If Fallout 3 welcomes you into the post-apocalypse with open arms, Fallout: New Vegas is its sarcastic, passive-aggressive cousin. Everyone in the game has an angle, and the only thing standing in the way of the house winning is your growing series of dubious decisions. This spirit of hard-edged humor and escalating choice is perfectly encapsulated by a single quest.
Looking at the giant dinosaur statue named “Dinky,” and the broken No Vacancy sign hanging from the settlement’s single motel, you might assume Novac is a pit stop on your path to New Vegas proper. After going through Primm and Nipton, two towns filled with conflict and moral chaos, you finally have a place to rest. That all changes when you meet Boone.
The legacy of New Vegas
A former NCR sniper, Boone is a man isolated both literally and figuratively. Every night, he walks up a set of narrow red steps leading to the giant dinosaur’s mouth. Guarding Novac against this somewhat goofy backdrop, he spends his vigil watching the wasteland through Dinky’s faded white teeth—all the while wondering which of his estranged neighbors sold his wife Clara into slavery while he was on patrol.
During the quest One For My Baby, he confides in you—a stranger—and gives you his treasured 1st Recon beret, then provides you with a simple task. Once you find the person responsible for Clara’s kidnapping, lure them in front of Dinky, and put on Boone’s beret. He would take care of the rest.
Making it happen
According to One For My Baby’s writer, Eric Fenstermaker, this quest was part of the original proof-of-concept for Fallout: New Vegas shown to Bethesda. It’s such a great, self-contained tone piece because, alongside ghoul-focused quest Come Fly With Me, it was originally meant to demonstrate all that Fallout: New Vegas would eventually become. Allowing the death of every major character in the game meant players could “get any major character in the town shot by Boone, for any reason you could concoct in your own mind,” said Fenstermaker.
Accusing easygoing gift shop owner Cliff Briscoe, luring local crackpot No-Bark Noonan, or murdering Boone’s former BFF Manny Vargas is as easy as picking a dialogue option and putting on a beret. You can feel that power, and it makes taking the easy way out of the quest an extremely conscious act of callousness.
However, investigating Novac thoroughly will eventually reveal a bill of sale identifying Jeannie May Crawford, town matriarch, as the culprit. “The Bill of Sale was itself an interesting document,” Fenstermaker told me. “The language of the contract was based on real slavery contracts in the pre-Civil War era. And if players take the time to read it they'll get a piece of information they won't find anywhere else in the game, which is that Boone's wife was pregnant when she was sold.”
This is a melodramatic touch. Fenstermaker says as much. However, he also argues that, “in a totally wild west environment, not only is it a plausible situation, but it's also important to the stakes of the overall game story and to the player's investment in the world to show that extremes of inhumanity and desperation are commonplace here.”
“A lot of the power of the Fallout setting comes from the juxtaposition of those elements with a 1950s culture that was purposefully engineered to promote a carefree naivete that would keep people from considering the unthinkable,” Fenstermaker said. “The farther the reality gets from the '50s dream-version of it, the more powerful the impression it creates.”
On choosing Jennie May as the culprit, Fenstermaker stated that “for the quest, figuring out who the culprit should be was a matter of asking, for each townsperson in this ostensibly decent town, what would it take for them to sell a human being—a particular human being—into slavery.” Jeannie May fit this role perfectly, because she allowed Eric to create a villain with a new, disturbing motivation: casual pettiness.
“I liked the idea of using a character who at a surface level was friendly and polite but who just beneath was proud and insecure,” said Fenstermaker. “The kind of person who in any other world would handle a detractor with a passive-aggressive anonymous letter or by spitting in her soup, but in a place where you could get away with it, might just sell that detractor to slavers.”
Fallout: New Vegas lures you into a false sense of security with an area starring relaxed, seemingly simple characters. When you’re waiting around a cattle pen to catch a minigun-wielding Nightkin driven mad by the cries of Brahmin in his dreams, it’s easy to believe you have a reasonable idea of what to expect from Novac. This makes unveiling Boone’s tragic story, and the mundane evil lurking beneath Novac’s quiet surface, that much more jarring.
One For My Baby is a quest where the little details build, one upon another, until someone ends up dead. Who that person may be is up to you.