A wise soldier knows that it isn’t the weapon that matters most, but the hand that wields it. An army equipped with the finest weapons certainly has the advantage in battle, but what happens when the battle is over? Over the millennia, the tools of war have changed. From bronze to iron then steel, and eventually plutonium – mankind grows ever more capable of waging war, and always less capable of using those weapons responsibly. There are those who feel that no one is responsible enough to wield power such as mankind had during the Great War. And then there are those who feel that they alone are worthy.
Travelers and merchants in the wasteland have seen towering soldiers in suits of metal armor, marching off to battle with laser rifles slung over their shoulders. These are members of the Brotherhood of Steel, and it is easy to distinguish them from other armored warriors by their pre-war power armor. Those T-51 b armored suits aren’t just plates of metal strapped to their bodies. No, the Brotherhood of Steel’s armor is a fusion powered artifact designed before the Great War; it augments their strength, protects them from harm, and marks them as members of an elite order.
The Brotherhood of Steel is among the most technologically advanced factions that the Wasteland holds. They are relatively few in number when compared to vast armies like the New California Republic or the Legion, but what the Brotherhood lacks in numbers they make up for in raw power and indomitable courage.
The Brotherhood can trace its history back to the Great War. Long before the military base in Mariposa California gave rise to the Super Mutant army, it was a research facility. In the days leading up to the Great War there was a small contingent of soldiers assigned to guard the base and its loathsome contents. That loyal band of men didn’t know they were protecting a horribly unethical group of scientists who were engaging in unfathomable experiments, they only knew that it was an important project and that they there were doing their part to fight the good fight and keep their country safe.
Eventually, they did learn the awful truth of the Forced Evolutionary Virus and that the base they were guarding was being used to experiment on human test subjects, inmates from military prisons. The knowledge that they unknowingly participated in these atrocities, committed on their own brothers in arms no less, stretched their loyalty to the breaking point. Colonel Spindel, their commanding officer was unable to cope with this fact. Just a few days after the truth was revealed, he committed suicide, leaving his second in command, Captain Roger Maxson to deal with the aftermath.
Today the Brotherhood looks up to Roger Maxson with religious reverence. Perhaps Maxson was destined to carry the fire of humanity, or he may have simply had the right balance of honor and pragmatism needed to lead men through the apocalypse.
Maxson took it upon himself to take control of the base, ordering the interrogations of the science teams to maintain a semblance of order. As he started to believe that the project was backed knowingly by his government, he attempted to contact his superiors for a response, even going so far as to declare secession from the Union. At the same time, he and his soldiers then gathered their families with them and readied themselves inside their remote base. They waited for a response, any kind of response, anticipating that their own government would never tolerate such an outright insurrection and would have to come and provide answers.
But the response never came. Unbeknownst to Maxson, The Great War was already brewing even as he staged his revolt. If anyone in the government knew about Maxon’s rebellion, they no longer cared.
The base at Mariposa proved to be a reliable shelter against the onslaught of the atomic war. Maxson, his loyal troops, and their families were among the survivors. His own wife and son were at Maxson’s side, and the understanding that his children would live in whatever world he left behind must surely have influenced his actions in the days ahead.
Humanity is a stubborn species and not one to die out easily, but mankind’s knowledge, civilization and technology could easily disappear once living memory had passed. Would Captain Maxson’s descendents run barefoot through the desert, hunting food with stone spears? Or would they stride through the wasteland clad in power armor, felling their enemies with beams of light and fire?
It was not a difficult choice to make as Maxson led his troops and their families from the Mariposa base to a hidden military bunker in what is now called the Lost Hills. There they used what materials they had gathered to build a place of refuge and learning. They preserved their military discipline, and technological knowledge from generation to generation, carrying the fire, even if it was hidden beneath the desert.
The Brotherhood limited their contact with other communities of survivors, primarily trading for food and other essentials with technology they recovered or made. Sequestered with their precious laser rifles, computers and power armor, they kept the most fragile of old world technologies alive, but hoarded that knowledge to themselves.
The tribal societies on the surface that had saved pre-war equipment found it wearing out over time. Spare parts were used up and no one had the capacity to manufacture anything new. As the years turned to decades technology grew more and more rare, and the understanding of how to use it began to disappear even as people learned how to hunt with spears and cook radscorpions.
In time Maxon’s son assumed command as the High Elder, and his son after him. Other respected members of the Brotherhood form a council of Elders beneath the High Elder, who has traditionally been a descendent of the Maxson line, although sometimes the role of High Elder has fallen to a distinguished Paladin.
Life within the Brotherhood still uses elements of the pre-war American military, with a strict hierarchical structure. Although there are many ranks within the Brotherhood, the three main branches of the organization are the Scribes, the Knights, and the Paladins.
Scribes are responsible for scientific research and preservation of ancient knowledge. At one point they focused their efforts on preservation, but the Brotherhood has grown less concerned with chronicling history than with the development of new weaponry.
The title of Knight once referred to armored warriors who fought battles while mounted on an extinct species of animal called a horse. Those knights are a far cry from the knights of the Brotherhood. In the Brotherhood a Knight is responsible for building, repairing and maintaining the weapons designed by the Scribes.
Should a Knight distinguish themselves, they can eventually become a Paladin. The majority of the Brotherhood personnel seen by outsiders are Paladins. These elite soldiers cut a swath through the raiders, mutants and tribal barbarians that stand between the Brotherhood and the technology they desire.
While the Brotherhood is eager to fight any bandits or raiders that they come across, they are reluctant to assist the residents of the wasteland in any significant manner. They view most outsiders as intellectual inferiors, unfit to receive technological assistance. Many people have attempted to join the Brotherhood, only to be sent on a suicidal errand to recover artifacts from heavily irradiated regions of the wasteland.
Their arrogance has nearly been their undoing on several occasions. When the Super Mutant menace appeared, Brotherhood scribes were the first to determine that they were a new form of mutant, and a clear threat. Yet it was not a Brotherhood Paladin that defeated the mutants, it was a mere wanderer accompanied by a mongrel dog.
Much later the Brotherhood’s view that they alone should be allowed to control the Wasteland’s technology led them to wage a brutal war against the powerful New California Republic. Despite their technological advantage, the Brotherhood lost the war. Nowhere was this defeat more severe than in the Mojave wasteland. Garrisoned at a pre-War solar power station, the Elder of the Mojave chapter attempted to unlock its dark secrets to use against the NCR in the war. But before he could do so, the NCR forced a confrontation. Outnumbered ten to one, the Brotherhood was forced to retreat after losing half the chapter and the disappearance of their Elder.
The defeat at Helios was a crippling blow for the Brotherhood. After that the the Mojave chapter of the Brotherhood left the NCR alone, and retreated back to their old base in Hidden Valley. There they can tend to their computers and ray guns as much as they like. They still send the occasional Paladin up to the surface to procure crucial supplies, but recent years have proven to be a challenging time for the Brotherhood.
Sometimes individuals will leave the Brotherhood for extended periods – often to procure rare resources, but occasionally just so the Brotherhood can discreetly get rid of rebellious youth. Wanderers who prove themselves worthy just might find themselves with a Brotherhood member as a traveling companion for a while, if they can demonstrate that their cause is of value to the Brotherhood.
And, well, maybe a few travelers will warm themselves by a campfire fire and let an old Scribe tell his tales of the wild wasteland to anyone who’ll listen.
Although the Brotherhood of Steel has seen better days, they are nonetheless a pivotal factor in conflicts affecting the Core Regions. Records back at Lost Hills show that there’s also a disavowed branch of the Brotherhood who struck out East and took it upon themselves to defend the nation’s former Capitol from the super mutants and a new incarnation of the Enclave.
Some of them still adhere to the Brotherhood’s goal of gathering pre-war technology, but others are more concerned with saving lives and helping the people around them. Of course they’re still Brotherhood and they couldn’t resist the chance to play with a giant pre-war robot when the Enclave tried to seize power over the United States.
But that- is a story for another day…