The Elder Strolls, Part 2: That Sinking Feeling

A sinking boat.

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. You can read Part 1 here .

I get a lot done on my second day in Dawnstar. I visit the Jarl and listen to him air all the problems he has that I have no intention of helping him with. I buy my own pickaxe and work in the mines some more, chiseling out every last bit of ore and selling it to Leigelf, the mine-owning racist. I find a group of Khajiit nomads camped on the edge of town, and sell them some of my jewels in exchange for some hide boots, bracers, a hunting bow, and some iron arrows.

And now, to the hunt!

Well, eventually to the hunt: it takes ages just to slowly walk out of town. And then it takes a while to find anything to hunt. And then when I do find a thing to hunt -- a moose, or whatever Skyrim's version of a moose is -- it turns out the moose is already being hunted, by three wolves, who decide that rather than continue hunting the moose they'd rather hunt me.

It's my first taste of combat! I suddenly realize that besides my bow and arrows, I completely neglected to buy any actual weapons. I don't have a sword or a mace or anything, just a dagger and my mining pickaxe. Turns out, the pickaxe is a decent melee weapon, and I quickly and frantically pick the lives out of the snarling wolves. The hunting continues: I chase another moose and fail to kill it, I survive an attack by skeevers (they're basically giant rats), and I bravely vanquish a vicious goat that makes the fatal mistake of standing harmlessly in my vicinity. Back in town, I use the blacksmith's tanning rack to turn my pelts into leather and leather strips, and finally have a go at crafting, making myself an iron sword and a helmet, just like the one that guy wears in the Skyrim commercials.

Despite my fancy new helmet obscuring my ugly face, people in town suddenly stop talking about how terrible their dreams are and instead start commenting that I look like shit. Apparently, I've noticeably contracted a disease called Ataxia, either from the wolves or the skeevers, but it only affects my lock-picking and pick-pocketing skills, and as a harmless NPC, I have no real plans to pick either locks or pockets. So, apart from the flood of insults, I'm not too worried about being covered in skeever cooties.

The next day, I head further out to hunt along the cold, snowy beach to the west. I spot a figure in the distance, pacing and carrying a round shield. I assume it's a Dawnstar guard walking patrol, but just as it occurs to me that I'm kind of far from town to find a guard, I get hit in the head with an arrow.

Oops. Instead of a Dawnstar guard, it's a bandit, and it's also another bandit, and it's also a third bandit. I draw my handmade sword and hack away at the closest two, but they both have shields and block every single swing. Meanwhile, the third bandit, the one with the bow, deposits another arrow into me from a safe distance. Hm. This could go very badly very quickly.

While the bandits and the rest of the universe wait patiently, I examine Nordrick for any tricks up his sleeve (though he doesn't actually have sleeves.) I find he was born with an ability called Battle Cry, which he can utilize once a day and, for Nordrick, probably translates into more of a Coward Shriek. I use it and the two closest bandits dash away in terror of my terror. I chase them, swinging at their backs, but they're running just as fast as I am and I can't actually connect. The parade of two fleeing bandits and one wildly slashing idiot takes all of us, luckily, right past the third bandit, who was out of range of my arcane terror-scream and hasn't moved. I cut into him wildly, bringing him down with a few hacks. The other two eventually regain their courage and re-engage, but suddenly they don't seem terribly adept with their shields, and after a few minutes of frenzied hacking and backpedaling all over the beach, they both fall dead.

Oy. Whew. Wow. I've just killed three people. Not wolves or skeevers or goats, but actual people. I pause a moment to reflect on the fleeting nature of life, ponder what darkness leads men to take up arms against their fellow man, and grieve the senseless loss of human life in the traditional Tamriel fashion: by stripping the dead jerks of all their stuff and leaving their stupid naked bodies in the snow where they fell.

I sleep in the dead bandit's camp that night, happy to have a free bed, and while doing some early morning hunting (I kill a snow fox and two wolves), I spot what looks like a shipwreck in the distance. I was going to head back to Dawnstar, but that ship looks intriguing, and I want to have a closer look. Along the way I find an overturned canoe that some mudcrabs are calling home, and also a small collection of treasures, like a jeweled circlet, some fine boots, a book, and a curvy sword that is cooler than my straight sword because it's all curvy. With my new sword and bandit armor, I feel like I'm assembling quite the impressive kit.

I finally reach the large shipwreck, and while I'm admiring it, I hear a voice behind me. Some dude has run up and is talking to my back. He tells me to hold onto something for him, and not to tell anyone about it or he'll kill me. I turn around, baffled, and watch him sprint off. What the hell was that all about? I check my inventory, and sure enough, he's stuffed A GIANT MAGIC SWORD into my pants.

Great. I've accepted stolen goods against my will. I hate it when people just add stuff to my inventory without giving me a choice in the matter. It's called personal space, people. I sullenly skulk around on the deck of the ship, annoyed, then turn around and see some other asshole racing toward me. Oh, let me guess. This new asshole is the one the other asshole stole the sword from, the sword I've got hidden down my pants-leg. Fantastic. See, this is what happens when you try to avoid adventure in Skyrim: Skyrim gets annoyed with you and runs up when your back is turned and jams a giant stolen enchanted sword into your underpants and makes you have an adventure.

Well, I'm not getting involved in anybody's personal drama. Just the other day I had to decide if I should borrow a pickaxe or not, and that's plenty of excitement for a guy like me. I immediately hand the magic sword to the new asshole, who seems somewhat mystified that I would do such an honest, unadventurous thing. He then runs off, promising to kill the first asshole. Good luck! Keep me out of it!

I'm irritated, but you know what? This is all my fault. I saw a cool looking shipwreck, and decided to check it out, thus signaling to the game that I wanted some adventure. What was I expecting? Grampa Nondrick checked out a couple boats in his day, and they blew up in his face, too. One time he wound up at sea, surrounded by bandits , and another time he got attacked by ghosts . This boat is probably filled with zombie pirates or mudcrab vampires or republican presidential candidates or something equally horrifying. I'm not even going to poke around on this boat. I'm just leaving. Do you hear me, Skyrim? Nordrick is OUT.

I grouchily stalk straight back to Dawnstar. I'm not even going to sleep at the camp: those bandits will probably respawn, or I'll awaken to find those two quibbling assholes have returned and are using my boxer shorts as their own personal storage locker. From now on, when out in the wilderness, I will shoot at anything furry, or crabby, or goat-y, and ignore everything else.

Or, not. Skyrim isn't quite done with trying to make me have adventures yet. I'm almost back to Dawnstar when the calm, soothing music constantly playing in my head becomes suddenly ominous, and I turn to find a giant goddamn frost troll bearing down on me. I backpedal, peppering it with arrows, but it ignores them, heals almost instantly, and keeps on coming. I manage to scramble up on a rocky outcropping while it roars and bellows and tries to find a way up.

Well, this isn't good at all. Trolls are friggin' dangerous. I work my way carefully over the rocks, spot a the roof of a building, and realize I'm basically in Dawnstar at this point. Will someone help me with this crazy ice gorilla, maybe? I can see a couple town guards, clearly alarmed and readying weapons, but they don't seem to know where the danger is.

Suddenly, help arrives from an unexpected source. I see Leigelf, the racist mine-owner, run past me toward the troll, pickaxe at the ready! Yes! Get 'im, Leigelf! I love you! I'll forgive your vague racism so long as you hack that troll down to oh wait he's dead. Leigelf is dead, instantly. The troll kills him with one blow and his stupid racist body flops into a crumpled heap. Yikes!

Another one of the miners, Lond, runs up to the troll, also armed with a pickaxe. I'm not optimistic: the guy isn't even wearing a shirt. Lond lasts roughly .0003 seconds longer than Leigelf did. This is quickly getting horrifying. I have a sudden vision of the entire town's population perishing at the hands of this troll that I innocently led back here. I try setting the troll on fire with a fire spell, and while the monster seems generally unhappy to be engulfed in flames, its health barely dips.

Now the troll is actually entering the town proper. I'm suddenly certain this troll attack is never going to end. This going to be my life from now on: running backwards for days and weeks and months, over trails and roads and through towns and cities, endlessly pursued through the world by an unkillable troll that punches every single NPC to death, leaving the entirety of Skyrim littered with dead bodies.

Or, not. The troll promptly gets trapped between a rock wall and the back of a house and just stands there, confused. A couple guards team up and fill him full of arrows, and the beast finally, thankfully, expires. I pull six of my iron arrows out of him, eight steel arrows belonging to the guards (and a bunch more out of the side of the house).

The final troll toll: three. Leigelf, Lond, and one of the town guards. I don't feel quite right stripping the dead NPC bodies of all their belongings and then selling them to the other NPCs in town. It just feels a little... ghoulish, especially since I'm kinda sorta totally responsible for their deaths. So, I just leave the dead where they fell, head back to the inn, eat some fresh troll fat, and stand next to my bed for the night.

Poor citizens of Dawnstar. They've already been having nightmares. I somehow don't think watching half of their mining industry getting punched to death will help.

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

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.