Please read this first.

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!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hired Muscle/The Blessings of Nature

Because Lothar is first and foremost a warrior, I began the Companions questline fairly early in the game, but because it is a rather morally complex story, I did not finish it until recently.  The first of these, after Take Up Arms (which is short and straightforward), is Hired Muscle, in which Farkas instructs the PC to intimidate a random NPC who has committed some kind of minor infraction.  The quest is rigged, however, so that intimidation is impossible, and brawling is the only available method for completing the quest.  This situation may seem difficult for a "good" PC like mine, but it helps to remember two important facts:
  1. In a warrior culture like Skyrim's, brawling is only slightly more serious than harsh language.
  2. All adults in Skyrim, including senior citizens, are passable fighters.  See 1. above.
Furthermore, immediately after I beat up Danica Pure-Spring, Priestess of Kynareth (who got in a few good shots of her own, I might add), she dusted herself off, agreed to stop whatever it was she was doing wrong (never did find out what that was all about), and offered me a quest.  Apparently, the Gildergreen, which is the large tree in the center of Whiterun, was dying.  It could be revived with the sap of the ancient Eldergleam tree, which could only be obtained by cutting the latter with a mystical dagger known as Nettlebane.  Consequently, the quest had two stages: get Nettlebane and use it to collect Eldergleam sap.

The first stage was rather cut-and-dry.  Nettlebane was in the clutches of a Hagraven coven.  Because Hagravens and their followers are almost always hostile, there is rarely a question of killing them.  Furthermore, they seem to delight in dismembering and sacrificing other creatures, including humans, game animals, and Spriggans (a kind of woodland guardian spirit):
A Hagraven

Once my housecarl Lydia and I recovered Nettlebane, we returned to Danica, who then instructed us to go to the Eldergleam Sanctuary.  Along for this part of the journey was Maurice Jondrelle, a pilgrim.  I did not entirely trust this NPC, but I also suspected that he might play a role later in the quest.

I was wrong on both counts.  On the way to the sanctuary, our merry little band encountered several random hostiles such as wolves and frostbite spiders; in each encounter, Maurice displayed a disturbing habit of rushing into battle armed with only his clothes and a woodcutter's axe.  Unlike other followers, he wouldn't take other equipment nor would he wait where he was told.  When the dragon attacked in the middle of our fight with a pack of wolves, I did my best to watch out for Maurice, but even with Lydia dispatching several of the wolves herself, I couldn't prevent poor, brave, stupid Maurice from rushing the dragon with his garden implement.
R.I.P., Maurice.

This was the first time I lost an ally in battle, and even though Maurice was useless, I still felt as though I had failed.  I had a moral obligation to protect the pilgrim in spite of his own foolishness, but I had simply been overwhelmed. Perhaps if I had focused more attention on shielding Maurice and less on defeating the foe, he might have survived.

Once we arrived at the sanctuary, I was presented with another dilemma.  In order to obtain the sap from the trunk of the Eldergleam, I needed to cut some of its roots out of my path.  The Eldergleam, as I quickly learned, was protected by Spriggans, with whom I was sympathetic after seeing how the Hagravens treat them.  However, because what I was doing was, in fact, an act of violence against the Eldergleam, they attacked me.  To further complicate matters, the Gildergreen is a sappling that was taken from the older tree many years ago.  Therefore, in order to preserve the descendent of the Eldergleam, I had to fight my way through the tree's noble protectors.  I reluctantly chose to proceed, my reason being that the Spriggans were acting on instinct and could not be reasoned with.  Had I been able to Persuade them that I was actually doing a good thing, I would have.  Instead, I had to destroy them in order to complete the quest.
Spriggans defending their turf.

After I returned to Danica and watched her heal the Gildergleam, I reflected on the quest -- and did a little research on the wikis.  Maurice, as it turns out, would have solved my dilemma, had he lived.  If he makes it to the sanctuary, he tells you to put Nettlebane away and beseeches the Eldergleam to present a new sapling, thereby avoiding the offense to the Spriggans.  If I had been more careful to protect Maurice from himself, the Eldergleam Spriggans would still be alive.  I also wonder if I could have avoided conflict by using Battle Cry (or another Fear type of enchantment), Invisibility, or even a well-timed FUS-RO-DAH to get away from the Spriggans without destroying them.

Both alternatives described above would have required me to rise above the hack-and-slash rut that many of the warrior-oriented quests engender.  When battle skills are your main asset, you begin to see every challenge as a battle.  Would I have made the same decisions if were playing a PC more in the Thief or Mage playstyle, in which stealth and ingenuity, rather than raw combat, are the valued attributes?  In other words, would I have been more likely to make a better moral decision if I had proceeded more thoughtfully?


  1. [ I wrote a full comment, but as i wanted to logg in (selecting this "comment as") it just got deleted without getting published... so again.
    My English is not very good, but i hope you will understand my point:]
    First of all i want to thank you for your effort on this page. I always try to make the "right" decision in Skyrim, and i just found this page today as i looked for the problem in the cidnah-prison - who is right, who is wrong. And i am just commenting this old post, because i saw you updated sth. some days ago.
    Back to topic:
    My Problem with this Quest was slightly different.
    The Problem is: Skyrim is unrealistic.
    The Gildergreen tree will be restored (optically), if you go the seedling or the resin(heal) way. But its technically not the same. In RL, the old tree will be cut, the seedling planted, and 100 years later its the "same" tree again. And why do you do this quest? Right, to help Danica!
    Danica wanted to restore the tree in order to help the tree itself, and to restore the spiritual place, so pilgrims will come again to the tree and the temple. But this little seedling would be completely useless for this. Maybe it will somehow work in the long term, but who would remember this tree 100 years later, if it was useless for 50 years and Danica dead.
    But well - i was at the Eldergleam tree, and the roots where in the way. just a touch with this dagger, and they moved aside - no harm for the tree. Then i was at the tree, i could choose to cut it or to get the seedling. Why am i here? Right, to cut it! Its just a little cut, i dont think the tree can feel pain, and it wont harm him much. But his alarm-system would be triggered, ok. This sacrifice would be done in order to heal the Gildergreen tree.

    In the end, knowing that there wont be any difference if i go sapling or healing, i chose the sapling. Then i convinced Darnica "New is good, new is nice, who needs the old tree just use this useless seedling" In another playthrough, i used the healing way, and well i had to kill some spriggans, but they chose to attack me, didnt let me explain why i did this, and if you want to be "very good" you can just flee.

    But i think, in order to do the right thing you cannot just go the "dont harm" way, because in this case i think its the wrong way, and more like lying to danica that everything will be alright with this seedling - at least this is what i think about it.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading!

      I understand your point about the lack of realism as it pertains to the growth of the sapling, but in a game that allows characters to carry several hundred pounds of gear and eat 20 wheels of cheese in the middle of a battle, I can forgive a lot.

      To be honest, if Maurice had lived, I probably would have gone the sapling route. I always feel bad about killing the spriggans; they're just overzealous, not truly evil.

    2. Thanks for writing the blog :D

      Well you are right :D But somehow i feel different about the tree-thing :)

      Well i dont think that spriggans are that harmless. They attack for just entering a forrest, and thats like entering a banditcamp - they are defending their homes - even if you touch nothing :)

    3. oh, and i am "lasermastermicha" btw, just changed it because it was a very old nickname of me :D

  2. Has anyone considered the morality of killing the Hagraven? I mean, what do we know about them, really? Just that they don't like nature, and that they gave up their "humanity" for the sake of magic. Those don't seem like terrible crimes to me. In a world with elves, cat-people and lizard-people, what's the problem with wanting to become a bird-person anyways?

    1. If that was all there was to it then no. That would not be so terrible, just a personal choice. HOWEVER it isn't. Hagravens practice black magic and kill and sacrifice innocents. They cause a lot of suffering and that needs to stop.


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