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I've just started playing the original Fallout (and hopefully Fallout 2 when I'm ready), and am loving it. However, I have to admit that I'm getting my butt kicked. I seem to do OK against cave rats, but if there's more than one mole rat or rad scorpion, my best tactic seems to be that of Brave Sir Robin: Run away!

I have a combat knife and a 10MM pistol, so I'm not terribly underarmed. But I've already died once from a random encounter of multiple mole rats, almost died from a mole rat with several cave rats surrounding me in Vault 15, and I think (?) I'm poisoned from a rad scorpion random encounter where I ran like Forrest Gump to get out of there.

What can I do to increase my survivability, short of leveling up a few times?

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The difficulty of starting out in Fallout is one of my favorite aspects of the game; feels more realistic that way. :) My tactic usually involved making sure my character was a good shot with the pistol starting out. A character build without a decent small guns skill will be much harder. Then until I manage to scrounge better armor and weapons, I try to only pull one enemy at a time. It takes a long time to fight through a level one monster at a time, but it's the most survivable tactic when available. Also make sure you use your resources. Chems or grenades might seem like the kind of thing you should save, but especially at low levels use what you've got!

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I ran through all my starting Stimpacks already. :) Luckily I found a few more ... And I'm getting better at cave rats. Pig rats too. Mole rats and rad scorpions are still whipping me like a school girl. :) Just turned the combat down to "wimpy" to see if it will help. –  John Rudy Aug 3 '10 at 20:54
    
@John wimpy definitely helps. As for rad scorpions look into antidote from Junktown. Early on, your character build decides if you're going to be good in combat. If you're going with a talkie or techie build you just have to suffer through some hard early fights. –  C. Ross Aug 5 '10 at 10:50
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You could try using your sneak skill a little more if you want to avoid known enemies (encounters are going to be a problem, though). Additionally I've found that the skills I tend to use are as follows: barter and small guns in early game, and energy weapons and sneak late game. Also, armour does more for survivability than level does (even at the end of the game, you'll still only have around 80hp, but big guns will only do ~10 damage against your hardened power armour).

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Inhale some Jet and run faster!

Seriously though, I had the same problem and became addicted to the stuff very early on until I could level up a little -- withdrawing from the addiction was not easy though, but I'd suggest you try some drugs (contrary to what I'd recommend in real life of course)

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An easy strategy to start Fallout is finding a trader near Shady Sands, and stealing hunting rifles from his guards. Pretty nice weapon, and you can sell them for good money.

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I've gotten to a better turnaround when I expanded my strategies to include regular use of one-off items. With consumables that temporarily increase your attributes, you can greatly affect many skills, either by maximizing them, or mitigate other character build inadequacies. It allows for finer control of attributes for a greater variety of available character classes (multi-classing) and it also forces you to play in multiple styles and to think more about the every decision you make throughout the game.

A handsome marksman, specializing in small guns and electronic weapons; a sneak, no doubt a stealer too, and very lucky; keeps foes at a distance and uses a cattle prod to ninja in close-proximity encounters--a very "cheesy" player indeed!

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One of the things that seems to set Fallout 1 apart from the modern sequels is that you can very quickly improve your equipment. As Javadoc suggested, Small Guns skill is pretty important early, and if you tag Steal as well, you can swipe a hunting rifle, a 10mm SMG, or something else pretty awesome from a guard in just about any town.

The point is, you may be better off avoiding combat altogether by running away until you get some better equipment. Save before stealing, steal stuff, reload if you're caught, and repeat until you're better equipped.

For the record though, I was able to take on a group of 5 radscorpions at level 1 by using the pistol. I chose Gifted and Skilled as traits, Small Guns tagged, and 10 Agility to give 10 AP, which means two pistol shots per turn. Still, I wouldn't drastically adjust your preferred play style just to be able to do that. Instead, get good equipment before venturing into combat areas, and run from combat when you're forced into it until then.

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