The Elder Roles: How to Play Skyrim as a Skyrim Peasant
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
The Elder Roles is a new blog I'm publishing that solves a big problem I've been having with Skyrim lately: As much as I love the game, there was a period where I was feeling pretty lukewarm about playing it. I backtracked to other Bethesda titles like Fallout: New Vegas to feed my addiction with fresh content. At the same time, I never uninstalled Skyrim because I knew I wasn't done with it -- I just didn't know what I wanted to do next. The answer to that came when I read a woefully short series on PC Gamer called The Elder Strolls, following a character in Skyrim who wasn't a hero, a villain, an adventurer or a rogue. He was just some poor sap trying to stay alive. The author had even done the same thing before with The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion in a series of blog posts called Living in Oblivion. In game worlds that can support so much dynamic content and choice, even the most mundane lifestyle offers plenty of opportunities.
My own peasant playthrough has been a refreshing and even relaxing way to replay old content and stumble across things I'd never seen before. If you're curious about trying it yourself, here are a few tips for getting the most out of the experience:
Start Somewhere New
I mentioned the Live Another Life mod in a post about revamping Skyrim a couple months ago (when I was just starting out with this little project). Although this mod works every alternate beginning in with the main story, the reason that it's still one of my favourite installed mods is because it lets your character start like they're already a functioning, integrated member of Skyrim's npc scenery. You can start almost anywhere on the map that you like, depending on your background. Be a soldier, a hunter, a traveler... You'll start with the appropriate equipment and in the appropriate location, like a Quantum Leap-style jump into a pre-existing npc.
Don't be a Hero
Most peasants and other npc characters don't go on grand adventures -- that's why they ask heroes to go do those things for them. And there are no npcs in Skyrim who are Dragonborn, so your little nobody character probably shouldn't be, either. Though sometimes adventure may be unavoidable, steering clear of most quests and dungeons is a step in the right direction. My peasant character only fights in self defense, but if you're playing the town drunk you may want to lay a few punches on a passerby and see where it takes you.
You'll also need to make your own goals: do you want a house, a horse, a husband? Figure out your character's priorities and get to work making their dreams come true.
Keep it Simple
Don't let your nobody dress like a somebody. How often do you see a farmer tending their fields in ebony armor? I keep my peasant in cloth clothing almost exclusively, and her weapons are the basic tools of a competent hunter. She uses a bow and a dagger now, but I've been considering switching her to a woodsman's axe for extra authenticity.
You may also want to avoid adding enchantments, but I'll admit I've done it a few times and found ways to justify it. Play by the rules you're comfortable with, and be as rigid or as flexible with them as you need to be.
Force Yourself to Slow Down
I've installed mods that force me to eat, drink and sleep regularly, as well as using mods that decrease my running speed. No sprinting or fast travel is allowed, no reloading a save if something goes wrong, and no inhuman days upon days without food and rest.Life is hard and death is permanent.
The purpose of mods and rules like these is to force me to play Skyrim at a more realistic pace. Suddenly a trip to the nearest city is something I have to plan for well in advance. I'll need to have money to spend the night at the inn, food to last until I'm back, and a weapon in case of bandits or wolves (or god knows what else). My main character in Skyrim hopped from hold to hold so much that a lot of the smaller details of the world got lost, so this slower, more thoughtful approach makes the world feel bigger than it ever did before. You learn the local area well, and when you're finally ready to move on it feels like a BIG DEAL. And it should. It's dangerous out there for an herb-picking nobody -- haven't you heard about the dragons?
If I've piqued your curiosity check out my relatively new Skyrim blog to read a first hand account of what this kind of gameplay is like, or test it out for yourself. I guarantee it will give you a fresh perspective on last year's best game.Tweet
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.