The Elder Strolls, Part 4: Nordrick the Envious

Skyrim: Nordrick in Windhelm

As the new guy in Windhelm, I'm doing my best to fit in with the local NPCs. I walk around the city, wearing regular clothing instead of armor. I hang around in the tavern, eating and drinking. I sleep in a rented bed every night. I make small-talk, or at least listen to the small-talk of others. Overall, I feel like I'm blending in well: if a real adventurer arrived in Windhelm, I'm confident he or she would be convinced I was just another local living a routine life. Nordrick the Bland, they'd call me.

And yet, a very un-NPC-like emotion has reared its ugly head inside Nordrick's even uglier head. I may walk, sleep, eat, and drink like an NPC, but when it comes to my professional life, I'm definitely falling short. While spending time with the locals, and seeing what they do for a living, I've come to an unexpected conclusion: I'm insanely jealous.

For example, there's an NPC in Windhelm who runs a museum out of his house. For two gold pieces, I get a quick tour of his collection of mundane junk, which includes some bones, an empty book, and a spoon. It's a boring collection of cruft, but he invents wild stories that make his assortment of crap seem interesting. Why can't that be my job? I collect plenty of junk, so why can't I put it on shelves, make up ridiculous stories about it, and charge people to look at it? Nordrick the Curator, they'd call me.

I also meet a fiction writer who lives at the inn. A writer! Now, that's a job I'm jealous of. I'd love to write a book, perhaps about a hero named Nordrick The Bold who single-highhandedly slays the dreaded Frost Troll of Dawnstar. Or I could pen a tome about Nordrick the Fair, who recovers stolen magic weapons and returns them to their rightful owners. I could sell them to stores in Skyrim and collect the royalties.

(I actually read one of the writer's books, which is pretty awful. He uses phrases like "I leave you now, good reader, with this gentle reminder..." Blech! I hate when authors address their audience. You know what I mean, gentle blog viewer?)

Even the beggars seem to have good jobs. I meet one who asks me for a gold coin and offers to train me in the art of pick-pocketing, which seems a bit dubious. If she's so good at picking pockets, why is she begging for gold? On the other hand, I did give her a piece of gold, and as I walk away I realize that she's so skilled that she tricked me into picking my own pocket for her. Now, that's talent.

I think all of this occupation envy I'm feeling is due to the fact that my chosen profession, smithing, isn't really working out so well. Sure, there's a nice smithing area I can use in Windhelm that has all the tools I need: forge and anvil, ore smelter, tanning rack, grindstone, and workbench, all within a few feet of each other. With the right materials I can fashion armor, weapons, and even jewelry. The problem is, it's not making me any money. In fact, it's losing me a ton of cash. Ideally, I'd be able to buy raw materials, fashion them into things, and sell them back for a profit. As it stands, however, the materials I buy cost more than the finished product, so I'm operating at a steep loss.

The only way to buy for less and sell for more is to boost my Speech skill, and the only way to boost my Speech skill is buy doing a lot of buying and selling, and since my Speech skill is currently pretty low, that means I'm losing gobs of money there, too. So, Nordrick the Silver-Tongued Blacksmith, at the moment, is a complete bust.

Luckily, there are several other ways to make money. Alchemy is one, and I've got plenty of ingredients after my long trip to Windhelm. I mix up all the potions I can, selling them to the local alchemist for a nice profit. I also spend a day visiting several nearby farms and gathering crops for the farmers, who had the time and energy to plant, cultivate, and grow the crops, but are suddenly are too lazy to spend thirty seconds picking them. I chop firewood as well, for people who have gone out and cut down trees, dragged them back to their farms, and cut them into small pieces, but lacked the follow-through for the final step: splitting the small pieces in half.

In fact, I do such a good job, the local farmers get together to hold a special election and vote me in as the new Jarl of Windhelm! And here this blog ends, as Nordrick The Helpful rules wisely over Windhelm for the rest of his days.

Okay, I actually just had a quick sit on the throne while no one was watching. An NPC can dream, can't he?

Funneling my earned wages into my smithing and vendor-grinding, it's not long before I'm basically broke again, so there's not much else to do but head back into the wild to do some hunting and mining. I blow the dust off my armor, strap it on, and head south. I come upon a small mining town called Kynesgrove, where I chip some minerals out of the caverns. They also have some spare bedrolls outside, so I spend a rent-free night and continue roaming the following day.

The morning passes as some wolves attack me and I attack some goats, both serving to fill my pelt quota. While wandering alongside a river in the afternoon, I spot what looks like a small wooden shack. As I approach, I spy a tiny flicker of motion through the broken boards on the side of the shack. Someone's inside. I drop into a crouch. Is it a bandit, wanting to kill me for gold? A necromancer, wanting to experiment on my corpse?

Unfortunately, it's neither. The flicker of motion in the shack suddenly becomes a flash. It's not a person. It's something big, it's something fast, and it's coming right at me. Sabercat. Sabercat! Oh flip, it's a mother-flippin' Sabercat!

A sabercat. I would honestly prefer to fight a dragon than a sabercat. Dragons are deadly, sure, but they lazily circle, then land, then take off and circle some more. Sabercats are all business. They're lightning quick and deadly: I've run into them with the other characters I play in Skyrim, characters with skill points in something other than Speech and Smithing, and the outcome has almost always been a quick death and a largely unscathed sabercat. Now I'm facing one with Nordrick, who can't even buy an apple from a friendly merchant without losing a few hit points.

I'm both crouching and creeping, the slowest possible combination of movement apart from sitting in a chair, and I frantically hammer at my keyboard, trying to get upright and running. I manage to get upright and walking, then crouching and scooting. Great. Trying to quickly draw my sword and shield results in me first readying my healing spell, and then my bow, neither of which are going to slow down this rampaging prehistoric cat. My Battle Cry power! Of course! That will save me, or it would, if I hadn't used it already earlier today to scare off some attacking wolves.

This is the end. This is the end of Nordrick. I won't be known as Nordrick the Blacksmith or Nordrick the Woodcutter, but as Nordrick the Cat Toy. Then I remember the river. The river! If not for the river, this blog would end, right now, with a brief description what it's like to pass through the sabercat's digestive system.

With the beast lunging and slashing and my vision filled with its fur and my blood, I somehow remember how to stand upright and run. I splash into the river and begin swimming, managing to reach the opposite bank. I turn and am mortified to see the cat paddling after me. As soon as it reaches my side of the river, I run back into the water and swim to the other side. The cat begins crossing after me, and I cross back. Okay. Good. If I can just keep this river between us for the rest of our lives, I'll be fine.

About three river-crossings later, the cat seems to come up with a fresh idea: to run up the side of a mountain and get stuck behind a rock. Hey, I didn't say it was a good idea. But if the Gods of Poor Pathfinding love anyone, it's Nordrick, and I find that by standing near the shack I can loose arrows into the cat from a safe distance. It just stands there angrily and takes the abuse until it dies, destined to become the next pair of boots I craft.

With that unpleasantness done, I heal up and check out the shack the cat was prowling around in. It's pretty gross in here: the cat was munching on the previous tenant when I arrived, and there's a bloody skull and ribcage and gore splashed all over the floor. There's a bed, though, unowned, which means I can sleep here, which kind of, sort of, means I can live here. Which kind of, sort of, means I have a home! Kind of sort of!

A home with giant holes in the walls and ceiling, and no door, but there's a wardrobe, a table with some books on it, and even a fireplace and a tanning rack. This might not be so bad. I can't pick up the skull and ribcage, but with some strategic walking I mange to kick the disgusting bones out the doorway and into the river, where they float away. As far as all the blood on the floor, I lay out some goat pelts over it as sort of a makeshift throw rug. So now instead of it looking like someone died in here, it just looks like a couple goats exploded. It's a conversation starter!

Not bad. I've got a lovely, gore-splatted home with no door and some dead fish hanging from the roof. It's definitely no Proudspire Manor. Hell, it's not even Oblivion's Imperial City shack. Still, finally, I have my own place. Nordrick the Homeowner. That's what they'll call me.

Next: The Elder Strolls, Part 5: Spring Break

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.