Skyrim Thieves Guild Part 2

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Dec 27, 2011

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 244 comments


I arrive at the ruin to help Mercer Frey kill Karliah. There is this short bit of dialog at the start where Mercer is able to pick the lock of an “impossible lock” door. Then halfway through the dungeon he does it again, bypassing a door that you normally can’t open, even with maximum lockpicking skill. This becomes important later.

I have to say that Mercer is about the worst thief in the world. Instead of letting the player pick off targets from the shadows, he charges into battle, screaming combat taunts and blocking my arrows. He blunders into traps, even though any halfway-leveled stealth character has access to a perk that makes them immune to setting off traps. He’s actually a liability for anyone trying to use stealth. And I imagine that “stealth” is a pretty common appraoch for players who are running through the Thieves Guild questline. Crimey.

Note how the writer keeps on patting themselves on the back by praising that ridiculous plot with the mead brewing. I mean, “inspired”? The plan failed, and even if it had succeeded it wouldn’t have advanced Karliah’s goals. We’ll talk more about this below.
Note how the writer keeps on patting themselves on the back by praising that ridiculous plot with the mead brewing. I mean, “inspired”? The plan failed, and even if it had succeeded it wouldn’t have advanced Karliah’s goals. We’ll talk more about this below.

Then at the end of the dungeon, I enter the final chamber and suddenly fall over. Karliah has hit me with a paralysis arrow which will never exist or be mentioned again in the gameworld, despite the fact that it would be the Most Useful Thing Ever. Then she and Mercer talk. It is revealed that Mercer was the one who killed Gallus (the old guild leader) and pinned the crime on Karliah. She admits she can’t hope to beat Mercer in a fight so she turns invisible and runs off.

Having outlived my usefulness, Mercer then comes over and stabs me.


Outside, I am revived by Karliah. My character quite reasonably greets her with, “You shot me!”

“No, I saved your life,” she explains. See, the paralysis arrow she used on me slowed my heart rate so I didn’t bleed out. It took her a year to perfect the poison, so she only had enough for one shot.

Karliah dear, if you had shot Mercer Frey then my life wouldn’t have needed saving in the first place. You dunce. If you push me in front of a bus and then save my life with CPR, that doesn’t cancel out the crime of pushing me in front of a bus. What if he’d decided to cut my head off? Your plot-arrow wouldn’t have done me much good then, would it? You had two targets: A stranger, and the super-powerful, completely evil guy who murdered your best friend and who you admit you can’t hope to defeat in battle. You chose to shoot the stranger, then run away and let the bad guy kill the stranger, then tried to recruit the stranger. What is wrong with you?

If it took you a year to “perfect” the formula, then why don’t you make more now that you know how? Why didn’t you make enough for a few arrows, just in case you missed?

So much of this could be fixed with just a few common-sense changes to dialog. Instead of Karliah getting self-righteous about saving your life, have her say, “I thought I was shooting Mercer. It was dark and foggy in that tomb. I wanted it that way for the ambush. I wasn’t expecting Mercer to bring someone else. Sorry you got caught up in all of this.”

This would make her action understandable, and might make Mercer seem kind of clever for bringing you along.

You could also have Karliah explain that she stole the paralysis arrow from some wizard in Cyrodil. This would:

  1. Explain why she only had one.
  2. Explain why you can’t make or obtain more yourself.
  3. Establish her as a thief.

Boom. Two painful contrivances fixed with some very small alterations to dialog. This wouldn’t fix all the logical, conceptual, and thematic problems with this story, but it would avert the need for both Karliah and the player to behave like complete fools to make this section work.

She says that she has found Gallus’ diary. Unfortunately, it’s written in an unknown language. Gaullus was a human, but wrote the diary in some other language for unknown reasons, and now we don’t know what it says.

She says her plan was to capture Mercer and bring him before the guild to face his crimes. How was that going to work? She has no proof. Everyone thinks she killed Gallus. Now she’s gotten involved with this foolish scheme with the mead-brewing, which simultaneously made her look MORE guilty while also wasting all her money. She was planning on dragging Mercer’s limp body into the guild headquarters, where they would remember her as the person who killed the old guild leader, tried to interfere with their mead business, and then ambushed their current guild master. And in her defense she was going to hold up a diary which none of them could read, which couldn’t be confirmed to belong to Gallus, and which might not contain anything useful even if it was translated.

And it took her twenty-five years to come up with this plan?

Now, you might argue that she didn’t mean for everyone to find out about the mead-brewing business. However, her entire plan depended on the guild figuring it out. She left all those clues, and then came to this ruin to ambush Mercer. What if we hadn’t tracked down Gulum-Ei? What if Gulum-Ei hadn’t spilled the beans? What if Mercer hadn’t picked up on that clue about “where the end began”. What if Mercer decided – quite reasonably – that there was nothing to be gained from walking into an obvious ambush and decided to hang out in guild headquarters? I guess she would have sat in that dungeon until her dumb ass froze to death.

She sends me off to see some scholar to see about having the book translated. I guess she’s been too busy for the last quarter century to look into trifling details like that.

This scholar asks me for Gallus’ journal, and is then surprised that it’s in another language.  Dude, <em>If it was in Common Language, I wouldn’t have needed to bring it to you.</em>  It’s like he’s been waiting for her to find the diary, but there was no reason to involve him until after it was found. This isn’t really a plot hole.  It’s just a badly stilted bit of dialog.
This scholar asks me for Gallus’ journal, and is then surprised that it’s in another language. Dude, If it was in Common Language, I wouldn’t have needed to bring it to you. It’s like he’s been waiting for her to find the diary, but there was no reason to involve him until after it was found. This isn’t really a plot hole. It’s just a badly stilted bit of dialog.

The scholar tells me that the diary is written in ancient Falmer. The Falmer are a race of blind, underground-dwelling mole-people who hate the outside world and kill anything that enters their domain. Only one man knows how to translate Falmer: Calcemo the Mage. Off we go.

Calcemo refuses to help. He’s just completed his study of the Falmer, and is completely unwilling to share his findings. So, I have to break into his laboratory and steal his research notes.

Wow really? You need me to steal something? Funny that after all these hours of screwing around, the first job that sends me to really steal something is coming from someone outside the guild.

Talk about heavy reading. I think I’ll wait for the Kindle version.
Talk about heavy reading. I think I’ll wait for the Kindle version.

It turns out Calcemo’s “notes” are a giant stone carving built into the ruins. I don’t know what the carving says. It’s evidently a translation guide? As far as I can tell, it was a guide written by the Dwarves, to explain how to translate the ancient Falmer language into modern-day common, which didn’t exist yet. Makes perfect sense.

(This is actually a quasi-puzzle. You have to gather a roll of paper and some charcoal from the next room, in order to produce a rubbing of the engraved text. Of course, if you happen to have those items already from compulsive looting then the rubbing will just appear without explanation, but it’s still an interesting idea. Of course, it ruins the prospect of us actually stealing a physical object, which is something I was hoping I’d get to do at some point in this quest chain. I suppose, this is kind of like copyright infringement, which some people think is theft.)


I take the copied engraving back to the scholar, and we meet Karliah in the basement of an inn. Calcelmo the mage spent years studying that engraving in order to unravel the Falmer tongue. I don’t know why. The scholar is instantly be able to read the diary as soon as I show him the rubbing. At last we get to see what Gallus wrote all those years ago.

The scholar reads in little bits and pieces. It’s hard to do it justice here in this write-up, but the main points are:

  1. Gallus observed that Mercer was living a lavish lifestyle, spending vast amounts of coin.

    You can’t be serious! You’re telling me a member of the THIEVES GUILD was rolling in money and living large? What’s the world coming to?

  2. Gallus suspected that Mercer was stealing from the guild vault.

    Dude, you were the guild master. Don’t you have some way of tracking this? Don’t you know what’s in the vault? Can’t you have someone keep an eye on it? Isn’t that, like, your job?

  3. There’s some mention of the “Nightingales” and the “Twilight Sepulchre”.

    We’ve been hearing about the “Nightingales” now and again throughout this quest line. Apparently they’re some sort of super-secret society. So secret that nobody believes they exist. Mercer, Karliah, and Gallus were all members.

    And to get super-pedantic: Did the ancient Falmer really have a word for “Nightingale”? And was something that specific really detailed on that rubbing?

Karliah freaks out at the mention of the Twilight Sepulchre. It turns out that whatever Mercer has done, it’s bad. Like, super bad. Karliah tells me to meet her back at the guild headquarters. We’re going to confront the guild.


From The Archives:

244 thoughts on “Skyrim Thieves Guild Part 2

  1. GTB says:

    I haven’t done this quest line, because my skyrim character is pretty much the opposite of a thief in every way. You can imagine my surprise at the beginning of the thieves guild quest line when the guy tells me I haven’t earned any of the money I have honestly, and that I need to help him do some sneaky shit to his rivals in the marketplace. Sure buddy, lemme just clank my way over there and finesse the lock, pick somebody’s pocket, and help you out for no reason, irregardless of the fact that I’ve spent the first part of this game bringing people like you to swift, pointy-edged justice.

    I like to imagine my dude authoritatively jamming his massive gauntleted fist into somebody’s pocket, trying not to be noticed as he does so.

    I like skyrim, but it is FULL of this stuff.

    1. Daniel says:

      *cough* irregardless-is-not-a-word! *cough*

      Sorry about that, just getting over a cold/my random ocd.

      1. Jokerman says:

        irregardless is a word

        1. ima420r says:

          Irregardless is an informal term commonly used in place of regardless or irrespective, which has caused controversy since it first appeared in the early twentieth century. Most dictionaries list it as “nonstandard” or “incorrect”.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        And irregardless of that,people are still using it.

        One weird thing though,my spell checker doesnt even flag it,yet it flags armour(Im too lazy to switch it to british english).

        1. Nick says:

          And those people should die in a fire. Worst. “Word”. Ever.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Meh,there are far worse ones.Like n00b,for example.When used unironically,that is.

            1. VeryPeeved says:

              so… never?

    2. Jarenth says:

      I felt more or less exactly this way. Except instead of a massive gauntleted fist, mine was a claw that was always on fire, all of the time.

    3. MintSkittle says:

      Anyone know if it’s possible to crush the thieves guild like you can with the DB?

      1. acronix says:

        Half the NPCs down there are essential from the beginning of the game, and there seems to be no related quest to achieve that.

    4. ps238principal says:

      Does it seem like this questline ignores a lot of the thief skills so non-thieves can finish the quests without things like stealth or the ability to effectively steal?

      Kinda lame…

      1. acronix says:

        It´s like the mage´s guild line. In both this and that one you are subjected to a small task that “makes sure” you have the associated skills. In the case of the mages, it´s more lame, since you are required to cast exactly one spell, once, and never again. The thieves guilds only requires you to pickpocket and lockpick something once. After that, you can finish both lines as a warrior.

        1. Vipermagi says:

          I haven’t tried the Thief Guild quest yet, but the Mage’s entry test doesn’t even require *any* level of competence in magic, at all. You need a specific spell that you probably won’t have as a non-Mage… But the woman that asks you to cast the spell can also teach you the spell for a measely 30 gold. I always had the idea people in Tamriel could naturally cast spells, but I guess even the most basic of magic is out of reach for some people? Maybe.

          1. acronix says:

            The spells they ask you to cast require something around 130 magicka. That means at least three levels! Obviously if you have invested so much in it you ARE a mage!

            1. AyeGill says:

              The one they asked my warrior to cast required only 110 magicka, but regardless, this is easily remedied with a potion to increase magicka.

            2. Moriarty says:

              She randomly selects the spell you have to cast. All of them are spells below 100magicka except summon atronach, so really everyone is able to get in.

              1. AyeGill says:

                And Fear

        2. rrgg says:

          Actually later on you can get in simply by saying you’re the dragonborn. That’s how my no magic skills warrior got in so now he solves everything by hitting it with his sword. I can’t wait until he becomes arch mage.

          1. Tse says:

            That’s how I got in. After that I continued to cast Fus Roh Dah on everyone during the first(and only)spell class. Amazingly, people didn’t seem to mind being thrown several meters into the air..

        3. guy says:

          To be fair, that spell test is LITERALLY only to decide whether they’ll let you in the door.

          But yeah, it was hilarious how I became Archmage on the basis of going nuts on dudes with a pair of knives. Admittedly, magic knives I enchanted myself, but still…

  2. aunshi says:

    I hated the arrow and stabbed cutscene, so poorly explained and so infuriatingly crowbarred in.

    Nearly makes me as angry as non killable NPCs.

    1. tengokujin says:

      Well, the alternative is broken questlines. So, this is a case of people who want to do everything vs the people who want it to be *realistic*. Bethesda can only do one or the other.

      1. Kresh says:

        “…Bethesda can only do one or the other.”

        Those are really two separate groups of people. I seem to recall that one of the features of the “Nigh-Ultimate RPG Morrowind” (which I didn’t play more than 20 hours of) was the ability to kill everybody, quests be damned. I thought that was a nice feature; making your choices have consequences. Which is NOT the case in Skyrim. AT ALL.

        It’s not a hard or game-breaking concept. Those who want to do everything won’t kill NPCs that might be important, and those who don’t care about the lame writing and not-so-epic-as-they-are-supposed-to-be quest lines will be happy. Personally, once the CK comes out, I’m modding out the PLOT!-shield aspects of the Black-Briar family and the whole thieves guild.

        Why? Because if there’s a quest line for cleansing Riften of “Corruption und Graft” I have yet to find it. Thus, I’ll have to make it a possibility myself. Making NPCs (yes, even those silly Quest-NPCs) vulnerable to axe or arrow gives players even more freedom to shape the world of Skyrim according to their tastes. Which is way more important than a silly group of incompetent thieves and their “Quest for A God-Given Nanosuit.”

        1. Kana says:

          Oh god, this is something that absolutely infuriates me about current RPGs, and why I don’t think they offer you any real choice.

          Game devs took out consequences. Literally, you can not break their rails and shape the world how you want it to be, nothing you do will ever have any consequence. Oh, did you murder someone? Pay a trivial fee or go to jail for an amount of time that can be entirely skipped. It’s like the developers are jumping around screaming “look at what we did! LOOK AT IT!” at us, as opposed to letting the player experience the game world (and, you know, actually letting us role play in an RPG).

          1. SKD says:

            Aren’t you supposed to lose stat points while sitting in the dungeon? But I do have to agree about plot shielded NPCs. I ran into a couple while doing a Brotherhood quest to assassinate a pirate captain. Turns out that two of the four man crew were plot- shielded which of course means that I can’t dispose of all possible witnesses(evil-bastard run). So I have to knock them both to their knees and then high-tail it out the door and far enough away to be able to fast-travel. At least the Dark brotherhood doesn’t give me crap about collateral damage.

            As Guild Master I decided to stop in at the Thieves Guild and I find out that I have broken some rule and have to make reparations before anyone will talk to me. I, the Guild Master, have to pay reparations to the guild or everyone, including the fences across Skyrim, will continue to treat me like a leper. No explanation of what I did wrong, just “you broke a rule, now fork over some cash”.

            1. Dys says:

              Some amount of skills will ‘lose their progress to the next level’, meaning the xp-to-next-point bar empties. Not that I’ve ever accepted a jail sentence.

              1. Kana says:

                From oblivion, I only noticed an actual detriment to my character that wouldn’t be a trivial matter to fix after murdering half a town. Anything below that wasn’t hard to fix. Haven’t gone to jail at all in Skyrim, just payed the fee every time.

          2. Thomas says:

            But in all honesty a problem with letting you ‘roleplay’ in an RPG is then you get way way way more people complaining, because if you are roleplaying properly, the world responds to you. It’s less a Skyrim thing but back in the Deus Ex post people were complaining that the devs hadn’t worked out story implications of them playing psychopaths. But in the end the story implications is the frickin’ army gets sent in and you die.

            Equally, the correct consequence of you being arrested for your murdering spree, is, you lose your head. But then players would complain the game is giving them a non-standard gameover for roleplaying a murderer. So you give them the opportunity of killing the police, well then the police keep sending people in and you die or you depopulate the whole world and it turns out you were actually ‘roleplaying’ an immortal uebermensch whose capable of wiping out the population of the world. And then you don’t have anything to do.

            As far as NPC deaths, I do think you’re losing a lot by not allowing plot critical ones. But it’s impossible to program realistic reactions in the story to the deaths, so you are going to be breaking world immersion the minute it happens (as it is there’s an article on the Escapist complaining about how little Skyrim responds to what you do in it) and for many players they might kill someone they don’t think of as important and then be annoyed that they’ve got to restart their game because they didn’t realise whilst they still had a save. I think on the whole, you should be able to kill everyone (with an autosave before and warning after) but it should be difficult. Skyrim is more about freedom than even roleplaying or story so it makes sense to go this way. For more story focussed RPGs (almost every other RPG) it would be the wrong way to go unless you;ve got the time to implement realistic world changes. (If Fallout had been less freedom oriented, the way killing the Ceasar had very little affect would have been much much worse than it was)

            1. Piflik says:

              I actually liked the way New Vegas handled it. You kill a NPC who is needed for a quest and you get a BIG announcement that you failed that quest…but I guess then you have people screaming for IMMERSION!!!

              1. ps238principal says:

                You also have to make it so that if an essential NPC can die, that it happens within a reasonable context. That is, making it really easy for a fight to bleed over into a place where said NPC is, making them likely to snuff it, can be infuriating (or funny) for some.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  Or dragons being able to wipe out whole towns?

                  That could be a bummer.

                  1. Piflik says:

                    Why? There are no dragons attacking when the player is not around. And if he choses to ignore the dragon instead of defending a village/city, then he has to live with the consequences of dead NPCs.

                    Yes, fights can escalate easily and you can end up fighting someone you never intended to offend, but the whole crime-response system is insanely stupid anyway (and has been at least since Morrowind…I haven’t played an earlier one). Which sane person would attack an armored and armed intruder with a kitchen knife for stealing an apple? NPCs should just flee and call for guards and never fight the player themselves…at least the ‘normal citizens’…adventurers or similar NPCs can of course try to match their prowess with the sword with mine…

                    1. ps238principal says:

                      Well, it’s not like real people wouldn’t occasionally do something as stupid in the name of protecting their stuff, especially if (in the case of this game) they assumed that the local constabulary of knee-injured ex-adventurers would leap to their defense as well.

                      But yeah, a sliding scale for thievery would be a nice touch. You could do the whole “criminal who adds that extra touch of dislike by taking an apple, biting it, and walking away” thing you see in gangster movies.

                      This is the thing I wonder about these RPG titles: The graphics have hit “good enough for a few years,” I think, especially if they use some of the mods the fans are making. If they’d add a few more random bits of math to the way the game’s characters work, it could make things quite a lot more interesting.

                  2. Dys says:

                    Civilians should flee at the first sign of a dragon. Really, they should all either run for their indestructible houses or more sensibly take shelter in the nearest mine. The fact that Skyrim npcs have virtually no fear is a problem in itself.

                    1. acronix says:

                      I think unnarmed NPCs flee to their designated houses. But all those that have some kind of weapon try to kill all hostiles in sight. The fact that lots of civilians have daggers in them mean the ones that run to stab the dragons are more than the ones that go hide.

                  3. Kana says:

                    I would have loved to actually see dragons siegeing a town, literally circling around and picking off nameless guards who go to fight it. You can alert the player and let them come fight it, or just leave it be and let it devour half the town before flying off. Would have been fun to see, given reasonable time frames.

              2. Moriarty says:

                Well you’re not always getting that notification. I remember not getting a warning when I killed that dude who got his kegs broken in the Legions lottery despite locking me out of some ncr quests.

                Also that’s the way Morrowind did it, you could kill everyone, but if you killed an npc who was imprtant for the main quest, you’d get a notification somewhere along the lines of “all hope is lost, the world is doomed”.

              3. feighnt says:

                This can potentially happen…

                I screwed around a ton in Whiterun, gathering lots of quests before continuing on. I got the first quest from the Companions, but only so far as “go talk to such and such to learn what we want you to do.”

                Then i went outside and a dragon attacked. Some stupid farmer decided to try to punch the dragon to death, and surprisingly got himself killed for it. But APPARENTLY the guy had something to do with either the Companions’ quest i was semi-doing, or was related to a further quest I’d get from them. So i get an insta-failed quest, and am told to report my failure.

                DESPITE that the quest log said the guy died “through no fault of my own”, the person I turned the quest in to got angry with me and said he told me not to kill him (in reality, he told me absolutely nothing, because I hadn’t even really started the quest)… then he paid me for a completed quest for some reason. And then I was told that the Companions had deemed me worthy enough of going off on a quest to search for a piece of their super axe.

                Ok, I kind of went off on a tangent. And now that I think of it, it’s not an amazing example of how things can happen similar to New Vegas. But what the hell, I think it’s kind of an amusing anecdote, so I won’t delete it.

            2. Eric says:

              I think in general, being able to kill everyone works in smaller games, as well as those where human enemies are still fairly intimidating. The original Fallout did this – murder someone and you have the entire city guard to respond to, and chances are you’d be dead. Sure, eventually you could level up to the point where you could slaughter everyone, but by that point in the game it was probably too late for it to matter.

              Skyrim could have gained a lot by making the player face fewer human enemies and more monsters and wildlife, as well as generally tougher humans – not only do you have a greater *perceived* consequence for being a murderer, you also have a lot of smaller benefits, like less junk loot to sort through, a more balanced economy due to lack of said loot, more rewarding play for being a thief (why steal when you can just kill without consequence in many cases?), more reason to pick speech options, etc.

              1. Dys says:

                A lunatic friend of mine used to play the original Fallout by killing every single person he met, as soon as he met them. Hard, yes, but not actually impossible.

                Making the npcs tougher to provide actual consequences to negative actions has to be a good thing. A player should be wary of town guards I think, or some tension is lost.

                Ultimately though, the perfect situation would be for the game to allow the slaughter of civilians, but make the player’s connection to and immersion in the game world so great that you feel bad about doing it. That, however, is a very high standard to set.

              2. Kana says:

                I’v only played the game for about 9 hours, but even on my non-assassin character, I’ve murdered enough human beings to qualify for war crimes in most countries. I would have liked it if their were either fewer bandits, or more imperials/stormcloaks so it actually felt like those murders were accomplishing something.

                Also I just want to kill wildlife that has the ability to fight back. Death Seeker and all that.

            3. Kana says:

              “So you give them the opportunity of killing the police, well then the police keep sending people in and you die or you depopulate the whole world and it turns out you were actually “˜roleplaying' an immortal uebermensch whose capable of wiping out the population of the world. And then you don't have anything to do.”
              (Sorry, don’t know how to quote here :<)

              But, what is wrong with that? Maybe I want to roleplay someone who deletes every human being in the world. When I’ve killed everyone, yeah, there isn’t anything left to do. But that’s the point, after that last murder, I win. The end goal has been reached, even if the game doesn’t acknowledge it.

              Which is what I want from a role playing game. I want to make a character, and set my goals and then accomplish them. It’s one of the reasons I never understand people who make a character and then complete the quest to become leader of every guild. Unless their goal is to become a true ubermensch that rules all the world, it takes out most of the role play that I can see. You’ve already done everything so why play again?

              Which is the other reason I want consequences back in games. I want certain quests to be punishingly hard if I haven’t invested into combat, and I want others to be trivially easy if my stealth is high enough. But as it is, there’s literally no downside to just leveling everything and reaping the rewards. Something like Fallout, which prevents you from leveling up everything by default is my favorite RPG. In New Vegas at least, I feel like my decisions carry some weight, and my perks and skill points have to carefully allocated to better my idea of what my character should be.

              Right up until the point I watch Josh play the game and beat everything to death while refusing to point any points in energy weapons or anything really useful. But I can’t begrudge someone wanting to break the game like that, it is fun.

          3. JPH says:

            To be quite honest, I think a lot of players simply don’t want consequences. And I can absolutely understand where they’re coming from.

            Part of the appeal of a lot of games is in the fact that you don’t have to worry about consequences for your actions. In real life there’s a consequence for everything, which ends up severely limiting what you can do. I’m not going to try driving my car into the store, because despite how funny the reactions might be for the first second, the long-term consequences are going to be horrible. In a game you don’t have to worry about that; you can dow hat you want, when you want, without having to worry about paying for it later.

            This is simply two different groups that want two different things. Some people want the freedom to do anything they want without punishment, while some people want actions to have consequences. Apparently the first group has more money, because that’s what all the big dev teams are going for these days.

            1. rrgg says:

              But there are consequences, if you try to kill someone who turns out to be immortal then you are stuck with an assault fine and no way to get rid of it. Not to mention that you are now stuck in a completely stupidwhen fight that is impossible to win.

              1. JPH says:

                Assault fine: extremely small payment.

                Unwinnable fight: reload game.

                Completely changing the story in a way you did not intend by killing a plot-related NPC: Well shit, I quicksaved after the fight and it autosaved when I entered the new area… Guess I have to start over.

                I didn’t mean there are no consequences whatsoever; I meant that there are generally no long-term consequences.

                Also, what is a stupidwhen?

                1. rrgg says:

                  So you are reloading a save anyways, unless you want to lose stuff or have them sarcastically quip “you aren’t going to attack me again are you” every time you see them.

                  In either case, there are a number of ways this could have been much better handled:
                  a notification pointing out when certain quests have been made impossible
                  make it so they can only be killed by the player, similar to companions
                  “Defeated” npcs can be pickpocketed of all their items, even equipped ones at a 100% success rate
                  if you kill an npc that is essential to a future quest, then upon starting that quest they simply respawn, it works for bandits.
                  Ship the game with a setessential command that actually works

                  Are just a few examples

                  Stupidwhen is appearently the worst autocorrect program ever made. I litterally adds in a random word at times when I hit the spacebar.

          4. Why don’t they just have options? Like…
            option 1) anyone can die. You can kill anyone but your actions will have consequences
            option 2) warning before death (aka Hey idiot, this NPC’s important to these quests, you sure you wanna do this?)
            option 3) plot armor

            Would it really be so difficult to add that? Other than debugging it, that is. Wait, it’s Beth, never mind, what debugging? :)

            1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

              Morrowind simply put up a message. It was something like: “You killed an important NPC. You might not be able to complete the game’s main quest.”

              I’m also fairly certain this only came up for NPCs that tripped quest flags through dialogue ONLY. If they had an important quest item, you could kill them and take it (and drop it) without even talking to them.

              Also, for the fighters/mages/theives guild, you could just waltz in there and kill the main quest giver without a whimper from the game. If you are crazy enough to kill everyone, you don’t get the quests and, sometimes, you will find you can’t advance in a quest because you accidentally killed some punk on the street.

              You can see Ken Rolston’s truly open world concepts in action in Morrowind and Daggerfall (sometimes shooting itself in the foot), but Todd Howard’s more linear approach in Oblivion and Skyrim.

              1. decius says:

                Morrowind’s message was along the lines of “The threads of fate have been unwoven. Your destiny may now be impossible.”

                That ONLY applied to a few characters who gave you items or information considered vital to the main quest. Specifically, you could kill off almost all of the guildhalls, including all of the guild leaders (heck, you killed all the guild leaders as part of the final guild quest anyway…)

                I’d also like to see a mechanic for nonlethal outcomes of fights, like knocking some chump out and going through his pockets but leaving him alive, or guards forcibly subduing the player without killing him (provided you haven’t killed any guards or earned a ‘dead’ bounty)

            2. Rosseloh says:

              No, I don’t think it would be. NPC immortality is just a binary flag that you can turn on and off with the console (at least, it was in Oblivion — I haven’t tried here yet). I wouldn’t think adding option 2 would be too difficult.

            3. WJS says:

              The problem is that Bethesda are too lazy to implement the “consequences” part. Removing the “essential” flag is easy. Re-writing things so killing someone who used to be “essential” is not. Hell, even as the game shipped, the quests were brittle as hell, and could break if you looked at them funny. They didn’t even account for everything the players could do while they were hobbled by the “essential” flag.

        2. Moriarty says:

          As always, there are more compromising ways of handling this other than “every quest npc is immortal” and “one death can screw up your entire game”.

          How about a “finisher” system like they used in the Gothic series?

          Essential npcs are still marked that way and if they are reduced to 0 hp they fall “unconscious” for about 6 hours. Now just give the player the possibility to stab and kill “unconscious” npcs lying on the floor. That way you enable the player to engage problems he wants to, like cleansing Riften but still prevent accidental deaths of important npcs.

          1. Dys says:

            And finally, the G word appears. I have to restrain myself in every comment I make about Skyrim. I dearly love the Gothic approach, but there’s a reason those games are not as popular as Skyrim has proven to be. The majority prefer their quests simple and clearly marked and I’m not going to deride that preference. I am glad that the games market has room for both approaches though, I would not want to choose one over the other.

            1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

              There are options to turn quest, compass and map markers off in console for Skyrim.

              I know some people who play this way, but directions are so non-specific it can get pretty annoying. This is how Morrowind was, though so we know Bethesda can do it.

        3. Grampy_Bone says:

          Honestly I don’t understand this complaint *at all.* The number of games which let you indiscriminately murder quest-NPCs is incredibly small, and for good reason. What if they die due to a bug or engine quirk or random dragon attack? Through no fault of your own you “fail” the quest!

          The number of people who would complain about their playthrough becoming unwinnable is much greater than the people who complain about “not having total roleplaying freedom at all times,” which is a non-existent fantasy anyway. No videogame will ever provide the level of freedom to satisfy these people and Bethesda is right not to bother trying.

          1. Piflik says:

            Again, Obsidian did it with New Vegas and it worked perfectly. Why can’t BethSoft do the same? Or at least restrict the essentiality to Main Quest NPCs. In Skyrim every second NPC you encounter is essential, without any way for the player to know until you defeated him once and he gets up again. I once killed a goat in Ivarsted (methinks, the little village you come through when going to the Graybeards) by accident and of course all of them go completely berserk on me. I thought “meh…I’ll just off them all..don’t need them…if they chose to attack me over a dead goat, they’ll have to ‘live’ with the consequences”, but I had to reload, because every single one of them was essential.

        4. George Monet says:

          Allowing all NPCs to die isn’t the same as letting your shape the world. All this is doing is breaking quest chains via NPC death, deaths which could occur entirely randomly and without the knowledge of the player. But you can’t interact with the world without the NPC, so if the NPC is dead you actually can’t shape the world at all, you get cut off from interacting with the world. That’s why developers have made the NPCs essential, because they realized that the NPCs were what led to world shaping. Until we start adding AIs to games that can create content on the fly, there will be no real world building by the player, everything will be scripting, and removing the ability to trigger those scripts reduces the scope of the world, it does not increase it.

          1. WJS says:

            Yes, interacting with NPCs is the primary way we interact with the world. Interactions such as killing the scumbag offering me a quest to throw puppies in a lake. If I kill him, it’s because I don’t want to “interact” with his quest. Saying that if I kill him I lose the ability to do his quest is majorly missing the point; that’s why I want to kill him! Why is “You must always be able to do all the quests, you must not be able to opt out of any of them no matter how much you don’t want to do them” superior? Because that’s what we’re talking about. All this talk about demographics is ignoring that the “kill the guy offering the abhorrent quest then change your mind and regret not being able to do it” demographic has to be miniscule.

      2. Mr Guy says:

        See, that feels like a cop-out.

        The whole idea for Skyrim (and a lot of similar games) is to present this “open world” sandbox to play in however you want. In fact, that’s not really the case–the constraints of the need to have a plot and progress through it means some areas and people need to be “special” in some way–there are certain things you’re “supposed to do” and some you’re not. So the big open “do anything you want!” world isn’t really completely open and unstructured. Some of the things that you in theory COULD do are placed just out of reach.

        Which is fine–a game in which you could truly do anything, kill anyone, change anything would be a game for which it’s nigh on impossible to have a cohesive plot. For the plot to exist, there have to be things you can’t do, and ways you can’t play.

        The key to a GOOD RPG is to minimize your awareness of the limitations on your freedom. And this quest is an illustration of not doing that.

        Role playing is what makes an RPG fun. So a good game needs to have a path through it that seems natural to both the brawler and the rogue. It needs to feel natural to play as the mage obsessed with increasing his arcane lore as well as the dumb hulking brute who throws every book he can find into the fire. It needs to be playable in a way that seems natural to the extreme do-gooder, the villain, and the clever opportunist.

        When the developers have set up a situation for you to encounter, and the only way to proceed through it is to do something counter to your character’s inclination, it breaks immersion. It takes you out of your role. It’s telling you “the way you’re playing the game isn’t the right way to play it.” It makes all those gameplay choices you’ve made so far ring hollow.

        Let’s say s shady group of thieves has a maguffin you need to proceed with the plot. If I’m a shady character myself, OK, I join up with them and earn their trust. If I’m a stealthy do-gooder, I want to be able to infiltrate their hideout and steal the maguffin (maybe after having to cleverly drug the vault guard’s wine and pick pocket a few keys). If I’m a tank who can’t take a step without clanging like a thunderstorm, I want to just kick down the front door and hack the guild to pieces, then walk into the vault and take my loot (maybe with the help of a rebel faction leader within the guild). If I’m a sorcerer, I want to assemble some runes and teleport into the vault to get my maguffin. If I’m not combat oriented, I want to alert the city guard, and maybe help them gather enough evidence to bring the gang to justice, claiming the maguffin as my reward.

        Maybe each of these options is considered a separate quest (mutually exclusive with one another). Maybe they’re alternate endings to the same quest. But the point is that, regardless of my character choices, there’s a way to get the maguffin that doesn’t make me think “there’s no way the character I’m trying to play would do that.”

        It’s a lot more work to have multiple paths through quests, no question. But it can be done, and when it’s done well it makes the game feel real. The “choice” between freedom and having a cohesive plot is a false choice.

        I contrast this with some of the quests in Fallout: New Vegas where I need information from an NPC, and they ask me to go run some errands in exchange. I can go run the errands. Or I can offer them cash for the information. Or I can kill them and loot the info I need off their corpse. Or I can pickpocket the info I need while their back is turned or while they’re sleeping. Or I can hack into their computer and get it. Clearly Bethesda knows how to do this. They just don’t bother sometimes in Skyrim, and tragically that seems like the rule more often than the exception.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          New Vegas – not Bethesda. Someone mentioned that yesterday, it obviously bears repeating.

        2. JPH says:

          “Role playing is what makes an RPG fun.”

          I know a lot of RPG fans who would disagree with you there. Skyrim has almost no roleplaying whatsoever, and it’s gotten massive acclaim from critics and gamers across the board. They play RPGs so they can explore, kill, loot, and level-up. Not so they can roleplay.

          If you play RPGs for the roleplaying, that’s fine. But you shouldn’t say “role playing is what makes an RPG fun” as if that’s some inherently, universally true statement, because I know a lot of people who would beg to differ.

          1. Mr Guy says:

            Really? I felt it was almost tautological to claim Role Playing is essential to a Role Playing Game.

            1. CannonGerbil says:

              Didn’t Shamus run an article awhile back about how the RPG genre is actually about five different games rolled into one? You know, like how the Diablo Hack-and-slash gameplay falls into the exact same category as Final fantasy’s Menu-driven gameplay with a plot?

            2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

              The term RPG is used loosely.

              I don’t think JPH is making the claim that ‘games don’t need Role Playing to be RPGs’, I’m pretty sure he’s just saying ‘Some people don’t play RPGs for the Role Playing’

              I know I don’t. I like playing them because the environments are interesting, the gameplay is entertaining, or the storyline is cool (it doesn’t even have to be good; just cool).

              1. JPH says:

                Yes, that’s precisely the point I was making. The statement “role playing is what makes an RPG fun” is factually untrue for many (if not most) RPG fans.

            3. Syal says:

              That might be true, but everyone knows RPG stands for Rapid Power-up Game.

  3. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I would think that the reason TG questline is driven by the whole plot! betrayal! ancient secret organization! thing rather than actually stealing stuff because of the negative reaction to the “you must steal this much loot to get this quest” in Oblivion. Except the generic “steal this item/that much loot” quests are STILL there if you want to become the guildmaster (which, frankly, isn’t worth much but if you are a completionist like me you’ll probably do it anyway). In fact you have to do at least 16 randomly generated “jobs” (4, I think, in each major town and the towns are assigned at random, though you can quit and ask for a new quest if you don’t like the town). And each of these will drag you through something like 4 loading screens: 1 to move from Flagon to Cistern, 1 to get outside the Cistern so that you can fast travel, 1 for fast travelling into the target town and 1 to get into the building with the target (unless you get to pickpocket someone in the street), of course after that you get to go travel all the way back, repeat this 8 times (you can take up to 2 jobs at the same time).

    In previous comments there was a lot of discussion of how weird and unnatural your rapid ascend into the position of arch-mage in the college feels but at the same time I’m not sure I’d prefer having to do a 100 randomly generated quests that sort of, kind of symbolise the study I’m doing over the months/years before I advance. Maybe it would be better to make the player achieve some position of honour and/or becoming a friend/confidante of the guildmaster/whoever in a given organization rather than always ending the questline with PC becoming the head honcho?

    1. Piflik says:

      I really liked how it was handled in Morrowind: you really had to have certain skills to advance in a guild. I find it a bit strange that my Khajiit, who never even tried to use magic, is able to become Archmage…if you had to have 100 in multiple magic skills and 80 in the reminders before you are offered the position as Archmage, I could accept the speed in which you advance in the guild much more. You simply are the best mage around at the time when the college needs a new headmaster.

      1. RariowunIrskand says:

        Exactly. When I was psyching up for Skyrim, I read that some quests would have “Skill restrictions”. Of course, I immediately took this as them doing the Morrowind thing for guilds, and was really happy. However, I don’t think I’ve run into any skill level restrictions at all. Even my Mage character who’s been using magic since the beggining of the game doesn’t seem appropiate to be the Archmage, especially since that one Khajiit apprentice was bragging about having learned the “Master level destruction spells” and my guy was barely using the Adept ones by that point.

        Hmmm. I’m curious now. Has anyone here ACTUALLY ran into a skill restriction for a quest? Because I have 100+ hours clocked and I haven’t found any OBVIOUS skill restrictions.

        1. Kresh says:

          The only Skill Restriction I’ve run into is “Oh, I can’t kill this guy yet? I’ll wait a few levels.”

          That seems to be the extent of it.

        2. CalDazar says:

          Some quests won’t show up untill you hit a certain level, I think some skills have quests that go along, but thats radiant stuff.

          However to be more in line with your line of thought, I know that the best spells of each school require a minor quest to learn.

        3. Moriarty says:

          There are some quests that appear once you reach 100skill in the magic schools, those are the only ones I could think of right now.

        4. bionicOnion says:

          While trying to get into the College of Winterhold, they tested my magical ability by seeing if I could summon a Flame Atronach. That was it. That’s the ONLY skill gate I’ve found, if that even counts as a gate.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Not really when you can essentially just Fus Ro Dah the person stopping you. Like I imagine 3/4 of the people doing that during the main quest did.

            1. Hitch says:

              Yes. Saying, “Can’t you make an exception for a Dragonborn?” then shouting at them, gets you instant admission. Being interrupted by a dragon in the middle of the conversation and firebolting it to death fails to impress. You still have to prove you can do magic.

      2. Eric says:

        It’s this intertwining of different quests and game mechanics that made Morrowind’s design so much better. Your ascent to position of guild leader *feels* more earned and deserving because you had to level up at the same time. Not only that, but it also gets the player to complete more of the game and do more exploring in the process of leveling. Combine that with consequences for helping one guild over another and you’ve got a much better feeling that the world is responding to your own play, rather than it being crafted around scratching the “quest complete!” itch.

        1. Hitch says:

          Yes, but in Morrowind, almost all of the dialog was just text on the screen that you had to read. In this modern era of fully voice acted and facially animated dialog, every single line the NPCs speak costs lost of money and production time. So any possible branching or covering non-standard options quickly becomes prohibitively expensive.

          1. Cineris says:

            You say that like it’s a good thing that the candy-coating prevents better gameplay/choice.

          2. decius says:

            Well, we already need twenty times the dialog recorded for the random chatter (Arrow to the knee). What we really need is some way to bring the production costs of voice actors down by a couple of orders of magnitude.

            In other words, good speech synthesis. It doesn’t have to be done in real-time, or on the players’ systems, but it would be nice to get it to that point.

    2. tengokujin says:

      “Arch-Mage” *is* mostly a figurehead position.

      1. ps238principal says:

        So the Mage’s Guild and the Thieves Guild are lifted from the Discworld model? :)

  4. Nero Requiem says:

    Hmm. You know, when I was playing the game, I’m pretty sure Karliah told me that she couldn’t find an angle on Mercer because I walked into the room first, so she made the decision to get rid of at least one guy before having to… Not brawl with the other guy. Of course, one would assume that given she could turn invisible, Karliah could have just waited for Mercer to get in view before firing. And it’s not like Mercer is able to pick up on where she is if she’s invisible; she disappears right in front of him and doesn’t move away until they finish spouting threats at one another, and it never occurred to him to even try to strike out where he thought she was.

    It’s surprising how many things I fail to notice when playing the games myself; watching the Spoiler Warning season of Assassin’s Creed II has *completely* changed my perception of that game, because I had not really bothered to pay too much attention to the laughably dumb things the plot tried to sell to me. So, personally, I think very highly of your analysis of video game plots and such, Shamus. You have my thanks.

    1. X2Eliah says:

      Yes. she very clearly and explicitly states it… There’s no way to miss that unless you mash spacebar to skip over all the boring conversation stuffs…

      1. Shamus says:

        Yes, she did say she didn’t have a clear shot. (She also said she “made a split second decision”. It would have been better if she at least conceded that it was the WRONG one. It’s her insistence that she saved your life that’s really absurd.) Of course, that’s just trading one WTF for another. Why didn’t she WAIT for the shot, how come she was shooting at the master of sneak and not Mercer Noisemaker, why would she spend her ONE ARROW on anything besides its intended target, etc.

        You can patch these with your own reasoning, but that’s not the same as having it work smoothly in the first place. The dialog I gave above satisfies these problems far better.

        1. Robyrt says:

          Alternatively, she could have shot you because she correctly realized you were more of a threat than Mercer. Generally by this point in the storyline you are the Dovahkiin, possessed of ancient mystical powers, with about three dozen healing potions and an apple pie in your pocket in case things get rough. If I only have one Arrow of Infinite Paralysis, I am definitely taking out the PC before the NPC.

          1. tengokujin says:

            So. Much. Sense. This makes so much more sense :p
            Except… I had fully perked sneak tree with +100% to sneak at this point. How did she even *see* me? o.o

            1. AyeGill says:

              This is actually a problem several places in skyrim, but it’s especially noticeable here: some dialog or quest thing triggering when you walk into the room, even when you’re hidden and invisible.

              1. Jakale says:

                Yeah, in that sense it’s a lot like those scenes we railed at in Fallout 3 where the Plot smacks the stats right out of you.

                1. ps238principal says:

                  Very true. On the other hand, who hasn’t had a DM that has at one place or another in the campaign, issued a decree on what happens with no die rolls and no way your uber-stats can come to bear on the situation with only one explanation: I’m the DM, and that’s final.

                  Not that it’s good that it happens, it’s just similar. And I’d go off on a whole thing about the problem with trying to make computer RPGs like tabletop ones, but I’ve got my own blog I can fill with that kind of stuff.

          2. Syal says:

            But the assumption is that you’re going to take out the NPC too. Especially if that’s why you’re there to begin with.

            1. AyeGill says:

              Taking out(paralyzing) mercer would have the player give chase to karliah, probably with a higher chance of finding her than mercer, and he would still survive. Also, the player would stay allied with mercer. By taking out the player, she manages to get away, expose mercer to the player, and get a new ally, all in one stroke. In retrospect, this was probably the smartest thing to do.

              1. WJS says:

                Right. Want to make friends with someone? Shoot them in the face! Makes perfect sense.

              2. WJS says:

                Also, “Retrospect”? As in “if you assume she’s friggin’ psychic and knew Mercer would confess and try to kill the player after she shoots you”? Because if he hadn’t done that, which he does after she chose to shoot you, why would you have switched to her side?

          3. Peter H. Coffin says:

            If she knew you were THAT dangerously powerful, enough so to change her 25-year plan, to shoot you instead, why would she save your life instead of following through and letting you die?

            1. acronix says:

              Because if she could convince you that she was the good one in the matter you would be able to do all her fetch quests and kill Mercer, since you are more dangerous than both of them.

              1. Jakale says:

                But if she couldn’t convince you and if your character is allowed to assume that the reputed murderer of the last guild leader and the woman who shot you and still wants to shoot your boss may not be telling the truth, then she’s really taking a huge gamble. The only reason we aren’t allowed to disbelieve her is because Mercer goes and implicates himself and our non-paralyzed, out-of-character ears and minds can hear and comprehend perfectly well what they’re saying before we go unconscious.
                Alternatively, Bethesda could have screwed around with our perception of the conversation like they did our vision so we could only gather a few clear words and phrases here and there and leave the matter of innocence and guilt murky and up to the player to discover or assume as they will.

          4. Moriarty says:

            This whole quest chain makes so much more sense if we break the fourth wall.

            Karliah spent 25 years trying to kill mercer but she couldn’t succeed because the douche had plot armor. So she hatched a plan to make him solve silly questriddles in the hope that he becomes killable once he fulfilled his narrative purpose.

            Unfortunately he managed to track her down before losing his immortality, so she had to shoot you because he would’ve survived the arrow. She then recognises your PC status and sends you on more nonsense quests to finally frame Mercer as the villain!

            In retrospect, this also validates Mercers “clever girl!” comments, as he sees through her plan and tries to kill her before she can pile up more quests.

            1. Dys says:


          5. Wide And Nerdy says:

            There is absolutely no way Karliah could know.

            Even if she knows you’re Dragonborn, we’re still talking about one unknown who could just be Mercer’s dupe. And one obviously evil guy who she knows is in possession of a powerful artifact that gives him a huge advantage. She couldn’t know what all capabilities you have.

            Besides, if she somehow knows you’re the more powerful adversary, then why does she believe you need the rather unimpressive powers of the Nightengale that are in no way useful for engaging mercer (at the cost of your soul no less)? And why would she claim that she shot you with an arrow to save your life? Thats two instances her lying through her teeth (or being an idiot) to you to justify doing horrible things to you.

        2. Unseer says:

          yes, but the point is that what you’ve written in the article isn’t legitimate criticism. that their explanation doesn’t make sense to you is a different point from them not having any explanation at all.
          it seems to me your criticisms here are justified, but they are different from the one in the article, which is not justified, becaue they do explain why she shot the PC.

          1. vukodlak says:

            But that explanation essentially boils down to: “Because she’s dumber than a sack of hammers”.

            1. AyeGill says:

              Which is a perfectly legitimate character trait for a character to have. The actual problem is that no one calls her out on this, because EVERYONE is dumber than a sack of hammers.

            2. Unseer says:

              the explanation may not be valid to you, but it is an explanation. the reason i mention it is because i’ve noticed shamus does this frequently in his game critisisms:

              point out a flaw in the story, neglect to mention that there is an in-story explanation for that flaw, and then call the explanation stupid in the comments when it is pointed out.

              regardless of whether the critism is valid, it’s a dodgy way of reviewing because it doesn’t give the reader the full story, and doesn’t represent the full content of the game.

              1. Shamus says:

                If I deconstructed every single line of dialog, this write-up would be HUGE. Remember that I write this up so that it should be understandable for people who haven’t played. It’s economical this way, particularly in a set-up where you have cascading failures: The explanation for the justification for the contrivance doesn’t make sense. I pick on the parts that I think are most crucial or interesting, and if anyone really makes a fuss THEN I run down the chain.

          2. George Monet says:

            The criticism is justified. Karliah shot you for absolutely no reason. Her intended target, who she said she couldn’t hope to beat in a fair fight, was Mercer. We have to assume that Karliah believed she would fare better against the unknown PC than the known Mercer who she knew she couldn’t take on. So in that situation, Karliah would have still shot Mercer. Her explanation that she had to make a split second decision is stupid and makes no sense in context or out of context. She knew she had to take out Mercer and took out you instead even though she knew she couldn’t take on Mercer. She also had no reason to believe that Mercer wouldn’t chase her down after she shot the PC instead of sitting there chatting with her and then walking away. Karliah had no reason not to shoot Mercer and every reason not to waste her one arrow on the PC who she had no reason to believe she couldn’t take.

            Karliah’s explanation is not an explanation. That is tacked on dialogue to try to hand wave away the player’s pointing out the blistering stupidity of the scene without the author realizing why the scene was completely stupid. Karliah had one objective, even with the PC present her objective was still the same, shoot Mercer with the arrow. Shooting you didn’t help her in the slightest and she had no reason to believe it would help her. She had no reason to believe Mercer wouldn’t chase her down once she failed to shoot him, no reason to believe that Mercer would try to kill you (since you were his still faithful lackey at the time you got shot and would have continued to be his still faithful lackey if Mercer pretended that Karliah was lying instead of admitting the truth and then stabbing you), Karliah had no reason to believe that you would live through the scene and wake up and not kill her. Basically Karliah read the script and knew that you’d wake up and be forced to follow her like a puppy dog without ever being able to object.

            This also forces us to question Mercer’s actions. Mercer had been carrying on this lie for 25 years, he took you into the dungeon to provide protection against Karliah. Why did he now decide, after 25 years to suddenly just openly admit to being the villain, stab you, and then leave Karliah behind alive? This makes no sense. That isn’t Mercer’s character and it isn’t his motivation. Mercer’s admitting the truth and stabbing you are completely out of character and an unnatural progression of the story. The natural progression is Mercer yelling at Karliah that she’s a liar, and then using Karliah’s attack on you to help convince you that Karliah really was the murderer and she just tried to murder again. This makes sense because now Karliah just shot you and Mercer is helping you out of the dungeon with an arrow in your gut. This makes Mercer appear to be gruff but have a good heart deep down and helps persuade you that he is telling the truth. That is exactly how Mercer has been living the last 25 years and it makes no sense for him to stop now.

  5. MrCompassionate says:

    The Falmer are utter nonsense, wouldn’t their language be a kind of brail not a load of curly letters? Why do they have a word for half this stuff when they live only underground? And whats up with the things they keep in their shantytowns? Hawk feathers and wheat are a strange thing for a race of mindlessly aggressive cave people to horde.

    On another note Karliah manages to shoot you even though you are (Most likely) a stealth based character who can barely be seen a metre away let alone across a whole hall which is in addition pitch black. The distance she shoots you at is about as far away as it takes for a dragon (which legendarily has true sight) to start catching sight of you. This is instead of shooting the blundering imbecile who walks into the room standing bolt upright in full light. Also Mercer misses a vital point on an inanimate thief. Also you can still see Karliah faily well after she turns invisible even though you are further away than Mercer but he can’t spot her. Also this also that GAAAH the plotholes are everywhere!

    1. Zerotime says:

      The Falmer, before they were driven underground when the Nords showed up in Skyrim and devolved into their current creepy troglodyte forms, used to be a kind of snow elf.

      1. Dys says:

        With a culture at least as advanced as the Altmer of the same period.

      2. AyeGill says:

        Actually, the nords were in skyrim before that, they were just kicked out by the very superior snow elves. Ysgramor and his sons were the only survivors, IIRC, and they made it back to Atmora, the Nord’s homeland, and came back with the legendary five hundred companions to kick some snow elf butt.

        1. Moriarty says:

          Ysgrammor wasn’t a Nord though, he was a nede. They lived in Atmora before migrating to Tamriel and splitting up in to Nords Imperials and Bretons.

    2. tengokujin says:

      Gameplay mechanics dictate that while your invisibility is truly invisible to NPCs, NPCs’ invisibility always has a tell. This also means NPC invisibility is also fully invisible to other NPCs while being visible to you. Furthermore, in third person, your invisibility also has a tell to you, the player. Sad but true.

      Falmer are known to breed chauruses for guard-dog duty as well as food. It’s the eating of toxic and poisonous stuff that they were restricted to during their servitude to the dwemer that cause them to twist from snow elves into the monstrosities you see today.

      I have no idea what the Falmer alphabet would look like.

      Hawk Feathers, Wheat, and a third ingredient make potions of various effects.

      1. Ysen says:

        Actually, in Skyrim your invisibility isn’t true invisibility to NPCs. I tried sneaking through the Thalmor Embassy with invisibility and Muffle, but I couldn’t get through without being spotted. I ended up just incinerating everyone.

        1. tengokujin says:

          No, it is. The problem is that they can also *hear* your footsteps. In order to test invisibility, just cast invisibility mid-battle and stand still. If the NPC doesn’t brush against you, their awareness drops to nothing in under ten seconds. (Crouch down for a meter! :p)

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Muffle muffles your footsteps. So Ysen should have been invisible AND silent.

            1. thebigJ_A says:

              It’s not a perfect Muffle. Players have done tests on Muffle enchants and spells and such, and Muffle makes you harder to hear, not completely silent.

        2. Rosseloh says:

          That one pissed me off even on a non-stealth character…..The quest makes a big deal out of “playing it safe” and not provoking guards, that sort of thing. Of course, I end up in the back with a bunch of hostile guards and none of my stuff (except the sword I got smuggled in). I think, hey, maybe they wrote this quest so that if I dress up in Thalmor armour I’d be ignored long enough to get past. In hindsight, maybe I should have shaved my Nordic beard first…

          That taught me to never overestimate Bethesda’s competence again. First second I step through the door, the guards who have their backs turned try to rip my head off. I can only imagine they’re set to trigger when you enter the room.

          1. FusRoaldDahl says:

            You can use Thalmor armor, but only the hooded kind that conceals your face. It also only works if your a human or elf and therefore have the same body shape.

            EDIT: if your a human you have to stay away from guards, if your a dark or wood elf you can be closer to guards and if your a high elf you can strut around like a peacock and persuade away the guards.

            EDIT #2: I thought you were complaining that you couldnt use thalmor armor at all my mistake

      2. Phoenix says:

        Wasn’t a curse instead? I read it somewhere in the books.

  6. Grey_Cap says:

    I never got through that bloody dungeon. I was playing a stealth character, focused on archery, and I needed sneak attacks to do any damage. . . and Mercer CONSTANTLY blundered into the super tough Draugr Overlords of Painful Rending the tomb was full of, denying me the opportunity to use my thiefy skills.

    Then I rolled a mage. I will probably never complete the Thieves’ Guild, even though I really like them flavour-wise.

    [Edit] Which is no great loss, it seems. . .

    1. vukodlak says:

      Well, it depends. Stealing (sorry, illicitly copying!) the Falmer Rosetta stone is one of the funnest sneak quests. Additionally, I followed the ‘kill no-one’ rules of the Thieves Guild of old, which made it more entertaining.

      1. Shamus says:

        I didn’t mention it in my write-up simply for the sake of brevity, but that’s a pretty good quest. Lots of fun details. You can go for murders. You can use all the Dwemmer machinery to do indirect killing. You can speech-check through the first half of it. Or you can ghost the entire thing.

        I think that offers more freedom than any other quest in the chain.

        1. Jeff R. says:

          You can also do another dungeon for Calcelmo to where he’s friendly enough to give you legal access to at least half of the place.

      2. Hitch says:

        I could have sworn Brynjolf gave me the “kill no one” speech when hr recruited me. But then the first mission I went on (The Goldenglow Estate) had a pair of mercenary guards around every corner, so I broke the fist rule of Thieves Guild at least a couple dozen times. I kept expecting “mission failed” to pop up, but it turns out they don’t really care about that. That’s apparently also why the guild leader never had to learn the sneak skill.

        1. anna says:

          Well, obviously, mercenaries aren’t real people. You can tell because they don’t have *names*.

        2. Rosseloh says:

          That happened to me, too. I successfully ghosted up to the owner’s bedroom, looking for his safe key. Turns out, not only am I required to kill him (he sees through your stealth), but I have to talk to him first or it doesn’t update the quest correctly! Then I panicked when another guard heard the commotion — had to kill him too. Fortunately, the quest didn’t fail because of that. The funny part is, I distinctly remember the questgiver saying “don’t kill anybody on this mission”.

          1. Moriarty says:

            You don’t have to kill anyone in that mission, the guy with the key is easily scared and most guards can be distracted by arrow sounds.

            1. Hitch says:

              Much easier to just murder everyone, and there’s no penalty for doing so, despite what they told you.

            2. Rosseloh says:

              Hmm, well I had no way to get the key off him without killing him (too aware for pickpocket at that level and no conversation options). Thanks Bethesda!

              1. thebigJ_A says:

                Really? He talked to me.

              2. Moriarty says:

                You mean he wouldn’t talk to you at all?

                hrm. that’s either a bug or maybe he was fleeing from you because he saw you attack someone else.

                Normally he spots you as soon as you enter the room (stupid 100% stealth detection as soon as he has line of sight) and you either got to speech check him into giving you the key or fail at that and pickpocket the key after he hides in the corner.

                There are some quest specific npcs like that in the game, impossible to sneak up upon, they charge you as soon as you get into line of sight, regardless of your sneak skill.

    2. Dys says:

      Mercer the Troll pissed me off very badly in that place, from the insufferably smug ‘lockpicking’ at the very start to the ridiculous conversation at the very end.

      I took some measure of comfort from running ahead after he blundered into a room full of Deathlords and dropping the grate down behind me, essentially trapping him back there with a half dozen terrifying undead monsters. Through the rest of the dungeon I would periodically hear him stand back up and yell a combat taunt, only for the Draugr to smack him back down again within seconds. Made me smile every single time. Of course, eventually I had to go get him to open the stupid puzzle door with his magical plot door opening powers. Dammit.

      That’s another thing… I wouldn’t mind npc escorts blundering around like morons if they could even come close to holding their own against the monsters they enraged. Half the Draugr in that place were ASLEEP before Mercer bloody Frey ran into the room, five seconds later they’ve smacked him down to his knees and now I’m staring several angry Deathlords in the face. Augh! Just remembering it makes me want to smash something!

      1. How the hell does a skeleton key open a puzzle door though? It’s designed so you can only turn the handle using a metal claw, and it doesn’t have conventional tumblers or even a keyhole. I get that it’s a magic key, but that’s a completely different mechanism from any kind of conventional lock.

        Also I like that he can open plot doors with it but you sure can’t when you get it. And that it’s supposed to be able to unlock skills and things which never happens.

        1. Kyte says:

          It’s a mystical daedric artifact meant to open any lock. A Nord puny puzzle-keyed door ain’t gonna stop it. I wouldn’t be surprised it works like the sonic screwdriver and you only need to wave it on the right direction.

          1. George Monet says:

            But it is still a key. It is an artifact that changes shape to fit the KEYHOLE. Emphasis on KEYHOLE. Since a puzzle door does not have a KEYHOLE, the skeleton key cannot open it. The game even shows Mercer having to use the skeleton key as a pick in a KEYHOLE, a thing that puzzle doors don’t have. So even the animators knew that the Skeleton Key changes its shape to fit KEYHOLES. If there is no KEYHOLE, then the Skeleton Key can’t unlock the lock. If the Skeleton Key could actually open any lock, then the game would have shown Mercer holding up the key and the door opening of its own accord, but that isn’t what happened.

            Likewise Mercer could not open the door requiring two keys because the Skeleton Key, can only open one of the locks. The Skeleton Key cannot open both locks at the same time but it only functions as universal key. Since the door requires two keys, having one universal key will not be enough to open a door requiring two keys.

  7. Raygereio says:

    I enter the final chamber and suddenly fall over. Karliah has hit me with a paralysis arrow which will never exist or be mentioned again in the gameworld

    Looks like someone really like the scene in FO3 where you got captured by the Enclave.

    Wow really? You need me to steal something?
    Woohoo! How many hours gameplay are we into this questline? Nevermind! We get to be thieves! We… Wait. What? We’re not stealing something? We’re pirating something? Well, that’s a buzzkill.

    It’s really depressing to read this. From Shamus’ description I’m seeing a lot of the same issues FO3’s writing had.
    It’s the sort of not-thought-out-plotline a 12 year old would come up with for their D&D session. I get that a game like Skyrim is frigging huge and consequently not everything can be gold. But these issues aren’t even because of that; this is due to people being downright bad at their jobs – like BioWare writers. Did no editor at any point even so much as glance at this script?
    Oh, who am I kidding? If there was an editor, he probably loved it.

    1. thebigJ_A says:

      It really isn’t half as bad as it’s being made out to be. And throughout the Thieve’s Guild questline, you have the option to do infinite thievery quests of like eight different varieties, culminating in four really cool thievery type quests.

      Essentially, you go about the business of being a member of the thieve’s guild, and the main questline is a sort of over-arching plot. If you do just the main quest all at once from the moment you join, it’s your own fault you miss out on being a thief. The game clearly telegraphs the thievery jobs for you.

  8. Zerotime says:

    There’s no paralysis arrow as such, but you can brew an incredibly expensive poison and apply it to a bow.

    1. psivamp says:

      And it’s glorious to use in combat. People become completely immobile and then tumble down hills.

      1. tengokujin says:

        With enough boosts to alchemy, you can make a paralysis poison last for 150+ seconds.

        Why would you need it for 150+ seconds?

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Teabagging. Whenever I run into an enemy that one-shots me, I quickload, pull out the poison, and crouch away…

        2. acronix says:

          I guess you could use the time to drag them to a cliff and drop them.

        3. Lovecrafter says:

          To write words using people for letters?

      2. Dys says:

        It’s even more glorious to use the pickpocket perk which allows you to poison people without them even knowing you did it. You can literally walk up to a guard and paralyse him without any repercussions whatsoever. It’s most fun to do when they’ve walked up to the top of a flight of steps. They bounce and roll all the way back down.

        Alternatively again, there is actually a Paralysis enchant, though in an attempt to avoid making it completely overpowered, it only has a ‘chance’ to paralyse.

    2. AyeGill says:

      “See, i’m a man of simple tastes. Tall mountains. Ice Form. Unrelenting Force. You know what they all have in common? They’re cheap.

      All you care about is money. This city deserves a better class of Dovahkiin, and i’m gonna give it to them.”

  9. Even says:

    I actually had a passing wishful moment that I’d awaken in Sovngarde (I played a Nord) after the stabbing scene. I’d hoped to escape the rails of this stupid questline somehow and in the moment it felt like that maybe this’ll actually get interesting now, only to awaken in to the cold harsh reality of disappointment.

  10. Gahrer says:

    There is actually even more stupidity than what Shamus mentioned:
    You walk into the room and are instantly dropped by the plot-arrow since Karliah can’t be bothered to wait 10 more seconds after 25 years. After that they talk without Mercer trying to kill her, despite that they both know (and say) that she can’t beat him in a stand-up fight. When Karliah turn invisible Mercer instantly forgets about her and takes his sweet time to taunt the paralyzed player before stabbing him ONCE and leaving him/her for dead. At no point during this do either Karliah or Mercer remember that Karliah is:
    -Armed with a bow.
    -A master archer with ambushing as a speciality.
    -Currently invisible.
    -Still in the room somewhere.

    Karliah could have poisoned a couple of arrows with regular paralyzing poison (like the one I currently had like 5 of in my inventory) and shot Mercer in the leg or arm. Since she is apparently an accomplished alchemist (she managed to mix the plot-poison after all) that shouldn’t have been a problem.
    After that she could use a club or something to bludgeon him uncouncious and proceed with her original plan.

    1. A conventional arrow would’ve worked here. Shoot his sword arm if you think he can survive an arrow to the skull, then shoot him several times in the skull while his fighting ability is significanty impaired

    2. rrgg says:

      What he should have done when she turned invisible is run back and fourth for a few seconds before sheathing his weapon and saying something to the effect of “must have been my imagination.”

  11. SougoXIII says:

    I think the ‘paralysis arrow’ was use to artificially pad out the questline. Imagine if you can actually do something when it’s reveal that Mercer is a traitor, the quest will end in seconds.

    Speaking of artificially padding out quests, Shamus PLEASE talk what you have to do to actually become the Guildmaster. I still can’t believe that they feel the need to pad things out in Skyrim, of all games. It’s as though the game developers just realise: ‘Oh shit, our TG questline doesn’t involve any sneaking or stealing. Quick! Let’s make the player do 40 pointless thieving quest right at the end before they can become Guildmaster!’

    1. Gamer says:

      My god, yes. I sat there for a good 20 minutes accepting and quitting jobs until they FINALLY gave me jobs in the city I wanted. That was completely unnecessary.

      It sucks because I actually enjoyed this storyline.

  12. Doctor Satan says:

    my god……………..
    im not sure what to say…. this ql is just pathetic…
    this level of writing is not what i was expecting from bethesda…
    there are still 3 parts remaining. maybe bethesda can redeem themselves…
    i haven’t played many bethesda games. people always told me bethesda’s games are really good so i expected a good story…
    medieval setting. civil war. i’m sure there are lots of book on this topic. oh well. im willing to forgive them if they don’t outsource tes 6 or fo 5 to that other company.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “this level of writing is not what i was expecting from bethesda…”

      Really?Are we thinking about the same company?

      “i haven't played many bethesda games.”

      Ah,that explains it.

      Well see,their games can be good,but its always despite the writing,not because of it.Skyrim is a good game,but only if you ignore the actual story,which isnt really that hard to do.

    2. AyeGill says:

      The dark brotherhood is the only one not filled with bullshit, i’m afraid. Although it does have at least one very memorable moment of stupid.

    3. WJS says:

      im willing to forgive them if they don't outsource tes 6 or fo 5 to that other company.

      Which “other company”? The only company I can think of the Bethsesda have “outsourced” a TES-style game to is Obsidian, and it’s widely considered they did a damn sight better with New Vegas than Bethesda themselves did with FO3.

      1. George Monet says:

        That would be incorrect. New Vegas is just as bad as Fallout 3, only worse because the game world is boring as hell so you can’t even go on adventures outside the incredibly shit story. But that’s par for the course with Obisidan who always fails at making good stories and fun worlds.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Then you dont know good and you dont know fun.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,you should know better than to question a xanatos roulette.The sheer number of contrivances for one to work can quickly drive anyone insane.

    As for the railroading,I really dont get the point of making a sandbox game,if you are going to fill it with plot doors and special weapons you will never have access to.It defeats the purpose completely.Having an unpickable door isnt a bad thing on itself,but then make it so that only a special key can open it,not that some bozo can pick it,and you cant.

    1. Raygereio says:

      As to the railroading.
      Yeah, Bethesda is weird in this regard. On the one hand they make fairly decent sandbox gameworld. They’re big and open and for the most part fun to explore.
      But when it comes to plot, they’re suddenly scared shitless of allowing the player any sort of freedom in his action.
      Heck, they’re also usually scared of the player missing something in this big world of theirs (for example: the Behemoth fight in front of ThreeDog’s studio in FO3 that happened for no real reason other then forcebly showing of their big-bad-behemoth).

      1. Cerapa says:

        EDIT: Comment in wrong place. Oops

      2. Phoenix says:

        It’s not sandbox, it seems sandbox. Because it’s huge. But there’s no that much freedom to be defined sandbox. (edit: this days they call sandbox anything anyway :-/)

        1. AyeGill says:

          Agreed. It’s too static. Sandbox would imply a world you can have an impact on. Not that this… playground world is necessarily inferior to a sandbox one, but the word sandbox makes no sense in the meaning it’s traditionally used in when relating to games

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Your impact on the game has nothing to do with the games response to it.You can kill all the population in skyrim,and that alone is enough to classify it as a sandbox game.

            1. Kana says:

              What about the people with plot armor?

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Those are the problem,as well as the railroading plots.Those are what you shouldnt have in a sandbox game.But they dont make skyrim not a sandbox game,they are just out of place in a sandbox game.Plot armour is ok when you get an escort quest,or something like that,but outside of a that,they should not exist in a sandbox.

                1. Phoenix says:

                  They should never exist in a sandbox. In a sandbox you can break anything, the story it’s what you create. It has sandbox elements, but it generally goes more in the direction of “simulation” rather than “emulation” ie sandbox feel more than proper sandbox.

                  I wanted to take vengeance over the city guard or markath for the murder of a citizen and I couldn’t do that because they spawn, and I can’t kill the jarl too because he’s got plot armor. So, it isn’t a real sandbox.

                  There are so many fake things in skyrim, simulation things, that really it can’t be called sandbox. But these days even if simulates rather than emulates, even if it has elements of a sandbox without being one, it’s called sandbox. Because it attracts people who like sandbox, and because of ignorance. And if I’m wrong, I’d like to see where.

                  1. Phoenix says:

                    Nevermind, the term is used for both emulation and simulation so it’s pointless to argue. Anyway they’re very different things (like comparing dwarf fortress or minecraft or haven & hearth to skyrim or gta).

                  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Of course,it has a different degree of openess than other sandbox game,but that doesnt mean its not one.For example,look at modern warfare and serious sam.Both are first person shooters,despite having different number of weapons you can carry,different systems for health,etc.Same goes here.Skyrim and morrowind are both sandbox rpgs,despite morrowind allowing you much more freedom.And sandbox doesnt have to be storyless.Fallout(the original)is a great example of a sandbox rpg with a story and huge degree of freedom.

                    1. Phoenix says:

                      Maybe it’s all about where’s the freedom.

                      In skyrim there’s freedom to choose what quests to do and where to explore. You can’t alter the course of the quests in a way that’s not preordinated (so there isn’t freedom there), you can’t actually build anything, you can’t even move a chair. There isn’t freedom in a lot of things.

                      In a sandbox mmorpg like haven & hearth you can build, you can move objects, you have no quests.

                      So why doesn’t the story fit well with a sandbox? Only because you can’t have freedom if you put plot railroading. You may also put more choices, but like deus ex 3 maybe there isn’t a choice that you like and, in that, you’re not free.

                      Spoiler thief guild late quests:
                      For example I didn’t like to sell my soul for nocturne. I may have said something, but I couldn’t. So I can’t help them, I can’t catch mercer because I don’t want to sell my soul. They could find another one or don’t do that and try anyway (it’s that or do nothing), but the railroading doesn’t allow that.

                      Also in fallout new vegas I ended doing something that I didn’t want to do because of railroading. There isn’t freedom there. There is a larger choice, but it isn’t freedom.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But you dont need freedom in quests for the game to be sandbox.Nor do you need the ability to build or move the objects.

                    3. Phoenix says:

                      Well then sandbox is pretty vague, means there’s freedom somewhere. It could be a crafting sandbox, an exploring sandobox, or a chose what quest to do from the hundred of quests sandbox, or all or some of these things. So sandbox doens’t mean that much after all. And if sandbox defines the entire product, surely doesn’t mean freedom, but freedom limited to something.

                      Obviously it will be always limited somewhat, but you’ll probably uninstall skyrim when you explore everything and do every quest. If there were crafting, the possibility to interact with npc’s in a more complex way, if you could make a town, if you could make a thief guild in another city, if there would be generated/emulated quests, there would be certainly more freedom, it would be another genre entirely despite being called sandbox the same.

                    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      There is crafting.

                      And sandbox is a broad term,which is why its usually used as a description in addition to the genre.So we have sandbox rpgs,sandbox driving games,sandbox third person action games,etc.Just how saying its a science fiction story doesnt narrow it down much,saying a game is sandbox doesnt narrow it down much.

                    5. Phoenix says:

                      Yeah well, sandbox crafting, build everything (or almost).

          2. ps238principal says:

            I don’t think that’s what “Sandbox” means, if the usual king of that title, “Grand Theft Auto,” is any indication. You can mow down cops and people until you run out of ammo, die, or both, and it doesn’t affect a thing, really.

            1. Phoenix says:

              Well, apart from the term, the point is that there are games which emulates, and games which simulates. Skyrim decisely goes for the simulation more than emulation.

            2. WJS says:

              When I think “Sandbox”, I pretty much think “No ‘Main Quest'”. The essence of sandbox is the lack of scripting. Minecraft, Mount & Blade, that kind of thing. The more you can do your own thing without doing “Quests” the more “sandbox” a game is. By that definition, Bethesda games fare pretty poorly. There’s a fair sized selection of quests, but they’re all scripted. You can just hunt/dungeoncrawl/whatever without touching quests, but it’s only a small part of the experience. Likewise, I don’t consider GTA to be much of a sandbox. Certainly not the most recent offerings, which seem to dive headfirst into the “Games are movies” school of thought.

              1. George Monet says:

                That’s because you don’t know what a sandbox is.

                Skyrim is absolutely a sandbox RPG game. You can go anywhere, do anything, interact with everything, have undefined adventures, make stupid things happen.

                With mods you can even be a pregnant prostitute if you want, turning tricks to feed yourself and your 3 other brats.

                A sandbox does not have to have any particular element, nor does it have to have all elements or a certain set of elements. It just has to offer an open and immersive experience which Skyrim absolutely does.

                The unkillable NPCs are a necessary evil in surface of the plot to the story which you can choose to interact with or not to interact with if you don’t want. Because that story is so heavily scripted the NPCs are required to be unkillable so that the game doesn’t explode due to failed scripting events as Bethesda decided to save a lot of money on having horrible error handling. There is nothing invalid about that decision and really it is no better or worse than having killable NPCs in many instances. Fallout for instance did not benefit one iota from having killable NPCs. It didn’t make the stupid story any less stupid.

  14. Piflik says:

    It turns out Calcemo's “notes” are a giant stone carving built into the ruins. I don't know what the carving says. It's evidently a translation guide? As far as I can tell, it was a guide written by the Dwarves, to explain how to translate the ancient Falmer language into modern-day common, which didn't exist yet. Makes perfect sense.

    It doesn’t really have to translate into a modern language. It could also translate into another ancient, albeit still known language, like the Rosetta Stone.

    Enthir’s insta-translation is still stupid…they could simply have the player wait for a given amount of time to come back to him, when he has the translation ready.

    1. burningdragoon says:

      “they could simply have the player wait for a given amount of time to come back to him, when he has the translation ready.”

      Yeah, there actually seems to be very few amounts plot-driven waiting during any questlines in the game from what I can tell. It makes being rushed to the top of the guild feel even more rushed.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I was annoyed that it took so long for the courier to send me the thing from the dark brotherhood. Why didn’t they just show up when I slept, without the intermediary step?

        1. Zagzag says:

          I know for a fact (unless they have patched it or something) that you don’t have to have actually received the letter before the you know what happens when you sleep, as I have done it this way myself. It is in fact possible to get the letter AFTERWARDS!

    2. Hitch says:

      If you think Enthir’s insta-translation is stupid, wait until tomorrow — it gets much, much worse. I actually stopped and stared at the screen for a couple minutes trying to convince myself what I saw didn’t just happen.

      let’s see if Shamus, or anyone else, picked up on that. (I’ll be disappointed in Shamus if he didn’t.)

  15. ClearWater says:

    Calcelmo the mage spent years studying that engraving in order to unravel the Falmer tongue. I don't know why. The scholar is instantly be able to read the diary as soon as I show him the rubbing.

    Maybe he just spent years dragging that stone to his house/the ruins/wherever you found it and only started translating when he got it there and then it turned out to be quite simple. That would explain his reluctance to share his findings: he’s embarrassed that he didn’t just read the thing on the spot.

  16. Daniel says:

    I’m so excited to see the return of these detailed posts analyzing plot and game design — they’re what first drew me to the site! You are, of course, free to blog about whatever you choose; but this is what I’ve been hoping for.

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou. And, to say that with money, I added $20 to your money place :)

  17. So where did Gallus learn ancient Falmer? Was he working with Calcelmo? Why didn’t we just ask the guy? Hell, I killed his giant spider and he was all “no, I gave you access to my museum, why would I tell you anything about ancient Falmerese?, but why wouldn’t that thing be in his museum in the first place?

  18. Stebbi says:

    Eugh I hated everything with Karliah to me she is the weakest point of the game and after that “cutscene” I said screw this and went to quest somewhere else for a while.

    1. BeardedDork says:

      She’s pretty weak, I agree but no where near as weak as Delphine or Maven jumping up and down shouting, “Look at ME! I’m important, I’m relevant, Look at MEEEE!” Every interaction I ever had with Delphine ended with me just walking away shaking my head muttering to myself “really?”

      1. acronix says:

        I´m happy I´m not the only one that felt that way.

      2. Dys says:

        In fairness, as the last of the Blades, I suspect Delphine is probably desperately trying to believe she’s still relevant, even in character.

        1. Yep. Then all she and Esbern do is sit around not slaying dragons like her job is supposed to entail. They’re not even potential followers, they just get mad at you for not killing Paarthurnax even though he’s pretty much the best character in the game and has been nothing but helpful and friendly to you.

          1. BeardedDork says:

            …And that’s where I left them brooding on their mountain while I went off to hang out with Paarthurnax and the Grey Beards. Having just slain the World Eater, I figured if the one non-douchey dragon decided to be a problem the “dragon slayers” could handle it themselves.

          2. Gamer says:

            Yes. That pissed me off so much. “Due to our code of honor, we can no longer help you until you kill the only thing that has been nothing but helpful in supportive of you, pissing off the only group who has gone out of their way to help you for no real reason other than they want to.”

            Which would’ve been fine, if I hadn’t already given them a base of operation (USING MY OWN BLOOD!), been helping with recruitment of more blades members and helping to destroy the Thalmor every chance I get.
            (Okay, in their defense, I would have done that last one anyway.)

            They’re not even that useful either. I stole that Dragonbane sword from them before asking for their help. From what I hear, they don’t have much more to offer.

  19. burningdragoon says:

    Most of the time you do these plot-analyses, it’s stuff I either didn’t notice or didn’t care enough at the time to notice. The main Thieves Guild questline I noticed how bad it was. Maybe not to this level, but I noticed.

  20. Steve C says:

    You have to gather a roll of paper and some charcoal from the next room, in order to produce a rubbing of the engraved text. I suppose, this is kind of like copyright infringement, which some people think is theft.

    And to get super-pedantic too:
    The author of the engraving is from a race that has “long since vanished into dust.” I’m guessing that the term of copyright protection has expired and the engraving is now in the public domain. So sorry, still no quasi-theft happening on the thieves guild questline.

    1. vukodlak says:

      Hmmm… did you attempt to contact the original copyright holder or any surviving members of the race? What is the default duration in the Empire, anyway? The lifetime of the entire race + 50 centuries?

  21. Kdansky says:

    I hope I’m not the only one fast-travelling out of that inn after talking to Calcemo, only to be stuck. Because you also have to click on Karlia to activate the second half of the dialog, before the next part of the rails is built.

    The sad thing about this quest line is actually not how bad it is, but rather, how easy it would have been to fix most of it. I liked most of the “what do I have to do” things, but nothing makes sense.

    And boy, do I dislike Mary Karlia Sue, and her stupid order. I’ll just keep that item of Mercer next time, and won’t bother with the Nightingales. If you want to go full alteration, you can’t use Light Armor anyway, because it prevents one important perk from working.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I hate that perk. Why couldn’t they just make it so that the armor bonuses don’t stack? I have found *so* many helmets and gloves that are awesome and look cool (and that I would never be able to duplicate by enchanting), but I can’t use because their 6 armor bonus fouls up my alteration spells…

  22. General Karthos says:

    Sorry to mention this, but I created a paralysis arrow. You can create and/or come across a poison that paralyzes a foe. It is extremely expensive and hard to make, and it doesn’t last very long, mind, but long enough that it allowed me to kill a frost troll when I was only sixth level. The effect you see is that it freezes completely and its momentum causes it to fall over. Then you can slash at it again and again while it’s on the ground, and then it has to get up.

    I’m not saying its the same as HER paralysis arrow, but there is at least some poison that has a similar effect.

    Not saying it excuses the plot arrow here, though. And yeah, the whole “I stole it from a wizard in Cyrodiil” explanation would’ve made more sense.

    1. Piflik says:

      Yeah…Paralysis is one of the most usefull effects in the game. I found a staff of paralysis early in the game and it made even the hardest fights trivial. I stumbled into a dungeon where there are always two Draugr Overlords and one Scourge, regardless of level, at level 5 and walked out with some sweet ebony swords…

    2. burningdragoon says:

      Well to be fair, tons of plot holes will pop up when you start applying the game mechanics to the story. Of course that’s not even a legitimate excuse for any of the bad writing, but still… it’s a thing.

      1. WJS says:

        You mean like when they took out teleportation in Oblivion, but let some NPCs still use it? Yeah, that sucked.

    3. Dys says:

      I made a basic, unenhanced iron dagger, probably the smallest damage item in the game. I enchanted it with Paralysis. This is a weapon which prevents anyone hit with it from defending themselves, but takes a very, very long time and a psychopathic number of stabs to actually kill.

      The initial purpose was to grind one handed skill, but I feel it’s quite redemptive that despite carrying it with me everywhere, I’ve never really used it much.

  23. Just a guy says:

    While the rest of your stuff is spot on, I have to disagree with your observation about there being a word for “Nightengale” in the Falmer language. There are several ways in which one could put that word into a foreign text, the easiest of which that there actually is a word for the bird in ancient Falmer. Phonetic spelling could be used, or if the language is ideographic, one could use similar sounding words or otherwise imply “Night Bird” or “Daedric Servant of the Night Wind” or something like that.

  24. Wild Goose says:

    Just chiming in before sleep – my timeline is GMT +8, but a Nightingale is a bird. Thus, the Falmer language may have a word for it. Or Gallus may have written it in Imperial, using Falmer glyphs as a cipher.

    Argh, i’m off to bed. Again, Your Mileage May Vary.

    1. I’ve never seen a nightingale in the Elder scrolls before. Actually there are hardly any birds in the game.

      Not so much a plot hole as “if you’re naming something, at least have the thing you named it after”

    2. decius says:

      If it’s using Falmer glyphs as a cipher, then it is a cipher, and you need a codebreaker to figure it out. Knowing Russian doesn’t help solve a cipher using Cyrillic.

      The entire language thing smells like a late addition to the writing, unless Gallus knowing Falmer is important later.

  25. burningdragoon says:

    Unrelated, but I am so amused by the two spam posts having the same angry diamond avatar (from having the same email address).

    1. tengokujin says:

      Besides, anyone who knows anything know to go to Skyrim Nexus for their modding needs! :p
      They won’t ask you to fill out a survey for mods that were stolen from other places. >.>

  26. Adam P says:

    It makes sense that Mercer would wake all of the draugr up and trigger traps, considering that he’s trying to get you killed. Although, it would be nice if Bethesda actually programmed Mercer to be a jackass, instead of it just being a side-effect of him being an NPC companion.

    The dungeon the Falmer stone is in is really fun, as was the warehouse for following Gulum-Ei. Shadows everywhere to hide in, yay! It’s really sad though because those dungeons are proof that Bethesda can make great playgrounds for stealthy characters, but then they drop the ball for things like Snow Veil Sanctum, Honningbrew, and Goldenglow.

    Speaking of SVS, I thought it was a very nice touch that there were unavoidable traps because Karliah placed pots and such on her side of the doors.

    1. Hitch says:

      Unless you take advantage of how sloppily programmed both areas are. There’s no need to hide from Gulum-Ei, just follow him in plain sight and he’ll ignore you until you get into fights with all the bandits along the way, which he will comment on, then just keep walking to his goal until you “surprise” him at the plot-designated spot.

      In Calcelmo’s lab I just killed the first guard, took his key then ran past all the other guards, losing them by walking through doors until I got the rubbing and ran out. As soon as I stepped out of the lab everything de-aggroed. No stealth or cleverness on my, or the writer’s part.

      1. Adam P says:

        Well, at least Bethesda got those door-pot traps right… right?

        1. Hitch says:

          Since I’m not sure what you mean by “door-pot traps” I’m going to guess, “probably not.”

          1. Dys says:

            There are some doors in this dungeon which have pressure plate traps on the far side of them. Under normal circumstances, the player would open the door, either see the trap and avoid it or just ignore it with the stealth perk. These traps however have been… trapped? There are stacks of physics objects behind the doors such that when you open the door, the objects fall and trigger the trap. It is a nice nod toward the fact that Karliah knows the people following her are thieves and as such not likely to be stopped by the usual trap mechanisms.

            1. Adam P says:

              Exactly what I was talking about. There are two doors which have various pots and other physics objects: one of the doors is a gate that you can see through, and there are objects stacked up against it–you can see that it’s an obvious trap but there is no way to disarm it; second door opens away from the player, through the pots, and the resulting noise is enough to wake the draugr. But what’s cool about these doors is that the physics objects are on Karliah’s side of the door, which makes sense.

              It’s kind of sad that the most exciting thing about these traps is that it makes sense, eh?

  27. mcgurker says:

    Shamus, he was probably writing in the mole-people’s alphabet, not their actual language. That would explain why the scholar could read it so easily, he just had to learn the symbol’s corresponding sounds (not ACTUALLY an easy task in every case, and also assumes that they HAVE an alphabet [containing characters representing all the sounds in Common) as opposed to hieroglyphics) and also explains how there’s a word for “nightingale”

    Hope that gives this at least a little more credit :)

    1. Syal says:

      …is it possible to figure out pronunciation by reading?

  28. Captain Pandabear says:

    Sadly, I think that the earliest parts of the quest line have the strongest writing.

    Bullying the main material supplier of one of the Thieves Guild strongest allies into breaking trade off is certainly not inspired, but at least a plausible plan.

    At least now Bethesda is -trying- to make the world seem like it has an economy. Unlike in Fallout 3, Skyrim actually attempts to address obvious questions such as “What makes this rich person rich?”, and “What the fuck do these people eat?”. This is progress.

    1. Hitch says:

      Allistair Tenpenny is rich because he has clean clothes and solid walls and floors in his house. Never mind how he came by that, he’s obviously rich, so he has guards that protect him and cannot be bribed by some random player character walking up with more bottle caps than they will see in their entire life. Wouldn’t pay to get on the bad side of a rich guy like Tenpenny.

  29. Mr Guy says:

    Wow, the place where they keep the stone “research notes” even looks like the place in the British Museum where the real-life Rosetta Stone is kept…

  30. Armagrodden says:

    The whole mead questline would make more sense if it had been set up by Mercer to frame Karliah. If he knew that she was hiding out in those ruins, then setting up the mead buyout and letting some patsy discover it would give Maven a reason to join the guild against Karliah if she were to appear later, and also remind the rest of the Thieves’ Guild that she exists and is a threat. He could also use it as evidence that she’s attempting to destabilize the Guild should she appear and try to tell them the truth about Gallus’ death. From this perspective, the fact that the plan doesn’t work is a feature instead of a bug, and it makes Mercer’s dialogue less annoying because whenever he refers to the “devious mead plot” he’s patting himself on the back. It would require some explanation as to why Mercer’s wandering into Karliah’s lair with only his patsy for backup, and how she knew to ambush you (although Mercer blundering through the ruins like a bull in a china shop could explain that), but at least it fixes some of the opening quests’ stupidity.

  31. rrgg says:

    As a completely definately legitimate grammatical complaint, I think the last word in the second paragraph should have been “criminy.”

    1. Dys says:

      Most likely an unintentional portmanteau of criminy and blimey, the first being a derivation of ‘christ’ and the second a foreshortening of ‘god blind me’.

      Funny thing, but it’s awfully hard to find decent exclamations which don’t eventually lead back to blasphemy.

      1. rrgg says:

        Either that or he’s trying to summon detective Dan Stark.

        1. Ben says:

          I think I love you.

  32. Dwip says:

    I love being contrary, so:

    – TL;DR, you’re beating up on Karliah for being kind of incompetent. That’s kind of the point of her whole character. Also kind of the point of the TG as a whole, but definitely the point of Karliah.

    As to the TL part of this (the DR part is up to you):

    – Man, can we talk less about the plot and more about the railroading? Because man is this game overheavy on the railroading.

    – Not to excuse Bethesda’s companion AI, which remains getting-better-but-still-not-great, but I actually had to prod my Mercer into attacking guys when I was stealthed. Ditto with Karliah and Brynjolf later on. Milage apparently varies. The “Mercer sets off pressure plates” thing was still pretty dumb though.

    – So, the arrow thing. If I were going to rewrite it, which I wouldn’t because I’m essentially fine with it as-is, I’d give her two and have her just flat out miss Mercer, run like hell, then make the decision to use you as plan B. The “I thought I was shooting Mercer” idea doesn’t work for me, since at that point, as I recall, I don’t have a lot of reason not to just keep going for Karliah, and for that matter she doesn’t know I won’t just keep going for her and that I may well just be loyal to Mercer, until Mercer turns on me.

    All that said, while I’m apparently far more comfortable than you with the idea that characters get to make flawed decisions and/or mistakes, I can pretty much see myself doing what Karliah did and shooting the first of two, since for all I-as-Karliah know, I’m about to fight two people, one of whom outclasses me but at least I know that, one of whom is a complete unknown and may die easily to me, but may outclass me. Taking the first shot available isn’t a bad idea, and turns out to be the correct one. Is she being entirely truthful with me the player after the fact? Only she knows.

    I’m really ok with writing the thing off as “no plan survives contact with the enemy” and making the best of a bad series of choices, but.

    – As to the 25-year plan, well, does she have anything particularly better than that plan available to her? The Gallus’ diary is written in Falmer thing is, IIRC, not something she could really anticipate. And anyway, it’s not like she can’t lock the player-wasn’t-there-so-she-shot-Mercer up, relieve him of the skeleton key and fix that whole thing, get the translation, and still do her plan.

    Going back to the “this is her amazing 25 year plan!?” point, allow me to point out that as plots go, this makes a whole lot more sense than My-Dad-Who-Is-Liam-Neeson’s epic plot in Fallout 3 (roughly 20-30 years there), and for real world examples, need I note, at the risk of Godwining myself, various national level been-working-on-it-for-25 years plans that include “Let’s fight the Americans who can almost certainly crush us so we can conquer all of Asia!” (WWII Japan), “Let’s fight [i]everybody[/i]!” (WWII Germany), and any given collectivization drive among other things.

    “Whoops, the diary was written in Falmer, who knew?” doesn’t look so bad at that point.

    And hey, if Karliah was so awesome at planning and situational awareness, she wouldn’t need you in the first place. So the flaws do make sense in that regard.

    – None of this makes the whole “make a rubbing for instant translation!” plot point make any particular sense, and the least they could have done was say “This may take time, come back in a few days.” Oh well.

    – There’s a discussion to be had about the splitting of the TG (and every other G) questline into a main questline and a set of radiant quests. I’m fairly ok with the various TG main quests being stealth but not always thievery based, though there are details to nitpick in every single quest (usually regarding murder). The real flaw lies somewhere in either the need to do a million radiant thievery quests or with the fact that there’s a complete lack of intersection between the two lines until it’s suddenly, dramatically, and utterly immersion breakingly shoved in your face if you did all the main quests and none of the radiant quests at the end of the plotline.

    I do want to say, however, that if flipping a switch and killing dudes with Dwemer propellers is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right.

    – “Dude, you were the guild master. Don't you have some way of tracking this? Don't you know what's in the vault? Can't you have someone keep an eye on it? Isn't that, like, your job?”

    Gallus is hardly the first guy to fall into the trap of trusting their subordinate a little too much, and a little too much with the money. This sort of thing happens all the time in real life. The business examples escape me at the moment, but I imagine US Grant, Julius Caesar, and (for the evil example) Hitler would all like a word about being a little too trusting with the cash and the loyalty.

    Which is to say I didn’t even bat an eye at this particular revelation. Milage varies, of course, and judging by the rest of this thread, I don’t expect my arguments here will be particularly popular, but.

    1. Irregular says:

      Just a nitpick, Karliah is supposed to be an elite agent.

      Given who she works for, such incompetence would have prevented her from becoming a Nightingale in the first place. The later revelation of the Nightingales’ true purpose makes it even more jarring.

      1. Dwip says:


        It seemed to me an awful lot like she got in about half on relative competence and half because she was sleeping with the boss, which is what it is.

        And I think her record kind of bears this out – failed in regards to Mercer, only kinda-sorta pulled off her 25 year plan, and she almost immediately falls into a subordinate role to you the player, which suggests to me that she’s technically competent, and has a decent ability to pull things off in a pinch, but lacks any sort of strategic planning acumen.

        One can name a not inconsequential number of elite agents like that.

      2. George Monet says:

        I disagree, the revelation about the Nightingales actually makes Karliah’s idiocy and incompetence logical. See any half intelligent person would look at the bargain, where you get a shitty one use per day power and shitty armor in trade for your immortal say and just give Nightingale the finger while walking out.

        Only the stupid idiots would agree to this one sided bargain, which explains why Karliah, Mercer, and the original guild leader all took Nightingale up on this terribly stupid deal.

    2. Gamer says:

      About the diary, she had that thing for 25 years. She knew it was in another language and it needed translation. Why didn’t she find a translation (or at least START to find a translation)? Even if she never made any progress, if she had at least tried, it would have made the pill easier to swallow.

      And about the trusting his subordinates, by that point, the leader knew (or at least suspected) that Mercer might be dirty by the point he was killed (as evidenced in his diary). He should have known to keep his guard up around him at all times.

      1. Dwip says:

        Re: diary, well, there is that. It didn’t really bug me, but yeah, I can see why you might want to kind of get on that.

        As to Gallus vs. Mercer, yeah, you’d think, but it’s really amazing how often you hear about people saying “Yeah, I suspected, and it seemed bad, but I never really believed it would ever happen!” despite the fact they should have known full well. Gallus kind of gave me the impression of being that guy.

      2. X2Eliah says:


        From what I understood from the game, she picked up that diary a few minutes before you & mercer followed her into that ruin (Where Gallus’ body was left).

  33. Gamer says:

    I admit, the first time I saw the arrow cutscene, I called so much bullshit. There is no way that scene made sense. Then again, the scene where Karliah reveals the whole scheme to the guild made me cringe.
    Karliah uses the translation to expose Mercer. My first thought was “Anybody could’ve wrote anything down and called it a translation”. But no, they take our word over their own damn leader’s.
    Yeah, didn’t make much sense.

    Another thing I did was when Mercer said “Oh, yeah. I’m going too.”
    My first thought was “No, you’re not. I know how this works, you are almost definitely going to get in my way.” Then I realized I didn’t have a choice in the matter and cursed Bethesda for putting temporary followers in the Thieves’ Guild questline.
    (Side Note: Stealth characters should never use followers. They will always blow your cover. I learned this through the Companions questline.)
    I was proven right so hard I couldn’t believe it.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      About that spoiled thing:
      What are you talking about?You cant seriously think that a respectable thief would forge a document.That would be immoral.

  34. luagha says:

    Mehrunes’ Razor solves all these ills.

  35. Dev Null says:

    The scholar tells me that the diary is written in ancient Falmer. The Falmer are a race of blind, underground-dwelling mole-people who hate the outside world and kill anything that enters their domain.

    I kept waiting for you to get to the punchline; a blind race that lives in the dark has a written language? And they’re xenophobic too, so they didn’t even invent it as a way to communicate with outsiders? Is it possible? Sure. In its native form its engravings that can be read by touch, and ThiefKingLad-who-magically-knew-the-famously-untranslatable-language just drew the same shapes on paper. But if thats the case, you’d think it would be at least worth mentioning, because otherwise people like me are going to go “written language of the blind mole people? In ink on paper? Really?”

  36. Johan says:

    I think if you question her she says she didn’t have a clear shot at Mercer, and so used it on you instead.

    So she does halfheartedly explain it

  37. Percy Jackson says:

    have any of you thought that it could have made sense that mercer was acting like a complete fool and you being stealthy would have made karlia think that you are mercer that would have made sense but bethesda did not think of that

  38. Ateius says:

    I really liked that bit with the parchment and charcoal, mostly because they didn’t put a big quest marker over it and make you figure out for yourself “hey, if I’m going to make a copy of this I need some paper and a writing tool”.

    That stupid arrow cutscene thing, though. That was just the worst. The already fragile plot just fell apart completely with that bit of railroading. Not to mention the part where Gallus just stands a foot away from the only witness to his crime with his sword out and doesn’t try to, you know, stab her at all until after she calmly drinks a potion and vanishes.

  39. jaguara says:

    I know this is a dead thread, but…my immediate thought was about how Calcemo has just finished his lifetime work on the Falmer to translate their language…yet somehow this guy was able to write a diary in it 25 years ago…

    Oh wait, is this a case of time travel? Maybe Gallus IS Calcemo!

    1. Lobsel Vith says:

      I got the impression that Calcelmo was publishing a translation of the Falmer language for the public based on the tablet he had, and that it was fairly rare for anyone to be able to translate the language.

  40. pranav says:

    wait!if falmer are blind HOW in the world do they have a written language???

  41. George Monet says:

    There were so many things wrong with this part.

    Just two things off the top of my head:

    1) Calcemo was the only person in the world who knew how to read ancient Falmer, and he only knew because he just discovered a rosetta stone that had not been seen by any living humanoids for millenia. Without that rosetta stone translating ancient Falmer was presented as impossible. So there is absolutely no way that Gallus could have written a journal in ancient Falmer when the stone needed to translate ancient Falmer would not be discovered for another 25 years.

    2) The skeleton key would not allow Mercer to open the door to the guild vault because that door has two locks which need to be opened simultaneously. Since Mercer only has one skeleton key he can only open one lock. But both locks need to be opened simultaneously. Since Mercer can only use the skeleton lock to open one lock he cannot open the door.

  42. Big Band Wolf says:

    It’s nothing like copyright infringement, since that stone was carved over four thousand years ago. It’s well within the public domain by now.

    Unless it’s owned by the Great Ormond St. Hospital. Or Disney gets their lawyers involved.

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