Lore Lapses, Part IV: Morian Zenas

  02:51:00 pm, by   , 1017 words  
Viewed 6713 times since 01/18/15
Categories: Analysis

Morian Zenas, renowned conjurer and author, doesn't make sense.

ESO Disclaimer
This is the first ESO contradiction I'm addressing, so let me point out: the story of ESO isn't finished yet. There are a lot of inconsistencies, a lot of loose ends, but it's heavily suspected many of them are going to be reconciled in future content. Further, a lot of the info already available has not been disseminated yet to folks like me who refuse to pay Zenimax's ransom - er, subscription. There are details of various quests, a lot of new material in updates, and Zenimax seems to be adding new lore content to their official site on a fairly regular basis. There are only so many hours in the day, you know?

This one, though, is basically an overt, as-yet unexplained retcon. Zenimax decided to take many texts from previous games and re-purpose them for ESO. Basically, they chopped out any explicit references to Third Era history and society. References to Tiber Septim and his Empire, for example. I think the example of what they did to The Amulet of Kings epitomizes the degree of care used:



Oblivion and Skyrim text:


ESO text:




I guess they figured that would be sufficient for various books to appear 800 years before they were generally intended to appear in Tamriel's history. They presumably did this to make ESO "feel" like a TES game, and probably also as a matter of convenience. I feel like this was a big mistake, but I digress. Point is, Morian Zenas was one character which they had to substantially change in order to make him fit.

Background
Morian Zenas goes back to the days of TES II: Daggerfall, when we were first introduced to On Oblivion. This quintessential beginner's guide to Oblivion has been a mainstay ever since. This is probably why Zenimax wanted to include it in ESO.

Zenas was supposed to be writing in the late Third Era, during the reign of Uriel Septim VII (3E 368-3E 433). Zenimax retconned it so that Zenas lived and wrote circa 2E 418-2E 431, according to the dates given in Racial Motifs (a love story disguised as a scholarly work of comparative design).

On Oblivion, on its face, didn't need any changing to fit. They made some changes anyway, to correct spelling and grammar (why they felt the need to do so, I have no idea). But you can't throw books roughly 800 years out of their time and place and expect all the details to make sense.

The Doors of Oblivion
The Doors of Oblivion has several references which don't fit in the context of ESO. First introduced in TES IV: Oblivion, the book mentions the Mantellan Crux, Celarus, and has a paragraph related to the events of the game An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire.

The Battlespire thing they took care of. And "by took care of", I mean they just chopped the paragraph out of the book, and I guess we're supposed to act like it never existed (not gonna happen, FYI). The Mantellan Crux, I think, is not necessarily a contradiction, as the Mantella is a subject surrounded by mystery (and might merit an entry of its own one day). But it's certainly eyebrow-raising that Zenas knew of the Mantellan Crux roughly five centuries before Zurin Arctus would use the Mantella itself to power the Numidium. See generally here and here for background.

If we embrace the retcon, and give Zenimax the benefit of the doubt and presume that they purposefully decided to leave in the reference to the Mantellan Crux, it would indicate that the Crux, and thus the Mantella, have a much longer and storied history in Tamriel than we know about. There could be some pretty cool lore planned for it in the future.

Celarus and On Artaeum
As for Celarus, Loremaster of the Psijic Order, The Doors of Oblivion said he was the "leader of the Order", and that Zenas consulted with him. But if Zenas lived in the 2E 400s, neither of those things match up well with established lore. Not only was Celarus not the leader of the Order at the time (as far as we know), but the Psijic Order had disappeared off the face of the planet centuries before, and wouldn't return for centuries to come!

Fragment: On Artaeum, another Daggerfall alum, tells us the Psijic Order disappeared around the time the Mages Guild was founded. There's little info on when exactly that occurred (barring new ESO stuff), but apparently The Daggerfall Chronicles states the first Mages Guild was formed in 2E 230. On Artaeum goes on to say they wouldn't return for five centuries.

In other words, Zenas' encounter with the Psijic Order has now taken place when the Psijic Order wasn't around... so, yeah, bad retcons are bad. Further, it was established in lore that Celarus was not the "leader of the Order" at this time. Galerion the Mystic, another mainstay of the series since Daggerfall, says that as of the early Second Era, Iachesis was "Magister of the Isle". On Artaeum elaborates that Iachesis did not return when the Order did in the Second Era, and no explanation was given for his whereabouts.

Celarus "has presided over the Council of Artaeum for the last two hundred and fifty years", according to On Artaeum. Since the book was published during the reign of Emperor Uriel Septim VII, it suggests Celarus wasn't the leader of the Psijic Order until circa 3E 118. So, to save you the math, Zenas's description of Celarus in The Doors of Oblivion as the leader of the Order is about six centuries premature.

Of course, it seems like Celarus was retconned, as well. They haven't come right and said so, to my knowledge (it's not like they give us patch notes for each retcon), but I assume they've made it so that Celarus took over leadership of the Order directly after Iachesis. Anyway, you throw one person back in time, sometimes it entails throwing a whole network of people back in time. Next week, I guess I'll take a look at another example.

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Lore Lapses, Part III: Gaiden Shinji

  12:36:00 am, by   , 195 words  
Viewed 8622 times since 01/10/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Gaiden Shinji, first Arena Blademaster and hero of the Thirty-Year Siege of Orsinium, doesn't make sense. Check the dates in the images below.

TES: Arena:

TES IV: Oblivion:

TES V: Skyrim:

TES III: Morrowind first introduced Poison Song, a novella series taking place in 1E 675. The characters know of Gaiden Shinji and the Siege of Orsinium, which contradicts the many other sources which trace the siege, and thus Shinji, to circa 1E 950-980.

Considering that we've been given three different dates for Shinji's Credo, and that a couple other related matters don't add up, I can't help but think this has been intentional. And that makes me suspect that this is a joke. Shinji's Credo may have become the developer's tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the details are subject to change, and that we're just going to have to accept that. Or maybe they're building up to something else?

We're still learning more about Shinji in ESO. For all I know, some new quest deals with or will deal with the mysteries surrounding him. Be sure to read The Great Siege of Orsinium for a couple newer insights into Shinji's life. Next week: more timeline problems.

Lore Lapses, Part II: Plitinius Mero

  12:10:00 am, by   , 1122 words  
Viewed 6813 times since 01/05/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Plitinius Mero didn't make sense.

Background

Once upon a time, Queen Barenziah was a paragon of virtue, bravery, and wisdom, so sweet she gave everyone toothaches. At least, according to the fairy tale that is the Biography of Queen Barenziah.

No one really pays attention to this official biography, except to learn a few extra names and have a chuckle. This is because the "real" story appeared in The Real Barenziah (TRB). Promise of slight pornography: fulfilled.

The author is only given as "anonymous" in the text of TRB, but we know that it was Plitinius Mero who wrote it (although even that name is apparently an alias). He admitted as much in the TES III: Morrowind expansion Tribunal. He was presumably the individual who wrote down Barenziah's "private confessions", as mentioned in the TES II: Daggerfall quest Barenziah's Book. Eventually, someone involved in that quest would set the stories loose. Mero's work was defaming to the queen, threatened the Empire, and was fairly lascivious. So it's no surprise that the public ate it up - at least, they ate up the censored version which was subsequently released. The work was ordered banned, and Mero was ordered to be executed.

But then, Barenziah stepped in, and gave Mero a new identity as a scribe in her employ.

What the hell?

After Daggerfall, if you were told that the personal friend of Barenziah who wrote TRB would appear in the next TES game, you would've expected to find that person on a rack somewhere. Maybe there would be a quest where you'd save him from indescribable, endless torture, or perhaps kill him yourself. But no, you find him in the courtyard of the royal palace, with nothing but good things to say about his employer, the Queen Mother of Morrowind. I say again: what the hell?

According to Mero, "She knew my work to be true, and I believe she felt a sense of amusement, if not satisfaction, at the tale's telling. She protected me from the Imperial family, and spread the word of my demise at her guards' hands. Since then, I have traveled with her under this name, acting as her scribe, her advisor, and dare I say...her friend."

I call bull****. Even if you (for some reason) want to believe Barenziah was a compassionate and innocent figure, this is not how rulers react to betrayals of their confidence. I don't care if she'd known Mero since he was born; he doesn't just get a pass for endangering her and her family, especially not with the Empire calling for blood. If that's all there was to their relationship, then this just doesn't make sense.

So, why did Bethesda even introduce Mero into Tribunal in the first place? He played no meaningful part in quests. He foreshadowed an expanded biography of Barenziah which never materialized. For nine years in total, he was just a big, fat loose end. TES fans were left to do what they do best: speculate rampantly. Mero reeked of "to be continued", but no one could be sure what the rest of the story would be.

The rest of the story

Finally, in TES V: Skyrim, we were introduced to The Nightingales (TN), and suddenly Mero's place in the grand scheme of things became clearer. If you take TN as substantively true, then the release of TRB was damage control, not damage. Knowingly or not, Mero was Barenziah's chief propagandist.

That was why Barenziah gave these "private confessions", why an edited version was eventually allowed into circulation, and why she spared Mero. And while this can easily be dismissed as a game limitation, it would also explain why Mero is apparently willing to tell his tale to any doofus who wandered through the courtyard: regardless of whether he's a naive patsy or a trusted and loyal servant, Mero was affirming the story that Barenziah wanted people to believe. Or at least, the story she could tolerate them believing, as it was just damaging enough that apparently no one suspected that it was covering up more embarrassing truths.

There's still room to believe what you want, and even synthesize your own story surrounding Barenziah, Mero, etc., however you wish. There's a myriad of ways to speculate on the truth of Barenziah's life, but Mero's place in it circa 3E 427 has the benefit of being witnessed in-game. Almost everything else we know is just words on a page, but any theory on the truth behind Barenziah's life must be squared somehow with her unusual relationship with Mero. The Nightingales is the only stated version of the story which at least begins to explain Mero, who had been begging for an explanation for nine years.

Wrap-up

Now, these last two topics, arguably, depend upon the eye of the beholder. Look at them a certain way, and there's no inconsistency at all. Maybe in this case, for example, Barenziah was really just that nice of a person, that she forgave Mero his transgression and, at a time when she was at her weakest politically, she went out of her way to keep him safe. All out of the goodness of her heart. In which case, Barenziah's story was all wrapped up with a nice bow, and TN was just unnecessary retconning a decade after the fact. Well, I don't know what Disney games you've been playing, but in TES, someone that compassionate is like a unicorn: extremely rare, pretty much doomed to die within a minute of being discovered, and though you can change that fate if you really want to, it's not worth the effort.

The Barenziah which I perceive wouldn't bother to save Mero just for the hell of it. The only way reason she would save him is if Mero was an asset to protect. Maybe if he was an adopted son or something akin to that, that would be another motivation to consider, but I haven't read that story. Maybe it's on its way, but for now, we're left with TN, and TN gives the only credible hint on why Mero was still alive and in one piece when he appeared in Tribunal.

But there's room for doubt, I admit. As I alluded to last week, TES is so full of powerful plot devices and gray areas that you can't be sure of anything. So a "Lore Lapse" will not always be some irreconcilable contradiction. It will often be a topic of the lore where a source, on its face, is simply hard to reconcile with the others.

Next week's topic, though, is particularly hard to reconcile, and is not in the eye of the beholder. It's straight numbers, and they don't add up. Should be short and sweet. ;)

Lore Lapses, Part I: Hoag Merkiller

  04:01:00 pm, by   , 1877 words  
Viewed 9646 times since 12/27/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Intro: TL;DR

I've had far less time to dedicate to the UESP in recent months. As it stands, it is taking me months to revise one damn page! But giving some much-needed attention to the blog should be achievable. So I will be posting a weekly blog about some inconsistency in TES lore. Don't worry, they will usually be much, much shorter than this one. Believe it or not, this is the abridged version. My holiday rants can get pretty long... anyway, I'll try to get a banner or something for next week.

Now, the aim of this series is not to criticize, but to highlight. I believe that Bethesda (and, to a lesser extent, Zenimax) have created the most rich, wonderful, and well-rounded world ever conceived for a video game. It is one of the biggest reasons why TES has demanded such an enormous following. If you want to dive down a rabbit hole of seemingly endless discovery, TES lore is ready to oblige. Ultimately, I am surprised there have not been more lapses.

Nevertheless, the idea that there is one consistent TES world from one installment to the next, and that we can articulate and summarize it perfectly here, is clearly a hopeless fiction no matter how you look at it. But then, so is the idea that little pieces of paper or shiny coins have value, but we maintain the fiction because there's no reasonable alternative. Similarly, lore editors are typically given no alternative, except to presume that the little scraps of lore we are given maintain their "value" from one TES installment to the next, because the developers rarely give us any sort of notice when they've decided to actually retcon something. Sometimes, they may not even be aware they have done it. It's a big wide world, after all.

There's a school of thought that there's no such thing as a mistake in the lore. Not that the developers haven't made mistakes, but that for any mistake they may make, there's a reasonable explanation for what happened which doesn't break the fourth wall. So when maintaining this fiction for the TES-verse becomes difficult, lore buffs may find themselves bending over backwards to explain away some contradiction without saying something like, "Well, Todd Howard didn't get his coffee that morning...".

I'm not that extreme. I do not feel the need to concoct some intricate story to explain why the Log of the Emma May says "Tuesday" instead of "Tirdas" (Bonus Lapse #1). I do, however, start from the premise that an apparent inconsistency in the lore is just a plot point waiting to be revealed. I know most of them will never be acknowledged or rectified, but if history is any judge, at least a few will get some tongue-in-cheek attention in a future installment. The most beautiful thing about this medium, and about this franchise, is that the solution to every problem can be just one new game or update away. In pointing out these inconsistencies, my hope is that I may, occasionally, highlight places where a plot twist of the TES universe has yet to be revealed. Or at the very least, to get some dedicated lore fans to do some calisthenics as they jump through hoops to explain away plot holes.

Hoag Merkiller and the Conquest of Morrowind

So let's get on with it. I don't know if Hoag Merkiller is the best example to start with, but he's one I've been thinking about recently, and he also hasn't gotten much attention in ... ever. Hoag Merkiller, ancient High King of Skyrim circa 1E 480, doesn't make sense.

Specifically, the idea that Hoag lived in the days of the Conquest of Morrowind and the founding of the First Empire of the Nords circa 1E 240 doesn't mesh with most sources. This implication is given in the Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition (PGE1):

"In the days of the Conquest of Morrowind and the founding of the First Empire, the great Nord war chiefs - Derek the Tall, Jorg Helmbolg, Hoag Merkiller - were all Tongues."

PGE1 contains a lot of debunked and controverted information (so expect it to pop up quite a bit in this series). Not to criticize the writing itself; it is superb. PGE1 laid much of the framework for the lore which followed. It's just that if you're looking for solid TES fact, the fictional author of PGE1 has proven to be particularly unreliable due to bias and an often cosmetic understanding of the cultures which were being summarized. And it is, of course, usually impossible to be truly certain whether PGE1 info has been "retconned", or if those devious lore writers never meant for that info to be accurate in the first place.

Rough timeline of the Skyrim Conquests and Hoag Merkiller

We don't know when Merkiller was born, but Five Songs of King Wulfharth says he was slain when the Alessians were defeated at the Battle of Glenumbra Moors, an event which is dated to 1E 480 or 482 (Bonus Lapse #2). But the First Empire as we know it fell apart decades before that, in the War of Succession from 1E 369-1E 420. The Nords had been driven out of Morrowind by the united Chimer and Dwemer in 1E 416. PGE1 itself gives the impression that the First Empire was at its peak around 1E 290, about fifty years into the Skyrim Conquests. So to me, it seems like the founding days of the First Empire and the Conquest of Morrowind should be traced to the third century of the First Era, not the fifth century. It doesn't seem like Merkiller could've been around for the First Empire's end, let alone its founding. You would have to conflate the founding of the First Empire with its entire known existence, and then some, for that to make sense.

Scholarly error on the part of the in-character PGE1 author is a tempting explanation. Whomever wrote it was presumably an Imperial scholar, taking stories from Nords they meet (i.e., drunks in bars), and it's plausible they just got the wrong impression about Hoag's place in Skyrim's history, especially given what we know of the quality of the First Pocket Guide's scholarship in general. The implication may have been unintended from the start, brought on by imprecise generalities. We are talking about a scholar who is making a general reference to a time period over three thousand years before he lived. What difference is a couple centuries? If that satisfies you, then skip the rest; thanks for trudging this far!

The dilemma with writing off anything as scholarly error, however, is that it is Boring, And Therefore Wrong. This is and should be the guiding principle in anyone's interpretation of TES lore. The Falmer are just a Nordic myth. Boring, And Therefore Wrong. Alduin is another name for Akatosh. Boring, And Therefore Wrong. The PGE1 author just erroneously conflated Hoag Merkiller with the conquerors of Morrowind and founders of the First Empire. Boring, And Therefore Wrong? TES lore is replete with scholarly error, but it is often impossible to tell which errors are intentional, or whether it's a loose end the developers ever intend on touching upon in a future work. I'm sure the majority of us could agree this is just a mistake/miscommunication which will likely never get addressed, and we'll continue to agree on that - right up until it is addressed.

So, perhaps Hoag led an exceptionally long life with magic; there's one or two ancient Nordic myths regarding the manipulation of the Nordic lifespan, and the full truth may have plausibly been lost to time. Or, heck, screw Occam's Razor: perhaps there were two Nordic leaders named Hoag Merkiller in the early First Era. If you want to get really freaky with it, perhaps we might be dealing with different kalpas (whatever that truly means). The possibilities are literally endless - but what else can you expect in a fantasy video game world.

But like I said earlier, you would have to conflate the entirety of the First Empire's known existence with its founding in order for PGE1's statement to really make sense with what we know of Hoag Merkiller. Well, what if that were the case? "Founding" is a relative term. A newer association might count its founding days in years or decades, but an older association's founding days could be stretched over centuries. It would be a lot more reasonable to say that Hoag lived in the founding days of the First Empire if the First Empire existed for, say, one thousand years, instead of two hundred.

It's worth noting that, as far as I know, we've never been given a precise date of when the Nord's First Empire ended. We're not even entirely sure why it's called their First Empire, because it's not like there's any mention of a second one! We've been given dates on the Skyrim Conquests, but those don't necessarily correspond to the beginning and end of the First Empire. So, the First Empire may have existed, at least in name, for centuries upon centuries after the Skyrim Conquests ended, except it became composed of only Nordic kingdoms within Skyrim by 1E 420, and likely never truly recovered after that. Then, untold years down the line, it was presumably dissolved in some later First Era political shake-up.

So, the point is, the PGE1 statement could reasonably be construed as true if the First Empire of the Nords was considered to have survived until a great deal of time after the War of Succession. Several centuries, at least. While it may seem ironic to suggest that the First Empire was being "founded" during a time when most would consider it to be falling apart, it has the benefit of treating all sources as true without actually resorting to a "scholarly error" explanation. Furthermore, it's something we kind of expect to see anyways. Both in the game and in real life, empires tend to linger on long after their glory days have faded, often in name only.

But for now, details on the First Empire of the Nords are few and far between, and so are definitive answers. Things like Merkiller and the First Empire were topics which we expected to get a lot of treatment in TES V: Skyrim, given the setting, but we ended up with far less detail than lore fans are accustomed to receiving. The First Empire is explicitly mentioned a grand total of five times in Skyrim, and these were all basically passing references which told us next to nothing. Hoag Merkiller actually gets more attention from ESO than he got from Skyrim, simply by virtue of a passing mention in a loading screen!

Anyway, this is just one of the many situations where we're forced to parcel out information on one topic from many different sources. Hopefully, this has helped to convey the myriad of concerns and questions which are created when two or more sources become hard to reconcile. Happy holidays, everyone. Next week, I'll talk about an inconsistency which has been addressed and, in my opinion, rectified. Hopefully, it will help give you a sense of why even the slightest inconsistency can turn out to be the clue to a whole new understanding of TES lore. And it'll be fun, because it'll be slightly pornographic.

ESO: How many items are there?

  08:39:00 pm, by Daveh   , 236 words  
Viewed 26726 times since 11/26/14
Categories: Analysis

I've been lurking in the depths of ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) mining item data this week and have been trying to find just how many different items the game has. The quick answer is simply: "a lot"!

Without getting too technical, an item link in ESO has the format:

 |H0:item:ID:SUBTYPE:LEVEL:ENCHANTID:ENCHANTSUBTYPE:ENCHANTLEVEL:0:0:0:0:0:0:0:0:0:STYLE:CRAFTED:BOUND:CHARGES:POTIONEFFECT|hNAME|h

 We don't need to include all fields when considering the number of different unique items, like the CRAFTED, BOUND, and CHARGES fields. The POTIONEFFECT field is only valid for potions/consumables and it currently has 12,167 different combinations (23*23*23). We'll also ignore the ENCHANT... related fields as I don't yet have a number on these or which enchantments can be on which item types.

This leaves the following fields:

  • ID = Item ID which is a number from 1 to 60,000+.
  • LEVEL = 1-50
  • SUBTYPE = 1-317 (combines quality and level/veteran levels)

The LEVEL and SUBTYPE fields combine to give the final quality and level of the item. Short story is that there are around 800 different combinations of LEVEL+SUBTYPE used in the game (roughly: 64 levels, 5 qualities, store/crafted items = 64*5*2 = 640 + extra).

This means the number of different unique items is: 60,000 * 800  =  48 million

If you include STYLE then that's another x16 for a whopping 768 million. Add in enchantments for another several order of magnitudes.

Now it will actually be a little less than this as not all items vary by every level and quality but this is a rough approximation, at least until I finish mining items in the game.