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Basic Information

Foraging, also known as "hunting and gathering" is the Ur-occupation of humanity (and the default business of every other species) and consists of gathering food and other resources from the environment. Most of humanity has progressed beyond this in day to day life, but some communities still maintain themselves by foraging and individuals from other cultures train in foraging skills or engage in some traditional foraging behaviours (arguably most of aquaculture is more properly classed as foraging than primary industry) either for subsistence or leisure.

In the right environment foraging can actually be quite effective - most sources suggest that the average hunter-gatherer spent fewer hours to maintain his (admittedly lower) standard of living than in settled farming communities or modern industrialised life. Some regions, such as the American Pacific Northwest, were so favourable for foraging lifestyles that they managed to develop the sort of societies that would normally have needed functioning agriculture to support them), in others foraging was only able to support small, at least partially nomadic populations. In general, foraging produces very little surplus food and struggle to support specialists, leading to very limited opportunities for technological progress. That said, the "gathering" part of "hunting and gathering" is actually pretty efficient. It has been estimated that time spent gathering root vegetables produces roughly 5 times the energy that the activity consumes.[1] It compares quite favorably to hunting, which is often times a break-even energy exchange.[1]

Foraging skills will tend to be fairly environment dependant - although hunting and fishing will vary relatively little from one biome to another, the sort of knowledge of plant species that provides the bulk of foraged resources can be very local indeed.

In the modern era, urban foraging is possible as a (fairly marginal) way of life - much the same as rural foraging, but typically parasitic (or at least saprophytic) on the economically active members of society. This may or may not include begging and outright theft, but certainly would include dumpster-diving and the free-loading of anything being given away. In a consumerist society where large quantities of perfectly serviceable material is discarded, the margin may be relatively substantial and even less materialistic societies may seen significant opportunities if there is a high level of interrupted transience where people settle for a time, accumulate possessions and then discard them in order to move on to somewhere else with the minimum of encumbrance1.

After The End, foraging is mostly about delving into the ruins of civilisation for sustenance - at least it remains so for as long as the delvers are still looking for things like food and medical supplies. Once the consumables are exhausted, the business becomes more akin to salvage and/or treasure hunting.

In a military context, foraging is the process of acquiring supplies from the surrounding area - whether by seizure or purchase. Forage by contrast is food for (mostly) horses - hay or cut grass - which is a key resource for foraging parties in the pre-modern era (for which most horsemen will have a forage net to store and transport the stuff).


1. Non-Fiction Book: Energy and Civilization by Vaclav Smil

Game and Story Use

  • Foraging skills are a useful addition to any PC expecting to survive in the wilderness.
  • Conversely a PC from a foraging culture is likely to have all kinds of complementary fieldcraft skills that can be useful in other contexts - these are probably paid for by a shortage of other, more "civilised" skills.
  • Hunting should be part of the skill set of any free man in most pre-feudal cultures, and of the gentry and above in feudal ones - field sports of some kind have long been a recognised pastime as well as a way of putting food on the table and so most cultures will contain some, albeit frequently socially stratified traditions. Some post feudal-cultures also re-open hunting to the lower orders, but may retain some levels of stratification.
  • For urban foragers, adjust accordingly - but local knowledge and street smarts will probably be at a premium
  • Many primitive cultures are likely to be fully or at least partially supported by foraging, others might well practice transitional techniques such as planting untended crops along their migration route and harvesting them on their return.
  • Technically this even includes the hunting behaviours of otherwise fully settled and industrial/agrarian peoples like, say, Americans. If you normally buy your food from the Kroger, but every autumn you shoot yourself a freezer full of venison and wild turkey and/or you regularly eat your fishing catch, you are still, possibly entirely knowingly, participating in the hunting/gathering ways of your ancestors. The same applies to the continental European obsession with mushroom gathering and other wild food harvesting traditions.
  • Military foraging is a significant part of most pre-modern campaigns - and PCs can be on either side of it, whether sent out by their own commander to find supplies or skirmishing with foraging parties from the enemy force. Given that foraging can include attack civilian populations to seize supplies, some PCs careers start with their community being "foraged" by an army … even a supposedly friendly one.
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