In Fallout 3+ a considerable amount of the population of the wasteland are Raiders. Their bases are full of disfigured corpses, severed heads on sticks and in general, all they seem to do all day is raid settlements and torture people.

Even if you accept that with the absence of law enforcement, all latent psychopaths could roam free, I don't believe that their numbers would be so great.

We know that e.g. super mutants...

...resulted from experiments with the Forced Evolutionary Virus which made them super strong, but also very aggressive and dumb.

Is there an in-game explanation why a major part of the surviving population behaves like psychopaths, i.e. Raiders? Maybe a Vault experiment?

I know that there is in-game information on how some Raiders capture and torture "normal" people until the "recruit" joins them. This is reminiscent of child soldiers in the real world. Still, I feel like their numbers are too great and they all seem to be enjoying it too much.

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    Not sure if this is spoilerific, but not all Super Mutants are dumb. In general, the ones on the east coast, like in Fallout 3-4, are dumber & louder, while the ones on the west coast, like in 1-2 & New Vegas, are smarter and sometimes even "cultured".
    – trysis
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 16:01

5 Answers 5


While Virusbomb's answer is correct that the underlying reason is due to gameplay mechanics, I think there's also an in-game explanation given--albeit, not one as explicitly spelled-out as some of Fallout's other worldbuilding pieces.

Psycho is a chem in the Fallout-verse that's very commonly found in Raider camps. It's often associated with Raiders even more than other chems--Cait, a Fallout 4 ex-Raider companion, uses Psycho as her chem of choice.

She's become so addicted to it that normal methods of recovering from addiction are no longer possible for her.

In Fallout 3's Operation Anchorage DLC, you see how this drug was initially designed: its initial purpose was to increase soldiers' effectiveness and aggression in battle, and it is described as having long-term side effects once taken. Doctor Adami, the physician administering the drug, says in her holotape:

I've read the early clinical trials, and there are certainly some possible side effects -- dementia, psychotic aggression. And of course addiction.

Additionally, while Tactics is no longer considered canon, the fact that Fallout Tactics contains the perk Psychotic with the flavor text:

Your body has mutated to adapt to psycho stimulants. Effects of Psycho are doubled and the effects of withdrawal are halved.

Additionally suggests that Psycho is, in-universe, meant to cause long-term irreversible aggression and psychosis if overused. The game's suggested intent seems to be that Raiders, with their culture of using and abusing chems in general and Psycho in particular, tend towards psychosis and violent aggression more than the rest of the wasteland's population, and that this damage doesn't reverse itself even for Raiders who aren't actively using.

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    This is a cute theory, but it makes no sense. I doubt a drug's effects could iclude psychotic aggression towards everyone... except fellow psychopaths. Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 22:38
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    @Wrigglenite There's a few ingame letters where followers of a raider clan expresses fear of their crazy leaders. A raider clan is probably a healthy mix of crazies and sane people who follow the crazy ones out of fear or awe.
    – emptyother
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 23:50
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    @Wrigglenite The drug's effects wouldn't exclude other psychopaths; most of Fallout's 'named' raider bosses are shown in canon to kill their own people. I'd be happy to add quotes giving evidence of this, but I'm not certain whether that would still fall within the scope of the original question.
    – Lamprey
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 14:27
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    @Wrigglenite humans are social animals who instinctively gather in groups and protect their groups while retaining aggression against outsiders. The drug increases that aggression. That makes perfect sense. It's not even fiction. It's one reason for wars all over history even without drugs. Now increase that behaviour and you get hell.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 10:47
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    @JoelCoehoorn - raw materials just sitting there... - if we were talking about Fallout 2 and Jet, everything you just said would be true to the letter. - The purpose of Vault 95 was to see what a group of recovering junkies would do if you gave them a bunch of drugs... supposedly their descendants were still alive when the Gunners arrived, so we can assume that they've been populating the wasteland for the last 200y.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 4:02

There is no in-game explanation because it's how the game has to be. The mindless enemies you kill have to seem like badguys to make it easier to kill them nonstop. And it's much simpler for a developer to make a one dimensional army of crazy evil people for you to kill instead of giving them all logic and rationality.

A series like Fallout has many factions with lots of complications and gray areas, but there needs to be some factions as fodder that will always be enemies to give the game a presence and variety of challenges.

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    To expand on this a bit: The raiders are all content to be interacted with (i.e. they can be killed). Non-psychopathic humans are pretty uncommon, as they are mostly relevant for quests, and those are limited. A similar effect can be seen in e.g. Diamond City, which has more guards than normal people (and by far insufficient beds for the guards). That's because guards have more interactions with you than BackgroundNPC#37, even if it's only by punishing you for stealing. One should walk through the world under the assumption that there are actually more peaceful settlements and empty spaces.
    – Chieron
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 16:57
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    I was explicitly asking for an in-game explanation. This is not an answer to my question. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:40

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In the age of complete paranoia and anarchy most good people of the Post-Apocalyptia travel extremely rarily if at all, and those that do are usually nothing but bad business.

This makes me think that most raiders attack on sight only because they expect to be attacked head-on otherwise. Note that most raiders have camps off roads exactly because they want to be left alone and undisturbed in between their caravan robberies.

As for people's remains, they may very well serve as a warning sign to stop casing that large shiny chest in the window, turn around and leave immediately. (If you came across a head on a pole in the real life, what would be the first thing you would do?)

They may also be "handy" as mutiny deterrents that would instill fear and obedience into their own members and act as a not-so-nice way to say "this is where you end up if you disagree with our leader".

  • Well, if I came across a head in real life i'd probably turn and run... if it happened every-time I walked past some dudes house like the FO series seems like I'm sure i'd be quickly desensitised..
    – James T
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 13:51
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    Raider camps are also full of disfigured bodies hanging on chains on the inside. This would contradict the assumption that deterrence is the main goal. Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 15:07
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    @problemofficer The out-of-game goal is to portray raiders as bullet fodder that can be killed with no remorse for XP and loot (oh look, a Bethesda game), as well as reuse as many assets as possible. Any in-game explanation, I fear, will be a stretch in one way or another, which doesn't prevent us from having fun coming up with them. It's also worth noting that the raiders in Fallout 1 and 2 are far more "civilized". They don't have heads stuck around in total disarray, and sometimes wouldn't mind having a chat with the protagonist, e.g. the Khans.
    – undercat
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:53
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    @undercat, in original Fallouts even supermutants were civilized (only little bit mentally slow), and in Bethesda's games they somehow turned into mindless violent morons hoarding meatbags in their bedrooms. Bethesda has some problems with world-building.
    – user28434
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 13:18
  • @undercat: I specifially asked for an in-game explanation and not world building. While I understand that you want to share your understanding of the Raiders role in the game mechanics, this again is not what I was asking about. That might be a side note in a good answer, but not the core of it. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:52

While I'm not aware of official comment on this, I believe this is a combination of the original authors' view of humanity and a little bit of social commentary.

With a lack of central authority, anarchy from societal collapse can lead to tribalism. If your view of humanity is that humans are primarily self-interested and that society is what provides a moral compass, the end result could be a bunch of violent, warring tribes claiming whatever they can take by force.

As far as the "heads on a pike" aspect of raider camps, using gore as a warning sign has been used throughout history by civilizations big and small. It is traditionally a form of capital punishment used as a warning to others not to follow in a criminals footsteps, but in Fallout I'm assuming the raider tribes would be using displayed gore as a combination of war trophies, warning signs to outsiders, and a display of power.

I was not able to find a lot of citation for this stuff (the current political climate in the US is throwing searches for tribalism way off), but here was what some quick Wikipedia searches picked up:

  • Raiders also have gore inside their camps, therefore this explanation is not applicable. Also, I specifically asked for an in-game explanation. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:42
  • Oh... well then no. Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 18:29

The Fallout series are far from realistic, so if we want to look at psychological reasons why raiders, supermutants or ferals behave as they do, I think the most likely, although boring reason, is as simple as "here's some evil things you get to kill" with no deeper meaning. It's part of the Fallout setting to go from deeply immersive and psychological one moment, to shallow shoot-'em-up with excessive violence the other moment.

Ignoring that, there are some possible explanations:


Might explain it at some extent, as mentioned in another answer. Raiders across the wasteland are definitely fond of drugs. However, the psycho drug is just one of many.


I'm not so sure if grotesque decorations are necessarily there for scaring off unwanted visitors. Sure, it might scare off burglars and scavengers, but it might as well attract dangerous wildlife: various insects, yao guai bears, supermutants, deathclaws. To decorate your shed with unburied corpses rather seems like a big risk.


As always in Fallout, radiation is to blame for a lot of bad things. We have the Children of Atom, who are religious fanatics and often quite insane, which is at least partially explained by their repeated exposure to severe radiation. They are occasionally using grotesque decorations like skulls and corpses. And in Fallout 4 - Far Harbor, there are raider-like groups called Trappers who have been driven insane by radioactive fog.

So the in-game lore repeatedly tells you that exposure to too much radiation might make you lose your mind. Or grow an extra head for that matter. Not very realistic, but makes a whole lot of sense from a Fallout lore perspective. Radiation is everywhere.

Raider culture

The Fallout 4 Nuka World DLC provides a lot of insights in raider mentality. Here you end up close to three very different raider groups: The Disciples, The Operators and The Pack. They are more powerful compared to the average raider groups you typically come across. In a way, these three groups represent different aspect of raider mentality.

The Disciples fit the typical psychopath cliche: fond of torture, knives, blood and gore, with the typical grotesque raider decorations. The game doesn't mention why they are a bunch of psychopaths, just that they are. And because of it, they are feared and well-known.

Raiders definitely have a kind of sub-culture. To be a good raider, you should kill without hesitation, be dangerous and strong, approve of violence and fighting, be greedy, be fond of drugs and booze etc. Embracing these twisted ideals gives status and fame among raiders. Which in turn could help raider groups when recruiting or bullying settlements into paying them.

So grotesque decorations might just be a way to show that you are dangerous and live up to the raider ideal.

  • Hi Amarth, while I appreciate the effort, this answer mostly contains speculations. I specifically asked for an in-game explanation. I really only want to know whether the writers of the game made the effort to explain this. I was not asking in a "world building" way. Therefore I downvoted this answer. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:48
  • @problemofficer Yes there is an in-game explanation, as outlined in this answer. If you buy the Nuka World DLC you'll understand this yourself.
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 16:48

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