The Elder Scrolls

Emergent Storytelling, or How I Learned to Stop Fast Travelling and Enjoy the Walk

TheElderScrolls6 - Emergent Storytelling, or How I Learned to Stop Fast Travelling and Enjoy the Walk
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I was moved by something that happened to me in a recent playthrough.

I'd set myself a few rules to RP to in this run. Most of them aren't important, but the ones relevant here are 1) no crimes, 2) no looting, and 3) no fast travel. This made the early game especially hard, as I could barely scrounge up enough cash chopping wood and digging ore to buy the supplies I needed. I'd struggled on through the first act of the main quest, and had just tracked Delphine down to Riverwood. As we all know, from there we head over to Kynesgrove just in time for Alduin to revive Sahloknir.

En route, I spot the small mining village of Darkwater Crossing. I'm almost broke, so I figure Delphine can wait a minute while I earn a Septim or two digging corundum. While looking to find the foreman to sell my ore and collect my pay, I get talking to Annekke, the former adventurer who founded the village. I run a quick favour for her clearing out some nearby bandits, and she offers to lend a hand in future adventures.

I rendezvous with Delphine in Kynesgrove. We give Sahloknir a respectable shanking, and Delphine departs. It's too late in the day to make it back to Riverwood before nightfall, and I hate walking in the dark, so I decide to work the mines here too and try to earn a bit more to buy some decent supplies up in Windhelm. As I'm digging, I meet Roggi Knotbeard, miner and lover of mead. He tells me that he's tracked his family shield to a nearby cave, and since it's not far out of my way I volunteer to retrieve it. As it happens, the route takes me near Darkwater Crossing. Annekke was talking about reviving her adventuring days, so why not bring her along?

We get to the cave. Unbeknownst to me, my fight with Sahloknir had just tipped me over the threshold where Bandit Plunderers start spawning. Annekke and I are two women in work clothes and armed with picks. We don't stand a chance.

We manage to sneak through to the chest where the shield is kept, but as we close in we're spotted. I grab the shield and run, bandits closing behind us. The bandits nearer the entrance are alerted, and block the path. Surrounded and boxed in, I use the only real weapon I have; Unrelenting Force. Annekke, wounded by the brigands, is caught in the crossfire. She hits the far wall. She dies.

I don't have time to do anything for her. I'm out of potions, and the bandits are getting closer. I grab the ring she's wearing and flee the cave.

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I consider going straight to Kynesgrove, but if I don't at least show my face at Darkwater I'll feel like a coward. I try to speak to Verner, Annekke's husband. To my surprise, his usual dialogue doesn't play. Instead, he says he's not angry, but he wants to be left alone. The impact of my decision to bring Annekke hits deeper. There's no way for me to give Annekke's ring to Verner, so I settle for leaving it on the small boulder near the middle of the village. I head to Kynesgrove.

The sun sets on the way back, and a thunderstorm rolls in. I usually turn the music off, and crank up the sound effects, so the crashing of thunder is the only sound as I walk back. I don't usually take companions with me, and the disastrous results of this first attempt have left me genuinely dejected.

I give Roggi his shield, and he's thrilled. The limits of the game mean I can't tell him a woman died finding it for him, but even if I could, would I want to? I can't put the guilt of my decision on someone else; it wasn't Roggi who asked Annekke to come along, after all.

The thunderstorm is still rumbling overhead. Even in-game, the sound is soothing, and I decide to perch on one of the stumps outside the inn and just listen. At this point, it's about 8pm; most of the miners and villagers are in the inn. To my surprise, Roggi comes out and seats himself on the stump opposite. There's a little silence, before he starts talking about his dream to revisit the meaderies in Riften.

Now, I know this is just random dialogue from an NPC in a videogame. But in real life? If I were sat outside on my own, and someone came out to talk to me about something, anything, I'd see that as an attempt to provide comfort. Somewhere in my brain, something clicked, and the entire interaction somehow felt so human. For all the jank, all the stiffly delivered scripted conversations, this one little moment made Skyrim feel so real to me.

In-game months later, I've managed to scrape together just enough cash to buy Breezehome. Now I have a house, it seems only right to get married. Considering the options, there are plenty who tell us who they are. Ysolda tells us that she's an aspiring merchant, and Balimund tells us he's proud of his skill as a smith. But somehow, this little interaction with Roggi made him feel like a deeper, more kindly character than any scripted dialogue could. I propose, we wed, and move in at Breezehome. When I ask how he likes the place, I've never felt more invested when he says he's happy.

TL;DR: Skyrim's jumble of tiny little NPC mechanics come together to give me feelings

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