RECOVER IS STATIC. There's usually short (20-50 m long) "corridor" between levels, this "corridor" is usually over 10 m wide. The dungeon contain "sunlike" shining ilusion in the "sky", sky being usually 60-200 m above the ground

There's around 1 dungeon per 100 km squared area on average:

  • Of those, 90% are "minimalistic" dungeons - 1 level, area of 1-10 km^2,
  • 9% are slightly larger, area of 10-20 km^2, but still only 1 level
  • 0.9% are 2 leveled, 20-40 km^2 for first level, 1-20 km^2 for second level,
  • 0.09% are 3 leveled, 40-60 km^2 for first level, 20-40 km^2 for second level, 1-20km^2 for third level.
  • 0.0099% are 4 leveled, 60-80 km^2 for first level, 40-60 km^2 for second level, 20-40km^2 for third level, 1-20km^2 for fourth level.
  • 0.0001% are 5 leveled, 80-100 km^2 for first level, 60-80 km^2 for second level, 40-60km^2 for third level 20-40 km^2 for fourth level, 1-20km^2 for fifth level.

All single-leveled dungeons are forest-food sources. They contain berry bushes, they contain other food source plants -not bred, but still magically gentically modified to provide larger fruits/roots with more sustenance, game animals and they contain twice to three times as much of it than natural forest would.

For level 2 dungeons, their first level contains food-forest, while other levels may contain anything from more forest to rare metal "surface" mines, magic stone deposits, or even monsters. Some of smaller level 3 dungeons follow this scheme, but bigger they're more often they instead become themed dungeons where levels are similar and deposits or forests may or may not be sprinkled across levels freely, which continues on for 4 and higher leveled dungeons.

Information almost unrelated to the question:

Level 4 and level 5 dungeons sometimes spawn new forms of life, sometimes even with human-level intelligence and sentient. Level 5 dungeons are connected to endlessly growing "magic plane", which is a peaceful plane of existence full of magic energy, that however isn't good for anyone to stay in - while short term exposion to strong magic within is beneficial, long term causes first discomfort, and later on growing paint that by the time you spent a year in it becomes torturous. However, the "magic plain" contains road network, connecting level 5 dungeons on same planet as well as connects those to level 5 dungeons on relatively nearby planets.

My understanding of their societies - Presence of level 2 and smaller level 3 dungeons filled with food can lead to formation of sedentary societies. Some areas contain more of these dungeons, but some contain mostly level 1 dungeons which favour more nomadic lifestyle instead. However, many places would have enough level 2 dungeons to start sedentary civilizations.

Sedentary: Towns would have hunter/warrior class "diving" into dungeons to feed their families. Cities would usually be placed on dungeons, but probably depend far more on trade routes than on their own dungeons. Villages that former around level 1 dungeons in city-dominated societies would usually hunter gather in nearby areas, herd animals or partake in fishing if they were near a water source, and rarely partake in some proto-agriculture(never really fully developing it), while dungeon was closed. Except for some specialized developed level 3+ dungeons, dungeons with mines usually yielded only very small amount of metals upon each recovery, and eventually, societies discovered that mining in mountainous regions provided more ores. [Iron wasn't used, because it was cursed, so bronze all the way].

So my question is, what would be the differences be for societies developed in such an environment where instead of agriculture, there was means of sedentary hunter-gathering, centred on level 2 and smaller level 3 dungeons[as well as odd and rare forest-themed level 4/5 dungeons]?

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    $\begingroup$ So - most of the population is relying on small, forested areas that are only accessible for 5 out of every 25-45 days but will renew themselves in between periods of being accessible. Yes? In order to answer the question we need to 1) know how many "dungeons" are within a one day trip of an average village; 2) with available preservation techniques what the shelf life of "dungeon" food is; and 3) how many person-days of food a single worker can gather in a day. Suggest stripping out the fluff and cut it down to a math problem. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2020 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say the dungeons are a good way for small groups to settle in a single location, but due to how small the time-frame at which they stay open is, I think they'd still try to invent agriculture, even if it means trying to cultivate plants found in the dungeons. Otherwise, I don't think they'll grow too much and would need to settle in smaller communities. Other than that, some minor changes in structure, with the gatherers being an important, but mid-high risk job with variable level of benefits. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2020 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ What dungeons have the magic mushrooms in them? Seriously, you do not seem to have any provisions for recreational drugs - alcohol, tobacco, and such. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ What is the general land like? What is available outside of these dungeons? You mentioned fish. Would the land itself, without these dungeons, support a hunter-gatherer society? $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun start each line of "spoiler" text with >! in order to hide it unless the viewer hovers over the text. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 8:13

2 Answers 2


Let’s do the math. There is one dungeon per 100 km2 on average. In a parcel of land 1,000 km by 600 km (i.e.: slightly larger than the island of Madagascar) there will be about 6,000 dungeon entrances. There are good odds that about:

  • 5,940 dungeons will have only one level and will be inaccessible for 80-97% of the time
  • 54 dungeons will have two levels and be inaccessible for 66-80% of the time
  • 6 dungeons will have 3 or 4 levels and be inaccessible for 50-66% of the time.

A great deal depends on whether the "refresh" period is constant for any given dungeon, but this is a very marginal set of available resources for a sedentary hunter-gatherer society. Studies referenced in the linked article suggest that hunter-gatherers work on average for about 6.5 hours per day. That is, all adults and older children work that much of the time every day to feed themselves. Working from this number, the single level dungeons are useless in isolation - they are tiny and only accessible for a minuscule window in each cycle, not enough for village to feed itself. Unless gathering food is so easy that it is like shopping at a supermarket, with magical cold storage to keep all gathered food fresh and edible, a few days of hunting and gathering will not keep the village fed for the next 20 to 40 days.

A two-level dungeon might be a feasible base for a village or small town. Every able-bodied person in the community pitches in for a rush of hunting and gathering for 5 days, then has the next 10-20 days to take it relatively easy, live off the gathered food and do home and weapons maintenance. If we assume that one hectare of magic forest provides enough food and game for a person, then an efficiently harvested (or stripped) first level of a two-level dungeon will support one or two thousand people. This can be supplemented by keeping a watch on the nearby one-level dungeons (on average there will be four of these within about 10 km) and sending smaller groups in to get their resources when they open.

Three- or four-level dungeons will allow settlements of maybe 10,000 people due to greater area and being open a higher proportion of the time. However, the greater dungeon area will have diminishing returns, as food / treasure hunted or gathered far from the entrance will take a lot of time and effort to lug back to the entrance.

If (and only if) the "refresh" time of dungeons is constant then there might be some nomads moving from single-level dungeon to single-level dungeon, but if the refresh cycle varies then this is not feasible. (Some nomads arrive at a closed dungeon - did it just close, or is it about to open? Stay or go? They arrive at an open dungeon - did it just open or is it about to close and doom the gatherers?)

So, basing this on an area slightly larger than the 4th largest island in the world, there will be 54 villages and 6 small towns, total population of perhaps 140,000. There will not be an elite, swaggering class of hunter-gatherers - when the sentry rings the bell to tell the village that the gate is open, everyone will go in to gather enough food to last until the next cycle. Young children and the expectant and nursing mothers will not have to range as far in as other members of the tribe, but a hunter gatherer society does not have room for slackers. The daring / stupid adventurers may be permitted to venture down to the lower, more dangerous levels in search of non-essential treasure, but only after they have collected their share of the food needed to keep everyone alive for this cycle.

In summary, there will be a smattering of villages and small towns widely separated from each other, each averaging 80-100 km from their nearest neighbour. Total population will be about the same as if the inhabitants were nomadic hunter-gatherers with no dungeons. Population will not be large enough to support much specialisation, therefore little capacity for technological development. On the bright side, people in fixed settlements trying to store large numbers of edible roots will mess up sooner or later and some of them will start to grow. This will lead directly to agriculture, at which point the population will increase and soon it will be only the headstrong adventurers that need to go mucking about in the dungeons.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, I failed to express the part where the amount of days closed for any chosen dungeon is static. It was precisely image I had of nomads traveling between level 1 dungeons, tracking whether the dungeon is open or not with math, and I failed to express it properly, leaving other possible interpretations. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Also, as I stated, there's denser distribution of food resources in the area of dungeon than in regular forests, and the hunted animals can't really escape too far, so I assume it would also be possible for efficiency per man-hour to be higher and my fantasy world has weak self-strengthening magic, that would improve hunters chances a bit further. So I'm counting with 2-3 times higher efficincy per manhour of hunter/gathering. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ I also mentioned people supporting their lifestyle by other food-generating activities, such as fishing or herding grazing animals, or low level proto-agriculture (of mostly wild food-plants/trees on a level of gardens, rather than dedicated fields, being basically left alone for most of the year). $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 11:06

Evolution and adaptation is a magical thing in and of itself. Especially behavioral evolution and adaptation.

Consider humans, and grocery stores.

In the beginning, there were 'farmers markets' in the towns that provided new produce on a daily basis, and the family provider could go out early every morning, get the day's fresh food, and return to prepare it. Every day, a new supply of food magically appeared at the markets. But as time wore on, and work expanded to fit the time available, a multitude of other non-food jobs arose to take up the time and energies of the family provider. Trips to the market became fewer and less frequent, intertwined with other jobs and duties, but more was obtained on each trip. Today, the average family provider goes to the supermarket say once a week, and gets enough provisions for the entire week. Not much different, really, than your magical dungeons. I am sure your sentient beings would have a strong incentive to develop food storage and preservation methods, rather than formal agriculture, if they were guaranteed that the dungeons would be continuously restocked, the same way our store shelves are restocked. Not many urban people today cultivate their own gardens, when food is continuously and reliably available in the stores.

So methinks your society would skip agriculture entirely and go fast-forward into commercial food processing and preservation enterprises, with merchants traveling from dungeon to dungeon to gather supplies to be taken to some central facility for food preservation, and then from town to town. Towns would still be built, as they are today, near sources for transportation and power, with the continuously available and replenished food being brought to the towns.

But another unintended consequence, methinks, of a species that evolved under such conditions, is that the species would adapt their metabolism into a feast-or-famine mode. That is, many animal species today have evolved under circumstances in which their meals come bountiful but sporadic. That is, one meal has to last several days, or even weeks, between servings. Methinks your beings would through the process of evolutionary pressures develop such a metabolism. They would gorge for five days, and then live off the fat for say fifteen days until it was feeding time again. That is, they would not have evolved into a species that required daily continuous three meals a day feeding, but their feeding habits would evolve to meet the food availability cycle.

  • $\begingroup$ "they would not have evolved into a species that required daily continuous three meals a day feeding" ...and what species did do that? You can't be thinking of humans, because humans definitely don't need three meals a day, and can easily survive on quite a bit less. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    May 29, 2020 at 14:58

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