Monster mash: A West Virginia historian on the real life folklore behind the beasts of Fallout 76

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The Fallout series is known for many things, but its pantheon of quirky creatures and bizzaro beasties has been a consistent highlight. With each instalment, Bethesda has asked itself what the native wildlife of its new setting would look like if 400 tonnes of fission bombs were dropped promptly onto their heads, with the studio’s answers ranging from giant mole rats to two headed Brahmin cows. Fallout 76 looks to be no different, too, as Bethesda takes inspiration from the state’s famous history of cryptozoology to design some of the weirdest, wackiest Fallout creatures yet. 

David Sibray is a historian and local expert in West Virginia folklore, and the founder of the West Virginia Explorer, a travel and history publication devoted to the mountain state itself. Bethesda recently invited him and several other members of the WVE to play Fallout 76 and provide feedback on the authenticity of the game’s featured critters, and reports being very impressed by what they’ve seen so far. Here, Sibray takes us through some of Fallout 76’s most famous West Virginian monsters, detailing their mythological background, and offering his expert opinion on how accurately the game presents them. 

The Beast of Grafton

First allegedly spotted in 1964, in the forests surrounding the Tygart Valley River, over 20 Grafton locals reported sightings of a nine foot tall, headless monster with slimy, pale skin during the month of June. Oft compared to Bigfoot, and thought to be carnivorous, Bethesda adapted the Beast of Grafton’s cryptology to create a poster child for Fallout 76’s new bestiary of strange and dangerous creatures. In the game, he’s a truly monstrous foe, capable of laying waste to any newly established settlements. 

“The massive Beast of Grafton wreaks havoc [in Fallout 76] much as I expected it might,” says Sibray, “using its massive forearms as battering rams and its fists as flails. During the time it wandered West Virginia, it was not known to have attacked anyone, but to my mind, now having watched the beast in action in gameplay, this would have been how it attacked. Just as Andy Serkis brought Gollum to life in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, I cannot now imagine the Beast of Grafton to act or appear any other way.”

The Megasloth

This is the one that everyone was talking about after Fallout 76’s gameplay reveal at E3 2018. A hulking, fungi-infested gargantuan, the giant sloth almost appears graceful in its bucolic majesty, though they’re hardly an easy hunt for any intrepid vault dwellers who intend to take one down. Indeed, the megasloth probably did exist at one point in time, as a prehistoric, elephant-sized ancestor of the slow mannered arboreal mammal that many of us know and love today, as Sibray explains. 

“The Megasloth is perhaps the most obscure beast brought to life in the game. Bones of an extinct Megasloth, that is a "megalonyx", were discovered among the uncharted caverns that descend beneath West Virginia's bluegrass Greenbrier Valley. The sloth tale became part of that region's lore, and I was surprised to see it in the game, but its presence makes sense. It battles much as I expected it would, using its claws to stab downward like fistfuls of daggers. I was also impressed that the designers took the modern sloth's propensity to wear fungus-laden hair a step further, and added a back full of mushrooms!”

The Mothman

Perhaps the most famous West Virginian critter of the lot, tales of the Mothman began to surface in the late 1960’s. Reports described a winged humanoid figure, “eyes glowing like red coals”, who went on to show up time and time again at various points throughout West Virginia’s history. Most notably, Mothman is associated with the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, in which it appeared as a portent for the deaths of 46 motorists.

“I have to say that I think Mothman may be more than an unthinking monster in Fallout 76, or at least I'm hoping he will,” admits Sibray. “In literature the beast seemed somewhat benevolent, in some respects. It attacked no one and appeared as a kind of harbinger to warn of coming disaster. I stressed as much while talking with Bethesda designers and have certainly said so in media interviews. I didn't witness any offensive encounters with Mothman when we played the game, so I'm unsure how it might interact with players. It made a brief appearance, its red, glowing eyes moving in the darkness, but as to its modus operandi, I'm left wondering.”

The Flatwoods Monster

Sometimes referred to as the Braxton County Monster or Phantom of Flatwoods, The Flatwoods Monster is said to be an alien who landed in West Virginia after a bright object was spotted descending from the sky in 1952. Two boys went to investigate where the projectile had landed, and told local guards of discovering a "man-like figure with a round, red face surrounded by a pointed, hood-like shape."  Since then, the monster has become a symbol of Braxton County, so you bet he’s showing up in Fallout 76. 

“A stranded space-creature, according to lore, I expected this monster to behave much as it does in Fallout 76, hovering just above the ground, firing a beamed weapon,” explains Sibray. “In their description of the encounter, locals who saw the beast described it as tall and hovering, moving swiftly through the trees behind a rise in a wood outside of village of Flatwoods, West Virginia. I think the Fallout 76 incarnation is wonderfully designed. It's purple in the game, rather than green or red, as other artists had rendered it, but I like purple, and so I have no complaints. Purple also shows up well against the background of greens and browns that define this war-torn version of West Virginia.”

The Snallygaster

This snarling, reptilian beast is supposedly not native exclusively to West Virginian pastures, but has been seen in both the neighbouring states of Maryland and Washington too. According to myth, a Snallygaster is a nightmarish hybrid of bird, dragon, and demon, who terrorised German immigrants to the midwest in the 18th century. Bethesda seems to have brought its eldritch descriptives to life with what we’ve seen of the beast from Fallout 76’s promotional materials so far, and Sibray agrees. 

“The Snallygaster was the beast I was most concerned about as a player. It was fast-moving, as the beast should be. The Germans who settled the far eastern reaches of West Virginia in the Potomac and Shenandoah valleys called it the "Schneller Geist" or "quick ghost." And quick it is. It moves fast, and its venomous tongue lashes out unexpectedly, giving it extra reach. Its powers also appear to increase as the game plays on. I think it this as one of the most deadly monsters, but then I didn't like its look either. It gave me the creeps!”

Tales of the unexpected

Of course, these may not be the only West Virginian monsters to show up in Fallout 76, as Bethesda would be wise to hold some of its best cards back for now, unless until the beta takes place next week. For example, some eagle-eyed fans have suggested that The Snarly Yowl - a ravenous, red-eyed dog - and The White Thing - a ghoulish bear-like creature - can be spotted briefly during trailers for the game, and Sibray doesn’t deny that they could yet show up. 

“I've not seen the White Thing in play thus far, nor the Snarly Yowl, though I expect either might enter the game now or in future. But who can say? As I've said before, developers indicate the game could expand for many years to come. In all cases, the monsters that appear have exceed my expectations.”