November 10, 2008D. Riley

America's capital is an irradiated wasteland, almost devoid of life. Somewhere out there, far to the west of the Washington Monument, sits Tenpenny Tower. Tenpenny's citizens, effete shop clerks and socialites, likely consider it the sole surviving bastion of civilization. They buy fancy clothes and sip expensive liquor, cozily protected by their gated community and cadre of armed guards.

Elsewhere, in the rubble of a nearby subway tunnel, lives a group of people gruesomely deformed by radiation. They are ghouls, and they are hatching a plan to take up residence in the tower. Their offers of money were rebuked with threats and violence. Now, their leader has decided to take the Tenpenny by force.

You arrive as the conflict comes to a head. The Tenpenny guards offer a pretty hefty bounty for murdering the ghouls, who they see as vicious, dangerous savages. Although, with enough coercion, Mr. Tenpenny (the tower's owner) can be convinced to let the ghouls take up residence. He does so with hesitation, and he adds threat of violence should the ghouls "act up."

Roy, leader of the ghouls, isn't too happy with this, but he says he'll take it. It certainly seems like the right way to do things. Both sides were ready to murder each other, and you’re provided plenty of positive reinforcement by way of karma bonuses (the game’s way of saying you did the right thing) when you convince the most bigoted of the Tenpenny residents to hit the road and make way for the ghouls.

As you head back to the tower, feeling satisfied about a job well done, the game informs you that Mr. Tenpenny has been killed. Roy has murdered him. And, in the following days, all other non-ghoul residents are killed as well. The "good karma" reward tastes a little acrid in your mouth. Didn’t you do the right thing? You drove out the bigots, you paved the way for acceptance, you did everything right, but somehow you managed to let a group of innocent people die. Especially heinous is the death of an older man, a dapper adventurer (now retired) who'd employed a ghoul sidekick in his earlier days. Though he was a little blasé, he at least had the sense to know that ghouls weren’t the disgusting monsters that most people believed them to be. Now he’s dead, just like everyone else.

Indeed, the only way to prevent the eradication of either side is to murder the leaders of both groups. With Tenpenny out of the way, Roy has to be eliminated. Killing is the only chance the two groups in tower have at coexistence. Even then, the deaths of the leaders doesn’t always work, and it feels more like a programming error than a moral solution.

Tenpenny Tower is the setting of a morality play as good as any we've seen in gaming. Certainly it's easier to empathize with the downtrodden subway dwellers (a female ghoul remarks that the way Roy looks at her makes her feel like a human being again, instead of a malformed creature), but it's difficult to find severe enough fault in most of the socialites to justify murder. Sure they were judgmental, and some despicable, but most of them never actually harmed anyone. They certainly didn’t deserve to die.

Every solution to the Tenpenny quest ends in murder. All that's left is for you to decide how many people have to be killed. Roy believed he was fighting for his rights, but once he seized power he proved to be just as vindictive and bigoted as those he'd usurped. There are no laws about discrimination in the wasteland. Does anyone, ghouls included, have a right to be anywhere? Roy says it himself: you can only keep that which you can hold on to.

There's no good answer to the situation at Tenpenny Tower. I almost wish I'd never been there, and it makes me wonder what would happen if I just left it alone. Would Roy eventually seize the building, or would Tenpenny siege Roy's camp? Or would they stay there forever, waiting while the quest sat unresolved my log book? It’s probably the latter. It might still be too much to expect from a game to give us that sort of depth, but I can't help but think on it. Fallout 3 has made me uncomfortable with my agency, and a part of me still wishes I'd left well enough alone.

Fallout 3 is brilliant in a lot of ways, but it doesn't get everything right. Later in the week I'll talk about another encounter I had in the wasteland.

36 comments for ‘The Situation At Tenpenny Tower’

#1 Mitch Nov 12, 2008 02:28pm

I've avoided Tenpenny, but the unsettling response has me wary to bother with it at all. There are plenty of encounters that make me wonder whether or not I should have done it, the most harmful of which resulted in the death of my Dogmeat character. It pained me, but I refused to restart my save.

I'm with you that Fallout has some problems, but it seems that we're square on our reception to consequences. I think the fact that I can save anywhere encourages me to try out the various endings and reactions to situations, but I'm trucking along and going with it, and the entire game makes me uncomfortable.

#2 Adelhorn Nov 12, 2008 03:57pm

I love it. I went with the ghouls because I thought it was win win anyway. The people in the tower annoyed me, so why not let the ghouls in? Sounds like no matter what I decided to do, people were going to die. The best part was coming back, going into Tenpenny's room and seeing the blood stains in the room. That is some great storytelling. The game is certainly troubling at times, but it's just great storytelling.

#3 Not Joel Nov 12, 2008 10:35pm

This is actually the quest I finished myself last night, though I opted to murder Roy and his wife in their sleep. At this point I was also a resident of the Tower, and decided that in the Wasteland you take what you can get and defend it to the bitter end.

The only thing you failed to mention is that this whole quest is a complete rip-off (or homage if you're a dick) to Romero's 'Land of the Dead', which is a much better movie than you or Joel give credit to.

#4 D. Riley Nov 13, 2008 01:15am

I'm not really sure what in this quest really has to do with Land of the Dead, other than there being a bunch of rich people in a tower somewhere. Unless you mean to compare the ghouls to John Leguizamo's character? In which case, I'm not sure who to be more offended for: Leguizamo or the ghouls. I'm wracking my brain, and I can't think of a single other comparison. I think you're stretching it.

Also, there were no extraneous lesbians devoured by zombies in this quest, so your analogy immediately fails.

#5 Blank Nov 14, 2008 04:44am

I never ran into the tower as my good character. The idea that this is the outcome I would have faced leaves one hell of a funny taste in my mouth. I imagine after the message of Roy committing murder I would have sat down for a hard thinking session on what decisions I could have made to save them. The idea that the game gives me no solid solution is blowing me away a bit.

I remember being so pleased when my evil character had the option to help the ghouls but still be the bad guy. No matter how I'm playing the game I can never bring myself to be abusive to the ghouls. From the guy sitting on a couch playing the game perspective I just like zombies. If I want to give myself an RPG excuse, I just imagine my character is just as recognizable as the ghouls. I imagine that Vault 101 uniform is just as out of place as a ghouls face.

#6 Cola Nov 14, 2008 04:40pm

I have nothing to add except that I had a similar experience. When I returned to the tower to find it deserted and the gate wide open, I was filled with disgust and anger.

I went right up stairs and murdered Roy and his two-faced, helmet headed goon, bad karma be damned. I left his girlfriend wandering aimlessly by the elevator.

I guess I can only compliment the game for arousing a genuine sense of total resentment in me. I wanted to kill Roy. How often do we really want to kill the bad guy?

#7 Evan Minto (aka Vampt Vo) Nov 14, 2008 10:19pm

That's a very interesting study of the psychology of Fallout 3. I haven't gotten the game yet (I know, I know, shame on me), but from reviews, articles, and word-of-mouth, it's really looking like a very morally charged experience.

I certainly hope that it's better than Bioshock's valiant but failed attempt to bring an element of emotion to in-game choices. And in Oblivion I always felt like I could get away with murder (literally and figuratively) without any real emotional or physical consequences.

Regardless, Fallout is definitely on my must-buy list for the coming month.

#8 Ahcos Nov 16, 2008 12:25pm

What I want to know is how far does the decision really affect the game? I get that the ghouls take over and you feel bad, but does it really affect the character seriously? I really can't wait for the game where there's a moral choice in the middle that affects everything, as in the gameplay and storyline. I really want something where I'll be haunted by my decision for the next few hours of playtime.

Closest thing I can think of to that is Wrex's potential death in Mass Effect. The first time I did the part, what's her name killed him, and I knew I had to go back and redo the level. Meanwhile my friend, who apparently had something against awesome dinosaur bounty hunters, killed him and that was it. Watching my friend prepare for the last level, it was weird to see the black space.

#9 brandonnn Nov 16, 2008 02:56pm

Sorry to burst the bubble of your entire premise, but "Every solution to the Tenpenny quest ends in murder" is wrong, full stop.

I finally made it through the quest yesterday, and though it certainly takes some finagling (and possibly high enough Speech skill), you can convince the Tower's most bigoted holdouts to let the ghouls move in, then convince Roy that all will be well, and you've got your true happy ending.

The bigots are duly angry at you for masterminding the situation, but nobody dies (apart from the usual ferals), and the next time you enter the towers it's teeming with polite, sharp-dressed and fully integrated ghouls wandering the lobby and suites.

#10 Felix Nov 16, 2008 08:45pm

Brandonn, wait about 48 hours and head back in. I won every single speech challenge in the mediation path and everybody sill dies not long after you complete the mission.

I've been thinking about what my character might do in this situation. He's a Regulator and has been deemed the Last, Best Hope for Humanity. So the regulator half knows justice must be delivered (even without a finger to take) but the humanitarian almost wants to walk away from the whole mess.

It's amazing how much this one, standalone sidequest has made me question my morality more than anything in the main quest.

#11 D. Riley Nov 16, 2008 10:06pm

Brandonnn: Like Felix said, your description of the quest reads exactly like mine, up until the murder. It doesn't last. Go back to the tower now and check if they're still alive.

Ahcos: Tenpenny Tower never really affects the game in any way outside of itself, but in this singular instance I don't think it matters. It works as a self-contained experience. The story's important by itself, I think I like that it doesn't have to do with the main plot, and doesn't help you one iota in your quest to save the world. What I like most about the choices you make is that it's different than "kill the end boss" or "slap the handcuffs on him."

#12 C.J. Kershner Nov 17, 2008 11:43pm

This is a great piece and one that gives voice to many of the unpleasant feelings I experienced at the resolution of the Tenpenny situation.

The only thing I would add is that sometimes, while listening to GNR, "Daring" Dashwood's radio show will come on and serve as a reminder that I was indirectly responsible for the kindly old man's death.

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

#13 SPIKE Nov 18, 2008 09:16pm

And to think I "just" finished that quest lobying for the oppressed sewer dweling comunity. To hell with it I'm just gonna start a new file and waste that camp full of slavers without provocation again that'll feel good.

Don't they know I don't want complex moral decisions? I want black and white Hitler or Mother Terisa and no advers outcomes. All that ambiguity hurts my head.

#14 Archaneus Nov 21, 2008 04:17am

I went down the path of arbitration as well. I have a problem bringing myself to choose the obviously evil choices in games and that was the only real "good" solution to that situation. I was pleased shortly after to see the ghouls and smug arrogant richies walking the same halls and I didn't find out that they were all murdered until long afterwards from hearing it over the radio from Three Dog. I thought the game had glitched at first and incorrectly saved my resolution to that quest. I wish the rest of the game was a well set up as this quest was.

Just an aside, why do people keep using Mother Teresa as a symbol of moral quality? If you actually look into her at all you'll realize she belongs in the same category as the Hitlers of the world, not on the other end of the spectrum. All she did was group a bunch of people together in a buildings, deny them proper medical care in order to cause them to suffer because "In suffering you share in Jesus' sacrifice"(paraphrased), and then bamboozle money out of rich people and governments to fund her convents. She was just a religious zealot who destroyed other people's lives to exalt her bronze age mythological sky-daddy. I really wish people would stop referring to her as some bastion of humanitarianism.

#15 ToadTrip Nov 25, 2008 08:15pm

When I was doing this quest I determined that both Tenpenny and Roy were no better or worse than each other, and like you, that the people of Tenpenny had performed no transgressions worthy of death. The solution? I killed both Tenpenny and Roy before any of the other events could transpire, which IMO equalizes the situation about as much as one can within the framework of the game. Roy was obviously no better than Tenpenny regardless of his current physical state as a ghoul. Snobbery isn't a death sentence, nor is bigotry as detestable as it is.

#16 Anonymous Nov 30, 2008 09:24pm

I loved this quest. And I figured if tenpenny decided to get rid of Megaton because his view was blocked, I decided bigots had no place in the wastelands and unleashed the ferals on them all. Wasteland Justice. I also decided awhile ago that Dagwood was a bigot too, so his death didn't bother me. Hmm. If you find argle and reunite them before doing the tenpenny quest does Dagwood even die?

Inregards to the karma loss, why does it matter? So you walk around with negative karma for awhile but the game is designed for you to play a good character, so any Karma lost can get regained very quickly.

I dont understand why this game makes people uncomfortable.

#17 Anonymous Jan 18, 2009 09:25pm

What if, after having Tenpenny let the ghouls move in, and right after Roy kills Tenpenny, but before they kill the other humans, if you kill Roy and his sidekick (Michael if I remember correctly), will the humans still get slaughtered?

#18 D. Riley Jan 19, 2009 12:03am

You can sort of get that to work, but I think it's a buggy solution that wasn't put in on purpose. I tried it more than once, and even killing both of them would make it happen every time.

#19 Shall Jan 23, 2009 12:46pm

To be honest, I thought Three Dog talking about the Ghouls killing everyone in the tower was a game bug - one of those things where parts of the game get the possible outcomes confused.

When I came back, and saw that it really happened, I really did feel pretty betrayed. I double-checked to make sure "Daring" Dashwood, honorary Ghoul that he was, was among the murdered. It felt very important to verify that. Once I found out that yes, he was, I went to the top of Tenpenny tower, and put a magnum slug through Roy's skull.

The game wasn't very pleased with my choice, and tried to tell me I did a bad, negative-Karma sort of thing. No, game. I refuse to accept that. Sure, I'd have preferred to drag that bastard somewhere for a trial - maybe to Undercity, so he couldn't claim it was "Anti-Ghoul bigotry", but since the game didn't give me that option, I had to do what I could.

The rest of the Ghouls can live there - but Roy had to be put down.

#20 Garett Feb 13, 2009 07:29pm

You should stop playing video games and write. You have quite a talent. Remarkably, a beautiful piece of writing. Never know such work could come from the topic of games.

#21 Suspiria Feb 18, 2009 07:27am

I really wanted to comment on this article, but am now finding myself completely unable to do so because of the offensive words typed by Archaneus on Nov 21, 2008 04:17 am. I am completely disgusted and repulsed. They were unrelated to the article, and as such, 100% unnecessary, as he even admits by calling it "an aside". Nasty.

#22 The_Great_White_Horse Feb 26, 2009 11:48am

I too let the ghouls in. Talking to Roy, I decided that he was a hotheaded prick, but not so bad. He was a post-apocalyptic Moses...a sewer-dwelling Gandhi who wanted to emancipate his people. I was wrong, terribly wrong.

He talked me into opening the gates for he and his. What was supposed to be a military coup turned into mass slaughter. I expected the guards to be killed, Maybe even Tenpenny himself. So be it, I thought...the old b*st*rd probably deserves it.

But when I walked in and heard the gunfire and roaring ferals I knew what had happened. The hotel was destroyed and there were bodies everywhere. Roy told me to watch my back, "This is war, kid", he said. This was no military operation, it was genocide. I had been deceived, and I was angry. When I saw the old man dead upstairs I started killing ferals and didn't stop until Roy and his lieutenant were dead by my hand.

Amazingly potent piece of storytelling and easily one of the most memorable experiences I have had in any game.

#23 Anonymous Mar 22, 2009 12:35pm

Personally, I blame the game designers for this whole Tenpenny mess.

I had totally considered the possibility that Roy would renege on the peaceful resolution and murder every last "skin" human in the tower. But I considered that risk to be small.

I counted just 3 ghouls.

The Tenpenny Tower has a security force of more than 8 guys. And then they had that retired wasteland hero and Tenpenny himself.

So I went ahead with the mediation.

The game designer wants us to believe that roy and his buddy managed to take out 10 armed men?

That's just Bull.

#24 Gr8gam3r - PSN Mar 22, 2009 02:40pm

I'd also like to add (my previous comment was before I signed up, i'm signed up, YAY!) that there is a woman, Millicent Wellington
who is being cheated on by her snobbish husband, I told her and she killed him.
I didn't agree with what she did so I left her to wander the wastes, hoping the woman would find shelter somewhere, possibly megaton or rivet city. After I did the the Tenpenny Tower quest I found her body in the wastes, not too far from the tower. I decided that her dead body lying in the middle if nowhere was terrible. And considering she had family at the tower I dragged her to the fountain just outside the tower, however, this somewhat beautiful movement was spoiled by the generic, you are carrying something, comments. One of which was "Are you having fun with that?" Honestly, i'm not a necrophiliac! It was quite funny though...

#25 Anonymous Mar 29, 2009 02:25am

Actually you don't have to kill anyone if you tell roy that you will talk to tenpenny about letting the ghouls in tenpenny will agree and give you a list of 5 citizens of the tower you must convince (through speech successes) once you complete those the ghouls can come in with no one dying, although a few residents leave the tower pissed off

#26 D. Riley Mar 29, 2009 01:07pm

Please read the comments and, indeed, the full text of the article too. When you do the diplomacy route, all the humans die.

#27 rottendoubt Apr 6, 2009 12:37pm

i signed up just to comment on this. just did the tenpenny tower quest yesterday. i had a bunch of saves i'd cycle through and had saved over the oldest one before i went back to tenpenny tower and found out my peaceful solution backfired (and roy killed all the humans).

i totally thought it was because after i got them to move in together, i opened the gate in the basement. did all of you do that, too? if the ghouls move in with the humans and you DON'T open the basement door, do they still murder the humans?

also, if you have the ghouls attack the humans, is it possible to fight all the ghouls off or is it scripted to automatically kill off the humans no matter what?

if you kill roy right after the ghouls move in, does the slaughter still happen? why would you need to kill off both roy and tenpenny?

just curious if anyone found a peaceful solution to tenpenny towers that lasts.


#28 ShawnDriscoll Apr 16, 2009 02:58am

I haven't been to Roy's place yet at the Metro Station. But last night I visited the Tower and killed the guard outside Tenpenny's room, took his key, went inside, killed Tenpenny, took his sniper rifle, went out onto the balcony and shot four guards outside the bilding, came downstairs and killed the remain guards, then killed the shop clerks, then the guests, then the robot bartenter. The game then stated I could tell Roy to move into the Tower. Hawthorne was running around like a crazy person and was tougher to kill (grenades and shotguns didn't faze him). I figured he was scripted to outlast the others. But he eventually went down. I can't carry the big gun I'm left with in the front yard.

Like I said. I haven't visited Roy yet. When it all plays out, and I have a good grasp of how each weapon behaves, I will go back to my first save and do it over again as the nice guy. Oh ya. When I killed Tenpenny, my karma shot right up. So I figured he was supposed to be snuffed out. And the "sexy" girl sleeps with the doctor. You see them go up the stairs together. And get the halotape found on his sick room floor for another quest to do. Sounded interesting.

#29 Anonymous Aug 21, 2009 04:59pm

Hey asshat, why dont you mark *SPOILER* before you share endgame details. Thanks.

#30 Chabs Aug 31, 2009 05:46pm

Um Nom MR Anonymous there was no Spoilers in what he said.

Anyways in my first savegame I had chosen the diplomacy thingy, hopping for a better futur for these two teams.
Back at Tenpenny I thought : "The Snitch!"

Then in my new game I blasted the wakos.

#31 Xpected2 Sep 7, 2009 04:05pm

This was my first time through the game, and I did it with good karma. I decided to follow that lead and allow the ghouls and humans to co-exist. Afterall, Gob does it just fine. I met a man named Crowely about 20 minutes after I'd finished Tenpenny Tower. When the message showed that Tenpenny was dead...I was horrified that I could let that happen... I went back to investigate and met with Roy... after the conversation I had with him I was crushed that I came into a well established community and caused their deaths. I blasted Roy in the head with Crowley's sniper rifle. Even so, I'm still upset.

#32 Xpected2 Sep 7, 2009 04:12pm

This was my first time through the game, and I did it with good karma. I decided to follow that lead and allow the ghouls and humans to co-exist. After all, Gob does it just fine. I met a man named Crowely about 20 minutes after I'd finished Tenpenny Tower. When the message showed that Tenpenny was dead...I was horrified that I could let that happen... I went back to investigate and met with Roy... after the conversation I had with him I was crushed that I came into a well established community and caused their deaths. I blasted Roy in the head with Crowley's sniper rifle. Even so, I'm still upset.

You're right, once those murderous intentions were there I should've thought about whether it was safe or not. I wish the vengeance could remove the resentment...

#33 Anonymous Fall Out Lover Sep 28, 2009 09:28pm

Seriously, I'm doing it right now and I'm considering just not completing this particular quest. Why? Because sometimes I just want to try my luck at things, for example, I saved the game at the balcony where Mr. Tenpenny is always seated because I wanted to see what would happen if I did kill him. I killed him and I received good karma. I was baffled and took over the tower due to the good karma killing Mr. Tenpenny had given me, but when I was in the tower taking everyone's bottle caps since they were already dead(by the way, if you are having trouble deciding whether to do this quest based on bottle caps and material items, then taking over the tower would be better for you, Chief Gustavo offers you 500 caps for killing the ghouls but if you find the keys to all the footlockers in each of the stores from their store owners once they are dead you end up with ammo, more bottle caps, and medical supplies). Then I tried it vice versa, getting bad karma as well so I think I'm just going to leave this alone. Either way, Tenpenny Tower is indeed a morality destroyer, because no matter what you do, someone always seems to die.

#34 Anonymous in Manila Jan 15, 2010 04:04am

Got the game last year, but was too busy so was able to play this quest just this week.

Was so genuinely angry to find the dead bodies in the basement... Legendary explorer Dagwood and the kindly old woman! Noohhh!!!

What made it worse: The ghouls' thanking Roy (not me) for allowing them to live in the tower, Roy's girlfriend's "they deserved it" retort, and finally Roy's attitude at me when I confronted him with the "bloodbath" downstairs... me, the guy who made it possible for him and his ilk to live there amongst my new "friends"....

Got so pissed, I whipped out my magnum, shot him in the head (manually, without using VATS), hunted down his girlfriend, shot her in the head, then went down and shot every ghoul I saw, including that backstabbing Michael (threw a couple of grenades his way while he was hiding out in his store).

Was so genuinely disturbed that I surfed the net regarding this quest and stumbled upon this blog.

I'm now replaying that quest. My solution: get the side quest where I am offered money for killing Tenpenny. Kill Tenpenny. Get reward. Find Roy. Kill him in his sleep. Leave the Tenpenny Tower quest unfinished.

#35 Anonymous_in_Manila Jan 15, 2010 04:27am

Bought the game last year, but was too busy and was able to play this side quest just recently. Was so genuinely disturbed that I had to search the interwebs about it, which led me to this blog.

Was so genuinely angry at seeing the bodies. Legendary Dashwood and the kindly old woman? Nooooohhh!!!

Then all the ghouls seem to be thanking Roy since they think he was the one who let them live in Tenpenny. Roy's girlfriend's "they all had it coming" retort. Finally, Roy's attitude at me, asking why he should justify his "bloodbath" to a "smoothskin", and telling me to get lost before he changes his mind about me.

So I whipped out my scoped magnum, and sans-VAT, shot a round through his murderous head. THAT sure changed his mind. Hunted down his bigoted girlfriend and changed HER mind. Then went down and threw a couple of grenades into Michael's store.

After all that carnage, I realized that the game actually succeeded in pushing the right buttons for me to react in such a way. Bravo.

I guess the best way to play this scenario would be to get the side quest where I am given a reward for shooting Tenpenny in the head. Then I'll kill Roy in his sleep thinking that hypothetically this will prevent him from taking over the tower and killign everyone in it.

The limited options we gamers are given in this quest is really disappointing to say the least. Seems that the game designers were too lazy to add more depth to it, and it comes across as a "prank" to get us to feel bad about doing something good.

#36 Anonymous Jan 18, 2010 12:45pm

He was right even some of the patients there said it was pure hell. Look it up.