Revisiting the Wasteland, Part 2 – Starting Out

For pretty much anyone who grew up during the Cold War, the idea that the world could be wiped out on any given afternoon was not such a foreign one. Two superpowers – each armed to the teeth with enough nukes to turn the planet into a smoldering pile of radioactive slag – kept the world teetering on the edge of destruction. With this dark cloud hanging over society’s head, it’s no wonder post-apocalyptic imagery became so prevalent in popular culture at the time. From novels like On The Beach in the late 50s to movies like Mad Max in the late 70s and 80s, different views of the world after the bomb could be found everywhere.

Growing up as I did in the 80s, the immediate threat of sudden annihilation felt more distant than it did for those in the times of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it was there nonetheless. For me, seeing these tales of the post-apocalypse always held a strange fascination; what would things really be like? Would society fall apart completely? Would the survivors come together to rebuild a newer, better world? Would giant mutant spiders rise up and destroy us all? Part of it was fatalistic curiosity, but another part of it was the hope that maybe the end of the world would turn out to be an adventure after all. 

Wasteland was the first game I had encountered set in such a world. While the manual does not give a lot of backstory, it does establish that at some point in the year 1998, two weeks prior to the United States bringing an orbital defense station online, something wiped out all of the satellites in orbit of Earth. In a panic, the USSR and US sent all their missiles skyward. Somewhere in the American southwest, a team of Army Engineers, out fixing bridges in the desert, caught wind of the impending disaster and took over a brand new federal prison nearby. Turning the prisoners out into the desert to fend for themselves, they formed a relationship with nearby communities of survivors, eventually forming a system of law enforcers called the Desert Rangers.

The game itself picks up almost a century later, with the simple set up that the Rangers have been informed of “disturbances in the desert,” and that you have been dispatched to investigate them. The only guidance you have beyond that is to consider checking out Highpool, the Agricultural Center, and the Rail Nomads’ Camp to the west. There is no discussion of what these disturbances are, or any indication of what kind of information you should be looking for.

Like I said, a simple set-up.

The game starts you in Ranger HQ with a premade party of four rangers. Of course, any CRPG player worth their salt will immediately erase these premade characters and set about creating their own. For me – as my first real encounter with character creation beyond that of Quest for Glory – there was a lot to take in.

The first step in creating a character is determining their attributes. This is done by random diceroll, with eight different stats to be determined. An interesting note here is that the game will not only generate completely sub-par characters, but is also more than happy to let you play with them. With the random rolls, there is no threshold for playability; if you want to give it a go with six attributes under 10, have fun!

While high stats in every category are optimal, in Wasteland IQ plays a much larger role than the rest, as that is what determines the skillpoints available to your characters. As opposed to a class-based system like Dungeons & Dragons, Wasteland is a skill-based system that allows you to mix-and-match skills on a character to whatever ends you desire. Skills are tiered by the IQ required to possess them, and then by the number of skillpoints required to buy a level.  Smarter characters have access to higher-level skills, as well as the SP to buy them. Lower IQ characters may only be smart enough to figure out how to punch someone, and will only be able to take a few skills. With only a four-person party, and almost thirty skills available, you can see where having at least above-average IQ characters is vital.

Once you’ve rolled your stats, you select a few “aesthetic” choices for your characters; namely their name, gender, and nationality. None of these things has any effect on how they play (other than your gender, which as the manual kindly notes, determines which bathrooms you may enter).  With that out of the way, it’s on the real meat of the creation process: skill selection. Skills range from things like Brawling and Climbing at the low end of the IQ spectrum to Metallurgy and Cryptology at the high end of things. For a first time player, the array of skills available can seem a bit overwhelming, and quite often your first few character builds would turn out to be woefully built. Some skills, like Forgery, sound pretty cool when you first see them, but turn out to be almost useless in the game. Others, like Medic, are absolutely vital for at least one or two of your characters to have.

For this playthrough, I rolled up four new characters. First up is Eddard, who is slightly stronger and faster than average, with a slightly above-average intelligence. Next up is Tyrion, who is somewhat lacking in the strength department, but makes up for it with high IQ and Charisma. Thirdly we have Daenerys, who is pretty average on the physical front, but with a very high IQ. Finally, finishing things up, we have Drogo, who isn’t the brightest bloke in the world, but who has enough strength to beat even the toughest mutant into submission.

All characters start out with either a 9mm pistol or a .45 pistol, and then an identical set of regular equipment (canteen, rope, knife, etc).  With that, they are ready to make their way into the world.

Next time: Enforcing the Law the Wasteland Way!

Other Entries:

Other Entries:

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part I

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part II – Starting Out

Revisiting the Watsteland, Part III – Long Arm of the Law

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part IV – Hit the Books 

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part V – Fight the Future

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part VI – Breaking Up is Easy to Do

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part VII –  Two Roads Diverge…

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No Talking Back On This One!