Not knowing exactly where to go next, I decided to take stock of my options and explore the outdoor map. I was surprised to find it so small: only 62 x 62 squares. Beyond them is a message that you're facing "miles and miles of endless wasteland," which is game's not-so-subtle way of not allowing you trek all the way to Seattle.
I found only six towns, caves, and keeps that I hadn't already explored: a mine shaft, Savage Village, Needles, Las Vegas, Darwin Village, and the Guardian's Citadel. Darwin Village, on the east side of the map, is surrounded by radioactive ground. I was puzzled at first because I wasn't seeing the little "radioactive" symbols on the ground, but my Geiger Counter was going nuts. It turns out you can only see them at night.
A river flows through the middle of the map, ending in a lake at the south-central portion. Entering the river at any point means taking loads of damage as you're carried helplessly downstream before (randomly, it seems), you finally wade into some shallows.
The map isn't a terrible approximation of the American southwest. Based on the one reference point that I know--Las Vegas--the dangerous river seems to pretty much follow the path of the Colorado River, though ignoring Lake Mead (Hoover Dam was presumably destroyed). The lake corresponds with Lake Mohave on the Arizona/Nevada border. None of the cities make sense, though. Needles, Quartz, and Darwin Village all exist in places where there's absolutely nothing but desert now. And, of course, as you fall into the river in the game, it doesn't bother to mention that you've climbed down to the base of the Grand Canyon. The mountains don't quite match up, either.
Oddly, the manual indicates that Ranger Central is at the "California-Arizona border," which would be off by a few hundred miles.
The first new place I checked out was the mine shaft south of Quartz. There were a lot of combats there, a few dead miners, but not much else. A few places where the corridor ended and the game told me there were pick marks in the wall. This seemed to be some kind of clue, but nothing I tried--perception, the pick axe--had any effect.
Next, I checked out the Guardian's Citadel. I apparently tried that too soon. My party was wiped out by homicidal nuns and I had to reload.
By this time, some commenter with a ridiculous alphanumeric name gave me a hint about Head Crusher. I returned to him and, in the spirit of the comment, sat down across from him. Still nothing. After screwing around with different options, I finally got him to talk to me by using the visa card on myself, which makes no sense but whatever. He told me to use the Password CATERPILLAR at "Atchison's tent."
Returning to the Rail Nomads' camp, I talked to the hobo again. For every bottle of liquor I gave him, he gave me a cryptic hint:
- "Beware the man who has lived longer than the wasteland."
- "Those who guard the past guard the secret to immortality."
- "Trust the one born beneath the battlefield."
- "Man before wife, save a life."
- "A body is only a box to keep your mind in."
- "A steel storm threatens the City of Cold."
- "To the mother who speaks riddles comes a child of promise. Aid her and aid justice."
- "One man's dream is another's nightmare, but a machine's dream is everyone's nightmare."
- "Twins born by the same hands are twins no more. Wake the sleeper to cure the sick."
- "Destroy the wombs and destroy the threat."
Then he passed out and said no more. I couldn't find any relevance to quests I've already solved, except maybe the mother/daughter one, which might refer to Ellen and Laurie.
Head Crusher had told me to go to the "Atchison" tent. There are three tends in the Rail Nomads' camp, and I reasoned that the Atchison was probably the first one (the other two likely being the Topeka and the Santa Fe). I was correct. For my trouble, the headman of the clan gave me a shovel and told me to dig at a particular spot. I did and found a reasonably good cache of treasure, including 4 grenades. I really have to start using those. Then, a bunch of rail thieves jumped out and attacked me.
Based on Samtam90's comment yesterday, I returned to Quartz, searched Ugly John's hideout more thoroughly and found a trap door I had missed before. Beneath it was a dungeon with Ace, who joined my party after I dumped Dan Citrine. Ace indicated there was some kind of war going on in Las Vegas and wanted to recruit me to assist.
Ace is skilled with rifles, so finally I can get rid of some of those 7.62mm clips that have been piling up. I bought him an M19 carbine and loaded him up with ammo. I should also mention that I broke my melee-only vow so that Stetson could try out an Uzi (which uses 9mm ammo--also in plentiful supply) I admit it's been working fairly well, so I guess I'll have him hold on to it. My other two NPCs are using handguns but I think I'll keep my other three PCs with axes for now.
I guess my next stop is Vegas. I might finally get to use my "gambling" skill there, though money hasn't exactly been in short supply yet. I have over $5000. As I left Quartz with Ace, he "fixed the jeep" and we rocketed to Vegas, only to have the car break down when we got there. A mechanic told me he could fix it if I got a new engine. I left the mechanic's shop and soon found that an engine for a jeep was the least of my problems.