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Fallout 3: Tenpenny Tower

By Shamus
on Thursday Dec 18, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews


So a few people have complained that the quests in Fallout 3 are shallow or nonsensical. Other people really dig them. Two common responses are:

  1. The quests in Fallout 3 are stupid compared to the earlier Fallout games.
  2. The quests in Fallout 3 are so much better than in Oblivion.

Let’s look at one of these quests.

Allow me to set the stage:


Ghouls are humans that have been exposed to high levels of radiation, and their skin has taken on the texture of dried, sun-bleached fruit. The game continually alludes to the prejudice that ghouls are subjected to. Some people are ghoul-haters, and ghouls have a hard time making it in the world because they are so shunned by humans. The radio occasionally has public service announcements that “ghouls are people too”, which seems to be clear to everyone except the ghouls themselves. They call non-ghouls “humans” or “smoothskins”. It seems that if anyone is selling the notion that ghouls aren’t humans, it’s the ghouls themselves. I know if I lost an eye, I wouldn’t say, “What do you want, human?” to every two-eyed person who spoke to me.

Making things more complicated is the fact that some ghouls really are monsters. Some ghouls are feral, and attack non-ghouls on sight. The problem is that the game never explains what makes normal, human ghouls into feral ghouls. I don’t expect the game to take the time to clearly define ghoul physiology. In fact, it would be compelling if different people had different opinions on where feral ghouls come from and you just had to decide for yourself who was telling the truth. But the game never brings it up. You can’t ask anybody.

Look, if some guy refused to deal with an honest African-American because he was afraid the guy would suddenly transform into a drug-dealing gang-banger, then we would all agree that the guy was a prejudiced lunatic. But Fallout 3 seems to be trying to equate ghoul-hating with modern day racism, and it doesn’t fit. As presented, it’s entirely possible that normal ghouls could turn feral at some point. We don’t know. Furthermore, Ghouls have been bathed in radiation and apparently retain a pretty good charge. Reasonable humans will want to avoid living with them for that reason alone.

Tenpenny Tower

Tenpenny Tower is a high-rise building in the middle of the wasteland, and is the nicest place in the game. Everyone else in the game resents the residents of Tenpenny because they’re all “rich”.

But what does that mean? Nobody in this game produces anything. Unlike in previous Fallout games, there are no farmers who eke out a miserable existence from the scorched earth. You can travel the entire wasteland in the game and not see a single farm, or garden, or anything else. (They have some cows, but it’s not clear what the cows eat.) Everyone just meanders about all day. People go to the bar at the end of the day and spend their money on booze, but the game never explains where they get their money, where their food comes from, or what they do for a living. (Or where the booze comes from, given the shortage of stills and raw materials.)

What makes the people of Tennpenny Towers “rich”? Their nice clothes? Their clean building? In that case, it’s pretty hard to feel angry at them. The rich people aren’t benefiting from ill-gotten gains from raiding, or slaves, or from cheating others. They’re just doing well. They do just as much work as everyone else in the world. (Zero.)

One the other side of the map, there is nothing wrong with the supposedly not-rich Rivet City as a place to live. They just need to sweep the floor and give the place a fresh coat of paint. Nicer clothes are plentiful and cheap – way cheaper than the guns everyone is toting around – so it’s not clear why they don’t forgo a single night of booze and use the money to replace their rags with some decent clothing.

Again, fine – the game doesn’t have to explain the economy of the game world, and it would be fine to hand-wave the whole thing, except that the game then turns around and expects us to care about this silly class envy / class warfare nonsense, and expects us to hate those eeevil rich people of Tenpenny Towers for… what? Washing their clothes? Sweeping the floor?

It’s a classic pitfall of roleplaying worlds: Don’t introduce more depth than your setting can sustain.

The Quest

The game presents you with the following scenario:

Roy Phillips is a ghoul who wants to live in Tenpenny Towers. He’s got the money to pay for a place, but they won’t deal with him because they’re a bunch of ghoul-haters. Roy vows revenge and storms off.

Note that nobody else in the game can buy a place in Tenpenny, either. And if you kill Roy he doesn’t have any vast riches. So he’s really mad that they won’t sell him an apartment which isn’t for sale and which he doesn’t know about for money he doesn’t have.

When you go into Tenpenny Towers, you find they really do talk about ghouls as if all ghouls were feral ghouls. (Then again, perhaps Roy’s aggressive nature is evidence that he is starting to turn feral.) They really do sound like a bunch of bigots, although in the grand scheme of things they’re still nicer than a lot of the supposedly “nice” people in the wasteland that are always threatening to blow your head off over trivialities.

Worried about Roy and his threats, they commission you to kill him.

Roy lives in some subway tunnels near Tenpenny. He’s protected by an army of feral ghouls (it’s not clear how he controls them, if at all, but they recognize him as fellow ghoul and leave him alone.

He plans to storm Tenpenny, kill the residents, and take over. You have three choices:

  1. Help Roy take over Tenpenny by opening an underground access door from the inside, thus allowing him to circumvent the fortifications around the building. This is clearly wrong. Hating people simply for being rich isn’t any better than hating people for being ghouls. Aiding in the murder of an entire building full of civilians is flat-out wrong, even if they are jerks.
  2. Return to Tenpenny and (if you’ve got the speech skill and charisma) convince them to mend their ghoul-hating ways and let Roy in. This is clearly wrong. Ghoul-hatred aside, Roy is threatening to murder his way in. This is not someone you want as a neighbor. Who knows what demands he might make once inside? This might be an okay choice for a nice ghoul, but letting a brute like Roy into Tenpenny would not improve people’s perception of ghouls, and would probably do more harm than good for ghoul kind in the long run.
  3. Kill Roy and all his followers. I wasn’t happy about having to choose this one. It would be much better to talk some sense into this guy rather than just blow him away, but that game won’t let you even attempt it. However, assuming Roy is set on attacking and taking over Tenpenny, then this seems like the least of the three evils from which we can choose. Actually, the game should let you just kill Roy, and leave his (two) followers alone. They wouldn’t do anything violent on their own. But the quest is set to trigger on the death of all three, logic be damned.
  4. Okay, you could also just walk away and leave the quest unfinished, which is actually the most righteous of the choices offered. The problem here is that the most sensible courses of action simply aren’t available.

It should be noted that Roy’s hideout is actually not bad by wasteland standards. It’s clean and safe (for ghouls) and certainly better than the shacks of rusty corrugated metal that many people live in. Roy is actually pretty rich himself compared to a lot of people.

The one thing you can’t choose to do – and the thing which I think makes the most sense – is to talk Roy into some other course of action. He has a decent place to live, but it’s apparently not good enough for him, and he’s willing to murder people to get better. Roy is the problem here, and the solution should focus on him. The game would make much more sense if it also let you attempt one of the following:

  1. Help Roy realize that his current place is actually pretty good.
  2. Tell Roy about the ghoul city, where he would be welcomed and which is very nearly as nice as Tenpenny. (I think it even uses the same scenery components. They just need a few more lights and a broom if they want to match the splendor of Tenpenny.) This is the most obvious solution. Roy would get to live in a fancy place. He’d be welcomed. They probably wouldn’t even charge him, meaning he could spend his heaps of non-existent money on something else. But the game will never let you mention Ghoul City, even if you’ve been there yourself and have friends there.
  3. Convince Roy to use whatever might he was going to use to knock over Tenpenny, and instead knock over a raider-infested hellhole in the wasteland. Use his caps to clean the place up and run it however he likes. This would make the world a better place all around, cut down on the number of safe havens from which raiders can operate, establish another safe haven for ghouls, and show the “ghoul-haters” that ghouls can do good.

I chose to defend the misguided people of Tenpenny and take out Roy, which was an evil act in the eyes of the game. The guy on the radio – the conscience of the game – even called me a “scumbag” and said I “butchered” ghouls. Apparently killing a man contemplating mass murder made me a… racist?

This isn’t just a badly written quest. This is reprehensible. According to the moral compass offered by the in-game karma system (and, one assumes, the game designers) being a rich bigot (where “rich” is simply a label the game hangs on characters without context, and “bigot” is a charge that may or may not be fair, based on how dangerous regular ghouls are to people) is worse than mass murder and theft. The people of Tenpenny weren’t oppressing Roy by taking anything from him. They were just refusing to do business with him. And since he’s clearly a bloodthirsty madman, they kind of have a point.

This is not the only quest that presumes to help us understand deep concepts like “racism is bad”. Elsewhere in the game is a den of very polite Vampires – humans that drink human blood to survive. They balk at being called “cannibals”. (Right, you’re not simple cannibals, you’re wasteful cannibals.) They seek “understanding”, from the player, despite the fact that their survival depends on a steady supply of victims to keep them alive. Once again the right/wrong karma arrow points sideways, and it’s wrong to kill them, but right to convince a nearby village to supply them with blood in exchange for being left alone. I guess it’s okay to hold a village hostage and enslave them if you’re very polite and claim to be misunderstood.

I guess if you just want to run around and shoot things then these quests are serviceable enough. But too often they’re trying to tackle grownup concepts like racism and class envy in their playschool-deep gameworld, and the result is laughable.

Comments (167)

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  1. WysiWyg says:

    Actually, the vampire story did have a redeeming point. The deal was blood for protection, not from them but from raiders and the like.

    You could just tell them to leave the town alone, I assume they would.

  2. SimeSublime says:

    Spoiler Alert.

    What’s really interesting is if you let Roy in peacefully, he’ll kill Tenpenny at first, and then murder the rest of the non-ghoul populace – despite the fact that everybody else was getting along great. Even after he’s done all this, you still lose karma if you kill him.

  3. Nalano says:

    Since the primary economy is scavenging (and how do stores still have goods on the shelves 200 years after armageddon?), one wonders why slavery is even a problem: Who needs the extra labor for such a low-intensity task, especially considering it’s just an extra mouth to feed?

    Also, even if you take up the “good” routes – saving scavengers, defending townships, etc – you actually rack up a higher bodycount than if you actually took the “evil” routes. Raider and slaver settlements have dozens of people. Most “good” settlements other than Rivet City and Megaton have less than ten, usually less than five.

    Hell, you have an elementary school about 50 yards from the entrance to Megaton with a population the size of Megaton, and you wipe them out with narry a quest to commemorate the occasion. You’re the wasteland’s reaver.

  4. Varil says:

    Wow. You managed to point out the same two quests that managed to leave a bad taste in my mouth.


    I went for trying to convince the Tenpenny residents to let the Ghouls in. Mostly this was okay. There was an affable old hero type there that was on my side, several people who ranged from “Sure, why not” to “Eh, I don’t care.” And then a few people you had to either threaten or…actually that’s about it. You can’t get rid of them without actively being a jerk to them. They’re bigots, but they aren’t *doing* anything except being bigots.

    No matter, I figured, I didn’t like the guys and I’ll just do what I have to to get rid of em. So I tell them off, and tell Tenpenny the good news. Then I roll over to Roy and tell him. Then I head back to see how it works out. The first two ghouls are there, and being alright nonjerks about it, the residents are mostly content and…WHOA. What happened to Tenpenny? Roy killed him! That’s what. Over a “disagreement” apparently. Tenpenny, at this point, hadn’t done anything to me. He was a daft old man with a nice suit.

    So, I did the only thing any self-righteous Wasteland defender/avenger would do, and killed Roy. And lost karma. So I opted to reload, figuring that I’d just ditch the place and leave them to their maniac leader. I returned some time later, and there were only ghouls left. The ghouls had murdered each and every one of the humans. There were no real reasons mentioned. The affable old human hero? Gone without a trace. Why bother killing him? He likes ghouls! He’s famous, and it’s well known he used to travel with one! Aside from 2 or 3 people, everyone in the tower was happy to have the ghouls!


    The vampires were just annoying. But I’m not about to rant about them too.

    Edit : GAH. You guys are quick. And less verbose, apparently.

  5. Hotsauce says:

    Grammar nazi, checking in:
    prejudiced lunatic
    eke out a miserable existence

  6. JTA says:

    Mostly I really liked the game (although I’m coming from a position of having somehow missed Fallout 1 & 2, so I’m not well-placed to make comparisons).

    [SPOILER ALERT, although pretty much the same as above, by this point.]

    This was the one quest that I really hated. Roy was a louse of a character, but I chatted with a couple of the other ghouls he was hanging out with, and they did actually seem fairly nice people, so I thought I’d make use of all the persuasion points I’d been loading up on.

    I got everyone into the tower just fine, and got a decent XP payoff, and a fairly spiffy mask that made me look like one of the evil ferral ghouls so I could just wander past them (and stab ’em in the back on the way by – they’re slow to work out that the only ferral with massive armour & a shiny assault rifle doesn’t fit in, apparently).

    Off I went, nice and happily, and I found Herbert ‘Daring’ Dashwood’s old ghoul manservant’s body. Dashwood was a really nice old guy who’d retired to Tenpenny Tower, and I’d had a chat with him & he was the one character I felt genuinely fond of, having heard how cool he was on the radio, so I went back to Tenpenny to tell him.

    … All ghouls. Every person I’d spoken to before was dead, and I felt really cheated; there was no warning that was going to happen, the game just did a number on me behind me back.

    In the end I hunted down every ghoul in the tower and battered them to death with a plank of wood, which absolutely wrecked my karma (why?! I was killing murders, dammnit!), but it made me feel a little better…

    I don’t know if they were trying to be really clever and say “actually, everyone is kinda horrible,” but if they were then they really missed; it felt way too unfair to be cleverly philosophical, and I think that’s because there wasn’t any warning.

    I’m rambling, but that’s because I’m actually still really unhappy about the way the sods treated my character. Shutting up now.

  7. Viktor says:

    i object to your implication that there was anything wrong with the Oblivion quests. Yes, 95% of them were bunk. The other 5% were the Dark Brotherhood. They, as I’m sure you remember, were epic. [/rant]

  8. JohnW says:

    Get out of town, you richers!

  9. Jimborb says:

    And i took the horrifically violent route of placing a grenade in the pocket of Roy Phillips, Detonating the nuke in megaton, then killing every resident of tenpenny tower.

    At least i’ve got my robotic butler to keep me company and give me haircuts.

  10. Dys says:

    I never went back to Tenpenny after letting the ghouls in, that’s really messed up.

    The first time, however, before I even knew the option to help them get accepted into the tower existed, I went up to the penthouse, shot the old bastard in the head and threw him off the balcony.

    Why? He was sending Talons after me, I had proof, I foolishly thought offing him would prevent me being ambushed every damn time I left a subway in the DC ruins. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work that way.

    In my view, Tenpenny needed to die however you look at it. But a quest in which your only options are to kill a bunch of not evil people, or kill another bunch of not evil people… what?

  11. Isn says:

    Some (many) of your criticisms I would agree with, but occasionally I just don’t get what your difficulty is.

    So, some of the quests don’t have an obvious “right” or “wrong” choice – so what? The vampire quest is an obvious example. By *their* lights *they* are the ones who need to be “understood”. I don’t have problem with this at all. It’s a different world out there – kill or be killed seems to be the rule. In their case it’s kill or die of starvation. Not much of a choice – assuming they haven’t thought of the solution that makes everybody happy (which is one of the possible quest resolutions). It’s a reasonably well-done quest IMO – there are several outcomes, with no obvious right/wrong choices. Good. As it should be.

    Regarding the Tenpenny Towers situation – I must say I’ve played through twice now, and never really picked up the whole “rich people are gits” thing. The residents are described as “stuck-up” quite a lot, which is (mostly) fair. When I got in there I found myself projecting a little – becoming quite irritated by their “airs and graces”. I thought: what small-minded idiots they are, imagining that fine clothes and “keeping the right company” actually mean something when all around them the world is a feral wasteland – a situation that would be obvious to them if only they took a moment away from the contemplation of their own navels.

    Of course not a few of them want Roy dead. Note that the reason they give is not that he is a murderous cove, but that he is a ghoul, and ALL ghouls are evil, ugly, and generally not very nice neighbours. Sounds a lot like bigotry to me. Roy too is bigoted – just like the residents he doesn’t want a peaceful solution either. He thinks that the residents are all the same (which isn’t true).

    So I went for the “lets get them all moved in together”. I reckoned it was the perfect solution, after all they *deserve* each other. Another good quest I thought. Several possible outcomes and no obvious “right” or “wrong” paths. As it should be. Again.

    One last thing regarding the economy. It’s broken in many ways of course – why do food stalls trade in armour? What use is “Pre-war money” to anyone? It’s waaaay too easy to get rich by petty larceny, and waaaay too easy to nullify the bad karma that causes. High-value weapon drops are too frequent, especially mines & missiles.

    But … doesn’t this apply to everyone else as well? You ask how the residents got rich? Presumably the same way I did – by scavenging, trading, and thieving. Maybe even money-lending – just the sort of thing I’d expect the average Tenpenny resident to be engaged in – it doesn’t get their precious clothes dirty.

    • WJS says:

      The “difficulty” isn’t that there are several outcomes, neither right or wrong, but that the game does label one as “right” and one as “wrong” – and they have them the wrong way around!

  12. R.Colin says:

    A couple of points (and SPOILERS!)

    Apparently the entire food economy of the Capital Wasteland is built on the hydroponics in Rivet City (the only place in the game I’ve seen which actually does anything akin to farming). Either that or it’s all (mole) rats and (rad) roaches…

    From the wiki it’s apparent that this is another Kobayashi Maru – the ostensibly GOOD karma solution results in all the humans dying (as noted by other commenters). In subsequent playthroughs I just murdered the ghouls in creative ways knowing in my heart I did the right thing – Three Dog and karma notwithstanding. Or I simply avoided doing the quest at all, since not getting involved means everyone lives. Sometimes the winning move is not to play.

  13. mc says:

    Unfortunately it appears it’s increasingly popular to have justice be more about populist catchphrases than, you know…justice.

    Oh well.

    /me throws the free-market capitalism gangsign at Shamus.

  14. Deoxy says:

    So, some of the quests don't have an obvious “right” or “wrong” choice – so what?

    That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but that’s not the situation. With a “karma” system, you can tell right away if something is “right”, “wrong”, or neutral, according to the game. That’s what he is complaining about (and he’s right).

    Edit: response to mc: for some reason, the recent Presidential election comes to mind. Not going any farther than that (at least, not here).

  15. Shamus says:

    I think Deoxy and others have nailed it: The original Fallouts had moral ambiguity, but the Karma system wasn’t hanging over your head, passing judgment on every action. And they didn’t have a guy on the radio doing the same.

    And even here, it would be fine for there to be moral ambiguity (that would be super, actually) if the Karma arrow didn’t presume to know the “true” answer. (Thus removing the ambiguity.)

    I wouldn’t have taken offense with this if they just left the karma system out of this mission, and if 3 Dog kept his yap shut about it.

  16. Isn says:

    Mmm, fair point. Better to have these things more opaque. Better for immersion, better to avoid hand-holding, better all round.

    Mind you I quite like the “trial by DJ”. It’s not like we have to agree with him – rather like in the real world :).

  17. clouviere says:

    Not that this in any way makes up for a less than stellar portrayal of an economy, and if they take this MMO like they are planning they are going to need to have a real one, but there are some examples of economy in the game.

    The prime example that comes to mind is the Murluk farm in DC. A closed environment, raising, killing and processing into cakes. Sales, envy, enemies, farmed fresh murluk’s gone bad. On the service, yes, it was a tad shallow, should have had a little more depth (like the ice gangs and the clear nuka-cola). But you have to admit it had some potential and it shoes that someone was trying to eke (yeah, my grammar sucks too…)a living doing something constructive.

    To the point of the post, yes, this quest sucked. But mostly because it just didn’t sit well. It was just off. Shamus did a good job discussing the various reasons, but I can’t even say for sure that any one thing was to blame, it was just off.

    I wanted to kill Roy outside the gates. I wanted to kill everyone in side for the way they talked to me. And, well, second go around I did. First time I killed Roy in his bed. And sadly I lost Karma. But I guess I deserved it at the time cause I didn’t let him even tell me is plan, so in my mind he was just a ghoul in a metro service tunnel room and I was being asked to kill him so I could “prove” what a stand up guy I was. And I did.

    The second time, knowing the full situation, I led Roy and his merry bandits in, then after they had done their killing, I started doing mine. Now Tenpenny Tower is vacant, just like every well else I have been…a wasteland inside to match the outside.

    I would have loved Shamus’ option of talking Roy down or even leading him into DC so he could hook up with others like him…pissed off soon to be feral ghouls. That would have been a happy ending.


  18. Kovbasa says:

    The thing that bothered me most about the quest was not the unanswered questions about the economy (I didn’t think too hard about that part, I just rolled with it). It wasn’t the hypocrisy (for lack of a better term) of the ghouls wanting to be treated like people despite acting like psychopaths. It wasn’t the Karma hit for killing the ghouls. It wasn’t even the lack of a “good” resolution to the quest. the lack of any real resolution at all that bothered me.

    (Spoilers ahoy!)

    So my first run through I decided to try to make peace. I figured, (some of) the humans a bigoted, but they don’t deserve to die (except Tenpenny). The ghouls have had a hard “life” and are pissed off, but maybe if everybody calms down we’ll have a a mutually beneficial arrangement. Great. I convince everybody to let the ghouls stay (except for one girl who leaves), and ride off into the sunset, my work done.

    I come back later and the ghouls have slaughtered everybody. Disappointing, but I can live with it. What I can’t live with is the lack of any sort of resolution. You talk to Roy and the conversation (or lack thereof) consists of “Yup. I killed all the humans. Didn’t like them. Catch ya later”. There’s no real way to show your righteous indignation without opening fire on the non-hostile (to you) ghouls. It left me feeling very unresolved about the whole situation.

    Now I just go in and kill the ghouls straightaway.

  19. Avilan the Grey says:

    I am just about to do this quest for the first time, and I was planning to just kill the Ghouls (but now I want that mask, dammit!).

    However I heard somewhere that if you feel suspicious enough about Roy, the Good quest can have a Good ending: Negotiate them inside, then kill Roy (apparently you will have an opportunity to kill him alone (so I have heard). That way everyone but Roy lives.

    About Ghouls: They are not fully human anymore, the radiation has also given them a very long life (one looking like her early 60ies was at least 205 years old). They are also sterile, like the Super Mutants (Super Mutants never attacks Ghouls or the other way around btw). Judging from the Glowing Ones, too high radiation might cause Ghouls to go feral, slowly, despite them healing from radiation.

    About the “Vampires”: The good ending is a contract, not a hostage situation. The town pays the vampires, but they use their superior skill and weapons to defend the town. I find that a good-enough ending.
    (Another question is: What are they really? All of them apparently are having problems controlling their bloodlust, they sound almost like part-time feral Ghouls. Listen to what the kid describes after you bring him back to Arefu…

    Oh and about Tenpenny. Remember that he is the one that paid Burke to nuke Megaton. Gonna shoot him too, at some point…

  20. Strangeite says:

    While I have never played Fallout 3, I have spent 31 years of my life with the name Roy. Years of being called Ray, or altneratively Roy the Boy Toy, probably caused his psyche to collapse resulting in the Fascist-leaning Socialist Psychopathic Ghoul you find in the game.

  21. I hated this quest so much that I refused to get involved in it, which was the only sensible option I could think of.

    It’s one of the things that made me say that the game makes you feel like you’re either the only adult at a kid’s party or the only person who, somehow, hasn’t seen the joke.

  22. Kilmor says:

    @Avilan the Gey

    IIRC the wiki on this quest says that Tenpenny gets killed the second the quest is complete. IE, you deliver the good news to roy and magic happens and even if you kill roy right afterwards, he still somehow managed to kill ppl?

  23. Avilan the Grey says:

    #21 Kilmor:
    Well… Tenpenny needs to die anyway, so… :P

  24. Tycho says:

    Yeah It would seem Roy is pissed about Mr Tenpenny being a bigot and so he has a stubborn stance to get in there… I’m not sure it’s all that implausible as you say.

    Now if you were to rant about how bad dialog is… about how little one cares about anybody. Even your companions! They are 2 dimensional a-holes. Where’s their character development? Where’s their interesting backstory? Same goes for Amata, while she does get some backstory and development it all amounts to nothing in the end… and so on and so on… Oh oh and your goddam father not only is he voiced in a monotonous and heartfelt-lacking way, again there’s no bonding between the two of you. There’s no joyous reunion when you finally meet him it all “Oh hey… erm well I’m leaving for Rivet city see ya around” and, again, in a monotonous voice… Supermutants were downgraded to orcish brutes… raiders to reavers from ‘Firefly’… the main story was a mash-up of FO1 and FO2’s only it didn’t make sense and was short… Enclave didn’t make sense as well… well you get the idea And I didn’t mention anything about gameplay mechanics…

  25. Avilan the Grey says:

    #23 Tycho
    I have yet to find anything wrong with gameplay mechanics.
    Nor the enclave.

    As for the super mutants: They are not the same!!! It’s like comparing Abomination and Hulk and complain that they are not both exactly like Hulk. Similar mechanism, different subjects and test program.

  26. Terrible says:

    My city has graffiti that reads “Kill all Racists”

    I don’t know if it’s supposed to be ironic or not.

  27. Matt K says:

    This is the problems I’ve found in both Fallout 3 and Oblivion. The developers provide an issue where lets say there are 4 obvious solutions to the player but they tend to only provide 3 of them as in game solutions and the fourth is completely forgotten. This is one of the reasons I quit Oblivion so quickly. I got sick of going “but wait why couldn’t I just do X (which seems obvious enough)”.

  28. qrter says:

    I opted for the ghouls too and let them into Ten-Penny Tower (to coexist peacefully).

    I also went away and came back later to find the ghouls had killed everyone. And I loved it. The game made me feel something, basically. I did feel cheated and angry, but not by/at the game, by/at Roy and his ghouls. I don’t think the moral of this mission is any more ‘philosophical’ than ‘the downtrodden minority can consist of bad people too’.

    I don’t feel the game should’ve given me warning at all – I tried to make the best choice I could, but the odds were against me. In a world like Fallout 3‘s, that’s the best you can hope for, really.

    I was happy to take a karma hit for blowing Roys head off, in fact, there are soooo many places you can get a good karma hit, I stopped caring about karma long before I arrived at this mission.

  29. MechaCrash says:

    You can bring up that Ray’s subway tunnels are already a very secure location and not a bad place. His response is to the tune of “oh, I get it, so living in a hole is good enough, you bigot?” (He calls you a bigot constantly.) He probably saw himself in sort of a civil rights crusader way, in that he was not being given the same rights and treatment as everyone else, so it was time to stop asking and start demanding. Unfortunately, due to the whole “murderous asshole” thing (if he was already that way or constantly being crapped on turned him that way is something that never comes up), he misses the entire point of it and screws it all up too.

    I don’t think he’d take a suggestion of moving to Underworld very well, either, because he would immediately take it as being told “you’re a freak, you should live with the other freaks where we normal people don’t have to see your freakishness.” Then he’d call you a bigot again.

    As for the feralness, I don’t think ghouls can turn feral. I think that, when someone turns into a ghoul, either their mind and sanity remain intact and they’re a regular talking ghoul, or they go nuts during the change and are feral.

  30. Claire says:


    Racist isn’t a race, so it’s not really ironic… I mean, if the the absence of racism were pacifism, I could see what you were getting at… but, it’s not.

  31. Binks says:

    NOTE: I haven’t actually played any of the Fallout games, never got around to it. Still would like to offer my opinion, however. For that reason any spoilers are from other posts

    “but that he is a ghoul, and ALL ghouls are evil, ugly, and generally not very nice neighbours.” – JTA

    From what I’ve heard this is pretty much true. Doesn’t the ghoul start killing people if you let him in? Then wouldn’t that be the definition of a ‘not very nice neighbor’? I mean, would you invite someone who’s very likely to murder you into your town? Would you be okay with it because they’re ‘different’? Bigotry only applies when the person is not a monster who will kill you and your townmates given the choice. That’s the number 1 problem with moral stories in video games, 9 times out of 10 the person we’re supposed to feel sorry for because of the racism against them belongs to a race known for murdering people whenever they’re given the chance…not exactly a fair or good comparison to real life racism.

    I mean, can you really fault the residents of that town for not wanting to let in a ghoul who apparently murders them all given the chance (from what I’ve read)? I sure can’t, no matter how annoyingly stuck up they may be about it.

  32. Isn says:

    No – can’t fault them for not letting ROY in. But can fault them for not letting ANY ghouls in.

    See, it’s the generalisation that makes it bigoted.

  33. Claire says:

    “we're supposed to feel sorry for because of the racism against them belongs to a race known for murdering people whenever they're given the chance…not exactly a fair or good comparison to real life racism.”

    Well, in fairness, this is exactly the model real-life racism follows… it’s just that (in most cases), this is a ridiculously false belief. In fantasy worlds, though, we love our stark morality, so all orcs/ghouls/kobolds/whatever are evil is just acceptable. When we see Drizzt emerge from the Underdark to engage in general do-gooding, does it challenge our assumptions about the Drow? No. “He’s one of the good ones.” The category as a monolithic evil persists… This is due in part to narration bias.

    The problem with Fallout 3’s treatment of ghouls isn’t that they’re selling an implausible model of racism… it’s that they’ve attached moral good to the oppressed class and not the privileged class. Even the narrator tries to sell you on it. The only reason we don’t buy it is because our in-group selection mechanisms trigger for the robots living in the uncanny valley of Megaton, not for the melty-faced monsters in the sewers.

  34. LintMan says:

    First a bit about ghouls: I think they’re more than just people with a bad skin condition. I’m pretty sure they don’t die of old age anymore. The woman in Underworld remembers the bombs dropping during the war, 200 years earlier. And I don’t think they just randomly turn feral – I thought it was that when people become ghouls, some immediately become feral ones and others dont. I don’t think there’s much danger of a regular ghoul “snapping” and going all feral out of nowhere, and I don’t think the normal ones are radioactive. Also, the feral ghouls don’t attack regular ghouls, but regular ghouls don’t have any control over the feral ones.

    Interestingly, I found a way to beat this kobayashi maru and end up with (almost) everyone alive and happy in the tower:

    – I accepted the quest to kill Tenpenny from the ghoul in Underworld – “Gotta shoot ’em in the head” quest.
    – Talked to Tenpenny (left him alive), talked to Roy, and then convinced the residents to allow the ghouls (or convinced them to leave). I even talked to the ones Tenpenny didn’t list (like the doctor) and got them to be OK with it.
    – Once everyone was on board with it, went back to Tenpenny and got the OK. Went downstairs and talked to the Security guy and told him the ghouls were allowed in (I don’t think I had to kill him).
    – Then I immediately went back upstairs and offed Tenpenny.
    – Then off to Roy Phillips telling him they can move in.

    I returned to the tower a number of times afterwards, through the completion of the game, and the residents (both humans and ghouls) continued to live happily together. So the only person who dies is Tenpenny, who I was going to kill anyway.

    The quest is definitely odd, karma-wise, but I think Shamus’ take on Roy Phillips is a bit incorrect, which is partly why things seem so “off”: Shamus is assuming that Roy can’t pay and that there is no rooms available for the ghouls on the evidence that looting Roy bear little money, and the player can’t buy a room. But lots of the “rich” people carry little money, and the Tenpenny tower people never say there is no room, only they don’t want any “zombies”. Once you get Tenpenny’s OK, the ghouls move in and there’s no concerns about their ability to pay. The player not being able to buy one is probably because it’s reserved as a perk for the evil megaton bomb quest.

    So here’s my take on Roy:
    – He’s got the money, and he’s tried repeatedly to get in but has repeatedly been told “no zombies”.
    – Roy’s a thug and now he’s pissed. He starts making threats and the security guy starts looking for someone to kill all the neighboring ghouls.
    – That’s where you come in. You can kill one side or the other (I wonder if 3Dog denounces the act if you help the ghouls kill everyone in the Tower?), or try to do the good thing and ovecome the prejudice and unite both sides. Sorry, telling Roy he’s not allowed in because he’s a thug, not because he’s a ghoul, isn’t an option, but they can’t cover every possibility.
    – The twist, of course, is that in the “good” solution, usually all the humans end up dead (and the ghouls too after the player gets revenge and kills them). The moral? Maybe that sometimes it’s best to just mind your own business? Or that not every problem has a happy solution?

    Anyway, I think the quest could have been written/designed more clearly, and the karma is screwy, but overall, it’s not that bad and has some interesting points.

  35. Dave says:

    “Some ghouls are feral, and attack non-ghouls on sight. The problem is that the game never explains what makes normal, human ghouls into feral ghouls.”

    Yes it does. Non ferals have less radiation, but may degrade into feral ghouls over time as the radiation kills more brain cells. You see this process in the Dunwitch (sp?) building as the man on the hollow disks slowly turns into a ghoul then a feral ghoul (I assume Moira was not in megaton when it was nuked).

    “What makes the people of Tennpenny Towers “rich”?”

    They have a lot of caps. One of the residents, for example, is a folk hero who’s life was turned into a radio show. I’m sure he accumulated lots of caps during his adventures. Others are merchants who may have accumulated a lot of wealth before setting up shop in Tenpenny.

    “Note that nobody else in the game can buy a place in Tenpenny, either. And if you kill Roy he doesn't have any vast riches. So he's really mad that they won't sell him an apartment which isn't for sale and which he doesn't know about for money he doesn't have.”

    Maybe no one else has enough caps. I haven’t run into many people who do and they wouldn’t want to live there (e.g. Eulogy Jones). Maybe Roy doesn’t carry all his money in his pockets (the real problem is you being able to do so).

    “Nicer clothes are plentiful and cheap – way cheaper than the guns everyone is toting around – so it's not clear why they don't forgo a single night of booze and use the money to replace their rags with some decent clothing.”

    Valid point, but nitpicky.

    “The problem here is that the most sensible courses of action simply aren't available.”

    Only if you are roleplaying a good character. What’s wrong with a quest that primarily focuses on evil characters when so many others require you to do good deeds.

    “Once again the right/wrong karma arrow points sideways, and it's wrong to kill them, but right to convince a nearby village to supply them with blood in exchange for being left alone. I guess it's okay to hold a village hostage and enslave them if you're very polite and claim to be misunderstood.”

    Wow, a quest with no right or wrong answer. Just a practical one. Shame on the developers for trying to add some nuance.

  36. Nick C says:

    My biggest beef is with Tenpenny himself. If the bombs had fallen just 50 years ago, and he was just trying irrationally to hold onto his old lifestyle, that would make sense as far as the character is concerned. But he is likely to be about 70 or 80 years old, in a world where the bombs dropped 200 years ago. WHY is he living like a pompous ass with a british accent, when he was born roughly 120-130 years after the bombs fell? Was he raised that way by other pompous asses? What is he “rich” from? Is he from England? How did he get over to the states then…and why? All that bothers me.

  37. MintSkittle says:

    Yeah, I never did this quest, cause when I wandered over to Tenpenny Tower and saw Roy arguing with the gate guard, I just HAD to slip him a grenade like in the video demo:


    So I couldn’t do the “right” thing and help the ghouls, and I didn’t want to kill them, so I just left the rest alone.

    One thing that bothers me about the vampire quest is how can four people provide enough blood for twice their number?

  38. Nick C says:

    To MintSkittle:

    In the Arefu quest, i believe they are bargaining for blood packs, not to actually drink the blood of the residents…that would make no sense. I’m guessing it’s the job of one or two residents to “find” blood packs for the ‘vampires” who in turn protect Arefu.

  39. Shamus says:

    Dave: It’s not nuanced at all. The game hits you over the head with the “right” answer, which is “kill the rich snobs and let the thug have the place.” It’s the only ending which doesn’t give you a karma hit.

    Like I said above, this quest wouldn’t be so abominable if the Karma system didn’t penalize you for trying to PRESERVE life.

    Also: When I asked “what makes the people of Tenpenny “rich”, yes, of course they supposedly have more caps.

    But, there needs to be a reason. Setting up shops where they sell stuff to each other (they don’t let in many outsiders) makes no sense. Moreover, what good is having lots of caps? What would they buy? Nobody produces anything.

  40. Tycho says:

    Also, if Capital Wasteland BOS kills all ghouls (refer to Underworld ghouls)… and CW BOS is, like, the new knights errant of the wasteland making it right for everyone, I would suppose you killin’ sum’ ghouls (like Roy an’ his little gang) shouldn’t have to affect your karma…

  41. qrter says:

    The karma system is screwy and seems out of place in a game that should be all about ambiguity and the ‘folly of man’, if you will.

  42. Dave says:

    Shamus: My nuanced comment was regarding blood ties. You need to find a practical solution for both groups not a heroicly good one.

    My comment on Tenpenny was that this was a quest for mostly evil or neutral characters as so many others are for good characters. I agree the karma hit is messed up though.

  43. Nick C says:

    For the sake of suspension of disbelief, I just think of the Karma system as reference to how the gameworld’s inhabitants look at you, not the Buddhist concept of Karma: global right or wrong.

    If I kill a whole bunch of ghouls, regardless of the reason, it make sense that the gameworld’s inhabitants would see me as a bad person, because they weren’t there to see what really went down.

    On the other hand…if they weren’t there to see what went down, how the hell does 3-dog know about it?

  44. Shamus says:

    Dave: And the Karma hit is pretty much what I find so objectionable. I agree with you that there should be a good supply of interesting quests for evil characters. (I know FO1 had plenty clearly evil quests.) I haven’t tried the evil path yet in FO3. (Aside from nuking Megaton to see the fireworks.)

  45. Sigma says:

    1st: I think Ghouls become Feral if the radiation affects their brains.
    2nd: I know a women (Grandma Sparkles) who’s sons go hunting Mirelurks.
    3rd: Roy does actually murder all the non-ghouls after 2 weeks if you let him in.

  46. Dave says:

    **Spoilers Below**

    Let me also say that while I am defending this quest (I liked the fact that there is no right answer and that sometimes things go bad no matter what you do) and liked the game very much in general, I did have several problems with the game. The game is very good, but it could have been incredible, but it isn’t.

    1.The main quest is horribly boring once you reach rivet city (the beginning up until then was very good). And the ending…ugg…don’t even get me started (you don’t even participate in the final battle). You should analyze this quest step by step.

    2.The writing in general is just lazy. Nuking Megaton is such a huge consequence that you should need to do a huge quest (getting the detonator parts perhaps) instead of just taking some mentats to raise your skill and presto you can arm the bomb and blow up Megaton. Same for disarming the bomb.

    3. Good and evil karma have no consequences at all except which companions you can get and a scolding from your dad.

    4. Speech should open up more options not make you skip lots of fun parts of the game. Also, dialog options based on stats have no consequence.

    5. There are way too many large areas with no quests attached to them and are just dengeon crawls (e.g. For Bannister, Durnwich Building, LOB enterprises, etc..).

    6. There is no reason to make choice between stats and skills because they are all easy to raise with books, perks, bobbleheads (shouldn’t bobbleheads be explained as some kind of cybernetic implant or something).

    7. Some perks are powerful and some add flavor, but half are just a waste. No negative consequences for any of them either.

    8. Walking into the Superduper Mart at lvl 3 with a 10mm pistol was scary and thrilling. One shotting every enemy with my plasma rifle/Lincoln Repeater at lvl 12 not so much

    I really liked the game as a wasteland survival/exploring game with some RPG elements. If they had taken the time to polish the RPG elements it would have been a great game–maybe even one of the best games I have ever played.

  47. MintSkittle says:

    @ Nick C

    Yes, the deal is for bloodpacks, but where do they come from? If they want to provide a constant supply for their new bloodthirsty friends, they’ll need to make their own, since none of them are wandering the wastes searching for medkits which may or may not have a bloodpack.

  48. LintMan says:

    Shamus wrote: “Dave: It's not nuanced at all. The game hits you over the head with the “right” answer, which is “kill the rich snobs and let the thug have the place.” It's the only ending which doesn't give you a karma hit.”

    This is not true: from what I’ve heard, you get a massive karma hit if you open the door and let the ghouls in to kill everyone and take over. The game certainly doesn’t treat that as the “right answer”.

    Or are you talking about the solution of getting Tenpenny to agree to let them in? That solution doesn’t require killing anyone, so I really wouldn’t call that “kill the rich snobs and let the thug have the place”. Now, the *end result* is that the rich snobs usually get killed, but you don’t know that’s what’s going to happen. It’s a good intention leading to a bad result (and karma is all about intentions).

    And if you predicted the bad result, well, sometimes, the only winning move is not to play, Dr. Falken. Killing ALL the ghouls in the train station certainly isn’t a superior moral solution to *not* helping either side kill the other. You acted as a paid killer to wipe them out and then 3Dog called you out for it. You may have had other motivations, but those are the basic facts the game is reacting to.

  49. Hal says:

    Here’s the question to me: What are the technological limitations to adding complexity to quests like this?

    I know CRPGs don’t have room for infinite creativity, so at some point the developers have to define the number of solutions to a puzzle. Here you’ve listed three: Kill Roy, let Roy in, convince others to let Roy in. At what point does it tax the game to have more solutions than that? And what number of solutions to these situations would be the right number?

  50. mos says:

    They explain feral ghouls as ghouls who couldn’t take the change in their appearance, and snapped. Since they live a really long time, they end up going really batshit insane.

    It was either on the radio or through a dialog that I learned that. I’m pretty sure it was Three Dog.

  51. Shamus says:

    Hal: No real technological barriers, it just takes time. Of course, as the number of decisions increases, and the number of points at which decisions can be made increases, it becomes much, much more complex. Pretty soon the challenge becomes not scripting the scenario, by testing all the possible permutations and making sure they all make sense and work as expected.

    Here is a quest in Oblivion that offers a huge number of choices. (I don’t even list them all, some are pointed out in the comments.)


    It can get out of control quickly, and you can find broken quests all over.

  52. illiterate says:

    Shamus(or others),

    If you were presenting this scenario to players in a pen and paper rpg, would you have wanted to tweak the setup? Leave out economy. Assume the tenpenny bastards have robots that make stuff for them, they sell finished goods to distributors in other cities, and buy raw materials.. they do it via intermediaries to keep their hands clean. Or some other working situation.

    If you were presented with this scenario by your GM, how would you have approached it. Assume the freedom provided by live RPG rather than scripted computer responses.

    [edit] i suppose Shamus already answered part 2[/edit]

  53. Shamus says:

    illiterate: I would have tried to talk him down, first by explaining how well-off he is, then by telling him about ghoul city, then suggesting that he find elsewhere to live.

    If he was set on moving in and was determined to kill in order to do so, I would have tried to get him to state it plainly.

    So, you’re saying you have no choice but to go in there and wipe those people out?

    If he said yes, then it would be time to fight.

    (Or time to slink off and look for a chance to get the drop on him. I’m not LAWFUL good by nature. :)

  54. Joe says:

    With as many as I bring them, they all come from me, apparantly. Also, they probably reuse the bags for the blood packs and refill them from the residents of Arefu.

    #8 I completely agree. In the beginning of the game I was always running low on ammo, armor, food, water. It seemed like the game was really post apocalyptic. As soon as I got to level 10, suddenly I was the richest man in the world and nothing was a challenge. Supermutants stopped being scary, and their behemoths were just an excuse to use the missile launcher.

    Comparatively, this is actually one of the stronger quests to do in FO3. When I finally got around to it, I discovered that I couldn’t complete the “good” ending. I’d stolen some woman’s cash from her safe and she left the tower! (Though her body did show up later after the ghouls had murdered everyone.) So I let the ghouls in, they killed everyone, I killed them, got my gamer score points and reloaded the game. And I never looked back. It was fun, and to me has the same feel that blowing up Megaton had. I wasn’t sure if I was doing right or wrong. When I first got to Megaton, everyone treated me like dirt. I *wanted* to send them to kingdom come. But then Burke was a jerk to me and I ratted him out. He murdered the sheriff, I murdered Burke. Just because you take Karma hits or get Karma bonuses shouldn’t invalidate the value of the quests (even as shakily written as they are in FO3). Moral ambiguity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Morals are morals. Right and wrong are always right and wrong even when there is no clear right choice. I liked the quest, even though the reasons I like it are probably not intended or designed.

  55. Nalano says:

    More than the misplaced moralism in a survivalist game or the fact the “bad” people by far outnumber the “good” people is the fact that all the “good” characters act, if not borderline psychotic, then Lawful Stupid. You know, the kind of people who would not last a month out in the wastes, let alone two centuries.

    Spoiler alert.

    Your dad? Runs crosscountry in a jumpsuit with a revolver. Can’t fight mutants (He tells you so.) Walks with unarmed scientists in labcoats to a place infested with mutants and waits for you to clear them out. Doesn’t hire guards. Doesn’t even consider the fact that he’s walking through a freakin’ warzone.

    The Brotherhood of Steel? Wastes all their resources and personnel defending the minority of the population from the majority, such that they can’t even maintain communication with their patrols or, for that matter, send out patrols. They fall behind the arms race, despite their primary goal of acquiring technology, and end up being particularly ineffective at everything until the penultimate Deus Ex Machina… literally.

    Arefu’s means for sustenance and economy ceased to exist after all their cattle were killed. Bigtown has no reason to exist, as all they do is farm dust and complain. Girdershade? Raider food. Temple of the Union is supported by exactly one brahmin, just like Megaton is supported by exactly one brahmin. I can’t remember if the Republic of Dave even has the brahmin. I think Underworld’s denizens diets consist solely of Jet and vodka. Rivet City’s hydroponics have made exactly three carrots and two potatoes – their canteen still sells scrounged roadkill.

    Every good settlement has at most two people on guard out front. Raiders, by comparison, don’t need hideouts: They can take out everybody else by simple knock-on-the-door brute force.

    I could go on.

  56. MintSkittle says:

    Now @ Joe

    Yes, again, you can also sell them bloodpacks from your own stash, but supposing you never do (get the perk to drink the packs for +20 hp), and that they refill used bags, there are still only four people to give blood for twice their number of drinkers. They would be bled dry in very short order.

  57. Dave says:

    Nalano: I agree that world inconsistency breaks immersion in the world, but I can almost excuse it (other than the wimpy BOS) because I can try to “suspend my disbelief”. Just as I do in many movies I love (e.g. Dark Knight). What I can’t excuse are things that flatly make the game less fun as I described in my previous post.

  58. Nalano says:


    I don’t watch most blockbuster movies (with the possible exception of Dark Knight) because the fridge logic absolutely kills me. (e.g. Wanted. Did anybody watch that for anything other than the naked backside of Angelina Jolie?)

    But you know why I suspended my disbelief and honestly enjoyed the Dark Knight? Because the Joker was a compelling character. Things like that make up for a lot. Sadly, I fail to see any such here. No, not even affably stupid Moira.


    And they can’t buy bloodpacks from scavengers because they have nothing to offer. Rancid brahmin meat might last a little while… if they knew how to store meat. They kinda just leave those brahmin as Yao Guai bait.

  59. Zaghadka says:

    I believe what you are complaining about here is “liberal bias” in the entertainment media. There is no helping that.

    Reminds me a lot of KotOR. I had real problems with getting darkside points for doing things that I felt were ethical and good in that game, too. It held morality to Kindergarten standards. And all characters were one dimensional, cardboard cut outs, not evolving people. I felt like I was playing in the ethical equivalent of the “Barney” show.

    You see, even well written games, which KotOR undoubtably was, have this kind of bias going on. You aren’t complaining about the writing, you’re complaining about the illogical, unreflective prejudices of the writers of Fallout 3.

    “Rich” people are evil simply because they are labeled “rich.” That should be enough. If it isn’t, then you have some understanding of the human condition and should stop playing games and do something useful! ;)

  60. Dave says:

    Nalano: For me the compelling character in FO3 was the wasteland itself. I had a great time surviving and exploring especially before I became the richest most powerful man in the world.

  61. MintSkittle says:

    @ Nalano

    I don’t think the dead brahmin have anything left to offer when you first get to Arefu. If you look at Vance’s compy, the brahmin were already slaughtered for sustenance, and they refuse to actually eat the meat. It’s part of their five laws.

  62. Nalano says:

    Zag, “liberal bias” is itself a misleading stereotype. It’s just as cloying to liberals this Paint-by-Numbers moralism as it is everybody else.

    Dave, a setting is a setting. It must then be populated. Mad Max is a work where the setting is stark and the characters bright and colorful. The characters here are sorely lacking. Where’s Tina Fey, damnit?

  63. Tim Skirvin says:

    You haven’t spotted the farms? I found several.

  64. Nalano says:

    Argh. I meant Tina Turner.

    I found no farms. I saw a couple small fenced brahmin pastures, but they tended to last an average of 12 seconds before being eaten by radscorpions.

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