Knowing how much I love Fallout 4, my best friend got me Skyrim for Christmas. Since Skyrim supports specific character builds much more closely than Fallout 4 does, I decided before I began on my basic character bio: “Mercenary sneak thief with trust issues.”
At her request, I texted her while I installed and started playing Skyrim. My running commentary on my activities eventually resulted in this exchange:
Me: The guy at Pelagia Farm was displeased that I let myself in, so I killed his chickens.
Her: You should be doing Let’s Play vids
Her: Seriously your style is uniquely sadistic
Me: I’m tempted. I have a very consistent moral code.
After the fifth or sixth time my husband declared my Skyrim character “terrible” while laughing uproariously, I decided the world needed to know more about my uniquely sadistic videogame-based moral code. Here’s how to have more fun than anyone should be allowed to as a Skyrim character.
#1: Never buy anything you can loot or steal.
Skyrim makes this harder than Fallout 4 did by preventing you from selling items that you acquired by stealing. So it’s going to be tough to, say, steal from the Jarl in order to raise the funds for the house in Whiterun. (I found this out the hard way.)
That said, there’s plenty you can steal for your own benefit, like food and potions. And you can always sell what you loot from bandits and other, um, instances of corpse.
#2: Seek power, not money.
Fun fact: Once you become a Thane of Whiterun, nothing you take from the Jarl’s house counts as stealing anymore.
Use your power wisely.
#3: Always tell people what they want to hear.
As someone with trust issues, I grew up telling people what they wanted to hear. The consequences often sucked, but at least it was safe.
In Skyrim, the most common consequence of telling people what they want to hear is that you end up agreeing to do some quest that you don’t care about and that distracts you from whatever it was you were doing instead of the main quest line. But that’s okay, because when in doubt….
#4: Never do a quest without payment.
I’m not talking about the payments that are built into several quests in the game, although you should always choose the speech option to demand payment when it’s offered and you should always take someone’s money when they try to give it to you.
Those payments are important, sure. But think of them as payment for the work itself. How is this NPC going to pay you for your annoyance at having accepted this quest in the first place?
With their personal goods, that’s how.
By now, it should be obvious that you need to invest the bulk of your perk points in the Sneak, Pickpocket and Speech trees. If you decide to do a quest for someone, take their stuff as payment for your goodwill.
#5: If you see a lock or a pocket, pick it.
Skills in Skyrim level up through use, so the best way to become a master mercenary sneak thief is to sneakily thieve every chance you get. This means picking every lock you find and picking pockets on the regular.
Also, don’t be afraid to sneak around wherever you go. Your Sneak skill increases whenever you manage to not be seen by some NPC who should otherwise see you. Since Skyrim lacks any version of the VATS function in Fallout 4, you won’t always know when there’s someone around to see you – so sneak past them anyway.
#6: Don’t get caught.
As a mercenary sneak thief with trust issues, getting caught stealing or pickpocketing is an affront to your very nature.
You can and will escape from jail, but having to go in the first place is a waste of your time and an insult to your dignity. Avoid it.
Speaking of skills (and dignity)….
#7: Don’t be afraid to bash.
I started this playthrough intending to stick to my trusty bow and arrows. It made sense to me that a sneak thief with trust issues would avoid getting too close to a target.
The downside, of course, is that shooting things at close range is hard, and a lot of predatory animals are really good at introducing themselves by taking a bite out of your digital metal-clad butt. And while Skyrim does allow you to punch things with your bow hand, bow-as-melee-weapon is next to useless.
Solution: Get yourself some hand weapons.
Do dump some perk points into archery, unless you’re totally avoiding bows on this playthrough, But please, don’t eschew two-handed weapons or shield bashing till you’ve tried it. Few things are more satisfying to a mercenary soul than bashing someone with your shield hard enough to knock them directly onto your companion’s blade.
Oh, and the animations for two-handed sword kills are brutally good fun.
Once you’ve chosen a weapon, you’ll need to use it within your own strict moral code. To start:
#8: If someone tries to kill you, kill them.
Honestly, if you’re not already doing this, then please return to beating the pants off of teenagers on Twitch at competitive Tetris. No, seriously, those videos are hilarious and we need more of them.
You can’t always avoid people or animals who are trying to murder you in Skyrim. Your choices, in these situations, are typically to try to murder them back or to flee. Always kill your attacker if you can. Loot the corpse, then sell your stuff to further boost your Speech skill.
For every NPC who tries to kill you, there’s at least one that won’t. Don’t try to kill them. However….
#9: If someone is rude to you, make them poorer.
“Get out of my house!” said the man at Pelagia Farm, when I picked his lock to sneak into his house in the wee hours of the morning.
“Squawk!” said his chickens, as I gifted them each an arrow.
There’s no need to murder people who are merely rude to you. But there’s no need to stand for that rudeness, either.
Someday, I’ll do a Skyrim playthrough in which I attempt to kill every single NPC I meet. (I have already done this in Fallout 4, with mildly satisfying results.) For now, however, my character’s code of ethics calls for not killing the merely-rude.
Just settle the score, and if you can’t….
#10: Get weird.
No matter how hard you try, there will be times in Skyrim where you just can’t adhere to the rules above. For instance, I ended up having to run away from a vampire master in Shriekwind early in the game because I encountered him before I was strong enough to defeat him.
When this happens, you will have Feelings. Your strong code of ethics (such as it is) has been violated. How can you restore a sense of order and justice to your digital world?
Simple: Get weird.
Steal a horse and barrel-race around the Standing Stones. Shoot a nobleman in the head and loot everything except his coin purse and hat. Stuff a wolf carcass full of cheese and leave it on the trail. The weirder, the better.
Getting weird is one of my holdout habits from Fallout 4, which I’ve played for so many hours that I now get bored if I don’t get weird. On my last playthrough, I took a fire extinguisher named Sally everywhere I went, propping her up on the couch in the Third Rail from time to time so Sally could enjoy the music.
With even more random stuff in its world, Skyrim offers even more opportunities to get truly bizarre. So embrace them. It’s a great way to immanentize the eschaton, yo.