The Elder Strolls, Part 1: Fresh Off The Boat


It's morning, and I've just arrived in Skyrim. I wear no armor, just simple clothing and footwraps. I carry no two-handed broadsword, just a small iron dagger. No fearsome warpaint adorns my face and no jagged scars tell stories of hard-fought battles won. I have no priceless treasures or magical artifacts, just a handful of gold coins and a single piece of fruit.

I won't be looting ghoul-infested crypts or rampaging through bandit-occupied forts, I won't be helping citizens with their various problems and quests, and I certainly won't be awakening any dragons. My name is Nordrick. I'm not a hero, I'm an NPC, and I'm here not to play Skyrim, but to live in it.

I did something similar with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and wrote about it in a blog called Livin' in Oblivion . The NPC I created for Oblivion was a dopey-looking fellow called Nondrick, and I'll be following similar rules with his descendant, Nordrick, here in Skyrim:

  • Eat and sleep regularly, and walk everywhere, as NPCs do, unless there's a specific reason to sprint, such as while hunting, fighting, or fleeing. No fast travel!
  • Do my best to avoid adventure, intrigue, and excitement, though if a quest seems reasonably boring or safe (such as a crafting tutorial), it might be okay.
  • No stealing, and no "stealing" (I can't join a guild for the sole purpose of helping myself to all their stuff and selling it to a vendor).
  • Find some way to make a living that doesn't involve adventuring. Find a place to call home, and maybe even land a spouse, if the fates allow (they probably won't).
  • NPCs can't reload a previous saved game if things don't go their way. Neither can Nordrick. If he dies, he dies.

In my Oblivion blog, I began the game standing on a boat in the small coastal city of Anvil . As Nordrick, I will be starting in a similar fashion, standing on a boat in the small coastal city of Dawnstar. Nordrick will begin the game with the same meager inventory as Nondrick did: a dagger, an apple, and 17 gold pieces. (If anyone is interested, I can post in the comments what console codes I used to start my game like this).

Okay. Enough mundane set-up! Let's get into Nordrick's mundane life! I slowly stroll off the boat I'm pretending to have just arrived on after a long trip I'm pretending to have taken, and walk up the dock into the town. Dawnstar is a chilly, drab-looking village, its few buildings clustered together as if for warmth. Lo and behold, the entrance to a mine is straight ahead of the dock. I sort of wanted to have a look at the town and maybe chat with the locals a bit before beginning hours of routine manual labor, but since the mine is right here, I might as well get to work.

Walking into Quicksilver Mine, I'm gripped by a sudden moment of panic. The place is dark and rumbly, and I have a vision of the mine entrance collapsing behind me, trapping me inside, and having to fight giant spiders or cave trolls or irresponsible mine safety administrators to escape. What if this isn't a mine but a clever attempt by the game to force me to immediately have an adventure? Oblivion was constantly trying to engage me with thrills, and I don't imagine Skyrim will be any different.

Luckily, the mine remains mundane and doesn't collapse, although I am immediately faced with my first tough moral quandary: I'm here to mine ore, but I don't have a pickaxe. I find one lying on a table, and it's not marked as an owned item, so if I take it, the game won't consider it stealing. Still, it feels like stealing, since it's not mine. I decide to compromise and borrow it: I'll do some mining, and then leave the pickaxe behind when I'm done, and try to buy my own later. That feels like a satisfying decision, and probably as close as I'll get to a dramatic personal choice in this blog (you've been warned).

I get busy, swinging the axe with my spindly arms, chipping away at the rock in a few different places in the cave. Pretty quickly, my pockets are loaded with quicksilver ore: 15 hunks of it, in fact, which I determine to be worth 25 gold apiece (I'm sure the local vendors will disagree). I'm also surprised to dig up a couple shiny garnets, which I value at 100 gold each. Man, I've only been working for an hour and I'm already rolling in loot! Poor Grampa Nondrick worked for ages picking flowers and mixing potions to attain the kind of wealth I've amassed in my first hour in Skyrim.

Finished, I drop the borrowed pickaxe roughly where I found it, but I'm surprised when another miner, a woman named Edith, walks over, picks up the axe, tells me she saw me drop it, and hands it back to me. How thoughtful of her! Shame that I can't propose to her on the spot (marriage is little complicated in Skyrim), because Edith is my kind of woman: hard-working, considerate, and female. I can't explain to her that the axe doesn't actually belong to me, so I walk close to the entrance of the mine, drop it again, and leave before she can scurry over and politely force it back into my inventory.

Outside, the mine's owner, Leigelf, offers to buy all the ore I chipped up, which strikes me as a little weird. It's his mine, isn't it his ore? It's like owning a grocery store, then buying all the food back from the customers as they leave. Leigelf also makes an angry, passing reference to "milk drinkers." I don't know what the heck that means, but I assume it's some sort of racism. Stay classy, Leigelf. At any rate, I want to try to use this ore to craft something more valuable, so I don't sell any of it. I wait patiently for a miner named Lond to finish using the smelter, smelt half of my ore into ingot form, then head over to the blacksmith's shop.

I chat a bit with Rustlief, the local smith, and try to sell him my garnets, but he's not interested. I start using his forge, hoping to make something with the quicksilver I mined, but, even as watch myself bang away at an anvil with tools and materials I don't have, I see that I can't craft anything with my quicksilver ingots. I don't even know what the hell quicksilver is, frankly.

I take a quick (actually, instantaneous) break, eat my apple for lunch, and then I stroll around town some more. I chat with the people I pass, and nearly all of them mention having terrible nightmares. Some go on about it at length. Ominous. There is a cloud hanging over this town, a dark cloud in the shape of a giant quest. I walk away in the middle of a conversation to eat some strange berries I find on a bush, which I admit is pretty rude. Someone is desperately asking for help with terrible supernatural nightmares, and I walk away and start stuffing random berries into my face. But look, sometimes you get quests just from listening to people for too long, and I want to avoid that. Also, free berries! Eating them reveals one of their alchemical properties to me, so I've taken my first small step in the world of alchemy. Grampa Nondrick, a decent alchemist in his own right, would be proud.

I descend into an iron mine and leave a few hours later, laden with iron ore and a bunch more gems (at this rate I'll be able to craft my own game of Bejeweled). I still can't make anything at the forge, though, because I need leather. I can't afford to buy any, so that means I need to hunt, and hunting means I need a bow and some arrows.

It's actually getting kind of late already (walking everywhere instead of running really eats up the day: try it sometime), so I head over to the local inn. I meet an attractive woman named Karita, who mentions she's a bard and that she trained at a Bard college. A hot, employed college graduate? I think I want to marry Karita instead of Edith. I mean, maybe if Edith had gone to college she wouldn't be covered with filth and breaking rocks in a hole. Then, Karita starts beating on a drum and singing, and wow, she's just terrible. I'm quickly leaning back toward wanting to marry Edith again.

I pay for a room for the night, and I'm genuinely charmed by the fact that the innkeeper, Thoring, actually walks me to it, rather than just vaguely telling me where it is (as innkeepers did in Oblivion). Pleasant, helpful, and runs his own business? Plus, he has a nice selection of cheeses on his counter. Maybe I should marry him instead.

After paying for the room (10 gold) and buying a piece of bread for dinner (6 gold), my savings account is down to a single gold piece. I'm a little conflicted: mining has provided me items of value, but no one I've come across will buy the precious stones, and I want to save the ingots and ore for crafting, if possible. I'll have to find a solution tomorrow, because the room is only rented for one night, and a Nord's gotta eat. At least I got through the day without having any adventures, and only fell in love three times.

There's a book on the night table, and I consider reading it before bed, but it's called "The Cabin in the Woods, Volume II", and I haven't read Volume I yet. No spoilers! I'm a little worried about these nightmares everyone is having: what if simply falling asleep starts some dangerous quest? Thoring, though, tells me I won't have bad dreams: they don't seem to affect travelers, only locals. As I stand beside my bed all night, sleeping, I take some small comfort in that.


The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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