The Road to Hell
Hell on Earth Overview
The Road Less Travelled By…
To trace back where the Deadlands universe diverges from our own, we have to travel back a few hundred years to the American Civil War, around 1868 or so. The “Great Quake” in California happened – shattering most of the Californian coast, flooding large portions of it and turning the rest into a network of canyons that would come to be called The Maze. As if a giant earthquake wasn’t enough, a new mineral was discovered in freshly revealed veins – a mineral that came to be called “Ghost Rock” for the translucent white streaks going through it and the fact it made a sound when burned that sounded vaguely like the screams of the damned.
Ghost Rock was the real thing that set the Deadlands universe apart from ours. It burned like coal, but hotter and longer and was a very useful(and much fought over) energy source. It enabled advances in science that were difficult to replicate but often many years ahead of the normal – “Mad Scientists” pushed the envelope of what was possible using Ghost Rock. Ghost Rock became a valued commodity for both sides in the civil war – both the USA and the CSA invested considerable resources into acquiring it. All of this led to the civil war lengthening and eventually stalemating – instead of one powerful and unified United States of America at the end of the 19th century, there were the two major nations of the USA and the CSA. This division enabled a couple of other smaller power players to emerge as well – the Mormon state of Deseret and the Sioux Nations both managed to seize and hold their independence without a strong federal government to stop them. The City of Lost Angels(formerly Los Angeles) became a major religious center, much like Vatican City. Canada and Mexico both were larger power players on the continent than they would be in our world.Unbeknownest to most, at the same time the supernatural become more prevalent in the world. Evil spirits and the walking dead began to occasionally crop up, though they were usually quickly banished by the Secret Service(in the North) or the Texas Rangers(in the South). Some men and women appeared who could harness supernatural powers of their own, though they kept it quiet. The West was becoming weirder and weirder, though most Back East persisted in believing in a sane, rational world. Most of the 20th century passed more or less as it did in our world, though the presence of two Americas instead of one often changed the outward shape of things, especially since there was always tension between the USA and CSA. Things were a little bit weirder in general – the military made secret use of the inventions of mad science, and worked on secret projects to refine and control the magical powers some people were capable of accessing. But for the most part, this was kept out of the public eye, and your average person on the street believed in the supernatural no more than someone in our world.
The Last War
The seeds of the apocalypse began to sprout in 2044, with the creation of “the Tunnel” by the mad genius Darius Hellstromme of Hellstromme Industries. The Tunnel was a gateway in space that led to a system folks called Faraway, and first enabled contact outside the solar system. Transport to and from Faraway was very expensive, and it probably wouldn’t have become as big a deal as it did if it weren’t for the fact that Ghost Rock was discovered on the planet Banshee in Faraway. Of course, Banshee had some native life and some blood had to be spilled to get at it, but the nations of earth were more than willing to do it, even as the Faraway War took up more and more resources. Towards the end, the forces of the United Nations Expeditionary Force included elite troops from almost all nations, including the majority of Earth’s Sykers(secret government “Psychic Warriors”, who were employed to counter the strange psychic abilities of the aliens).
But Ghost Rock was growing scarce, in a mirror of the oil crises many think may happen in our world. Nations were spending more and more money to acquire and refine deposits – and on military build-ups to defend them. The Faraway War was just a reflection of the growing tensions back on Earth.
Some time during this period, the pinnacle of Mad Science was created – the irradiated Ghost Rock bomb. A nuclear weapon much like a neutron bomb, the Ghost Rock “City Buster” was designed to do most of its killing through Ghost Rock radiation, leaving most buildings except those at the very center of the blast potentially usable in the future. No weapon as potentially deadly had ever been created. As an interesting curiosity, after the invention of the irradiated Ghost Rock bomb, Mad Scientists ceased to be able to invent any new inventions – it was as if the muses that had been driving them to creat all this time had finally finished their work, and felt no more need to give up additional secrets.
Historians might know the exact causes of the Last War, but your average civilian simply remembers escalating tensions throughout the 2070s – the destruction of one of Mexico’s spaceships, a silent war of sabotage and computer viruses, the invasion of the CSA by the LatAm
Alliance, attempts by the USA to reclaim parts of the Great Maze, the disappearance of Air Force One and the presumed assassination of the President of the USA. Tension turned into conflict and conflict turned into open war. Canada was the first in North America to turn things nuclear with the use of a tac nuke in 2081, but global nuclear warfare and the employment of strategic weapons didn’t happen until a little bit later… By the things escalated into the apocalypse, the Last War had been going on in some form or another for three years.
The Big Bang
The bombs fell at 6:17 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, on September 23, 2081. Folks call it the Big Bang, the Apocalypse, the End, the End of the World, the Bomb, or simply Judgement Day. Pretty much every important target on Earth was hit. No one really knows, but estimates are that six of the seven billion people living on Earth died that day. And that was only he beginning.
Most of the cities were hit with City Busters – irradiated Ghost Rock bombs. The effect was dramatic, and somewhat unanticipated. The first few miles from ground zero were flattened, as expected – though a City Buster released less force than normal nuclear weapons, that is still a lot of force. Outside of that radius, most of the landscape is only relatively lightly damaged. The same can not be said of the people – causality rates are extremely high, and even hiding in the deepest bunker will not save the victims of a City Buster.
The reason is that most of the casualties are not caused by the explosive force of the bomb, but by the thousands of screaming damned souls released by the irradiated Ghost Rock. These demons, manitous, or whatever you want to call them whirl around the blast site like a hurricane. Those who aren’t killed by the demonic whirlwind are warped or mutated by the supernatural and radioactive energy. After everyone’s stopped dying and mutating, the storm remains. The military originally thought these ghost storms would pass within hours, but obviously they had never detonated City Busters on such a scale before – these storms are still around 13 years later. The spirits still swirl about the black clouds, but they no longer instantly kill or mutate anyone who passes through the 10-foot-thick walls. Of course the worst part is the land around the blast site becomes what’s called a “Deadland.” The plants die, the critters mutate into monsters, and horrors are plucked right out of humanity’s nightmares and come to life.
That’s what a city-buster does. There were bigger bombs used in the Last War, and smaller ones too. Even a couple of regular nukes were detonated—like the one in Kansas City, MO. Altogether, these detonations killed billions of people, and transformed the landscape. All of which served as a prelude to the worst part(you thought this was the worst part, didn’t you? You were wrong).
You might think fighting all over the world followed by a nuclear war would be punishment enough for whatever sins humanity committed, but it was really only the beginning. Sometime after the dust settled, the Four Horsemen themselves appeared on Earth. Specifically, they appeared in the American West. No one knows why. Maybe it’s the climate, or maybe they like the cuisine. All that’s known is they showed up, raised armies from the dead, and set about decimating any large group of folks with the audacity to keep breathing.
Take any actual description of the Reckoners with a grain of salt, but the stories tell of four of them – you guessed it, they were Famine, Pestilence, War and Death. They raised tens of thousands of those already slain as the walking dead to fight for them and increase the misery and fear already created by the Last War. Eventually, they did the apocalypse two step all over the West before finally crossing the Mississippi into the lands beyond. They haven’t been seen since, though there are signs of their passing(or, at least, the passing of their undead armies) everywhere. No one crosses the Mississippi anymore – Back East is pretty much swarming with the walking dead, and if anyone has explored the East coast and lived to tell of it, no one believed them.
The Present Day
The current year is 2094 – 13 years since the End of the World. The landscape is filled with horrors mundane and supernatural. Pretty much everyone believes in the unnatural to some degree – everyone knows zombies can be a problem, and that Sykers can blow people up with their minds, and the big cities are surrounded by deadly Soul Storms. Of course, not everyone agrees those strange occurances are actually supernatural – there are a lot of folks who still believe it can all be explained with science. A good fifty percent of people don’t even actually believe in the Reckoners as anything more than metaphors for the horrors of the apocalypse – after all, very few who saw them in person lived to tell the tale.
Outside of the big cities and major centers, most places have a high but tolerable level of background radiation. Mutations are still pretty common, especially for those exposed to ghost rock radiation, and mutants are often cast out from their communities. What civilization still remains exists in small, isolated pockets – Junktown in the remains of Salt Lake City, the stronghold of the Cult of Doom in Vegas, the Grand Library in Sacremento, and, of course, the
Combine in Denver.
The Combine deserves special note – a former soldier, General Throckmorton has been assembling troops in the ruins of Denver, and has somehow managed to reactivate some of the automated factories there. He’s been on a mission to unite the Wastes in a new, unified America. Sounds noble. Except for the part where smaller settlements have to pay tribute or face destruction or enslavement, and he enforces his will with teams of soldiers they call Black Hats – backed up by automatons and other technological killing machines. The Combine is probably the biggest and most important unified group in the Wasted West, but you’re a fool if you believe they’re benevolent.
Of course, most people live in isolated groups of survivors. The West is a big place, and the population is only about 1% of what it used to be, so lots of folks try to make a living for themselves off in the Wastes and hope they run afoul neither of starvation, radiation, or other survivors who come and try to take their stuff. Some of these settlements were small towns or other settlements that escaped the bombs, others were established since The Last War.
The Wasted West is a pretty wild place out there – more than enough danger to satisfy any one’s death wish, but plenty of salvage for the taking if you’re willing to brave where others won’t. There are also still nightmares lurking out there in the Wastes, and some folks’ll try and earn themselves the title of hero by defeating them. Most of them just end up dead.