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 capable 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.
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 (whose plot I won't bore you with) 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 40K 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).
- Half the population of the Fallout world. It can often be necessary to survive/a good way to make money for a player character.
- Of course several factions have picked themselves up and are starting to make things again.
- Take the Gun Runners, who started out as any other gang. They found a gun factory and started to make weapons based on the old schematics and using the old materials. When the supplies ran out, they learned how to recycle old bullets, shell casings and scrap metal, and make gunpowder/propellants.
- Others like the Followers of the Apocalypse can make medicines out of herbs and other such naturally recurring things.
- In fact a theme of Fallout is about rebuilding, those that stick to scavenge will only have a slow death.
- The "S" in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. stands for Scavenger.
- The viewpoint character in Planetarian.
- Warzone2100'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 group of these as act's antagonists, one particular major group even killing civilians or tourists 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.
- 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 eponymous ZombieHunters. In a twist, these are not simple looters but paramilitary groups who work for an island enclave of humanity, salvaging goods from abandoned settlements.