The Badlands

Badlands 1

It’s been called the “New Wild Midwest”, the hollowed out center of a nation that once went from sea to shining sea but is now a sparsely-populated wasteland afflicted by massive duststorms, genetic plagues and, all too often, by it’s own inhabitants.


“…a great black bank rolled in out of the northeast, and in a twinkling when it struck Liberal, plunged everything into inky blackness, worse than that on any midnight, when there is at least some starlight and outlines of objects can be seen. When the storm struck it was impossible to see one’s hand before his face even two inches away. And it was several minutes before any trace of daylight whatsoever returned.”

Liberal News, 15 April 1935

If the rest of North America was hit hard by the Collapse, the Midwest was transformed by it into a disaster of biblical proportions. Economic collaspe had already brought federal, state and local infrastructure to its knees by the time global warming really began to bite with year after year of long drought – the new normal weather for much of the continent’s interior. As farmers abandoned the dust their fields had become, and small towns began to run out of water for their populations, the duststorms returned, as bad as they had been in the thirties. In the choking dust and heat, hundreds of thousands became refugees – driven from their homes by a lack of money, food, water or all three. When the wolf Creek, Kansas nuclear power station suffered a meltdown due to lack of cooling water, it was simply another data point in the general chaos, rather than a headline-grabbing disaster, but it poisoned the land for miles around.

Pit stop

Those migrant and luckless multitudes only served to make matters worse when the plagues hit, beginning with the Gen-Nu Disaster of 2022 but continuing with Bubonic Plague, Ebola and Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis. Their movements helping to carry each disease in turn from place to place, the poor sanitation in the under-funded refugee camps, the lack of money for modern healthcare everywhere in the Midwest: millions died, and there were too few with the energy or resources remaining to bury most of the dead.

Finally, the few survivors managed to rally somewhat, fleeing to the new Free Cities of Citadel, Omaha, Foundry and Rising – the conurbations of Arizona, Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado becoming megacities and severing their ties from the dysfunctional USA government – or retreating into small enclaves in pockets of relative calm to eke out a hardscrabble existence as best they could. Those who fled to those Free Cities, however, found no respite. the failing United States mounted a last ditch effort to reclaim them, kicking of the long years of civil wars and terrorism known now as the Militia Wars. The libertarian separatists of the Cities fought back hard, and every single one became an urban warzone, until finally a loose-cannon US general odered the use of tactical nukes in Omaha to cauterize the area, fearing he would lose his army to a new outbreak of genetic plagues. The international outcry was immediate, with even the new Free States threatening to become involved against the US, and it reluctantly retreated into the East. The Omaha area and the Missouri River are still polluted by residual fallout to this day.

This is the backdrop for the badlands we know today.


Badlands trading post

Nowadays, the only population figures we can be resonably sure of are those for the three Free Cities: Rising (12 million), Foundry (3.8 million) and Citadel (7.5 million), which remain well-connected to the rest of the continent by the maglev system and by freight-hauling dirigibles. No-one has any idea how many live in the dozens of small towns, encampments and enclaves of the vast interior; and although the megacorps know how many live in their isolated R&D arcologies secreted within the badlands, far from government interference or prying eyes, they aren’t saying. We can estimate, though, that the badlands population is swollen by around 12 million Nomads in their annual migrations from their winter camps near Rising to their summer harvesting jobs in Canada or construction work along the western edge of the Chi-Pitts and Sprawl megacities. These nomads travel through the wastes in small groups, a few dozen families at most, scavenging what they can from the harsh land.

Whether it’s a settled lifestyle or a nomadic one they choose, however, life for those outside the cities is often hard, brutal and short. The great plains are now a great semi-arid desert across the southern two thirds of their extent, with water and soil decent enough to grow crops hard to find – only closer to the Canadian border has climate change improved growing conditions, and even there danger lurks. Genetic plagues are still endemic across the entire area and a large chunk of eastern Kansas is still radioactive. Massive tornadoes and duststorms are common, with winds up to hurricane force driving dust and gravel in choking red or black clouds which generate enough static electricity to short unshielded electrical components. The static discharges cause wildfires in the tinder-dry scrub, and sometimes a rare fire tornado will be seen.


The weather is bad – the local fauna can be worse. Vast herds of thousands of Gnox are a common threat – genetically designed meat animals sharing genetic material with the old bison of the plains, but also with African water buffalo and wildebeast, then mutated further by the gen-Nu viruses. They stand up to seven feet at the shoulder, shaggy but lean and with a terrible temper. Their sharp horns and tusks can be as much as eight feet in span, and they weigh in at around two thousand pounds – with old bulls being up to twice that size. A herd will descend on cropland or a patch of other greenery and eat it bare, then move on. Other virus-mutated animal threats exist, though not in such number as the Gnox, which have no natural predators. They include the Montauk, a mutated cougar, and a type of giant rat, as well as a killer bird who’s ancestors were domestic chickens.

However, the animal dangers pale compared with those from the surviving humanity of the badlands. The survivors have a keen sense of individual freedom, of self-reliance and of being able to defend themselves. The cities and more civilized small towns tend towards CR2 while outwith those it’s an CR1 anarchy. All areas are of lower tech level than the big conurbs of the coasts, often significantly lower. Guns are worn openly, even military-grade hardware, and violence is often the first recourse. Nomads and enclave dwellers are often called upon to defend themselves from marauding gangs of brigands (some of whom are reputed to be “Eaters” – cannibals) and all too often from each other.

The Badlands

Edgerunners Langy Langy