I want to tell you a story.
It is a true story. True as science fiction can get, anyway, one that happened for me in real-time. It is an organic story, described through the utter RNG (or random number generation) of a singular game called Rimworld. As a player, I am responsible for most of the specific details I will use to tell this story. But the system itself is the one that assembled the parts together, and I got to experience them in gameplay the same way I’m describing them in writing. Rimworld itself is described by its developer as a “story generator,” and to be sure, it is a magnificent one.
(By the way, I play a massively modded version of Rimworld. So if any of the details here seem far-fetched, it’s because some wonderful modder made a mod. Check out the Steam Workshop for Rimworld if you don’t believe me!)
There once was an old woman named Kat.
Of course, I call her old because out in the Rimworlds, those far-flung frontiers of civilized space, you’re just as likely to die in the cradle than survive for the fifty year time span that Kat did. The raiders of her village had described the ruins of the old manor house as abandoned but rich with loot. Unfortunately for Kat, it only looked abandoned. The moment she took a step into the manor’s ruined garden, in an instant, she felt a searing pain behind her eyes, and all faded to black.
Then she woke up, several hours later. She was chained to a bed in a dimly-lit stone chamber. No doubt inside the manor ruins. She then gazed upon the terrifying form of an eight-foot tall woman clad in the largest suit of power armor she had ever laid eyes on.
The woman spoke:
“Ah… you’re awake. Praise the Lord for His mercy; you shouldn’t have come looking for trouble here.”
Captured by Christians. Of all the people to encounter on the Rim, it had to be Christians.
Still, at least these Christians were heavily armed and armored, not at all like the flimsy weaklings that ranted and raved on glitterworld street corners. And they must have known how to assemble a heater, as Kat had never experienced the comfort of an HVAC system since her previous employer’s ship crash-landed on this miserable planet many years before.
The massive woman in power armor introduced herself as Jade. She was married to a man named Jacob, and though the husband was the de facto “leader” of the family, it was the mighty preaching wife that was most obviously in charge. They had three children at the time: two sons Virgil and John (young boys of the same age, but one biological and one adopted, in that order), as well as an adopted teenage daughter named Estelle.
Kat might have introduced herself. But she did not speak. She was a mute, and had been since childhood. It did not stop her from writing her responses on paper, but she didn’t appreciate the attitude when Jade tried to force her to speak. It was bad enough that Jade was at fault for knocking Kat unconscious and imprisoning her. But now she had to insult her with a high-and-mighty attitude as well?
Okay, let’s be fair: Kat wasn’t much of a catch herself. She was an alcoholic, an addict, and a bad one. There were reasons for her inebriation, though.
She had a fantastic, nearly eidetic memory. Some would consider this a blessing. She did not. While her talents never faded away, neither did the terrifying memories of the past that haunted her present. She was tortured, abused, and humiliated to serve a raider gang that didn’t honestly care if she lived or died. Worse, her parents had been the leaders of said gang. Her only source of comfort as a child were the chickens and cattle that the gang kept for milk and eggs, as well as the hounds they bred for combat.
She escaped that old life by hitching a ride on a starship, becoming a janitor to make ends meet. While most passengers aboard starships sleep the years away under cryogenic suspension, Kat never got to experience this; she had to travel the long way. Her duties demanded that she remain awake for the entire voyage across the Rim. While her passengers aboard the vessel peacefully slept and ceased aging, they did not sense the passage of time. But Kat did. By the time the vessel’s journey ended, the timid young lady had grown old, too old to ever have a biological family of her own.
Her troubles did not end with lost time. Her employment as a janitor came to a crashing halt quite literally when her ship exploded in orbit above a particularly dreadful Rimworld, one undergoing a severe ice age. In order to survive, she returned to the skills that she thought she had left far behind her: making tools of war for mindless, bloodthirsty raiders.
And once again, she turned to her true passion, spending time with the only beings who truly understood her: the beasts and critters that called the Rimworld home.
Jade made one thing absolutely clear: if Kat wanted to live, sobriety was non-negotiable. As punishment for raiding their home, she would never sip another drop of alcohol again, so long as she was under their custody. She would be locked in her cell without booze until she “overcame her demons,” after which they might release her.
Though Jade towered over Kat like a mountain, and could probably have torn the 50-year-old woman in half with her bare hands, there was no separating Kat from her only source of comfort. Without speaking a word and without giving a reason, Kat started tearing her cell apart.
Under normal circumstances, under more brutal supervision, this little tamtrum would have been ignored, or (more likely) a death sentence. Not so for this little Christian family in the wilderness. They couldn’t afford it. Outside the walls was a violent polar tempest, with a temperature that did not rise above -45 degrees farenheit (-42.7778 C) during the summer months. The family, horrified at this woman’s resolve to drink, relented. They allowing her a single alcoholic beverage per day, which they promised to brew. But in exchange, Jade required service, one they were having difficulties providing themselves. As it turns out, the family had “inherited” the manor after the previous royal inhabitant had been murdered by deserters of his own faction. They left many treasures behind, including rare and exotic lifeforms, ones they could train and use to defend themselves against the many dangers of the Rim.
In exchange for food and shelter from the bitter cold, Kat would promise to tend to their rather… unique menagerie of animals. At last, Jade was speaking reason. At this offer, Kat eagerly agreed and joined the familial colony. Better life with religious nutjobs than freezing to death in the cold.
The colorful assortment of wildlife Kat was now responsible for included:
- Zora and Emu, the family’s two megalochelys. These ancient tortoises had been resurrected by some uber-rich magnate and left to multiply on the Rim wherever they might.
- Nakri and Odah, the family’s pair of great wyrms. Not quite mythological “dragons,” but powerful in their own right. The wyrms were flightless lizards of massive size and strength that could tear through steel like butter with their razor-sharp claws and teeth. Odah, the male, was the decidedly easier of the pair to deal with, and the better trained. The female Nakri was pregnant (or “gestating”) for eighteen months after Kat joined the family, and every month until she gave birth, she would get more and more difficult to handle.
- Frankie, the family’s pet Yorkshire Terrier. A terrific yappy dog and a great cuddler. Kat never had a complaint about him.
- The family’s pet Siamese cat named Bernard. The family did not have him long for reasons that shall become apparent, unfortunately.
From day one, Kat realized that living with the family was going to be difficult. She did not accept the god they believed in, or their ceaseless evangelizing. Even with all of their happy singing and dancing, their optimistic outlook in the face of annihilation… Kat didn’t share it. She couldn’t, and didn’t want to believe in some invisible thing that allowed her life to proceed the way it did.
Jade and Jacob were insistent, naturally. Pushy. They convinced her to read the stories and learn the doctrine, and with nothing but free time now available to her, she did so. But the pain in her heart was too much to bear to strangers. She remained mute and stoic, even as her alcohol withdrawls became painful and relentless. More than once, when the headaches hit their peak, she would wander the halls, hounded by Jade who would try to comfort her with scriptures and preaching. Kat only resented her more for the trying.
“We both hunger and thirst,” Jade would say. “We are naked, buffeted by suffering, without a home. Working with our own hands, we bless those that hate us, and suffer those who despise us. Our reward is not here, in the Rim. It comes after. This is why we live the way we do.”
This was not the answer Kat ever wanted to hear. That was not a guarantee that offered hope. Jade tried three separate times to calm Kat down, and every one of them failed. Jacob, in the end, eventually stepped in, putting aside the religion and offering words of actual comfort and direction.
(True story, even though Jade’s “social” score was near 14, she failed each and every time to comfort Kat because their “ideoligions” did not match. You can be the most professional and eloquent speaker and just not have the right ideas to convince or comfort people. This game be brilliant like that.)
One day in the middle of winter, Jade departed alone, promising to return after helping a nearby tribal village solve a “research issue.” Research, with a bunch of cannibals? Really? What good would that do the family, honestly?
Jade was always looking to help people, even her enemies. Every time a merchant approached the manor, if they owned slaves, she would purchase a single slave just to set them free. When raiders attacked the manor, psychopathic monsters that Kat knew personally, Jade would knock them unconscious with a single strike from her massive plasteel fist… just to resusitate them and send them back home with nothing more than a headache and a stern word. She would offer her skills to the most meager of purposes, even when provided with little evidence that she would receive anything in return.
This bothered Kat. But she remained as silent as ever. It was Jade’s life, her family’s decision to make, not Kat’s. It was their supidity, not hers. And they made many such illogical decisions.
Speaking of one such decision, it was around this time that Jade’s family grew larger. Jacob had been researching archotech that would allow them to create new life in a laboratory setting. Human life. Though their new son had been only a few cells in size, Allen would be “born” from the growth chamber in the ten days it would take for Jade to return; they would have a brand-new infant in less time than it took to sneeze, and all without the pains of pregnancy. Turns out the family really took the whole “multiply and replenish the earth” line from their fancy book very seriously.
Though the thought of a vat-born child made her a bit nauseous, she decided that if the technology had to exist at all, at least it existed in the hands of this relatively-reasonable family instead of raiders and cannibals. Or worse.
Despite Jade’s absence, those ten days were not enjoyable for Kat. Her withdrawal symptoms had reached their peak. And in the midst of an alcohol-deprived panic attack, Kat suddenly saw falling stars out her window. But they weren’t shooting stars. They were drop pods. A machine army, come to demolish what remained of the old manor, and no doubt murder everyone inside, including her.
She could have run. But she didn’t. Though she may have disliked Jade, disliked the family in general… this was not a fate she thought anyone deserved. She took up her double-barrel shotgun and went to defend Jacob and the children.
Explosions then rocked the manor. Estelle died first; she thought her training against target dummies would translate to military-grade combat intelligences. She severely underestimated her defensive position and was down in a single explosive shot. Virgil tried to be a hero, to get his unconscious sister to safety. A second explosion killed them both. John died next; though more reserved and cautious, the burning ruins of the manor collapsed upon him, crushing him to death.
Jacob and Kat, unaware that all three children had died within seconds of each other, and they themselves completely taken by surprise, huddled together in the center of the manor in hopes that their meager automated defences would hold. They did not. A giant centipedal robot barreled through the wall (flanked by four others), firing an explosive round at Jacob. His protective shield belt took the majority of the impact, but they did little to protect his legs. His legs shattered, he could not move, flee, of fight against the massive killing machine advancing towards him.
The real tragedy was the one happening in the center of the room. Allen had just been born, moments before his siblings perished. Jacob screamed at Kat to save the baby. But one thing was clear: she could not save them both. If she tried to save Allen, it would take too much time to run back through the burning manor. Even then, she could not cross the flaming ruins with a guarantee that they would both survive. And to be fair… Jacob had experience. So, instead of saving the child, she saved the one she knew she could. She grabbed Jacob, leaving the baby to howl in his nursery alone as the machines continued to disassemble the manor around them. And Jacob, legless and semi-conscious, could do nothing as Kat dragged him away into the blizzard, having chosen to save the father and not the son.
Kat did not apologize for her decision, and she never did. Though in her panic, she had brought no medicine with her. She was no doctor, but she knew enough. When they had escaped far enough from the threat, Kat bound Jacob’s wounds, applying tourniquets with the very clothing she wore.
And in that moment, Jade returned to the burning manor with all the fire and fury of a mother in mourning. She had heard the explosions from a mile away, and had come running. Mounted atop the great wyrm Odah, wielding a charge rifle and her signature siegebreaker power armor, Jade and her monsters tore the mechanical abominations to ribbons.
In seconds, the fight was over. If Jade had been there, perhaps her children would still be alive.
Though half the the manor house had been disassembled by the machines and the other half set on fire, when the smoke cleared… Jade uncovered a miracle: the roof of the nursery above Allen’s crib had held firm. Right in the center of the carnage, surrounded by machine corpses, was a crying newborn baby, untouched by the machines. They had not identified him as either a threat or a target. Perhaps it was because he was vat-born.
Jade found Jacob and Kat huddled together in a cave some distance away for warmth. She did not have to ask what had happened. And Kat did not feel the need to blame Jade for absence. She did not have to; life on the Rimworlds was difficult, unfair. Brutal and sinful, filled with a thousand horrors built upon the corpses of a thousand more. To point it out would be cruelty.
Jade and Jacob managed to find the bodies of Virgil and Estelle, and constructed caskets for them. John’s body, on the other hand, did not survive the inferno or the collapse of the manor. Funerals were held for the children. All of them… save for Allen, their single surviving miracle. Still they spoke of a loving god, and still they clung to their scriptures and doctrine.
But Kat could not fault them, for Kat had found her own resolve. Though she still faced months of alcohol withdrawls and never-ending nightmares, she had faced down certain death and emerged victorious. She even managed to save another person’s life, and perhaps two, in the midst of it all. If she could stare those killing machines in the eyes and survive, what was a simple lack of alcohol to her? Where was the power and pain, in all those memories she hated so?
They were nothing. Nothing the right application of food, sleep, passion, recreation, and time couldn’t cure.
She never did speak again. Not after the many tragedies that had befallen her throughout her life. She never did fully embrace the faith that Jade and Jacob had chosen for themselves. But she sat and listened whenever they sung their songs and danced their dances. And she learned to love little Allen, that singular miracle, even if she couldn’t tell him so. Instead, she shared her love with the animals and beasts as she tended to them, training them to defend the loving family that had adopted her.
In fact, she was so inspired by the family’s resolve, she personally tamed one of the mightiest beasts of the tundra in an act of pure inspiration: a great big black bear she decided to name Da Vinci. Though Kat would remain mute, she had no need for words when Da Vinci and Nakri and Odah could roar them for her.
My Rimworld Review Score: 10/10.
This game is an unequivocal masterpiece. If you like simulation games, don’t miss this one. There’s no end to the stories you can experience.