This is not about following quests - Game Walkthrough pages do that. This is about what you really do in a game, and that is, first, surviving, then, assembling your caravan and then, well, conquering the post-apocalyptic world!
For those who prefer a short and simple hint-list, here is one: Starting Hints.
Surviving your own delivery. Edit
Well only the good Lord knows how you turned out, but I sure hope your Agility is an even number (4 agility gives you a walking speed of a donkey where 6 agility lets you run along a camel just well enough - okay, not like that will be happening any time soon), I sure hope you are not weaker than 3 just so that you could carry your own food and water around, and I sure hope you're not too dumb, pal.
I mean, It's okay to be dumb actually, if you don't mind your sweet time: you could still learn everything just as well as that genius bloke, only spending thrice to fourfold on it. Well I do mind my time, so if I ever find a missus and we get over to, you know, making children into this world, I hope it turns out to something like 5/4/1/10, 3/6/1/10 or the like. Maybe 4/4/3/9. Ye ye, not that much use for accuracy these days: it only affects starting level of certain skills which you will eventually train on their own.
Much later in life you will find out that hitpoints, which are simply twenty times strength, are impossible to increase at all, sturdiest armors only getting you so far. While walking speed could be made moot by riding, action points derived from Agility grow very slowly with experience and largely remain tied to your stat. Anything else, well, time and practice will cover.
Still wondering where's the surviving part in all this? Simple. I've seen more 1/1/x/x people someone expected to become scouts then I would like, and 2/2/x/x are not much better. Poor guys couldn't carry their bottle of water to the old chap in Silos, so yes, by professional standard these are simply stillborn.
Surviving your first day in the deserts. Edit
Now you are a little overwhelmed, and rightly so: there's just so much, so much of everything. But don't be just for now. For starters, you only need to keep in mind very few but vital things: food and water. Guess what? You just have to eat and drink all the time. Same as any other guy or animal, including those in your caravan, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
See that handy Settings menu accessible via rightmost of the three upper triggers on the traveling screen or from Overview in your Caravan menus? Go there, yes, right now. Find Collect Forage and Hunt triggers. First is about, oh you guessed right, collecting forage, which is a single thing caravan animals seem to eat these days. It sells for very little, so you might want it off for now. Hunting, well, is a better stuff: you pick up your food on the go. Well, for now, a small fraction of your food anyways - amount collected depends on your Hunting skill which, if you look like my dream child, is not very high yet. Still, anything helps, plus you want to train it, and for training you need practice - much as with everything else here. So enable Hunting. Almost forgot! Enable "pause when entering travel mode" while you are at it, gonna save you krypt tons of hassle. And make sure autosave is on, same reasons.
I see it, pal, you're itching to ask: why not just pick up a bit of forage while we are at it? Well guess what: nothing is free in this world, even stuff literally collected from the ground. Each of these options slows you down by 5%, effectively increasing the amount of food and water needed for any given trip. And you figured right, this could be a straight bad thing if the amount collected is less than the additional amount consumed. You might want to just dally around some place for a while with both modes on to train respective skills, but that's another story.
Now, food comes in many different varieties with different calorie-to-weight and calorie-to-price ratios and different tastes - never mind the latter for now, your own morale is always fine, and it's too early to worry about others. You basically want meat, because it's light and nourishing. But them blokes at the Bunker supply you only with vegs, which you have to haul whole bags of just to get a bite - but apparently, vegs are the latest trend in them underground ex-mil bases. There's also this "water content" part but I suggest you don't count on it too much: still need, well, actual water to drink! Oh, and that water, along with every other liquid (milk, as the other example you'll soon encounter), needs some container...
Why does it all matter? Simple. Plot a route on your Map and look at calculations to the right. There's how much water and food you need to physically make the trip. You can go hungry or dehydrated for a short while - about half a day - then you start feeling sick, rapidly lose health and then... Okay, everyone knows what happens next - guess why you are the only Scout left in your bunker, eh?
So any town-to-town trip, you start by going to the market (or your bunker's storage) and stocking up for Vital Load - the necessary food and water. You could reduce rations in Supplies tab of your Caravan menu to give you a little edge, but don't keep it like that for long: malnourishment will cause you to lose body weight, and below 85% optimal you risk getting sick, losing the strength to carry your stuff, getting overburdened, losing speed in the middle of nowhere, and then...
Well this is the first concept you have to always keep in mind, right here. Effective safe range. Which is, how far your caravan could go at it's present speed with it's present supplies, production/hunting/foraging and consumption rates. This really bears repeating for the so-called almost fully trained scouts out there: if you don't have/find/generate enough food, water and later, with animals, forage to consume all the way to the town, you are in for a hard times. And if you cannot make it so - by increasing speed, decreasing consumption, finding or even looting more - sorry. Been nice meeting you, pal.
Okay, this might be little too grim, since there is still a margin for running on fumes here. A healthy individual could go for several days with little to no food before collapsing. Hunting offsets a little food requirements but don't count on it now unless you was born with a talent - a talent dependent on sky-high both agility and accuracy, which is something I advised against earlier. Now, the water... the water is much worse. Heat and dehydration will get you in less then 24 hours, and ironically, you also cannot hunt or slaughter livestock to get it. Again, the "high water %" food helps a little, but only that. A little. However, most of anyone you encounter also carry water with them so if things are looking bad but you are still in a shape for some fighting, guess what.
There are such a derivatives as "Effective safe range on water", "on food" and "on forage", and "effective emergency ranges". All of this is pretty self-explanatory. For someone not too dumb, at least. And yes, it's a kind of Liebig's law, in that only takes the scarcest of food or water. Shortages for less than half a day and down-rationing for less than a week are borderline, anything worse will make yet another unremarkable sandblasted bones out of you, promptly. Well, the sandblasting part is gonna take a good time, but that won't matter much for'ya, will it?
So, now you could describe the process of stocking up for the trip as "setting your effective safe range equal to the distance to destination" and sound like a real pro already! What little remains is acting like one, pal.
Free carrying capacity remaining is your "Business Load" - that's how you actually trade goods. And yes, this means the longer the trip, the less of any stuff but food and water you can take with you. Up to the point where you simply can't carry enough supplies to make it. Yes, that's the maximum one-way Potential Safe Range, where all of your carrying capacity is just for the road. Don't worry, we'll get to work on it later. Now pay attention that Potential Ranges are a fixed quality of a given caravan setup, while Effective Ranges are dynamic variables which change with most of everything you do outside combat: moving and buying/selling/looting foodstuffs and water.
And the one last thing. You might have heard of some miracles long gone, like GPS or whatnot. Well it's different times, and few people even remember something like that. What am I getting at? In the wasteland, you don't really know your location. Stray away from a pre-set direction not in view of any town, and chances are you won't ever find your way back. Not alive, by any measure. So just don't do it. If you somewhy absolutely had to, don't count on your "intuition", if there is such a thing in green scouts. Instead, open your map. When the offset is less then your sight radius, just press Go there - it will instantly orient you to correct azimuth again, let's just hope you will see your destination as you pass by. This is also why you would want to do any dedicated hunting/foraging experience roaming and/or little bit of bandit killing in close proximity of a town.
Learn the "reverse route" function of your Map not just as convenience but as an emergency measure too: If for whatever reason it becomes apparent you won't make it to your destination and, by good fortune, it happens less then halfway - reversing route and pressing "go" will instantly reorient you on a shorter trip back. Which you just might cut.
Now, I heard rumors of a smart guy from some distant place working on advancements in the whole positioning story... but for now we just have to work with what we got. And that seems to be a lot of guys not even knowing what azimuth is. Some of them asking about Liebig's law, imagine that!
One final word. Some locations do not have food and/or water and/or, as it matters later, forage on sale. Like Sigurd's Hut and Saxaul tree right away in the tribal zone. You need to be prepared and stock for two-way trip beforehand!
Surviving your first bandits. And more of them. Edit
Well the combat itself is fairly straightforward. Just stay clear of crossbow fire. Head-shot people at point blank, hit, run, whatever - you are the guy bringing a gun to the fist fight here. Mind your ammo: that 30 9mm cartridges you was supplied with may seem like a lot, but Merchants barely have 1-2 in stock at a time, and that's all you gonna have until moving on to Alkubra region. So depending on the amount of fighting you fancy doing that could be well enough or really tight, I wouldn't recommend spraying bullets away just yet in any case.
Now the important part which you won't find in one of them tactical manuals is that surviving combat is by far not all there is about surviving combat. The good news, you are trained in first aid bandaging techniques so there's no danger of bleeding out outside combat. Plus unless you Lord knows why turned on "advanced FUBAR enabler", that is, trading, the world itself will actively prevent you from taking more loot then you could carry (overburdening oneself, losing speed, eating through your supplies before making it). The bad news are that the good news end there.
If you was already malnourished/dehydrated somewhat, combat injuries could cause your health to drop below penalty levels. These penalties come to carrying capacity and speed, both of which could cause reaching safe town impossible. In other words, reduce your effective safe distance. If you are simply overburdened, immediately drop excess load down to the bare food/water needed for the rest of the trip, and you could still make it. If, however, you take a speed penalty and simply don't have enough water... well then I just wasted a hell of a lot time trying to talk sense into yet another dead man, didn't I?
Taking a prisoner without paying a second thought to it might just kill you outright: his low speed could instantly slow your whole caravan down to where your supplies are not enough. Worse yet: as prisoners tend to be heavily injured, it's basically the norm for them to have stats (and speed) penalty. Prisoners also eat and drink, what a bastards! - and communal sharing your limited food with them easily ends up with all of your starved bodies in a communal grave. That is, unless you use Prisoners screen of Supplies tab to enable a special ration. You could set it to "sand and dust" if you fancy but then why you bothered taking prisoners to begin with? And even worse yet: injuries plus malnourishment simultaneously cause very rapid health and stats drop, with speed dropping, your caravan slowing down... you get where this is headed, right?
Pretty much the same goes for hiring mercenaries, including those from the very same prisoners. No idea why anyone would do that - prisoners normally have negative attitude towards you, contrary to neutral and positive of tribal mercs in towns, pretty much guaranteeing bad salary-to-stats-and-skills rations - but nothing stops them fresh people from keeping on trying!
Besides, all the armor, weapons and even ammo also have to be, surprise, carried. So equipping something big and heavy for a bit of easier time with them bandits starts hurting your economy and, in tight cases, survival far and long from the actual battlefield. See, we're starting to talk economy now, so things are definitely getting brighter!
Surviving your first week, moving on from the surviving business to actual business. Edit
Earlier on I treated you like a totally green kid you are. Now I see that Olaf had trained you well. But you still have much to learn, my young apprentice... So I'll get all professional on your ass.
Let's expand on the whole ranges, weights and carrying capacities thing now so that you could travel, quest and trade safely and profitably.
Effective safe range = (speed) x (time you can survive on the road)
(time you can survive on the road) = (amount of resources a.k.a. Vital Load) / (consumption rate - production/gathering rate)
This is not a rocket science, really, but it does use multiple variables you can, and will, affect. So you'd better get used to it as soon as possible, pal.
Speed is the easiest part to grasp: it is equal to the slowest walking thing in your caravan, minus 5% for enabled hunting/forage collection each. Notice how I said walking thing, not just any thing?
Consumption rate comes a close second. You instantly know overall daily calorie and water rates just looking at Supplies tab, in Crew tab it says how much any single person needs, and individual animal needs are in their description anywhere you could see it. Calories come from food and animals drink their water and eat their forage raw. Interesting thing is, humans get some of their water from food they eat, calculated by an obscure, secret and unnecessary complicated formula of (food weight) x (water %). Where would you be without me, eh?
Probably wondering at the whole rationing thing under Supplies tab, I guess. Well don't waste your time, pal. It's an emergency measure, not something you want to touch often. When you really need to extend, a healthy person, that is, starting well-fed at or above ideal weight, could go for a couple of weeks on less food and for a couple of days on less water. Trim out some fat, you know. Assuming you had some to begin with. If not, like when trying to go low-rations for long... Well, my condolences. Death of emaciation in the middle of nowhere is a rather horrible way to go.
Production/gathering rate takes different forms for different resources. Animals produce appropriate kinds of milk, which is nourishing and, like, 90% water. Collecting and Hunting gathers forage / assorted foodstuffs according to Collecting / Hunting skills. The exact amounts are hard to predict, but easy to see with experiment (assume 0 production in stocking up and then divide leftovers by time on the road). Now compare the result with 5% speed drop and decide, keeping in mind that active skills will get better over time. Practically speaking, aside from the fact you will reeeeally want female animals in your caravan over male ones, this is the part where you don't have much maneuver and much to calculate and recalculate on a regular basis.
Present amount of resources (a.k.a. Vital Load) equals their weight straight up with forage, but gets a little trickier with calories and water. I already said how some of your water is hidden in your food. Calories do not translate into weight directly, too. An additional layer of advanced professional knowledge should be applied, in the form of (calories) = (weight) x (calories per kilo). Besides, a poor bloke just like you, running around on his first errands, should also pay attention to calories per price ratio. In layman's terms, you want milk with caloricity of a jerky and price of a sand. Or a jerky with water content... good luck finding either! Hint: being able to calculate calories per price without my help is a step in the right direction.
From now on, we will call the whole bulk of supplies needed to get you, with all your consumptions, productions and speed, from point A to point B - that is, to have and effective safe range from A to B - you Vital Load from A to B. If you really are as smart as I hope, you would already figure that "buying your Vital Load from A to B" sounds even more professional the "setting your effective safe range", while meaning the same thing.
Don't get worried just yet, most of the hard math you will do instinctively on the Map screen when plotting a route. A thing of notice is that instinct won't count water in your foods as "water available". But as I already said, effective emergency range on water is the tightest thing all else starting equal, so consider this a bit of a safety net and don't over-think.
Worth mentioning right here that you need containers to carry liquids around, and containers have their own weight too. Well for starters you just want enough to have your potential safe range on water go all the way between tribal camps. To carry your Vital Load of water between them, getting it?
So why does it all matter so much? I mean, aside from the obvious "dying without food and water in the middle of nowhere" thing? You should have guessed already! Here's yet another sophisticated piece of math for you:
(Maximum load) = (Fixed Load) + (Vital Load) + (Business Load)
Yeah, that's all there is. Or not?
Fixed Load is your weapons, armor, containers, carts, everything you carry around whether you have to or like to.
Maximum load is the combined carrying power of everything you got walking or rolling, aside from prisoners. Lazy bastards would rather dehydrate then carry their own water. The final number is right at the bottom, in plain view.
So it wasn't all, after all. We're just getting to the crux of it:
(Business Load) = (Maximum load) - (Fixed Load) - (Vital Load)
And Business Load is what the hassle is about. How much trade goods you could move from A to B without the risk of dying on the road. At least without "outside interference", I mean. More goods = more profit, unless you are trading at a loss. Which I sure hope you don't. Mind you, liquid trading goods are going to need containers just as much as your water and milk.
Remember I said these are variables that change over time? Here's a specific effect of that: as you travel and consume your Vital Load, you get more and more free loading potential in your caravan. Thus it is possible to take and carry some loot even if you left town filled full.
Might be little overwhelming at first but it all just fits in nicely once you get a grip, and you really should if you are to survive and prosper. Longer trip - more Vital Load - less Business Load. Slowing down for whatever reason? Well the time you have to survive on the road goes up, which typically means necessary Vital Load goes up (unfortunatelly, that growing need is rarely met by additional real food and water just materializing outta nowhere in your stockpiles). Business Load comes to 0 at a given distance? Well that's your maximum safe range at present configuration.
Just found heavier weapons/armor then you don't seem to really need in your battles? Well they increase Fixed Load and therefore reduce Business Load, might want to sell. Got a herd of mammals pumping out more milk then you can eat? Well your Vital Load on food just gone negative, indicating net production over time - one less thing to worry about. And so on, and so on. Not only survival but most of economical decisions you'll make are going to be based off such logic.
Armed with this knowledge, and a little bit of cash, you are no more in danger of just vanishing in the deserts. So it's a right time to start talking about that cash part.
Working for food and board. Edit
Just kidding, you don't seem to need board. And you sure want to work for more then just food. You want them heavy profits!
(Total Profit) = (Gross Profit) - (Running Costs)
Not complicated, right? Let's take a deeper look. Your (Gross Profit) consists of two major sources and one minor:
(Profit from trading) is trading revenue minus cost of goods sold. Who would have thought? Here's some really good news: "cost of goods" are shown in plain text in their description in shop, "price you paid", until you remove all of it to put on a barter table. And more: there is a description of trade routes that goes into all the detail.
(Profit from selling loot) which for now will mostly be clumsy weapons and armor. Notice how it will also take a free Business Load to actually carry it to the fence.
(Profit from selling excess milk/wool/food/forage made on the road) should be mentioned but really shouldn't be paid any more attention, as it never seems to amount to anything but pocket change.
Fittingly, (Running Costs) boast the same configuration:
(Costs of Vital Load) minus, obviously, what part of it you loot/make.
(Salaries) for your mercenaries, which we'll talk about very soon.
(Decay effect healing/repairs). A complicated concept amounting pretty much to nothing. People, animals and carts slowly loose health over time, indicating wear and tear. You and professionals in your team slowly add health to people, animals and carts via Doctor, Veterinary and Mechanic skills. If these skills are low or there's simply too many patients, the balance will be negative and you have to periodically cover for it by healing/repairing in towns. While technically this is a vital issue and a possible way to expire, practically I don't know how inattentive, poor and messed up you need to get for it to matter. Especially with the free doctor at your Bunker.
Everything of the above works per time, obviously. Now, one more thing that did in many an wannabe entrepreneurs:
(Liquidity). This means cash and whatever you will sell right now in the course of your normal business. Add trade goods sold at loss and non-vital Fixed Load like fancy armor for Emergency Liquidity - but you really don't want for it to come to that. This is your ability to actually buy stuff you need, including Business Load for the next leg of your trip, and to pay your mercenaries with cold hard cash. People around are not accepting promissory notes from a nobody who's equally likely to venture forever to faraway lands or fall yet another prey of the wastelands. There's also this thing about "selling at loss": typically such losses are more then the profits you make on average. Conclusion? Carry some cash.
Expanding your caravan. Edit
By now you probably realized that no matter how strong and fast you are, your potential safe range as a single human being is quite limited, and so are effective Business Loads you could carry on trips of usual distance, such as between tribal camps, much less anything longer. Well, you probably noticed by now how we are talking "caravans" and "caravaneer", not "a lone dude hauling stuff around". There's a number of options here: mercenaries and slaves, and the whole animals-carts-vehicles stuff. And examining all those, the simple logic above is our basic tool.
Cynically speaking, mercenaries and slaves are not much different as your "pack mules". I mean, slaves won't ask for salaries, and won't fight for you in battles (thus, practically necessitating at least a small couple mercs, unless you are Chunk Nariz incarnate). And running them in any noticeable amounts gonna make you known as a slaver. Remarkably, if you feel the need to buy and immediately free some hapless souls, they will scram as soon as the cuffs come off. Don't expect gratitude there. Same goes for slaves freed from slaver gangs "in the wild" - for people saved by your hand they really don't know how to ask about adequate salaries.
Still, both mercs and slaves are humans, have 4 human stats working the same way as your owns (specifically, different people have different Speeds based on their Agility scores), and those stats are subject to penalties should bad stuff happen - e.g. they could loose speed and/or carrying capacity right in the middle of nowhere. Therefore you should pay as much attention to their rations and fine health as to your own.
Most importantly, humans are not just all that good beasts of burden overall, in term of how much they got to eat and drink compared to how much they could physically carry. But that's where you will probably have to start anyways, since as people right here at Lintu Merchant and Pullid Livestock Market are gonna show you right away, animals are pretty expensive for your starting budget.
All this said, I do recommend you start looking for a serviceable mercenary at camps you visit right away. He should be not much slower then yourself, have high strength and low wage. Which means you are probably okay with him being too clumsy and dumb to ask for more. Just out of my own pocket, was able to hire me some 6/4/1/1 dude, or the like, for something around 100/week. And that was just golden. I would've easily paid him something like 200, and I would've gladly hired his twin brother or two, and that's about it.
Do NOT keep any mercenary or slave who's speed is significantly lower then everyone else's, as the neat math above should tell you he's basically eating into everybody else's practical use. Also you might not want to be keeping people who are so weak, they are basically offering you near-zero Business Load on their own while you are still paying for their food. And of course, should anyone get so injuried or exhausted that stat penalties cause his presence to cut your caravan's overall Effective Safe Range short of safe harbor, you face the classic dilemma of abandoning them to their deaths or dying all together.
This also affects the idea of playing sheriff - if you want to actually haul prisoners to the authorities, make sure that you have empty carts or vehicles. People shot or beaten to within an inch of their lives don't run well, and while you might skimp on fully treating them, you want them alive. And the bounties don't even pay for the ammo.
A word on salaries: for a while, these are important. And aside from the obvious "stats and skills", one's asking salary is also significantly dependent on his attitude towards you. Enemies will refuse the job at all, and people who are really hot for you will work at a significant discount - which is what you want, by the way. For those already in your caravan (say, as prisoners), their Morale matters. And hey! - yes, here's to the popular notion of hiring prisoners: they are typically from a faction which hates you, meaning they hate you, and their Morale is typically in the deep krypt - heck, they just got basically beaten unconscious! Therefore their asking salary is, typically, plain unadequate. If you absolutely want to hire them, at least carry them around for a while feeding them the best food, so that their Morale grows to adequate levels - trust me, it gonna pay off almost instantly.
Now, notice how most of the things said above, I said to your green, fresh starting self. When your budget is tight, your caravan is small, and you don't yet dare even dreaming of one day riding your own horse or, hard to imagine, eh? - even motorbike. Much less having all your other guys ride the same, too, and hiring them purely for their combat abilities. Know why? Because you shouldn't. Dreaming gets you dreamy, and dreamy gets you dead. Up to at least Janubi region, you won't really face much, if any, fights, that you, good old chap Spencer who's likely to join your team soon enough, and 1-2, maybe 3 trusty dumb blind clumsy cheap mercenaries-of-burden won't handle. Remember that paradox line way earlier about how carrying too good, and too heavy, weapons and armor too early for the enemies you face hurts your economy? Well guess what, paying too good a combat professional his worthy salary will hurt it even more.
If you see someone absolutely brilliant, and at very good price, which is still just bit too heavy for you to afford (my cheap ass would say it's anything above 1000/week up until you get to Janubi. Less cheap asses may be drawing lines at 2 or 3k before going above to the dumb asses zone), here's what you could do if you already know your way around Alkubra: hire him, and hurry to the Fort Mitchell. There, pay Police Academy for one day tuition of this dude, and hasten away. They are going to feed him indefinitely and free of additional charges awaiting your return to pick him up. Just don't tell them I taught you this move!
Finally, always have cash ready to pay salaries. Unpaid mercenaries instantly get super-lazy and refuse to do their hauling until the next town where they leave altogether. They also drop morale and their views of you, should you want to re-hire them. None of this is any good.
And we get to what really makes your caravan a caravan and not a proverbal ragtag bunch of misfits: beasts of burden.
All animals are bit more "plain" in their descriptions: each kind has their singular speed, and most grown-ups have some but not too wide variance in their maximum load and corresponding variance in forage and water consumption. Pup and elderly animals typically don't have much positive effects in carrying capacity and milk production while still drinking and eating their food.
I mean, I won't talk about sheeps, goats and even cows. These are just a burden, and cows are a pure shmuck bait, what with their speed of 3. Initially, you need a donkey. A female donkey.
There doesn't seem to be much added cost for females, neither in the form of their loads-to-consumption rates nor in market prices. But there seems to be a lot of milk coming! Very roughly, the 3 donkeys which in my humble opinion are pretty much everything you need before going for horses or camels, are feeding one person just with their milk. That's not just savings on food, that's more Business Load for you. People talk about breeding animals right inside your caravan, which does require males. Unless you always "absolutely and indisputably" wanted your own ranch and herd rather than money - don't bother. By the time you see your first juniors, and by the time they grow enough to be sold for anything, your running profits would likely already consider all that business a spare change scale. Keep in mind that newborn animals are much less sturdy - they simply will not make the treks you are used to.
Carts. Heh, the simpliest part. ALWAYS get it for all of your animals. You don't have elderly or junior beasts who gain less capacity than the cart weight, do you? Basically a cart means free carrying capacity minus its own weight, and grants a good amount of it. Don't forget about lubrication altogether, but don't bother with too much math: it's negligible, as long as you are doing any business at all aside from just roaming aimlessly in circles.
Later on you will encounter a more thrilling choice, which is, horses or camels. Yes, it is the "or". Same holds for ANY combination of beasts - the speed is decided by the slowest, the consumption by time spent.
Advanced trading. Edit
Supply, demand, dynamic prices, market cash caps, earnings-per-time earnings-per-load and earnings-per-capital (aka busting shops), own businesses