Category: "Elder Scrolls"

An Analysis of the Skyrim Civil War, Pt. 1: The Belligerents

  07:57:00 pm, by   , 1347 words  
Viewed 5103 times since 02/18/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis

One of the most frequently-recurring discussions between Skyrim players is the Civil War questline, the conflict which drives the narrative of the game and works its way into every other major questline and subplot. To this day, fans of the game can be found arguing which side is better: the Imperials or the Stormcloaks. In most of the discussions I've seen, however, the main talking points are the same ones espoused by NPCs in the game who support one faction or the other. In depicting this conflict, Bethesda takes a great deal of care to portray multiple sides of the conflict, though they refrain from commenting on which side was ultimately right. A debate with such profound impact on the lore of the Elder Scrolls games deserves to be examined in greater depth, which I plan to do in two parts here. This first installment will provide an examination of both warring factions, including their motivations and the points most commonly made for and against each side.

In many of the discussions I've seen about the conflict, the most common arguments made in support of each side can be summarized thusly: Pro-Empire players say that Ulfric is arrogant, racist, and power-hungry, and that a Stormcloak victory in the civil war would lead to the Thalmor ultimately conquering the human races. Pro-Stormcloak players say that the Empire is tyrannically oppressing the people of Skyrim, and is forsaking the needs and beliefs of the people in order to maintain some semblance of their past glory. The kicker is, while the war is touted as one of conflicting ideology (and is even presented as such in-game, vis-a-vis the Talos question), when you look at it closely, it becomes clear that the goals and methods of each belligerent are much the same, and that neither side can truly be called justified.

For starters, let's look at the Empire. My colleague AKB wrote a blog in which he stated that the Empire is basically running on fumes, and that they're so focused on maintaining their slipping grip on power that they fail to see their power has already gone. And this is very true. Their determination to keep the human provinces allied against the Dominion has led them to rule out dismantling the Empire and allowing for alliances between independent nations as an option; as a result, they come across as so overbearing that they alienate their allies, a very counterproductive strategy.

Of course, the Empire's ultimate goal is to rebuild their forces for the inevitable second war against the Thalmor, and unlike Ulfric, General Tullius isn't so short-sighted that he can't see the Thalmor's hand in the Skyrim Civil War. If you talk to him at Elenwen's Party, he admits "Just between you and me, a lot of what Ulfric says about the Empire is true." So how do Imperial officers show their solidarity with the people of other provinces? Why, with such sympathetic and tolerant words as "You people and your damn Jarls." Or such fair and impartial judgment of someone found in the company of death row inmates as "Forget the list! He goes to the block." I can respect the difficult position the Empire is in with the Thalmor, but if the words and actions of their generals and captains are indicative of their broader approach to provincial disputes, they don't deserve allegiance. An emperor's duty is to his people, and when he's so ineffectual that even members of his high council plot to kill him, it's time to pack it in.

Then again, the Stormcloaks are hardly able to take the moral high ground in this conflict. Wanting independence when your ruler nation no longer serves your best interest is a legitimate desire, but in all their actions, the Stormcloaks seem very short-sighted. Most of them cite the ban on Talos worship as an unforgivable act of tyranny without stopping to consider that nobody in the Empire likes it either. Think for a second: even during the events of the game, is the Empire itself persecuting Talos worshipers? No, they're just allowing the Thalmor to do it, and that's only because they have to. For that matter, one of Ulfric's stated goals is to take the fight to the Thalmor after defeating the Empire, which is an important goal, though how they'll manage to win against the Dominion after alienating a large portion of their potential allies is beyond me.

And what about Ulfric himself? "Whenever a group of marauders attack a Nord village, Ulfric is the first to sound the horn and send the men. But a group of Dark Elf refugees gets ambushed? A group of Argonians, or a Khajiit caravan? No troops. No investigation. Nothing." It's hard to doubt the legitimacy of this claim when Ulfric has been known to support the segregation of Dunmer and Argonian refugees to slums and warehouses outside the city. And a lot of his supporters seem to hold similar beliefs, which really make it hard for anyone who isn't a Nord to sympathize with their cause.


What about his reasons for fighting the war and killing High King Torygg? His detractors seem to think he just wanted to be High King himself. In Ulfric's defense, said killing was conducted in line with Nord traditions (an account corroborated by both Roggvir's and Sybille Stentor's descriptions of the event), though killing Torygg may have been a bit excessive. But was that the real reason? According to Ulfric, "I fight for my people impoverished to pay the debts of an Empire too weak to rule them, yet brands them criminals for wanting to rule themselves! I fight so that all the fighting I've already done hasn't been for nothing." Fair point, and well made. So then Ulfric, if you're not doing this because you want to be High King, then how would you hypothetically respond to winning the war? By your own words, you're opposed to the way the Imperials use money to subvert Nordic traditions, so you'd have to wait for the moot to name you High King. How would you respond to that?

Ulfric: "How'd I do?"
Galmar: "Eh, not so bad. Nice touch about the High King."
Ulfric: "Thank you, I thought so, too."
Galmar: "It's a foregone conclusion, you know."
Ulfric: "Oh, I know."

So, by his own admission, using Skyrim's traditions and the rights of its people as his ideals is just a rhetorical strategy.

So now that we've examined a bit of the Stormcloak and Imperial ideologies, which one of them can be considered to ultimately be in the right?

Honestly? Neither of them. Each side is fighting for causes which can be considered legitimate, but is also driven by causes that are either misguided or self-serving, and at the end of the day, the people of Skyrim suffer under both parties. Eorlund Gray-Mane even says as much: "Comes the end of the day, Imperials and Stormcloaks ain't much different. Both sides want to tell you how you should live your life." And it's true, NPC supporters of each side can frequently be found arguing that other NPCs owe their allegiance to one of the two parties. Both parties also have the same view of the Thalmor, as an enemy that must eventually be defeated. Most importantly, while both parties claim to have nobler motivations, they repeatedly place their own interests above the interests of the civilians and people of Skyrim, and as I said before, a ruler's first duty must be to his people, because he is nothing without them.

To summarize, this war isn't depicted as a black-and-white struggle of good versus evil; it's a conflict between two groups, fighting for the same ideals under different guises and doing nothing but harming themselves and their brothers in the process. However, while this isn't a struggle of black and white, neither is it a struggle of grey and grey; there's a third shade of grey in this conflict, a third party that isn't mentioned in the debate, but is the most important of them all.

To be continued

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Alarra's Opinion: ESO

  03:46:00 pm, by Alarra   , 1908 words  
Viewed 3978 times since 02/15/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis


I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but especially now with the announcement of Tamriel Unlimited, I feel that now is the time to write my thoughts of the game.  For some context, I have been playing ESO for 265 hours (according to the in-game counter) on one character - granted, probably at least 20 of that was for wiki work - and it’s the second MMO I’ve played, after Guild Wars 2.


I’ll cover the basic “feel” of the game vs the main-series games, the music, the amount of things there is to do, what's changed since beta, and so forth.  Read after the break to view my thoughts on the game….


Full story »

Editor ID vs. Base/Ref ID (i.e. Why Thieving in Morrowind Sucks)

  02:58:00 pm, by Damon   , 765 words  
Viewed 2193 times since 02/15/15
Categories: Programming, Elder Scrolls

This is a question that's put past me every so often or that I end up explaining, so I decided last night that I'd start writing a post on this, as I had my cookies and milk and was managing my Chelsea FC save in Football Manager... Because my mind gives me random information not relevant to things I'm doing...

Anyway, a question that sometimes comes past me is why the thieving in Morrowind is bugged and everything is flagged as stolen. Here's my easy-to-link-to long-winded explanation that I'll be able to refer people to when this is brought up.

I'll keep this as minimal on tech talk as possible. When items are created in Morrowind, they use an editor ID to identify the item and each instance of it in the Construction Set and in-game. Let's take an Imperial Broadsword, for example. A generic, easy to locate weapon that is favoured by the Imperial Legionnaires stationed on Vvardenfell. The Imperial Broadsword has the following editor ID: imperial broadsword. Every instance of the Imperial Broadsword in the game has that same ID, and every instance of the item only ever looks at that one ID. This point will be important later on, so keep that in mind and bear with me.

If we look at items in Oblivion and Skyrim, they have a Base ID and a Ref ID. The Base ID for every object is an initial static ID that is used to reference the object for the first time. For instance, the base ID of a generic iron longsword in Oblivion is 00000C0C. If you wanted to spawn an instance (copy) of an iron longsword with the console, you'd call for that ID, and that's the ID you'd search for the item by in the Oblivion Construction Set.

The Ref ID is a unique number that's given to each individual item that's placed down. Every item, including two of the same (for instance iron longsword 00000C0C) has a different RefID. Why is this important?

In Morrowind, if you take a stolen item, the only thing the game has to look at is that initial Editor ID. So, if I saw an Imperial Broadsword that belonged to General Darius of the Legion, it had an ownership flag on it, and I nicked it, then the game would process "Editor ID imperial broadsword was stolen" and it would put a stolen flag on that Editor ID. Therefore, every instance of the Imperial Broadsword becomes a stolen item, because the only ID to reference was the shared ID that each item had.

Because of this, if I picked up an Imperial Broadsword that had no ownership tag on it, or if I purchased one, it would still have the "ID imperial broadsword is stolen" flag, and even my legitimately owned broadsword would be siezed by guards when I'm arrested. It's not a "bug" or a "glitch" in the sense that there's only the one ID that is used in the entire engine to reference an item, so it does what it's supposed to by calling the only ID it has available to flag and was explicitly told to flag, but it's certainly less-than-ideal, given this obvious drawback.

Returning to Oblivion and Skyrim's Base/RefID system, let's assume I have lined up three iron longswords on the ground in Oblivion. Each longsword has the Base ID 00000C0C, but they each also have a unique RefID that isn't shared by any other item in the game, iron longswords included. Suppose one of them had an ownership flag and belonged to a random NPC. If you picked up that sword, the game processes "RefID [whatever its ID is] has just been stolen", and that unique RefID becomes a stolen item, without affecting the initial BaseID. Then, if I pick up the iron longsword that isn't owned, it would safely say "RefID [ID] has been picked up", and it would end it at that. The BaseID that is shared by similar items is never touched, and only the RefID specific to that given copy of the sword is looked at when it's picked up legitimately or stolen, and that's why you can carry a legitimately owned sword and a stolen one separately.

There's your little educational lesson for the day on why putting up with hard to remember number strings is better than easy-to-remember written names. And, that's why despite Morrowind being my favourite game and the only TES game for me with hours measuring into thousands, that I never made a thief, which is my favourite character type to play.

Lore Lapses, Part VIII: Enric Milres

  01:47:00 pm, by   , 467 words  
Viewed 2628 times since 02/14/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Enric Milres doesn't make sense.

This one is similar to the previous discussion of Morian Zenas, in that ESO threw a network of scholars back in time, presumably so that the game could incorporate their works. In his book Sacred Witness, Milres mentioned meeting the scholars Pelarne Assi and Ynir Gorming, authors of The Brothers of Darkness and Fire and Darkness respectively.

Together, these three lore books provide all that we know about the origins of the Dark Brotherhood. It's easy to see why Zenimax felt the need to include them. When we finally see a Dark Brotherhood DLC for ESO, a lot of new fans will want to know this stuff. And they also took the opportunity to include some works in ESO by the poet Weltan, as Milres also mentioned meeting that poet in The Alik'r, also included in ESO (an excellent, mesmerizing essay, in my opinion, though it's painfully abridged).

This retcon's pretty easy to swallow simply because the benefits far outweighed the cost. They were able to include the works of Assi and Gorming in ESO without any substantive changes to the texts. In fact, the only issue with taking this whole group of people out of the Third Era and putting them into the Second was one sentence in The Alik'r: "As [I] write this, I am back in Sentinel. We are at war with the kingdom of Daggerfall for the possession of a grass-covered rock that belongs to the water of the Iliac Bay." This is referring to the War of Betony. ESO had to change this to "As [I] write this, I am back in Sentinel. We are at war with the Ebonheart Pact and the Aldmeri Dominion."

Worth it. Milres still doesn't make sense, but it's worth it.

For what it's worth

I was initially going to write this week about Falinesti (something else I expect to see in a future ESO content update). There's a misleading line in A Dance in Fire which suggests that Falinesti was in the northern part of Valenwood, near Cyrodiil, during "wintertide", which would contradict new lore in ESO. But it was actually mid-Frostfall at the time (i.e., October, mid-autumn), so it seems like Falinesti was where ESO says it should have been at that time of year.

Anyway, I was almost done making a rough sketch of Falinesti's migration when I realized there was no conflict. It took me a long time to make even this with my extremely remedial photoshop skills, and since we don't have a proper illustration yet on the wiki of Falinesti's migratory route, I figured I'd include it anyway, if anyone's interested:

A Dance in Fire does go on to suggest, though, that Falinesti is in the south during "summertide", which doesn't really mesh well with ESO.

Lore Lapses, Part V: The UESP

  03:07:00 pm, by   , 539 words  
Viewed 6182 times since 01/24/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Okay, I'm putting aside my planned rant to just acknowledge the delightful new entry in the ESO Loremaster's Archive, Moon Bishop Hunal Answers Your Questions. Our very own Legoless, "Doyen of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits", got a question answered on the nature of the dro-m'Athra, the Khajiit's take on the Daedra. For those who don't know and don't like links, the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits is the UESP's guild in ESO.

This is actually the second time this has happened. I hadn't noticed until today that "Enodoc Dumnonii, Savant of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits", appeared in High King Emeric's Q&A a couple weeks ago.

Since we've been treating the Loremaster's Archive as essentially the same as in-game texts, it poses an interesting lore question: just what would the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits be like in Tamriel? We've apparently already decided against treating the interrogators mentioned in these Q&A's as canonical figures; see here. But if the devs wanted to build upon the idea of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits, I sincerely doubt anyone here would be opposed.

But regardless, here's the headcanon I am adopting for the UESP:

The United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits, or UESP, was formed pursuant to the Guild Act of 2E 321, with Julianos as their patron. The never-ending goal of the guild is to build a comprehensive and accurate chronicle of Tamriel and beyond, for the edification and good of all. Its membership rely on each other to seek out, find, and share the secrets of the world around them, one discovery and book at a time. This knowledge is generally shared freely, and members pay no dues. Rather, the guild primarily relies on providing advertisements for various merchants for its funding. They also receive donations from many patrons, notably rulers, authors, and booksellers, who often rely on UESP members for information, trade, and shipping needs.

The guild is headed by a Guildmaster, or Doyen, in each of the provinces where it operates. Its ranks includes Officers, Scholars, Explorers, Recruits, as well as Savants, special operatives of great renown. Though the guild has been plagued by thieves, spies, and other villains who wish to destroy or manipulate it, they have risen to every challenge undeterred, and have continued their grand endeavor for centuries.

Now, I didn't say the UESP doesn't make sense at the start, because actually, the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits as described would make a whole lotta sense, in my opinion. You see, the Second Era was supposed to be a dark age in Tamriel. But thanks to ESO's retcon, a lot of the known TES texts apparently have their origins in the Second Era, rather than the Third Era. This premise is counter-intuitive - unless, maybe, a group formed in the Second Era which dedicated itself to supporting scholarship across the continent?

But, we're ironically prohibited from concocting our own backstory at this time. Though Zenimax has arguably given us an opening to create our own little place in Tamriel, and we could partially explain an apparent irregularity by doing so, it's just not good scholarship to fabricate facts on our own. Still, for that lack of imagination, I guess this lapse is on us.