Be my wasteland valentine

~ J.L. Hilton

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Have a shiny Valentine’s Day

~ J.L. Hilton

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Skyrim Civil War Part 2: Imperial Legion

Like choosing a spouse in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the civil war is a popular topic of player discussion. Which side should a Dragonborn choose, the Stormcloaks or the Empire?

I wanted to experience everything in the game, so I played through the civil war on both sides. My first Dragonborn, Zephyr the Imperial, sided with the Empire. My second Dragonborn, Silvara the Nord, joined the Stormcloaks.

TESV:Skyrim offers a complex world in which both sides have their pros and cons, and players of any race can find justifications for joining either side or ignoring the conflict completely. And even within the game itself, events, books and characters contradict each other, leaving things open to interpretation.

I am not going to tell you which side is right and which is wrong. I am, however, going to point out when player assumptions might be contradicted by in-game dialog or Elder Scrolls lore.

Players of TESV:Skyrim are free to create their own version of events, called “headcanon” in fandom, or to create mods that change the story and game dynamics. For many people, that’s part of the fun, but it’s not what I’ll be discussing here.

This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the civil war, just a look at some of the most common arguments for and against both sides that I’ve seen in fan forums and when speaking to other players.

To read part one and common reasons why players join the Stormcloaks, click here.

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Common reasons players join the Empire

  • Ulfric is a tool of the Aldmeri Dominion
  • The Markarth Incident
  • Ulfric killed High King Torygg
  • The Stormcloaks are racist
  • I’m not a Nord and/or I don’t worship Talos
  • A united Empire could drive out the Aldmeri Dominion

Ulfric is a tool

These are the exact words of the Thalmor dossier on Ulfric Stormcloak, found in the embassy during the quest Diplomatic Immunity:

Status: Asset (uncooperative), Dormant, Emissary Level Approval
Description: Jarl of Windhelm, leader of Stormcloak rebellion, Imperial Legion veteran

Background: Ulfric first came to our attention during the First War Against the Empire, when he was taken as a prisoner of war during the campaign for the White-Gold Tower. Under interrogation, we learned of his potential value (son of the Jarl of Windhelm) and he was assigned as an asset to the interrogator, who is now First Emissary Elenwen. He was made to believe information obtained during his interrogation was crucial in the capture of the Imperial City (the city had in fact fallen before he had broken), and then allowed to escape. After the war, contact was established and he has proven his worth as an asset. The so-called Markarth Incident was particularly valuable from the point of view of our strategic goals in Skyrim, although it resulted in Ulfric becoming generally uncooperative to direct contact.

Operational Notes: Direct contact remains a possibility (under extreme circumstances), but in general the asset should be considered dormant. As long as the civil war proceeds in its current indecisive fashion, we should remain hands-off. The incident at Helgen is an example where an exception had to be made – obviously Ulfric’s death would have dramatically increased the chance of an Imperial victory and thus harmed our overall position in Skyrim. (NOTE: The coincidental intervention of the dragon at Helgen is still under scrutiny. The obvious conclusion is that whoever is behind the dragons also has an interest in the continuation of the war, but we should not assume therefore that their goals align with our own.) A Stormcloak victory is also to be avoided, however, so even indirect aid to the Stormcloaks must be carefully managed.

Some players side with the Empire because the Aldmeri Dominion orchestrates and continues to perpetuate the civil war. I’ve heard several statements along the lines of: “The Thalmor are the real enemy, and if they want Ulfric to rebel, then it can’t be right.”

However, the dossier also says a Stormcloak victory is to be avoided. So, if the Thalmor are the real enemy, and if they don’t want the Stormcloaks to win, then wouldn’t it be okay to join them, too?

What the Dominion wants is the Empire wasting time and resources in Skyrim, the Stormcloaks angry at the Empire, and both of them destroying each other. Seems to me that ending the civil war — in any way — might be better than that.

The line of the dossier that really bothers me is, “After the war, contact was established and he has proven his worth as an asset.” To what extent has Ulfric been in contact with the Aldmeri Dominion since his capture, torture and escape? Ulfric is called “uncooperative,” yet direct contact “remains a possibility.” He is also referred to as “dormant.” Is that similar to a sleeper agent?

I wonder how Vignar, who despises the “witch-elves,” or Galmar, who’d rather “die before elves dictate the fates of men,” or other Stormcloak supporters would feel about their strong, heroic leader being in contact with the Dominion, being called an “asset” and being “broken.”

The Markarth Incident

The information we have about the Markarth Incident comes from in-game lore books, which some players dismiss as “Imperial propaganda,” though to what extent the game creators at Bethesda actually considered this information to be true or false is unknown. We also have information from in-game conversations, such as first-hand accounts by Jarl Ingmund, Thongvor Silver-Blood, Nepos the Nose, and the prisoners in Cidhna Mine.

Markarth was built by the vanished Dwemer and is the capital city of an area of Skyrim known as The Reach. The Reachmen, aka the Forsworn (typically Bretons), believe that the Reach is rightfully theirs, but the region is controlled by Nords, who oppress the Reachmen. Bretons labor at the mines and smelters, live in the Warrens, and exist under threat of having their property confiscated (like the land-owner Ainethach in Karthwasten).

While the Empire fought the Great War, the Reachmen rose up, threw out their Nord overlords and ruled their own independent kingdom from Markarth for two years.

Hrolfdir, the Nord jarl driven out of Markarth, asked Ulfric Stormcloak for help, promising free worship of Talos in exchange for retaking the city. At least one in-game lore book, The Bear of Markarth, relates that the Empire itself permitted the Talos worship:

We allowed them to worship Talos, in full violation of the White-Gold Concordat with the Aldmeri Dominion (which recognizes the elven belief that Talos, as a human, cannot be one of the Divines). In jeopardizing the treaty that so many sacrificed for during the Great War, the Empire was wrong. But what choice did they have, I ask you? Against the Bear of Markarth, Ulfric Stormcloak, “no” is not an answer.

The Thalmor eventually discovered this, put pressure on the Empire, and Jarl Hrolfdir imprisoned Ulfric and his men, which led to the Stormcloak rebellion and civil war. Ulfric’s father, Jarl Hoag of Windhelm, died during Ulfric’s imprisonment.

What some players find repugnant about the Markarth Incident is not that Ulfric wanted free worship of Talos, but that Ulfric assisted in the oppression of the Reachmen and subsequent atrocities committed against the Bretons there. How are the Reachmen different from the Nords who consider themselves the “true sons and daughters of Skyrim,” or the Stormcloaks who want independence and religious freedom?

As the Thalmor don’t like Talos worship, the Nords don’t like Daedra worship. The Reachmen primarily worship Hircine but some also have ceremonies for Malacath (as do the Orcs), Molag Bal, Mehrunes Dagon and Namira. Some may also worship Aedra such as Kynareth and Dibella.

Thongvor Silver-Blood says that Ulfric reclaimed the Reach from “those heathen natives.” So, I guess it’s good to fight for the right to your own religion and independence, but other people shouldn’t do the same?

The Bear of Markarth reports that every official who worked for the Forsworn was put to the sword, even after surrendering. It also says:

Native women were tortured to give up the names of Forsworn fighters who had fled the city or were in the hills of the Reach. Anyone who lived in the city, Forsworn and Nord alike, were executed if they had not fought with Ulfric and his men when they breached the gates. “You are with us, or you are against Skyrim” was the message on Ulfric’s lips as he ordered the deaths of shopkeepers, farmers, the elderly, and any child old enough to lift a sword that had failed in the call to fight with him.

Nepos the Nose will tell you, “Ulfric and his men came. Those of us who didn’t run were executed, except for myself, my king, and a handful of others.”

In Cidhna Mine, a prisoner named Braig tells his story:

“I had a daughter, once… The Nords didn’t care who was and who wasn’t involved in the Forsworn Uprising. I had spoken to Madanach once, that was enough. But my little Aethra didn’t want to see her papa leave her. She pleaded to the Jarl to take her instead. And after they made me watch as her head rolled off the block, they threw me in here anyway, to dig up their silver.”

Thongvor Silver-Blood reports that Ulfric used his Thu’um, his shout power, to help retake Markarth. Ulfric learned the shouts by studying at High Hrothgar — they don’t come naturally to him because he’s not a Dragonborn. But, this use of the Thu’um violates the Way of the Voice philosophy he’d been taught by the Greybeards.

The power to shout was given to the Nords by the goddess Kynareth during the Mythic Era, thousands of years earlier, in order to fight the dragons and dragon priests who enslaved mankind.

When the Nords invaded Morrowind during the First Era and were annihilated at the Battle of Red Mountain, a great Tongue named Jurgen Windcaller spent years contemplating their defeat. He came to the conclusion that the Gods had punished the Nords for their arrogant misuse of the shout power to conquer others rather than to defend themselves and praise the gods. Jurgen developed his philosophy, the Way of the Voice, and built the High Hrothgar monastery.

But the Markarth Incident was not the only time Ulfric Stormcloak used his shouts to further his own ambition.

Ulfric murdered High King Torygg

The death of High King Torygg is an event that takes place before the game begins. Some players interpret the duel as a show of Ulfric’s strength and leadership, while others view it as evidence of his self-serving ambition and treachery.

Sybille Stentor, the court magician of Solitude, has much to say about the death of the high king, so I’ll let her tell you:

High King Torygg in Sovngarde

“Ulfric showed up at the gates of Solitude requesting an audience. We thought he was here to ask Torygg to declare independence. By the time we realized Ulfric was here to challenge Torygg… it was already too late. By Nord custom, once the challenge was issued in court, Torygg had no choice but to accept. Had he not, Ulfric would have had cause to call a new moot and a new vote for High King. Torygg had some martial training, of course, but it mattered little that day. When Ulfric’s lips parted, when he unleashed the power of the Thu’um… That Shout, that ancient and terrible tongue… ripped Torygg asunder.”

“The whole court was in attendance. I’ve seen much in my time, but that was a gruesome day… Ulfric needed a symbol. Someone he could defeat that represented the Empire, the White-Gold Concordat, the banning of Talos worship. Torygg’s father Istlod had held Skyrim together for nearly twenty-five years. When he died, Torygg became that symbol… the moot voted to make Torygg High King of Skyrim. But Ulfric was at that moot, continually talking about Skyrim’s independence in terms just shy of treason. I don’t think Ulfric knew how much Torygg respected him for that. If Ulfric had asked Torygg directly to stand up, to declare independence, Torygg might have done it.”

Roggvir, who is executed for letting Ulfric out of Solitude after killing the High King, uses his last words to defend Ulfric:

“There was no murder! Ulfric challenged Torygg. He beat the High King in fair combat. Such is our way! Such as the ancient custom of Skyrim, and all Nords!”

Some characters see the Thu’um as an unfair advantage, since it takes many long years to learn, and Torygg was too young to have spent much time in training. Ulfric himself says he spent almost ten years at High Hrothgar before leaving to fight in the Great War.

If you mention to Ulfric that he shouted the king to death, he will clarify how he killed Torygg:

“Not entirely true, though not entirely false either. Any Nord can learn the Way of the Voice by studying with the Greybeards, given enough ambition and dedication. My shouting Torygg to the ground proved he had neither. However, it was my sword piercing his heart that killed him.”

It is exactly “ambition,” however, that the Way of the Voice cautions against, teaching that shouts should be used to worship the gods and for times of “true need.”

Ulfric will defend his actions by saying:

“I challenged him in the traditional way, and he accepted. There were many witnesses. No ‘murder’ was committed. True, he didn’t stand a chance against me. But that was precisely the point! He was a puppet-king of the Empire, not a High King of Skyrim. His father before him perhaps, but not Torygg. He was too privileged and too foolish, more interested in entertaining his queen than ruling his country.”

At the end of the civil war, if you join the Stormcloaks and take Solitude, general Galmar will introduce Ulfric as a “hero of the people, liberator and High King of Skyrim.” Ulfric will give a speech calling his Stormcloaks the true heroes, fighting for god and country, and will decline the mantle of High King until the Moot declares that title should be his.

But, Ulfric will then have an aside with Galmar:

Ulfric: “How’d I do?”
Galmar: “Eh, not so bad. Nice touch about the High King.”
Ulfric: “Thank you, I thought so, too.”
Galmar: “It’s a foregone conclusion, you know.”
Ulfric: “Oh, I know.”

Ulfric knows he will be High King. This exchange with Galmar makes his previous speech seem like populist pandering, rather than the heartfelt sentiments of a true hero.

If you encounter High King Torygg in Sovngarde, he will say:

“When Ulfric Stormcloak, with savage Shout, sent me here, my sole regret was fair Elisif, left forlorn and weeping. I faced him fearlessly, my fate inescapable, yet my honor is unstained. Can Ulfric say the same?”

Jarl Balgruuf of Whiterun has this dim view of Ulfric Stormcloak:

“Do you think Ulfric really cares about Skyrim’s independence, or the welfare of its people? I promise you, he doesn’t. He’s nothing more than a barbarian renegade, whose lust for power has cost the lives of countless innocents.”

I’ve heard some players say that Ulfric is honorable, and as proof they point out that he can be found in Sovngarde, if killed in the civil war prior to completing the main questline. But if appearance in Sovngarde is proof of being honorable, wouldn’t that also apply to Torygg? Should he not then be considered worthy of being High King, and unworthy of Ulfric’s betrayal?

According to the book Sovngarde, a Reexamination, Sovngarde can be entered by any Nord who dies valiantly in honorable combat. Ysgramor told Skardan Free-Winter, in the book A Dream of Sovngarde, (found in the Pawned Prawn in Riften), “a Nord is judged not by the manner in which he lived, but the manner in which he died.” So, it may be possible to die in honorable — fair, glorious — combat but not necessarily act honorably throughout one’s life.

Many characters call Ulfric a hero. Does a hero use the Thu’um to murder his king and usurp his throne? Does a hero enter a city under false pretenses, violate the trust of his fellow jarls, take unfair advantage of an ancient power for personal gain, murder his king, and then flee the city like a thief?

Jarl Balgruuf calls Ulfric “a dangerous and blood thirsty man.” Legate Rikke, once a close friend of Ulfric’s, calls him a “self-serving ego-maniac.” Brunwulf Free-Winter says that for Ulfric, “there’s two kinds of people in this world — Nords, and the folk beneath them.”

Skyrim belongs to the Nords

Argonians must remain on the docks and Dunmer are harassed in the Gray Quarter of Windhelm. Khajiit are not allowed to enter cities (unless that Khajiit is the Dragonborn). The Bretons are subjugated and forced to work in the mines for their Nord overlords.

For those reasons, players who chose Argonian, Dunmer, Khajiit or Breton races often side with the Empire. And there are players of all races who choose the Empire because of Stormcloak bigotry.

Brunwulf Free-Winter is a Nord living in Windhelm who will tell you:

“Whenever a group of marauders attack a Nord village, Ulfric is the first to sound the horn and send the men. But a group of Dark Elf refugees gets ambushed? A group of Argonians, or a Khajiit caravan? No troops. No investigation. Nothing. There’s a group of cutthroats out there right now that Ulfric doesn’t lift a finger to bring to justice, as long as they don’t threaten Nord land.”

Brunwulf calls the Stormcloaks “a bunch of narrow-minded bigots,” and says, Don’t let Ulfric or some of these other short-sighted Nords bother you. Most of us are happy to welcome newcomers.”

If you join the Empire and end the civil war, Brunwulf will replace Ulfric as the jarl of Windhelm. Then, if you talk to Aval Atheron, a Dunmer merchant in the marketplace, he’ll say:

“Having a just and honorable man like Brunwulf in charge can only be an improvement. Unlike Ulfric, Brunwulf has shown a great willingness to work with the other races and make us feel more at home here.”

Despite the conditions in Windhelm, however, other jarls who support the Stormcloaks have diverse courts. For example, Jarl Laila Law-Giver in Riften has a Bosmer housecarl and a Bosmer court wizard. Jarl Korir in Winterhold has a Dunmer steward. Jarl Sorli, who replaces Idgrod Ravencrone if the Stormcloaks control Morthal, has an Argonian housecarl. Jarl Thongvor, who replaces Igmund if the Stormcloaks control Markarth, retains Calcelmo the Altmer as court mage, and the Imperial named Reburrus Quintilius as his steward. Those are very important positions, filled by non-Nords.

Interracial marriage doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone in Skyrim. Rustlief the Nord blacksmith is married to Seren the Redguard in Dawnstar. Ulfberth the Nord is married to Adrianne the Imperial. Bolli the Nord is married to the Nivenor the Bosmer in Riften. Bierand the Nord is married to Sayma the Redgaurd in Solitude. A Dragonborn of any race can wed any of the in-game marriage candidates.

Galmar Stone-Fist, Ulfric’s housecarl and general of the rebellion

The game itself does not prevent any Dragonborn from joining the Stormcloaks. If the player speaks to Galmar Stone-Fist about joining the Stormcloaks and is not a Nord, Ulfric’s right-hand man will ask, “Why’s an (elf, cat, lizard, orc, Redguard, Breton, foreigner) want to fight for Skyrim?”

Galmar may be asked if he only accepts Nords, and he will explain, “You mistake me. I’m not saying no, just wondering about your intentions. We’re not looking for sellswords. The Stormcloaks need dedicated men and women who’re devoted to the cause and willing to die for it.”

However, Galmar also says, “I’m a man. Skyrim is man’s homeland. That’s a fact. A fact I’m proud of. There’s no shame in that. Read your history.” I don’t think he’s being sexist in this statement, he’s saying that Skyrim belongs to the races of Men – specifically Nords – and not Mer (Snow Elves, High Elves, etc).

I’m not a Nord and/or I don’t worship Talos

Every commander in the Stormcloak army is a Nord: Istar Cairn-Breaker, Yrsarald Thrice-Pierced, Hjornskar Head-Smasher, Gonnar Oath-Giver, Kottir Red-Shoal, Arrald Frozen-Heart, Kai Wet-Pommel, Frorkmar Banner-Torn, and Thorygg Sun-Killer.

By contrast, the commanders in the Imperial army are not only Imperial (Constantius, Taurinus Duilis, and Quentin Cipius), but also Altmer (Fasendil), Breton (Emmanuel Admand), Dunmer (Sevan Telendas), and Nord (Rikke, Hrollod and Skulnar).

For any player who isn’t a Talos-worshipping Nord, this may be reason enough for them to join the Empire, or not take sides at all. Bretons living in the reach would probably be against the Stormcloaks, because of what happened in Markarth. Orcs, Dunmer and many others who worship the Daedra, and risk being killed by Vigilants of Stendarr for it, are probably not welcomed on either side.

There are also Nords who don’t worship Talos, such as Vilkas, a member of the Companions, who when asked about the civil war says, “There are always good reasons to fight. I just wish this war had them. Who cares who worships what dead god?”

A united Empire could drive out the Thalmor

If you ask Solitude court magician Sybille Stentor why High King Torygg did not champion Skyrim’s independence, she will sum up the relationship between Skyrim and the Empire by stating:

“Because the Dominion is a sleeping beast that Skyrim cannot slay alone. Because many Nords are part of the Imperial army even now. Because the food and resources we get from the Empire are important to our people. Because even if we can’t openly worship him, Talos the god was once Tiber Septim the man, and this is his Empire. And Torygg wasn’t ready to let it fall apart.”

Jarl Balgruff is also a proponent of a united Empire. If he appears at the Thalmor Embassy during Diplomatic Immunity, he may say, “These Thalmor might not like to admit it, but as long as the Empire has Skyrim, the Empire has strength.” 

Emperor Titus Mede II

After the Battle for Whiterun, if you join the Imperial side, he will say that supporting the Empire is for mutual advantage.

“Any fool can see that. For centuries, we have benefited from the Empire’s protection, and prosperous trade with the south. In exchange, the people of Cyrodiil sleep peacefully, knowing their northern border is guarded by the fiercest warriors in all Tamriel.”

If you join the Legion, you can talk to Rikke and discover why she still supports the Empire:

“I am a loyal citizen of the Empire. My parents were Legionnaires, and I’ve followed in their footsteps. But more importantly, I am a daughter of Skyrim and wish to see her made whole again… I’ve been a daughter of Skyrim all my life. I love this land and her people. So do all the Nords that serve the Empire. Ulfric, too, once. He wasn’t always a self-serving ego-maniac. He fought in the Imperial army in the War against the Dominion. But Ulfric and his ‘Stormcloaks’ are deluding themselves. If there’s any hope of a long term victory against the Dominion, it’s in the Empire. The rebels are only inflaming the tension and weakening the Empire by distracting it from its ultimate aim.”

Whether or not they are correct, whether an independent Skyrim could stand against the Aldmeri Dominion or whether humanity will again become the slaves of elven masters, we don’t know.

Regardless of whether you side with the Stormcloaks or the Imperials, whether you join the Dark Brotherhood and assassinate Emperor Titus Mede II or not, the game does not tell us what ultimately happens to Skyrim, the Empire, or the Dominion.

Perhaps we will find out, someday, in Elder Scrolls VI.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Skyrim Civil War Part 1: Stormcloak Rebellion

Like choosing a spouse in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the civil war is a popular topic of player discussion. Which side should a Dragonborn choose, the Stormcloaks or the Empire?

I wanted to experience everything in the game, so I played through the civil war on both sides. My first Dragonborn, Zephyr the Imperial, sided with the Empire. My second Dragonborn, Silvara the Nord, joined the Stormcloaks.

TESV:Skyrim offers a complex world in which both sides have their pros and cons, and players of any race can find justifications for joining either side or ignoring the conflict completely. And even within the game itself, events, books and characters contradict each other, leaving things open to interpretation.

I am not going to tell you which side is right and which is wrong. I am, however, going to point out when player assumptions might be contradicted by in-game dialog or Elder Scrolls lore.

Players of TESV:Skyrim are free to create their own version of events, called “headcanon” in fandom, or to create mods that change the story and game dynamics. For many people, that’s part of the fun, but it’s not what I’ll be discussing here.

This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the civil war, just a look at some of the most common arguments for and against both sides that I’ve seen in fan forums and when speaking to other players.

We’ll start with the Stormcloaks. To read common reasons why players join the Empire, click here.

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Common reasons players join the Stormcloaks

  • The Empire tried to chop off my head
  • The game is set in Skyrim, the homeland of the Nords, so joining the Stormcloaks is what I’m supposed to do
  • The Empire invaded and enslaved the Nords
  • The Empire is weak and the Emperor betrayed his people
  • The Empire outlawed Talos worship
  • An independent Skyrim would drive out the Thalmor

Off with their heads

The player begins TESV:Skyrim as a prisoner, along with the leader of the rebellion, Ulfric Stormcloak. The rebel Ralof implies that you were mistakenly arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, at this point, it’s assumed that you’ve not taken sides in the conflict.

When you reach Helgen, an Imperial soldier named Hadvar will say that your name is “not on the list” but the captain* will insist on executing you anyway.

* The captain is possibly Legate Rikke, as she looks the same and has the same voice actress, but some online sources do not identify her as such.

This leads many players to decide, “Screw the Empire. If the execution hadn’t been interrupted by a dragon attack, they would have killed me!” Which is understandable. My first playthrough, I followed Ralof out of Helgen for this very same reason. Well, that, and because I thought he was hot.

The extent that you choose to be offended by your near-execution is up to you, of course, but keep in mind that being a prisoner of the Empire and threatened with death is also how The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion begins, yet you are still expected to serve that Empire and work to save it from the Oblivion Crisis. And The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind starts with the player being a prisoner sent to Morrowind by Emperor Uriel Septim VII.

It’s a dramatic device that Bethesda uses to hook you into the game: A lowly prisoner destined to become the hero.

In TESV:Skyrim, they pushed the irony even further: The Empire almost kills the one person with the power to save everyone from Alduin but who is themselves saved by Alduin.

This scenario doesn’t necessarily mean that the Empire is the enemy. The logo for the game is the Imperial dragon, not the Stormcloak bear, after all. This is the same Empire founded by Tiber Septim himself, who later went on to become Talos, the very god the Stormcloaks are fighting for the freedom to worship.

Or is it REALLY the same Empire? We’ll talk about that in a minute …

I’m supposed to be a Stormcloak

In a Skyrim movie, maybe Ralof could be portrayed by Chris Hemsworth?

Some players assume, “It’s the land of the Nords, so you’re supposed to be a Nord.” But the game allows a choice of ten races, all of whom are represented in the land of Skyrim. Khajiit have caravans, Orcs have strongholds, Dunmer own farms and shops, etc. Players are not required — by the game or by lore — to be Nords.

If you choose to play as a Nord, rather than one of the other races, being a Stormcloak is not necessarily a given, either. If you speak to the inhabitants of Skyrim and listen to their conversations, you’ll find many Nords who don’t support the rebels.

The nine holds of Skyrim are ruled by jarls and all of those jarls are Nords. When the game begins, four of them — Siddgeir, Igmund, Idgrod Ravencrone, and Elisif — still support the Empire. Balgruuf seems neutral, but when push comes to shove, he sides with the Empire. If you end the rebellion in favor of the Empire, the Stormcloak jarls will be replaced by more Nords who support the Empire: Brina, Maven, Brunwulf, and Kraldar.

Hadvar — the guy with the list — and his uncle Alvor are Nords. Legate Rikke, the second in command to General Tullius in the Imperial Legion, is a Nord who fought beside Ulfric in the Great War and once considered him a friend. She continues to support the Empire AND worship Talos despite the ban.

So, no, being a Stormcloak is not necessarily what the player, Nord or otherwise, is “supposed” to do. There are Nords on both sides of the conflict, and the game does not prevent a Nord from joining the Empire — nor does it prevent any other race from joining the Stormcloaks, but more on that in part two.

The Empire invaded and enslaved the Nords

I’ve heard this one many times, so let me clarify: Skyrim is part of the Empire created by Tiber Septim, who is worshipped as Talos. For centuries, Skyrim has been led by jarls who elect a high king, but they answer to the Emperor. Ulfric Stormcloak, like many Nords, fought in the Great War on the side of the Empire.

Ulfric is rebelling, which is why it’s called a civil war, not an invasion. The Imperial Legion, led by General Tullius, is trying to hold the Empire together, not annex Skyrim by force.

Those Nords you see being escorted along the roads by Thalmor Justiciars, they are prisoners, not slaves — though the Nords themselves probably don’t see any difference. The Thalmor agents were sent to Skyrim by the Third Aldmeri Dominion with the excuse of enforcing the White-Gold Concordat, the treaty that ended the Great War between the Empire and the Dominion. Their main goal is to undermine the Empire by perpetuating the civil war and fomenting unrest, but more on that later.

The Dominion is not a territory of the Empire, nor is Cyrodiil a territory of the Dominion. The Third Aldmeri Dominion is a separate and powerful government established early in the Fourth Era by a group of nationalist Altmer in the Summerset Isles and eventually including Valenwood and Elsweyr, the homelands of the Bosmer and Khajiit races.

Galmar Stone-Fist, Ulfric’s general and housecarl, says that the Stormcloaks will “show those pointy-eared bastards not every man is fit to be their slave.” And elves do have a history of enslaving humans. In the First Era, an elvish race known as Heartland High Elves, or Ayleids, ruled Cyrodiil until the Slave Queen Alessia overthrew the Ayleid masters with an army of heartland humans, rebel Ayleid lords, and Nords from Skyrim, to become Empress of the First Empire. Alessia also established the pantheon of the Eight Divines (centuries before the birth of Tiber Septim, who became the Ninth Divine), which incorporated elements of Aldmeri and Nordic religions, to satisfy both of her allies.

When fighting Thalmor patrols on the roads of Skyrim, you might hear them say things such as:

“Soon, all Nords will be thrall to the Thalmor!”
“You are but a dog, and I am your master!”
“Time for you humans to learn your place!”
“Don’t you see?! Elven supremacy is the only truth!”

The fact that the Empire allows the Thalmor to operate — imprisoning and torturing Nords — within Skyrim is reprehensible and may be reason enough to join the Stormcloaks. But the Dominion is not a friend to the Empire, the Empire did not “invade” Skyrim, and the Nords are not literal slaves. Yet.

The Empire outlawed Talos worship

Jarl Balgruuf of Whiterun

The Empire agreed to outlaw Talos worship as a condition of the White-Gold Concordat, reverting to the pantheon of the original Eight Divines established by the Empress Alessia in the First Era.

Some players seem to think that Emperor Titus Mede II just pulled this out of thin air, or that he and the Dominion are best buds. But it was the Emperor’s refusal of Dominion demands that led to the Great War in the first place.

The Emperor did not give in without a fight. Only after the Imperial City had fallen to the Dominion and was retaken by the Empire (with great losses on both sides during the Battle of the Red Ring), did the Emperor give in to the demands he’d previously refused or else risked losing the Empire completely.

After the Battle for Whiterun, if the player sides with the Stormcloaks, you can hear a conversation between Whiterun’s Jarl Balgruuf and Vignar Gray-Mane:

Vignar: “The Empire has no place in Skyrim… not any more. And you? You have no place in Whiterun anymore.”

Balgruuf: “A convenient position to hold now. But mark my words, old man, in the days to come, Ulfric will spread his rebellion thin. And what then? We need the Empire, as much as it needs us. We Nords are the Empire! Our blood built it. Our blood sustains it! You of all people should know that.”

Vignar: “If this was my Empire, I’d be able to worship whoever I damned well pleased. You wish to see an Empire without Talos? Without its soul? We should be fighting those witch-elves, not bending knee to them. The Emperor is nothing more than a puppet of the Thalmor. Skyrim needs a High King who will fight for her, and Whiterun needs a Jarl who will do the same.”

Balgruuf: “Tell me, Vignar. Was all this worth it? How many of those corpses lining our streets wear the faces of men who once called you friend? What about their families? … This isn’t over. You hear me you old fool! This isn’t over! … You’ll all come to regret this day.”

Talos worship is a deal-breaker for many players. They might know, from playing Oblivion, that Talos is indeed divine, and so doesn’t deserve to be removed from the pantheon. Or they might believe that freedom of religion is a fundamental right worth fighting for.

These are noble reasons and I’m not here to argue against them, only to note that in Skyrim there are Nords, like Legate Rikke, who support the Empire and go on worshiping Talos anyway. Jarl Elisif of Solitude even requests that her husband’s war horn be delivered to a shrine of Talos, in spite of her alliance with the Empire.

The Thalmor insistence on removing Talos is a political move that targets the Nords with surgical precision, turning the strongest region of the Empire with the fiercest fighters against the Empire itself, further weakening the alliances Talos forged as Tiber Septim and allowing the High Elves to regain control of Cyrodiil.

At the end of the civil war, if you side with the Stormcloaks, General Tullius will express similar sentiments, before he is killed:

Tullius: “You realize this is exactly what they wanted.”
Galmar: “What who wanted?”
Tullius: “The Thalmor. They stirred up trouble here. Forced us to divert needed resources and throw away good soldiers quelling this rebellion.”
Tullius: “We aren’t the bad guys you know.”
Ulfric: “Maybe not, but you certainly aren’t the good guys.”
Tullius: “Perhaps you’re right. But then what does that make you?”
Ulfric: “You just said it yourself.”
Galmar: “It makes us right.”
Tullius: “And if I surrender?”
Ulfric: “The Empire I remember never surrendered.”

Some players interpret the removal of Talos as a political ploy best ignored in favor of a strong, united Empire. Others see it as Galmar and Ulfric do — yet another indication of the Empire’s weakness and the need for an independent Skyrim.

The Empire is weak and the Emperor betrayed his people

The Empire was never the same after the Oblivion Crisis ended the Septim bloodline in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. When Emperor Titus Mede II took over the Empire, it was a shadow of its former glory. Valenwood and Elsweyr were lost to the third Aldmeri Dominion, Black Marsh was no longer part of the Empire, and Morrowind still hadn’t recovered from the eruption of Red Mountain.

In 4E 171 (year 171 of the Fourth Era), about thirty years before the player enters Helgen, the Aldmeri Dominion invaded Hammerfell and Cyrodiil after the Emperor rejected its demands, and thus began the Great War.

The Imperial City fell and Emperor Titus Mede II, wielding the famed sword Goldbrand (from Morrowind and Oblivion), reclaimed the city and totally destroyed the Aldmeri army. He personally captured Lord Naarifin, the general of the Third Almderi Dominion, who was kept alive for thirty-three days, hanging from the White-Gold tower. At least, according to the lore book, The Great War, written by an Imperial commander who admits, within the book itself, that the “full truth of some events may never be known.”

All of the fighting had taken a toll. Not a single Imperial legion had more than half of its soldiers fit for duty, and three whole legions were lost. The war ended with the Emperor’s acceptance of the White-Gold Concordat treaty, with the same demands that the Emperor had first rejected — the outlaw of Talos worship, disbanding the Blades, and turning parts of Hammerfell over to the Aldmeri Dominion.

The terms were harsh, but Titus II believed that it was necessary to secure peace and give the Empire a chance to regain its strength … Critics have pointed out that the Concordat is almost identical to the ultimatum the Emperor rejected five years earlier. However, there is a great difference between agreeing to such terms under the mere threat of war, and agreeing to them at the end of a long and destructive war. No part of the Empire would have accepted these terms in 4E 171, dictated by the Thalmor at swords-point. Titus II would have faced civil war. By 4E 175, most of the Empire welcomed peace at almost any price. Source: The Great War

Some of the Nords who’d fought — and watched their friends and family die — for the Empire didn’t see the White-Gold Concordat as a temporary necessity but as the betrayal of a coward.

Ulfric himself will say, “The Aldmeri Dominion may have defeated the Empire, but it has not defeated Skyrim,” ignoring the fact that Cyrodiil and many loyal Nords do not consider the Empire “defeated” at all.

However, if General Tullius, the leader of the Imperial legion and military governor of Skyrim, attends the party during the Diplomatic Immunity quest, you might hear him say:

“Just between you and me, a lot of what Ulfric says about the Empire is true. I swear Elenwen holds these parties just to make the Empire look bad. Almost makes me want to join the Stormcloaks.”

In what seems to be a bit of hypocrisy, however, Ulfric won’t attack Solitude (to complete the civil war on the Stormcloak side) if you are also in the middle of the quest Bound Until Death, because he doesn’t want to spill the royal blood of the Emperor’s cousin, Vittoria Vici. Ulfric will tell you:

“We can’t afford an all out war with the Empire. So we’ll bide our time for now.”

This sounds like the same reason Emperor Titus Mede II agreed to the White-Gold Concordat, because the Empire couldn’t afford to continue an all out war with the Dominion and needed time to increase its strength.

An independent Skyrim would drive out the Thalmor

Prior to the events in TESV:Skyrim, Hammerfell seceded from the Empire and fought the Dominion on its own, gaining freedom in 4E 180 and demonstrating that if Titus II had kept his nerve, the Aldmeri could have been defeated.

Skyrim might do the same — assuming it wasn’t totally torn apart and its best fighters wiped out by a long, drawn-out civil war, first.

With the Imperial legions out of the way, Skyrim would be free to throw out every last Judiciar, release any prisoners being held by the Thalmor, and restore the Shrine of Talos to its empty alcove in the Temple of the Divines in Solitude.

But, would the Stormcloaks eventually regret leaving the Empire, as Balgruuf said? Without the aid of the Nords, would the Aldmeri Dominion retake the heartland? Would it eventually attack Skyrim? Would the Nords vanquish the Aldmeri Dominion, as Ysgramor and his Companions drove the Snow Elves from Skyrim in centuries past? In the resulting unrest, would the Forsworn try to rise against the Nords again?

Sybille Stentor, the court mage in Solitude, calls the Dominion “a sleeping beast that Skyrim cannot slay alone.” Many players agree with her, and believe that a united Empire has a better chance against the Third Aldmeri Dominion. Or, as Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”

Perhaps, in Elder Scrolls VI, we’ll find out if Sybille and Balgruuf are right or wrong.

Click here to continue with part two, and reasons players join the Empire. 

~ J.L. Hilton

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ILLOGICON 2017 schedule

Illogicon is a community based convention dedicated to Science Fiction & Fantasy in all media — books, TV, movies, animation, comics, the visual arts, pod casts, video games and more.

I’m appearing on the What is a “Real Game”? panel 8pm Friday with Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy writer Richard Dansky, convention guest of honor, author and video game writer Dave Ellis, game designer John Lapoint, and Justin Achilli, who developed Vampire: The Masquerade and the VR game Werewolves Within.

We’ll discuss what makes a video or digital based game a game, and how people who spend four or five hours a day playing Candy Crush may have more in common with die-hard Halo players than they think. (Or, at least, that’s what the official schedule tells me.)

Why the hell am I on this illustrious panel of game writers and developers? Well, I’ve known Richard Dansky for several years but up until now haven’t had the chance to be on a panel with him, so I seized the opportunity. Plus, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a woman on the panel who defies the stereotype of the middle-aged female gamer who only plays Farmville.

From 10am to noon Sunday, I’ll be offering jewelry making lessons during the Geek Arts and Crafts workshop.

~ J.L. Hilton

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The fragrance of Skyrim

One of my viewers, Cristina Carry, creator of the Teldryn Serious quest mod, made this piece of fanart for me after I joked about the way my dremora lord says, “I smell weakness,” when I summon him with my Sanguine Rose staff.

Come join the fun on my Youtube channel. Around 12-2pm EST daily (depending on my schedule) there’s live chat to discuss lore, headcanon, play styles, tips, tricks, and how much I suck at archery, or you can always leave questions and comments on any of my videos saved to Youtube after the livestream ends.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Skyrim Special Edition special guest

Skyrim is my favorite video game of all time, and I was absolutely gobsmacked to discover that Dan Donohue, voice actor for my favorite Skyrim character Teldryn Sero, popped in to watch my livestream yesterday!

He also voiced Warden Eternal in Halo 5: Guardians. You can listen to an exclusive interview about that here.

I’ve been live streaming my Skyrim Special Edition game play on PS4, through my Jewelsmith channel on Youtube, since the release of the remaster last month.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Making android dreams of electric sheep come true

I listened to the SpazzyW interview with Fallout 4 Deacon voice actor Ryan Alosio this morning, and he said his dream role would be to play Deckard in Blade Runner, so I had to do this.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Tour the Commonwealth with me

Hello, Wastelanders! I’ve been writing about Fallout 4 for awhile, and now I’m doing videos on Youtube!

I’m giving tours of my settlements, which focus on role-playing and realistic construction, within the constraints of the PS4. I’m also doing some general gameplay videos, like the deathclaw vs. assaultron arena battle below.

I’m not doing a playthrough, since I’m level 108 now and finished just about everything in the game, but I might do some videos of the Vault-Tec Workshop and Nuka World add-ons when those are released.

You can check out the videos below and subscribe to my channel to be notified of new content.

When the remastered Skyrim comes to PS4, I’ll be streaming a ton of that. With 900 hours experience playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and countless hours fixing glitches and reading lore, I think that will be informative and a lot of fun! I’m looking forward to it.







~ J.L. Hilton

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Wanton Wasteland: Hangman’s Alley


For funsies a few years ago, I wrote some smutty fanfiction in honor of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now I’m playing Fallout 4 and I’m inspired again.

Do not read if offended by erotica, drugs, alcohol, voyeuristic masturbating ghouls, or a sole survivor who likes to do it mongrel style. This is all in good, dirty fun. Fiona is an original character but the Commonwealth wasteland and its inhabitants belong to Bethesda and the creators of Fallout 4.

If you’d like to see a tour of my actual Hangman’s Alley settlement in the game, check out my video on Youtube.

1,200 words.


Less than a finger of whiskey flowed into his glass. Hancock sighed and shook the last few drops from the bottle. Hadn’t it been full when he started? No wonder he needed to piss.

He swallowed the dregs in one gulp and left the bar. The rickety watering hole above Hangman’s Alley had no name. The flashing neon sign said “BAR” and no one called it anything else. Like a toothless wasteland jet-whore, you knew exactly why you were there and a name didn’t matter.

He glided down two flights of stairs to the street, moving with a slow grace that came from years of practice so no one could tell if he was drunk, high, both, or heaven forbid sober. Folks were less inclined to give you shit when they couldn’t peg your state of mind.

The crapper stood behind the general’s house. Not that he called her the general. He wasn’t in the Minutemen, he was the goddamn mayor of Goodneighbor so he called her Fiona. And it wasn’t hers, really, just a place she crashed when she happened to be around. Which she was, at the moment. Which is why he drank more than usual.

And the house wasn’t much of a house. Not like the Old State House, which was an actual fucking house. The general’s digs looked more like a big, broken shipping crate, built by the raiders she’d wiped out a few months ago. Back when she’d asked Hancock to stay and help the new settlement, him being mayoral and all.

Hell yes, he’d wanted to help. Not just because there were precious few safe havens for the scrabbling rabble who did most of the living and dying in the Commonwealth, but because—for the first time in his life—he didn’t want his freedom. Fiona and her intriguing bundle of contradictions gave him a rush. She was an Old World woman awake in the wrong time. A charming combination of kind and ruthless, naive and brilliant, soft and steely. She was everything he admired, and everything he’d lost.

He’d tried to make her understand what she meant to him. Most of the time, he could talk a Gunner out of bullets, but, Jesus, that particular conversation with Fiona had gone off like a grenade in a shit house. Sure, she welcomed ghouls into the ranks of the Minutemen and helped the Slog as much as any other settlement. Fuck, a ghoul ran the general store right there in Hangman’s Alley. And if anyone didn’t like it, too bad, she wouldn’t stand for any prejudiced bullshit.

But it’s one thing to treat a ghoul with respect, and another to want his dick in you. When Hancock had drifted dangerously close to telling her he had a thing for her, the look on her face, it made him regret being what he was. Not for the first time in his life, sure, but for the first time since becoming a ghoul. He suddenly felt less like the mayor and savior of Goodneighbor, and more like the creature she saw when she looked at him—a scabby junkie in a tattered old coat. And that fucking sucked.

Then she’d run off to help Garvey with another settlement or five, and came back with MacCready all over her like green on a mutant. The viper in his bosom, the mercenary he’d sheltered in the Third Rail. Sure, MacCready’d done Goodneighbor enough favors, Hancock wasn’t about to shank him. Hancock would outlast MacCready and he would get what he wanted, in the end. He always did. Or, he usually did. And if that didn’t work, then shanking.

Meanwhile, whiskey soothed the sting.

Hancock rounded the corner. Uneven light marked the narrow path to the toilet, the glow of a single bare bulb escaping through cracks in the wall of Fiona’s shack. Sounds escaped, too, despite the rattling of the nearby generator. Not the cadence of normal conversation, but low and suggestive voices, punctuated by the creaking of crappy bedsprings.

Goddamn lucky bastard, he thought while he pissed. As he finished and tucked his junk into his pants, he heard Fiona moan. Blood rushed to his dick—because he wasn’t dead, y’know, he just looked like it. Inching closer, he peered between loose boards and saw them, MacCready on top of her and her legs wrapped around his skinny waist.

A piece of glass crunched beneath Hancock’s boot.

“Wait,” she said, and he thought he’d been heard. But, no, she only wanted to change positions. She rolled over, onto her hands and knees, giving Hancock a spectacular view.

She’d lost weight since she’d first appeared in Goodneighbor—clean, soft, well-fed, and wide-eyed but trying so damn hard not to let her fear show. Like an angel in road leathers. Hancock woulda coulda shoulda fucked her right then and there, on Finn’s warm corpse. She was harder now, but still had a helluva rack and a round ass that was totally wasted on MacCready.

“What do you want me to do?”

Seriously, kid? Where’s your sense of adventure? Did that guy learn nothing when he was running with the Gunners? Most of them would do anything for a few bottlecaps or a frag mine.

Fiona jockeyed onto his cock and started rocking. It was goddamn beautiful, but for fucks sake, MacCready, would it kill you to give her a reach-around? She eventually started touching herself, and Hancock did the same, furiously tugging his shit in the shadows.

Then she sat upright, bouncing on MacCready’s thighs, as if she knew Hancock was right there and wanted to make sure he saw it all. Her hand flailed over her clit like the horns of a rabid, wounded radstag, and her body stiffened.

Right on. He suddenly felt religious, thanking god and any other invisible friends who might be watching. She cried out, arched her back and thrashed with a hard climax. No credit to the mercenary who didn’t bother to kiss her neck, bite her shoulder, pull her hair, slap her ass, scratch her back, or grab her tits. Useless. What did she see in this asshole? So, he had hair. So what?

In a strained voice MacCready warned her, “I’m going to blow.” He pulled out, she pumped his dick a few times with her hand, and he shot his wad on the mattress, so he wouldn’t knock her up. They both had kids, so they weren’t sterile and had to take precautions. Ghouls, at worst, would only give you radiation burns. Nothing a little RadAway couldn’t fix.

She kissed MacCready full on the mouth as if he deserved it and Hancock stepped away, unwilling to watch that shit. Fucking was one thing, but falling in love was something else. That she was falling for MacCready, it hurt.

He finished jerking off, wiped his hand on the starred and striped flag he wore as a belt, and inhaled a puff of jet.

It hurt like hell.

– J.L. Hilton

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