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Welcome! This blog is devoted to considerations of morality in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda. Rather than a fansite, review, or walkthrough, it is a serious attempt to examine the game through a moral lens. Please note that the purpose of this blog is to discuss morality within the context of the game, not to determine whether playing the game is immoral in and of itself; the latter type of "discussion" tends toward tedium and inhibits, rather than promotes, a meaningful conversation.

If you have not visited this blog before, it might be helpful to read the posts labeled "Orientation," most of which are the first few entries in the blog archive (see right). These posts include a short introduction to this project, a content-specific author bio, and a few other pieces that explain key concepts relevant to this study. These posts are of particular use to those readers less familiar with Skyrim (or video games in general).


If you have visited this blog before, thanks and welcome back!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Diplomatic Immunity

After Unbound, the next several quests in the main questline (Before the Storm, Bleak Falls Barrow, Dragon Rising, The Way of the Voice, The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, and A Blade in the Dark) may be challenging, but are, for the most part, morally simple.  Diplomatic Immunity, however, presents a few situations that demand real moral agency from the player.

By the time this quest was opened, I had visited the Greybeards and learned how to use the Thu'um (Dreagon Shout), I had demonstrated to Delphine (the barmaid at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood who, as it turned out, was a member of the Blades, the now-defunct band of elite warriors that had been decimated by the Aldmeri Dominion) that I was indeed Dragonborn, and I had begun to unravel the mystery surrounding the return of the dragons. To that end, Delphine suggested that I should infiltrate the Thalmor Embassy near Solitude in order to find some secret documents that might shed some light on the crisis.

The plan was for me to use a forged invitation to attend one of the Thalmor Ambassador's parties, then slip away to find the documents in question.  I met with Malborn, Delphine's Bosmer "inside man," who promised to smuggle my gear inside (I would be searched before entering the party) and to allow me to sneak out of the party and into the Embassy offices.  All went according to plan; I met Ambassador Elenwen, conversed with a few guests...
Confirmation that the Thalmor are trying to influence Skyrim's internal politics.

Confirmation that the Thalmor are just biding their time.
 ...then noticed Malborn serving drinks at the bar.  He said that as soon as everyone was distracted, he would let me in through the kitchen.  I convinced one of the guests, a pleasant drunkard named Razelan, to create a diversion, and Malborn guided me behind the bar and to my stashed equipment as promised.  It was at this point that things became interesting from a moral perspective.

Once inside the Embassy's offices, I wanted to rely on stealth to avoid contact with the Thalmor guards.  While I had no moral compunctions about killing them (especially after the things I learned while engaging in "small talk" with the party guests), I thought it best to avoid causing an incident.  Unfortunately, I didn't get far before I found myself in pitched battle with several Thalmor soldiers.  Nevertheless, I made my way to Elenwen's private residence, found some of the documents, then proceeded downstairs into an interrogation chamber to find the remaining document.  Once in the interrogation chamber, I killed the Thalmor Interrogator and his guard, then freed the prisoner they were torturing.  When I found the remaining dossier, two more guards entered, Malborn in tow; apparently, his cover had been blown and he was under arrest.

Malborn risked his life for this mission; while I was aware that not all Bosmer supported the Aldmeri Dominion, I had no idea that some were actually willing to undermine it.  Even if Malborn was no longer essential to the mission, I owed it to him to take out the guards and lead him to safety.  Afterwards, Malborn, the prisoner (Etienne Rarnis, a thief with possible connections to the Blades), and I escaped through an underground passage, where I once again had to save Malborn, this time from a troll lying in wait.

The moral dimension of this quest is twofold.  First, I have drawn some very clear lines about who deserves death and who deserves redemption.  I already hated the smug fascist racism of the Thalmor, but the dossiers I recovered proved that my suspicions were right: although the Thalmor were as perplexed by the dragons as we were, they considered Ulfric Stormcloak an "asset" to be exploited for their own ends, encouraging the Nords to spill their own blood in preparation for a renewed offensive against a weakened Empire.  Secondly, while I could have left Malborn and Etienne behind, and it probably would have been easier for me to do so, I felt obligated to save both of them.  Malborn in particular weighed heavily on me because as a Bosmer (and therefore a claimant to the Aldmeri Dominion) he was throwing everything away in order to save the Empire.  Furthermore, the memory of my fatal conflict with Faendal made me especially sensitive to my treatment of his brethren.

Later, after completing a few more quests, I decided to return to the Embassy to loot the bodies of the  Thalmor I was too encumbered to loot the first time.  I had to kill a few more Thalmor outside the Embassy (the checkpoint I passed through as a "party guest"), but once I got inside, I found the place deserted.  I snooped around and found Elenwen all by herself; I suppose she never bothered to replace the soldiers I killed.  I considered klling her right then and there, but thought she might be important later.


  1. A short way into the Embasy mission there is a set of hooded Thalmor robes in a storeroom. With hindsight, I wonder if these might allow you to simply walk around like you belonged there.

    Since the game doesn't offer disguises as as an option, I didn't try it, but then I regretted not experimenting to see what might happen. It could be nothing, but with hindsight the robes seem deliberatly placed in your path.

  2. You can disguise yourself in this mission but the effectiveness of the disguise is governed by your race.

    Altmer: You can walk around anywhere, before entering Elenwen's Solar. If you pass a speech check you can even get the Thalmor wizard at the entrance to Elenwen's Solar

    Bosmer: If you get too close the guards will comment on your height, then turn hostile.

    Dunmer/Orsimer/Human: You can't get as close as a Bosmer without being caught, but you can use the disguise.

    Argonian, Khajiit. The disguise doesn't work at all, they'll notice the tail.

    Your disguise won't work in Elenwen's Solar regardless of race. You also will need to unequip weapons & rings, and you have to walk rather than run. IMO it's easier to just use the muffle spell (or something enchanted with it) and either invisibility potions or spells. If you're using spells make sure you've got the Quiet Casting perk.