Tag Archives: survival

Q&A: Survival

So one of you is an Eagle Scout? That means you have survival training and stuff, right? If so, how much food could foraging possibly provide? For a few dozen people I could see it letting them live for a short while, but I find it very hard to believe some wild mushrooms and berries are able to feed more than that for longer than a day!

So, a quick caveat, while I do have wilderness survival, foraging is one of the topics I remember the least about. Some of this is just practice. My orienting skills are still fairly sharp, but I actually use those.

You’re coming to this from the wrong perspective. It’s entirely possible for a couple dozen survivors to live off the land indefinitely, but it’s going to depend on them working together, and their food supply’s going to be a lot more diverse than just some mushrooms and berries.

Foraging mushrooms is something with a very low margin for error, and something I’d personally avoid. Identifying and distinguishing between poisonous and safe mushrooms requires you have a pretty solid grasp of the local fungi. Screw up and you can kill everyone.

Berries are a similar story, though it is easier there to test and determine if they’re toxic in the field. This involves exposing yourself to trace amounts of the juices and carefully checking to see if you have any toxic reaction to it.

I do remember how to set up traps for small game, and how to obtain meat via hunting. It’s an entirely different skillset, but it will keep people fed. I also remember the methods for water purification, so, again, that’s a necessary step for keeping survivors alive. I don’t fish, but that’s also another food source that can’t be overlooked, if you’re trying to keep people breathing.

Also, worth remembering, your survivors need to be able to cook their food. First, it kills many potential pathogens, so your survivors are less likely to get sick from what they’re eating. This also improves your body’s ability to convert that food into energy, making the food (effectively) more nutritious.

Okay, so, let’s step back from this for a second. The real question here is how long can a group of survivors last, when one of the people in the group has survival training? The answer depends on their surroundings.

The community needs three resources, in this order of priority: Water: Without safe drinking water they will die, soon. Food: As with water, this will kill them, but it will take longer. Their ability to function will be impaired over time if this resource isn’t there. Shelter: This is critical for a number of less immediate reasons. Your survivors need to be able to avoid the worst of the weather, and a space where they can safely recover from the foraging or hunting. They’ll also need a cooking space, which is part of the shelter topic. This lets them turn the water they find into safe drinking water, and it allows them to convert the animals they can find into a food source. On a long enough timescale, the shelter will transition from an adhoc setup to a permanent structure, but that’s down the line away.

Foraging in temperate environments, particularly lightly wooded plains is pretty easy. The more hostile the environment, the harder it is to find food, and additional considerations start to filter in. For example, a group of survivors in a forest where the biggest threats are hostile wildlife, should be able to survive basically indefinitely, with a fairly solid protein diet.

When you’re looking at an alpine or tundra environment, food is less common, there’s still flora and fauna, but the edible plants are going to be less plentiful. There will be additional physical stress on the survivors because of the cold nights. There are a number of ways to help combat this, but cold nights are an issue for a wide variety of biomes.

If you’re looking at a scrub-land or desert environment, food will be there, but it’ll be harder to locate. You’ll also face greater issues with finding water, and extreme temperature shifts. In some environments this can even result in daytime temperatures that inherently dangerous, with nighttime lows. Finally, obtaining water becomes a serious consideration.

The upside with survival training is, most of it is easy to teach. So, if you have a group of survivors, and one of them has prior training, it’s very easy to teach other people what they need to know to start taking roles in keeping the group alive. This is also the critical part in, “how long can they last?” If they’re going to be operating in survival situations for long, it’s absolutely critical that the community start distributing the workload. Keeping two dozen people alive is too much work for one forager, but it’s an entirely reasonable goal for a group.

The equipment your survivors have with them will also affect how easy or difficult it will be. If they have some cooking gear, and small tools like hatchets and knives, that will make life significantly easier. If they don’t, they’ll need to improvise tools as they go. This makes life more difficult, but it is doable.

You’re right that one person foraging for berries and mushrooms won’t be able to feed a large group. The big part of survival training is understanding there’s a lot more in your environment, and how you can use that to stay alive.


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I’m writing a story that’s very similar to “The Most Dangerous Game” in concept, where my main character is a werewolf living in Los Angeles and he is kidnapped by a handfull of 1%ers that hunt werewolves for sport. I’m trying to figure out the best way for him to fight back after ending dumped and stranded in a forest in Washington state

The premise is interesting, though much about these kinds of survival stories is entirely dependent on the characters in question. Their thoughts, their feelings, and their experiences in regards to their own abilities.

Determine: Is your protagonist White Fang, the half dog-half wolf who is domesticated by humans or is he Buck, the domesticated dog who must embrace the call of the wild in order to survive?

What is his actual character arc in this narrative in regards to his own werewolf nature? What is his perspective on being a werewolf? Does he despise it? Does he embrace it? He lives in LA and, while wolves do live there, it’s a city like New York. It’s symbolically central to all things human, both good and bad. Los Angeles isn’t just any city in our cultural consciousness, it’s the place where stars are born, where entertainment dreams either go to thrive or to die.

On a thematic level, werewolves represent duality. They’re our own inner beast, our deeper and “more feral” urges trying to break free. What Freud called, the Id to the Superego. The very nature of this struggle often defines a werewolf’s identity in fiction. Fighting it, embracing it, rejecting it, these beginning points are important to determining how your character behaves in their part of the narrative. What your werewolf knows about the “Wild” and how they feel about it is vital to deciding their response to the situation that they’ve been forced into.

This is their experience with dealing with nature, their survival skills, how comfortable they are with their abilities as a werewolf. What their actual skill level is along with their ability to quickly comprehend what’s happening in their environment. Werewolves are just people who shapechange into either a nine foot tall snarling deathbeast or a regular wolf. While they may come with natural instincts, there’s no guarantee they know how to use them or use them effectively.

Remember, being too reliant on your instincts can and will get you killed.

One of the main things that often gets forgotten about hunters is that the good ones understand the animals they’re hunting. They know how to bait them, where they’re likely to go, and what they’re likely to do because they have a solid grasp of their basic behaviors. Humans and animals behave within predictive patterns, the more you understand those patterns then the better you can predict how they’ll behave.

Have you ever watched a rancher drive cattle? Or a sheepdog drive sheep?

At it’s heart, the rancher uses the horse or dog or both to apply pressure and trigger instinctive reactions in the sheep or cattle so they go where the rancher wants. This allows the rancher to control the herd.

A group of hunters can herd prey in the same way. It’s far more difficult with wild animals than domestic ones, but the goal of the hunter is to lure or force their prey into a killing zone where the prey is vulnerable and can be killed.

This is one of the most common ways wolves are hunted down in Alaska. The hunters use snowmobiles and the sound of airplanes to startle the wolves out the forests and into the open where they can be shot. The loud sound triggers an instinctive response and causes them to flee, right to where the hunters want.

The same methodology applies to humans.

It’s not considered “real hunting” or sporting by some, but it does work
and if your hunters are more interested in the glory of the kill than in sportsmanship this may be
the route they go.

Your werewolf’s ability to adapt to the situation and behave in ways that are unconventional, this is going to be crucial. They’ll need to figure out how to avoid traps and not just bear/wolf traps that will shatter the bones in their ankle. They’ll have to figure out if they can trust themselves, trust their own instincts, and not fall prey to easy outs which look like a route to safety.

Dangerous Games play with the mind as much as they do the body. Who you are in this moment of desperation, what morals you sacrifice, and what you become willing to do are all important.

What is most important though is figuring out what the game is actually about. You can’t play if you don’t know the rules.

Determine: How skilled are these hunters? What kind of a challenge are they looking for? Did they pay someone else like a game warden or a guide to acquire this werewolf and put together this excursion? Or did they do the legwork themselves?

It’s easy to disregard the rich as cruel and capricious but ultimately stupid or incapable of adapting. Hunger Games made this mistake with the Careers. The assumption tends to be that they live cushy existences and don’t know what the world is really like. The idea that their cruelty is petty rather than monstrous. That they are not ruthless, and lack a desire to survive. Yes, overconfidence and the belief that they are untouchable is certainly there. However, this is often because they’ve already closed off all other avenues of escape. The rich are often put through their own crucible when it comes to devaluing the existences of those they consider less and dehumanizing the ones they’re hunting.

People who have the ability to do all this or the ability to hire quality help to do this are not stupid. They know the cost and have already negated the consequences. Don’t mistake arrogance for idiocy.

You’re either dealing with some very clever and intelligent individuals who have come to a state where they’re bored with the standard fare and want a challenge. Or someone for whom this is a business.

This is either their first time hunting a werewolf or something their game warden does regularly and they pay through the nose for.

The last option is that they do this regularly, it’s routine. They do it to provide some extra excitement when closing a deal or handling investors. Instead of taking them to the Swiss Alps for a skiing expedition off the top of a mountain, they are instead wined and dined by hunting a werewolf through a Washington forest.

What do they want? Why are they doing this? What level of skill do they have? Do they have another werewolf in their employ? Do they hate werewolves? Are they in it for the challenge?

Figuring out your villains motives, their plans, and what they’re going to do makes it much easier to uncover what your hero has to do in order to fight back. Until it happens, you’re working with a blank slate. There are any number of possibilities available and they’ll spiral in your mind until you start closing off options.

If you’re lost, spend some time with your villains. They are not a uniform entity. Find a way to relate to them, their wants, their desires. Get into their heads. Take a moment to start thinking about how one would hunt a werewolf.

Your protagonist is going to be reactive until he can reach the point of becoming proactive. So, your villains are the driving force. Figure out what they’re doing and you can counteract them.

The problem many writers run into is that they think only from the perspective of their protagonists. However, combat has two sides. One force must apply pressure on the other. Both must be active, even if we don’t see it in narrative itself. So, start thinking from the perspective of your villain.

It’s easier to spitball ideas of how to react when you know what is happening.


References and Resources:

Werewolf the Apocalypse – Werewolf the Apocalypse is just fun, and it’s interesting, and we just recommended it but it won’t stop us from recommending it again. This gives an interesting look at werewolf cultures, social hierarchies, and their different methods for deal with a modern world encroaching on the wild.

Werewolf the Forsaken – This is just a basic idea box for creating werewolves. The difference between a roleplaying game and writing a novel is fairly minimal and it might give you some insight or perspectives that you haven’t thought of. Or, you’ll be better able to break out of your box or dig into details you might not have thought of.

Monkeywrench – This splat book ties into Werewolf the Apocalypse and it surrounds the evil corporation Pentex that’s trying to destroy the world. If you want to work from the perspective that your 1%ers are working from a corporate mindset then this might be helpful. It’s hilariously 80s, but what isn’t?

Hunter the Vigil: Spirit Slayers – This splat book is more of an idea box as Werewolf the Forsaken and Hunter the Vigil are less setting specific when it comes to their monsters. The general approach will probably be helpful.

Hunter the Reckoning: Moonstruck – This splat book is a little more tailored to Hunter the Reckoning’s brand of hunters, but it’s going to provide some useful ideas when it comes to hunting werewolves. These hunters are coming at it from a perspective of limited information and they’re the bottom of the food chain, but desperation can lead to inventiveness.

Predator – This should be self-explanatory. He’s specifically hunting people because it’s fun for him and he’s going after professional combatants because it’s entertaining. If you want to write hunters in it for the challenge, then the Predator is actually a decent character example.

Predator 2 – I just prefer this movie to the original. It’s not a perfect movie, but Danny Glover is a lot of fun. Also, again, killing people for fun and profit.

Jurassic Park – Particularly looking at Muldoon, his mindset, and what he says.

Surviving the Game – This 1994 reworking might give you some ideas. It’s not a good movie, but it’s worth a look. Honestly, if you haven’t done a review of these adaptations then you might want to. There are a lot of them. Just remember, all prospective suffering may lead to strikes of inspiration. The dumbest and most mind numbing stuff can often send your mind into interesting places.

Hard Target – 1993 with Jean Claude Van Damme, same premise just a different place.

Wolves at Our Door – This documentary about Jim and Jamie Dutcher’s studying of the Sawtooth Wolf Pack might be helpful. If you’re going to write about werewolves, you should probably study wolves and decide how similar they are going to be.

Call of the Wild by Jack London – If you can’t see the importance of a dog being stolen from his comfortable home to be dragged off to and eventually forced back into the wild then I can’t help you.

It will be uncomfortable if you’re an animal lover but you should probably look into how wolves are hunted too.