I need help solving some problems considering civilization living on plains
- there is magic, everyone can perform it, it needs a lot of studying to perform - users need special type of focus, and memorize formulas
- there were advanced steampunk civilizations around the world, they waged destructive wars using magic and tech, until they mysteriously disappeared with majority of their creations
- most of the world is uninhabitable, covered with white deserts
- there is spectrum of fantasy races that adjusted to live in harsh environment
- about 120 000 km²
- it's in great part encircled by mountain ranges, that make natural borders
- there is combination of silt (?/ mud) deserts, sand deserts (hamadas, dry lakes), rock deserts and greener grass plains on north
- there is one large water body in the center of the region, a lake into which rivers flow. It's created by flooding, and collapsing underground part of ancient city/megastructure
- there are three major rivers which flow into this lake, and one flowing out of it
- there are 3 elven nations in the region. Those nations were unified once, but now are separate. Think of elves as humans but with stronger stomachs and sound sensitive ears
- there was civil war fairly recently which was won by pretender. This was the event that separated the nations.
- the most prestigious capital is in a mountainous area, built on top of ancient ruins.
What are the reasons for people to settle outside of big cities, in the middle of plains or desert (other than trade and security?), considering that food is not a concern - elves grow and eat lichen and fungi? - how to solve long-distance travels?
What I want to avoid:
- taking (too much) inspiration from Arabs and Mongols
- shepherds, because I plan that the sparse humans that live there will take this role, as they can't sustain themselves on elvish food