This is a really nice little location, I’m hugely fond of Old Olney. It’s just a shame it’s so utterly squandered. I think this place could have been a really nice settlement as it stands; reasonably easy to defend, lots of space both in the town itself and surrounding areas, and the sewers are ripe for… interesting ideas.
I like the architecture here as well, there are a bunch of buildings that remind me heavily of both Searchlight and Nipton in New Vegas, and the overall style suits me well (I’m kind of an Art Deco nerd). In-game, though… it’s basically just a Deathclaw haunt and serves no real purpose beyond that until you hit Broken Steel, and even that’s just a simple fetch quest. *sigh*
That said… let’s see if we can improve it, shall we? How about a crazy ass loony death cult? Cults – good, bad, and neutral – are a staple of the Fallout universe, they provide ample opportunity for conflict, and they’re an uncomfortable reality both in our own world and the fictional secondary world we temporarily inhabit while playing a game such as this.
Let’s say the player reaches Old Olney and enters with minimal fuss. A brief event of some sort transpires and pushes the player in the direction of the mayor’s office, where they meet the mayor of this nice-looking little town. At this point a mystery is introduced; people in the town are going missing. The mayor tasks you with finding out what’s going on, thinking that an outsider is less likely to be the culprit.
So now the player has an initial clue – say, the latest victim’s empty residence – as a starting point, and can begin working out what’s going on. While wandering around the town talking to people and picking up clues, other NPCs will mention random things that open up additional side quests, both tying into our main Dark Secret mystery quest and the overall faction/settlement quests for this location.
All good so far. Eventually the player finds their way down into the old sewer system via a series of clues, including scraps of fabric from an unusual garment no one in the town wears. Maybe the sewer grates have all been sealed or are overgrown, and people aren’t aware of their existence, necessitating a little investigative action on the part of the player.
In the sewers, we meet a weird cult. Note the operative word; meet. Not kill, at least not initially, unless that’s what the player wants to do. The cult won’t be hostile on sight, is what I’m saying. Upon chatting to their leader, the player discovers that these people believe in a perfect heaven, a paradise only available to those who have experienced the ‘perfect’ death.
This leads to the unpleasant reveal of a batch of young Deathclaws – the perfect hunter/killing machine – the cultists have been feeding the townspeople to in order to have them grow up healthy and strong… in order to kill the cultists in the most perfect fashion possible and secure their place in Heaven/Paradise/Nirvana/Whatever.
(Given Deathclaws probably shouldn’t even be a thing on the east coast, we could also introduce a new creature with a similarly deadly pedigree, making this potentially the player’s first experience with them. Basically our version of a Cazador, something new and horrendous that doesn’t rely on breaking existing lore to exist, and which will be way too deadly to actually kill for a low-level player.)
From this point forward the player has a few major possibilities and additional nuanced choices en-route to the main quest resolution.
Choice 1: Return to the mayor and inform them of the cultists and their plans. The mayor will ask you to personally kill them for a massive reputation boost with the Old Olney faction. Probably best for higher level players who can deal with the Deathclaw equivalents down there.
For a pacifist playstyle there’ll be speech options to have the mayor put together a militia to head – lynch mob style – into the sewers to take care of matters themselves, along with options to talk the cultists themselves out of their deluded ways. The pacifist options allow completion without the player having to directly dirty their hands either way.
Choice 2: Side with the cultists. This is effectively the evil route, and since a character of that type is likely to be aligned with slavers and similar, this quest can tie nicely into quests for other factions.
The Paradise Falls slavers give the player the Mesmetron and task them with capturing high value targets, for example. So why not give the Mesmetron a secondary purpose by having the player use it to Mes random NPCs to send to Old Olney’s sewers as Deathclaw Snacks™?
Eventually the Deathclaws will be mature enough to serve their purpose, at which point the player is tasked with unleashing them on the cultists to complete the quest. Note that this can lead to positive rep with Old Olney’s faction – if you don’t feed their people to the Deathclaws – as it would count as getting rid of the cultists (admittedly while leaving several fully-grown Deathclaws alive down there…)
This could also provide the player with an endgame point if they so desire, fully tying the quest into the roleplaying aspects of the game. If you decide to join the cult you’re given a new quest where you jury-rig an automated system to release the Deathclaws, thereby allowing you to join the other cultists in paradise.
Yeah, it’d be a game over – with a clear message to that effect and a save point to revert to for convenience – but it’s a game over with a clear and defined roleplay purpose, same as opting to join the Unity in Fallout 1, or siding with Eiljah in Dead Money. Assuming you don’t join them, you’d simply hit a button to open the pens and let the Deathclaws out, job done.
Choice 3: This is more aimed at nihilistic asshat character builds who simply love blowing shit up and causing mayhem, and who may well be aligned with a major raider/gang faction like the Dish Runners. This’d tie into what I’ve already mentioned about there being rewards for playing as a nihilistic character.
The nihil route would simply entail killing all the cultists prematurely by feeding them to the immature Deathclaws (thereby denying them their perfect death), followed by releasing the Deathclaws into Old Olney to kill everyone there. For this purpose, the town hall building would have an accessible bell tower so the player can enjoy the carnage from a nice vantage point.
Done. Old Olney is now a fully-functional community with a major questline for the player to follow and interact with, multiple routes to completion for a variety of character builds, and a couple of factions to join, trade with, or destroy. Plus probably a brand new and disturbingly nasty/horrible enemy introduced.
(Maybe some genetically modified/created monstrosity the cultists discovered in a nearby facility, potentially replacing Vault 92. More on this later.)
Additional ideas include making Olney a bit reclusive initially, they’re not part of the major caravan networks; the player could then be given new quests (from Canterbury Commons primarily) to establish trade routes and connections… and no, I don’t mean the shallow trade route system Fallout 4 uses.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Vault 87 or Little Lamplight and Big Town (much as I wish I could…), but they have so much wrong with them that they’re pretty much going to require a full post or two to themselves. Guess what’s next? Yep.