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).

PLEASE NOTE: HERE BE SPOILERS!

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

In My Time of Need

In My Time of Need was the quest that originally inspired me to write this blog.  Because of the intricate set-up, high moral stakes, and lack of conclusive information, it presents a very difficult moral dilemma that not only defies easy answers, but also approximates moral dilemmas in the real world (albeit on a grander scale).

For me, the quest began in Whiterun when two Redguards, identifying themselves as Alik'r mercenaries from Hammerfell, requested my help in locating a Redguard woman who was thought to be hiding out somewhere in Whiterun.  The Alik'r themselves could not investigate inside Whiterun for two reasons: first, as per the White-Gold Concordat, Hammerfell is no longer part of the Empire; second, and more directly relevant, one of their number was thrown in jail for trying to sneak into the city.  I agreed to help them find the woman, then went about my business.

While in the Bannered Mare on unrelated business, I noticed Saadia, the Redguard cook.  When I asked her about the Alik'r, she asked to speak to me in private, at which point she pulled a dagger on me.  After calming her down, I listened to her story; she claimed to be Iman, a noblewoman of House Suda and a target of a Thalmor assassination attempt:
Part of Saadia's story.

I didn't know much about politics in Hammerfell, but I did know that the Thalmor were not above fostering in-fighting within another nation, so I was inclined to believe her.  She advised me to speak to the jailed Alik'r to find his leader's whereabouts, which I did.  After I paid his fine (apparently he had been abandoned by his leader, Kematu, for being clumsy enough to get caught), he agreed to help me out.  He told me to look in Swindler's Den, but...
Are the Alik'r noble warriors or ruthless thugs?
Lydia and I made our way to Swindler's Den, and when we arrived, we found a common bandit guarding the entrance.  Once inside, we were met by many more bandits, some of whom proved to be rather difficult to kill.  We also discovered a few bear traps guarding a key passage; so far, Kematu and his merry band were living up to their reputation.

As we were about to pass through the underside of a small waterfall, we heard a conversation in the larger chamber ahead.  I decided that, given the difficulty of our previous encounters in the caves, a sneak attack was in order.  Once we launched the first volley, the Alik'r were all over us, and we couldn't advance past the waterfall, so the battle was fairly chaotic.  Finally, though, I had Kematu on the ropes; when I delivered the final blow, he gasped, "Don't let yourself be fooled by a pretty face again. You're better than that."  I completed the quest by reporting to Saadia that Kematu was dead; she thanked me and rewarded me as promised, and that was the end of this side quest. Some questions, however, remained.

I had been feeling pretty good about my choice to help Saadia until Kematu uttered his last words.  Why would a mercenary or assassin bother saying something like that with his dying breath? Had I, in fact, been manipulated by a damsel in distress? Or was Kematu himself an unwitting pawn of the Thalmor? Now that the quest was complete and my choices set in stone, I could do some research.  After reading a few dozen articles and posts, most of which reflected pre-moral thinking (I betrayed both sides to get both rewards; I sided with Saadia because I wanted to get those Alik'r scimitars; I sided with the Alik'r because I didn't want to bother fighting them; and so on), I found some information that profoundly complicated my views on this mission.

It turns out that the conversation I overheard while hiding behind the waterfall was directed at me; Kematu was directing his Alik'r to hold, and the warrior he was addressing was Yours Truly:
I thought he was talking to one of his own men.
Had I listened to him, Kematu would have told me that "Saadia" was actually a traitor; she apparently sold out her city to the Thalmor during the war, and the royal houses hired Kematu and his men to bring her back  to Hammerfell alive to face her fate.  He then would have asked me to lure her outside the city; had I done so, he would have used a Paralysis spell on her in order to take her back without further incident.  It is therefore possible that I killed several honorable men in order to help a treasonous woman escape justice.

The element that make this quest so challenging to parse from a moral perspective is the lack of information.  Even if I had talked to Kematu, I would still have had the same problem; how could I tell if Kematu was telling the truth?  I had to make a decision without all of the necessary information, and even in retrospect, I still don't have all of the facts that I need to say conclusively whether my actions were morally justified.

For this part of the analysis, it is useful to look at the factors in favor of each side of the dilemma:

Factors in favor of Kematu and the Alik'r:
  • At every stage, these men acted with honor when dealing with me.  They are not immediately hostile, and they do not try to force me to help them.
  • Kematu's story is clear and detailed, while Saadia's is not.
  • Kematu keeps his word about taking Saadia alive.
  • Given that Hammerfell is not friendly with the Thalmor, Saadia's story of being persecuted for speaking out against them seems unlikely.
  • After completing the quest, Saadia seemed a bit, for lack of a better word, cold-hearted.
  • Long after completing this quest, I had a random encounter with two Alik'r questioning a Redguard woman.  They treated her sternly, but once one of them realized that she was not the one they were looking for (i.e. Saadia), they let her go without further incident.  Their behavior suggests men who are sticking to rules and protocols, rather than a band of assassins.
Factors in favor of Saadia:
  • After the Empire abandoned Hammerfell, the Redguards continued to fight the Aldmeri Dominion to a standstill.  They eventually signed the Second Treaty of Stros M'Kai, the conditions of which seem to be unknown outside of Hammerfell.  Given the way the Thalmor have used the White-Gold Concordat to sow discord in Skyrim, it is not unreasonable to assume that they are doing the same in Hammerfell, which has an even more fractured political system.  Therefore, Saadia may be in the same position as a Talos worshipper in Skyrim.
  • While it is true that the Alik'r are not welcome in Whiterun, the fact that they chose to camp in an active bandit hideout runs counter to Kematu's claims of honorable behavior.  He seemed perfectly content to let the bandits kills us, choosing only to speak to me after I had run his gauntlet.
  • Saadia chose to hide out in relatively neutral Whiterun, as opposed to a more Imperial Hold like The Reach, Falkreath, or Haafingar.  These three Holds are closer to Hammerfell geographically, and some of the towns actually have Thalmor representatives.  If Kematu's story were accurate, it would make more sense for Saadia to seek assistance from the Thalmor than to run to a more neutral Hold like Whiterun.
  • If Saadia had indeed sold out the city of Taneth to the Thalmor, it would be reasonable to expect that she would have been rewarded for her betrayal, yet this noblewoman is living as a cook in a mid-range inn.  While it is possible that the Thalmor let her twist in the wind, it would also have made sense for them to reward her and use her as a poster child for allying with the Aldmeri Dominion.
  • Given the craftiness of the Thalmor, it is entirely possible that Kematu's intentions were perfectly honorable, and yet disastrous for Saadia.  Kematu may have led Saadia back to face a fair trial, only to have her summarily executed at the border by Thalmor Justicars or a rival royal house.
Other contributing factors:
  • While I completely misunderstood Kematu's dialogue, and probably should have asked questions  before trying a sneak attack, I had come to expect a vicious attack around every corner of Swindler's Den -- a situation Kematu had set up himself.
  • The captured Alik'r paints a portrait of Kematu and his men as a band of killers, which confirmed Saadia's assessment of them.
  • The two original Alik'r who initiated the quest are still hanging out at Whiterun's front gate.  This is most likely a glitch, but the fact that they are still there and still polite paints a picture of the Alik'r as honorable men.  I feel a pang of guilt every time I pass them and they ask, "Need something?"
While these factors are all valid considerations, I also have to take into account my personal, less-than-rational leanings:
  • A group of well-armed, well-trained, government-hired mercenaries are sent to track down one woman -- a woman who, despite threatening me with a dagger, poses no significant physical danger.  She claims to be running because she spoke up against a powerful group that I already dislike.  Even if I had listened to Kematu, I would probably still have sided with the "dissident" rather than trying to capture the "traitor."
  • If I'm being completely honest, I tend to fall for the "damsel in distress" routine all too often, both in gaming and in the real world.  In this particular case, I think I considered allowing a "defenseless" woman to be victimized less tolerable than killing a group of warriors who might turn out to be honorable after all.
Ultimately, it seems that there is no way to know which of the two main paths of this quest is the more justifiable one.  Because of this uncertainty, In My Time of Need mimics several real-world scenarios in which useful intelligence is lacking.  For example, what are we to do with an asylum-seeker who claims to be a political refugee, but whose government claims is a dangerous criminal, when we can't get sufficient information from the government in question?  While others might find this kind of quest frustratingly abstruse, I appreciate its lack of clarity as an in-game picture of problems that are all-too-real outside the game.

40 comments:

  1. I have just reached this point and am frankly staggered by the lack of choice. perhaps i have been spoiled by mass effect. I'm annoyed because I don't understand why I cant speak to Saadia upon returning from the conversation with Kematu in the caves, other than to trick her into their hands. All it would have taken was a couple of questions to get her side of the story, and then a proper decision could have been made. Very lazy design, and doesn't bode well for the game considering I am in the early stages. I've decided to leave them to it and not intervene. She's safe in the city, and I don't think they deserve to die. Would have been nice to warn her though. What a half baked mission.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I certainly understand your frustration, but I've made my peace with it by comparing it to real-life dilemmas in which we can't always get the information we need in order to make good decisions, as in the world of medicine or foreign intelligence. Keep playing, though...I think you'll especially like the Dawnguard line.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've played this quest through a couple of times now, and it's one of the most frustrating in the game, because of the lack of definitive information or closure.

    But after a lot of thought, I've concluded that the balance of evidence is quite strong against Saadia. It's not the conclusion I wanted to come to - everyone likes to help a damsel in distress - but I can't deny the facts.

    Fact 1: Saadia says that killing Kematu will cause the assassins to disperse and leave her safe. This, I know from my first playthrough, is completely inaccurate. Long after killing Kematu, you will still keep running into Alik'r warriors detaining Redguard women all over the place. They don't give up.

    Fact 2: In the abovementioned random encounters, the warriors behave like - well, like honourable warriors, not assassins. They detain the woman - annoying her somewhat - but upon realising she's not Saadia, they let her go with no further fuss. At no point do they draw a weapon or make a threat of any kind. Very civil.

    Fact 3: If Saadia's story is true, then her pursuers are Thalmor-Sponsored Assassins. But we encounter several confirmed TSAs in the game, and their MO is completely different:
    - Esbern: is hunted by uniformed Thalmor guards (how the heck they got into Stormcloak-controlled Riften I have no idea, but still), plus two 'sleeper' agents within the city.
    - Malborn: is stalked by a Khajit assassin, masquerading as a merchant guard, lurking outside the city.
    - But Saadia asks us to believe that the Thalmor have hired this band of thugs - of the same nationality as their victim - to hunt her down openly and publicly. It seems quite out of character for the Thalmor.

    Fact 4: Even if you save her, Saadia never starts treating you as a friend. If she was for real, I would expect her to at least greet you more warmly thereafter - maybe even become marriagable. But she continues to address you exactly as before. That suggests to me that she's putting on an act when she needs your help, and drops it when you've done your bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All valid points; I touched on Fact 2 in the post, but I had not really considered the other three. I have come to the conclusion that Lothar did the wrong thing for the right reasons, and we'll both just have to live with it.

      Delete
    2. I'm now hoping that the next game in the series will be set in Hammerfell, and might throw some retrospective light on this quest. Doesn't have to refer to Saadia directly - just telling us exactly who the 'Alik'r' are, and how they're viewed by the people of Hammerfell, would probably give us enough of a clue.

      By the way, thanks for writing this blog. I don't always agree with you, but I appreciate that someone's taken the trouble to write all this down and give us a forum to have these discussions. Be well.

      Delete
    3. I share your hopes for the next title. And thanks for your kind words. I especially appreciate your willingness to challenge my analysis.

      Delete
    4. 1) While the Alik'r remain throughout Skyrim hunting for her, Saadia's "sanctuary" in Whiterun is secure. The fact she made an assumption on her safety was both true and untrue in areas outside Whiterun. This is not a lie but an assumption which only came partly true. It does not prove that the rest of her story is false.

      2) The Alik'r are rude and threatening. I don't know how many times the woman they are trying to FORCE to come with them says "Now back off before I do something drastic." THEN, the other says "Wait, brother, I think she's telling the truth. She doesn't have the scar." Then the other grudgingly admits and tells her to "Watch your mouth before it gets you into trouble." Civil? Far from it. They're harassing traveling women not asking politely.

      3) The Thalmor use everyone including the Empire and the Stormcloaks. Using even her own family would not be outside Thalmor decency as long as it fulfilled their devisive objectives. Sowing discord and planning strife are their specialties.

      The merits of the Alik'r warriors must be observed based on their own actions which are not convincing. They are expelled from Whiterun for an unknown reason and abandon one of their men to rot in prison. They ask for your assistance but refuse to give reasons only offering a bribe for information. Kematu hires bandits and hides out in a cave only addressing you after you "proved yourself" by slaughtering all his hirelings. Obviously, he places a high value on life. NOT. His "honorable" argument holds a lot of information including insults of your own intellect, morals, and motivations; but nothing that proves Saadia is lying. His best idea than offering solid evidence or proof is to make a counteroffer for you to do the "dirty work" of lying to a woman you may have a duty to protect from kidnappers and Thalmor assassins. The stakes are high and Kematu treats you like a warrior to be duped rather than fought. His highest compliment is in cowardice apparently.

      4) Saadia does remain distant and rather cold. But this is not proof of her guilt. It did make me second guess as I believe it was intended. However, who she makes friends with is up to her. She did claim to be nobility not a common wench as she must pretend as a fugitive. (Actually, I think Idolaf Battle-Born likes her. He's always in the kitchen when she is. :x)

      Delete
  4. I too am of the opinion that the evidence stacks more heavily against Saadia, and I took Kematu's side in this particular quest. If nothing else, his taking her alive seems to imply that he was the one telling the truth. At least, that's what I think.

    Though the way he surrounded himself with actual bandits even if him and his men were not is still slightly suspect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's that second point that really sticks with me. Furthermore, I'm not convinced that taking her alive is necessarily a good thing. Things worse than death can happen to political prisoners.

      Delete
  5. While Saadia seems to be indeed guilty, it's the name of the quest that bothers me. "In My Time of Need" hints at her innocence. I wouldn't have had many doubts about helping Kematu had the quest been named something else!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hadn't considered that before. The title of the quest is prejudicial. The story has been spun before it starts.

      Delete
  6. Don't forget this basic moral dilemma that has been plaguing me: If you take Kematu's side you have to lie. This brings me to a particularly frustrating crossroad because after thoroughly researching I have come to the conclusion that I personally believe Kematu. However I cannot take his side without having to lie to someone. At least siding with Saadia doesn't require overt, informed, basic moral deception. Welcome back to square one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see your point, but should we then say that deception is never justified under any circumstances? I like Kant as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure I can defend such an absolute standard.

      Delete
    2. The fact he wants you to lie is indicative of something wrong here. You are being asked to do something dishonorable, the "dirty work," so that they can kidnap a woman who may be innocent. Without hard evidence and without honorable methods, should you trust this guy? I couldn't. He fits more the profile and character Saadia and the Prisoner claim every minute.

      Delete
  7. I sided with Saadia as well, but the real factor that seals the deal that she's telling the truth is that apparently, after you side with Kematu, SAADIA'S BURIAL URN APPEARS IN WHITERUN'S HALL OF THE DEAD. Filled with her ashes. They didn't take her back to Hammerfell at all, they just killed her as soon as the Dragonborn turns his back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I did not know about that. Funny thing is, now that I'm on my second playthrough, I have constructed a character who sides with Kematu, and the possibility that the Alik'r killed the traitor instead of taking her back would not faze this new character in the least.

      Still, your info makes me feel better about Lothar's choice.

      Delete
    2. Ah! I never sided with them so I didn't know! Excellent closure. No way to vote this comment up is there? :(

      Bottomline: Burden of proof is on the Alik'r. They do not provide it.

      Delete
    3. Sorry...this is a very basic blog; I don't go in for all that fancy "upvoting" falderal. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments, though!

      Delete
    4. Wow Never new that. At first i sided with Kumatu but at the last second i pulled out Dawn-breaker and ran him through to save Saadia because of the way he talked to her. She was a bit mad that I tricked her but she calmed down, thanked me and payed me.

      Delete
    5. Can anyone confirm this? It doesn't do that for me. If I hand Saadia over to Kematu, no burial urn appears. Or at least it doesn't do so within two or three days. If I kill Saadia myself, her burial urn appears within 24 hours. It's in the Hall of the Dead catacombs. Go through the door to the catacombs, then all the way down the hall to your left and through the Iron Door.

      Delete
    6. I figured they couldn't be up to any good. Given the arrest of one and the investigation of others by the guards, it seems evident that their international excursion is illegal. Furthermore, I had no way of knowing that they would take her without violence, and even given that, what if they were working for the Thalmor? Have you seen what they do to people? I could not even consider subjecting someone to that. And these Alik'r are obviously some very shady folks if they can hole up with vicious bandits without an issue.

      Delete
  8. I have played this quest many times. Both sides intentionally give clues that both support and condemn their stories. The truth is intentionally withheld from the player who must make a decision to help Saadia in good faith or condemn her without the evidence to support "beyond a reasonable doubt." I have always saved her and never regretted it. It is better to let a traitor go free than condemn a political fugitive seeking asylum. Even if guilty, she cannot do much damage as a Whiterun barmaid. If she is returned, she will be executed that fate is certain.

    My current theory on the situation is that both sides are telling the truth. The Thalmor are heavily involved with trying to manipulate the Civil War specifically Ulfric (as detailed in his Dossier during the Embassy quest). In fact, the terms of the White-Gold Concordant banning Talos was intended to bring about internal division within the Empire from the first. Ulfric has been instrumental to serve their ends while trying ironically to rectify the course of Skryim in abandoning the Empire.

    If we believe both stories, Saadia's and Kematu's, a similar picture develops. If Saadia is a political fugitive for speaking out against the AD, her situation makes sense. There is no evidence she is lying. However, Kematu claims to be working for the Hammerfell Resistance tracking down a traitor. While he seems brutal toward his own men and only marginally honorable to serve his own ends, it is possible he is also telling the truth. He may truly believe that she is a traitor. However, is she? Was she for or against the AD? This is where their stories directly contradict. His word versus her word.

    The final piece of the puzzle is an underlying assumption of which we have no evidence only speculation. It is possible that Kematu is misinformed about Saadia's true "crimes" and is being manipulated by the Thalmor to hunt down "their" enemies. If so, it fits into the pattern of Thalmor interference and deception to divide their enemies and force them to kill each other.

    However, even if Kematu is not misinformed, there is no reason to believe his word over hers. He disparagingly implies that you are "believing a damsel in distress" who has "played to your baser instincts." Would an honorable warrior use such insults? Everything he tells you that seems honorable could be an act to gain your trust. He offers persuasive words but no proofs. Wouldn't an honorable man use better methods (bandits? really?) and expect to have to prove his words? But beyond the words, Saadia's situation as a fugitive not a threat is real and it is likely she is hiding from the Thalmor not Hammerfell since she did not seek the Thalmor or the Empire for sanctuary. Finally, even if it were intended for the player to be deceived, condemning her without hard evidence would be hasty and wrong-headed.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Actually in restrospect, Kematu's main line of reasoning to convince the player of Saadia's "guilt" is to shame the presumably male character that you're just helping a damsel in distress who has played upon your sympathies for the fairer sex. She is a damsel and she is in distress. What's wrong with helping her again? I missed that part.

    Ironically because Kematu doesn't offer any hard evidence, the only manly decision a male avatar can make is to kill them all even if you're wrong. The only alternative course of action Kematu suggests is lying to possibly an innocent woman who is trusting you so that they can kidnap her presumably to kill her. Hm. Lying, sneaky and cowardly, definitely not a manly thing to do. Killing eight assassins in a free-for-all, no-holds-barred cave battle is much more manly. ;)

    Of course, I played this quest the first time with a Nord Shield-Maiden with Lydia as my huscarl. As an honorbound female warrior for justice, I took up Saadia's plight as a woman helping out another woman in need. I did think at the time that it was a man's job. Definitely heroic savior stuff that makes a romantic tale of high adventure (sighs longingly for my own hero someday!); but if a noblehearted man isn't around to do the job, I guess next best will have to do. (If I were Saadia, I would pick the strongest, noblest man in the tavern. Very romantic. But, oh well, what a waste. Since the only noble warrior around was also female--me. *faceroll* If a woman is the only one available, we do what we have to do. Can't let a woman die because there isn't a handsome knight protector available! Fie on the travesty!)

    Once in Swindler's Den, I got to the part where Kematu insinuated Saadia was a lying whore and I was a ... a lesbian??? And then I was chuckling to myself and Bethesda. (You didn't think a woman would do this quest?) So I was immune to the "helping a woman" shame. I carry no special sympathies for women except as a fellow woman (which is a moral decision of integrity not biological or emotional). Though I was not immune to the insult to my moral judgements and sexual preferences. You'll pay for those insults to my integrity in blood, assassin!

    Case in note, do NOT insult a Nord Shield-Maiden if you want to gain her trust. Female warriors can be very sensitive about their honor and perceived disrespect from male counterparts who may be competitive or disparaging toward women in predominantly male roles. :) She-rawr. ;)

    Scarily enough, I guess the majority of the comments in favor of Kematu show guys DO have a weakness to being sympathetic to women as Kematu suggests is the player's main motivation. Interesting. And these guys would rather betray and butcher an innocent woman than be duped. How awful, but very Othello. And Othello was wrong. He was also lied to by a male "friend." I would rather be betrayed or taken advantage of than betray or do another wrong. I figure the truth will come out eventually. If I got used, that will have its time of reckoning--in blood! But until she is proven guilty, I must protect her possible innocence from possible evildoers. I can't be the instigator of betrayal and made the accomplice of lies.

    Perhaps the fear of being exploited or betrayed by a woman whom you have special sympathies could be called an "Othello complex."

    ReplyDelete
  10. At best, Kematu murders Saadia as an act of vengeance and vigilantism for rival noble Houses. At worst, he's a Thalmor agent sent to "clean up" political refugees who dared to defy the Thalmor. Either way, he employs the basest of immoral methods and invites you to assist his scheme on blind faith rather than cold facts.

    Saadia offers trust out of believeable desperation. She doesn't betray you even if you never really know how much of the truth she told you.

    Kematu at least lies about "taking her back to Hammerfell to be tried for her crimes." (Since her Burial Urn appears in Whiterun's Hall of the Dead.) So they are assassins. That part of Saadia's story was true. Who they were really working for is unclarified, but does it really matter? She either told you the truth and she is on the run for defying the Thalmor or she was being pursued by rival Houses possibly on false charges or she was working for the Thalmor and still is or isn't now.

    The fact that Kematu lies about their true identity and intentions puts his whole story in doubt. Though not all of the details are conclusively false. The fact Saadia did tell you the truth about Kematu bolsters her own story even though it could still be a bag of lies. At least the bag of money she gave you was true. ;)

    Assassins don't spring up to take care of justice. That's what courts are for. Assassins are sent to kill people who are a perceived threat to someone important AKA: rich. Those important, rich people are likely Thalmor or rival Redguard nobles. Take your pick.

    Either way, she's not particularly dangerous as a Whiterun barmaid. I'm not a facilitator of vengeance or assassinations. So Kematu's group proves (post mortem) to be the posers and the evildoers to be dealt with here.

    Yes, I wiped out the Dark Brotherhood (with sneak attacks :D). That is true justice like it or not. Blood money ought to be paid with blood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dernhelm, I have really enjoyed reading your analysis of this quest. You address in great detail many of the issues I and other players brought up. I just want to prod you on two points:

      1.) I will now be using "Othello Complex" in my classes. Thank you for that.
      2.) Kematu utters his "pretty face" line as he is dying (assuming you side with Saadia). What reason would he have to make these his last words, if he doesn't believe them to be true?

      Delete
  11. Her Burial Urn doesn't appear in Whiterun's Hall of the Dead, unless YOU KILL HER!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Todd,
    Dernhelm points out that although Kematu thinks he's right, he might not be so in truth. I agree. People, criminal or not, often try to do the right thing from their perspective.
    Dernholm also questions why we first have to lie in order to do the right thing. I agree with that as well. I actually reloaded at this point, and sided with Saadia.


    This quest could be the result of sloppy work from Bethesda [doubtful], and we are simply over thinking things. It can also be that Bethesda deliberately wanted it to be unclear, and we are again over thinking things. Or it can be that there's simply neither good nor bad choice, and we're also over thinking things.


    Some misconceptions I read on the internet:
    -The guards don't like the Alik'r, so the Alik'r must be evil.
    -Saadia pulls a knife on the dragonborn, so she's evil.
    -Saadia's burial urn is found right after finishing the quest, so the Alik'r are lying.
    -Kematu seems to withhold information, so he's evil.
    -Saadia seems forward with information, so she's good.
    -Saadia doesn't become really friendly after siding with her, so she's evil.
    -It's not the Thalmor's m.o. to use a group of people to get to one person.

    Points of interest/suspicion:
    -Kematu surrounds himself with common bandits to protect himself and his hideout.
    -Saadia is hiding in Whiterun, were there are no Thalmor present.
    -The Thalmor also used clan Battle-born to get to a single person.


    Another interesting point is whether the player believes the Stormcloaks or the Thalmor are good or evil. I'm leaving out the Imperials, who're actually also against the Thalmor, because it might confuse things. In truth, if you know enough about the politics in Skyrim, then there's really only Thalmor vs Imperials. The Stormcloaks are
    simply pawns of, and together with both the Battle-borns and Grey-manes being misled by, the Thalmor.
    It's confusing...
    So let's just assume the Stormcloaks are opposed to the Thalmor, even though they are unwitting pawns of the Thalmor.

    Thalmor [evil], Stormcloaks [good]:
    If Saadia lies and works for the Thalmor, siding with her is morally evil.
    If Saadia speaks the truth and Kematu works for the Thalmor, siding with her is morally good.

    Thalmor [good], Stormcloaks [evil]:
    If Saadia lies and works for the Thalmor, siding with her is morally good.
    If Saadia speaks the truth and Kematu works for the Thalmor, siding with her is morally evil.

    To top of the confusion, even though the player might believe the Thalmor are evil, siding with the Thalmor is actually the moral good choice. Just like the Imperial are doing, the player should play along with the Thalmor until the time is right to oppose them.


    Finding the morality in Skyrim may just be impossible, and maybe simply depends on whether the player believes the Stormcloaks, Thalmor or Imperials are good or evil.

    Funny Bethesda... Or brilliant?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Solid points, Drean -- particularly your final assertion that one's moral stance is determined in part by the faction one sides with (instead of, or perhaps in addition to, vice versa). I'm confused on one item, though; what do you mean when you say, "even though the player might believe the Thalmor are evil, siding with the Thalmor is actually the moral good choice"? How does one side with the Thalmor in this quest if we don't if Saadia, Kematu, or neither in working for the Thalmor?

      As for whether Bethesda intended this kind of insoluble moral dilemma, I'm fairly confident they did. Shane Liesegang, one of the quest writers, contacted me last summer about my blog. In his comments, he alluded to the care that he and his team took in writing the quests, so I think it is usually safe to assume that when information is missing, it is supposed to be missing.

      Delete
  13. I just ignored it. When in a situation like this, inaction and action would be equally likely to result in an immoral decision. Besides, there are bigger quests to do!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, not having enough information could mean that the best move is to let it sort itself out. Of course, in a game scenario, nothing will be resolved without the protagonist's involvement, but it still makes sense from a role-playing perspective.

      Delete
  14. One of the reasons I love reading this blog so much is seeing how often our character's actions align, while their morals are different.

    Aure helped Saadia, but largely out of a sense of camaraderie. "*You're* a foreign woman on the run from her past? *I'm* a foreign woman on the run from her past!" She helped Saadia because being in her place was a very real danger. Since Aure was (and at the time, still was) a thief, the idea that Saadia had broken the law the wouldn't have bothered her (unless she'd done something truly heinous) if she'd bothered to think about it. Also, similarly to you, I got a spiel from Kematu where he suggested that Saadia "appealed...to a base need" to get me to help her. Like you, it struck home because it was true.

    Now, I like to travel with companions (pragmatically, two swords are better than one) and since I like to role-play, I don't just answer her moral dilemmas, I come come up with moral justifications she can later use if she's ever called on her actions. And it's truly fitting with her Chaotic Neutral nature that the argument changes depending on who's she's talking too. Lydia, for example, isn't going to be too impressed if I say we're going to sabotage some mead for a little cold, and Mjoll isn't going to understand going after Noster's helmet because we feel sorry for them.

    For this quest, Aure argued to Lydia that, A)They promised to help Saadia first and were honor bound to keep their promise and, B)the Redguards had no authority in Skyrim. (Lydia, in my mind anyways, is Lawful Good and her cries of "Skyrim belongs to the Nords!" suggests some nationalism, so this worked).

    You brought up the possibility of betraying both. I did so and I freely admit it was for pragmatic reasons. Kill on Redguard is a lot easier than killing 7 of them. I lured him away from his men and killed him while he was unprepared.

    Still, I think this outcome could be argued from a Good standpoint (probably not a Lawful Good one, like you Lothar, but from a Chaotic one). After all, lying to two people and killing one is bad, but killing 7 is worse.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Saadia lives in Whiterun and therefore falls under the protection of the Thane of Whiterun (me) regardless of what happened before she was under my protection.

    ReplyDelete
  16. First i agree to Topher and second:
    I miss something in Kematu´s story. PROOF!
    If i am send to kill some bandits, i got a letter from the jarl. If Assassins are send to kill somebody, they have a contract. And if a Country hires an army, the army has Orders!
    So why didnt the Alikir showed the whiterun guards their order from hammerfell? Why shouldnt they ask to tell the jarl and have his help in order to find the women? Why they try to sneak in instead of going an offical way?
    Kematu could at least show me a fake bounty-letter to try to convince me, but not he doesnt have this, too. NOTHING.
    If i was going to hunt down a criminal, why shouldnt i get an offical permission, and show this permission to everyone? Or at least a bounty letter, to proof that she is a criminal?
    or at least, if you arent hired for a good cause - FAKE something D:

    Even if i believe in Saadia, i never finished the Quest, i even reloaded bevor the quest, because i hate this decision if i play a good character - and even if i am bad i couldnt side with the evil-side, so i need to kill all D:

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a really interesting point, but it cuts both ways. Neither side has any proof. Granted, it should be easier for Kematu to produce credentials (real or fake) than for Saadia to do the same, which is a point in Saadia's favor.

      Delete
  17. For me the key inconsistency in Saadia's story is Thalmor hiring nobody else but Alik'r to do the job. It's hard to believe because the two groups strongly hate each other (as written in the book The Great War). Also it would be easier to hire someone locally.
    Another clue is to look at the Saadia-Kematu confrontation, which is a standard practice for investigators when they get contradicting stories. At the Stables he is consistent with his story, while she no longer argues her case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, depechem; the Alik'r hate the Thalmor as much as the Stormcloaks do, and it's unlikely that the Thalmor would be able to hire them to hunt them anyone, much less someone who claims she left Hammerfell for speaking out against the Thalmor - the nation that severed ties with the Empire because they refused to capitulate to the Dominion.

      Whiterun, a Hold that has refused to support Ulfric and is fairly pro-Legion before the Civil War moves forward (given the remarks made by the guards, depending on whether or not you wear Legion or Stormcloak armor, and their endorsement of the ban on Talos), seems like a logical place for someone to go to, especially if they no longer have any value to offer the Thalmor.

      Delete
  18. I have never been able to play a character where I don't side with Saadia. Although the assassins say enough to give one pause they have neither authority nor evidence to convince the Thane of Whiterun unless he is not an honest character.

    I must say that this is one of the coolest posts about Skyrim I have ever seen and I am excited to read more of them.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I know I'm late to the party on all accounts; I've only recently started playing Skyrim for the first time. I'm role playing as a Bosmer thief, so I have little interest in the war and what side is the "right" one. I suppose you could say I'm Chaotic Neutral? In any case, I've found a couple of additional points that lend credence to Kematu's story.

    1. If you help the Alik'r to catch Iman, and then "Sneak" next to her, you can't pickpocket her, and Kematu will say "Don't even think about it."

    2. If you kill Iman after helping capture her, you won't incur a bounty, but Kematu will become upset with you, saying "All that effort, and you just kill her? You've ruined everything!"

    If Kematu was really an assassin, do you think he'd care about how she ended up dead?

    3. Outside of the story, if you help capture Iman, you can take things from the Inn without having to steal them. Now, not all quests are moral ones (I vaguely recall something about joining the skyrim assassin group?) but in this case I think it's indicative.

    ReplyDelete
  20. One late to the party, two late to the party! I may as well throw in my two cents.

    I have played Skyrim through quite a few times. I sided with Saadia in my first "never played a Bethesda game before and didn't know what I was doing" playthrough, but every time after that I sided with Kematu. The evidence against Saadia is all too clear, and much of it comes from Saadia herself. One particular dialogue point that has not been brought up yet: when she pulls the knife on you in the inn, she claims ignorance of her hunters finding her, and yet the very next sentence she states that she heard one of the Alik'r was captured and thrown in jail. This initial contradiction begins a series of contradictions in her tale, which have already been laid out quite well above.

    Now, I have to say, I do not understand the points about dishonesty. Several posters claim that "Kematu is bad because he is asking you to lie in order to help him." Well.....Saadia is asking you to kill a man. I do believe that is a far weightier issue. Furthermore, some of the posters also state that they would "rather be deceived than lead a potentially innocent woman to her death". This is hypocritical, as in doing so you are defending a deceiver, and in the same vein may very well be killing an innocent man and his men because of a lie.

    It's all very well-played, with plenty of points to make the decision difficult and to make it hard to see the truth. Case in point, Kematu hiding in a bandit hold. Firstly, he did not set up the gauntlet, he is simply squatting there; secondly, he is unwelcome in Whiterun Hold. Where else is he going to go? The inn down the street? The conversation the bandits have the moment you enter the cave indicates as much: "I'm not sure I like these Alik'r warriors hiding out here." Sometimes, you do what you have to do. It isn't pretty or nice, but doing your duty occasionally means doing things you would rather not do.

    Plus, if they were really siding with the Thalmor, they were much too ham-fisted in their attempts to get at Saadia. It just doesn't feel like a Thalmor plan. Their plans are too subtle, too well thought out.

    For that matter, it makes perfect sense for the Almderi Dominion to cast her off and disown her. To do so provides the perfect cauldron for divisions like what we are discussing; furthermore, we know the Altmer from the Aldmeri Dominion largely consider humans to be worthless and inferior. Once Saadia served their needs, she was no longer useful, and thus no longer worth the investment. They don't see humans as people; they see them as ants.

    As for why Saadia's burial urn would appear in the Hall of the Dead? Kematu sending it back to let you know what happened. It makes far less sense for her urn to appear in the Hall of the Dead if he killed her offscreen and was otherwise lying; why would he do that? To cut off a potential future ally for no reason for the sake of gloating? No, if he was an assassin, he would have killed her and left her in a ditch. The fact that he had his men stay his hand when you approach indicates his intentions; he is telling the truth, and being the commander of what is clearly an elite force of warriors, he would know what happened during Hammerfell's battle against the Thalmor. He's a part of it, and would not be misinformed. His story is clear and concise, and all his supposed insults reveal is that he is not afraid of being blunt with the Dragonborn. A liar attempting to smooth-talk you into helping him (whilst he has the advantage of numbers and could literally beat the information out of you if he wanted - torture = assassin tactic) would not risk insulting you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which gets to the final point I would personally like to make, the question about faction: the Thalmor may be manipulating (or attempting to manipulate) the Stormcloaks to serve their own ends, but that does not mean it is the right decision to side with the Empire to 'bide time'. The Empire lost once, and the current Emperor is too weak-willed to be much of a leader; if you play the Dark Brotherhood questline, he lets you kill him without so much as a fight. He practically lays down and dies for some nonsense about 'destiny'. The Dark Brotherhood questline is by no means a Good-aligned questline, but it does showcase the nature of the Emperor. A man who is too weak to rule.

      Frankly, and this is just my impression based upon what I have seen in the game, Ulfric knows what the Thalmor are doing. He knows they want to see him fight the Empire in the hopes of weakening it. And ultimately, in this, they succeed; the Empire as a whole is weakened. But Skyrim, on the other hand, is stronger for breaking off of the Empire; the Empire is in its dying days, corruption and stagnation taking its toll. To fall in step with the Aldmeri Dominion's demands in the hopes of 'maybe' being strong enough to fight them in the future is to place the enemy above them. To place the enemy above them is to accept a position of submission. To accept a position of submission is to invite weakness. And inviting weakness leads to a population of sheep, too weak and too afraid to stand up to the Aldmeri Dominion. The only way to have any hope of standing up to them is through solidarity and strong leadership, which is what the Stormcloaks ultimately represent: sticking together, taking care of your own, and doing the right thing no matter the odds and no matter how difficult.

      Just my thoughts.

      Delete