- "Not any old waster can become a Pathfinder. It takes a decade of harsh training, and one in six who try it die. Another three of those six flop. Those who don't die or flop out are molded into something different. Well-disciplined, and with the skills of their forebears ingrained into their mind permanently. The militia can shoot straight, but a Pathfinder can pop a skull a kilometer out."
- ―Lucas Mannheimer, in his 2280 memoirs
The Pathfinders were born out of necessity: in the aftermath of the Great War the population of what would some day become the Fortress was forced to send out soldiers to scavenge the wasteland. These soldiers were picked by lot, initially. However, when the Fortress emerged from their bunker and began to settle, it became more of a profession.
In these early days, the Pathfinders adapted their survivalism training to the post-apocalyptic wasteland and expanded upon it. The lack of an overt, intelligent threat, meanwhile, let them sit on their laurels and lose their edge with a rifle. The only thing they needed to do was keep tabs on the local wildlife and retrieve as much food and water as they could.
The arrival of the Order of Saint Christopher in the 2130s, as well as the roaming raiders who followed in rapid succession, came as a massive shock to the otherwise very peaceful region. Park Hills and Sullivan both could defend themselves with relative ease, but the likes of New Bismarck, a small society that introduced Brahmin to the region that would some day become the Ozark Republic, could not adequately put up a fight. Because of their economic importance, the Fortress regularly dispatched Pathfinder teams to contest the Order's many acts of aggression, with varying degrees of success.
After the Order was destroyed, the floodgates of bands of marauders coming south and west from Saint Louis and Kentucky, respectively, were opened. The Hawks moving in several dozen miles outside of Park Hills caused the flow to abate somewhat, but the period was marked by a chaos in which the Pathfinders gained their real reputation.
Superior tactical ability on the part of the Pathfinders' handlers versus the raider leaders meant that nearly every confrontation was a smashing victory. The Pathfinders were also known for being extremely rapid in their deployment, thanks to their usage of military transport trucks. Regardless, there was never enough Pathfinders to adequately defend every tiny settlement in the wasteland, leading to the destruction of many of the original survivor communities who were at the time eking out a meager existence. Only the settlements who were directly related to the wellbeing Fortress were directly defended against the onslaught, although many more saw the benefits of the Pathfinders eradicating numerous raider camps.
As the sedentary city-states coalesced into their modern form, with Twain's population having migrated from further into the Ozark mountains and Park Hills growing from the fallout of the constant pillaging of the outlying territories, the Pathfinders took on a secondary role of diplomats, communicating with the Fortress' neighbors and running messages. The routes they set down would form the basis for the future Lead Belt Mail Service that runs packages across the wasteland.
In the early 2200s as the raider influx began to abate, and the Fortress briefly fell under the command of the Enclave, the Pathfinders regularly refused orders passed down, or fabricated results in order to avoid carrying out the often genocidal commands their handlers were being passed. It got nearly to the point of open revolt when they were ordered to assault Twain, with the Pathfinders simply staying in their barracks. When the Fortress ceased receiving orders in 2242, they sat idly waiting for some time before in 2245 beginning a rapproachment campaign toward the other settlements, who had grown tired of the Fortress throwing its weight around. Normal operations resumed for the Pathfinders, and while the marauding raiders still passed by occasionally their influx had by and large tapered off.
Around this time, the Republic of Ozark was formed in earnest, and control over the Pathfinders was passed from direct Fortress control to a congressional oversight committee. The Pathfinders served during the Constitutional War as the "right arm of the Republic", playing a key role in balancing out the similarly-hardened Hawks who supported the separatists. Ultimately, their assault on the Hawks' main headquarters and the capture of many of the mercenary organization's leaders lead directly to the downfall of the anti-Republic faction, as without the Hawks they couldn't stand against the numerical superiority. The Pathfinders took heavy losses throughout the Constitutional War (relatively speaking), losing a full platoon's worth of Pathfinders and reducing their effectiveness for the next two decades.
Following the Constitutional War, the Pathfinders resumed their normal scouting and patrol routines. From 2274 they have been key in the Great Cartography Project, during which they have mapped the terrain and settlements of Ozark's territory in excruciating detail.
The organization of the Ozark Defense Force in the early 2280s eased the burden of defending the Republic's territories to some degree, as the Pathfinders were having to compensate less for the failures of the militias that had preceded the ODF. The ODF was trained and is commanded, largely, by former Pathfinders, but with nowhere near the same level of discipline or comparable firepower. In any case, the Pathfinders and ODF in unison were key to the purge which eradicated the ghoul infestation in Saint Mary's Landing.
The Pathfinders are organized into three platoons of fifteen to twenty individual Pathfinders. Each of these platoons is subdivided into squads of four. On top of these three platoons, there is also a significant support element who act as coordinators, planners, quartermasters, weaponsmiths, and liasons. All of these elements are kept working in tandem to ensure the Pathfinder Corps as a whole functions at its peak efficiency.
The Fortress ensures that any equipment the Pathfinders need is provided. No expenses are spared for these soldiers. All weapons are kept in working order by the Pathfinder weaponsmiths, who fashion replacement parts out of metals from Park Hills.
The Pathfinders are given great leeway in terms of their armaments. Their preferred weapon may vary from person to person, and there are only a few limits on what they can or can't take from the armory, as decided by the Oversight Committee and the Quartermaster.
Weapons firing traditional lead bullets using gunpowder.
- M199 - The standard assault rifle of the Pathfinders as well as one of the most common rifles found in the wasteland. An H&K G3-pattern assault rifle build under license by Stetson under the manufacturer designation R91. The favored rifle of 2nd Platoon.
- M65 - The standard squad support weapon of the Pathfinders and a weapon unique to them. Designed in 2165 by Pathfinder weaponsmiths, it is an M199 with a lengthened and sturdier barrel, a bipod, and with its chamber modified to accept 7.62mm rounds from a 35-round magazine. The internals were also reinforced to counteract the additional stress of the 7.62mm round.
- N99 - The classic military derivative of the Colt 6520, the N99 remains one of the Pathfinders' favored sidearms. Time-tested, rugged, and firing a powerful cartridge which makes it perfect for extended wasteland use and close-quarters engagements.
Weapons that convert energy into dangerous projectiles.
- AER-9/AER-7 - The favored weapon of 1st Platoon. Excellent accuracy makes it great for the open expanses of Ozark, although lacking the punch and rate of fire of a traditional ballistic rifle. Both variants of the AER platform are sturdy enough to withstand prolonged usage, but do have inferior uptime compared to ballistic weaponry, and rely on precious metals to continue operation, making them expensive to repair.
- Winchester P94 - The P94 is a heavy plasma weapon. It isn't employed often except in scenarios where overwhelming power is needed and the MPAW is either unavailable or unfeasible (i.e., needing less peripheral damage). A well-refined industrial implement, the P94's parts are sturdy and fairly easy to come by.
- M2071 - Otherwise known as the Wattz 2000, the M2071's integrated scope and sturdy design makes it one of the most useful implements in the Pathfinder arsenal. One is always present on a Pathfinder scouting mission, and apart from the DKS-501 it is the favored weapon of Pathfinder marksmen.
A menagerie of weapons which have an uncommon purpose or lack the sturdiness needed for regular usage.
- MPAW - Man-Portable Assault Weapon. An anti-tank and anti-fortification, single-shot rocket launcher based upon the classic American LAW. The weapon was employed briefly during the Constitutional War when the Pathfinders stormed the Hawks' HQ, using it to quickly blast through locked doors or make new paths through walls. However, its usage is highly restricted.
- DKS-501 - A semi-automatic marksman rifle. Two variants are kept on hand, one chambered in 7.62mm and one chambered in 5.56mm. The fragility of the weapon keeps it from widespread use, but its scope is often used separately for long-distance reconnaissance.
- CAWS - Close Assault Weapons System. The CAWS is a semi-automatic combat shotgun employed for city reconnaissance, as it excels at mid and short ranges, but because of Ozark's terrain and its poor durability its use must be approved by the Oversight Committee.
Armor and uniform
The Pathfinders possess a small fleet of thirty suits of power armor in working order, sufficient to outfit an entire platoon for particularly high-risk operations. Generally kept under guard in the Fortress armories since 2120, due to scarcity of replacement parts. Twenty of these suits are T-51 variants; ten T-51b, five T-51c, three T-51d, and two T-51f. There are an additional ten suits of T-45, which are used only for non-combat duty such as carrying large objects.
There are additionally four main types of non-powered armor, each of which is a stripped-down variant of prewar combat armor in various states of dismantlement. All of them are painted a dark tan to camouflage against the wasteland background.
- Type I - The standard, prewar combat armor, with some minor touching-up done.
- Type II - The pauldrons are removed to give the wearer a greater mobility around the shoulders.
- Type III - Pauldrons, the bodysuit, and leg armor is removed to offer full protection to the torso, while offering greater overall mobility.
- Type IV - This armor consists only of the chestplate and some plates of armor around the midsection and back. Not much of an improvement over the Type III in terms of mobility, but significantly lighter and easier to manufacture.
Type IV armor is the most common as of 2281, although it varies depending on the preference of the individual Pathfinder -- Type III is also popular, while Type I is often employed for high-risk operations. Pathfinders also make heavy use of NBC equipment over their armor (pictured left), which require eithers Type III or IV to be used efficiently.
In terms of uniforms, the standard prewar combat fatigues are still in use.
The Pathfinders' doctrine is heavily intertwined with the usage of a handful of prewar military transport trucks. These trucks can travel at a good speed, carry an entire platoon's worth of Pathfinders and their equipment, and are fairly easy to learn to drive. These transports give the Pathfinders the mobility and flexibility they need to operate as the Republic's quick reaction force, responding to incursions within minutes.
Where the situation demands for the traversal of rough or dangerous terrain, three functional prewar infantry fighting vehicles are kept maintained for use by the Pathfinders. With the cabin airtight when buttoned down, its armor lead-lined, the electronics hardened against EM pulse, and an air filtration system to deal with toxins and radiation suspended in the air, as well as limited amphibious capability (on two models; the third's snorkel system is damaged beyond repair) and an efficient suspension system, these vehicles offer the ability to navigate rough and dangerous terrain with the passengers in relative safety compared to the transport trucks. However, their carrying capacity is limited to nine individuals (including the three crew spots) which makes them inefficient for when entire platoons need to be deployed. They are generally reserved for long-term reconnaissance, and because the ammo for their main and secondary armaments are extremely rare, they have been essentially disarmed.
Along with combat gear, all Pathfinders are issued a metal-framed rucksack, a set of uniforms, a mess kit, and a toolkit for maintaining their weapons and other gear. Each squad leader is issued a handheld radio, which is used to make sure each team stays in contact with each other and with their controllers at the Fortress.