"Did you ever try to put a broken piece of glass back together? Even if the pieces fit, you canít make it whole again the way it was. But if youíre clever, you can still use the pieces to make other useful things. Maybe even something wonderful, like a mosaic. Well, the world broke just like glass. And everyoneís trying to put it back together like it was, but itíll never come together in the same way."A staple of Scavenger Worlds set After the End, the Disaster Scavengers are just that, people who have resorted to scavenging for food, clothes, and supplies from the rubble of their once prosperous world. While most heroes in these settings are Disaster Scavengers to an extent, they differ from rank-and file-scavengers because they haven't given up on the dream of a better world. "Scavenging" tends to include stealing as well, and Disaster Scavengers are ready and willing to steal anything that isn't nailed down or on fire, even if it's vital to beating the Big Bad or restoring the world. The result is that they end up making things worse by creating mistrust and animosity, hampering any efforts to rebuild their community and set the world right, dooming themselves and others to dying in droves. The Elephant in the Living Room for such a society is that eventually, as with any non-renewable resource, you're going to run out of workable stuff that the previous society left behind. They usually get into conflict with heroes like The Drifter by trying to steal his Rare Guns. He invariably catches the thief and gets his things back, and more often than not befriends the thief, usually a grimy child survivor, and getting a Morality Pet and Side Kick out of it, who can also vouch for him with the rest of the Untrusting Community. Sweet! Contrast Noble Shoplifter. In a Cosy Catastrophe, this character is likely to be The Scrounger. If multiple groups come into conflict, you'll have an Archaeological Arms Race on your hands. Expect Disaster Scavengers to frequently be Reduced to Ratburgers when their scavenging attempts fail to turn up other food.
— Moira Brown, Fallout 3
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Anime and Manga
- The Wormhandlers of Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind.
- Bat from Fist of the North Star fit this trope for the beginning of the series. Despite being a Running Gag for the first couple of episodes, the kid grows out of this character trait and becomes Kenshiro's Sidekick.
- Desert Punk (Not to be confused with the trope Desert Punk) has entire corporations dedicated to finding Lost Technology.
- Sword and Blade, after resorting to stealing to survive in their war-torn home, try to rob Metaknight while the latter is running from a demon beast. He then saves them from it and they become his loyal sidekicks.
- Most of the residents of Gundam X's After War setting.
- Many people left behind in the ravaged Gotham City in the Batman: No Man's Land storyline. In a twist, many scavenged for 'useless' stuff like jewels and cash and gold, because the Penguin had a line on food to the outside and knew Gotham would come back sooner or later. But most just looked for food. A can of unspoiled peaches was worth far more than a gold bar.
- Wasteland has ruin runners, people who scavenge for trade.
- Post-Chaos Day, one Judge Dredd story centred around a group of these scavenging through some ruins. They're seen cutting through a chain link fence, ostensibly looking for salvage. Turns out the fence itself is the salvage they're after. The scrap metal from the fence is only worth 40 credits.
- Rampant in the Mad Max movies. Complete with scavenger sidekicks, with conditions growing progressively worse with each succeeding film.
- Most of the survivors in Zombieland.
- In Land of the Dead survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse from the Night of the Living Dead (1968) series have inhabited a city, cleared out the zombies, and attempt to keep themselves supplied through this method.
- To a degree this applies to Noland (Laurence Fishburne's character) in Predators. Like the others, Noland was dumped on a different planet by the Predators because he was considered worth hunting. Unlike the others, who just arrived on the scene, Noland has spent at least 7 hunting seasons surviving on that planet through a combination of keeping a low profile and scavenging whatever technology, weapons, and food he could.
- Star Wars:
- After the destruction of Krypton in Man of Steel, Zod and his crew spend the next 30 years searching for the long abandoned Kryptonian space colonies, hoping to find other survivors. While they find no other living Kryptonians (except the one on the Earth), they manage to scavenge equipment such as weapons, armour and the Black Zero, a Kryptonian terraforming device they later use to attempt to transform Earth into a new Krypton.
- This is also what's going on in Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. On planet Terra-Eleven, where an Earth colony has failed catastrophically after a plague, space salvage worker Wolff finds a gang of scavengers fighting bandits who kidnap the stranded travelers Wolff has come to rescue. He teams up with scavenger Niki to find them.
- In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the few survivors of an unnamed disaster have to resort to this to survive, including the protagonist.
- The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern. John Rourke and his sidekick stop to salvage ammunition from an abandoned semi-trailer. As they exit the truck they find themselves confronted by a self-appointed militia who declare them looters who will be summarily executed. Rourke kills two of them and forces the others to walk back to their base — the militia commander is quite outraged at this.
- How the protagonist of The Postman got his US Postal Service coat and mail bag, which led to people thinking he was a real postman.
- Neverwhere: To some extent, a lot of the characters living in London Underground are Disaster Scavengers, only the disaster is more of a lifestyle. When Richard first meets the Ratspeakers, for instance, they take his stuff and almost kill him. Then a grimy teenage girl befriends him after eating his banana. She would have become a Morality Pet but dies not long after.
- In Earth Afire the survivors of the El Cavador (destroyed in Earth Unaware by the Formic ship) temporarily sign on with a "crow" ship salvaging the wreckage from another battle between Asteroid Miners and Buggers. On their first wreck they are attacked by less scrupulous "vultures" and barely escape.
- In The Culture series novel The Hydrogen Sonata, it is revealed that this vocation that entire civilizations engage in. Species such as the Liesieden and the Ronte get a technological leg up by scavenging the technology left behind by Subliming civilizations, and conflicts between scavengers are a considerable source of galactic conflict.
- The Bones of Faerie series takes place in a world that has been devastated by magic because of a war between the faerie and humans. The surviving humans must battle against hostile plants that attack them in order to harvest food and many of their supplies come from before the war.
- The stalkers in the Russian Death Zone Shared Universe either choose to live in the Five Zones created by the post-S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Catastrophe (three of the zones being the remains of major cities, plus Chernobyl and a part of Crimea) or are unable to leave due to being full of skorg implants which fail outside the Barrier. There are plenty of free stalkers, but a number of them have formed various groups separated by ideology. The largest two groups are the Ark and the Order. The Ark is led by a former neo-Nazi and his gang of thugs who believe that Earth must be terraformed by the skorgs the same way the Zones were (apparently, not realizing that the skorgs were originally programmed to terraform Mars before the Catastrophe spread and corrupted them). The Order is led by a man nicknamed Hunter originally composed of scientists who fled the tyrannical Ark. The Order believes in the existence of the so-called Node, a transdimentional link between the Five Zones (the novels by various authors differ on whether their approach is scientific or full of religious fanaticism). There's also the Barrier Army, a branch of the Russian military dedicated to keeping watch over the Zones. Stalkers are slightly different from the normal trope examples, since their main goal is scavenging pieces of unique tech made by the skorgs modifying various vehicles (and people) into robotic killing machines. Food normally comes from the outside world.
- Subverted in The Adversary Cycle by F. Paul Wilson. In Nightworld Hank Thompson finally gets his Laser-Guided Karma when he falls for Schmuck Bait set up by members of the Kicker cult he founded. A service station guarded by a policeman is selling fuel to those fleeing the disaster in the cities. Thompson has plenty of supplies in his van so he thinks he'll trade. Instead he's shot, robbed of everything he has and abandoned for the Eldritch Abominations that come out at night.
- The Hunger Games: This was Messalla's most useful ability, to scavenge food in abandoned houses.
- The Roamers in The People of Sparks and The Diamond of Darkhold, who explore and scavenge the remains of pre-disaster cities for old items they can use or sell.
- The sarcastic novella They Don't Make Life Like They Used To by Alfred Bester is all about scavenging after the nuclear holocaust ("shopping" by leaving IOUs) to create a semblance of a normal life. Linda Nielsen works on fixing up an ideal home in the model-boat house overlooking the Conservatory Waters◊ of Central Park. (The Alice in Wonderland monument◊ figures prominently too.) Jim Mayo and his friend Gil Watkins ran a bar and a TV station in New Haven just in case anyone ever came there.
- "In Iron Years" by Gordon Dickson has Americans living in a Wild West / Crazy Survivalist mashup. Jeebee Walthar, one of a handful of scholars who mathematically predicted The Collapse, now struggles westward to join with other professors who'll help rebuild some day. He is an actual coward, psychologically unfit to survive in the newly primitive, violent society. The original story is how he obtains vitally important tools, and is accidentally befriended by a huge shepherd dog. This became the novel Wolf and Iron, which is almost a Robinsonade, and the dog is rewritten as a half-tame grey wolf.
Live Action TV
- Lampooned in an episode of The Golden Girls, when the cast is taking shelter at a local TV station during a hurricane. Blanche empties all of the soda and snack machines, explaining that whenever there's a disaster, someone always does that to create a scarcity so they can re-sell the food items at a grossly inflated price "and I decided that this time, that someone would be me."
- Mostly everyone in Jericho, but especially teenager Dale, who gets supplies for the local grocer; and Jonah Prowse, who runs a road gang.
- How the children have survived for over 300 years in Star Trek episode "Miri". Kirk and his team note that the surviving canned goods are starting to run short and that the children will soon starve to death unless they intervene.
- In the Supernatural episode, "The End", Dean Winchester meets his future self, who leads a group survivors of the Apocalypse. He is told by Prophet of the Lord Chuck to "hoard toilet paper like it's made of gold."
- In one Disaster Movie of the Week, the protagonists trying to refuel at a service station while getting out of Dodge, only to find it's owners are Right-Wing Militia Fanatic-types charging inflated prices.
- More than a few places in Exalted, perhaps most notably the city of Chiaruscuro (a ruined First Age coastal metropolis composed of skyscrapers of magically durable glass). Even though it is an inhabited and functional hub city, many people still travel into the ruins in search of valuable First Age goods (or even just usable shards of the glass), even though this sometimes necessitates crossing into the shadowlands.
- Many people in Warhammer 40,000 fall into this, mostly through raiding Space Hulks (waking up the genestealers they tend to contain) or exploring tomb worlds (waking up the Necrons they contain).
- Quite common in the Fallout games, and a good way for the Player Character to make some caps or find good loot. That said, one of the franchise's themes is about rebuilding rather than holding on to the past, so the setting as a whole is moving away from this - new cities have been built out of the ruins of the old, groups like the Followers of the Apocalypse are figuring out how to make medicine out of post-apocalyptic herbs rather than rely on pre-war Stimpacks, while the Gun Runners started as a gang but figured out how to refurbish a gun factory, recycle shell casings, and make fresh gunpowder and propellants. Plus it's been over two hundred years since World War III, so folks are running out of stuff to scavenge.
- Easy Pete, a character you meet early on in Fallout: New Vegas, prefers the more charitable appellation of "Prospector", both to tie in to the "Post-Apocalyptic Western" vibe New Vegas is going for, as well as to differentiate between folks looking for usable tools, medicine, and weapons, and other folks looking for junk that can be repurposed. Being a former Prospector, Pete was of the opinion that none of the stuff he ever found was junk, and sure enough you can find Prospectors and their claims all over the Mohave.
- The "S" in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. stands for Scavenger.
- The viewpoint character in Planetarian.
- Warzone 2100's plot initially revolves around searching for and salvaging pre-Class2 Collapse military technology, but unlike a typical Scavenger World you're collecting it in order to reverse-engineer it and manufacture it yourself.
- The zombie apocalypse genre game The Last of Us feature a few large groups of these as act's antagonists, one particular major group even killing civilians or tourists who are not part of their group to shore up diminishing food supplies.
- While everyone is this to an extent in Metro 2033, special note goes to the foolhardy souls who make it their life's work to go into Moscow Above to loot things from the blasted ruins. The game outright calls them 'Stalkers' in reference to the film and game series, and their corpses will be your lifeline for ammo and filters on most of the outside levels.
- Neo Scavenger has this as one of its core mechanics.
- In The Reckoning, small parties of low level units named "Scavengers" travel endlessly back and forth between points of interests and castles / towns (they're basically the mod's version of villagers from the unmodded game). It's also used as a gameplay point: exploring said points of interest allows to gather supplies, which can then be sold or exchanged for troops.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: A mission on Voeld has Ryder encountering two turians engaging in some of this. If Jaal is present, he quietly but angrily calls them out on what they're doing. One of them happens to be suffering an attack of conscience, and hands over what they'd found to Ryder.
- Evi and Clorian, the main characters from A Moment of Peace, are unusually peaceful disaster scavengers.
- The Exiles from Homestuck.
- The crew of Leftovers
- The main character in Derelict
- The Zombie Hunters. In a twist, these are not simple looters but paramilitary groups who work for an island enclave of humanity, salvaging goods from abandoned settlements.
- Plenty of animals that will gladly take advantage of natural disasters to snap up some lunch. For example, storks will often use wildfires as a means of eating small animals that are frightened by the flames.
- Unfortunately this is extremely common during and after natural disasters, riots, and battle zones in war torn countries. Some relief workers have even been attacked by people who want to prolong their opportunity to loot and scavenge, but we're going to leave the specific examples of this elsewhere.
- Archaeologists studying ruined castles often learn as much from examining the older buildings in nearby villages as they do looking at the site itself, as local residents invariably helped themselves to the rubble for their own construction projects.