Worldbuilding: Averting Disaster

As the saying goes, the best time to prepare for a disaster was last year. The next best time is now. How do your characters plan to deal with problems before they happen? And how well do their plans match reality?

This is going to depend partly on your character. How foresighted they are, how much useful info they have on local and world events, and how much available resources they can put toward preparations that might never be needed.

But part of it’s going to depend on how predictable your world is. A once in a century flood, while uncommon, is likely to be in records someone can look up. Zombie apocalypse? Not so much.

There are indeed people prepared for a zombie apocalypse. But realistically speaking, not many, and not as well as they think. There’s always some detail you miss in disaster prep. Always.

…Though if you have a world in which zombie outbreaks are a known thing, the odds of someone being prepared enough go up.

(So does the level of paranoia, and probably the amount of weapons training emergency medical personnel get. If the odds of Zombie are high, scrubs are likely to get changed out for motorcycle leathers or something equally bite-resistant. And rescue breathing will be very, very unlikely. First rule of disasters: don’t become another victim.)

Which circles right back to, what are known and unknown disasters in your world? Which do you plan to hit your characters with? And how ready do you want them to be?

Note, I’m not saying how realistically ready do you want them to be. Your story, your characters, your decision on how in-touch they are with conventional reality. Which do you think makes a more interesting story if a portal to a fantasy world opens up in Central Park? The D&D nerd who knows the Monster Manuals backwards and forwards, or the NYC fireman who may not know burning hands from pyrokinesis, but can make a pretty good guess that the laughing maniac is somehow causing the fires?

Honestly, I think it’d be awesome if they teamed up. Like Mulder and Scully, if Mulder had gamebooks and Scully had a fire ax….

Granted, that’s more along the lines of handling disaster rather than averting it. But good stories should have both! Your heroes should be able to see some of the punches coming in time to roll with them. Then you hit them with the sucker plot punch while they’re trying to catch their breaths.

Got your disasters in mind? Round one, go!

27 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Averting Disaster

  1. And be aware of Unintended Consequences. Like Vanyel setting up the Vrondi, and accidentally driving all the mages, protomages, and could-be mages mad for centuries. (Not entirely his fault, given how much sleep he wasn’t getting by the end there iirc.)

    How about a D’n’D scenario, where the party’s warlock and the paladin absolutely refuse to disclose their patrons. The party has been chasing a bad guy across the whole campaign. He always gets away by setting up paradoxical barriers, a six foot tall dwarf can pass, or a fully eleven Dragonborn. Finally, a situation where there’s a barrier that only allows those with souls sold to Good deities to pass. Or someone with unholy orders. The warlock sighs in aggravation and trudges through. If it’s for the unholy orders, the paladin does it. There was a mix up, someone was drunk and it might have been the deity, and the warlock sold their soul for the power of good and the paladin was granted unholy orders. No one is precisely happy about it.

    How about what do you do with a herd of sheep, when an extra has shown up that has a super stretchy tongue and it likes to eat flies as well as grass? The sheep have never been so free of the risk of fly-bite, but now what?

    Or the magic researcher who accidentally turns their hair into silk. Back off, no I don’t want it changed back, do you know how expensive living silk is?! Does it grow faster, or do they need to figure out if hair growth potions still work for them?

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I’ve working on something where it’s not so much the characters averting disaster but surviving one, then them eventually building back afterwards – The Walking Dead meets Gargoyles.

    It’s been interesting to poke at how magic, particle beam weapons and having some people who can heal from the zombie bites would change things along the way.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. The character has a stockpile of zombie-apocalypse supplies.

    Sucker-punch: The supplies are cheap, low quality junk sold by con-artists who never thought a zombie apocalypse would actually happen.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. You mean like most zombie preppers? :p Or really, way too many preppers in general. Prepping not because they have put in the research and made an informed decision, but instead because they bought into scare stories and grabbed up whatever they were conned into thinking would help them in the situation they were scared about.

      Ironically, preppers who are serious tend not to have such large “stockpiles of [apocalypse] supplies”, because they know enough that most of the stuff is _actually useful_ (and thus being used). Even food supplies get cycled through and used, rather than left “in a stockpile” ’til they expire. It’d look more like “wow, you’ve got a really good workshop and a large pantry” rather than “wow, look at that pile of faddish survival supplies”.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Also sometimes you switch from a known disaster scenario to a different disaster. Oklahoma is prepared for tornadoes. Every community has a plan. Terrorist bombings not so much. But when someone blew up a building in Oklahoma, every tornado rescue group turned out. The EMTs, the fire department, the support staff that brought water and sandwiches. They did a very good job.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. So I guess it’s more of a two part equation: 1) how well prepared they are for X disaster, and 2) how well and quickly do they adapt that preparation to Y disaster.

      With possible 3), how much knowledge and materials do they have not directly connected to their disaster prepping. Because the strangest things can be useful in the strangest situations. Even if it’s as out there as, the bad guy can hear us so we’re going to use trope names to lay out our battle plan. Battle couple, big damn heroes once the face is chewing the scenery…

      Liked by 5 people

      1. “Why are they yelling what are obviously quotes, and laughing like maniacs?”
        “I don’t know, but one of them just yelled ‘ho ho ho,’ and said something about Nakatomi tower at fifteen to midnight?!?!”

        Liked by 5 people

    2. I suspect people often underestimate how much overlap there is between various disasters. At least in cleaning up the aftermath. A little less in ongoing disasters, but a lot of that can but be shoved into two categories- Take shelter in the sturdiest location you have, and Leg It. (Man-Made disasters are a trickier, but too many of those have malice afore and afterthought involved.)

      Fire damage, flood damage, storm damage (which can result in both of the previous, plus wind damage feeding the fire- literally), and earthquake damage aren’t exactly the same, but regardless you’ve possibly got unstable surroundings, busted utilities causing further havoc, and panicking people to try and evacuate and keep calm.

      That last bit is easily the hardest part of any disaster management. Because there are people involved. Panicked people. And panicked people are not smart people. Panicked people in large numbers tend to thin their own ranks in very bad ways.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Right. For a lot of disaster prep, the trick is to make it modular. Split the disaster down into smaller parts, with solutions to each of those smaller parts, and you quickly find that lots of disasters share similar smaller parts, even if not all of them. As a Ham Radio operator, one of those smaller parts that I’m trained for is “if communication is down, here’s how to set up emergency communication relay chains”, because most disasters at least mildly disrupt communication, even if it’s only “the phone lines are busy because everyone and their brother is trying to call friends and relatives to find out if they’re ok, so actual emergency communication is not getting through”. There’s standardized training in place that all Ham Radio operators are expected to learn as part of their licensing (well, we were expected to do so, I haven’t kept up to date on the last couple changes to the licenses since I’m still grandfathered in on the old, harder, licensing) on the procedures to use to provide a smooth backup communication line regardless of why “normal” communications are down.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Splitting up what you’re doing into small chunks, and delegating the chunks, is also a good way to manage panicked people.

        But speaking loudly and clearly at people, and speaking soothingly to people, are other good ways to manage panicked people. So having a trained voice helps.

        Very simple instructions are a good thing. Like… up to four words.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So you mean like that one guy in Tremors. A basement full of weapons and ammo, defeated by one prehistorical underground monster.
    Or the 2nd movie. ‘I feel that I was not given crtitical information. I am completely out of ammo!’

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter. Bomb shelter! Underground… God damn monsters!” – Earl Bassett, Tremors.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yeah. One of the things that makes that such a great scene is that Bert *was* very well prepared… just not against a completely OCP. It’s like the ur-example of Wrong Genre Savvy.

        And yet, his Mad Prepping was *still* critical to having the resources to help save the day in the end.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One of the funniest bits in the original movie.

        Monster breaking through the wall! Sound of gunfire over the radio!

        Rest of the survivors on top of buildings drop their heads at the Impending Death Scream.

        …Sound of gunfire keeps going. Survivors perk their heads up.

        Gunfire keeps going.

        And you cut to the scene of Burt and his wife backing up to the WALL OF WEAPONS.

        (Yes, it deserves all caps.)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Conversely, it is possible for disasters to cluster.

      Managing disasters A and B, means that a small group could still be driven to adventure because of C or D.

      Now, with a society with a lot of ‘design margin’, you would expect your various disasters to basically be independent, only very rarely cluster, and basically never occur in a place that hasn’t had time to recover significantly from a previous disaster.

      But, we have a lot of options for choosing to write about societies with little design margin, or with disasters that are naturally a sequence.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Honestly, I think it’d be awesome if they teamed up. Like Mulder and Scully, if Mulder had gamebooks and Scully had a fire ax….

    I would watch the HECK out of this series.

    In the “How to Train Your Dragon” video series, Fishleg’s job is basically being a walking monster manual (writer and archive both)

    Liked by 4 people

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