My Zombie Plan, Part 2

By Shamus
on Feb 6, 2013
Filed under:
Nerd Culture

splash_zombies.jpg

Recap from last time: We’re living in a small cluster of houses, beside a farm, by a river. The sparse population means we won’t be getting mobbed by millions of city zeds. We’re just close enough to civilization to be able to drive to the city, forage, and return home before dark the same day. (Assuming it turns out such a thing is worthwhile.) This location also means we don’t need to build as much wall, since we’ll be protected on one side by water. In this rural setting, we’re probably using a septic tank and don’t need to dump our sewage in the river.

We begin in late-ish summer (mid August) and begin working the farm, figuring out how things work, and preparing to harvest whatever they were growing here.

So now we have a place to live and work to do. Let’s get down to the details of running this place…

Our Town

Zeds everywhere, food stores low, and our theater community is in a slump.

This far out, we’ll be be using well water instead of city water. If we’re lucky, the well will have a hand-pump so we don’t have to haul water up from the river. If we’re unlucky, then we’re doubly unlucky, since river water would need to be boiled to be potable. We don’t know who is up river from us, and we don’t know what kind of dangers are in the water. (For example, runoff from a mass grave.) That, and river water itself isn’t usually the best drinking water. This boiling will consume firewood, which necessitates more gathering, which further strains our workforce. Finding and installing a hand-pump before winter would be a priority.

Either way, we’ll have fresh water and a possible source of mild hydro power in the future if we want to explore the water wheel branch of the tech tree. We also have a place to fish. Fishing is a nice backup source of protein in case we don’t get enough meat from deer, and it’s probably a good productive activity for those who can’t quite keep up with the brutality of farm-work.

At first I was worried about being so exposed to the road where raiders might find us. But now I’m thinking this is just an artifact of playing too many videogames. Sure, there will be criminals, and if you’re in a small group and you meet them on the open road then things might go badly for you. But criminals would have to be insane to assault a group of armed adults like this. If they kill us, then we’re no longer growing food and they’d have to run the farm themselves. But if they wanted a farm, they could just help themselves to one of the many empty farms without needing to assault a fortified location with an unknown number of armed adults. From their perspective, the assault couldn’t possibly be worth the risk. Such an attack would require several desperate, foolish, short-sighted, and depraved people to all wind up in a group together. (And be able to cooperate with each other.)

I’ll admit it’s not impossible for us to be attacked by humans, but it’s not the most pressing or likely danger we’ll face, especially in the first year when there’s grain in the fields for the taking. The number of reasonable people should vastly outnumber the bloodthirsty nutjobs. Therefore, being visible is a good thing. If travelers come though we can trade and get news of the wide world. If we meet someone really useful (doctor, vet, mechanic, carpenter) we can perhaps persuade them to join us. Historically, being accessible by road is incredibly beneficial and being isolated is impoverishing.

Having said that, we’re on a two-lane secondary road. (Which is where these sorts of villages show up. They don’t build these clusters around dirt roads or highways.) Would we really see that much traffic? It’s impossible to say. We’ve never had an apocalypse before and we don’t know what sort of travel patterns we’ll see among survivors. Maybe people will never come this way.

Ideals

Everyone in favor of putting the crazy unhinged paranoid lady in charge raise your hand. Nobody? Thought so.

We’re assuming I’m the leader, so the first thing we do is we stamp out any notion of this hardcore survivalist “cull the weak” from the Crawford-thinkers out there. Yeah, maybe if we kill off a couple of the weaker members we might improve the odds of survival of the rest of us. Too bad. I’m not interested in running a society built around human sacrifice, and in the end that mentality would do more harm than good.

See, the only thing that makes one of us different from a pre-history hunter-gatherer is the knowledge between our ears. It took us many millennia to crawl out of that savagery, and we’re never more than a generation away from losing it. If one generation is incompetent enough to fail to pass things along, then we get to start over and hope it doesn’t take thousands of years to climb back.

Which is the really damning thing about Crawford in The Walking Dead, or indeed about any post apocalypse inhabitant who wants to kill human beings for short-term gain. If our knowledge is endangered, then we have a moral imperative to preserve as much as possible. That “cancer survivor” you think is so useless? She’s the only one who knows anything about sewing and she did some canning with her grandmother when she was little. The guy with the really bad eyesight? He’s one of the last piano players in the world, and he knows how to start a fire without modern tools. The old dude with the limp who’s deaf in one ear? He worked on septic tanks when he was 19 and still remembers some of the theory behind them. You need these people, and the knowledge they possess will save countless lives in the future. Not everything can be gleaned from libraries, and learning is time consuming even if the books are available.

For one example of many: Jennifer Snow has made it clear that she’s not an athlete. She’s not an acrobatic college kid or a hulking muscle man. She’s probably exactly the sort of person Crawford would kill or kick out. But she left this comment in the previous post:

[…]it is not actually that difficult to preserve meat. You can make pemmican for one, where you a.) render out the fat (which takes a lot less wood than smoking the meat, also you don’t have to use green wood and produce tons of smoke), b.) DRY the meat and pound it into a paste, then pour the fat over it. The plains Indians used to do this and store it in big buffalo-skin bags for use as travel rations so they only had to make kills every other week or so. A single pound of pemmican is about 3500 calories.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I suggest looking up various methods of charcuterie, which are coming back into vogue among foodies. That’s how people used to preserve meat before refrigeration.

If I had to choose between Walking Dead’s Molly the Zombie Slayer or real-world Jennifer, I’d pick Jennifer in a heartbeat. You’ll be fighting zeds for the next several months, but you’re going to be fighting hunger and disease for the rest of your life.

It’s not that I couldn’t go to the library and look up charcuterie. It’s that I’ve never heard of it before. In a dictionary, you have to know how to spell the word before you can look it up. In reference books, you have to know that information exists before you can look for it. Jennifer’s knowledge – even if sketchy, incomplete, and not perfectly suited to our post-technology surroundings – is a working foundation on which to learn. Over time, Jennifer’s food preservation will save a lot more lives than Molly’s pickaxe.

Everyone probably has a few nuggets of knowledge rolling around in their non-zombified head, and it’s all precious. Sewing, carpentry, auto repair, breadmaking, using a lathe, HVAC, every musical instrument, the historical framework required to establish a government that won’t sink to despotism, water treatment, fermentation, constructing a forge that’s capable of melting metal without killing everyone in the area, dentistry, glass blowing, nutrition, herbalism, the making of asprin and antibiotics, preserving food through pickling, bullet casing, locksmithing, hunting, animal calls, animal husbandry, eye care…

It might not be obvious at first, but the day will likely come when someone will look at a lens grinding machine and lament that nobody can make eyeglasses anymore. Then suddenly Heretofore Useless Barbara will jump in saying she actually worked for an optometrist years ago and even though she didn’t personally use the machine she still remembers seeing it in action and she understands enough to intuit the rest.

Even a complete know-nothing dummy can still stomp grapes, husk corn, pick cotton, churn milk, and carry water. Heck, even someone who is completely wheelchair bound should be able to knit, mend clothing, knead dough, sift grain, grind herbs, clean firearms, teach children, do bookkeeping, and a dozen other sitting-down jobs. That stuff needs to be done, and if they do it then others will be free to do the jobs that require legs. There’s no reason to throw people away as a matter of policy.

The more knowledge you save and the more workers you have, the better your chances are at landing in the early industrial age instead of the Paleolithic one. Knitting might not help you kill zombies, but it will save a ton of lives once you’re facing old man winter instead of Zeds. Walkers are scary, but winter is an implacable son of a bitch who’s been murdering people for as long as Homo Sapiens have existed.

This is to say nothing of the need for genetic diversity. If Crawford hadn’t fallen to the Zeds, they would have discovered the monumental difficulty of jump-starting a civilization with only a handful of fertile adults and a pre-technology infant mortality rate.

And finally, there’s group cohesion to think about. I mentioned the importance of morale in my previous entry. If you make it clear that it’s okay to sacrifice others for survival, many people will take that lesson to heart and you’ll end up with a group of selfish cowards. They’ll fight and work harder if they can feel like this group is now their extended family. Not everyone will want that kind of close-knit team, but if you start throwing people away then nobody will want it.

Everyone in the group will have friends and connections. If you sacrifice one person for the group, you’re also damaging the morale of everyone who valued them. Maybe Bob doesn’t pull his weight because he’s fat and not very bright. But if you get rid of him, then the people who liked him will tend to carry a grudge. “If the group wasn’t there for my friend, why should I go the extra mile for everyone else?” Turn away enough people and the place will enter a death-spiral of cruelty and self-interest.

Yes, there are extreme conditions where the group really would benefit from the death of one exceptionally burdensome or useless person. The thing is, you don’t need to make an official policy for this sort of thing. Everyone is already pre-programmed for brutal self-interest. Actively encouraging that sort of behavior is just going to result in a society comprised of the people who are least able to cooperate.

Even if the writers shove us into a contrived situation where only the ruthless can survive, I’d rather die doing the right thing than live with innocent blood on my hands.

To be continued…

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From the Archives:

  1. GarciLP says:

    I would honestly, with 100% certainty, buy a game based around this. A sort of Sim City meets The Walking Dead, where you manage a group of survivors on an overworld view and then proceed to make them survive. Take the Shamus Route, building a farm and learning the ropes (inspired by the “water wheel branch of the tech tree” mention), or go all Resident Evil on the city, trying to escape, or… who knows? But it sounds like an awesome game idea if you ask me.

  2. Ben says:

    Except for the guys who only know about computers. They’ll be worthless for a long time probably.

    • parkenf says:

      Get as much of wikipedia into your tablet of choice and keep your charger. Shouldn’t be out of the question to grab the occasional charge from the generator, and the embedded spreadsheet will do a lot of the sort of maths related to crop management that are tricky to do/keep in your head.

      • MrGuy says:

        Yeah. The minute I head about the zombie virus outbreak, I’m starting a download of all of wikipedia (dumps.wikimedia.org has these pretty much ready to go), and mirroring it to every portable hard drive I have/can find (it’s only in the 1-2 gig range, which makes sense – it’s mostly text).

        When I decide to go all paranoid ans such, I’ll consider doing this TODAY and leaving a portable HDD containing this in a lead-lined box in a safe deposit box in a rural town that’s within easy driving/challenging-but-possible walking range of New York (which is where I live), as my all purpose “nuclear war/superflu/zombie apocalypse” backup plan. Probably throw project gutenberg and a few other useful dumpable bits of data as well.

        Then I’ll put in 9 other portable hard drives that are dumps of TV Tropes instead, so that in case someone ELSE breaks into my post-apocalypse data archive, there’s a 90% chance they’ll destroy their society rather than get my treasure trove of useful info. I’m spiteful like that.

        • Caffiene says:

          “it’s only in the 1-2 gig range”

          As far as I can see, the most recently completed dump of all english pages (current versions only; enwiki-20130204-pages-meta-current.xml.bz2) is 17.6GB. Am I doing something wrong?

        • Kelryck says:

          If you really want to have a good source of most of the stuff you’d need to know to survive, find a collection of the Foxfire books. 11 volumes I believe that cover just about everything you’d need to know from planting, animal husbandry, building houses, smithing, canning, etc.

          I bought a full set years ago and it has a place of honor on my bookshelves. if I thought something like this was happening, that would be the first thing I’d take with me (and if you can buy a PDF version these days, that would be a really good buy too.)

          (and for the fun side, everyone in my community would have to learn 1st edition AD&D with the UA. Got to have something to do during your limited downtime in the winter ;) )

      • Merle says:

        I’ve seen hand-cranked micro-USB chargers for sale in quite a few different places. Get one of those and you can keep a tablet usable until the battery dies.

    • rayen says:

      really depends. If you can get power, the guy who knows about computers knows whats needed to build one, to program it, and what to hook it up to and how to send messages out and look for signs of power and or civilization via computer. the limit is electricity and basically in this world now thats not hard to come by.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        I do hope that by ‘buil computers’ you meant salvaging for spare parts and assembling something, and not actually Build a computer from scratch.

        • Bryan says:

          Eh, it’s not like silicon doping is *that* much of a black art, or that it requires tons of infrastructure to even *start* to be feasible.

          Oh wait… :-)

        • Aldowyn says:

          There are almost people that could build a computer’s circuitry from ‘scratch’ (like on the circuitboard level) given enough transistors and a solder gun. We might have to go back to the 70s or 80s, but that’s a lot better than the 40s.

          • 4th Dimension says:

            Yes, but such a computer won’t excatly be a PC, and you would need to know all macabre details of protocols and standards to event consider using the remaining NET.

    • MichaelG says:

      We can be managers… :-)

    • Dasick says:

      A lot of profession and specialties associated with computers and the internet are going to become worthless. However, there are a lot of transferable skills and principles. Programmers for example, will be really useful in reverse-engineering all sorts of weird technology (like locks and guns for example. Oh those don’t seem weird to you? Those are feats of mechanical ingenuity and elegance, and taking one apart and putting it back together, then making one like it is no peanuts), and like Michael says, they would have tremendous organizational skills, even without computers and spreadsheets.

    • Felblood says:

      You won’t need me to write any programs for you for a while, but I can build a working computer, by cannibalizing several broken ones.

      If you know how to test the various components, it is pretty rare to find even a brutally smashed computer that doesn’t have a single working part in it somewhere. Literally, I have been asked to salvage machines that have been cast from a second story window.

      That means all I need is an electrical engineer and someone who can build that waterwheel and we can jump back into the information age.

      Imagine the value a preindustrial tribe would have if there where hard drives lying all over the place and one of their members could read them. Most would be worthless crap, but a lot of them will contain things like maps, inventories, etc.

      Even basic business efficiency stuff like Microsoft Office would be pretty handy, for tracking all that grain in the silos.

      It’s not the sacred, lost art of tractor maintenance, or rifle cleaning, or salting fish in a barrel, but that’s pretty handy.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Software-wise, I think open source would be better during the Zombie Apocalypse. You may have trouble activating your copy of MS Office :)

        Which said: Download a local (and then some) map from openstreetmaps into marble. Marble can do offline navigation. Can be very handy. Although a paper map would probably also do the trick.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          Not if you are one of bilions of people that pirate the Office. Than you won’t have any problems whatsoever.

          Not that I would know anything about piracy, at all, me being from Balkans and all.

        • “The zombies are at the door and you’re arguing over what software we should use?! Oh, look. The drivers for installing your food ration for the day were corrupted. Now get up on the wall with your rake and keep the climbers out. If you want, you can ask which OS they prefer and we can have ourselves a poll, just like when the power was on.”

  3. Dasick says:

    Regarding the leader hand-wave – you might not get into position of leadership, but a smart leader (you shouldn’t follow people that are making obviously bad decisions btw) would be able to recognize the value of your advice. Also, you might get into the situation of ‘leadership by example’, wherein people will follow you just cause you’re doing something right.

    Sorry if this is a personal question, but how severe is your asthma? What triggers it and what can alleviate it? You might not be fit for field work, but I guess you better develop a love for fishing :P

    The thing that strikes me most dangerous about a Zed situation is the initial outbreak. In TWD there are a lot of situations that go bad because of Magic Plot Ninja Zombies and contrived drama situations. Maybe it’s my inner optimist talking, but I think that in extreme conditions people are capable of great feats of survival and general awesomeness.

    • swenson says:

      Shamus might not be first-in-command, but he’d make a great second-in-command or part of an advisory council. Would a Piggy allusion be inappropriate at this point? I would hope you wouldn’t meet a similar fate, however!

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        As another one of those non-charismatic non-alpha smart guys, I have on numerous occassions been chosen to act as an XO or adjutant. I don’t imagine it is uncommon. Leaders recognize their own weaknesses and are able to find people to fill in the gaps. They also listen. Hey, they even frequently give me credit for the work.

        “I wouldn’t be here but for the dedicated work of the staff” is not false modesty.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          …although it can become a bullshit-bingo phrase quickly, depending on who says it, how and how often they say it and if they bother to change a few words around in that sentence sometimes…
          But yes, good leaders recognize the truth of this and will make it known.

        • Deoxy says:

          Leaders recognize their own weaknesses and are able to find people to fill in the gaps. They also listen. Hey, they even frequently give me credit for the work.

          No, you’re describing GOOD leaders – there are plenty of leaders that don’t do those things. Probably the majority, really.

          Again, Dilbert exists for a reason… and many of his non-talking-animal stories are based on actual real-world happenings.

  4. Slothful says:

    It’s worth noting that the main reason to make sure to stay away from the unhealthy in the walking dead universe is that if they die, that’s a zombie running around in your camp without you knowing about it.

    It’s still not worth killing everybody to prevent it, but it would be a good idea to consider controlled euthanasia of people when it’s clear that they don’t have much time left instead of just waiting for them to croak, or at least secluding so that they can’t do too much damage when they do.

    • madshaw says:

      So enforce a rule of face masks for everyone? if you die with something covering your mouth will zombie you know to take it off?

      • Nidokoenig says:

        Everyone gets their own room, with as complex a mechanical lock on the inside as you can manage. Even a plank of wood slotted in holders each side of the door would work. They sleep with Hannibal Lector style face masks(maybe even just leather or thick/layered cloth reinforced with wood) and wear boxing gloves that are bastards to take off, maybe with a hook or something near the bed to let a thinking human sort it out. The mask could be worn all day except when eating, the gloves less so.

        Well, that or put all living areas on twenty foot stilts so anyone who dies in the night will be just a bag of broken bones in the morning to be sniped by others from their twenty foot-high houses.

        • Andy_Panthro says:

          Houses on stilts would be a good idea, with a hatch and a ladder down to the ground.

          They’d only need to be high enough to ensure no zombie can climb in (say 10 feet or so?), and have a retractable ladder.

          If the zombies are classic walking dead stupid, then they shouldn’t be able to figure out how to open the floor hatch.

          • Jakale says:

            Even without the zombies, stilts wouldn’t be a bad idea if you’re gonna hold up near a river. Flood damage could seriously hamper food stores and structural integrity, not to mention promote mold.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Since beginning this series I have believed that -in such a world -some type of death ritual would have to develop. Such as death-watches, followed by calling the person’s baptismal name three times, and then hitting them in the head with a silver hammer.

  5. Zoe M. says:

    I’d love to see the effect of current events on a zombie apocalypse. For instance, in any apocalypse set during or after the last couple years, guns (EG the oft-maligned AR-15) are incredibly commonplace, at least among the more conservative – IE rural – areas. So your hypothetical town, Shamus, probably has enough of an arsenal in reserve to fend off an army of zeds, one trigger pull at a time.
    Of course, the inverse might be true ten years from now. Fancy a zombie apocalypse with nothing to hand but Hello Kitty bubble guns and 10-inches-or-less kitchen knives?

    Most settings treat guns like a rare commodity. Truth is, unless said setting features zombies who need to be beheaded to die, guns would be more than plentiful enough for every survivor to have one (and a case of ammo) within a few days of the outbreak. Which, of course, counteracts the “apocalypse” in the first place.

    • Canthros says:

      Guns are precious because modern firearms require a trained machinist or a surprising amount of specialized modern technology to manufacture. I can think of one that use both injection-molded plastic and extruded aluminum in the receiver.

      Guns are durable goods, and a good one, properly maintained, will likely outlast its owner (though the jury’s still out on a lot of mostly-plastic guns). At the same time, they all contain parts that wear out and need replaced (extractors, ejectors, firing pins, magazines, even barrels), and even a really excellent gun won’t last forever (though a lifetime in the tens of thousands of rounds fired is likely to be close enough for most purposes).

      • Nick Pitino says:

        Which speaks to the importance of trying to get a machinist to join your group and finding a lathe.

        Then most of these little bits-n-bobs can be fabricated if they break.

        Also finding a reloading setup and supplies would be immensely valuable as well.

        Eventually if things are bad long enough there’s alway making black powder rifles.

    • krellen says:

      Any apocalypse set outside the US would have a rarity of firearms.

      • Mimir says:

        except, ironically, for switserland. in fact, out of all european countries, i think switserland is best-prepared for a zombie apocalypse. high in the mountains, massive amounts of guns, easily defendable villages (because they rae on mountainsides), while still being relatively accesable.

      • Jakale says:

        For that eventuality, I wonder how many people know how, or might try to learn, to use a sling (shot or shepherd’s) in these situations. All they need are rocks or pellets. At the least, it might save ammo that would otherwise go to hunt game. Slingshots might be scarce, needing rubber and all, but normal slings are just rope.

        • Fizban says:

          It means nothing in the real world, but for a New World of Darkness zombie game, I made a character who used a sling. Due to the game mechanics, my attack/damage roll was only one point less than the people with guns, and as lethal as a bullet (requiring bullet proof armor to stop). And it piggybacked off my “run away from zombies skill.”

          Games aside, I’d definitely be interested in a sling vs. skull comparison. I imagine it’s pretty hard to learn if you didn’t do it as a kid, but a fast enough rock is just as deadly as anything else.

  6. Katesickle says:

    Another problem with the whole “kill anyone who isn’t perfectly healthy” idea is that sometimes a person who looks like, say, a helpless cripple is actually more than capable of wiping the floor with your face. In the SCA the word “cripple” is spoken with a mixture of awe and terror, because those people will ruin you. There are knights who are blind, deaf, missing limbs, arthritic, etc. And keep in mind that “knight” is not an honorary title–it means the person is not just capable of fighting, but that they’re really good at it. And this is combat using words and axes and the like–you know, the kinds of weapons you can count on to still be around after you’ve run out of bullets for your guns. I’ll take someone from the Cripple’s Shield Wall in my zombie survivor group any day.

  7. Nonesuch says:

    The Crawford ideal tends to be one that overshadows how much it might actually show up in post-apocalyptic settings. Tts just as likely that the driving force that gets people killed is basic apathy, rather than villany. Take X from Walking Dead. When he slams that door in your face in episode 1, he’s got a very clear reason to be doing so. They don’t hate you enough to do something outright evil, but they don’t give enough of a damn to do something to help you either.

    Raiders are probably going to be more like the great khans than they are the fiends, and the issue isn’t going to be cackling villain types so much as people who are up against a wall. That guy might shoot you if you make trouble, but he probably doesn’t want to.

  8. Wraith says:

    So glad you brought up genetic diversity. So many people underestimate the minimum size required for a sustainable population when it comes to fiction. A dozen people founding some village won’t last two generations. Even hundreds of people aren’t enough, you’ll inbreed yourself into extinction within a few generations. You need thousands of people to rebuild the human race.

    • Deoxy says:

      You’re overstating this rather a lot.

      Scientists estimate that the entire human race was down to, at the MOST, a few hundred people at one point. Many estimates for that period are UNDER a hundred, possibly even one extended family group.

      Yet here we are.

      (For more info, go look up stuff on the mitochondria – we inherit those ONLY from our mother, not both parents, which makes them change much MUCH more slowly over time.)

      • krellen says:

        The number I’ve always heard was 10,000, not 100.

        • pat says:

          Well, I just ran a search for the 50/500 rule on conservation and apparently it’s not necessarily good enough. The rule is that the species need 50 adult individuals to avoid the damaging effects of inbreeding, or 500 adults to avoid extinctions due to changing environments. Pretty simple.

          However this link; Conservation: Minimum Population Size Targets Too Low To Prevent Extinction? reports findings that species lacking 5000 members are going extinct more often than they’d think likely.

          Then again, that’s flora and fauna that get killed of when people change something or change something that changes something else… I wouldn’t be too surprised if people, being the thinky creatures we are couldn’t make a comeback from less than a hundred individuals, assuming they weren’t all one extended family to begin with.

          Of course getting caught up about the odds of survival, short or long term is bad. Worrying overmuch that a group doesn’t have the people to produce a lasting colony would be a morale problem. Sure you need to be aware of something like that, but it can be dealt with 3-5 years later once the group has rebuilt some of the lost buffer against an unforgiving world.

          HOWEVER. Rebuilding the human race is more than genetic diversity. Our history and culture is so much more important, all tied up in the lumpy mass between our ears, along with the seeming trivial detaisl that can be wonderful checkov’s guns in the right situation. Consider archeology; learning from remnants, books, pottery, corpses, trashheaps, you can learn a lot about a past civilization. And you can learn so much more by living with them and talking to them.

          Whoa. just had a though of a mishmash culture that could develope from a small colony, long after the apocalypse. Crystal dragon jesus religion, with lol cats and ice cream koans making up much of the wise-man speak. pre haps eventaully… hehe… Darmok.

          TLDR; People matter, we’re also weird. Yay!

        • Irridium says:

          Yeah, that’s the number I’ve always heard as well. Absolute lowest estimation I’ve heard though was 7000.

        • BeardedDork says:

          But that wasn’t 10,000 standing around in one place, that was a lot of little groups. You need about thirty people and very careful planning to minimize inbreeding. Two small lineages can interbreed without problems pretty much indefinitely. Populations that do this are not super rare, they are called moieties, it’s likely been happening in some parts of the world since the Mesolithic age.

          The thing that has been lost in this idea, is that inbreeding works too. Many organisms breed not only with closely related kin but also with themselves. Humans don’t tend to do this because it isn’t ideal as adverse genetic conditions become greatly amplified.

          It’s going to be a pretty self balancing thing, those who cannot survive won’t, and those that can will have more stronger offspring.

          You don’t want to have a group that has a genetic diversity that is self sustainable, because you won’t be able to maintain the resources to keep everybody alive. Instead you want to mate with other survivor groups as often as possible.

          • Lazlo says:

            There’s a really fun Larry Niven short story based loosely on the idea of humanity cut down to small groups to encourage inbreeding (I think the title was “What can you say about chocolate covered manhole covers?”. Basically, if you want to avoid horrible genetic failures (as modern humans generally do), then inbreeding is bad. However, for the overall health of the species, it’s kind of meh. If you want your 2.1 perfect children, genetic diversity is great. If you want at least half of your 12 kids to make it to breeding age, it doesn’t matter as much.

    • I won’t go as far as Deoxy, but “won’t last two generations” is way over the top. Takes quite a few generations for this kind of problem to become acute, especially in a situation where selection pressures operate (ie people with serious problems don’t breed). As long as there are other villages and you start getting in contact and encouraging out-marriages within a hundred years or so it’s really not an issue.
      In medieval times there were lots of relatively small villages which inbred like crazy for many generations on end and OK, they got a few village idiots, but they didn’t get “OMG we’re all dying of inbreeding”.

    • Mr. Son says:

      I read once that the minimum recommendations for species survival was 50/500. 50 for short-term, 500 for long term.

      To throw my voice in with the others speaking of pre-history, my understanding for the human genetic bottleneck was somewhere in the general vicinity of 1000 people at one point. Humans are pretty inbred, as a species. All the “races” of humanity? They are NOT sub-species. In a more genetically diverse animal, they might have become so by now. But I’m not a trained biologist, so I can’t be sure. Don’t take my word for it; I’m making semi-educated assumptions.

  9. Deoxy says:

    You’re very right to point these things out, really – zombies are a tiny problem compared to “90%+ of the human population is dead” (shambling or not).

    Zombies in any number would be much less dangerous than half as many starving wolves, a quarter as many, even.

    I do think you’re going to want walls on all 4 sides, though – there’s no reason to think zombies can drown, and there are plenty of animals you’d want to keep out, too.

    • Hal says:

      I was wondering if his plans involved passive defenses at all (aside from the rural setting, I mean.) Even one or two zombies wandering into your town in the dead of night would be pretty bad news, much less predators man has typically dealt with (wolves, bears, etc.)

  10. krellen says:

    I honestly have no idea what skills I would bring to a group of survivors, though I do tend to be the decisive one in the circles I frequent (except when it comes to which game we play). I suppose my knowledge of religions might allow me to make a stab at being a spiritual leader in the lack of an actual expert, but going to an atheist for your spiritual needs will probably feel extremely weird to most people.

    Might be an interesting thought experiment to try to figure out just what skills you can bring to a post-apocalyptic table.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      On the other hand, you tend to swear at everyone and everything (e.g. just try talking about rpgs), which might set people against you pretty fast. I definitely would not stay with a group whose leader is throwing f-u bombs left and right.
      Just saying.

    • krellen says:

      Anyway, this was supposed to be a thread of “what skills do you bring to the Post-Apocalypse” discussion, soooo …

      What skills do you bring to the Post-Apocalypse?

      • guy says:

        I am a vast repository of random facts about historical lifestyles, industrial technologies, and science. I’m hardly an expert on any field, but I am vaguely familiar with a bunch of them. I can also do semi-advanced mathematics; give me a graphing calculator and accurate data and I can tell you how many days our food will last us. I can also run impressively fast for acceptable durations.

        I’d probably spend most of my time telling people that the local landscape is completely unsuited to rice cultivation without a massive irrigation project and suchlike.

      • Dave B. says:

        I know how to…

        Load, operate, and clean a black powder firearm.
        I could possibly make gunpowder or some substitute, in a pinch.
        I am able-bodied and can use basic carpentry tools.
        I can use a soldering iron and know a bit about radio communications gear.
        I can tend a garden.
        I can paint pretty pictures!

      • Octapode says:

        A lot of general knowledge in a wide variety of fields (though not much if any experience with most of it), including a decent amount of old and improvised technology, especially chemistry (and especially things which go bang). I am good at doing maths in my head, I am passably good at building things, and reasonably physically fit.

        I can lead if absolutely necessary, but I would be better off helping someone else lead. I could probably do mapmaking reasonably well, and I can definitely read a map and use a compass.

        Honestly, however, if the world really did end with no chance of recovery to its current state, I would probably just kill myself. After surgery I would be more inclined to carry on, but currently, I’d probably off myself within a short period.

        On a less depressing note, the SAS Survival Handbook would be a really useful book to have around in a zombie apocalypse. While there is less on the civilisation rebuilding side of things, there is a lot that would be useful for short term survival, and it has a very good emergency medicine section, including a good amount of info on natural remedies, something that would become increasingly useful as pre-apocalypse supplies ran out and expired.

      • I can make and darn socks. Also, sweaters and other knitted garments. I have a vague knowledge of how to make woven cloth, as well as how to spin and sew clothing. I have a rusty knowledge of physics, and a random assortment of knowledge otherwise. Plus, I’m female and fertile, with only one mild medical condition, plus good eyesight and brains.

        My plan is to wander over to Dobbins Air Force base and point out that there’s no more socks, gloves, helmet liners, or knitted cloth coming and everything made will wear out with use. I figure most people over there will know how to use a gun, but probably not a darning egg :)

  11. mololabo says:

    All this pretty much reminds me of a webcomic I adore a lot. It’s http://www.popstrip.com and the specific comic I mean is this one:

    http://popstrip.com/the-facts-of-life

    What’s relevant in the context of the discussion is this part:
    ==============
    Societies are cooperative, redundant arrays.
    Cooperative redundant arrays allow us to specialize.
    Cooperation + redundant array + specialization = epic win
    ==============

  12. Deoxy says:

    Oh, off topic… well, sort of. Just saw your tweet about National Geographic’s “The Truth about Zombies”.

    Now, I didn’t see it, so I can’t speak to that particular bit, but there are actual documented cases of very zombie-like symptoms in human beings. OK, they still need to eat, and they will still die from blood loss, etc, but their brain functions are tremendously reduced, yet they continue to function, at least in terms of “walking around, possibly doing what someone tells them to”.

    Crud, where was that link… can’t find it right now. Anyway, there are claims about tetrodotoxin and voodoo practitioners. There’s enough there to at least have some interesting discussion about.

    And of course, you’ve seen the zombie-like states that are inflicted on various insects by various cases, right? The caterpillar that, when infected with a certain virus, climbs as high as it can (which they don’t normally do), then dies and leaks its internal juices out… all over the area (and other caterpillars) beneath. The ant that has its system taken over by a fungus, but which keeps walking, just doing different stuff from the other ants.

    And of course, there’s Mad Cow disease, which is fatal, but the last stages before death certainly look the part. If it didn’t kill them but stopped just short… there you go.

    Mad Cow does appear to be contagious (of a sort – see “prions”) to humans, and it’s called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

    So yeah, something like zombies (only actually requiring food – the laws of physics will not be denied) is certainly (and frighteningly) possible. An airborn virus with the right prion built in and some kind of distribution method (most likely human and intentional) could create something VERY much like the stereotypical zombie apocalypse.

    • Dasick says:

      Actually sounds like it could be weaponized. Air-bourne rabies/mad cow for humans, spread it in an area you wish to assault. Wait some time as the infection spreads, then strike when the enemy defenses are confused, or wait out the “zombie” duration. Kinda like what they did in the Middle Ages with certain diseases and diseased animals.

      Come to think of it, I’m wondering how a middle ages type society would deal with a zombie outbreak. As far as I can tell, no one would even bat an eyelash.

  13. BenD says:

    Shamus Shamus SHAMUS

    “Walkers are scary, but winter is an implacable son of a bitch who’s been murdering people for as long as Homo Sapiens have existed.”

    I WANT TO READ YOUR NOVEL BASED ON THE THINKING BEHIND THIS STATEMENT.

    That is all.

  14. As they say: “Every mouth to feed means two hands to produce.”

  15. Mimir says:

    I have a suggestion: horses

    even if you have a lot of gasoline, it will always be a limited resource, and could be better used in generators or in case of emergency than in regular transportation. it will also be a precious trading item. Depending on how long it takes to start rebuilding, it will probably run out before you can get more.

    horses will give you mobility, help you plow, provide you food in an emergency and will probably be a trading commodity. in addition, you can let them graze which reduces their cost in food. there’s a reason pretty much every civilisation that encountered horses adopted them.

    • monkeyboy says:

      Horses are a good idea, but I’d recommend cattle instead. Oxen have a longer work day (my grandfather, who plowed behind a team of horses said two four hour periods a day was all they would do, if you’re trying to get something done before the weather hits, horses won’t pull an all-nighter.)

      Also a lot of horses (here in America anyway) are going to be stabled, so their probably dead of starvation by the time you are prepared to get them.

      Moslty though IMO, horses, like sheep are pretty suicidal. (cows and pigs are mean and stubborn) I heard that its one of the only animals that will eat until it hurts itself. I’d feel uncomfortable on relying on horses without a vet or a lot of remounts available. They also require TLC if you are going to work them to any degree.

      Animal care for working animals is another one of those skills that is going to be resident in old “useless” people.

      • Oxen are also better if you don’t know how a proper horse plough harness is designed, which I don’t. Although come to think about it, it’s something about making sure the strain is taken up by the chest rather than the neck . . . that’s probably not too tough to work out.

        Horses can as I understand it actually pull rather harder and plough rather faster than oxen, so the shorter work day is worth it. For centuries they used to not plough with horses much because the harness they used basically choked the horse if it pulled too hard. Then someone figured out what you’d think would be a no-brainer, and it was a major event in the history of agriculture, particularly in northern Europe where soils were often rich but deep and on the tough side, and a horse plough combined with the new deep soil-turning blade made for a big improvement in yields. This is all from rather hazy recollections, so I may be getting some details wrong.

        So OK, if your soil is thin and sparse, horse may be overkill, or if it’s really soft and puddingy (really wet tropical climate maybe). But in much of northern/temperate Europe and North America perhaps horses better than oxen.

        • monkeyboy says:

          First off, who would have thought that we could have this converstaion on whats basically a gaming tech blog? (I love this place.)

          Right you are, you’re thinking of the horse collar, big oval made of wood and leather, as opposed to the wooden “oxbow” yoke. You could probably get both off the wall at some T.J. O’Pootertoot resturaunt.

          Which gives me an idea, along with searching for food, weapons and gardening tools, groups should be looking at antique stores, museums (deadpool’s idea) and old houses for things like oil lamps, tack, washboards, and the old non-electic sheep shears. (Which I can use! Hooray I’m in the group!)

        • swenson says:

          Horses do pull faster, yes. Oxen are often thought to be more durable, but that’s not necessarily true either. Oxen do tend to be stronger, easier to care for, and more docile, but hour for hour, horses will typically get more done.

          Historically speaking, horses have been quite valued for field work. They weren’t common initially in medieval Europe, but over time their popularity grew. Or at least they did in England (which is where my information is coming from). And another plus side is that a horse is easier to ride than an ox.

          • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            Bicycles. Put them up on stilts and they can power your generator too.

          • monkeyboy says:

            Not muych experience with horses, so I’ll bow to your superior Fu.

            Another issue for winter is fodder for animals. Save grain and corn husks. You’ll also need room to grow and store alfalfa or other grasses for hay. We had about 20 acres to feed 150 sheep, plus an additional 20 or so for grazing.

        • harborpirate says:

          You’re correct here. Episode 3 or 4 of Connections (can’t recall which) discusses, among many other things, the innovation of the horse collar and plow improvements that revolutionized agriculture in Europe.

          I like the idea of raiding museums and antique stores for useful equipment. Tech is going to be a strange hodgepodge for a while as people re-learn how to make loads of important stuff. Early on, finding or building stuff like the loom and spinning wheel, horse collar and plow, and other key bits of old tech would be critical. As trade is re-established and more people with diverse knowledge can connect, reliance on these old technologies will become less critical as they are replaced by mechanical automation. (again)

      • Kaeltik says:

        I wonder ho long you could get a team of zombies to pull a plow.

    • Zukhramm says:

      “Mongols vs Zombies” seems like a good idea for a game.

      • That would be short. Mongols would cream zombies in very short order. Mongols didn’t mess around, they were highly mobile fighters and didn’t take unnecessary risks. They’d never get to handstroke range.
        Plus, if they found that an urban area had lots of zombies in it, their immediate answer: Burn the place to the ground, it’s a city therefore it’s useless anyway (and so are any surviving inhabitants).

        • Zukhramm says:

          Well, since zombies aren’t actually real, you can give them anything to even the odds.

          • Mimir says:

            Presumably they could not outrun amounted horse? if so, they really don’t have any way of dealing with mongols. to be fair, the mongolian bows and arrows may not be super-effective either

            • True. But after the first few tries they’d probably at least switch to broadheads. And with the zombies having no ranged weapons whatsoever and no instincts for dodging even, they could probably ride pretty close in and go for headshots. Mongol bows were pretty powerful despite their dinky size; at close range I reckon they could penetrate skull without too much trouble. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would probably work to some extent.
              Thing is with their mobility they don’t need ideal. The only worry is running out of arrows, and specifically arrowheads. On that I guess it depends if we’re talking about Mongols vs. medieval zombie apocalypse, or Mongols time-teleported into modern zombie apocalypse. If it’s the latter they’d be able to scrounge lots of metal. If it’s the former they’d have to be clever about finding ways to retrieve their ammunition from still-squirming corpses while another swarm could close in at any moment.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    *sigh* while reading this,I got reminded so much of the world of original fallout.Damn you Shamoose,even when writing about something that has nothing to do with that game,you are still making me nostalgic about it.

  17. Chris says:

    Regarding your water supply, hopefully you’ll have someone on hand who knows how to make beer. Beer has a lower pH than water, so it keeps better and is safer to drink when you don’t have filtration or refrigeration. As you said, grain will be plentiful for the first year at least, and yeast are everywhere. Hops might be harder to come by, particularly if you aren’t in Washington, Oregon, or New York, but they aren’t strictly necessary for beer in a survival setting. Other bitter herbs can be used for flavor, though the antibacterial propertied of the hops are nice.

    • Hal says:

      If you build a still, you can basically make alcohol out of anything. It’s not going to be the fancy stuff we’re used to, by any means, but it’ll be booze, something that will never stop being popular with people.

      Heck, half my “apocalypse survival” plan is having my own still and using moonshine as currency in the wake of disaster.

    • Jakale says:

      If he’s lucky there might be fruit orchards around for watered down wine like the Greeks had. I don’t know about the pH part, but I always figured the alcohol helped kill off bacteria.

      Speaking of which, if Shamus’ crew is gonna be using the septic tank and the well, they are gonna need to be careful. Plenty of cases where septic tank leaks contaminate the water table that the well draws from. Of course, it depends a bit on which of the two is more uphill, since ground water flows downhill just like surface water. but if you’re pumping the well and it’s not just dug out for water to naturally seep into, then you may end up pulling in your sewage, which makes your well just as, if not more, risky than the river.

      I don’t know enough about septic tanks to know how they can be emptied without a septic truck, but that seems like something your survivors will need to know, quickly.

      • Steve C says:

        While it does happen, if the septic tank contaminates the well then the person who installed it was a moron who had a kid named Ben working for him. It’s like the wiring in your house; you can burn down your house because an idiot did it wrong. But it’s not something generally thought about because it’s typically done right and when it isn’t it rarely causes catastrophic problems.

        Speaking of septic tanks… bad news Shamus. Odds are they require electricity to run the pump(s) in them. I had to dig up mine twice this year. Once due to an electrical fire inside the tank destroying the pump and a second time due to a pipe fitting coming apart. Eventually you’d need to empty it but that’s after years of normal use. Assuming there were no trucks you could probably get by with a hand pump but it would be a really shitty job in every way.

        I’m always surprised by how many people don’t have exposure to septic systems. They are common and safe. Everyone in a rural area has one it just shows how many people don’t live rurally.

        Dump the sewage in the river?

        Outhouse dude… outhouse.

        • Zukhramm says:

          Maybe I’m thinking a little too rural, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. I’m more used to the classic hole in the ground.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          Provided there’s enough space between settlements -even dumping sewage in the river won’t be a problem for the scale of population we’re discussing. Water is the universal solvent and has a very high Total Daily Maximum Load that it can disolve. I can’t find the relevant manual, but my recollection is that the distance isn’t even that high -it’s a couple of miles per ton or 100 tons, or somesuch. The US has only been doing sewage pretreatment for a couple of decades on a large scale -and even now it’s just cesspools, not chemical.

          Although, there’s a compelling reason to keep sewage around: take yard waste, add sewage and airate over 9 months = excellent fertlizer.

  18. Some_Jackass says:

    Always a decent policy, but what to do with the (maybe) inevitability of someone getting bitten? And let’s also say for the sake of it that no one knows for sure that a bite is or is not a death sentence. How far would you be willing to take the “No one is expendable” ideal?

    It would be bad enough with the complications that come with a bite in general (depending on location). But even if it doesn’t mean certain death, everyone would still have that idea hardwired into their brain that anyone bitten is bad news and should be dealt with. How would one go about with that potentially dividing issue?

    • Nidokoenig says:

      Unless zombies are superhumanly strong, a Hannibal Lector mask and a bed with leather restraints from a mental hospital(though I’d assume most hospitals have one or two on hand) would be sufficient to restrain a patient. Or you put them in a room with only a ladder for entry while they’re being treated. Just bolt the door and make a hole in the roof.

    • guy says:

      Keep clear of them and have guns to hand until you can lock them in somewhere, then only open the door with a minimum of three armed people present. Do so very carefully. Or just leave the door locked unless they can comprehensibly tell you they’re still alive. If they turn, put up a big poster with “DO NOT OPEN-ZOMBIE” in large, alarming letters.

      Also, at some point it would become clear if bitten people always turn. Make sure everyone knows the answer and set policy to act accordingly: if some people don’t turn, confine them for a period of not less than a day longer than the longest suspected gulf between a bite and turning, if everyone turns then someone who is bitten is dead and needs to be shot once the situation has calmed down.

  19. Tobias says:

    Your comment about raiders got me thinking. This might make for a real good game too.

    A raider group would travel from farm to farm and try to extort protection money from farmers with minimal actual violence.

    As a leader of a raider group you are faced with hard decisions:
    -Do you bring out all your people to cow the farmers or do you keep some people hidden in ambush in case of trouble?
    -How much do you ask for to avoid driving the farmer to desperate measures?
    -How often do you return?
    -If they resist passively do you shoot someone as a demonstration?
    -How do you handle the possible rapists in your group?

    and so on.

    • Dasick says:

      If I recall corectly, that’s how pre-medieval warlords worked (and Nuygen in the walking dead comics actually) before they settled into being kings and actual lords. You had a guy with a band of warriors/ruffians/bandits, going from place to place, sometimes extorting and robbing, sometimes offering protection for food, shelter and women. (Depending on who you ask, the line was blurry)

      In a Zed situation, such warlords would probably help with cleaning zombies and hunting for meat, as well as bandits stupid enough to actually hurt farmers. Later on, as communities grow and people start expanding their definition of ‘basic necessity’ again, as well as during harsh winters, disease outbreaks, occasional zed mishaps, bad crops etc etc (these things will happen, and as the community grows and specializes, their effects will become more and more devastating), they will serve as military leaders in the struggle for limited resources.

      • Knight of Fools says:

        This gets me thinking. Forming a band of unskilled but healthy individuals to go out and actively hunt zombies would be an interesting experiment. Once you get a reliable base running and crops don’t require as much maintenance, they can scavenge, hunt, and perform diplomacy with other survivor camps, who might offer goods for help killing walkers, fortifying, building or whatever other grunt work they’ll pay for.

        It doesn’t go along with the typical zombie setting, but I could see close knit groups willing to do stuff like that. Churches, sports teams, military units… Anyone who’s got a leader with the balls to say, “Let’s help out where we can” could help society get back together much quicker.

        This would require some sort of heirarchy, though, where there’s one leader leading the soldiers and the other keeping order at home.

        Mostly, though, it’d make a fun game.

        • swenson says:

          Yet again this is a chance to bring up the excellent webcomic The Zombie Hunters!

          Not quite a perfect example, as there, people can be infected without turning–when they finally do die, then they’ll turn, but up to that point, they’re simply a carrier. Because contact of bodily fluids can infect other people, they’re forced to live apart from everybody else and are “encouraged” to become the titular zombie hunters (they can’t get infected again, right?) that venture into the ruins of society to scavenge for supplies. They tend to get kind of… nonchalant about dying, seeing as they’re in nigh-constant danger and if they die, they will turn into zombies that will immediately try to murder all of their friends.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        This is a standard political-economic analysis: The Stationary Bandit. My understanding, however, is that it is not historically supported and is most useful as a hueristic for understanding why dictators don’t just murder their people wholesale.

        It is far better for the bandit to stay in one place and make the trade come to him -which means he has to be a least a little nice to the traders, manufacturers, and artisans he intends to dominate.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Sounds like a rural mafia-ish group, going around extorting people for ‘protection’ money almost.

          • swenson says:

            Sounds like the start of medieval feudalism, to be honest… you pay us with your crops and work for us, and we’ll protect you and make sure you’re cared for.

            Not a bad arrangement at first, assuming everyone involved are decent people.

          • Dasick says:

            Mafia and street gangs are just the modern version of lords and kings, that simply have to do things the quiet and illegal way. And you know what, during the earthquake in Japan, Yakuza helped out with relief and prevented looting. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=japan+earthquake+yakuza You know why? Maybe human decency and goodness, but it’s also good business practice that your businesses stay at 100% capacity and suffer minimal losses

  20. Paul Spooner says:

    I find it rather discouraging that you feel the need to go to such lengths defending an idea which comes down to “murder is a bad idea, and cooperation is good.”
    Is it really that common a concept that the ease of modern life is all that is keeping us from slaughtering everyone less competent than we are?

    • Good point.
      If anything it seems almost the reverse of what you’d think. Some modern mindsets, developed in conditions of plenty, seem to cherish ideas of throwing as many from the lifeboat as possible in a way that was far less thinkable back when times were tougher.
      What Shamus is arguing against is the idea of taking these sorts of selfish ideas into a situation where we would not have the luxury of indulging them.

      I could expound on this big time but it would get political.

    • Ed Lu says:

      In short: Yes.

      In long: There are optimists and pessimists, so it may not entirely be a common concept among those who you talk to, or the books that you read. However, the necessity of society is definitely something that’s talked about a lot.

      In longer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract

    • Shamus says:

      The danger here is that the Crawford ideals trick people into thinking they are doing good. “Sure, it’s not nice to get rid of Jennifer Snow, but dangit she just can’t fight zombies as well as the rest of us, which makes her a drag on the group. It’s not nice, but by sacrificing one life I can save many.”

      It’s an easy trap to fall into, and even a normally decent person can be persuaded that this is what’s necessary.

      • Dasick says:

        I think that in such extreme situations, such tough calls will have to be made. HOWEVER, each time such a call is made, it must be understood to be an exceptional situation, and the official policy must be “no-one gets left behind”. Even if you make 100 or 1000 such calls, each one must remain an exceptional, tough decision.

  21. Mr. Son says:

    Your mention of people who were wheelchair-bound made me think: Teachers!

    If someone has limited mobility (double-amputee, legs don’t work, weak legs, very old and in poor shape, etc) you can have them teach small children. They can’t run herd on them, but an older child could help with that. You want to keep math, reading, and educational stories alive and passed down. Anyone capable of speech can assist with that, even if they’re too weak to knead bread dough (which is entirely possible for anyone with weakness in the upper body. I’ve worked with dough a couple times. It needs force).

    And if there’s ever a zombie-sized disaster, I wish I lived close enough to get into your survival group. I can sew! Not enough to make new garments, but mending and small modification? It’s good to know I have a skill that’s valued, even if I don’t get around to picking up those survivalist camping skills I wanted to learn.

    On the other hand, if we ever get into a zombie-sized disaster scenario, my anxiety disorder and OCD will be driving me up the trees with the stress of being unable to get properly clean at a moment’s notice. No more showers, no more rubbing alcohol, no more plastic gloves… Brrr… Not to mention how miserably unhappy I’ll be when my medical hormones run out within… *maths as best he can in his head* around 3 months, I think? If the bottle’s new and full when it happens. Ugh, the apocalypse has an extra kick in the pants waiting for the transgendered. Almost literally.

  22. Nidokoenig says:

    If you can get set up in August, Pennsylvania is in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5-6, 5 in the North, 6 in the South, so you should be able to plant radishes, spinach, turnips and beets if you get on it right away, with carrots, celery, cabbage and broccoli being hardy enough to grow through winter. I’d only have been confident planting carrots and celery because I looked up their growth patterns when I included them in My Little Fortress, but if you raid a garden centre for seeds they should have local planting seasons written on the packet, or in a handy book on gardening you can also loot, so not having this information beforehand wouldn’t be enough of a handicap to break the “only things you already know” rule.

    Also note that carrot leaves are edible, though they’re usually only used as animal feed because they’re not that palatable, but then neither is the root and this is an apocalypse.

  23. IronCore says:

    This post quickly went from a survival plan to a sermon. Not that I disagree with it.

    • Shamus says:

      True. This entire 2,000+ word post began as a couple of paragraphs where I dismissed The Crawford Way. Then I slipped into bullet-point mode and found myself exhaustively refuting it instead of dismissing it. Oops.

      Next entry we’ll get back to the practical stuff.

      • Lord Nyax says:

        No “Oops.” More like unintentional awesome. The pracitical parts of your post? Interesting. The “preaching” part? Engaging, thought provoking, and link worthy. Don’t be afraid to go off a little bit. I mean you’re not talking politics here after all.

        …I really hope nobody decides to reply to this comment with some kind of “Actually it is political because REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST UTILITARIANS ARE TEH STUPID!”

        • Dasick says:

          Well, things like religious and political views are usually a result of a person’s observations and conclusions. Political stances aren’t these monolithic giants that existed before our time – people subscribe to those because from their perspective, that is the right thing that makes sense.

          So yeah, it’s unavoidable that such things pop up when discussing *anything*, especially life-or-death situations.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Religion and politics are just logical extensions of culture, and all of culture is based on philosophy. And if you don’t think philosophy is interesting, I have no idea what you DO think is ‘interesting’…

        • Deoxy says:

          REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST UTILITARIANS

          This made me laugh – it’s really hard to come up with a generic term that doesn’t offend someone, but, with the triple inherent self-contradiction, you just MIGHT have found a description of a group that is both funny AND doesn’t exist.

      • IronCore says:

        I have to agree with Lord Nyax about is being interesting. Some of my favorite posts on this blog for several years now have been when you just talk about something, Shamus. Your writing is normally quite engaging.

  24. Ravens Cry says:

    Everyone should learn bows and arrows, both their use and construction, or at least crossbows.
    At some point, bullets are going to run out, and making more requires some heavy infrastructure. They are also loud and tell zeds, and raiders, (which will be increasingly a problem as easy pickings start to run out and whatever replaces Twinkies go bad)where you are.

    • Deoxy says:

      Bow and arrow is nigh useless against the “typical” zombie – arrows don’t generally penetrate skull*, so you’d need eye shots.

      Of course, any vaguely realistic zombie would be capable of bleeding out, so that would be different.

      * Yes, longbows could do it fairly reliably… but very few people today can actually pull one of those. Compound bows could do it, but those require modern tools and materials to make. Crossbows could do – their rate of fire is low, but the required skill to use is also much lower, so you could easily have more people who shoot well… they are harder to make than a bow, but still much easier than a compound bow, so that might be possible.

  25. Deadpool says:

    It has always amazed me how few Zombie plans involve a trip to the library… So much knowledge there we would need.

    Also, a trip to a museum would be useful. Chain mail and a mace would make you a nigh unbeatable zombie killer.

    Also, my plan? Ellis Island. Close enough to land to get supplies, but far enough into water to not worry about Zombies while home…

    Cleaning out the place should be simple enough. Home made explosives + some sort of sound generator should take care of most of them…

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      In the UK, they’re actually shutting quite a lot of public libraries (have been for years). The ones that go tend to be the rural or smaller ones (cost per number of users is too high).

      So for that vital post-apocalyptic resource, in the UK you’d need to head to a medium/large town or city in order to get access, which of course will be crawling with zombies.

      I doubt bringing this up at budget meetings would help much though!

  26. Sydney says:

    “This location also means we don’t need to build as much wall, since we’ll be protected on one side by water.”

    I wonder about this. If the river was fast, sure, but a slow river might just be a direction from which you get attacked by soggy zombies.

    • Octapode says:

      Zombies don’t really have the coordination to climb out, so a nice steep bank on the river and clear away any hand holds (but keep a rope nearby in case a person falls in) should keep them in the water and slowly drifting past. And then you use them to teach people how to aim.

  27. guy says:

    My plan at home is actually pretty simple: head for Norfolk Naval Base. It’s acceptably close (couple of hours by car, so no need to pack), defensible (surrounded by a brick wall with barbed wire on top and limited entry points), far enough that an outbreak in the area of my house wouldn’t be threatening it before I got there, and perhaps most importantly it has a fleet in port.

    Basically, the plan is grounded in the assumption that the base won’t get overrun in the initial confusion and people would have a basic understanding of the zombies before they actually got there. The walls could be held long enough to prepare an evacuation, and there’s pretty much no way any zombies would get onto the ships except by turning onboard. The fleet wouldn’t be able to stay out for long; the ships are intended to resupply regularly and most likely would be way over their normal complements (this plan presumes they’ll evacuate civilians or an army base where the soldiers couldn’t run any more than I could would probably be better) without a comparably larger increase in food stores. But if anywhere along the East Coast of North or South America managed to hold out, they’d probably be able to get there.

    Frankly, given where I live a survivalist plan would have little future; too many people and not enough roads. Anyone who tried to drive out after packing would probably become one of the highway traffic jam zombies, while walking towards farmland would take me past quite a few houses before I got anywhere really rural.

    Where I am currently, Battleplan Boat might not be a bad idea. I’m less than ten miles from a Great Lakes port. Assuming I could find anyone capable of steering a boat, cruising around the lakes and stopping off at lakeside towns and cities to loot them could potentially last for quite some time before we even needed to consider fishing. The lakes are freshwater, and also provide absolutely outlandish quantities of rain. The fish population probably isn’t that great, but a whole year of no human activity except boat people would do it good. The biggest worry with the boat plan would be the risk that everyone else in several major cities thought of it too. I think the numbers look pretty good for a couple hundred people spread across maybe seven ships (Cargo ship for home base, a couple motor boats for if we needed to go somewhere in a hurry, some sailboats for food runs), but not nearly so good for tens of thousands of people. Then again, the default assumption in zombie apocalypse plans calls for bands of between 5 and 100 people, not the Empire Of The Lakes. Plus industrial fishing generates pretty outlandish quantities of fish. The real sticking point for the lake plan would be fuel. Converting a fishing trawler to sail would be difficult and preindustrial fishing technology isn’t nearly as effective.

    If I did end up as Lake Emperor, I’d see about launching a major expedition to the Gulf of Mexico and securing ourselves an oil rig, a refinery, and a power plant. Possibly more than one, I’d have to locate someone who can actually tell me how much crude oil and refining capacity it takes to keep the ships running and how much we’d need to divert to powering the refinery. But given the composition of the area, I’m confident that any group large enough to actually exhaust all stored fuel in the entire Great Lakes region within five years would include several people who could estimate it with sufficient accuracy to tell me how many of each I’d need. Actually securing the refineries and power plants and raiding for spares would be a tremendous undertaking if the zombies don’t die off, but one well within the reach of a group large enough to need to.

    Of course, eventually keeping the ships functional is going to become a problem, but that’s some distance in the future. The key to this whole plan is that, while modern society runs off Just-In-Time delivery and rarely has much spare on hand in the cities, two weeks of stuff for a city of 5 million people will supply a smaller group for much longer. The perishable food will rot, but even just the canned or jerkied stuff would be enough to live on for a while.

  28. MediocreMan says:

    It’s like Dwarf Fortress: people (and dwarves) care about other people, and even if a person is a cripple, they’re still one more person that will contribute to the society and that other members of society value.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Besides, everyone has had that one dwarf with no limbs that bit an entire group of orcs into little bits. No reason not to let people try and surprise you.

      Just maybe have a backup handy in case they turn out to be more of a Ben than a Urist.

  29. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    You would have to be careful on one point when selecting your pre-planted farm: that it was actually growing foodstuffs.

    You’ll be up a creek come fall when you find out it’s a flax and tobacco farm.

    • Ravens Cry says:

      Hopefully you’ll be able to tell the difference.
      If not, hope to God, Allah, the great spagetti monster, whatever, there is people willing to trade baccie/flax for food.

  30. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I’m going to stick with my original 100% guaranteed plan for zombie or similar apocalypse:
    1) The event occurs
    2) I die

    On second thought let’s make it 99.9999999…%, I’ll leave some allowance for spontaneously transcending into a being of pure energy right before becoming zombie food.

  31. Khizan says:

    Really, thinking about it.

    “We’ll find a smallish defendable farm with free range cows, alongside a river, that can be run without modern fertilizers and irrigation and such by people who have no practical experience running a farm” seems to be just a more pastoral version of “We’ll find a well-stocked bunker and wait it out.”

    • Aldowyn says:

      People have farmed for thousands of years, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to find a FARM than a bunker. Even family farms are not as extinct as you might think, and scaling the tech back shouldn’t be that hard.

      Not to mention you can SEE farms and farms aren’t locked.

      And… ‘farm beside a river’ doesn’t sound that hard. Follow a river into the country, you’ll find one.

    • Shamus says:

      * The cows were a MAYBE. As in “I’d examine this option.” I know where two dairy farms are, both within an hour of where I live. Worth checking out to see if they still have cows that can be bred / eaten / milked.
      * Alongside a river isn’t THAT big a deal. Remember I’m basing this location on real places I’ve seen here in Western PA.
      * “Can be run without fertilizers and irrigation” isn’t a big deal at all. Heck, I’ve got that within WALKING distance. (Those don’t have a river nearby, though.) Pretty much any small-time non-industrial farm will do.
      * “no practical experience running a farm”. Yep. That’s the hard part. I have no idea how feasible it is, but its either that or give up and die, so we might as well give it a try. :)

  32. Somniorum says:

    Oh, wow, you addressed tons of my concerns in this post : O (even if not actually in response to what I said and just concerns that came up on your own)

    I do still have reservations – bandits (or desperate people, however you wish to look at them) need not work in small and disorganised groups. That’s the traditional view of them, but historically they’re often… quite large. Especially when you look at Asian history – particularly, but not limited to China – you get *armies* of desperate outlaws. They certainly *could* sensibly decide that wiping you out (if they could manage it) would be foolish as then they’d have to do the work, but that means they can simply extort you, and possibly eventually de facto subjugate you as a lower class to their ruling class. And in cases where they might not be strong enough to actually win an attack, they could still threaten to attack you to extort you, as the violence and disruption that their attacks – even if unsuccessful – might just not be worth roughing through for your weary society.

    I also don’t recall you mentioning where you got the weapons, but I might’ve missed that part. A farm might logically have a bit of weaponry around (especially in North America, where we are of course), but likely not a *huge* quantity of weaponry and ammunition.

    BUT, with all that said, I’m super pleased to see what you said as the rebuttal of Crawford and the championing of the principle of mutual aid as being one of the greatest aspects of importance. I don’t have a zombie plan, besides the vague idea that… although I *am* a fairly fit individual, I doubt I could survive very well alone, and frankly don’t altogether *want* to (although I’m severely introverted…..). So the most important thing, in my mind, was to ensure that groups of people with kind-hearted and strong-headed ideals stay together, that society is the greatest panacea to zombiism one could have.

    This would, in my view, hugely improve your chances of surviving, not just against the zombies themselves, but from human enemies… as you stated, the expertise and knowledge that the whole would possess would be one of the greatest assets. And it also gives me the view that you’re not necessarily trying for a *small* group (which I had assumed at first).

    And I must admit that, I am inclined to think that many people would find your society much more acceptable to join, before taking the path of brigandage. Most of such people do so when they seem to have few other options, and your society would give a greater sense of hope and competence that would be much more attractive for most people… especially when one considers that most of these people *very* shortly ago were experiencing the benefits of a relatively well ordered, civil society, and would likely be very nostalgic and desiring of a return to such normalcy.

  33. NCB says:

    “Everyone in the group will have friends and connections. If you sacrifice one person for the group, you’re also damaging the morale of everyone who valued them. Maybe Bob doesn’t pull his weight because he’s fat and not very bright. But if you get rid of him, then the people who liked him will tend to carry a grudge. “If the group wasn’t there for my friend, why should I go the extra mile for everyone else?” Turn away enough people and the place will enter a death-spiral of cruelty and self-interest.

    Yes, there are extreme conditions where the group really would benefit from the death of one exceptionally burdensome or useless person. The thing is, you don’t need to make an official policy for this sort of thing. Everyone is already pre-programmed for brutal self-interest. Actively encouraging that sort of behavior is just going to result in a society comprised of the people who are least able to cooperate.

    Even if the writers shove us into a contrived situation where only the ruthless can survive, I’d rather die doing the right thing than live with innocent blood on my hands. ”

    How long would Shamus last as Dwarf fortress overseer fellow players? I’m betting 2 years, tops.

  34. ooli says:

    Sorry Shamus, for what I will say, and for posting it in the wrong place the 1st time. I just could not get it out my head, cause you’ll make the worst leader possible for your family in case of Zombie. So dont lead!

    If you wanted to stress out how “engineer” make very bad leader you went right to the point.
    Last time your main concern about zombie outbreak was about rat and deer (?) invasion one year from now! It may be a real problem (which I doubt), but it probably totally irrelevant to the main stress to secure a farm beside river right NOW.

    And here, you pretend we must not kill anyone. Of course we must not. Even the worst evil “Alpha” leader know that. Just stupid leader in videogame act stupid.

    Before making your decision to NOT kill anyone you MUST have a reason to kill someone to begin with.

    Let’s say, you lack clean water (food is never a real problem). You know you can only make it to the farm with 10 out of 15 people with the amount of water you carry. Do you take the risk to go to a nearby town to find some? Do you try to diet everyone on their water?
    Now, we have a basis for deciding if we must NOT kill someone. It seems you like children. They need to drink too. So, who do you kill (or NOT) to let the children live? I mean, If everyone should live (and drink) the child will probably be the first to die of thirst.
    Of course everyone should live. The problem just arise when it’s a risky business to keep everyone alive.

    • ooli says:

      Btw, I even know your decision in this case It will be the worst possible (or the most “engineered”) : You’ll let yourself die for the child.
      This is a foul decision for the wellbeing of the community if you’re the best possible leader around.

      • Olly says:

        Shamus’ plan was to find a farm ASAP or (as you put it) “right NOW”, he just wasn’t going to be an idiot and charge straight for the first farm he found and ignore the potential of alternative options.

        Your water carrying scenario is flawed in many ways and doesn’t provide anywhere near the amount of information needed to make a reasonable judgement.

      • Kian says:

        This is a terrible, very contrived scenario. What does it mean that you have enough water for 10 but not 15? What happens if you try to give water to the fifteen anyway? Will everyone die? Why? Getting rid of one third of the people basically provides everyone else with half as much water (if you had water for one day, you now have water for one day and a half).

        So, how far away is your destination and how much can a person last without water? A person won’t die for going a couple of days without drinking. They’ll be parched, but people can cope. So long as they’re not exerting themselves and it’s not too hot, they basically only lose water through waste and respiration.

        I’m going to assume that only 10 people can make it means that these ten people are keeping hidrated? Otherwise, you’re asking your group to abandon (possibly kill, as the people being left behind are going to oppose the plan to leave them without water violently) a full third of its members so they can go on a deathmarch to some location and hope that it has water.

        So a trip would have to last for x*1.5 days, where x is how long the water would last for everyone. longer and you’d have to abandon more people, less and you could have carried more people with you. So let’s put the most that a person can continue without water at 2 days. Unless x+2 (how long the whole group could go if they’re willing to risk going on after the water runs out) is less than x*1.5, killing anyone is pointless.

        What this boils down to is that this scenario calls for you, having water for 4 days, to decide instead to try and reach a place 6 or more days away, on the hope that there is water there, with the certainty that you could not find water anywhere else along the way.

        If this seems like a reasonable plan, you are a terrible leader.

  35. Solf says:

    I’ve tried to Google it, but my seach-fu seems to be failing me.

    Anyway, what is an estimate of how many primarily-farming people are required to support one primarily-non-farming person in a pre-industrial society?

    My guess (based on what I seem to remember seeing previously and googling) is A LOT. Maybe something like 10 people farming full-time to support one person doing something else.

    If true, it’ll make a lot of points in this discussion a lot less ‘pointy’.

    P.S. Since we are talking about single survivor group rather than ‘civilization’ as a whole, I would guess that the answer will depend *heavily* on location (climate being one of the most important factors).

    • guy says:

      It’s hard to judge these things for an apocalypse scenario. The thing is, historical farmers were, in addition to being underequipped, incompetent by modern standards. Someone who has graduated from highschool probably knows more about the underlying principles of farming than any subsistence farmer. They’ll at least have heard of crop rotation, even if they can’t remember any specific patterns, so they won’t have to fallow a full third of their cropland on an annual basis. Also, there’s plenty of salvagable materials around. Steel plows were a major contributing factor to the growth of urban populations for the renaissance, and any farm is going to have them around. So long as one guy in the group spent a summer vacation on the farm, they’ll be significantly out-producing subsistence farming. They might manage it if no one has seen a farm before.

      Also, the ten-to-one number is farmers to nonfarming workers. It’s not like you need ten adult farmers per kid. As long as everyone physically capable of helping pitches in sometimes, keeping a group from starving should be manageable. You can’t have your group be 20% wheelchair bound, but I expect that if you have a representative cross-section of modern urban populations and sufficient farmland you’ll be fine, assuming you can live through the first winter and a failed crop on scavenging and hunting. If an actual farmer is in the group you’re probably golden as long as you can convince him to supervise instead of doing his own farming and letting the others figure things out themselves.

    • swenson says:

      If you go back far enough, I suspect it trends toward infinity. Civilization and technology took awhile to take root precisely because of the problem of not being able to produce enough food to support people who WEREN’T working on the farm. It’s only once people started actually getting good at farming (and domesticated animals and plants) that people could afford to be craftsmen, explore metalworking, create more elaborate art, etc. And that’s where you start getting the first towns from, and towns need leaders (politics) and laws (legal system), and…

      That being said, it actually probably *was* something like 10-to-1. Even in ancient societies, you had to have somebody preparing/storing food, making/mending food, caring for animals, repairing equipment/furniture, taking care of children/the elderly/the sick…

    • Dasick says:

      I just want to mention that even if the ratio is 10 farmers to 1 non-farmer, what are the farmers doing off-season, during winter and between planting and harvesting?

  36. I don’t have much to say about zombies, but this sort of thing is what keeps me coming back here. Here’s hoping you’ll be able to write more of this as your life improves from whatever the suckiness was. :)

    On the subject of useful skills: Knowing the Dewey decimal table! Don’t underestimate the power of being near the library of even a small American town. The US often gets a bad rap on various measures of education and whatnot, but your library system is really pretty impressive, and very rarely noticed.

  37. Domochevsky says:

    Y’know, i’m wondering… why does it always seem like such a given that all electricity, water and internet will immediately fail in case of a zombie outbreak?

    That stuff will break down over time, yes, but i don’t quite see zombies uprooting telephone poles, digging out DSL cables and breaking into power stations.

    So for the first couple months you might as well stay in your apartment and see who else is alive on the internet, occasionally making a trip to the local supermarket if there are no zombies around. :|

    • Nidokoenig says:

      “And now for the Zombie Forecast…”

      The idea that electricity, water and such will fail is more something you have to assume. You charge up everything right away, collect as much water as you possibly can, and so on. Electricity in particular is based on just in time fuel deliveries, very closely monitored nuclear facilities, and an amount of wind, solar and hydro that would probably just get absorbed by the grid if it was all that was left, and I’m fairly sure that running water would fail shortly after that.
      The essential problem is that if we can protect power stations, we can protect military bases, so the situation becomes Shawn of the Dead-style holing up in a pub and getting cosy until the whole thing blows over.

    • guy says:

      Power plants aren’t designed to run without supervision. Either their failsafes will trip and shut them down or they’ll run out of fuel or they’ll melt down. Also, the power grid requires live monitoring too; if consumption or generation drop rapidly and the proper adjustments aren’t made then the grid will collapse. Once the power goes out, so does the water.

  38. cl says:

    Shamus, you assume one thing here…that people are logical, reasoned and capable to thinking like you. You already admit you are an engineer. That post was pure engineer. You are thinking about people like resources to use to their fullest potential in what ever job you can find for them. You are trying to manage them based on their abilities, knowledge, number of available limbs. People are not like that. They are scared. Useless selfish creatures. You will have people who will not be managed because they don’t care about that. You will have people mad because legless boy who sat an knitted got the same ration as a person who was out killing zeds.

    I don’t discount your theory. I would love it if it were true. But people are not like that.

  39. decius says:

    Your last sentence implies that you would not choose to survive the end of all civilized civilization.

    Which is another way of saying that so long as you are alive, there is some civilized civilization in existence.

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