One would expect the Houston subway system to be much like the surface; chaotic and full of violence. However this is, surprisingly, not the case. Rather it is home to a tribal confederation who manages to keep their subway home safe and (to at least their specifications) civilized.
As each tunnel of the old subway system is home to it's own tribe; a different "tunnel chief" controls each of the former railways. These tunnel chiefs are little more than warlords passing down rulership over the tunnels down to their heirs. They control the common Houlats by exploiting their religious beliefs; claiming to be almost prophet like figures. In return the commoners give most of the food and other materials that they scavenge. The tunnel chief keeps most of the supplies for himself and his friends, giving out food and other supplies to his troops in exchange for their loyalty. The tunnel chiefs also practice polygamy, taking multiple wives to ensure that they have a successor due to the declining birthrate. The tunnel chiefs occasionally lead witch hunts against those they accuse of spreading the Northline Plauge; directed against those the warlord feel like might be a threat to their power. The warlords also attempt to upkeep and build support beams to keep their subway roofs from collapsing, but, as most their supplies go to themselves and their troops the supportbeams are often falling into disrepair and a roof collapse is a very real fear.
The tunnel chiefs maintain their own small band of warriors. Stationed at tunnel entrances and exits; they are equipped with spears, large shields and armor made from tanned rathides. Trained to operate in a formation similar to the phalanx, they are a defensive force intended to beat back any opposing force without allowing them to enter their subway home. They are tough, reliable, and determined at the cost of a lack of mobility.
Both the tunnel chiefs and their troops are noticeably bigger than the commoners, the result of an improved diet because the commoners give them most of their food.
However, the tunnel chiefs are in turn controlled by the mysterious "Underground Queen". Nobody truly knows where she came from or who she is, all that is known that she emerged one day claiming to know how to reverse the Northline Plague. Gathering together the various tunnel chiefs, she gave them medicine in exchange for loyalty. The medicine doesn't completely cure the plague, rather, it only subsides it insuring continued loyalty to the Underground Queen. Since then she has held court in the heart of the subway system; granting audience to few. She has a small corps of insanely loyal bodyguards armed with improvised laser weapons made from power cells scavenged from old subway cars and vending machines.
The Houlat religion preaches that the Houlat's ancestors were not meant to survive the Great War. Instead they managed to survive by making an unholy pact with The Dark One; cursing the generations to follow them. The curse resulted in the Northline Plague that is sweeping through the Houlat Confederacy. Self-mutilation in an attempt to seek penance for their ancestors unholy pact is common, as is ritualistic dancing around a bonfire followed by a human sacrifice, typically the target of the witch hunts stated in the "Government" section.
They believe that the tunnel chiefs and the Underground Queen are apart of a separate breed of people, those who had been chosen by God to lead the masses into salvation as evidenced by their supposed lack of the Northline Plauge. Although in reality the tunnel chiefs have their Northline Plauge subsided from medicine, the commoners do not know this and as a result the belief continues.
Attempts to end the Nortline Plague include an annual lottery within the tunnel tribes. At random, somebody is selected to be a sacrifice and is exiled to the outside world to perish in an attempt to gain God's favor again.
- The Houlats support themselves by raising and breeding giant rats that they used as a food source; with their hides being used as clothing. Moss and mushrooms are also cultivated; with canned foods from the surface being a highly prized and luxurious item.
- The tunnel tribes also all sleep in the same place. The various deactivated subway cars act as a sorta of "group home" for the Houlats, with hammocks and sleeping mats strewn about the floors of old subway cars. The use of a communal sleeping ground dates back to when the subway systems were first settled; if everybody slept in the same place than it reduced the chances of someone being attacked at night.
- However, due to the fact that everybody lives together, diseases spread incredibility fast as evidenced by the Northline Plague.
- Once a girl or a boy turned sixteen, they are led in specially marked (with paint) maintenance closets with a member of the opposite gender closest to their age and (basically) forced to have sex. The rapidly declining birth rates caused by the Northline Plague have forced this a necessity or lest the Houtlats die out. Some have begun advocating trying to bring surface dwellers into the Houlat tunnels to impregnate their daughters in an attempt to bring the birthrates up; and any male adventurers are likely to be asked by begging family members impregnate their daughters.
- Feral ghouls, with their arms cut off and their mouths muzzled, are used similar to pack animals. Chained to cart-like wagons, they are used to pull it throughout the subway system. Many are also blinded, via eye gouging or a blindfold, so they don't attempt to attack anybody. They are prodded forward by sharp sticks and then reined in via actual reins attached to their necks.
- It has caused, however, most of the Houlats to assume that all ghouls are simple-minded pack animals. Any ghoul entering the subway tunnels are likely to be attempted to wrangle and almost everybody is going to be shocked that they are sentient creatures.