Please read this first.

Welcome! This blog is devoted to considerations of morality in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda. Rather than a fansite, review, or walkthrough, it is a serious attempt to examine the game through a moral lens. Please note that the purpose of this blog is to discuss morality within the context of the game, not to determine whether playing the game is immoral in and of itself; the latter type of "discussion" tends toward tedium and inhibits, rather than promotes, a meaningful conversation.

If you have not visited this blog before, it might be helpful to read the posts labeled "Orientation," most of which are the first few entries in the blog archive (see right). These posts include a short introduction to this project, a content-specific author bio, and a few other pieces that explain key concepts relevant to this study. These posts are of particular use to those readers less familiar with Skyrim (or video games in general).


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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Marriage and Family Life in Skyrim

While I touched on the issue of marriage in one of my earliest posts, I didn’t think that a character like Lothar would get married until things in Skyrim had settled down a bit.  It didn’t make sense to get married and have children while a civil war raged and an apocalyptic dragon was flying about unchecked.  Furthermore, I wanted him to have something to offer a potential mate in terms of position within in the Province itself.  My goal was to win the Civil War for the Empire, defeat Alduin, become Thane of each Hold, and achieve leadership positions in all available factions (excepting the Dark Brotherhood) before proposing marriage.  That does not mean, however, that I wasn’t thinking about potential mates for most of this playthrough.

First and foremost was the matter of sexual orientation.  Aside from whatever goes on in the role player’s mind, the only chance for a PC to engage romantically with an NPC is marriage.  This union is permanent and unrepeatable (without mods) – no divorce, no remarriage if the spouse dies.  Therefore, with only one opportunity for a mate, the PC must be either heterosexual or homosexual.  I decided early on that Lothar would be heterosexual for two key reasons: 
  •  Although homosexuality is available to the player, heterosexuality is by far the norm among the citizen of Skyrim.  I can think of only one gay pairing in the game, and that one is mostly “off-screen.” Lothar is meant to be a typical Nord Legionnaire, so he would most likely be straight. 
  •  Lothar is also meant to project my own personal presence in the game, and since I have a wife, so should he.
The second issue was the question of marrying a follower.  While followers are often fascinating characters who display remarkable loyalty in the face of danger, they run the risk of dying during an adventure.  It is true that there are measures I could take to minimize that risk, but given my self-imposed rules regarding play-overs, I decided that it would make more sense for Lothar to marry a non-adventurer.  Furthermore, marrying a "citizen" grants a kind of balance to the family unit: one parent goes out to save the world, the other stays home to maintain the household.  It seems unfair to ask an adventurer like J'zargo or a warrior like Jenassa to stay home with the kids.  Certainly, a steward or housecarl could act as a nanny while mom and dad are out hunting dragons, but given Lothar's background, I didn't think that would sit well.

During my adventures in Skyrim, I found three women whom I thought Lothar might love as a wife:
  • Uthgerd the Unbroken: Uthgerd is, hands-down, one of my favorite characters.  She's tough and funny and never lets me get away with anything.  She's a valuable partner on the battlefield -- which, given my aforementioned reluctance to marry a follower, is the biggest problem.  I decided that Lothar would rather induct Uthgerd into the Blades, where she could continue her career in a band of warriors (something she had seemingly given up on after she was kicked out of the Companions).
  • Brelyna Maryon: Unsure of herself and eager to please, Brelyna is a kind of counterpoint to Uthgerd's bold overconfidence.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, she proved herself in battle while never losing her unassuming cuteness.  However, as with Uthgerd, I didn't feel right taking her out of both the College and the life of adventure to which I had introduced her, so I inducted her into the Blades as well.
  • Ysolda: Ysolda was an early favorite and ultimately the woman I chose for Lothar.  Ysolda was one of the first people I met in Whiterun, and I was immediately impressed by how she balanced ambition with compassion, Nord pride with racial tolerance.  She wants to take over The Bannered Mare from Hulda, but is willing to wait and perfect her skills as a merchant in the meantime.  She laments the prejudice against the Khajiit, seeing them as valuable and reliable trading partners.  She tolerates no crime, but has no problem dealing in Sleeping Tree Sap, which is not illegal, but probably should be.  During A Night to Remember, she treated me with generosity and humor, but didn't let me entirely off the hook.  Hers was also one of the first "fetch quests" I did, and it actually turned out to be a lot of fun: hunting mammoths on the plains of Whiterun at night with Lydia was a blast.  My only concern was her apparent crush on the bard Mikael, but come on...the author of the "Gentleman's Guide" had no shot against the Dragonborn.
Even after meeting many other marriageable woman in Skryim, I came back for Ysolda; she just seemed like a perfect fit for this particular Dovahkiin.  She and Lothar got married and settled in at Breezehome.  Ysolda opened up her home-based business, and she kept things humming while I was out adventuring.

After a while (and after I installed Hearthfire), I decided that it was time to adopt.  Actually, I was exceptionally pleased when the adoption feature was announced.  Prior to the release of Hearthfire, there was an incident that really weighed heavily on me.  During a routine visit to Riverwood to pick up smithing supplies, the town was attacked by a dragon.  I was in "mage mode" at the time (I think I was on a College quest), and so I wasn't carrying my accustomed arsenal.  It therefore took me a lot longer to defeat the beast than usual, and a few of the townspeople died in the battle.  Among the dead were the people who took me in when I escaped Helgen: Alvor and Sigrid.  Their daughter, Dorthe, was now an orphan because I was unable to act fast enough to save her parents.  While the people of Riverwood are very nice, and Dorthe's cousin Hadvar is still around to care for her, I felt a special obligation to her -- especially given Lothar's own backstory.  Until Hearthfire, there was little I could do for her.  As soon as I got the letter from Honorhall saying that I could adopt (Grelod was already dead by this time -- I'll explain in the next post), I rushed over and was both relieved and overjoyed to see that Constance Michel had taken Dorthe in.  I immediately adopted her and felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders.

While I certainly understand Bethesda's two-child limit on adoption, part of me wishes that I could work around that restriction (without mods -- I'm on an Xbox).  The decision about my second adoption was as difficult as the first one was easy.  I felt like a jerk only taking one child from Honorhall, but consoled myself with the knowledge that they would be in good hands with Constance.  Furthermore, since I ran the Guild now, I could divert all sorts of resources to them whenever I wanted.  I therefore decided to adopt the first street urchin I had encountered -- Sofie from Windhelm.  When I first met Sofie, I was not in a position to adopt, so I bought all of her flowers, gave her a valuable gemstone, and made a private vow to come back for her as soon as I could.  Aside from being a near-Dickensian orphan (standing out in the cold, selling flowers to passersby), she was the child of a Stormcloak soldier who was killed in the Civil War.  I was therefore at least indirectly responsible for her present state.  While all of the adoptable kids are great choices, Sofie was a natural for my second child.

Now that Lothar was married and had two children, I felt it was time to build a customized house.  I took Jarl Siddgeir up on his offer to buy Lakeview Manor and started building.  My main concern was to provide a suitable, long-term home for Ysolda and the girls, which is why I chose to build so close to the Cyrodiil border.  If I do eventually become Emperor, as the game seems to be hinting, I'd like home to be close to the "office."  Furthermore, the location close to the border and near enough to the town of Falkreath will provide ample opportunity for Ysolda's burgeoning career as a trader (if Hulda dies, we can always relocate back to Breezehome; Whiterun's not that far away).  The house itself was a more complex project.  Because Dorthe had always pestered Alvor and Sigrid about becoming a blacksmith, I built an armory in the east wing and a second forge in the basement.  Because Sofie had an interest in flowers (as evidenced by her former "career" and her comments about the Gildergreen while we lived in Whiterun), I built an alchemy tower in the north wing and a garden outside.  I placed the family bedroom suite in the west wing so that our servants could sleep in the main hall, then added an enchanting table for my own use upstairs.

As for the servants themselves, I really only had one position to fill: steward.  My housecarl, Rayya, was assigned my the Jarl, and the bard and carriage driver were to be hired by the steward, whom I had to choose for myself.  I decided that my best option would be Adelaisa Vendicci:
  • She worked for the East Empire Company, so she'd probably be an excellent steward, as well as a valuable mentor and resource for Ysolda.
  • She wears Imperial armor, which indicates some experience with the Legion.  I want to have some Imperial representation on my staff.
  • She demonstrated combat skills during Rise in the East, so I would feel comfortable leaving the family home with her and Rayya as protection. 
So far, this arrangement has worked out really well. Ysolda and the kids like living in the woods of Falkreath, and Rayya and Adelaisa have been able to help me handle the occasional bandit raid or rampaging giant.  At first, I was a little apprehensive about leaving everyone at home while I was out on long quests, but we have established a good set of rules and routines:
  • When I come back from a quest, I stay at least one day at home before going off on a new quest.
  • I sleep in my bed with Ysolda even though, as a werewolf, I get no Well Rested or Lover's Comfort bonus.
  • When Dorthe or Sofie ask for an allowance, I give them the middle amount: I can afford more, but I don't want them getting spoiled.
  • When Dorthe or Sophie ask me to play a game, I play -- no matter what.
  • I always come home with a gift for the girls, just in case they ask.  While I have given dolls, dresses, and sweets to both girls, I also often give weapons to Dorthe and books to Sofie...but sometimes I switch -- don't want to pigeonhole them.
  • Sometimes I tell them to do chores.  If they protest, I insist.
  • So far, only Sofie has ask about pets.  I let her keep the fox she found.  The damn thing growls at me all the time.
While at first blush, Hearthfire seems a bit outside of the purview of this blog, my decisions regarding marriage and family depend a great deal on the moral profile of my avatar.  Lothar chose a woman who rejects the racism of her fellow Nords without losing her ethnic identity and who manages to balance ambition and compassion.  He adopted his kids based on moral obligations, real or perceived.  He set up a house responsibly and with an eye toward his family's needs.  There are no great moral dilemmas here, but Hearthfire does provide opportunity for moral agency on the home front.


  1. I'm curious-Have you killed the a-hole, Lemkil, in Rorikstead? You know, the guy who regularly beats his daughters-which, in turn, causes his older daughter to beat up his younger daughter-which could lead to a very bad circumstance if the youngest, Sissel, winds up putting the magic she's being taught by a friend to its logical use?

    1. Actually, I don't think I've met him. I don't spend a lot of time in Rorikstead. I was there to find Ennis' goat in A Night to Remember, and I skipped over it during In My Time of Need. Other than that, I haven't really visited much.

  2. That's great how you have all this figured out I'd love to do something like this

  3. It's interesting how you put yourself in the proverbial shoes of your character. I had a similar mindset for my Redoran warrior and Telvanni Wizard-Lord - to wait for things to slow down before settling down to marry, although my Telvanni did adopt a poor orphan from Windhelm during his sojourns across Skyrim (even a power-hungry Telvanni can feel remorse), but he did set off for Solstheim afterward (he was, again, Telvanni). My Volkihar will probably adopt Sissel and have his Winterhold steward, Ilia, teach her magic.

    Like Lothar, my Redoran will settle down in Falkreath Hold; good place for a werewolf.

    I agree with you about wanting to work around the two limit adoption. You can build these huge homes, but you can only populate them with two children, despite their enormous size?

  4. Hi. I discovered your blog today because I was doing some investigating into music culture in Skyrim and I absolutely adore it.

    I'd like to challenge a tiny detail in your post - that a typical Nord Legionnaire would be straight. Whilst heterosexuals vastly outnumber anyone else in Skyrim, personally I don't believe that it would be typical for a Nord footsoldier to be heterosexual. Common, yes. But not necessarily to be expected.

    1. Thanks for the challenge, and thanks for reading. I meant "typical" purely in the statistical sense.