Civilization is a delicate thing. Tribals can hunt and gather in complete isolation. Small towns can grow their own food and dig their own wells with little need for outsiders. But anything larger than a little collection of shacks, and folk will need to bring in supplies from somewhere else eventually. Before the Great War, people had more belongings than they knew what to do with. The bombs destroyed a lot of it, but many of those pre-war goodies are still out there, waiting for someone to come along, dig them up, and haul across the wasteland in search of someone who’s willing to pay for them.
Some parts of the wasteland are blessed with piles of pre-war rubble that hold endless bits of scrap that can be used for repairs. Other places have the rare gift of fertile soil and can grow crops. And a few places even have fresh water without a taint of radiation. Problem is, most of those places are far away from each other, and the roads between them are filled with raiders, abominations, and hostile robots. It takes a brave person to walk those trails day in and day out. Or a ruthless one.
The Crimson Caravan has been driving brahmin carts across New California for over a hundred years, and they’re still around because of their business savvy, luck, and plain old ruthlessness. They were among the first organized groups of traders in what is now the New California Republic. Not a glamorous start, hauling scrap and water from the Hub to Necropolis and elsewhere, but their adventurous spirit, and outright recklessness made them grow into one of the biggest businesses in the land today.
Back in 2161 New California was much more wild, and gangs like the Vipers, the Khans and the Jackals were a serious danger to anyone who set foot outside of a town. The Crimson Caravan would hire just about anyone with a gun and a few scars to guide their caravans and fight off the raiders. If you loved the sound of bullets whizzing by, and didn’t mind killing someone over a wagon of Nuka Cola, then there was always plenty of work to go around. One of the Vault Dweller‘s first companions pulled a stint with the Crimson Caravan, and rumors around the Hub say that the Vault Dweller personally guarded a few shipments too.
In those days the Crimson Caravan hitched their brahmin to the husks of pre-war cars, but these days most traders just bundle everything up on the poor brahmin’s back then walk the wasteland on their own two feet. The caravans are smaller, but they’re well-armed, and it’s a common site to see traders and their bodyguards chasing off a pack of overzealous raiders who were hoping to find some easy loot.
The Crimson Caravan has spread out East into the Mojave after 2273. A move that ain’t working out too well for them. These parts have had their own couriers and caravans for years. Too much competition for the new blood. Everyone knows that if you need something moved fast, the Mojave Express will get the job done. And with the NCR streaming towards the Colorado river there’s too much commerce going on for any one company to handle it all.
The Wasteland is a big place, but there aren’t many trade routes that can be traveled safely, even for a heavily armed caravan. The competition between the Crimson Caravan and the Mojave’s trading organizations is fierce. They sent out one tough broad to take charge of the local chapter lately, and she’s the sort of lady who ain’t afraid to “Buy out” the competition… with plasma.
The one competitor that doesn’t have anything to fear from them has also been around for over a century as well. Before the war, the term “Gun runner” meant someone who illegally smuggled weapons to places they weren’t supposed to go. Eighty years after the war, the term had come to mean one particular group that excelled in repairing and building weapons.
These days, the Gun Runners don’t need to smuggle anything because customers come running to them. Everyone West of the Mississippi knows that if you need some heavy firepower, the Gun Runners are your new best friends.
Like the Crimson Caravan, the Gun Runners had humble origins after the Great War. Started out as just another Hub gang that immigrated to the Boneyard ‘round 2131, camping in a small factory in a ruined neighborhood in the Boneyard – what used to be called Los Angeles. They kept any nosey neighbors away with a moat of radioactive sludge that surrounded their headquarters, and ensured that only serious customers came by to see their customized weapons. By 2155 they adopted their business name, becoming known as the number one dealers in killer hardware, right after the Brotherhood that is.
Their business took a hit in the sixties, due to a pack of Deathclaws that built a nest nearby. Not exactly good marketing for Gun Runners to say they can’t kill the local varmints. They got some help from a wandering do-gooder, and thrived. Eventually, Gun Runners became a major supplier of weapons to the fledgling New California Republic.
Nowadays the Gun Runners have kiosks spread around the wasteland that sell their wares. They build the things around their robots salesmen – no way in or out, just a little chute for dispensing weapons and taking in caps. Helps deter anyone from taking the five-finger discount, or trying the Shady Sands shuffle on them when they ain’t looking.
They send out caravans to trading posts on occasion, but those caravans usually just trade with big-time buyers like the NCR, and they aren’t afraid to chase away small fry’s. Despite their intimidating preoccupation with weaponry, the Gun Runners are still among the more honest weapon merchants in the wasteland. Treat them fairly, and you get the same in return. That ain’t so with some of the other iron mongers out there.
If you’re the sort that’s too civilized to lob balls of lead at your enemies, you could buy a genuine death ray from the Van Graff family. But make no mistake, the Van Graffs are merchants of death, plain and simple. They don’t share the Gun Runners’ devotion to craftmanship, and they aren’t interested in experimenting with wild new variations on their arsenal. No, if you walk into the Van Graffs’ shop out in Freeside then you’re facing folk who just want caps in exchange for firepower, and they are just as likely to vaporize you as they are to sell you a plasma pistol.
The Van Graff family has stirred up trouble all the way from New Reno to Freeside, and they’d be happy to sell their wares to disreputable folk East of the Colorado river too. They’ve set up shop in a pre-war casino just outside of New Vegas. There are no more roulette games there, but patrons are gambling with their lives by approaching the place. Their underhanded dealings have built up plenty of animosity to other traders around the Mojave, and it ain’t a good idea to go anywhere near them if you’ve got a former trader at your side.
But there are plenty of dangers that even the finest new energy weapons can’t fight. Find a person crawling through the desert who hasn’t had anything to drink in days, and they’ll trade you their shiny new plasma rifle for a bottle of water. Water can be more precious than caps sometimes.
Around the rest of the Wasteland, water falls from the sky, bubbles up from the ground, and dribbles out of pre-war toilet pipes, but most of it still has particles of radioactive material that’s been giving off atoms since the war. In the Back When times, they had devices that could purify water, but most such gadgets have long since fallen into disrepair. People who have access to fresh water control one of the most valuable resources out there.
In the days right after the war, the supply of fresh water in New California was controlled by a group of Water Merchants who ran caravans out of the Hub. They knew just how precious water was, and for a brief time they managed to rule the Hub and surrounding territory with an iron fist. Their power was so great that even the Vault Dweller turned to them in Vault 13‘s time of need.
Over the years since, the NCR has done a decent job of seeing to it that fresh water is distributed fairly in their territory. The Mojave is lucky enough to still have a supply of fresh water from Lake Mead – thanks to those clever pre-war engineers and their dam. The Water Merchants are all but unknown in these parts now.
The merchant caravans aren’t quite as organized in the Capital wasteland. Before the war, that area had a high population density, at least when compared to the Mojave. All of those big cities, and little suburbs along the coastline meant plenty of goods were available for people who were willing to dig it out of the ruins of their local Super Duper Mart.
There are a couple of trading hubs out there, though. Canterbury Commons was started up by a fellow looking to make it the East Coast version of The Hub, although it ended more like something out of a pre-war comic book. The trade caravans quit visiting the place when a pair of costumed cornballs started fighting over the town. One of them was out to destroy the place, and the other was trying to save it. Can be hard to remember which was trying to do what, since their battles always seemed to end with the town in ruins.
For the most part, the Capital Wasteland relies on freelance do-gooders to transport messages and items from town to town. Independent traders wander their territory dispensing bits of junk to whoever happens to stumble across their path. On occasion though, lucky wanderers might meet a trader with a pre-war military robot for sale, in decent condition, if a bit over-enthusiastic.
Before the great war they had a saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That’s never been more true than now. A spare water chip can change the fate of the entire wasteland, and having the right pile of scrap metal, electronics and sensor modules in the right place can unite a traveller with the best friend they’ll ever have. All of that junk gets hauled from one end of the wasteland to the other by the brave, the ruthless and the just plain crazy.
Humanity is slowly rebuilding civilization, one piece of scrap at a time. But there are men who don’t think the Old World is returning fast enough. They crave the buried riches of the Old World just as hungrily as men craved the gold once buried in the California hills. One man isn’t content to watch while humanity slowly crawls back to the glory of the pre-war days.
But that- is a story for another day…