The Elder Strolls, Part 3: Off to Meet the Blizzard

Christopher Livingston

Skyrim

I'm playing Skyrim as an NPC: walking everywhere, trying to avoid excitement, and seeing if I can scrape out a living without resorting to adventure. Part 1 , Part 2 .

After all the bandit and troll-based excitement in the last entry, I'm ready for a nice long stretch of peace on a nice long stretch of beach. This morning, so far, I'm finding it: it's so early the sun hasn't come up yet and Skyrim itself seems to be slumbering. As I stroll along, it feels like the game has completely forgotten I'm even here. No enemies come charging out of the pre-dawn gloom to greet me with whistling arrows. No monsters are at my heels, swinging at me with hairy fists. No thieves are trying to burden my inventory with stolen magical weapons. It's just me, the soothing music in my head, and the sound of my own footsteps. Then -- suddenly -- nothing happens.

Perfect.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a draugr scourge lord.

I'm not simply out hunting for pelts today, either: I'm traveling. I've decided to leave Dawnstar behind, for several reasons. First of all, I want to have a real go at crafting as a profession, and while I can create weapons and armor in Dawnstar, the blacksmith shop has no grindstone or worktable for improving them, which is a bit limiting. There's also no general store in town: the only place to sell my collected miscellany is that Khajiit nomad camp, and, being nomads, they've packed up and left. The iron and quicksilver mines are stripped and it will take ages for the minerals to repopulate. Perhaps most importantly, trolls can wander right into town and beat the shit out of everyone at will.

I've decided Nordrick needs to be in a real city. A city with real shops, a full complement of blacksmithing tools, and big stone walls and a huge oak door to keep out angry snow gorillas. I'm tired of being a big dork in a small town. I want to be a big dork in a big town.

And so, I've hatched a plan, a plan so boldly cautious and daringly timid that it just might work. My target is the city of Windhelm, which lies far to the southeast. I'll have to walk there, naturally, but rather than stride through the interior of Skyrim, which is filled with forts and crypts and bears and giants and who-knows-what-else, I'm going to take the coastal route, along the outer edges of the map. It's a long walk, but I'll have water to one side of me and cliffs to the other, so any danger that wants to jump on my face will have to do it from directly in front of me. Skyrim is full of adventure, but my plan is to sneak around the edge of it, unnoticed.

My secret route. Shh. Don't tell Skyrim.

So far, it's working. The entire morning is uneventful: I hunt a couple foxes with my bow, catch a few salmon with my bare hands, collect the meat of many vicious clams, and walk along in complete peace. In fact, I grow so accustomed to trudging around unmolested that when I see a charred corpse kneeling next to a spell book on a patch of land with a bunch of flames shooting out of it, I just walk right on over and have a look and immediately catch on fire.

Kids, if you catch on fire, remember: Stop, drop, and stroll!

Okay, so, that was incredibly dumb and fairly painful. Note to self: weird corpses are not to be trusted.

As evening approaches, I find a shoddy lean-to perched on a rock. I decide to camp there for the night, ignoring the shipwreck I can see in the water below (no more boats!) and trying not to think about the presence of skeletal human remains on the bedroll. I set my infallible mental alarm clock for 4am, hoping to rise early enough to continue slipping under Skyrim's adventure radar.

All I ask for is a warm bed and a ribcage to rest my head on.

The next morning, the constant snow flurries give way to a proper blizzard. The wind howls, the world darkens, and there's so much snow I can't see my big nose in front of my face. I press forward until I notice I'm not actually moving because, in my blindness, I've walked directly into an angry horker. It bellows and fusses and flops around angrily, offended at having been stepped on, but it's fat and slow and easy enough to avoid. I briefly consider killing it for meat and tusks, but it just seems too charmingly huffy to hurt.

Have you watched a horker swim? Surprisingly graceful. Not a joke, just a nature-watching tip.

The blizzard continues. Wolves attack every so often, signaling their presence with mournful howls, then lining my pockets with their fuzzy, bloody pelts. I eventually come across two human skeletons and a bear trap. It looks like someone got their foot caught in the trap and perished, and someone else sat there, helpfully watching as the trapped person perished, and then perished themselves. The skeletons are at the bottom of a narrow mountain pass, and I climb it, slowly and carefully, to have a look around from higher ground. The blizzard stops, briefly, affording me a nice view.

Someday a Nord like me will walk around aimlessly on that moon.

While I'm up there I spot a little bit of dark rock poking up, and I walk over, thinking it might be another camp or shelter I could use. As I get closer, it starts looking less like a camp and more like an altar of some kind. And there's something... something ... on it. It looks like a dead body, but it appears to be encased in ice or something... shimmery . I crouch down and creep up as slowly as I can, but just as I'm getting close: VOOOOM! A sudden burst of light and noise and magic hits me right in the face.

AHHH SCARY BLUE LIGHT ATTACK THING WHAT THE NUTS

I just run. I run all the way back down the pass like a giant coward. When I catch my breath, I realize it was probably something similar to what happened with the burned corpse from the other day. Some idiot was trying to learn a spell, some sort of ice spell in this instance, and offed himself. And then I just come along and blunder into him despite having done the exact same thing earlier in the trip. Didn't I just say "Note to self: weird corpses are not to be trusted?" Is there any point in writing notes to myself if I don't read them? No wonder Skyrim isn't flinging adventure at me on this trip. It doesn't need to. It just lets me come across the dead bodies of people who were looking for adventure and I pick up where they left off.

Toward the end of the afternoon, amidst more snow flurries, I come across a small camp. There's a couple bed rolls, a horker corpse, some tables covered with horker meat and tusks, and a cart. The camp's inhabitants are nowhere to be seen, save a single horse standing around benignly. I remember the two skeletons from yesterday. Were they horker hunters? Did they perish out on a hunting expedition after becoming ensnared in their own trap? The horse isn't talking.

I sleep there and rise early. While I'm pretty sure the owners of the camp are the two dead guys I found yesterday, it doesn't seem right to completely loot the place. However, after much internal debate, I do decide to take the horse, because the horse isn't marked as owned, and if he is owned, the owner is probably dead. Plus, anyone who kills adorable pudgy horkers doesn't deserve their own horse.

It's not stealing if the owner is decomposing in a bear trap. That's a law.

I don't press the horse to gallop, so I'm not really traveling any faster than I would on foot, but it's been days since I've seen another living NPC and it's kind of nice to have a companion I can sit on. I decide to name him Flurry. Unfortunately, it looks like I won't get to keep him: every time I have to dismount to fight off wolves, Flurry starts wandering back to the horker hunter camp and I have hustle after him. I realize that having to chase a horse the wrong way every few minutes means it's taking me twice as long to travel to my destination, so I eventually just have to let him go. Bye, Flurry.

Now, that's how you keep out a troll.

Toward the end of the third day, the massive stone walls of Windhelm finally come into view. I'm here! Windhelm! My cunning plan of skirting around adventure totally worked, with the exception of a couple magical traps I stupidly wandered into. Still, I came a long way and didn't encounter any horrible monsters or murderous humans. Plus, there are no new icons on my map, which means I didn't discover anything .

Three full days of walking around in Skyrim without discovering a single new map location? You can't get more hardcore NPC than that. I really feel like I've accomplished something by basically accomplishing nothing.

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