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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).

PLEASE NOTE: HERE BE SPOILERS!

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

The House of Horrors

After the Boethiah's Calling debacle, I let Uthgerd go home and traveled back to Markarth to clean up a few miscellaneous quests. Shortly after I entered the city, a Vigilant of Stendarr (a kind of militant priest who hates the Daedra and their adherents -- so, my kind of guy) named Tyranus approached me and asked for some backup in his investigation of an abandoned house.  I agreed, and in we went; it became readily apparent that there was indeed something "off" about the house:
Don't go into the light, Carol Anne!
When we reached the basement, all hell broke loose: ghostly voices, flying objects, and an aggressively funereal miasma.  Tyranus suggested that we make a break for it, and I concurred, but when we reached the front door (now unpickably locked), a ghoulish voice commanded me to kill "him," which I took to mean my companion, the Vigiliant of Stendarr.  Again, I'm not in the habit of killing NPCs with whom I have no quarrell, so I continued to look for an exit.  Tyranus, however, proved to be more amenable to the voice:
Here we go again.
Once more, I found myself in the position of having to kill someone I really would rather not.  After reluctantly defeating Vigilant Tyranus, I followed the voice down to the basement in order to confront whatever eldritch abomination was at work in this house.

What I found was a sinister-looking shrine that featured a rusty mace. When I approached the shrine, spiked iron bars sprang up around me, and I found myself a captive audience for the Daedric Prince of Domination and Enslavement, Molag Bal. The entity offered to release me if I promised to find and kill a particular priest of Boethiah named Logrolf the Willful; this priest, apparently, had desecrated Molag Bal's shrine (the one I was currently trapped in), and the Daedra wanted revenge.  The wrinkle was that Logrolf was currently imprisoned by the Forsworn, and therefore out of the Daedra's reach. My job was to "rescue" Logrolf and return him to the Shrine so that I could kill him for Molag Bal's satisfaction.

But for one factor, this would have been an easy quest for me to fail, as it runs in the same vein as the Namira and Boethiah quests.  The complication for me was that the "victim" in this case was a priest of the same cult that just a.) tried to kill me and b.) asked me to deceive and murder an innocent person for their ritual.  Normally, I don't kill non-hostiles, but I was beginning to feel as though most Daedric cultists were fair game; even if they don't attack me personally, the zeal they exhibit for their abhorrent practices means that they are a legitimate threat to the general public.  Furthermore, this was an internecine feud between two despicable entities, so I really couldn't care less what they did to each other:
Logrolf is not helping his case here.
That, however, is not the whole story.  After my experiences with Sheogorath and Sanguine, I was not eager to become a Daedra's puppet again, even if I was choosing to do so consciously this time.  Moreover, the only real difference between this quest and the previous two was the identity of the victim; did the fact that I might have executed Logrolf anyway justify sacrificing him at the behest of a malicious Daedric Prince?  Another factor to consider was the reward, as yet unknown at this point in the quest; how big of a factor in my decision was the anticipated artifact?  After all, I could have either walked away from the quest after falsely promising Molag Bal to retrieve the priest, or purposely failed it by killing Logrolf at a location other than the shrine, but I would get nothing for my troubles in both cases.  Also, I could not ignore the etymology of this particular Daedra: "Molag Bal" sounds a whole lot like a combination of Moloch and Baal.  Would cooperating with Molag Bal violate my moral profile?

Ultimately, I decided to kill Logrolf at the shrine as per Molag Bal's instructions:
  • I was inclined to kill Logrolf anyway because he was a priest of Boethiah, and therefore not averse to killing me (or anyone else, for that matter).  I would not have gone out of my way to do so were it not for this quest, but I would not have lost sleep over killing him in other circumstances.
  • Despite my obedience in this matter, I feel no particular allegiance to Molag Bal, and I would have no problem betraying him or his followers in the future.  These are bad people doing bad things, so I am willing to play them against each other for my good and the good of Skyrim.
That second point is the stickiest for me.  One of the traits of the Daedra that make most of them seem so diabolical is their penchant for manipulating mortals for their own gain.  Wasn't I doing the same here?  Along the same lines, one reason that I despise the Thalmor is their fondness for creating strife between two groups they dislike (i.e. the Imperial Legion and the Stormcloaks).  In killing a Priest of Boethiah under the orders of Molag Bal, was I now committing the very act for which I was punishing the Thalmor?

Misgivings aside, the Mace of Molag Bal is now one of my favorite weapons.  I wish I could say that the prize didn't matter, but in this case, it really did.

21 comments:

  1. Personally, I'm working with a comparative disconnect with my character. Aside from a gender gap, I'm playing her more as though she's the heroine of a story being written, and not a direct translation of me into the game. Therefore, I can have her do things which will serve my purposes rather than "hers."

    In this case, she was simply forced through one hoop after another, panicking a little further each time. She meant well in helping the Vigilant, be we all know how that went. He attacked her! Still, she escaped the house quite shaken, but with no evil intentions. She went to rescue the Boethiah priest and tell him of this terrible plot, with no dishonesty. Of course, he then left to fight Bal at his shrine, and she was somewhat willing to simply let him do so. After all, he knew everything she did at this point. But she tagged along just to see if she could help in some way (she wasn't quite aware of Boethiah's reputation at this point). Once the trap sprung on the priest in the basement, though, she realized that she was stuck once more in the house with an impossible choice.

    Now, I know that I could have simply left, because those impassable Dwemer doors would no longer be locked. But from her perspective, Bal would almost surely just keep her locked in until she either did as he asked or starved to death. Besides, even if she left, what would become of the priest? He might also suffer a lingering fate. So, with great reluctance, she began beating the Logrolf (bare-handed, since it was the least lethal form of beating I could manage). I had hoped that simply subjugating the priest would be enough, and then we would be allowed to leave, but no, then came the death clause.

    At this point my character was physically and emotionally exhausted, futilely pounding the altar and desperate for alternatives. But there seemed to be none. The final mercy she could think to give the priest was a quick death, and she was just crazed enough at that point to do it. She's rather fragile, really, and all this killing hasn't been kind to her state of mind. And after all, if Logrolf had switched to Bal's side, couldn't he possibly be forgiven? Or sent to some kind of fair afterlife?

    Of course, that's not what happened, and the priest's soul is probably being used to wipe Molag's rear. But the deed was done, and my crushed, traumatized heroine grudgingly accepted Bal's mace as a gift, her response bitterly sarcastic. But she made a vow. A plan to spite the evil prince the only way she could.

    Molag claimed he would be watching as she wielded his mace. So she carried it with her always. And she never, ever used it. Ever.

    She knew that in all likelihood her travels would eventually lead her to some new corner of Oblivion. And, sure enough, she found her way to Solstheim, and from there to the murky shores of Apocrypha. There, she set down the mace onto the nearest convenient rock, breathed in, and blew the thing far out into the middle of an acid sea with her Thu'um, losing it as best she could. Hopefully it would be a long time before that particular artifact could stain the history of Nirn. Or, if not, I would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that while Molag Bal may have made me an executioner, I was not his representative. Any blood spilled from then on would be on my hands, not his.

    Now I just need to find the right spot for the Oghma Infinium. I'm considering the Soul Cairn. Take that, Hermaeus Mora.

    Hey, this is fun, isn't it? What I really love about this game is that it makes such a fantastic storytelling engine.

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    1. What impresses me most about your approach is your ability to think outside the normal constraints of the game. Accepting the Mace then refusing to use it is a stroke of genius! Honestly, though, I think one of the most interesting aspects of my character is his struggle to increase his power in the service of justice while avoiding the pitfalls of the dictator. I like that he will continue to be nagged by self-doubt each time me uses the Mace: "for whom am I really doing this?"

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    2. Thanks. Incidentally, I did come up with a place for the Oghma Infinium... I threw it into the lake of lava behind the Aetherium Forge. As it once rested in Dwemer ice, let it now rest in Dwemer fire! Take that, Mora.

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  3. While the mace is indeed powerful and useful, I feel that the fact that the priest of Boethiah needs to be tortured if obeying Molag Bal means that the more moral choice here would have been another intentional quest failure via killing the priest in captivity before Molag Bal can get to him. That way he is spared the cruel punishment, is still killed for his own crimes, and the daedric prince is directly defied. There's no reward for it, but for a truly moral character, I think that's the best possible outcome.

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    1. Good solution, and since Logrolf is not labeled "essential," the game would have let me kill him at that earlier stage.

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    2. Exactly the same thing I did

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  4. First of all, thank you very much for this insightful blog - it really helped alleviate my frustration due to Skyrim's lack of moral choices (when I feel too blue, it's back to Fallout 3 or Dragon Age). Moreover, we play characters with nearly the same philosophical options, so I can relate.

    In this case, Logrolf, once he goes back to the abandonned house of Molag Bal, gets trapped into the spiked cage around the altar, and says something along the lines of "I do not fear you, remember that I defeated you once already", to which Molag Bal replies that it's different because he now has a champion.

    Fact is : the house of the door is still open when this happens. So I suppose that my best option is to just walk away, and let those two sort their matters, knowing that Logrolf seemingly knows a way out of the trap, or at least has a chance to make it.

    Side note (PS3) : upon reentering the house, the cage around the altar has retracted into the ground - unfortunately this was not coded purposefully into the game, since Logrolf is still stuck kneeling and begging for his life.

    Ran

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    1. the "door of the house", not the other way around...

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  5. After further thoughts, the morally "best" outcome of this quest would be to stealthily reach Logrolf inside the bandit camp, free him and helplessly witness him being killed by the bandits while he foolishly rushes towards Markharth. It seems to fail the quest and thwart Molag Bal's plans.

    Well, that WOULD be morally OK if one would assume beforehand that Logrolf would follow stealthily enough to escape the camp unharmed. Maybe a rather naive Bosmer of Khajiit character would assume that anyone has a natural hability to stealth. But otherwise, freeing him in such a way, knowing that he WILL be killed, counts largely as murder on my compass - even if the bandits are the ones legally guilty.

    Ran

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  6. I get what you're saying, but it seems like the only way out is to ignore the quest once you leave the house, and even then, Logrolf remains imprisoned indefinitely.

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  7. A note that Molag Bal is "Fire-Stone" in Aldmeris, the language of the elves. Malacath is also sometimes referred to as Mauloch by the nords. Most of the Princes' names have etymology in either Aldmeris or real-world mythology, actually.

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  8. There's a mod that lets you fail the quest by dropping the mace when Molag Bal gives it to you, letting the cultist escape. You get hit with a curse that makes you weak to fire that can only be cured by praying at a shrine of Stendarr.

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    1. Forgive me for repeating myself, but as a filthy console peasant (Xbox 360), I am limited to the vanilla version of the quests. Still, I appreciate, from a moral perspective, the true Kohlbergian dilemma presented by the lack of a "third way out."

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  9. What I did was seek out the preist of Boethiah after I had reluctantly killed the vigilant of Stendarr and then kill him in his cell. I did this so he couldn't serve Boethiah or play a part in any evil plans of Molag Bal

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    1. You get no reward but I think it's the right thing to do if you are playing a heroic character

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  10. With this quest I just decided to kill Logrolf at the camp. My character is a healer and while she values justice, her emotions and sense of empathy will often overrule other judgements. The way she sees it Logrolf can die and spend eternity with his vile god rather than suffer forever in Molag Bal's hell. Afterwards I returned to the shrine where the mace was, placed a few salt piles around it and cast 'healing hands' on it - to me this was a way of purifying (and at the same time defiling) the shrine.

    - Corinne.

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  11. I found this blog while searching to see how others handled this quest. I look forward to reading more of it!

    It took me while to find a character in Skyrim, but I've settled on an arrogant, swaggering prima donna who's bought into the hype around the Dragonborn prophecy. He's not exactly a villain in the in-game sense of theft and murder - he refused to attack Tyranus until Tyranus himself attacked, and he felt terrible about killing him; I like to think that, although the game doesn't allow it, he made sure Tyranus got a good burial - but he is a braggart with an inflated ego. He certainly doesn't respond well to anyone else positioning themselves as his equal or superior. He is the divine hero of prophecy and *he damn well knows it*. So his response to being threatened and coerced by Molag Bal was to proclaim that he's not Molag Bal's errand boy, he doesn't care about him or Beothiah or Logrolf in the slightest, and he has better things to do with his time. Which translated in game terms to him walking away and never returning to the House of Horrors, although not before taking everything of value in it as one last symbolic middle finger up at Molag Bal.

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    1. The thing that really annoyed me about this quest, for the record, is the fact that - as far as I can tell, and I'd love to be proven wrong - you can't go to any authority figure in Markarth and let them know that Molag Bal is possessing a house in the town. Seems like the sort of thing Jarl Igmund's court or the Temple of Dibella might be interested in keeping an eye on, surely?

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    2. It seems to me that they might already be aware of it, if a Vigilant was called in.

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  12. Finally found a Solution! After browsing the web about this quest to ease my nagging conscience with the game on pause an the priest covering his head cowering in front of the alter...I read this fantastic post an the comments, up until the one where the last line is about hitting an old lady in the mouth who runs an orphanage - which made me chuckle.. an I decided, I really wanted this weapon..but how..an he was evil... but still.. sat back down an suddenly it occurred to me.. Faendal. One time I asked Faendal to pick something up, but I accidentally clicked on a person (attack person command) - He says - NO, I wont do that - Not for you-Not for Anyone - very angrily, an he was pretty mad at me. An one other time I clicked on an abandoned shack, the owner was dead I assumed cause the Forsworn dudes were out front an I had to deal with them - unlocked it an boom - screen says I received a 5 gold bounty added - the only one watching me in the middle of nowhere was... FAENDAL. His moral compass was strong. So I knew since I was conflicted about this decision.. well.. I'd let Faendal decide. Should this guy be executed for his crimes, his blood sacrifices etc? So I ask Faendal, Can you do something for me? Sure he says. Attack this priest. Faendal pulls out Dawnbreaker sword an eagerly delivers quick justice, flames lick over the evildoers body. The mace is transformed. And I feel relieved. This was right. Faendals a saint, he could never be wrong. Still a little pissed about the lockpicking bounty though... now to unpause the game an walk out of this house an try out this weapon... never soultrapped anything before.. Hope anyone whos having this inner conflict see this comment an finds some comfort. <3

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