|This is a lore summary, presenting intradiegetic or in-universe information about the subject. For game characteristics and similar data, consult the table on the right.|
Have you even seen a Deathclaw? They're taller than a man and far, far stronger and faster. And, there's a whole pack of them out there. You'd have to be the meanest, toughest, roughest bastard in the wasteland to have any chance against them, and I don't think that's you.”— Chomps Lewis, about to be proven wrong by the Courier
Deathclaw is a term referring to genetically engineered creatures developed by the United States military to replace humans during close-combat search-and-destroy missions. The humble Jackson's Chameleon was used as the basis. They escaped into the wild in the aftermath of the Great War, and over the next few decades colonized much of the former United States, becoming apex predators in many of the new, post-war ecosystems.
- 1 Background
- 2 Biology
- 3 Variants
- 3.1 Baby deathclaw
- 3.2 Young deathclaw
- 3.3 Deathclaw
- 3.4 Deathclaw alpha male
- 3.5 Mother deathclaw
- 3.6 Legendary deathclaw
- 3.7 Deathclaw subtypes
- 4 Behind the scenes
- 5 Gallery
- 6 References
Deathclaws were engineered before the Great War, for use as cheap replacements for humans during close-combat search-and-destroy missions. The project was successful in creating a ferocious predator capable of surviving on its own in the wild, though no references exist to them ever being used in combat against the Chinese. After the Great War, deathclaws escaped into the wild through unknown means and gradually spread throughout the continent. Initial spread was limited to isolated nests on the East and West Coasts, leading some to believe that it was just a rumor, a tale to scare children with, though the population of Boneyard was keenly aware of their existence, as a single pack mother and her offspring claimed the area between Downey and Norwalk around 2161, keeping the Gun Runners in a checkmate and terrorizing other communities in the region. A lone deathclaw was also living near the Hub, with an unknown number of deathclaws experimented on and refined by the Master.
Their gradual spread throughout the wasteland raised awareness of their existence, until they entered common consciousness as a lethal predator – but a myth no longer. As stated above, the Enclave eventually continued the research project started before the war, developing intelligent deathclaws for use in hostile environments around 2235. On May 17, 2242, the first successful pack was dropped into Vault 13 to cloak the presence of the Enclave and their abduction of the dwellers within. Following their first combat test, the deathclaws broke free of their Enclave masters, far more intelligent than anyone could foresee. They began developing an unique culture, as the first non-human sentient beings in history. Unfortunately, their intelligence was discovered by Doctor Schreber of Navarro, whose report led to the extermination of intelligent deathclaws with extreme prejudice. Subsequent experimentation involved the aforementioned domestication units, although by the end of the 23rd century.
Deathclaws are a 6 meter (20 feet) long carnivorous bipedal reptile species, designed for maximum lethality. The choice to make them bipedal was natural, as bipedalism raises the head, providing a greater field of vision and thus improving the ability to detect targets and resources. The upper limbs were also freed by this choice and could be fashioned into extremely dangerous weapons. The caveat is that the deathclaw is not as fast as a quadrupedal animal, though this is a largely academic concern. The rippling musculature of the deathclaw provides it with superior strength, excellent speed, and incredible resilience in most combat situations.
Of course, their strength is magnified by their claws. Owing to their lineage, the deathclaw has opposable thumbs, though an additional two fingers were coded into the genome, for a total of five fingers in each palm. Each terminates in a sharp talon that allows the reptile to wound and kill with frightening efficiency – a single swipe is capable of bisecting an unarmored human in seconds. Deathclaw hide is extremely tough, providing excellent defense against blunt and edged weapons. Firearms and energy weapons are reliable tools for killing a deathclaw, though lower powered variants are very likely to have trouble penetrating it. Defense is enhanced by horns and dorsal spikes, making melee combat a very dangerous proposition. The deathclaw is an apex predator of the finest sort – and the advice for fighting in close quarters would be: Don't.
However, while they are difficult opponents, their keen senses can be used against them. Loud noises and bright light, such as that emitted by flares, can be used to keep a deathclaw at bay or even deter its advance.
Deathclaws are pack animals, with the leadership role assumed by the alpha pair – the strongest male and female deathclaws in the group. The remainder of the pack follows the leaders and migrates along with them. Deathclaws communicate with each other in a pack using growls and body language, though they are also capable of mimicking human voices like a parrot, if their intelligence is artificially increased.
Coupled with their pack behavior is a fierce territorial instinct. Deathclaws will usually opt for territories away from inhabited areas (most likely due to noise), but may settle into temporarily abandoned human buildings and areas, as was the case with the Boneyard warehouses circa 2161 or Quarry Junction in 2281. Once it claims a territory, a pack is exceedingly difficult to dislodge, as the alpha male will not abandon a claimed territory even if the pack mother is killed, while the alpha female will simply choose another mate to procreate. As such, reclaiming a deathclaw territory usually requires either killing both pack leaders, causing the pack to scatter, or wiping out the entire pack. Neither is particularly easy.
Deathclaws are made even more dangerous by their reproductive instincts. Unlike the Jackson's Chameleons they come from, deathclaws are an oviparous species, female deathclaws will lay eggs in clusters, sired by the strongest male deathclaws in the pack – typically the alpha male. Survival of the pack is coded into deathclaws and the pack leaders will instinctively select only the strongest partners for procreation. If killed, the pack mother will typically be replaced by another female in short order.
While deathclaw eggs are durable and resilient, with an extremely long shelf life, deathclaws will seek out dark, sheltered areas to set up their nests. Lone deathclaws will also claim territories and create nests, usually in sheltered, secluded areas. If they are female and have been impregnated by a male deathclaw, they will prepare a separate nest for their young, protecting their hardy eggs with whatever small objects are at hand, such as small rocks, fallen leaves, twigs, and bones leftover from their meals.
A juvenile deathclaw is born without prominent horns or dorsal spikes, which grow as it matures, and both of which act as secondary sex characteristics. Horns grow forwards on males, with larger being the more desirable, and grow back and upwards on females. Dorsal spikes grow much the same way as horns on males and act much the same way with larger being more desirable, but on females dorsal spikes do not grow as large as they do on males and tend to be short in comparison. Claws, on the other hand, are present from day one – and likely play a role in breaking through the shell. Baby deathclaws are born with a light brown skin tone and live under the protection of their parents within the pack. The skin darkens as the deathclaw matures, reaching deep brown upon entering adulthood, and eventually dark brown, black, or even black and blue for old, experienced claws.
Relationship with humans
While deathclaws do not actively seek out human habitats to attack, human expansion inevitably leads to the two species coming in contact, usually by accident. Deathclaws are incredibly dangerous to humans, no matter how well protected they are. Even Brotherhood of Steel patrols are known to suffer major casualties if they walk into a deathclaw territory unawares. The Enclave sought to exploit their fierce instincts and ferocity and use them as cheap, expendable troops for use in hostile environments. Their initial experiments, starting in 2235, focused on using the modified FEV to artificially increase the intelligence of deathclaws and succeeded in creating a single pack of modified, intelligent deathclaws led by Gruthar. Intended to only be smart enough to follow orders issued by their handlers, they have developed far higher intelligence than the project assumed was possible. After the first unit was fielded, Doctor Schreber's experimentation revealed that fact and the whole breed was summarily exterminated at the site they were first unleashed: Vault 13. Subsequent efforts, once the Enclave regrouped at Raven Rock, were focused on cruder, but more reliable methods: Domestication units. These devices are surgically implanted into a captive deathclaw's brain and skull, allowing Enclave troops to issue commands to the fierce reptiles as if they were pets. Of course, even without human interference, deathclaws are a continuing hazard in the wastelands. Despite the efforts of hunter teams, they continue to set up nests throughout the wastelands.
The ferocity of deathclaws and their incredible resilience has earned them the respect of wastelanders. Its existence was treated in skepticism in the first century after the war, and was considered a tall tale on the order of ghosts and demons, the steady increase in deathclaw population eventually secured them a place in the common consciousness. When used for comparisons, deathclaws are usually synonymous with ferocity and resilience. Occasionally, they're used to insult people – allegedly they're as bad as marketing directors. Other examples of deathclaw presence in popular culture is the expression "deathclaw in a mating season", and, allegedly, deathclaw costumes.
Deathclaws are primarily differentiated by age and gender, from the youngest, "baby" deathclaws, to the terrifying legendary male deathclaws.
The smallest, youngest deathclaws are by no means non-threatening. While under the protection of their pack and especially their mother, babies are dangerous as they possess the fearsome claws and an attitude to match. They are also an estimated 50% smaller than adults.
Their relationship with their mother results in them fighting to protect their mother (which means they will rush any threat alongside her). If they are killed, the deathclaw mother will typically go berserk and attack any target in the vicinity, even pack mates. If the mother is dispatched, her children will flock to her body. As if killing them wasn't difficult enough.
Adolescent deathclaws are identical to juveniles in all, except one: Size. They are nearing the size of an adult and thus only 25% smaller than an adult. They still remain within the pack, but are tougher, faster, and more deadly than babies.
Male deathclaws that reach sexual maturity are easily recognizable by their brown skin, prominent, fully formed horns, and of course, the claws. They are fast, deadly, and above all else, resilient, capable of dispatching nearly any threat with frightening ease. Taking them out requires plenty of preparation and planning.
Moreover, male deathclaws tend to congregate and travel in packs, as behooves social animal. Lone adults are the exception, rather than rule.
Deathclaw alpha male
Fully mature adult deathclaws that avoid death at the hands of the various wasteland horrors will usually mature into alpha deathclaws. Their horns are longer, more curved, and thicker than a regular adult, while their skin takes on a dark brown, black even hue with age. The brown markings also become visible. Alpha males have siring privileges and are usually found heading entire packs of deathclaws.
Adult female deathclaws are distinguished by a skin color that mixes olive and blue, horns curving backwards, rather than forwards, barbed tails, and a prominent flap of skin roughly where the cloaca is. Mother deathclaws (also called matriarchs) exclusively lay clutches sired by the pack's most powerful males – typically the alpha.
Found only within the Dead Wind cavern in the Mojave, the legendary deathclaw is an alpha male deathclaw that managed to survive long enough to achieve a size full 25% larger than regular adult deathclaws, with massive horns and claws to match. This particular specimen is responsible for dispatching a Brotherhood of Steel Paladin who tried to explore the cave. Mercy or not, they fell to the claws.
Wounded deathclaws that lost their eyesight can be found in the Mojave. While weaker than completely healthy deathclaws, they have excellent hearing to compensate, making it nearly impossible to sneak by.
The result of Enclave experiments, Gruthar's pack was subjected to FEV injections that conferred increased intelligence – in order to create expendable troops for use in hostile environments. The project succeeded beyond the Enclave's intent, giving the pack intelligence ranging from that comparable to a human eight year old to matching or even surpassing adult humans. The increase in intelligence brought with itself sentience and self-awareness, which coupled with their instincts and pack behavior created fearsome predators. Fortunately, the emergence of intelligence also brought conscience along with it. Gruthar's rational thought led to the pack adopting an isolationist, pacifist philosophy to allow for coexistence of humans and deathclaws. However, they did not avoid violence if it was necessary for the survival of the pack.
These deathclaws have suffered depigmentation of their skin, though whether it is congenital or a result of long-term exposure to the wasteland remains to be seen. What is known is that they are incredibly deadly, intelligent, and more durable than most deathclaws. Goris is an unique albinistic deathclaw. Exposure to FEV that granted him increased intelligence also caused his skin to lose melanin, becoming silver-gray, and the eyes to stop producing pigment, allowing for his retina and the blood vessels to be seen. Goris hid under a large cloak, as much to protect his sensitive skin as to conceal his nature as a deathclaw – allowing him to infiltrate human settlements and learn.
An adult male deathclaw captured by the Enclave in the Capital Wasteland can be fitted with a domestication unit, a special contraption mounted to the skull of the creature and connected to the brain, giving Enclave personnel the ability to use these ferocious predators like guard dogs. Deathclaws controlled in this manner do not consider Enclave personnel as a threat, but the Lyons' Brotherhood of Steel developed a device that can scramble the control signal and reverse the IFF: Making Enclave personnel the only valid targets for the deathclaw and then detonating the domestication unit as a failsafe.
Enclave units typically hold deathclaws in transport cages (a pre-War design), released when needed. Some patrols may choose to field them directly, however, at the discretion of the commanding officer.
An entirely separate species that was termed deathclaw due to the similarity in behavior and, of course, the fearsome claws, the eastern hairy deathclaw is an unique creature that emerged in the territories belonging to the states of Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.
These deathclaws are mammals covered in a thick layer of fur, providing them with excellent protection from the elements, while their thick, leathery skin grants them excellent protection from projectiles and melee weapons. They are easily distinguishable by a crest of five horns protruding from their skull and a single nasal horn. The eponymous claws are also much less pronounced than in reptile deathclaws. Hairy deathclaws have developed a natural intelligence and sentience, as well as the ability to mimic human speech. They are self-aware and sentient, though precisely when the transition occurs is unknown.
Developed within the Secret Vault, the experimental deathclaw is an offshoot of the regular deathclaw development program undertaken by Vault-Tec Industries. Increased muscle mass and naturally grown exoskeleton with prominent spikes were achieved at the expense of eyesight.
Experimental deathclaw variants include baby deathclaws, elder deathclaws, adolescent deathclaws and mother deathclaws.
An experimental variant of the deathclaw, with an epidermis capable of adapting its appearance to its surrounding, providing it with a natural form of active camouflage, effectively making them invisible.
Behind the scenes
Was it always a big scaly lizard thing? Nope. My initial design for this terrible creature was a the apex predator of the wasteland, a mix of wolverine and brown bear, mutated by the FEV. It could survive any environment and feared nothing; a legendary force of nature that struck terror into the hearts of men! Unfortunately, the artists took one look at my concept sketch and said, 'Dude, that's way too much hair.' It was true. The Wolverine-bear was very furry, and there was just no way around it.
So here's what happened: the newly formed Black Isle started work on what would be Planescape: Torment. One of the first art pieces was a monstrous creature called a Terrasque. It was sculpted in clay and was then point-by-painstaking-point digitized into a 3D model. As Planescape moved forward, it turned out that the Terrasque wouldn't actually be featured in its design, leaving that tasty model in disuse. Thus, the furry wolverine-bear became a hairless reptilian biped. (Take a look at page 339 of the D&D second edition Monster Manual. Holy cats! It's a Deathclaw!)”— Scott Campbell, Origins of Fallout No Mutants Allowed
- The deathclaw name is derived from Shadowclaws in Wasteland.
- In Scott Campbell's original concept art, deathclaws were mammals covered with fur and were meant to be a mix of wolverine and brown bear, created by FEV. The reason it lost the hair from concept to production was a technical limitation of the rendering software, which couldn't get all the hair to move properly. The hairy deathclaw in Fallout Tactics was inspired by the original concept.
- According to the Fallout Bible and Scott Campbell, deathclaws were modelled visually on the Tarrasque of Dungeons & Dragons after a D&D computer game made by Interplay was cancelled (according to Fallout Bible) or after the creature was cut from Planescape: Torment (according to Scott Campbell), as a Tarrasque clay model was already made and this way the work would not go to waste. However, according to Chris Taylor, while they do look Tarrasque-like, it was not intentional and the clay model was supposed to be a deathclaw from the start.
I met my first Deathclaw in middle school, playing Fallout on a friend's machine, and I fell instantly in love with these "Dragons of the Waste." It was an honor to tackle them for Fallout 3 - sourcing from both the originals and the concept art of Adam Adamowicz - but I'm proudest of my Fallout 4 redesign.
To improve upon their F3 counterparts, I gave the newer ones thicker, more armored skin; shorter, strong-looking claws and hands; a bull-like redesign to the horns (to suggest the ability to ram); and a thicker tail - heavy enough to act as a counter-weight when it ran. It's important to note, too, that the Deathclaw is not a mutant, but a hybrid bioweapon created by the US military. To that end, I incorporated chameleons, alligators, bulls, panthers, serpents & lizards into their design.
I love him.”— Jonah Lobe
Fallout and Fallout 2
Early deathclaw concept art by Scott Campbell.
Deathclaw from Fallout manual.
A dead deathclaw from a Fallout 2 ending.
Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel
An elder experimental deathclaw in the Secret Vault.
Deathclaw from Van Buren (early version).
Deathclaw from Fallout d20.