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!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thirsk Hall

After dispatching Miraak, I decided to explore Solsthiem more freely and see what else I could do to help Skyrim’s northern neighbor.  It was during one of these quests that I first encountered the Rieklings.  I was helping Glover Mallory retrieve his Bonemold formula when I trespassed into a Riekling cave.  Because I was Sneaking (I was trespassing, after all), they didn’t notice me, so I was able to loot the formula off Esmond Tyne's body and just observe the little creatures.  They did not attack, so without any further intelligence on them, I let them go on with their lives.  I did not encounter them again until I stumbled on to Thirsk Hall.

Thirsk was obviously a Nord-style mead hall, but it had been overrun by Rieklings.  Even though the Riekling Chief was more articulate than his subjects, I still couldn’t get a clear picture of why they were living there instead of the Nords.  Given the Chief’s story and the size of the Rieklings relative to the native Nords, I surmised that the little blue scavengers had stumbled upon an abandoned mead hall and began squatting, which was no crime, as far as I was concerned.  I therefore agreed to help the Chief with his requests.

Pictured: The Riekling State of the Union Address

The Chief’s fetch quests were simple and amusing at first, but then he asked me to help him fight the “bad nords” that wanted Thirsk for themselves.  This favor was a bit much; bringing back a lost boar is one thing, but fighting my fellow Nords?  I needed to investigate.

As I approached Bujold’s Retreat, I expected to find a gang of bandits that I could dispatch handily.  What I found instead was a sorry band of washed-up warriors who had been kicked out of their ancestral hall but the pesky little Rieklings.  After listening to their sob stories, I agreed to help – not out of love for Bujold the Unworthy and her pathetic crew, but out of fury that the Riekling Chief had tricked me so easily.  We retook Thirsk Hall with extreme prejudice.

But the story didn’t end there.  After we cleaned and spruced up the hall, Bujold asked me to be her second at her ritual leadership audience with Hrothmund, the long-dead founder of Thirsk. I agreed, eager to meet another ancient Nord hero.  The trek itself was uneventful, but when we entered into communion with Hrothmund, it became clear that Bujold’s incompetence had cost her his blessing. 

A Nord Excalibur?

Given Bujold’s track record, I should have seen the next step coming.  She wanted me to lie, to say that she had received the blessing after all, or at least to say nothing.  I refused; I wasn’t going to spit in the face of a Nord legend on behalf of a lazy coward.  Not satisfied with my response, she foolishly attacked me, and I killed her.

When I returned to Thirsk Hall, I was given the option of lying to Bujold’s husband Kuvar, and I have to admit that I was tempted.  Aside from marrying this disappointment, he had done nothing wrong, so I wanted to do right by him.  I was afraid that telling him that she got lost would not only give him false hope, but might also prompt him to go on a dangerous and pointless search.  Instead, I told the hard truth; he accepted it grimly, but warned me to stay far away from him.  After what he’d been through, I agreed to honor his request.

With the Thirsk chapter closed, I turned my attention to the Rieklings.  Never before had my feeling changed so radically about a faction or race.  Prior to Thirsk, I looked at them in what I guess could best be called a patronizing manner.  In a world in which every sentient being speaks a common language, I took their inarticulate babbling as an indicator of low intelligence.  In a world in which every sentient race has its own distinct culture, I took their scavenging and appropriation as an absence of culture.  They were amusing and no more dangerous than bears, horkers, spriggans, or any other creatures that just wanted to be left alone.

After Thrisk, I found that my condescension had soured into contempt.  If I was disconcerted by the possibility that I might have been manipulated by powerful, immortal beings in previous quests, I was enraged that I definitely had been played by a bunch of cartoonish gremlins in this one.  Later, during other quests on Solsthiem, I found myself indefensibly vicious in fighting any Rieklings I encountered.  While my brutality could be rationalized to a degree – it was now clear, after all, that they operated more like bandits and less like scavengers – I have to admit that I executed all subsequent Riekling raids with a little more prejudice than I can honestly justify.

Most of all, I am troubled by the role of language in my approach to the Rieklings.  In stark counterpoint to my dealings with the Forsworn, in which Madanach’s eloquence persuaded me to see them less as “wild men” and more as disenfranchised outsiders who had been radicalized by Ulfric Stormcloak’s brutal quelling of their rebellion, my encounters with the Rieklings were heavily influenced by the lack of discernable communication.  In my life outside of the game I am an English teacher and a father and a special needs soccer coach, so I know full well that language is only one of many indicators of intelligence and sophistication.  And yet, inside the game, I treat the “funny-looking little people who talk weird” first with patronizing humor, then with deadly contempt.  I’m not entirely certain I want to know what’s at work here.


  1. Prejudice sneaks into everyone's attitude sometimes. When you deal with morally contemptible opponents like the rieklings, and they all seem to be like that, sometimes you do hold their perceived shortcomings against them. Just try to find a riekling that breaks from the crowd and proves you wrong, I suppose. That's all the advice I can give.

    I mean, Lord knows I feel the exact same way about the Forsworn. The difference there though is that rieklings are a race of beings, while the Forsworn are political terrorists, and if there was a good Forsworn then they wouldn't be a goddamn Forsworn in the first place.

    FUCK! I always forget how much I hate the Forsworn until they come up in conversation again!

    1. Again with the Forsworn...sheesh! But I kid...

      Seriously, though, what bothers me is that my reaction feels a lot like a (real-world) imperialist attitude toward "the natives." They're so quaint and charming in their primitive ways...that is, until they actual pose a threat, at which point they become worthless little savages deserving only execution.

    2. I've been reading this blog with a critical eye since although I believe you and I share a common angle of good intentions our interpretation of what exactly constitutes "good" tends to differ a little bit. I disagreed with your reaction towards Haelga for personal ideological reasons I figured I might have a difficult time communicating, for example, since I think a lot of it comes down to lived experience as well as perhaps religious inclination. I do think though that here is a point where I'd like to interject and reinforce that attitudes like this are very often a reflection of latent prejudices in real life that definitely bear examining.
      I'm not trying to say yes, you are a sneering imperialist or anything like that, but I do think that one thing you can draw as a person from your experience in Skyrim morality is to not let concerns like this drop and to examine them thoroughly in respect to situations that might arise in real life. Oftentimes people are just distant enough from ideas like this to really examine them, since it's not like the average Western man interacts with indigenous people in their native setting very often. It's often troubling and uncomfortable to think about, especially since to compare actual people to caricatures that are literally inhuman is in some ways an admission of latent prejudice in and of itself, but I do think that confronting the origin of such reactions can and will have potentially positive results in how one relates to those outside of their general sphere overall.

      I may be rambling a bit since I'm tired but I hope what I'm trying to communicate is clear. Thanks!

    3. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Let me clarify one point; when I say, "I’m not entirely certain I want to know what’s at work here," I am perhaps being too cheeky for my own good. Of course I want to know that -- after all, that's the point of this blog, isn't it -- and, if I'm being frank, I already know what's at work. My Lothar playthough is my most "natural" one, in that it most closely represents my actual moral compass. Therefore, when I stand back and consider how both my condescension toward and eventual contempt for the Rieklings must arise from a ethnocentric bias, I am a bit troubled by what that means for how I approach similar situations in the real world.

      You are correct, of course, that as a "Western man" I don't often interact with "indigenous people in their native setting." I do, however, vote. I also teach young people. Therefore, my biases do have a potential impact beyond outside of my own personal interactions with other cultures. Here, I would argue, is the value of an examination of moral agency in gaming. Examining my bias against the Rieklings is a much less threatening way for me to approach other biases I might have in the real world.

    4. Wow know what real prejudice is? Pre judging the entire world that all are equal. Nowhere in nature is this found, only in western mans total loss of self value after a lifetime of being told what devils we are. I have rarely read posts are cowardly as this one. Wow. RACE AND GENDER ARE NOT SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS, THEY ARE GENETIC REALITIES, AND THOSE WHO CHOOSE TO "BELIEVE" OTHERWISE ARE USUALLY FOOLS, LIARS, OR COWARDS.

    5. Try to find one that breaks from the crowd huh? Hahahaha yeah while you "open minded" fools are looking for these needles in a haystack civilization is being torn to liberal thinking, always taking the EXCEPTION to the RULE to prove the rule do realize it wouldn't be an exception then, dont you? OF COURSE YOU DONT, otherwise you wouldn't send a man wondering around tamriel looking for a Reikling Dickens or Tolstoy!!! Hahahaha white people deserve extinction if this is pathetic we have become. Fools, absolute fools. Move your family to the nearest black ghetto and see if your idiotic advice or worldview holds true? Good luck hahahaha ....... I slew bujold , she was a weak liar, and I slew the Reikling thieves , they were animals, wtf is the mystery. And only men who sit and fear "what's at work here" are to blame for the state of the west. Fools. Liars. Cowards. Our people weren't always like this..........hmmmmmmm wonder what happened? Self examination is definitely healthy, but when you need a meteorologist to tell you if its raining outside, you are a fool

  2. If you're in the habit of installing mods, you'll probably like the 3DNPC mod. It adds characters with some mildly interesting dialogue in which they (sometimes) reveal their own private morality systems.

    1. Unfortunately, I am a filthy console peasant, so I don't do mods. I will, however, read up on this one. Thanks!

    2. At this point, Interesting NPCs (3DNPC) is damn near it own DLC, with a varied and interesting main questline, a huge cast of characters and a lot of other smaller quests that would probably be very pertinent to such a blog as this. Even if you can't play with it, it's worth looking up the site and seeing what was done.

  3. Regarding the Forsworn, their tale of woe seemed more focused on what happened after Ulfric and his militia toppled their government for the Empire - given the reference to the Jarl killing Braig's daughter. Even Jarl Igmund admits the Empire promised Ulfric and his Nord militia free worship of Talos to get them to topple the independent Forsworn kingdom. It doesn't seem like Ulfric was in charge, since Igmund's father (the Jarl) arrested Ulfric when the Thalmor found out he was freely worshipping Talos in Markarth.

    In Bloodmoon, there's speculation that the Rieklings are an offshoot of the Falmer (the Betrayed).

  4. Perhaps the quandary is not your contempt for the Rieklings but your sympathy for the Forsworn:

    "If I was disconcerted by the possibility that I might have been manipulated by powerful, immortal beings in previous quests, I was enraged that I definitely had been played by a bunch of cartoonish gremlins in this one."

    "Madanach’s eloquence persuaded me to see them less as “wild men” and more as disenfranchised outsiders who had been radicalized by Ulfric Stormcloak’s brutal quelling of their rebellion"

    Sounds like you were handily played by Madanach, too.

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  6. I usually hate the nords so even if the thirsk was their ancestral hall and the Rieklings infested them, i chose to help the little guys and got down into the retreat and slaughtered all the nords there, and i find really amusing that less inteligent species learn intelligent talk and begin to flourish as civilization.