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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!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Laid to Rest

After A Lovely Letter and the ensuing Faendal fiasco, I completed a number of quests that, while important, offered few moral conflicts apart from the standard issues – accepting versus refusing a quest to help someone, or fighting a monster versus allowing others to do the work.  I traveled to Whiterun, meet Jarl Balgruuf, fought my first dragon, and learned that I was the Dragonborn.  I cleared out a few bandit camps and even ran a few errands for the good people of Whiterun; one of my favorites involved my housecarl Lydia and I hunting mammoths in order to get some tusks for the merchant Ysolda.  I even managed to become a Thane of Whiterun and purchase a house – worthwhile endeavors all, but very few moral dilemmas.

I then travelled to the miasmic town of Morthal in Hjaalmarch Hold on my way to complete the quest The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller for the Greybeards.  As I nosed around the town, I met several townspeople who eagerly shared the gossip about Hroggar shacking up with Alva after the mysterious house fire that killed Hroggar's wife and their daughter, Helgi.  When I approached Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone about the matter (as the townsfolk suggested), she confessed that she suspected Alva of wrongdoing, but could do nothing without solid evidence, so she tasked me with investigating the burned-out house.  Shortly after I got there, Helgi's ghost appeared and asked me to come back to play hide and seek with her after dark, my reward being the identity of the arsonist.
This moment both broke my heart and signed the arsonist's death warrant.
I complied, explored the hillside behind the house, and ended up surprising and killing a vampire at Helgi's exhumed shallow grave.  The vampire, Helgi informed me, was Laelette, a former townsperson.  Apparently, Laelette set the fire intending to kill Helgi and her mother, but at the last minute, decided to try to turn Helgi instead, as a kind of surrogate daughter; she failed, but kept trying anyway -- hence the open grave.  Laelette's husband, Thonnir, showed up almost immediately, but instead of attacking me for killing his wife, he tearfully filled me in on another part of the story; when Alva came to town, she struck up an overbearing relationship with Laelette, who grew more distant from her husband, eventually disappearing to "join the resistance" one night, when she said she was going to meet up with Alva. 

As it turned out, I had already met Alva outside the inn earlier in the evening, as I was waiting to "play hide and seek" with Helgi.  She had initially struck me as a heartless golddigger who felt little more than disdain for the people of this small town; needless to say, I didn't like her.
Alva becomes the prime suspect.
After I heard Thonnir's story, I walked back to town, snuck up on Alva (who was still wandering around in the moonlight) and pickpocketed her house key.  Fortunately, Hroggar was asleep; if Alva was indeed a vampire, Hroggar was most likely enthralled, and I didn't want to have to fight him.  Once in her house, I found her cellar, which featured an unoccupied coffin containing Alva's journal:
Looks like Alva was as much a pawn as Laelette.

I now had the evidence the Jarl needed.  As I was ransacking the rest of the basement lair, Alva returned.  Killing her was a foregone conclusion; she caught me in her lair stealing her journal, so she was hostile, but I would have killed her anyway for what she had done.  The rest of the quest proceeded as one would expect.  I delivered the journal to the Jarl, who then asked me to track down and kill Movarth.  The townspeople wanted to help, but I assured them that my partner Uthgerd and I could handle it ourselves.  In a short raid, we killed Movarth and his little vampire clan.

At first blush, the moral element to this quest seems obvious.  Anyone who murders a child needs to die as soon as possible; someone who would turn that child into a vampire is even more deserving of death, although the fact that all of the vampires in this quest were immediately hostile makes that latter point moot.  Another potential conflict could have been the Jarl's insistence on hard evidence -- a policy I certainly agreed with.  Had the evidence not satisfied her, however, I still would have killed those responsible.

The troubling figure for me in this quest was Hroggar.  While he played a significant role in the death of his family, he was clearly under the influence of something far more powerful than simple lust.  I suppose I would have killed him if he had got in the way of dispatching Alva, but I was happy that I could avoid that circumstance.  He wasn't happy with me after I killed his "girlfriend," but I'm not sure if a full realization of his role in this tragic episode would be the best thing for him to carry in his head.  It's probably best that I didn't have the option of telling him.

This quest also represents my first encounters with vampires.  This point is significant because vampires, unlike other undead, are NPCs; vampirism is treated as a disease, so characters, including the PC, can contract it.  Because vampires are NPCs, they may or may not be hostile at any given time.  Alva, for example, only attacked when I discovered her secret.  The question, therefore, is: what should I do with non-hostile vampires?  They have to feed on NPCs regularly in order to survive, but the feeding process does not kill nor does it transmit the disease.  Some vampires are actively hostile and live in hideouts strewn with dead bodies and other carrion, while some appear to be functional citizens who simply mutter "Get out of my way, meat" when you approach them.

I have decided to adopt a non-aggression policy with vampires; I do not attack them unless they are hostile (unlike the Thalmor), but I also do not step in to save them from peril (unlike other NPCs).  I don't like vampires, and I have yet to encounter a vampire that wasn't "up to something," but I also can't justify wiping them out at every turn.  Perhaps my stance will change with the Dawnguard add-on.

ADDENDUM: Other players have reported that if Alva is not killed before the raid on Movarth, she will show up in Movarth's lair and might actually join the PC in fighting the other vampires.  Another scenario has Alva's body being found with Movarth, presumably killed by him and his clan.  These "alternate endings" for Alva's story might initially seem to have an impact on the moral validity of killing her -- perhaps she is as unwitting a dupe as Hroggar was -- but on closer consideration, my original assessment stands:
  1. If Alva was indeed enthralled, she would not have turned on Movarth.
  2. Alva's dialogue indicates clear, cold calculation, as opposed to Hroggar's, which is bewildered and dazed.
  3. Alternate motives for Alva to turn on Movarth include, but are not limited to, a desire to take over Morthal for herself instead of turning it over to Movarth.
  4. If Alva survives the entire quest, she reportedly goes back to her original pattern of sleeping in the coffin and roaming at night; were she truly remorseful, I would expect her to cure her vampirism (which is relatively easy to do).
Therefore, Alva still deserves to die for suborning the murders of Hroggar's wife and child.


  1. At this point in the story, my character had a child of his own due to the Hearthfire DLC. Before he got too involved, he actually encountered Hroggar working at the mill. My character questioned him about moving in so soon with another woman after his family died. While I can't remember the exact quote, he said something along the lines of "They're the past, I have Alva to take care of now." ...I had my sword drawn and nearly split him in half in front of the entire town. As a father, my character was FURIOUS at his words. In the end, he didn't want to get locked in jail and not get to the bottom of this, and spared him. Needless to say, the rest of this quest taught my character to look before he leaped. VERY glad I/he decided to spare Hroggar.

    1. I know what you mean. I had a hard time keeping my wits about me when he said that. At the same time, it also threw into high relief the power of the vampire -- making a father forget his family like that is no small feat.

  2. Ya but did you look at her, with that split dress. I might just forget my family too.

  3. Alva deserved to die as much as Movarth. I killed her and I'II always kill her :)

  4. It may not be so simple with Alva...The potions and prayers only work within the first 72 hours of contracting the disease. If she had been previously thralled, or imprisoned, and unable to get the cure before her vampirism became permanent, her ability to resist her Vampire Lord may have only manifest after the progression of her condition.

    I'm not sure the dialogue alone condemns her. She may have been a gold digger (which might explain her ties to the vampire lord) at the outset, a woman of let's say casual morality. But she might not have crossed that last line to *killer* without enthrallment, just as I don't think Hrothgar did.

    Thus ... There is something of a moral question in the curing of vampirism, is there not?

    The ritual requires a *Black* Soul Gem, which may only be filled with a human (fully sentient) soul. As one who refuses to use even Grand animal souls (they are too close to sentient for my tastes, and I've even run playthroughs that avoided the use of enchanted objects altogether because of the soul abuse), I find the idea of curing vampirism through the destruction of a soul - even a potentially criminal one - morally abhorrent.

    The only alternative I can see to Falion's ritual for the *player* would be to join the Companions, enter the Circle, and become a warewolf. This will cure the Vampirism...but at the price of replacing it with Lycanthropy. THAT may at least be cured at the cost of the life (but not the soul) of a Daedra worshiping witch (one requires her head to purge the wolf-spirit possession). To be honest, provided one has the strength not to go bonkers with it ala Sinding, I see no moral reason to cure lycanthropy at all ... though accepting any powers from Daedra can lead to some religious, it not secularly moral, questions. As already pointed out, a vampire too in Skyrim may "live" without murder, doing better than the average meat eater in fact, as a cow fed upon for vampirism is not killed.

    In any case, I don't see every vamped NPC running off to join - and be accepted by - the Companions or the Dawnguard and be "wolfed" ... so what recourse do they have if they are unable to be cured in that 72 hour window? The existing lore seems to indicate that vampires of lesser ability are always potentially controllable by those with greater power, so I guess one would simply have to get better at being a vampire till that threat was overcome?