External obstacles in character-driven low fantasy


My world is more or less technologically modern (Pokemon or Final Fantasy XV without sci-fi stuff) and is very low fantasy. Basically between The Lies of Locke Lamora and A Game of Thrones. The only "magic" is the (dead religion's) gods' "natural abilities" that for most of the books are things like visions and mind reading.

Because fantasy/magic stuff practically doesn't exist, there's no "established fantasy" in the world besides some undead resurrected monks that first appear halfway through the book. It's largely a Pokemon-inspired cross-country adventure where the characters slowly discover "fantasy things" are real, but the main focus is on their interpersonal relationships and dynamics. Kinda like (exclusively) secondary-world The Talisman mixed with "The Body"/Stand By Me or less-actiony/magical FFXV.

My issue is finding (fantasy) obstacles in a world where fantasy things don't really exist. So far (~130k words) most of the conflict has been with the characters' relationships and internal things, but not really anything "fantasy" related. The "antagonist" was the High Priest of the fallen empire turned terrorist leader, but he wants the main teen character to succeed because the teen is the lost prince who the High Priest believes to be the Chosen One. He wants the prince discover his true heritage and "accept his destiny" and restore the empire as a theocracy, so I don't really see him as a hindrance. Perhaps he could have obstacles in order to "test" the prince as he travels, but because essentially "fantasy/magic doesn't exist," I'm not sure if that would help for the "fantasy/CO" side of things. Also, he's primarily the "antagonist" for the (seemingly) separate political plot as the terrorist leader, and it's not revealed until later that he's the former High Priest looking for the lost prince, connecting the political and fantasy plots.

Whether caused by the HP or not, I'm worried the "obstacles" might be episodic like in Pokemon–the characters arrive in a new city, there's some Team Rocket-related problem, the characters defeat Team Rocket, continue to the next city, repeat. I'm trying to use the "what does the character want and what's stopping them" approach, but I'm not coming up with anything that really fits. The 13-year-old characters want to bus it cross-country, but the buses aren't running because of labor/strike issues so they bike it. A character gets sick so they have to wait longer in one place. They're looking for a building but they can't find it. They get a flat tire so they have to fix or get money for a new one (or steal one?). They want to get into a building but it's guarded and they have to sneak in. I think these are rather minor obstacles and are resolved rather quickly/easily, and none of them are related to the "antagonist" (actually the labor/strike thing is but more for political reasons), which might be an issue. There's a lot more conflict on the interpersonal side of things, but again they're not really "obstacles" and unrelated to the antagonist. The first antagonist-related one is around half way when the best friend abandons the group to go back home and is captured by the antagonist.

The first two Gentleman Bastards books didn't have much fantasy-related issues (one reason why I loved them) and the obstacles were more on the heist/politics side, but I don't think that works for this. There's no "established" force/organization/group actively opposing them and they're largely traveling on their own. There are some issues like maybe with the police or something, but I don't think anything serious/continuous, especially as they're constantly traveling from place to place practically anonymously. Both behind-the-scenes good guys and the antagonist are actively tracking the prince and keeping tabs on him, but that's behind-the-scenes stuff.

I'm terrible with Plot and have trouble coming up with external problems. The book is definitely more character-driven and about their relationships and exploring the world, but I know those can't be the only conflicts/obstacles. I'm worried that because it's intentionally so low fantasy with "average" people being used by unknown forces on both sides, I've basically prevented "natural" (ie expected) obstacles from even being plausible.

Any thoughts or suggestions, or is this a fundamental problem with the book that can only be resolved by entirely changing the book?

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