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!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ill Met By Moonlight



Ill Met By Moonlight is a Daedric quest involving Hircine, the Daedric Prince of the Hunt.  It began in Falkreath, where I met Mathies and Idara, farmers who were grieving the brutal murder of their young daughter.  They tearfully reported that an itinerant laborer on their farm had torn their little girl to pieces, like a wild animal.  That laborer, Sinding, was now in the city jail awaiting trial for his crime.

When I visited Sinding, he admitted both to being a werewolf and to killing the girl, but claimed that her death wasn’t really his fault.  Apparently, in an effort to control his transformations, he stole the Ring of Hircine.  The Daedric Prince, supremely displeased with Sinding’s temerity, cursed the ring so that he was now transforming at random.  It was during one of these random transformations that he killed the little girl.  Before he was arrested, he came to the conclusion that he needed to win back Hircine’s favor by hunting and killing a rare beast – the White Stag.  Obviously, being in jail made his plan untenable, so he asked me to help him by taking the ring and hunting the White Stag for him.

The first moral dilemma was, of course, whether to help Sinding.  Regardless of whether I believed his story or his remorse, he killed a child, so I was not inclined to help.  However, so long as Sinding possessed this ring, he was a threat to everyone, including his jailers, if for no other reason than Hircine would probably not stop until he was satisfied.  Furthermore, Sinding was already incarcerated and would most likely be executed, so there was no need for me to break the law by taking justice into my own hands.

The second dilemma involved the ring itself.  As a werewolf myself, if I took the ring, I would also take on the curse of random transformation.  In my consideration of the Companions questline, I discussed the moral implications of lycanthropy in some detail.  Ultimately, I concluded that being a werewolf in Skyrim is morally neutral because the PC can not only choose when to transform but is also in complete control of his actions when transformed.  If choice is removed but control is retained, as seemed to be the case with the cursed ring, then the issue becomes only slightly more complex.  If I were to transform in the marketplace, for example, I would immediately draw the hostility of every witness, and would therefore have to choose among fighting innocent people, running away as fast as possible, or dying.  Given my previous experiences with Beast Form, decided that it was a calculated risk worth taking.

Once I agreed to take the ring, Sinding did something that, had I anticipated it, would have led me to kill him in his cell, regardless of the legal penalty.  As soon as the ring was in my possession, he transformed voluntarily and escaped out of the hole in the high ceiling of his cell.  The lesson here is that even the most carefully thought-out moral plans can have unintended consequences.

As much as I wanted to hunt Sinding down, I now had to deal with the curse, so I decided that the best course of action would be to hunt the White Stag and get Hircine’s attention as soon as possible.  Fortunately, I completed this stage of the quest quickly, only transforming right after I killed the White Stag out in the wilderness.  Hircine did in fact appear and informed me that Sinding was hiding out in Bloated Man’s Grotto and that he had already sent other hunters after him.  Knowing that the hunters would probably be no match for a desperate werewolf, I headed straight for the Grotto.

When I arrived, I found that my suspicions were correct; Sinding had already killed several of the hunters.  I felt bad about my role in their deaths, but as they were evidently Hircine’s cultists, and therefore a brutal lot to begin with, I did not lose much sleep over it.  I tracked down Sinding, at which point he asked that I let him go.  His plan was to live in the wilderness, far away from innocent people who could be hurt by his Beast Form.  All I would need to do was to kill the remaining hunters.

Nope.
This third moral crossroads was, despite its climactic nature, the easiest one to navigate.  Sinding had to die; even if I had confidence in his plan (which I didn't), he needed to pay for his crime. As I pointed out earlier, Bethesda is clearly capable of writing an “addiction mechanism” (progressive ability and attribute penalties for non-compliance) for their games, as evidenced by their handling of vampirism. Had they chosen to do so, they could have created a similar system for lycanthropy.  The fact that they didn’t leads me to the conclusion that Sinding’s desperation is purely psychological.  Even Aela, who presents as a bit too enthusiastic about her Beast Form, is always in control, even as a wolf.  Therefore, Sinding’s uncontrollable blood lust is a psychological condition at best, and a manipulative mask for his sociopathology at worst.  To drive this point home even further, I myself transformed before I killed him, thus infusing Sinding’s execution with a touch of poetic justice.


After I killed Sinding, Hircine appeared once again to reward me for a successful hunt; the Daedric Prince gave me enchanted armor made from Sinding’s own skin, which was gruesome and not all that powerful.  The real prize for me was the chance to put down a vicious child-killer.

In my usual post-quest research, I learned that I could have double-crossed Sinding and received two different Daedric artifacts – the aforementioned armor (the Savior’s Skin) as well as the Ring of Hircine, which allows the wearer to transform as often as he wishes.  To gain both prizes, I would have had to agree to help Sinding, kill the remaining hunters, collect the ring from Hircine, then return to kill Sinding and collect the armor.  While I would have had minor qualms about deceiving Sinding (he deserved to face his execution head-on), I would have had a very hard time justifying the killing of the hunters.  As Hircine’s cultists, and therefore big game hunters, they accepted the possibilty of death at the claws of their prey, not murder at the hands of their comrade.  The ring is certainly the better prize, but it was not worth the lives of the hunters.


16 comments:

  1. Very interesting blog. It's quite rarely you stumble upon an intelligent discussion of that game, which is a pity. It's all "this game is the best thing ever and all its flaws are Actually Virtues Instead" vs. "this game needs to be raped by a chainsaw die Bethesda die" and "Ulfrik Stormcloak is Hitler" vs "The Empire are the real Nazis".

    I helped Sinding, but I trusted him on the issue on not really being able to control himself in "randomly transformed" beast form. (The fact that he seemed to be more or less in control when I spoke to him in the grotto didn't trouble me much - I supposed that the transformations caused by the ring are less controllable). I decided not to actively take part in his battle with the hunters, though, letting him kill all of them, Watching the battle was rather entertaining, I admit.

    I haven't started the Companions questline yet (even though I've already defeated Alduin, Miraak and became the Archmage). Had I completed it, it's possible that my reaction to Sinding would be different, although I tend to be a rather trustworthy type in these games - I don't suppose that NPCs are lying, unless the lie is very blatant.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And in regards to addiction, to be fair, from Uespwiki, in Daggerfall, the very old DOS Bethesda game set in Tamriel, to quote from Uespwiki,

    "You will feel the need to hunt innocents at least twice a month (more specifically, every fifteen days; fourteen days plus the day you start counting). This means you have to kill at least one NPC or guard in a town every fifteen days. If you don't, your max health will gradually decrease until it is maxed out at 4. Once you have killed a peasant or guard, your max health will return to normal until you feel the need to hunt again".

    Bethesda retcons stuff quite often, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The fact that Bethesda wrote that into Daggerfall means that they could have written a similar dynamic into Skyrim -- a more advanced game -- so I'm left with the idea that for some reason, lycanthropy is not (or perhaps no longer) analogous to addition.

      For a while, I thought that being Dovahkiin might make me immune to addiction (as it is with skooma), but then I realized that the Circle seems to be pretty self-controlled, and that I can be affected by the deleterious effects of vampirism.

      Delete
    2. ...and thanks for your kind compliments!

      Delete
  3. Actually, not long after letting Sinding live he was wandering around in Riverwood in broad daylight. Right next to a guard in werewolf form, yet he was payed no heed by NPC's. He was not hostile at all. Even so, although he promised to stay in Bloated Man's Grotto and not return to civilization, he clearly does anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even though this is likely a bug, given the fact that the guards don't react to a werewolf in their midst, it still provides a good reason not to trust him.

      Delete
  4. I trusted Sinding. The Companions themselves said that the blood of the beast is too much for some of the weaker willed to control. I strongly suspect that Sinding doesn't have a strong will. Yes, he can talk rationally to the PC while he's in wolf form, but also consider the circumstances. You're a heavily armored, very powerful individual who more than likely is a skilled hunter due to your very presence in Bloated Man's Grotto. Likely, Sinding put two and two together and figured you had killed the White Stag and Hircine told you to come here.
    Normal wolves would never "lose control" and attack a bear, but they sure would go after a rabbit. Likewise, Sinding as a barely in control werewolf would naturally be reserved about attacking you, as you're heavily armored, armed, and skilled, but an unarmed child would probably be far too tempting to his wolf side.

    I took pity on him because he seemed very genuinely regretful about killing the little girl, and I concluded that he did so against his will. Plus, he seemed ashamed of his status as a werewolf, unlike others we could name, further convincing me that he was telling the truth. Further, I didn't feel bad about the hunters. They had no idea that the target was a childkiller, but I'm sure they knew that werewolves are actually humans. They were willing to hunt down, for all they knew, a victim of circumstance, innocent of any crime, just for the favor of a Daedric Prince. I put them on the same level as the Silver Blood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ok, your point about the hunters is well taken, but what do you make of the bug in which Sinding is found wandering through Riverwood after this quest. Do you write it off as a bug and move on, or do you see it as an indicator that he lacked either the intention or the ability to stay put?

      Beyond that, if he can't control himself enough to not kill a child, how can he be trusted to stay in Bloated Man's Grotto when he transforms?

      Delete
  5. I had no problem choosing to eliminate Sinding when the time came and I made up mind to do so early into our first meeting. I thought about a group of people who can have difficulty controlling their actions here in the real world- epileptics. Many people who suffer from epilepsy are able to prevent seizures through medication, and I imagine that some are able to avoid them entirely, but others are not as fortunate and never know when they may suffer an attack. For those who are subject to random seizures, driving a vehicle on a public road is out of the question, because to do so would recklessly endanger other people.

    In much the same way, Sinding knew that he was subject to uncontrollable changes due to his curse and he was unsure whether he could stop himself from changing and killing an innocent. "Sorry, I guess I was wrong." doesn't bring children back from the dead and he knew that ahead of time when he took a job working with a family and in close proximity to a child. He took an insanely callous gamble with other people's lives and then wanted me to feel sorry for him. No way would I take the risk of him going back on his word about not returning to society since he already demonstrated such poor decision-making. Not killing him would make ME the negligent one whenever he killed again.

    p.s. I let the cannibal lady wear the magic hide while she was my follower because I thought it'd be funny. It's interesting how a sense of irony (or humor in general) tends to guide the actions of players, including yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Irony might well be harder to resist than lycanthropy.

      Delete
  6. The "Sinding wandering riverwood" bug is actually Sinding not keeping his promise... In my playthrough I encountered Sinding 3 times randomly around skyrim.... The first was near eastmarch area(somewhere near ivarstead)... He attacked me... I ran because i thought it was a bug... The second time near morthal... he was seen attacking a khajiit caravan group... Somehow.. he broke his attack and ran off.... the third... near honningbrew meadery.... at the bridge.. he attacked me... that time though, i killed him... and i never did encounter him anymore....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the additional information, Andrew. Most people report the "Sinding glitch" as a non-hostile werewolf wandering about unnoticed by other NPCs.

      Delete
  7. In previous Elder Scrolls games and lore, it is mentioned that lycanthropy forces you to kill- you can whet your appetite on bandits, though, making it a much more "palatable" solution. Perhaps his form of lycanthropy was something along these lines, and the cursed Ring made the violent tendencies of his transformation more prominent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the input, Ian. It does seem as though Sinding's lycanthropy is more akin to the Daggerfall type. So, does this then mean that lycanthropy in Skyrim has two types, much like vampirism (normal and Volkihar)?

      Delete
  8. The way I view Sinding is colored by my experiences in morrowind as a werewolf. In it I was turned involuntarily in combat. I could have cured the disease but the idea of being better than my regular form was to enticing. So I let it set in for three days (it had a similar wait as vampyrism back then) day 3 I went to sleep and was given a vision from Hircine for a quest. Skip to later As a natural werewolf (the ring in that game actually gave the ability without the downsides) I would turn every night this wasn't a problem until I transformed right as I entered a town via silt stride (all hail fast travel) The guards attacked me and a few of the citizens did to. Several of the non combatants tried to flee while I was fighting. I only noticed 5 minutes later that I was angrily chasing and hunting any in the town where I was attacked fleeing or fighting. Whenever I see sinding I remember that incident and think, if it was so easy for me without the beast blood to lose my crap over the unfairness of a situation how hard it would be for him not to. Although I will admit your argument has serious merit and has made me reevaluate my usual stance.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't think one should judge Sinding based on Companions. The Companions had gained their powers by making a formal pact with Hircine so they don't suffer negative side effects. After all, their payment is the willing service to Hircine after their deaths so they already pay a price.

    On other hand, Sinding was transformed into a Werewolf via the usual method: he was bitten by a werewolf, contracted a disease and transformed into one. The problems he faces are identical to those of werewolves in earlier games: he is cursed to kill the weak, aka innocents, in order to survive.
    That is why he went after Hircine's Ring: in earlier games, you needed the ring in order to get rid of the negative side-effects (and unlike vampirism, curing lychanotrapy requires death of innocents, like having to murder a child in Daggerfall).
    Unfortunately for him, those who had the ring before got it from Hircine, either by doing something for him or by earning it honorably. So Hircine "rewarded" him by making him get the opposite of what he wanted.

    That's not to say that he shouldn't die: his new plan is to stay away from civilized lands, but a regular Werewolf MUST feed upon the weak sentient races. So eventually, he would murder again, no matter what he wanted.

    ReplyDelete