PDA

View Full Version : Societal reflections of post-apocalypse and decadence



Johnny.JJ
2013-03-31, 07:52 AM
Of course you know the post-apocalyptic theme (you may have encountered it in the Fallout games (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallout_%28series%29), in The Age of Decadence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_Decadence), etc.) Actually, post-apocalypse is a major theme in one of my fantasy worlds, and since I'm running out of ideas that could emphasize this theme, let me ask for your ideas on the thing.

Generally, when the social order crumbles, the needs of people are not being met ... and then the nasty stuff emerges (violence, slavery, or even cannibalism).
But for the more structured and well thought ideas, one needs to be world-specific.

In this world, things were like this: the pre-apocalyptic era, which ended some 200 years ago, reached technologically somewhere to the level of industrial revolution (19th century-ish), with the exception that all the advanced technology was based on magic (not steam, not electricity, but magic). In the wake of the apocalypse, magic crumbled and became unstable - it is now almost impossible to recreate, re-use and re-implement the pre-apocalyptic machines, as the vast majority of them just doesn't work anymore. In this world, the loss of advanced technologies (along with the untimely death of the 95% of mortals during the apocalypse) was the catalyst of the decadence. And by the way, the now-unstable magic is causing some severe mutations in the world.

Now, having mentioned all the specifics, the open-ended question for you is: in which ways could societies develop (i.e. survive, adapt (at its best); or dissolve, regress (at its worst)) during this decadence?
(I'm a fan of some complex, philosophical answers that are not afraid to play around with symbolism)

JusticeZero
2013-03-31, 01:41 PM
People generally like to have some form of government; they re-establish a government of some form almost instantly, but the borders are restricted by communication and ability to support things. Indeed, it is a common and popular theory in social sciences that many street gangs in the ghetto are actually at a certain level an attempt to re-establish a government in a place where the nominal government is too apathetic to support. They tax residents and try to provide police protection of a sort, often offer medical and financial support, and have military power that gets used to protect their borders.

Probably you will see a lot of small city-states with wildly variable properties. The bigger the state, the worse they'll mess things up; look at Katrina, where most of the misery and damage to people was caused by the rescue effort, not the flooding. Things seem like a great idea from a day's travel away that are shooting everyone on the ground in the foot. Communications are very important, be it by bardic news service or whatever. Your death toll estimates are probably on the high side. People are actually a lot more adaptable than people give them credit for.

themourningstar
2013-03-31, 02:52 PM
Why hasnt the world, at least to SOME extent, started the process of rebuilding/ recovery? Two hundred years is a LONG time.. There is nothing in real world history to show that it would take anywhere near that long. A couple questions on your setting need addressed as well..

What exactly caused the Apocalypse? Did they "run out" of magic? (Which could be a symbol for fossil fuels...) Did they "lose control" of it? (nuclear energy..?)

Also, and this is a big point- are your players supposed to be reestablishing the world, or is this a static setting- it is basically unfixable, bleak, and horrible?

Johnny.JJ
2013-03-31, 06:00 PM
People generally like to have some form of government; they re-establish a government of some form almost instantly, but the borders are restricted by communication and ability to support things. Indeed, it is a common and popular theory in social sciences that many street gangs in the ghetto are actually at a certain level an attempt to re-establish a government in a place where the nominal government is too apathetic to support ...
About the "ability to support things": since in the hierarchy of human needs, food supply and the need for physical safety come first, this leaves ideologies, philosophies and personal fulfillment opportunities far away on the horizon. Given that the post-apocalyptic conditions of a region are left in a rather severe state, I suppose that the people would accept any form of government - as long as their basic needs would be taken care of.

You mentioned gangs - which strikes me as an interesting concept. Gangs are the underground powers of an area; once a revolution happens (facilitated by a disaster, in this case), the underground powers can take control, forcing the former official authorities into hiding (call it a power flip, if you will).


Probably you will see a lot of small city-states with wildly variable properties. The bigger the state, the worse they'll mess things up ...
I suppose that in case of empires of the scale of Rome or colonial Britain, the end results in different provinces would vary. Still, at least within the bounds of a single empire, the pre-apocalyptic people would be bound by a similar culture - so, tell me, how different could these newly former neighboring city states possible be?

You also mentioned people being adaptable. Here is my take on this: in a post-apocalypse, the former primitives of the world could shrug the situation off pretty easily, as they wouldn't need to regress to a more primitive way of life (being there already). It would be the civilized city dwellers, who, without infrastructure and supply, would probably die off, not even being able to obtain food and defend themselves ... I think.


What exactly caused the Apocalypse? Did they "run out" of magic? (Which could be a symbol for fossil fuels...) Did they "lose control" of it? (nuclear energy..?)
Basically, they abused the power of magic and then the things spiraled out of control (a warmongering empire sacrificed tens of thousands of their enemies' souls, in order to blend these souls, creating a god of their own; this "god" turned out to be an incontrollable mindless freak - in its wake, it swallowed all the other gods, ripped apart the established magic currents and consumed the majority of life in the world as well).


Why hasnt the world, at least to SOME extent, started the process of rebuilding/ recovery? Two hundred years is a LONG time.. There is nothing in real world history to show that it would take anywhere near that long.
While 200 years (ten generations?) would be more than enough to rebuild from a "standard"* catastrophe, I'm guessing that it is also just about enough to fall into complete decadence.
Did you want to hear about some post-apocalyptic dynamics and development? I'm thinking of both magic-hating and magic-worshipping cults running rampant, slave trade flourishing, and mercenary forces raiding the remnants of civilized cities and/or searching the old ruins.

*) As for the standard catastrophies and history reference: In 1945, there were approx. 2.5 billion people on the planet, while in the wake of war, some 60 million died - it took the Europeans about 10 years to rebuild and to recover from the destruction of war.
Now, imagine what if 2.4 billion of the 2.5 billion word population would die, along with losing the existing technology (and thus not being able to use it to rebuild).


Also, and this is a big point- are your players supposed to be reestablishing the world, or is this a static setting- it is basically unfixable, bleak, and horrible?
"Static" is such a nasty word. But to answer your question, while there are a few competing powers that may, in some way, determine the future, the players aren't expected to influence this and/or save the day (in a harsh, savaged world, just surviving, enjoying individual freedom and avoiding magic decay is a decent accomplishment).

Johnny.JJ
2013-04-01, 08:10 AM
... all knowledge from the Scientific Revolution and beyond getting muddled into something as error-prone as Medieval alchemy.
Sure - something along the lines of this.
Some of the most conservative magic technologies (the basic stuff) would still be working in the post-apocalyptic word, but rarely anyone would have the capacity to maintain these machines (yet alone repair them in case of breakdown). Fixing such a machinery would involve parties of scavengers searching the old ruins for identical spare parts. No more engineers, more like charlatans.

This is also about social stratification: the most primitive societies consisted of hunters and gatherers (later on replaced by farmers); scientists, artists and all this sophisticated bunch - i.e. people who do not produce any directly usable values - would be unlikely in such an environment.
Take wheat for example: there is a radical difference between having 1:3 and 1:50 yield ratio (complemented by superior agricultural machinery). Less food equals less resources to support the people who produce no primary values.
Therefore, I'd be expecting that starting 25% literacy rate to be on the decrease, in most areas.


How society responds depends on how much pre-apocalyptic knowledge is retained. Assume the global population went from 1 billion to 50 million in a short time, there's a 25% literacy rate among survivors, and growth rate of x2 for first century, and x1.3 for the next. You'll go from 50 million to 130 million in 200 years
That is pretty close. I was thinking of 2 billion going to approx. 100 million after those ugly 200 years.
It seems that our math is governed by similar principles.


Society is going to be local, assuming no world-shaking magic or monsters. Each cultural region will have developed their own set of belief systems, each quite disconnected from their neighbors, which could lead to conflict when two cultures link up.
Culture clash is a solid concept that should be used to its full potential, at least in such a savage world (the new cultures would have little experience of coexisting in tolerance - the first conflicts should thus be the bloodiest ones, I think).


you might get an empire or flourishing culture in the most ideal of geographical regions ...
... to diversify a region from all the savages - why not! However, for some reason, I was thinking of "unhealthy" empires as well* - paranoid, dogmatic, corrupt to the bone by naked power grabs, etc.

*)since the earliest attempts of government are usually the most unstable ones


Some societies may borrow from the fallen civilizations, but history shows that Western culture drastically shifted away from Roman culture after the latter collapsed. After all, it took more than 200 years after the end of western Rome for republics to once again be commonplace in Europe.
I'm not sure this is the same. The Roman republic wasn't a republic in the sense of a modern state - it was rather isolationist, unable to provide a more decentralized model of ruling (one of the reasons why it collapsed). In other words, Rome was not fit for the upcoming societal changes in the world, and it refused to adapt. The cultures that came after Rome did not preserve the social model of Rome, for Rome was a dead end. Also, the "barbarians" were not direct descendants of Rome.

In case of this little fantasy world we're debating, the people in the post-apocalypse are basically just sitting on the legacy of their ancestors - they may decide to keep some of the ways of their ancestors - as long as these old customs are still usable in the changed world.
Also, instead of throwing away the unfit customs, they may just re-tailor these to fit better into the current situation.
All this relates to how highly is traditionalism regarded in a region, though.

JusticeZero
2013-04-01, 04:51 PM
in a post-apocalypse, the former primitives of the world could shrug the situation off pretty easily, as they wouldn't need to regress to a more primitive way of life (being there already). It would be the civilized city dwellers, who, without infrastructure and supply, would probably die off, not even being able to obtain food and defend themselves ... I think.And you'd be wrong. Take all the electronics away from a bunch of modern techie teenagers and dump them in the middle of nowhere - they won't have the trained skills, but they'll pick them up shockingly fast, especially if a tiny handful of them had picked up random bits of trivia that are applicable. I once sat my gaming group at the time down when they were trying to claim this and did a quick audit; just among the people sitting at the table at the time, we had enough knowledge to farm, build several types of shelter, find water sources, build and administer an army, and rebuild society up to the industrial revolution. The people who live in the wild have a bit of a head start only because in so many ways, they won't notice the difference, but even they will be shocked to discover how dependent they are on the civilizations around them. A lot of the skills they use on a day to day basis will actually become rapidly irrelevant; lots of peoples' disaster plan is to 'go out in the woods and hunt for food' like the people living in the woods, and the only time we've seen that happen, the game species went extinct inside of a week and left the woodsy types just as high and dry as everybody else.

While 200 years (ten generations?) would be more than enough to rebuild from a "standard"* catastrophe, I'm guessing that it is also just about enough to fall into complete decadence.And rebuild, and collapse again, and rebuild again.. 200 years is an insanely long time. 200 years is long enough that the apocalypse won't even be KNOWN by many people, let alone relevant. 200 years after an apocalypse is no longer post-apocalyptic, it is a standard setting with an apocalypse described in its history, and not even on the first page.

magic-hating and magic-worshipping cults running rampant, slave trade flourishing, and mercenary forces raiding the remnants of civilized cities and/or searching the old ruins.None of which need an apocalypse to happen. We have enough trouble dealing with slavery RIGHT NOW, and we're in what amounts to a golden age. And cults! We have cults now.

JusticeZero
2013-04-02, 08:48 AM
By this point, a sizable portion of the population is dead, leaving you with a small enough number of neo-hunter-gatherers/mile^2 to prevent ecological collapse.And the point that i'm trying to tell you is that as this wave of mayhem you claim passes, it changes the ecosystem enough that the hunter/gatherers are just as clueless as the civilized people, and secondly that the civilized people become skilled hunter/gatherers, farmers, etc very very quickly.

Given the assumptions of this scenario, 200 years is barely enough time for civilization to bring itself back out of pure barbarism and tribalism.You're talking as though "tribalism" were a less advanced social organization. It isn't; the words you are using there are words that come from the British Empire's use of terminology to justify the "White man's burden" wreckage of various advanced civilizations they encountered that just hadn't had the fortune to come up with the couple of technologies that the British were using yet. Boaz blew these ideas out of the water, and Boaz has been in the ground for decades. Have you ever looked at the organization of these "primitive" cultures? Do a palette swap on just about any of them to put in caucasians with pretty dresses and fancy coats, and you have what looks like an advanced fantasy civilization on just about all of them.

When your population is just 5-15% of the pre-apocalyptic figure, you won't rebuild into anything close to the society you started with. You'd be lucky to have anything beyond city-states and fiefdoms, in terms of size and influence.We have no hope of "rebuilding" our CURRENT culture into anything close to the culture we had a decade ago. You don't "rebuild". You move forward. And the size of administrative units you have is dependent on communication and transportation; any given empire will tend to expand as far as it is able to monitor and project power within the reign of one single person. Those distances are dependent on things like roads and railways and the like, not on people.

JusticeZero
2013-04-02, 05:03 PM
I know how to make both paper and printing press. I'd need a few tries to get the fiddly bits sorted, and it wouldn't be the fanciest design, but I can do it. I also know the general idea of how to refine steel. Once again, pretty poorly, but it is in the realm of the possible. I also vaguely know how to make a simple steam pump that can drain a mine.
I don't have any good reason to know these, and got them from books that werent even about those things. I'm not an expert, but I can pull tech up a long way. And I am not wierd in this.

'People starving'? People aren't dumb. A lot of people in cities think 'go frontierward' is a good Plan A. They will make it out acouple hundred miles, escorting the 'Maybe this is local and we can get out of the area affected' crowd. The range they cover will cover your entire civil land area. On the way they will collectively shred the environmental management being done by the 'primitives', who have more free time than agriculturalists by the way.

JusticeZero
2013-04-02, 05:13 PM
The 'Pastoralists' actually have MORE efficiency from their gathering. Their limiting factors are mandatory mobility (so no fancy monuments) and the need to constantly shuff the youngsters off between groups for genetic and skill exchange reasons. Agriculturalists use fixed addresses for that stuff.

That said, a bunch of post-urban ranger wannabees stomping through their managed forest is going to throw them off their game as badly as the same group ransacking a farm in the middle of the night.

JusticeZero
2013-04-02, 09:21 PM
It seems as if you're suggesting that not only would the ecology be devastated, but civilization would still somehow bounce back in less than 200 years. How does that work?Because 200 years is a long freaking time.

Because your goal is to "Establish a civilization", and 200 years is a very long timetable for that to happen.

Your population will be lower. Your civilization will look different. You won't have the same technology that you had before - but that all stopped working anyways, so that was a forgone conclusion. But there will be an established and stable civilization of some kind in place in less than fifty years; and transportation and logistics willing, it will either be fairly expansive, or it will have a mesh of agreements with other groups near it to the extent that there is an expansive meta-civilization like a confederacy or federation or some such thing.


I can't see how pastoral populations could be the size of, or larger than, any agricultural counterparts within the same environment.Size is complex. Are you talking about geographical coverage, raw population, raw population density, population density within specific metropolitan subregions, population per individual cluster, what? They can be quite large by some of those measures.
By efficiency, I don't mean calories/work-hour per person, but how much extra effort is needed to sustain specialists that don't do what the food-providers do to survive. They can and do support specialists. Artists, textile workers, carvers, boatbuilders, et cetera are all specialists, and there are no shortage of those. The very elderly are specialists too, and certain tribes prided themselves on regularly supporting a metric snot-ton of those, on top of artists and craftspeople.

Agriculturalists control the producers of the food chain, which is more efficient in the long run than controlling the consumers, or through natural predation strategies.There's actually multiple issues with that.

First, the groups that "live off the land" put quite a bit of effort into controlling the food chain. This was something discovered when people got it in their head that natives couldn't be trusted to live on their own forests and started evicting them - the forest health started going downhill, and researchers went back and discovered that the people who were living there were actually managing the heck out of the forests. People think they're a bunch of uneducated slackers - actually it's more like they have a bunch of druid types who keep track of the woods and coordinate with people, keeping everything managed so that you CAN walk through the forest and find berries and everything easily if you're familiar with the place. Furthermore, researchers have found that multiculturing plants in that random looking sort've way can have some very high yields per square foot.

Second, they do not generally operate by controlling consumers. The grazers can pretty much take care of themselves and make for good eating, eventually. If the predators go up, then well, everyone eats more vegetables because the predators ate the rabbits and deer or whatnot, and the problems pretty much solve themself because now the predators are hungry and well, starved wolf meat is still yummy meat if you cook it right. If the forest is full of rabbits eating your vegetables, you eat a lot of rabbit. It's all good.

What agriculture does is to make people easier to manage and administer. It's the sort've thing that one can see a group transitioning to if they were landlocked and needed to deal with climate shifts. It's labor intensive, but more importantly it locks everyone in to a fixed address which is easier to apply bureaucracy to. It's easier to send soldiers to rough up a farmer at his field than it is to send them to rough up a forester, and it's easier to figure out exactly how much of the farmers' crops to steal. Thus, it was a huge favorite with any civilization. It allowed for one administrator to send out scores of armed thugs to extort from thousands of farmers, to the extent that the surpluses could be used to build grandiose monuments of opulence and power.

Johnny.JJ
2013-05-21, 06:54 AM
Let me get back to this (part thread necromancy, part new thoughts) ...


And you'd be wrong. Take all the electronics away from a bunch of modern techie teenagers and dump them in the middle of nowhere - they won't have the trained skills, but they'll pick them up shockingly fast, especially if a tiny handful of them had picked up random bits of trivia that are applicable. I once sat my gaming group at the time down when they were trying to claim this and did a quick audit; just among the people sitting at the table at the time, we had enough knowledge to farm, build several types of shelter, find water sources, build and administer an army, and rebuild society up to the industrial revolution.
The difference in information availability for 19th/20th/21st has already been mentioned.

Here is another objection: knowing is quite different from doing.
Watching a top-grade dancer on the TV is not the same as performing the dance on your own. The same goes with starting a fire, etc. (there are differences in brain skills/areas used: cognition, experience, motor skills, etc.)
There are theories out there that address this (see Gardner's theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences)).

Statistically speaking, designers and players of RPG games generally consist of a specific sort of people - introverted rationals (which make up some 10% of the whole population). And again, generally speaking, it is quite a challenge for these people to put their theoretical concepts to use in the real world around them. Therefore, I'm being skeptical about the seamless transfer of "knowing" into "doing".


You're talking as though "tribalism" were a less advanced social organization. It isn't;
In a way, tribalism is less advanced.
Now, I don't intend to get into a debate about emancipation, (in)equality and diversity across cultures; the key aspect of being an "advanced culture" can be the ability to adapt to the environment, making the best out of the environment and raising one's own quality of life in there. This is relative to the possibilities of the environment.
However, power is not relative ... and going through the agricultural revolution IS the major step of becoming a powerful culture.
The issue here is that not all the parts of the world had the conditions for a full-featured agricultural revolution.
The bottom line here is that the Spanish, who had a home-ground advantages, DID conquer the Inca and the Aztec fairly easily, cultural nuances in stuff like clothing and art aside.

So, where lies a definition of a "less advanced society"? Given that the environment makes agricultural revolution available ... where one society goes for the revolution and some other society goes not, the second society is being both less advanced, and stupid (practical survivability-wise).

An interesting question to raise here: how can a ruined, post-apocalyptic natural environment hinder the post-apocalyptic recovery of an affected society (as in crippling the agricultural yield of food and resources, etc.)? How can the environment collapse?


We have no hope of "rebuilding" our CURRENT culture into anything close to the culture we had a decade ago. You don't "rebuild". You move forward. And the size of administrative units you have is dependent on communication and transportation; any given empire will tend to expand as far as it is able to monitor and project power within the reign of one single person. Those distances are dependent on things like roads and railways and the like, not on people.
... and ...

What I meant was, excluding natural and cultural variables, what technologies can exist is dependent on how saturated a given society is with less complex, supporting technologies. If the supporting technologies are abandoned/lost, anything reliant on it will have to wait to be reinvented. If nobody knows how to make a printing press, you don't get lots of books, which limits knowledge of chemistry, preventing railroad technology, which makes railroads nonexistent, and ultimately limits the size of civilization.
Well, to make sense of this, let us separate the terms of "functionality" and "flavor" in this

The "functionality" part is, basically, technology. It can get discovered, forgotten, reinvented, or, in this case, abandoned (no longer being effective). Also, a substitute may be found, if possible.
Still, as long functionality does not collapse in its foundations (or reach a dead-end), it can only go forward, through progress.

The "flavor" part is design, style, cultural beliefs. At its best, it can serve as decoration on top of functionality. At its worst, it may cripple the progress, putting artificial limitations on it (once upon a time, a King had eaten a rotten fish; now, eating fishes in all the kingdom is considered a taboo ... while the kingdom is actually situated in a fish-rich environment and half the population is starving).
Flavor does not progress, it alternates.

A question that comes to mind: can you think of some strict, absurd belief limitations that choke the technological progress rather significantly (even to the point of stopping it)?


Because 200 years is a long freaking time.

Because your goal is to "Establish a civilization", and 200 years is a very long timetable for that to happen.
200 years is not a long time - these years are a relative time. It all depends on a whole lots of interfering variables (as this discussion goes, we are just trying to pinpoint the significant variables out there).

A cheap shot: compare the 200-year progress in these times:
600AD to 800AD --- 1800AD to 2000AD (quite a striking difference, isn't it?)