Entropic Crusader

Home of sci-fi and fantasy author, Benjamin Matthews
Mining for Awe.

I suppose I should talk about Big Town and Little Lamplight now, huh? Big and Little because they have adults and children, ohoho, very good, Bethesda. Let’s start with Little Lamplight and the little bar studs who live there, shall we? Then we can move onto Big Town, which I honestly don’t consider to be all that bad, it merely needs a few tweaks and changes to bring it into line with a more logical world.

So… Little Lampblight. I hate this place so much, in so very many different ways. Irritating, bratty kids you can’t shoot because they’re immortal and have guns. A complete and total lack of any logic to the setting (eh, with caveats, will talk about the good points a bit later). And it’s a mandatory location thanks to the entrance to Vault 87 being there, so you can’t even bypass it or ignore the little barstools.

This is one of those locations that could conceivably work if we were talking no more than twenty years after the bombs. There’d likely still be plenty of refugee, homeless, destitute, and otherwise royally screwed up people from nearby areas not so directly devastated by the bombs. Plenty of orphans to supply Lamplight with fine, upstanding new members of their diminutive society.

The overall story of this place (largely discovered via holotapes and terminal entries) is that a group of kids were trapped in the caves with radiation outside after the bombs fell. They found an entrance to Vault 87 but couldn’t get inside. After banging on the doors for days, a voice yelled through telling them they were already dead.

Charmingly couth cavern.

This was a guy inside the vault thinking he was going insane and hearing voices, but his words basically turned the kids against adults in general and they formed their own community in the caverns. That’s good, I actually really like it as a story and as a nice background to this place. But two-hundred years, remember. New kids to keep their numbers up don’t just grow on trees!

There’s actually an interesting rumour that says Fallout 3 was originally slated to be set more like twenty years after the bombs, not two-hundred. And if you take a look around the wastes—the utter desolation, radiation everywhere, lack of infrastructure or civilisation, roving bands of raiders and gangs—it’s pretty easy to see that this might well be true. For there to be no civilisation after two-hundred years is absolutely insane, but twenty? That’s rather more reasonable. At that point you’re still in the ‘everything’s gone to shit’, survival of the fittest phase.

But then Bethesda couldn’t have had Super Mutants or the Brotherhood (in fact they could have with a little creativity, as I’ve shown already with Eighton… or they just go the Vault 76 route and retcon goddamn everything and shit all over the hard work of the actual artists behind the original games, grr. Update in April ‘24: I’m not even going to give the Amazon show the time of day, knowing what they did to the original lore), which I have to speculate is the primary reason the timeline was shunted forward. Easier to use what already exists than come up with something new.

Dunno about Sticky, seems more Salty to me.

Still, as the game is not set twenty years after the bombs, Little Lamplight simply does not work. First, food. They have some form of cave fungus in there. Okay. Assuming that eating nothing but that every day doesn’t drive them insane first, it’s not likely to keep them all fed and healthy by itself, regardless of how nutritious it might be.

They’d need some additional sources of decent food if they want to maintain a healthy community, especially if they’re regularly sending teams out into the wastes. They have a scav team mentioned in dialogue by several characters, but going by what Eclair tells you about their food situation, it seems like the scavs pick up junk rather than food. This leads to an incredible amount of dissonance when you consider the millions of unspoiled pre-war food items scattered literally everywhere.

Next, population. Where do they get new kids? They’re too young to feasibly maintain their own population, and even if they did, they kick you out at 16 anyway. Do they rove the wastes looking for children to kidnap? Or do they rely on randomly wandering kids in need of a home? Maybe they have a secret trade deal with the big settlements where they supply their magic fungi in exchange for unwanted kids? None of this makes any goddamn sense.

Finally, the Vault 87 Muties. Are you seriously trying to tell me that a simple wooden gate guarded by a single young girl with a sawed-off shotgun is going to keep out vastly more powerful hulking brutes with energy weapons and super sledges? Really?

And that’s not even factoring in Masters and Overlords, and the insane heat those fellas pack. A single tri-beam laser rifle would burn through that wooden barrier in seconds flat (hopefully burning Princess’s face off in the process… what is it with Bethesda and creating awful child characters?).

How about a shot of arsenic with a bleach chaser?

As far as fixing this place goes… I have two general ideas leaning in two wildly different directions. The first is a relatively simple one: the children here are all ghouls and have been there since the war. They took shelter here, radiation turned them into ghouls, over time some of them became feral. And because ghouls age so slowly, the kids here are still kids even after two centuries.

The player then has an unpleasant choice: leave them be, or end their suffering (via caving the place in or similar). This would tie into how well you can talk your way past them of course. While Vault 87 will be a thing for my version of the world (though likely not a Vault any more), it won’t be essential, so we don’t have to worry about the player needing to get through this place to reach a plot-critical location. That’s good.

Since people get up in arms over children being killable in games (specifically the likes of the ratings boards who give games age classifications; this was really important back in the day because publishers needed actual brick and mortar stores, and Steam was still very new at the time), we can’t reasonably do that, even if it would open a number of compelling and sobering choices for the player to explore. I’ll talk briefly about that, then move to what I’d actually do with them.

Maybe a few of the kids are still sane enough to be spoken to, allowing the player to convince them via speech to leave the caverns, taking the ferals along. There’s your speech / diplomacy / pacifist option for getting into the secret facility / Vault without having to kill the kids.

Alternatively you can just run and gun through the place and make your way to Murder Pass via an entirely appropriate trail of tiny ghoul corpses. Or an option to find another way in and avoid the kids altogether, creating a secondary pacifist route. Sneaky-sneaky would also work; simply slip past the ghouls unnoticed.

Since Bethesda did everything they could to prevent the player harming children, these options wouldn’t have flown, leading to me thinking it’d be best to exterminate this location entirely; it’s effectively the only way it could be handled if you want to give the player that level of freedom (I mentioned New Vegas only having two essential characters, but technically it’s more like a dozen if you include the immortal kids at places like Nellis).

Of course, ghoul children raises an interesting question you could explore in depth: are two-hundred year old children still children? When they’ve seen and experienced more than anyone else in the wastes, barring other ghouls? Good question, methinks. Something to explore in a novel, but it probably wouldn’t fly in a game like this due to the same issue of player agency and child murder.

‘Help’. Yes. Indeed. If by ‘help’ you mean ‘enslave’.

Know the really amusing thing? Bethesda does allow you to enslave children, arguably a fate worse than death. Got 8 minutes spare? Good, have a quick look-see at this Jimquisition video. I’ll wait (and yes, I realise it’s Jim fucking Sterling, but the content of the video is still good) . *tick* *tock* *tick* *tock* Watched it? Good.

Notice the parallels between what he talks about there and enslaving children here? Bethesda probably thought nothing of it when they allowed children to be enslaved—even by the player!—focusing instead on disallowing physical harm. But in actual fact this is considerably more awful than simply letting them be killed. Bravo, Bethesda, bravo.

Moving on, the more involved—and ratings board friendly—choice is to simply flesh the location out properly. This relies on the rest of the wasteland making more sense of course, with trade routes, caravans, and inter-settlement commerce taking place. So what does Little Lamplight have to offer? Cave fungus, primarily (and child slaves for the awful players, mwuahahahah… ahem, excuse me).

This stuff removes rads and is nutritious (albeit also disgusting) enough to trade for other supplies. Rads shouldn’t be so much of a problem in my version of the world, but it’s still a hazard and having a ready source of rad-removing fungus would be beneficial to various settlements, especially those who send people out to dangerous irradiated locations like certain sections of the DC ruins.

We could always trade fungus for human flesh? That wouldn’t be weird, right?

Beyond this, the kids really need to see about capturing some mole rats and other small animals for purposes of breeding. A steady and consistent supply of fresh meat would go a long way towards solving their food issues… even if mole rat meat tastes like ass. But hey, maybe one of the quests for the player could involve heading over to the Jury Street tunnels and obtaining the secret recipe for mole rat wonder meat.

See how easy it is to add in little quests that make the world feel more alive and consistent just by thinking for a few seconds? Suddenly the kids in this place have a ready source of good quality wonder meat they can both eat and use to trade for other goods (as long as they guard the secret to its creation), alongside the useful fungus. You could even have a basic quest where the player gathers Wonder Glue (the secret ingredient in the wonder meat) to give the kids in exchange for caps or whatever.

On the subject of trading for goods, there’s still no getting around the population problems for a community entirely made up of children, most of whom aren’t of any sort of reasonable child-bearing age. Bethesda’s designers seem to sit down and think up things they reckon will be cool, then compartmentalise everything so nothing connects or makes much sense in the context of the wider world.

Little Lamplight is a nice concept—especially if you find the holotape mentioned above that explains how this place got started—but it needs to be tied into the rest of the world in some form or fashion for it to work. The kids don’t like mungos, okay, but dealing with traders a couple of times a week is a better option than dying, yes?

My Kingdom for a working crapper.

I don’t want to crap on the location entirely without mentioning some of the good points, however, so let’s do that quickly now. There’s actually some good thought that went into the design of Little Lamplight itself. For example, there’s an actual toilet (including privacy screens) with some form of plumbing, which is more than can be said for anywhere else in the world. That’s a really nice touch.

It might seem odd to be praising something like this, but when you’re trying to present a coherent world to a player, where the world itself is part of the overall story and setting (remember what I said in the intro? The setting itself is a character!), these little details matter.

The caverns themselves are pretty nicely made, too. Lots of space, and a good amount of thought put into structures and walkways, making for an Ewok village kind of dealie. Though the Ewoks in this case are obnoxiously annoying kids rather than bloodthirsty furballs. Now that I think about it, there are a striking number of parallels there…

In fact, since this is a cavern and therefore has fungus… why not say that the kids actually grow and harvest some slightly more… shall we say, dodgy types of fungus? The type of thing that could be used for drugs, both illicit and medicinal? Every single settlement would be after anything that can anesthetise or otherwise kill pain, even if it has some, uh… side effects. Or perhaps because they have side effects.

MacCready unintentionally inspires Bethesda’s entire design philosophy from this point forward.

One final thing. Since MacCready goes out of his way to say that kids raised in Little Lamplight are better trained and more prepared for the world outside than sheltered kids who grow up pampered by adults, it’d be really nice to see some of them out around the wastes. Scavengers escorted by a couple of guards, hunters out looking for replacement mole rats in the event some of theirs die prematurely, hunter-killers out looking for slavers to put down.

Some indication that they’re an active force in the wasteland would be nice and would also liven the world up a great deal. But again, this gets into murky player agency waters; if they’re out there and can fight back, they shouldn’t be immortal.

And to finish, we might as well say that the weird idea I mentioned above is how they keep their numbers up; they simply have agreements with other settlements that unwanted kids are traded for useful goods in return, plus they actively go out of their way to rescue kids in bad situations like slavery. That solves the most glaring issue at least.

Well… I’ve just hita little over 2,400 words on Little Scamplight alone, so I’ll defer Big Town to the next part. And while you might reasonably assume I’ll be ripping the place to shreds… actually I don’t mind it a great deal, as I mentioned briefly before. It just needs some tweaking.

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