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Disaster Scavengers

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On the bright side, no more standing in lines.

"Did you ever try to put a broken piece of glass back together? Even if the pieces fit, you can’t make it whole again the way it was. But if you’re 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 everyone’s trying to put it back together like it was, but it'll never come together in the same way."
Moira Brown, Fallout 3

A staple of Scavenger Worlds set After the End, the Disaster Scavengers are just that, people who have resorted to scavenging for food, clothes, medicine, 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 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, and if they live near the coast they're Salvage Pirates. 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.

That doesn't mean all Scavengers Are Scum, however. That would be an entirely different trope.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Walking Dead: This is how everyone is forced to survive during the Zombie Apocalypse, at least those who haven't resorted to cannibalism already. Food, weapons, vehicles, anything to get through the day. After the two-year Time Skip, it's downplayed somewhat, as the survivors who have made it this far have reinvented some older forms of production, such as smithing and basic agriculture, mixing it with salvaged technology like solar panels and artillery. As shown in the Distant Finale, society is eventually rebuilt, making scavenging unecessary.
  • Wasteland has ruin runners, people who scavenge for trade.

    Fan Works 
  • The Non-End variant in Aeon Entelechy Evangelion where in the wake of Harbinger battle there are a lot of intact munitions just waiting to be snatched and sold off to the highest bidder.

    Film — Animated 
  • The pterosaur gang from The Good Dinosaur make their living by tagging along after severe storms and picking off small creatures killed by the weather, or left exposed and helpless in its wake.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Rampant in the Mad Max movies. Complete with scavenger sidekicks, with conditions growing progressively worse with each succeeding film.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Jawas' way of life as shown in A New Hope. They pick up lost droids and wrecked ships' components, when they don't steal stuff at least.
    • Rey starts out as this in The Force Awakens, trading scrap taken from wrecked Star Destroyers and X-Wings for food. Her home is a wrecked AT-AT.
  • Most of the survivors in Zombieland.

  • Subverted in The Adversary Cycle. 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 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 Books of Ember: 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.
  • In The Culture series novel The Hydrogen Sonata, it is revealed that this is a 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Done on a galactic scale in The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model by Charlie Jane Anders. Precursors seed the galaxy with life, then wait in cryogenic sleep while the created species gains sentience, mines their world for metals and radioactive material, then kill themselves off, so they can come in after the radiation has died down and salvage all the minerals they've dug up. They're rather embarressed when humanity remains alive long enough to make First Contact.
  • The Hunger Games: This was Messalla's most useful ability, to scavenge food in abandoned houses.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Alfred Bester's "They Dont Make Life Like They Used To": This sarcastic novella 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.
  • This is what Europeans did during the hard years in World War Z. They scavenge the near fields during winter in order to prepare for the summer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one Disaster Movie of the Week, the protagonists trying to refuel at a service station while getting out of Dodge, only to find its owners are Right-Wing Militia Fanatic-types charging inflated prices.
  • The protagonists of The Day of the Triffids (1981), but Croker does point out the Elephant in the Living Room and eventually forms a community on the Isle of Wright so that people have the time to study how to make things instead of just salvaging them.
  • Doctor Who: "Utopia" has the Futurekind, who haunt the wastelands outside the bunker trying to capture humans to eat.
  • 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 (2006), 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 the Star Trek: The Original Series 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."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted: More than a few places, 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.
  • Summerland: As a result of the relative recentness of the collapse of civilization, which happened only a few years before the game's present, and the impossibility of large-scale production in its aftermath, survivors tend to rely on scavenging through the ruins of civilization for most of the goods they need, such as canned food, tools, survival gear and weapons.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Many people 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).

    Video Games 
  • 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 Stimpaks, 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 Mojave.
    • Fallout 4 takes this even further, thanks to the introduction of the Workshop system: the random junk that litters the ruins can now be gathered up and broken down into component parts, which is then used to construct homes and defences for settlements, or to modify and improve weapons and armor. An old desk fan can be broken down into screws, gears and metal, a pocket watch into gears, gold or silver, plates and cups can be ground into ceramic, etc. The only junk that can't be used are items that have been damaged too much in the intervening centuries, such as burnt books or magazines.
  • The Lanius from FTL: Faster Than Light are a race of scavengers who feast on scrap left behind by other civilisations, thus they're drawn to warstruck zones like flies, and it just so happens that there was recently a devastating war between The Federation and a human supremacist group that ended with lots of scrap up for grabs. You can find them in "abandoned sectors", willing to fight for their finds or open for trading.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • QUESTER revolves around your ragtag group of Questers, picking your way through the ruins of civilization in search of food, materials, and anything that can help you survive just a little bit longer against the mutated monsters roaming about.
  • Rebuild: Scavenging is a major part of the early game, when your fort can't produce enough food to feed its population, letting you raid stores and buildings for food and supplies. The higher a survivor's Scavenging skill (which increases when sent on those missions, even if only to protect the scavengers), the higher the chance that they'll find a stat-boosting item while on a scavenging mission.
  • 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.
  • Rimworld: The early game is all about this, with your only source of several crucial resources being the wreckage left behind by whatever caused civilisation on this world to collapse. Eventually, if you can hold out long enough, you'll be able to acquire some of those resources by other means and even manufacture some of them locally. Even then, there's no iron ore; seams of ancient compacted steel are the only source of steel on Rimworld.
  • Sheltered: Family members can be sent out into the wasteland to find things like food, medicine, and whatever else they'll need to survive.
  • The "S" in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. stands for Scavenger.
  • Undying: Anling will need to search garbage cans and wrecked cars for items needed to survive.
  • The Walking Dead (Telltale): Like in the comics, the survivors get by through scavenging for food, medicine, ammunition, fuel, and everything else, which starts to become increasingly difficult, since not only are most places swarming with zombies, pickings become increasingly slim as the weeks turn into months. A New Frontier even points this out early on, with one character stating that eventually, there's going to be one last bit of food, or one last tank of gas, since no one is producing more.
  • Warzone 2100's plot initially revolves around searching for and salvaging pre-Class 2 Collapse military technology, but unlike a typical Scavenger World you're collecting it in order to reverse-engineer it and manufacture it yourself.

    Visual Novels 

  • The main character in Derelict.
  • The Exiles from Homestuck.
  • The crew of Leftovers.
  • Evi and Clorian, the main characters from A Moment of Peace, are unusually peaceful disaster scavengers.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: Benson makes his way by getting into abandoned storefronts and vehicles for supplies and clothing.
  • In Young Justice, Impulse uses the term "scavenger rights" as an excuse for raiding peoples' snacks. He's a one-way time traveller who originated from a Bad Future conquered by an alien invasion.