Fallout 76: The Tragic Tale of Harpers Ferry

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Love it or hate it, Bethesda’s Fallout 76 is here to stay. With Microsoft buying Zenimax Media (the parent company of Bethesda), there’s no telling what – if any – changes could happen in the future.

So, instead, let’s look to the past. Specifically, the past of the curiously-apostropheless Harpers Ferry – both in-game and in real life.

Home Sweet Harpers Ferry

Why I Camp at Harpers Ferry

As mentioned in a previous article, players of Fallout 76 can choose to camp pretty much anywhere they like – as long as it’s not too close to a pre-existing structure, you’re good to go. I’m not really a ‘camp builder’ type person, my camps are mainly built for survival and not for their aesthetic value.

A good camp has easy access to these things:

– A water source (for drinking, cooking, and sometimes selling)

A source of food (animals and/or plants)

A merchant (for selling/buying)

Enemies (for experience and loot)

You could, of course, make a camp that has none of those things – but the more of those things that you have, the less time/money you’ll need to spend travelling around collecting them.

Most of the campsites that have all those things are already very popular (such as The Whitesprings or the Top Of The World area). This is bad for you, the player, because of how Fallout 76 deals with campsites.

Imagine this: You log in, choose your character, and load the game. The game tells you that your campsite is already taken (because it’s a popular campsite) and asks you if you want to play on this world and place your campsite somewhere else, or look for another world (i.e. another server).

The problem with this isn’t immediately obvious: When you tell the game to find you a whole new world (‘I understood that reference’ – Disney fans) it can often place you back in the same world you just left, presumably because Fallout 76 can’t rely on mods to fix everything (unlike all the other Bethesda games).

If you spent ages working on your camp, you’re not going to want to just delete your camp. You could, of course, choose to stay on the same world and just not use a campsite at all. If you don’t place a new camp down then your old one still exists – just not in the world you’re currently in. I don’t know about you, but I’m already all Schrodingered out just thinking about that.

It ain’t much but it keeps the rain off my head

Having lost two entire play sessions to this crap (by which I mean I tried for 20 minutes and then gave up, twice), I got sick of seeing the interface lie about placing me in a ‘new’ world.

I noticed that Harpers Ferry rarely had camps, so I ran down the checklist:

– Water source?

Yes, Harpers Ferry is where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet.

– Food source?

Yes, there are plenty of plants and animals nearby.

– Merchant?

Yes, the town contained a merchant (who has since been moved to a nearby train station)

– Enemies?

Yes, the town itself is filled with them.

As a bonus, the town is often visited by those who play the main storyline, and few others. This means that I get enough visitors that I can regularly sell items from my vending machine, but not so many that I get sick of people being in my camp whenever I want to chill.

Yes, I know it’s an MMO. Sue me.

As another bonus, there’s no real reason for people to launch nukes at Harpers Ferry, so my base doesn’t get nuked every other time I log in. LOOKING AT YOU, ‘THE WHITESPRINGS’.

Harpers Ferry Armory as seen ingame

What I Learnt About The Real-Life Harpers Ferry

The main storyline will send the player to the Harpers Ferry Armory. There’s also a small museum – it’s just one room, full of old-timey weapons and tools. I was curious to see if the two locations were related, so I did a little research on them.

The Harpers Ferry Armory began construction in 1799 at the command of the then-president and alleged attacker of innocent cherry trees, George Washington. It was the second National Armory to be built in America (the first was in Springfield – NO, NOT THAT ONE) and was producing weapons for the Union Army after three years.

Okay, so that’s the origin of the Armory, but what’s up with that impromptu museum?

Black powder rifle

The museum used to be the firehouse for the Harper’s Ferry Armory, and it’s called the John Brown Museum.

Okay, so who’s John Brown?

We’ll need to go back to the history of the Harpers Ferry Armory to answer that question properly.

The American Civil War didn’t just randomly happen, there was a build-up of social tension happening in the years before it. Imagine living in a time that felt like a civil war was on the way, that would be horrible and I’m glad that nobody alive today has to deal with anything even remotely like that…

While the American Civil War happened because of many different issues, it’s obvious that the key issue was the ‘right’ to ‘own’ slaves.

John Brown’s Fort as seen in-game

In 1859, Virginia was a Confederate (read: pro-slavery) state. West Virginia didn’t exist yet (and wouldn’t until 1863), so the Harpers Ferry Armory was held by the Confederates.

One man, John Brown, made it his task to capture and hold the Armory so that he could give the weapons to slaves, who could then use the weapons to free themselves.

To cut a long story very short, this didn’t go well for him, possibly because he was an early adopter of slave rights – the actual American Civil War was still a few years away, so most people just considered him crazy and suicidal. This led to him being unable to mobilize enough people for his cause – his 23 soldiers ultimately opposed 88 US marines – and failed.

(Unedited) John Brown Museum image from Wikimedia Commons taken by user MamaGeek shared under the CCASA3U license (which can be seen here)

During Brown’s retreat, he and his remaining soldiers holed up in a nearby firehouse, which became known as John Brown’s Fort. The building would, surprisingly, be the only building in Harpers Ferry to (even partially) survive the Civil War, and it was later turned into the John Brown Museum.

And that’s how Bethesda’s glorious inability to code an appropriate world-finding algorithm lead to me learning about the tragic event which history remembers as ‘John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry’.

Although he failed to actually free any slaves, it could be argued that he acted heroically nonetheless.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like his idea of allowing people to free themselves from oppression is still relevant today, somehow.

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