The year is 2032. The location, rural midwest North America.

A decade ago, a plague wiped out almost every living human. There weren't even enough survivors to bury the dead. Secondary plagues rose from the decaying remains, further diminishing the ranks of the breathing.

It took three long years for the stragglers to start gathering into small towns, centering on un-pillaged food stockpiles near fresh water and fertile farmlands. United, they've survived this new world for seven horrible years.

Pirate raiders were common for a while but they are not a threat now that the walls are in place.

Wild animals, zoo escapees, still climb in from time to time, but they are quickly dealt with.

The brutal winters and scorching hot summers are still a challenge, but they are survivable through proper planning.

Behind the town walls, things are finally starting to improve.

Outside life is still very hard:

  • The tenement ruins of the old world have been picked clean by scavengers.

  • The cities are uninhabitable, populated by hordes of carrion rats whose rabid bites cause lingering death.

  • Strangers are still to be feared for both the weapons and diseases that they might be carrying.

  • In the unshielded open, pirates are still a very real threat.

The towns have weapons and limited medical facilities.
They can deliver a baby and keep a wound from getting infected but major surgery is a lost art.

Every inch of spare space behind the walls is dedicated to farming. Exterior to the main walls but surrounding each town, the lands are also farmed by the townspeople. The larger towns have built secondary walls out of chainlink and barbwire to help secure these exterior fields. All of the towns post regular guard patrols to keep harvest-time looting to a minimum.
The towns are now able to feed themselves year round without diminishing their pre-fall stockpiles.

They've all dug wells and built cisterns to stockpile water for the dry months. They have organized leadership, law-enforcement and a primitive mail system running between the towns. Armed equestrian couriers carry messages between the towns on an approximately monthly cycle.

They have hope.

My question to you is... What do they do next?

  • Create a prioritized list of goals for these post-apocalyptic townspeople.

  • What major issues need to be addressed to let the town survive for the next decade?

  • What unaddressed deficiencies in their current accomplishments are going to bite them if not addressed them soon?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Keep your walls around the towns (and their granaries), minimizing perimeter to guard. The mobile raiders likely won't have the tools to harvest and haul your food away. $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2015 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ Either become pirates or get the hell out of America. $\endgroup$
    – Pharap
    Feb 2, 2015 at 0:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question reminds me of The Postman. $\endgroup$
    – cimmanon
    Feb 2, 2015 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ This seems like "I've built a setting, but now I need a plot" type of question. Seems overly broad. $\endgroup$
    – DA.
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:53

6 Answers 6


Well, it seems you have your agriculture and basic defense setup complete.

The obvious next steps:

  1. Establish an electricity supply. This can be hydro power, coal, gas or even wood and chaff powered. This will allow a whole host of technologies that will make your people richer, stronger and more secure.

  2. Establish outposts with radio access. This can be done either by scavenging and repurposing old radios from police and army bases, or by building primitive ones from leftover copper wire and primitive batteries. This will allow the towns to be in radio contact and prevent the raiders any chance at surprise. As an added bonus this might help you contact and recruit some of the (hundreds of?) thousands of hunter-gatherer survivalists that might still have working crank-based radio transmitters/receivers in their remote cabins.

  3. Establish a united authority. The extent of this will greatly depend on your surviving population density. Without heavy industry (which you won't have for a while) the effective transport range is rather limited by bikes, converted diesel trucks that run on impure oil and horses. Large scale maintenance (highway infrastructure) is out of the question. This can be done by conquest, but most people will still remember and long for the old national states, so the state-building indoctrination does not have to start from zero, so you could have states voluntarily form. This will allow a limited degree of specialization.

  4. Start dedicating surplus resources to education and medical infrastructure, before the generation of people with the engineering and medical knowledge is lost, and before damage to extant libraries renders all materials there unreadable.

  5. Create the rudiments of an industrial infrastructure. Again, depending on how much of the existing infrastructure you can reuse, you can do a lot of automation, even with relatively primitive electric control systems (mind you i said electric, not electronic). Mining, refining and metal-casting and plastic-casting could then commence. Weapon manufacturing will definitely be a priority. Perhaps even very basic electronics could be in range.

  6. Breed like rabbits. Goes without saying, and the motivations of survivors of the calamity will probably be similar to those of Nazi concentration camp survivors. Probably will result in a few centuries of patriarchal domination, but it's the lesser evil. As @MarchHo comments below, your people (if few enough) may need to set up a system to avoid future inbreeding.

The thing to keep in mind is that you don't start back from the stone age. You have a population accustomed to obeying the law, organizing, trusting each other, with high levels of education and skill.

A good read in a similar vein is Eric Flint's 1632, where a small West Virginian town is thrown back to, yes you guessed it, 1632. There is also a vibrant online community discussing how modern tech can be recreated from such a small base. I strongly recommend it in your case.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 not only for content which is excellent but also for the prioritization. Establishing electricity and with it radio communication is a fabulous entry point for my POV character who thanks to you will have pre-fall experience in primitive electricity. Might move #4 up by one. Wonderful scene from Lucifer's Hammer where a college professor plastic wraps his textbooks, hides them in a dry well and then uses them to gain power after the collapse. Will add 1632 to my reading list and look for the online community. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2015 at 20:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1, but I think the "Breed like rabbits" part should tempered by avoidance of inbreeding. A system like Iceland's will be very important in this case. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Feb 2, 2015 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MarchHo, I was thinking the original population is small but (unlike Iceland) unlikely to already be closely related, so genetically healthier, no? $\endgroup$ Feb 2, 2015 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ Why did the Icelanders (a genetically healthy group of Norsemen) start the system in the first place, then? $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Feb 2, 2015 at 12:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Shouldn't a group of enlightened people with understanding of modern biology start it before inbreeding starts becoming a problem then? $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Feb 2, 2015 at 12:17

How are the pirates surviving?

Radio and weapons, and clean out the pirates. Command and control, and a nice network so you can sweep areas, and monitor them. Put up some tall concrete towers with radios and telescopes and a guy in each, and get 'em long before they're in range.

Removing the pirate threat is going to be the most important, because everything else is going to have to be defended if you don't. Once you do have the lawless portions cleaned up, the world (or that part of it) is your oyster.

Who got the nukes, the tanks, and the helicopters? The oil refineries? You're going to be out of fuel, if you let those go. And you're probably going to be unable to restart that oil harvesting / refinery cycle if you don't have fuel to run the machines.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the additional considerations of oil and heavy weaponry. I like the towers because if each tower could see the next town's tower (or an intermediary) then they could serve as a secondary communications network. Prioritizing the extermination of the pirates is also valuable but may not be permanently resolvable since new pirates may arrive at any time. Guarding what they've got will be an ongoing issue regardless of how often they exterminate the current pirates. Thanks! +1 $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2015 at 17:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Where are new pirates coming from? I thought we killed off a lot of people. :P Wherever the pirates are coming from, go get 'em there, or set up a perimeter between here and there (if you can't get to that island). Guarding yes - that's police, beating off attacks no. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Feb 4, 2015 at 13:30

I think it will be different for every town (even different persons within a town). Some will go for the power, trying to get someone else's lands or food. Others will try to recover some of the "lost" knowledge: in this case, reckon it will be mostly on medicine, some practical technology (repairing cars, or getting generators to work again, or something like that) or something they can use as a weapon. I think other will also just want to be left alone (you can use them as reluctant allies or foes).

  • $\begingroup$ What you are suggesting is that once the basics are covered, people who have come together for mutual survival would return to their individual skills to see how they could benefit the town best. It would take a very self confident leadership to allow such behavior but the advantages are obvious. Could work well as an underlying theme for the book as well. Thanks! +1 $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2015 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I was thinking along opposite lines. I think might try to take their communities towards their ends. If the leader wants to wage war on the neighbours and the community is willing, there will be war. If they just want to go back to "before" and they convince their community, they will try to recover lost knowledge. Mind you, it all depends on the setting: a community under constant threat of barbarian raids, will be keen on weaponry and defence, and a well protected community trying to recover knowledge will first go for medicine than for history. $\endgroup$
    – Alex San
    Feb 3, 2015 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ It also depends on people: like-minded individuals will try to group or may try to leave for a more suited community. $\endgroup$
    – Alex San
    Feb 3, 2015 at 7:37

The priorities should be like these:

  1. Self defense. They should research better weaponry and teach the art of modern weaponry to the next generation before it become a 'lost art' too. Teach every men who can to fight and keep them as 'town guards'

  2. Expansion. Build more walls and expand the territory -with military might when needed- and wipe out the pirates, allowing more room for larger buildings and infrastructures.

  3. Start building productive sectors. Build farmlands, medical facilities, mines, etc.

  4. Establish communication. Use some kind of morse code with torch/sound or tall tower with flagmen. The communication part would be advised to be put at later priorities because if they try to give signals to any other survivors, then the pirates and bandits would know their positions.

  5. Revive the knowledge. Every people should write whatever they still remember of the lost technologies and knowledge (like a peer-to-peer sharing) and share them with everyone.

Number two and three should go together before moving to number four.



  1. Find suitable location to build a base
  2. Build stable food sources.
  3. Build defenses to protect people and food.
  4. atract a society with a diversity of skills.
  5. Find industrial resources (existing manufactured from previous civilization and raw materials to build mecanical componenets of needed industries.
  6. Build facilities to manufacture all sorts of goods in order of importance.

Hot air balloons. These can be used for secure exploration of the surrounding territories, as well as tethered outposts that have a longer horizon range. Use them to go back into the rat-infested cities. You had said there wasn't, but I'd hesitate to believe there wouldn't be anything of value. There's just too much in a city that would be useful beyond basic survival supplies. Forget food, weapons, medicine. Books, electronics, art (culture stabilized a society) would be useful for advancing the society further.


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