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There is this great and dangerous forest in this world, way more bioproductive than anywhere on earth. The climate is humid subtropical, with cold but not freezing winters. There is plenty of fruits, nuts, herbs, roots and even some wood (palmetto) to be eaten in every season, even in the winter. There is also plenty of game, from hares to mammoth-size elephants. There is also small pockets of grassland all over the place which are dragons' hunting grounds.

I want that a race of humanoids (let's call them elves for simplicity's sake) to evolve in this forest and neither agriculture nor animal husbandry are options. Any livestock could be wiped out by some predator and farm will just be free food for wild animals. The only livestock they were able to domesticate to some extent is the Giant Deer, which can be used as a pack animal, a mount and a source of milk, but feeding on them is a terrible idea, they are dangerous, more tamed than truly domesticated and can quite easily flee to join a wild herd.

The thing is, I don't think the local fauna can keep up with a permanent settlement. All things I read about hunter-gatherers seen to indicate that they will overhunt the local prey population and than they have to move to somewhere else.

Also, I've research some sedentary hunter-gatherers and they usually only happen near coasts and other water-bodies that help providing enough food through fishing. However being in a forest mean that they rely almost exclusively on the local supply of food.

To complicate things even more:

  1. I want them to be carnivores, not hypercarnivores, but at least mesocarnivores (30-70% of meat in their diet).

  2. They must have big enough settlements to make great stone fortresses, otherwise a elven-city is just a big stockyard to some big predator. I cannot express this enough, but even the elephants are hunted in this place and they are not even the biggest prey to be found.

To make things a little easier:

  1. They make insanely good bowmen, they are stronger than humans and use this strength to power bows that shoots harder than all but the strongest crossbows.

  2. They can move through the forest relatively unharmed despite the crazy amount of predators and dangerous prey.

  3. The Giant Deer extends their hunting grounds greatly.

  4. The forest is only sparsely populated, but again individual settlements are quite large.

  5. They are quite good engineers as well, so they could easily outdo a similar-size human settlement.

  6. I am trying to make the world as low-magic as possible, but I can and will use it to implement a solution that is cool enough

So, any idea on how to make this work? Either on the elven societies or on the forest itself?

Edit: some details that I forget to add but are clearly relevant

  1. Alternatives to farming is a non issue, the forest are more bioproductive than any crop would be, and on top of that animals would feed on the crops just as they would in the forest, so agriculture is just more work for less food overall. The real problem is how a big sedentary communities of mesocarnivores will feed themselves without exhaust the local fauna.

  2. They can and they trade with the rest of the world, but they do not colonized the forest, they evolved in it. So I think self sufficiency is a must.

  3. The other problem with trade is that to any one but them, this forest is hell on earth. No merchant in their right mind will go there, the elves are the ones to reach outsiders. And when they do is for luxury goods.

  4. While hunting parties are a thing, they can not go that far away. They build fortress for safety, if you go into the forest and don't come back within a week they just assume you died.

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    $\begingroup$ "mammoth-size elephants" So... Elephant-sized elephants? Wooly mammoths were much the same size as modern african elephants. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Nov 26 '20 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ I haven't thought about it at first glance, but be careful with fortress building to protect from a constant threat. Forts rarely pop in days, so a predator could ravage it and kill its inhabitants while it's still under construction :). It can be good for story telling though. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Nov 26 '20 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ So you want to know if a hunter-gatherer society that is NOT nomadic will work in a forest? And if so, how? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Nov 27 '20 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ rather than stone, i suggest use palisade/wooden fort instead, if its not a permanent forts, its faster and you have abundant of resource, unless your elves is a tree hugger type then make a burrow instead, also can the elves use fire? $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Nov 27 '20 at 6:26
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Balance your town's needs relatively to its hunting area coverage

It depends a lot on the resources production/km² you can get of your land. Then balance it against how many settlers you want and the area you're willing for them to travel in. This can be summed up in three main points.

How to reduce the town's needs?

Unfortunately, reducing a town's needs is a hard thing to balance out; Yet you can still play around a little. The first one to come into mind is by interacting with other races, like trading, which even alone can overcome any food difficulty. But you can also make the elves raiders and pillage everything that is not their own, too.

But let's say that they are the only race around -as you pointed out-, living all the same, sedentary hunters way. Everything that reduces efforts and therefore food consumption can help. For instance, have them sleep/meditate due to their culture or their genetics to reduce their needs. Then, live lazy, hunt smart! Put traps, and just let your meal fall into them. This can be applied to fruits gathering, too, similar to how Corsica inhabitants put nets to gather olives from trees without moving an inch.

One final, very important note is to give them ways to conserve food. If they can conserve it with salt or by smoking them, less waste can be made, notably after they took out that 3-ton mammoth. Otherwise, they'd better have a really big stomach! This goes along with overall careful resources management : Don't be greedy, or you'll end with nothing in your belly.

How to increase land production

Given that they are living in an subtropical area, plants and animals should be numerous due to a good temperature and lots of humidity. This is especially true since there are giant-sized species that, by damaging big trees, helps in renewing the forest with new, smaller plants, which in turn brings new games to hunt. In general, a thriving life community with a large biodiversity will grants lots of resources naturally.

Also, you can make some big animals -or big herds of small ones- migrate in a, predictable, cyclic way. This can be further supported by giving them only one path to reach their destination, so that they will always come by your town. If food come from other places, you need less food from your own land!

How to extend your hunting area coverage?

If you extend your hunting area, you will not only increase your land total, gatherable production, but also reduce how elves' activities will reduce it. Indeed, as your village will grow, the more people there are, yes, but preys become more likely to avoid the surrounding area of your village. Even if they're not smart, they're (usually) not fool either, and whether due to not finding their food or seeing their buddy with an arrow coined in them, they won't stay there for very long.

So hence, extend your coverage! You can set small fortress lodges several kilometers (or even more!) away and around your village and organize hunting parties ranging from two-three days long to several weeks to get food for the village. When an area is becoming empty, they go to a new, well-known location instead while the old one resplenishes. Note that you'll absolutely need a way to keep food safe and edible the longer your expeditions are.

Another way is to allow them to hunt on two (or more!) levels : If your village is standing on top of a large underground cavern complex, it multiplies the area they can find food from. Also, animals living in caves are less likely to flee the elves, since, well... They don't have much way of fleeing them : Leaving the cave as a subterranean species is not ideal, and they may not be able to dig into other caves, either.

Tiny, hungry conclusion

All in all, it's much easier than you may think, as long as you give them a good configuration. Setting them in a tropical area is already a very good start, and you may need only one or two tools to make nice-looking villages, three or four to make a sizeable town.

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    $\begingroup$ >Note that you'll absolutely need a way to keep food safe and edible Generally this. The larger the settlement, the longer the food has to travel before being consumed. Especiialy in subtropical climates this would be a problem, so this is where the tiny bit of magic probably comes in. If you have smaller outposts trading food against tools from the city, large settlements immediately become more viable $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Nov 28 '20 at 1:13
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Forest Management as a Substitute for Agriculture:

With the abundance of foods, and an organized society, do what people have been doing with elves for years - portraying them as forest rangers and land management experts. They don't really farm the forest as much as guide it to be more amenable for their needs. The foods that support the animals they hunt are spread wide, and the plants distasteful to predators thrive. Thorn hedges divide the land into management districts run by the equivalent of nobles. The elves live in more of a symbiosis with the land, a very conscious one, where some areas are promoted to allow big prey (to keep the dragons at a distance) while some areas are protected as places for small, less appealing (to giant predators) prey animals that the elves prefer.

The harvesting of animals could be coordinated with natural conditions, like hunting seasons managed around breeding seasons, only hunting males to allow species to reproduce, controlling smaller predators through hunting to eliminate competition (while still maintaining balance). A fortress-centered, highly organized society would be running a sophisticated and highly organized program. Meat would be shipped rapidly or dried (with herbs disagreeable to predators to prevent theft/attack).

I would advise small animal husbandry, like rabbits and chickens or snails, things unlikely to be significant enough to be desirable to predators (and sheltered inside buildings) but still allowing meat production in controlled conditions.

As the elves gain control of their environment, they could potentially alter the selection of foods to the point of being able to starve out the giant predators (this is what happened to such animals as short-face bears, terror birds, and dire wolves in the Americas at the end of the Ice age - prey got small). To keep this from happening, you may need to protect the land from the Elves. I would suggest druidic magic for the Elves, as this both helps them shape nature while simultaneously giving them motivation NOT to wipe out species they find problematic.

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    $\begingroup$ Related to this, you might find the book 1491 to be a real eye-opener. Many of the native peoples of the Americas practiced this kind of forest gardening or otherwise managed the environment around them in ways distinct from what we'd call permanent agricultural settlement, for example in the Great Plains, Pacific Northwest, and Amazonia. $\endgroup$ – korrok Nov 27 '20 at 20:36
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All life on Earth thrives on equilibrium. When a predatorial species hunts too much prey, then its next generation suffers and their numbers dwindle.

Also notice that natural selection makes sure that both prey and predator are adequate to each other. This process is called coevolution:

In biology, coevolution occurs when two or more species reciprocally affect each other's evolution through the process of natural selection. (...) Each party in a coevolutionary relationship exerts selective pressures on the other, thereby affecting each other's evolution. Coevolution includes many forms of mutualism, host-parasite, and predator-prey relationships between species, as well as competition within or between species. In many cases, the selective pressures drive an evolutionary arms race between the species involved. Pairwise or specific coevolution, between exactly two species, is not the only possibility; in multi-species coevolution, which is sometimes called guild or diffuse coevolution, several to many species may evolve a trait or a group of traits in reciprocity with a set of traits in another species (...)

The elves simply evolved (not only biologically but also culturally) to not overhunt, but rather stay in equilibrium with their environment. Unlike men, they do not take more than they need from nature.

Another possibility is:

Trade

The elves don't farm, but maybe someone else does. Say there are dwarves living underground. They farm mushrooms, and they trade their excess of non-hallucinogenic ones with the elves in exchange for things from the forest (i.e.: the dwarves might fashion their clothes out of vines, and wear lily pads as hats). Since the dwarves live underground, they can escape the dangers of the forest and reach the elven fortresses by tunneling to them.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem is not the lack of farmming, the forest is more productive than a giant potato plantation when it comes to caloric input. The issue is how a big group of sedentaty carnivores can feed themselves without exhaust the local fauna. But, yeah, they are great merchants, most spices in this world comes from this forest $\endgroup$ – LuizPSR Nov 26 '20 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @LuizPauloSantosRibeiro if you buy food from outside, you don't need to hunt as much. They don't necessarily need to eat farm produce, they might buy underground fish from the dwarves or food imitation products such as McDonald's and it would have the same impact on the forest fauna. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Nov 26 '20 at 16:48
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from op /farm will just be free food for wild animals/

This is why they farm.

Free food for wild animals means wild animals will come and that is what the elves want. Mature forest does not offer as much food for large herbivores as open areas do - the trees shade out grasses and favored vegetation for deer and the like.

Your elves clear areas of forest and plant grasses and crops which provide food for their favored prey items. They groom the forest to favor fruit and nut trees that feed their prey species. These plots are tended to make the the forest does not reclaim them.

You can find a lot on line about managing lands to facilitate deer hunting. Most of what I see pertains to temperate forests but there is no reason a tropical forest could not be managed and even "farmed" to maximize carrying capacity for desired prey species.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hopefully this can be done without alerting preys of elves's presence ^^. I don't know how much maintenance it may need. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Nov 26 '20 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Most of the time the elves are not there when the animals are. The animals just show up and eat. That is how you get lots of animals and well fed animals. Occasionally the elves are there and take one. A problem with this scheme is that other predators besides the elves will be attracted to the site as well. If other predators are too frequent or too numerous the elves will need to deal with them. $\endgroup$ – Willk Nov 26 '20 at 18:40
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If your worry is that local prey won't suffice all year round, and your elves are too sedentary to want to move to new hunting grounds (or travel is otherwise too difficult)

bring the food to them!

Your forest is central to a migration route. There are huge lands - or seas with habitable or nestable islands to the North (ideal climate in northern hemisphere summer) and likewise to the south, providing havens during the northern winter.

So, twice a year, at the changing of the seasons, all the food you can imagine flies overhead, or herds through the passes and traditional trails.

Perhaps deserts or a long sea crossing leave the migrants exhausted, so having to other choice they will occupy your oasis for a few days or weeks, then proceed to their safe lands.

This means a few weeks glut; and probably festival; and a communal effort to smoke, salt, dry or preserve whatever your people need to let the local fauna thrive, and get you through the lean season on smoked goose (and the occasional local rabbit) until the next migration.

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Pottery.

Pottery was vitally important in the development of society. Its weight makes it difficult to carry, but a sedentary culture can manage it even without agriculture. The sedentary hunting and gathering culture in Japan underwent a population explosion when they invented pottery. And the big thing is that it allows you to increase food supplies. This involves all sorts of aspects. For instance, you can steam open (fresh-water) mollusks. You can cook tough and unpalatable parts of meat to make it feasible for the digestive organs to extract nutrition from it. (Cooking in generally is a way to extract more nutrition, and more easily, but boiling is going to make it even better than roasting.) You can boil water with plants you can't eat until the toxins are leached out and the rest is more compatible with your mostly carnivorous digestive system.

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They existed in history.

There ware sedentary hunter gathers in history. They lived in place of extraordinary abundance, usually places with access to very easy fishing so with just a little investment in traps food will catch itself. All you need for a sedentary lifestyle is an abundance of food. Hunter gatherer societies end up with a decent amount of leisure time in places of natural bounty. Most of these societies don't exist any more because the places that make for this are also extremely attractive to societies with agriculture and better technology.

The pacific northwest being one famous example, where abundance was so extreme the potlatch came into existence, a sort of contest of extreme waste. Florida's shellfish coast being another.

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