Four types of post-apocalyptic character

Just something I’ve been thinking about. In fictional worlds like those presented in the Survivors, the Road and the Parable of the Talents (to name a few at random), there seem to be four broad character types:

Scavengers. People who are trying to make a living through picking over the bones of the fallen civilisation. They tend to be nomadic because the resources in any given area run out fast. They live hand-to-mouth and, in consequence, can be fairly suspicious of strangers who they may perceive as likely to take what little they have. On the other hand come scavengers might do odd jobs for settled communities they encounter. These people will value portable goods and food the most.

Settlers. People who are trying to make a living in a fixed location, through farming and perhaps trade. These people will value practal skills and re-usable resources (like farmland) most. They may engage in limited trade with other settled communities, if there are any, and may begin to develop the trappings of a fledgling civilisation as a result. They are nevertheless primarily focused on survival.

Predators. People who are trying to make a living through preying on others. Slavers, raiders, groups of armed men who seek to conquer settled communities. These people value strength and weaponry most of all, and are always on the lookout for someone weaker than them to dominate. Ironically their desire to rule could lead to the development of a basic civilisation – they will inevitably seek to dominate or destroy other groups who might threaten them.

Seekers. People who are seeking something more than simple survival. Sometimes they want something quite specific – perhaps they are looking for their lost daughter, for example. Often they are seeking to build something greater than a small farmstead or similar, either through building up infrastructure, trade and alliances, or perhaps through spreading a religion or philosophy. Despite the fact that their eyes are fixed on something more than survival, seekers will often turn out to be the most practically minded of the lot, never content to settle for scratching out a living by hand if they could be ploughing their fields with horses or a tractor.

Am I missing any important categories here?

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

3 thoughts to “Four types of post-apocalyptic character”

  1. Possibly the only other example is human “service industry” – i.e. someone who makes a living by being part of an entourage. Maybe they’re a bodyguard or a gladiator, or have tech skills. Arguably they’re a subset of Settlers since they’re most strongly tied to our current notion of civilisation (with trade, entertainment etc). I don’t think they fit the other three descriptions anyway. Whether these individuals exist will depend on how recent the apocalypse was.

    Otherwise I think you’ve got it – other examples I can think of are subsets of the groups above.

    You could split the groups between survival mode and motivation, though. Seekers could also be Scavengers or even Predators, in pursuit of their goals. Seeker is very broad, as you’ve noted.

    1. Smiorgan,

      I think in my head I was just thinking about ways of living (with Seekers representing people who were trying to do more than living). So I guess if I’d thought of it I would have put service personnel as a subset of any of the three “ways of living” categories, with as you say a slight tendency to settle. But it’s just as legit to treat them as a separate category of course. I guess that Servicers represent a level of diversity of labour that can only be supported by a large group, at any rate – much like many Seekers.

  2. I really like that 5th category and I can think of lots of examples of it in the relevant genre.

    I think you’re right – they don’t fit into the other categories but I think they often show up as a side kick to any of the people in the other categories.

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