Revisiting the Wasteland, Part 7 – Two Roads Diverge…

There is a certain art to playing the role of Dungeon Master in a tabletop role playing game. Sure, you can spend hours picking out the perfect creatures to man the gatehouse of the evil overlord’s castle, and you can design the most devious of traps and puzzles to thwart invading parties of adventurers, but there is one variable you have little control over: the players. All that beautiful work can be completely for naught if they decide that instead of busting through the front gates, they want to use that teleport spell they found to warp up to the roof and sneak in the back door.

Now, the less artful DM solves this problem by forcing the players to stick only to the path that they have laid out. This often involves an awful lot of heavy-handed hints and orders from NPC, and occasionally falls back to the DM simply saying “you can’t do that.” The more skilled DM, on the other hand, rolls with the punches. Sure, now the players won’t get to appreciate the brilliant battle planned out for the front gate, but now the players are possibly having even more fun using their stealth and skills to make their way through the twisting corridors of the palace, trying to stay out of trouble. By giving the players more flexibility to solve problems the way they want to, the DM is most likely letting everyone have a lot more fun than if he doggedly kept them on his single-minded path.

CRPGs, obviously, don’t have the flexibility of an actual DM to deal with whatever the player throws at them. Still, like a skilled DM, the best games offer the player a variety of options to make their way through certain portions of the game. This gives the player a chance to try their hand at a little creativity beyond fighting their way through everything, as well as a chance to play with all those skills they’ve so lovingly selected.

Wasteland, while still limited by the technology at the time, still manages to offer the player that sense of flexibility in many situations. While many of its contemporaries were still in the mindset of the Bad DM, the designers of Wasteland created a series of unique situations in the game in which the player could think a little outside of the box to deal with obstacles.

The first of these that the player encounters is in the town of Quartz, where we last left off. As the Rangers learned in the bar, the criminal genius known as Ugly John and his thugs had taken over the courthouse and were holding the Mayor and his family hostage. Everyone in town seems more or less nonplussed by this, but my Rangers are still ready to step up and save the day. First, though, is the matter of the room key just slipped to us by the lovely barmaid.

Heading out from Scott’s Bar, we make a brief stop at the Quartz general store to sell off all of the extra pistols and knives we have collected from clearing the streets of thugs. With the amassed cash, we buy two M19 Carbines for Eddard and Denaerys, as well as a Bullet Proof Shirt for Drogo. As our brawler, he’s most likely to be on the front lines taking the hits, and could use some extra armor. With the shopping out of the way, we poke around the center of town until we find the Stagecoach Inn.

The Stagecoach looks like it probably would’ve been a rat trap of a motel before the end of civilization, so all in all not much has changed for it since. The man at the front counter offers us a safe place to rest for the night, but we’ve got more important business to take care of. A slimy pool dominates the center of the motel courtyard, and this would be a good place to work on upping our swim skills if we were so inclined. Poking around, we find that every single room is locked. Feeling the itch of leaving no stone unturned, I have Eddard get to work picking the locks. Shockingly, it turns out that people don’t appreciate it when heavily armed men come busting into their hotel rooms, Rangers or not. After clearing out a few rooms of angry bums, and one with a mentally-unwell gentleman, I start to think that maybe, just maybe, this is why people seem pretty down on the Rangers as a whole. The slaughter is not fully without reward, as one bum gives us a crucial piece of information about a secret path into the courthouse. Deciding to refrain from further slaughter of people who’ve done nothing wrong but stay at a hotel with flimsy locks, we make our way over to room #18. Tyrion puts on his smoothest of smiles, and we open the door.

What we find inside was not what we were expecting. Instead of a sultry barmaid, we meet a young girl in a wheelchair. A young girl who is also pointing a gun at us. So much for Tyrion’s moves with the ladies.

After being asked to repeat what we told Ellen, we discover that this is Ellen’s daughter, Laurie. Laurie has been waiting for some Rangers to come and fix things up in town (at least someone is glad to see us) and has some information and supplies to help us out. She tells us that the hostages are on the 3rd floor of the courthouse, and there is a stair in the back of the building that will take us right to them. More importantly, she’s learned that the password is “MUERTE.” On the weapon front, she drops in front of us a pile of 9mm ammo, cash, grenades, and two Manglers (anti-tank weapons).

Now here we can already see some options laid out before us; instead of gunning through the front door, a little investigative work has turned up the secret gang password for us. What’s more, we also know about the secret path in housekeeping, giving us another option. Searching around the motel a little more, we bust into housekeeping and confront two angry maids (well, it wasn’t breaking into a room, so I figured it was ok…). Taking care of them, we push on towards a back hallway occupied by two drunken hobos. Bribing them out of the way with some Snake Squeezins (the drink of choice for bums across the wasteland), we find the hatch leading to an underground tunnel. The tunnel, in turn, takes us into the courthouse atrium.

From the atrium, we again have a couple of options. We can either smash through the glass and into the courthouse itself, likely triggering a fight right away. Or, we can use our climbing skills and scale the vines to the second or third floors, using a little more stealth to bypass most of the guards. We know the hostages are on the third floor, but we decide to split the difference and climb up to floor two. After dealing with a few guards in the hall, we bust our way into a heavily fortified door. Inside, we encounter a punk-looking fellow named Huey. On his arm we find tattooed a single number; this seems like it could be important information. Pushing into the room past him, we confront his two other identical brothers, Dewey and Louie. Taking them down, we find they each have a number on them as well, and we also find a poor, dead fellow tortured to death in a chair (It turns out that if we had been a little more stealthy, we could have subdued Huey and saved this fellow as a potential party member).

Making our way upstairs, we finish off a few more gang members, and find some intel indicating that Ugly’s headquarters are cleverly hidden across the street from the courthouse. Pushing forward into the holding cells, Eddard picks his way through to a prison cell holding the aforementioned Mayor Pedros. The Mayor thanks us for the help, but pleads that we must find his wife Felicia who is still being held captive by Ugly. At this point, we go into Encounter mode (despite the lack of enemies), and use the Hire command to add Mayor Pedros to our party. With the Mayor safely in tow, we sneak back over to the atrium and make our way out of the hidden tunnel and back to the motel.

Next Time: A Party Gets Better When There are Guests, and Ugly Plays Dirty

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