On January 20th, 2001; Russia, US and their allies engaged in an exchange of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Both nations, along with the rest of the world, were devastated; humanity was badly culled, but not completely wiped out. There were survivors, and these survivors began to rebuild, though there were many obstacles - persistent radiation, radical changes to geography and climate, and mutated creatures and humans.
Humans are nothing if not perseverant, through; three generations and 100 years after World War III, towns have been established, feudal baronies created, and traders have begun to travel the land, bringing news, goods, and hope to those without. Things are not the same, though, and never will be again. To those inhabiting the former lands of the United States and Canada, their new home is now called Deathlands.
Most of the United States was changed. Deserts in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico became fiery nuke hotspots where storms carrying rain of undiluted acid howled in from the Gulf. Most of California had slipped unprotesting into the seething Pacific.
On the East Coast, the big cities crumbled in the endless rain. From the lawless elements rose a new breed of leader, barons who ran their own fiefdoms like medieval lords, paying armies of mercenaries to protect and expand their borders. In the middle of the country, known as the Deathlands, civilization was reduced to several scattered communities linked by a frail network of poor roads. Along these roads came the merchants, trading in food or supplies or medicine or blasters, and roving bands of freakish muties that set ambushes and raped and killed. And, on occasion, indulged their taste for human flesh.