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In every game of the Fallout franchise, the player is equipped with a Pip-Boy. This is a device that is given to maybe every Vault inhabitant.

Vault 21

In Fallout: New Vegas, Doc Mitchell gives the Courier a Pip-Boy had when he was living in Vault 21. We know that in Vault 21:

everyone in the vault was equal, it was created with a perfectly symmetrical layout, and the dwellers settled their differences via games of chance. Reliance on luck to solve problems created what might be considered the perfect realization of anarchy: a society in which everyone is equal and no one has an advantage over the others.

So we could consider that every inhabitant of Vault 21 had a Pip-Boy.

Vault 101

We know that at the age of ten, every inhabitant receives his Pip-Boy, as in Fallout 3, the Lone Wanderer receives one, on his tenth birthday, from the overseer Alphonse Almodovar.

vault 101


There must have been a few thousands of Pip-Boys spread around the U.S.A. and being a valuable item, we could expect to occasionally meet strong characters, influent people or big bosses wearing one.

So where are all these Pip-Boys and why don't we meet, from time to time, NPCs wearing one?

  • 1
    Because when the Wasteland entrepreneurs decided to hack off the Pip-Boy along with the wearer's arm and sell it to highest bidder (for whom the process will repeat), our hero is the only person who fought back hard enough (in my case - with mini-nukes). – Gallifreyan Feb 19 '17 at 20:31
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    Not every inhabitant always got a pip boy. I would argue that they are not as widespread as you think. And it is possible that they are distributed based upon one's vault status or even based upon your job within the vault. In the earlier games it felt more common, but the only way your character gets one in Fallout 4 is by taking it off a dead body. Children also don't ever really have one. Also a lot of the deceased vault personnel you encounter (dead or alive) do not seem to have one. Though this could be because, as mentioned above, they are being looted, and possibly dismantled for parts. – Odin1806 Feb 19 '17 at 22:06
  • You do meet NPCs from time to time wearing Pip-Boys. I remember seeing them occasionally, even if rarely. Usually researchers or more experienced adventurers do carry them. – vsz Mar 2 '17 at 19:59
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Every vault resident got one, but there were only so many vault residents.

I'm unable to find my transcript of Fallout 3 dialog, but when you get your Pip-Boy, it's stated (or at least heavily implied) that every vault dweller gets a Pip-Boy. If you talk to the resident vault handyman, however, you're treated to a grumble about how impossible it is to find spare parts, that your Pip-Boy is an older model, but how he worked extra hard to make sure it was repaired and ready to go.

By the time of the games, Pip-Boys are 200+ years old... and nobody is making spare parts.

Rob-co built the Pip-boys for Vault-Tec under contract; X Pip-boys and X^Y spare parts distributed to the vaults. They were never really shown in the games to be a popular consumer item, unlike Mr. Handy's. In fact, dialog highly implies that only vaults really had supplies.

So, we're looking at around 122,000 Pip-boys, plus parts, spread over the USA

There were only 122 vaults, and they were designed to hold 1,000 people each. However, not all those vaults were ever expected to fill to capacity, and considering how much Vault-Tec skimped on spending money wherever they could, I wouldn't expect a vault with one guy and some puppets to have more than one Pip-boy around.

Combine that with the fact that there were at least two mutually exclusive sets of Pip-Boys (2000s and 3000s), plus at least one major upgrade, the ability for parts to be interchangeable between the coasts goes way, way down.

Luckily, Pip-boys appear to be analog computers; this means you've got more options available to "hotwire" a fix if you need it, and there are vacuum tubes placed all around the world, but if one of the tube "chips" were to go out, you'd be screwed.

Basically: after the war, Pip-boys were premium commodities only really useful for adventurers. Think about the functions on a Pip-boy. Unless you're hauling around 200lb of gear, or actually expecting to navigate freely across the wasteland, or need non-stop medical feedback, or actually require constant sweeping for radiation, or constantly getting into high level fights where you need VATS, a Pip-boy is really unnecessary. Caravans have brahmin to do their carrying, most caravans follow pre-blazed trails and don't need GPS, doctors are available at most stops to handle anything first-aid can't handle, their trails have already been blazed around radiation hot spots, and you can get around the lack of individual marksmanship by ganging up into groups.

Doc Mitchell specifically gives you his Pip-boy because it'd be more useful to you than it is to him. He's a doctor, living in a house in a town serviced by caravans. He doesn't need the features of a Pip-boy. Spread that out to all the surviving members of society, and you can see that a Pip-boy might end up more of a white elephant than a benefit to most people, requiring specialist parts that can only be found by delving into vaults full of extreme dangers, or requiring tons of caps to buy from specialty merchants. There's a reason why the only Pip-boy you could theoretically buy is the Pimp-boy 3000, and even that's so "expensive" you only get it as part of a questline.

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    Great answer. Also (and this is speculative on my part, I have nothing really to back it up) the Brotherhood actively seek out advanced tech, and the Pip-Boy seems like it might qualify. Perhaps the Brotherhood offer a bounty on them, and to regular people the bounty is worth more than the PB's unique features. The Brotherhood hunting them down and hoarding them could explain their scarcity in the wastelands and looted vaults. – delinear Feb 22 '17 at 12:35
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    Offering a reward really... isn't a Brotherhood thing. But I'd bet you're on to something; they would want to sweep up Pipboys, especially once they realize that those crazy vault dwellers keep trying to bring back the bad old world. So, at least for the West coast Brotherhood, I bet you're right on track, @delinear. – Zoey Boles Feb 23 '17 at 2:27

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