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I've been working on a world for a game I'm making. The basis of the game is that you have to carefully manage your resources, and to keep moving. I'd like to build a world which fits that. These are the requirements for the world:

  • There is some incentive to move at least once a week; more often is fine.
  • There are multiple tribes of people in any given geographic area.
  • Said tribes are generally untrusting or outright hostile to one another, and it's not uncommon for one to attack another without provocation.
  • The level of tech is at or beyond the early computing (very early; I mean vacuum tubes) era, but no FTL (or if there is, something that prevents other planets from interfering with Earth). I don't really care about computers themselves, but the weapons should have at last the same capabilities as the infantry weapons (i.e. rifles, pistols, etc.) of back then.

How could this develop from the present day? Apocalypses of any sort are fine, but the most realistic solution wins -- i.e., the more possible it is, the better. Bonus points if you convince me that it actually will happen.

Thanks in advance for the help.

Addendum: I'm only looking for things that could happen in the real world. Things using magic or psychic powers are super neat, but not what I'm looking for. Sorry to all the fans of Deathworld out there.

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    $\begingroup$ What forces nomads to move? Some local resources are exhausted? Why resources cannot be hauled in? $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Jan 16 '15 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Historical nomads did move, but shifted between the same two areas seasonally. The resource was pastureland, summer and winter regions. If you followed game herds exclusively, you might move anywhere but herds also usually are moving seasonally back and forth rather than something more complex. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jan 16 '15 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ One challenge with 'computing era tech': building a computer requires lots of infrastructure. Giant clean-room facilities for growing silicon crystals to make microprocessors out of aren't particularly portable. Raw material extraction, through mining and oil drilling, also requires a long-term presence in an area. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jan 16 '15 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @ckersch That's why I said that apocalypses are fine. In addition, I don't really care about computers -- I just want to be able to use that-era weaponry, since it's what I'm used to thinking in terms of, and it'll be easier to implement what I know. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ The obvious answer would be to live on a slowly rotating world, where the dark side is too cold and the star-side far too hot, and only a narrow, and shifting band is actually survivable. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 17 '15 at 4:24
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I suggest gathering lichens in Antarctic-like land.

In typical RTS games non-renewable resources appear naturally if you don't make them renewable. Energy/food is an realistic example. (Water and other materials could be filtered and reused.) If your tribes lived in a land like Antarctica, where the only source of food and fuel are slow growing lichens, the tribes would have to move constantly.

Relatively advanced technology is necessary to survive. Competition justifies distrust between tribes.

Greenhouses or solar batteries would be excluded if there was too little sunlight - polar region like Antarctic itself or planet further from its sun than Earth if you don't want polar nights.

If you don't mind very harsh conditions, feces could be used as fuel for light and weapon production. Metal from bullets and weapons of killed units should also be gathered to reuse (With deep ice, the only other metal source would be meteorites).

Realistic dark powder production would require extracting sulfur from lichens or waste (maybe hair), because sulfur escapes in gases and is not abundant in air. Potassium (in form of salts) could be regained from solid remains from powder burning. It is also a macroelement about as abundant as sulfur in food (including edible lichens; ~ 2 g/day ratio) and human wastes. Nitrogen is abundant in organic material and, with use of some energy, can be obtained from the air. Carbon appears in organic materials by definition and hydrogen and oxygen are everywhere in different forms. With adequate machinery and fuel you can produce dark powder. Materials for more modern explosives can be actually easier to obtain.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ooh, I really like this idea. Keep in mind that I just need weapons with similar capabilities -- they don't have to function exactly the same. I could probably just say that the lichen is both a food resource and a wonderful explosive, making it a replacement for gunpowder. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ If you don't mind, this is the idea I'm going to end up using. I've thought (read: chatted with people) a good bit and merged this and JohnP's answer into what I'm going to use. Many thanks for the help! $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ Here you are. I don't mind. Nice that you like it. $\endgroup$ – BartekChom Jan 16 '15 at 22:46
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Moving resources

If you're living on buffalo, then you're going to be a nomad :)

Weather/plant cycles move the goal/good stuff often enough. You'll need a new weather system / new plants for this. (ie: not Earth standard)

Migrating problems

An alternative to moving resources around, is to make problems.

  • Flat world: maybe high-winds
  • Plains with constant fires from lightning strikes (ie: if FL were part of the midwest)
  • Some type of locust or predator which forces movement - by eating your resources or you
  • Weather (winter comes every week to different areas)
  • Rogue microwave power/laser satellites hit different areas every week / take a week to recharge/reacquire targets
  • Nanobots
  • Magic
  • Culture (This is how people survived the apocalypse, and it would be heresy / disrespect to our ancestors to do otherwise. Kill anyone who isn't a nomad, and burn them out.)
  • Aliens: burn down any permanent settlements from orbit
  • Rampant biowarfare; diseases take down any large, or settled community (which would account for hostile tribes; the Other is deadly to even talk to). The more I think about it, the more I like this solution. You can be stationary, if you want, it'll just cost you more and more people. Eventually to a 100% kill rate. But, you could set yourself up for shuttling between camps in a seasonal rotation; plant in spring, go somewhere, go somewhere, go somewhere, weed / cultivate, go somewhere, go somewhere, go somewhere, harvest & first processing, go somewhere and process more, go somewhere.

But this is a tough sell. There are a lot of advantages to settling down, which you'll have to negate. I'm sorry, there were a lot of advantages, depending on how screwed up you've made the Earth, you might be down to just the lazy factor: it takes energy to pick up and move. For example, you'd have to negate soil fertility (maybe continue blowing it away), standing energy sources (dams, rivers, wind and water mills, ability/need to pump ground-water), reasonably accessible mining resources, the need for concentrated and specialized labor, ease of constructing factories (if everything is nano-assembled, no more factories), etc. But even given all of that, some people might be willing to be stationary (traders, etc) - if you want to eliminate them, you'd have to be pretty harsh on your reasons.

Moving in winter, during a blizzard is going to be a tough sell / and possibly impossible. Wintering very far north may be a problem, when you can't stock up and transport the fuel for the winter.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do not agree with the biowarfare; old settled communities were a focus of illnes because of lack of sanitation; I would not expect any biowarfare weapon to depend of that. That said, +1, I think moving resources is a good solution (culture is also fine); you just need to explain that soil productivity has been lowered (contamination?) and agriculture is no longer possible, so you are forced to follow/herd grass eaters. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jan 16 '15 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer a lot (even though I'm not going to accept it because it's not very detailed, which is what I asked for :P) because of three things: Nanobots, magic, and aliens. The "Nanobots" option could easily be set after a world war, where people wiped eachother out using them and (visible) clouds of flesh-eating metal demons are still drifting around, making it far too dangerous to stay in one place for long. Magic and aliens are kinda... improbable, to say the least, though culture is also appealing. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 But, settled communities can be new basis for more virulent diseases; you have larger pool of people for disease to run through (vs. small nomadic tribes), they can be closer together, can have vermin (biowarfare plague rats, gnats, etc) that live in/around structures or in/around midden heaps. Good sanitation happens when you have good plumbing, which requires mining (clay, if nothing else), and other settled labor (which could've been wiped out prior). Can't get it, if you don't have it. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Jan 16 '15 at 19:55
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You would need to have a limited lifespan resource that is necessary for the continuation of life. This would necessitate the society needing to go where the resource is, and would also restrict the size of bands to the amount of life the resource can support.

One possible idea is obviously water, where the water source dries up after X gallons are taken out, and appears somewhere else. Possibly an aquifer that shifts pressure with the movement of the planet. Pressure moves off, well dries up, peoples gots to move.

  • Water is necessary for life
  • Disappearing resource precludes building piping, wells, etc.
  • Limited amount of water means limited size of settlements
  • Moving locations also limits how much can be bottled/transported to permanent settlements

This would also introduce the concept of raiding parties, to where if you are running low on water your outriders can raid another encampment for their source and/or stores.

There are any number of resources that you could do this with, but the basic concept would be a resource that cannot be moved/brought to you, and has a limited lifespan. (A migratory food source that can't be domesticated would be another possibility, but a little tougher to spin.)

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    $\begingroup$ Ooh, I like the idea of water being the resource that forces people to move. Just one question, though: What could cause the aquifers to dry and replenish irregularly enough that you can't just migrate in a cycle as each is filled? You said "the movement of the planet" but I don't really get what you mean by that. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @QPaysTaxes - For the purposes of the game, does it matter? For the purposes of building the world, the upper surface of the aquifer area is a low melting point material. When the water damps the molten core enough, it solidifies and cracks, producing the random surface pools. As the water thins out in other places, the surface becomes more malleable and the old cracks get removed. No guarantee that the new crack will be in the same place as the old. Movement of the plant is daily rotation and orbital rotation. Heck, introduce gravometric stresses from space i you want. :p $\endgroup$ – JohnP Jan 16 '15 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ No, it doesn't matter, but it was going to annoy me until I got an answer. I like your idea a lot -- the water could be replenished the same way that aquifers on Earth are. Rain pours down, soaks into the earth, and gets into the aquifers. Maybe microfractures allow it to seep down but don't create pools? Anyway, that's enough to settle my mind. Thanks for the help :D $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @QPaysTaxes - Come to chat. $\endgroup$ – JohnP Jan 16 '15 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ An industrial society would build aqueducts and / or trade, as you cannot really maintain an industrial society while being completely nomadic... at least not as well as some people who will settle down and will have a huge advantage against you. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jan 16 '15 at 20:44
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The only scenario I can think of that would require migration is the world in Harry Harrison's Deathworld. All life is psychic and will fight back against threats..such has humans killing animals for food and chopping down trees for housing. It even evolves nastier forms incredibly fast and feeds off your hatred off the attacking life.

In the book, one group had its own psychics and could settle down by not killing much and calming the reaction of the planet. The other group was wiped out.

But if you had no psychics, you might still survive by moving on before your hatred and damage caused a massive reaction by the world to a new site. Even then, though, you could probably shuttle between some half a dozen or so camps rather than have to move every week or so.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a very good answer, but (and I forgot to mention this; it's my fault) I'm only looking for things that could theoretically happen in the real world -- it makes it a lot easier to code if I can imagine it happening, and my brain rebels against being told to imagine things that can't happen. However, I like the idea a lot -- maybe the land could have a long memory, so you can't return until a couple of years pass, and it only takes a few days for the camp's existence to disturb the earth too much? Anyway, thanks for the answer. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Yes - the difficulty would be finding a 'season' that is so short in duration, but doesn't repeat as often as annually. Now, there are some insects that outbreak at very long, odd periods to swamp out predators..the 17 year "locust" cicada. So maybe your tribe could be moving to exploit some rare, localized outbreak and they have a list that lasts years. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jan 16 '15 at 20:45
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In Absolution Gap by Alistair Reynolds, there is a constantly-moving convoy which continually moves around the planet to track and monitor a gas giant in the system, keeping it overhead at all times. There are quasi-religious overtones involved as well, with those in power using faith to ensure plenty of help to keep the convoy moving.

Just another element to consider.

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  • $\begingroup$ Another good idea, but this only works for one of the tribes. It also doesn't really fit the rest of the setting very well. Still, thanks for the input! $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jan 16 '15 at 23:22
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Moving an entire tribe on a continuing weekly basis is difficult to justify.

Here is one attempt.

Your civilization is divided into two main groups; nomads and settlers.

The settlers are long term residents who fortify a spot and control local resources. This could be a mine, an orchard or vineyard, fertile cropland, water or ice, or large herds of animals that don't take well to be driven around constantly. Settlements are generally self-sufficient (if barely) and will generally have a population that outnumbers any 4-5 nomad tribes, possibly even more. They don't require trade to survive, but it it beneficial. Nomad tribes are welcome to stop briefly (only a few days, generally), but few individuals will be allowed within the gates. Most trade will take place outside the gates, or perhaps within a courtyard between inner and outer gates.

The nomads are merchant clans who move between settlements and trade for the local resources with resources either gathered from the "wild" or purchased from other settlements. While a nomad tribe might survive on its own, trade is generally vital to its prosperity. Conflict between tribes is common, but unless overwhelming force or ambush is available, most battles are brief skirmishes. The risk of losing warriors must be carefully weighed between potential gain and the future need for protection from attacks or wildlife. An exception to this might be during and directly after a period of relative prosperity, when there might be a surplus of young warriors wondering if things wouldn't be better if they were the ones in charge.

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Staying in the same place is usually very convenient. Buildings and agriculture are actually pretty useful. Remember also that an industrial world needs factories. Factory boats exists because of some economical gain, but having all of your industry to be mobile would have a huge cost.

So, you need to have that cost extremely reduced, and the cost of staying in the same place extremely augmented.

Reducing the cost of mobility

A constant food supply is probably the most important thing to have. An easy to gather and to eat wildlife would be important. A plant that would compensate its high edibility with a big reproduction rate so that it would cover all the land.

Also, you need fuel if you want to constantly move (or a lot of tamed animals you'd need to feed). Then again, you may use the same plant as a combustible.

Increasing the cost of stability

Digging a hole and staying in there is usually a very good strategy for survival. What could make this go wrong?

1. A cosmic event going along the planet

It can be a terrible half-a-year night, a tide so strong it causes earthquakes or solar storms that make the lighted part of the planet inhabitable, but due to a regular moon/sun/planet movement as an impact so big on some part of the planet that people need to constantly run away from it. The third installment of the Cyann saga (a french graphic novel) is to me the best example of this (they need to move because night brings death).

2. Gravity can be weird sometimes

For this one, I have to mention that I have no idea of it is it physically possible.

Your planet is actually a moon, and the gravity pull from the moon is smaller that to the one from the planet even on the moon's surface. As the moon is constantly spinning, you want to stay away from the planet as you would fall to it.

Now that I think of it, your moon could not keep its atmosphere. But there may be a way.

3. The great plague is roaming

They are numerous, they can't be stopped, if they find you they will eat you or everything you have or both or worse. They are the locust or rats or zombies or nano-killers or even cyborg werewolves from a not-too-distant future. If you see them, you can outrun them, but everyithing you'll leave behind will be totally destroyed. When you see some other tribe in the distance, you have no way of knowing if they are humans or cyborg werewolves. How could you trust anyone? Just run.

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If you look at "annual round" nomads, hunter gatherers, they would often move every day for a large part of the year when food was plentiful but sources were scattered only settling in for the winter in sheltered sites to process foodstuffs gathered during the wandering months and to craft the material and artistic trappings of their culture. Humans have only really settled down into villages etc... since the Neolithic, the late stone age, when farming became our main source of food instead of the wild, if the population density is low enough for hunter gatherer survival and food sources are plentiful enough the year round then moving on would likely be the norm.

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