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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Fallout: Nukeland

I managed to run a game of "Fallout: Nukeland" at KublaCon 2018:
2278: The territory of Nukeland has risen from the ashes of Old Oakland. The New California Republic is eager to absorb this territory, but they are overextended in the Mojave Desert. The Empire of Shi, built on the ruins of San Francisco, has one shot to claim Nukeland for its own before the NCR. And then at the turn of the tide, a ragtag group of Wastelanders searching for a giant rabbit disrupts everything.  
Content Warning: the Fallout setting features themes of sexuality, drug use, violence, slavery, body horror, Cold War propaganda, racism, giant vermin, and unethical experimentation. Please know that many of these are likely going to come up in the game. We will be using the “Cut” and “Brake” mechanism as a safety tool, as well as the X-Card. 
I had a small group at first: of the six spots advertised, two showed up, and I let in a third auditor whose schedule had cleared to allow commitment to the full run. A fourth auditor showed up - a younger fellow - and he was cool enough that I felt comfortable handing him a character, too.

The final cast list:
  • "Mojo Supermax", Raider Chemist (man) - ruggedly handsome
  • Brotherhood Initiate Stoddard (man) - left the Brotherhood behind
  • “Dibs” Hoshi, Vault Nerd (woman) - loves comic books
  • William “Mr. Visionary” Langstrom, Ghoul (man) - smokes, sarcastic
The Initiate had been sent by the Brotherhood to get the lay of Nukeland and see what kind of job the Brotherhood had in store if they moved in: figured a Vault would be a good asset to reconnoiter, so he followed rumors of a Vault dweller-cum-trader.

The Vault Nerd was sent out by the Overseer to follow up on a missing trader, a Vault expatriate named Harvey.

The Raider Chemist was having a hard time getting the components he needed to create his drugs because Harvey was nowhere to be found, so he, too, was looking for the former Vault dweller. The three converged on Boxport, a settlement on Harvey's trading route, and a likely place to find someone who might know something. 

They later picked up Mr. Visionary, a stylish ghoul looking for adventure.

It ended up being SO open world weird. I had way too much plot for six hours, so I didn’t successfully outline the power struggle between NCR, Shi, independence, and chaos - not to my satisfaction, anyway. 

I started out way too hard - certainly too hard for the 2 players who started the game. A Mirelurk Queen, accompanied by a Mirelurk King running interference for her, attacked Boxport shortly after some strange tone made everybody's ears pop. The Vault Nerd blundered into the battle and got taken out by the creature's acid spray; the Initiate held his own; the Chemist found a safe spot in some nearby wreckage, and managed to stumble upon a secret Enclave genetic experimentation facility buried in the wreckage. They dragged the fallen Vault Nerd to safety, and began looking around.

They started ransacking the computer stations for information, learning of a failed genetic experiment on mutated beavers, river otters, and sea otters, which resulted in an insurrection which eventually drove the Enclave to abandon the site. They disarmed the sonic device agitating the local mirelurks. The players also found a stealth-suited Chinese scout (a member of the Shi, a San Francisco faction introduced in Fallout 2 which, in my setting, had been targeted by the Enclave and driven underground - the Enclave wiping out the Shi was a plot detail which the failed Van Buren game project was going to establish, which I took as inspiration). They recovered the stealth suit, as well as his notes about scouring Nukeland for a rare computer component for the Shi Emperor.

After the players left Boxport, they headed towards a raider-controlled where Harvey had been rumored to have gone, hoping to loot Highland Hospital for specific chemicals that some of his customers needed. 

On the way, they stopped by The Sarcophagus, a Ghoul settlement with a post-apocalyptic Egyptian theme (looted from the Egyptian exhibit in the convention center they were occupying). They encountered Mr. Visionary outside, who confirmed the rumors about Harvey heading into the raider-controlled area. He successfully petitioned to join the group, so they continued onward with their new pal.

En route, the players encountered representatives of the Shi (cloaked in stealth suits, though the Initiate noticed their outlines). Their leader parlayed with the players, who traded for information about the dead Shi scout; she then offered 750 caps continue their fallen comrade's mission to recover a computer component from any nearby military base.They decide to investigate further, and that side quest essentially ended the game.

After asking around, they found someone at another settlement called The International who could boat them over to Federal Island, where a Coast Guard facility (a plot element I had already set up) was rumored to include military-level computer hardware. The players helped the guy acquire more lead to line his boat hull so it could be safe from the radioactive Bay water.

When they reached the Coast Guard facility, they fought their way in looking for the computer component, only to find that it was currently installed in a functioning, self-aware, PAM-style forecasting AI that was lonely, suffering from insufficient information, but still knew true things about the world’s evolution after the bombs dropped (PAM is a forecasting robot in Fallout 4 which uses probability algorithms to help the Railroad operate). 

They dropped everything and dug into this facility, resolving to defend and fortify, then start feeding the AI better info, inadvertently setting out on an independent Nukeland. Had to narrate the fight with the BBEG, but it was fun! I dubbed them the "Federal Island Forecasters."

I gave out Nuka Cola caps and stickers at the end!

What I had planned:
I had set up four possible outcomes for the fate of Nukeland:
  • Shi control - the small but technologically advanced Shi successfully unite Nukeland under their banner, providing nominal protection from other threats.
  • NCR control - the lower-tech but massivee New California Republic are able to move in and absorb Nukeland into the rest of their holdings in California, providing nominal protection from other threats.
  • Independence - much like the same outcome in Fallout: New Vegas, the players cleverly unite and strengthen the various factions of Nukeland against the Shi, the NCR, and any other threats.
  • Chaos - the raider elements of the Nukeland area manage to seize control of the area and turn it into their terrible fiefdom.
I gave each outcome an Influence Track with a number of boxes based on how easy each faction could make a bid for subduing or incorporating Nukeland. Easiest was the NCR, followed by the Shi, then Independent Nukeland, then Raider-controlled Nukeland. I also gave each outcome a set of guidelines for the types of missions and resources it would need to take Nukeland: wooing settlements, recovering tech, bullying settlements, taking out critical elements of a rival faction, completing this or that fetch quest. These would escalate organically.

The players would be given plot hooks into each of the major factions, which would offer missions that would strengthen that faction's position in Nukeland; eventually the players would woo various settlements and smaller factions to one side or another, and each of these places had their own bonuses or penalties to the influence they provided for each major faction, depending on how aligned they would be. 

The first faction to fill up its Influence Track would trigger the endgame and determine the outcome.

But I had time for NONE of that in a six-hour convention game.

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