Underworld is the ghoul settlement in the centre of DC’s ruins founded in the old history museum. The usual supply problems are there; where do they get water, food, and supplies, which I’ll get to momentarily. But beyond that it’s a mostly okay location. The ghouls have a good reason to hide out there (racism, bigotry, Muties, Brotherhood) without being quite as in your face about it as the whole Roy Phillips questline.
We know that ghouls have the same biological processes as non-ghouls (though Beth is busy retconning this with that goddamn kid in the fridge quest, ffffffffffaaaggghrrr), meaning they need food, water, and sleep.
Sleep is no problem. Food and drink… not so much. On the plus side, they’re already immune to radiation so they can handle not only entering irradiated zones to scavenge, but also potentially eating foods that would be deadly to regular humans.
If we assume that DC’s ruins are overgrown but also pocketed with hugely irradiated zones, having the ghouls sending out raiding parties to retrieve things from these areas is reasonable. On the other hand, the chances of retrieving edible food – even from a ghoul’s point of view – is pretty low after this much time, so we really need a trade route of some sort.
And here we have the biggest problem with this location; there’s no one else around who can trade or supply the ghouls with essentials they can’t personally procure. Or rather, there wasn’t. Naturally this is less an issue now thanks to Rivet City having trade routes running through the old Metro tunnels.
As the world currently stands, the Brotherhood either ignores them or takes pot shots, though without any great enthusiasm. Super Mutants would probably kill them on sight, or at the very least ignore them to the point they’d all starve anyway. And Talon mercs/slavers – the only other people in this general region – are a bunch of dicks who’d treat the ghouls as target practice.
I have a solution for this, based on my own version of the world: Super Mutants. Yep, I know what I just said about them, but remember I mentioned in the last part that my own mutants would be overhauled?
I won’t exactly say they’ll be a good faction, because they’re very much looking out for themselves, but certainly they’ll be non-hostile and happy to trade and generally be civilised. Their quests and locations will therefore tie into the likes of Underworld as a secondary set of trade partners besides Rivet City.
Going on a tangent for a moment here, anyone who’s played the Broken Steel DLC will know that Bethesda shipped the game in a state where it effectively didn’t have its real ending, regardless of their statements on the matter. That aside, you’ll also know that this adds a new location; the White House Metro.
So here’s my alternate idea for the ghouls of Underworld: they’ll have made a settlement out of the private metro system under this location. Ghouls give precisely zero craps about radiation, so they’re safe from any and all radiation in the metro or up on the surface.
The metro system is spacious, has a multitude of robots up to Sentry Bot level the ghouls could reprogram for defence (or not, see below point about Margot), and the ferals down there would be about as problematic as the radiation. Which is to say, not at all.
As Winthrop in the above screenshot mentions, they scavenge for scrap metal and other things, so that’d be exactly identical even in a new location; the White House isn’t far from Underworld in any case, so it makes no functional difference. Trading with the Mutant faction and Rivet City would still happen, they’d still scavenge for scrap and other necessities, and they’d have a sealed and private location to call their own.
Furniture, especially beds, would’ve been an issue at first, but there are hundreds of relatively intact hotels, apartments, and other buildings to steal that type of furniture from. And since my own Mutants haven’t been in the Wasteland for long (will expand on this later, don’t worry), the ghouls wouldn’t have faced much real danger while dragging heavy furniture around the place.
Let’s talk briefly about the metro itself. It’s run by a computer named M.A.R.Go.T., abbreviated from Metro Authority Rapid Governmental Transport system. Fair dues, Bethesda, that’s a pretty snappy acronym. So how can we integrate Margot with the ghouls? Couple of potential ways.
I’ve mentioned cults before now, and a computer cult is a perfectly valid – if slightly generic – way we could take this; over the decades, the ghouls added to Margot, reprogrammed, fiddled, and made her into something close to an AI, at which point she’s effectively their caretaker and leader. Without Margot, the ghouls would be lost and directionless.
Alternatively, going by what already exists in Broken Steel, we can find out from Margot that there’s a lockdown in effect due to feral ghouls. So our Underworld guys and gals would have cleared the ferals, carefully moving them to another location, ending the lockdown, and then reprogramming Margot to simply serve as their protector, running the defences and robots, but with no real intelligence.
An interesting little quandary we could introduce here is a second ghoul faction and location based in the museum. The idea is this: the ghouls in Underworld have pretty much been there since the war, scraping by as best they could, sending out search and raiding parties to scout the area and find supplies, and accepting in refugees and survivors for several decades after the bombs.
But then other ghouls started showing up. Ghouls created long after the war, modern ghouls, upstarts from the new century and beyond… Millennighouls, if you will. The Underworld ghouls didn’t much like these upstarts and refused them entry, forcing them to look elsewhere.
Finding the abandoned metro system under the White House – still largely intact because of both the security systems and radiation – the new ghouls moved in here instead. This might cause problems with trade since they would no longer have easy access to Rivet City due to the location change, but there is a regular Metro station right outside the White House crater, so maybe we can use that.
Now let’s say most of the ghouls in Underworld were pretty regular folks, barely a scientist or programmer among them. Their raiding parties found the White House Metro once, got shredded instantly by the security systems, and never bothered again, leaving it vacant for the new ghouls.
Having brought together a diverse team of ghouls from surrounding regions, the Millennighouls had the knowhow to get past the security systems and into the metro itself, setting up shop.
With their technical knowhow, the ghouls find and reprogram Margot for protection, and bam! Two competing ghoul factions in a localised area, providing quests to the player, locations for barter and trade, and safe zones in the dangerous DC Ruins.
Since the two factions don’t really like each other much, we have a situation where we can explore bigotry in a rather different way; ghouls in this world often talk about humans hating them simply because they’re ghouls, but what about ghouls hating each other?
Bigotry is defined as “intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself”. That’s not the same as racism, which is technically what the humans such as Tenpenny’s crew engage in; hatred of ghouls simply by virtue of being ghouls. It’s nothing to do with their opinions. But ghouls against ghouls? Pre-war survivors versus Wasteland-born newbies? Oh yeah, there’s potential for some sparks there.
Meanwhile, the Mutants will happily trade with both factions, maybe even egging things along a bit here and there because the ghouls will likely hire them as guards and potentially even assassins.
The Mutants would make damn sure never to goad either settlement into outright war, but certainly there’s room for some conniving Muties to improve their own lot at the expense of the ghouls (as I said, not exactly ‘good guys’, merely not openly hostile).
So we now have two locations, one in the museum, and one under the ruined White House, each with their own ghoul population with different ideas and beliefs, potential for many quests – not only for the individuals of the locations, but either opening up diplomatic relations between the two, or even wiping one or both out – and a nice tie-in to the main questline.
On that subject, while I won’t even be touching the stupid water questline, having the player need to travel to Adams Airforce Base would still be a nice way to conclude things, so I’ll talk about that in depth later when I get to the subject of story and characters.
Rather than a simple dungeon-type location with a minor quest or two and nothing but feral ghouls and robots, the player will have to either; talk their way past the ghouls here; slaughter everyone including the segregated ferals; sneak into Margot’s room and reprogram her to kill the ghouls on the player’s behalf.
Talk the ghouls into siding with the player, resulting in a small strike team being assembled to help the player in the final battle (think Hoover Dam in New Vegas style); bribe one of the ghouls into letting them through into the restricted areas (to get to the metro tram and head to Adams); and probably other ideas beyond these.
By having the damn ending of the game be part of the game, we can do things like this, tying this location and its populace into the overall events and giving the player interesting and varied ways to complete the final quests, having to deal with a faction they may or may not even have met yet in ways that can involve not only shooting things in the head, but also diplomacy, stealth, pacifist builds, and more.
There are of course a few quests in Underworld as it currently exists, such as You’ve Gotta Shoot ‘em in the Head. Those can still exist, of course, but we could integrate them better. Crowley wants the T-51b from Fort Constantine? Okay, sure. But why just that? He’s a new ghoul (converted around 10 years ago) and was forced out of Rivet City as a result, so he’d end up at the Wight House.
He wants the power armour for himself and is bitter as hell, fair enough, but a location like that with a research lab under it would be a gold mine for tech savvy ghouls like these. Add in a quest or two for other ghouls who want things, or even want to come along and set up a research station there but are afraid to walk that distance through the hazardous wastes, and already you have potential for interesting outcomes.
And we have a private metro system! Sure, it’s technically in a state of disrepair, but who’s to say it can’t be fixed? We use it to reach Adams Airforce Base, after all. So why not add in other stations at strategic locations around the wastes? Hell, even under the aforementioned Fort Constantine, given its military importance.
You’re enlisted by the ghouls to head there with them and clear the station out of any potential hostiles. After their experience with the White House itself, they’re not naïve enough to think other places won’t be just as dangerous, so bringing in some heavy support from the player is a great idea, and this also ties nicely into one of my own locations I’ll be placing right across the way from Fort Constantine.
I could go on, but I think that’s plenty for now. We have two locations in conflict, two factions to interact with and accept quests from, a tie-in to the main questline involving multiple choices for the player to choose from, and a livelier DC Ruins as a result.
In the next part I’ll talk about the Vaults in the region, then the next couple of parts will cover one or two new settlements, and maybe a part or two covering the DLC locations, especially since I’ve gone out of my way to talk about the Pitt in relation to both Tenpenny and Canterbury already.