Analysis / The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Forgotten lessons of Morrowind sidequests

With the proliferation of MMO-style 20 Bear Asses and Mass Monster Slaughter Sidequests in modern RPGs, it pays to look back at the older games and revisit the sidequest formulas that worked back then and will probably work now. Of particular interest is the Tribunal Temple questline, not only because it meshes so perfectly with the overarching themes of the game's main quest, but also because it does several quest types rarely seen before or since:

  • Pilgrimage. At it's core, the quest is very simple—go from here to point X, click on the shrine, and come back. However, it combines Morrowind's inherent strength (Scenery Porn) with religious significance, giving meaning to these seemingly pointless runarounds. It also makes you actually read and pay attention to the in-universe religious texts, exposing yourself to the World Building, as well as showing you interesting places around the game world that you'd probably never visit otherwise. Later on, there is even an idea of a pilgrimage with a vow of silence, where you cannot talk with anyone (including fast travel services) as you trek across the entire island.
  • Healing Mission. In most modern RPGs (and in Morrowind as well), your assignments are usually "go there, kill the bad guy(s)". But Morrowind ingeniously inverts it: thanks to its setting (an island ravaged by The Plague) and sandbox mechanics (which allow combining spell effects like "cure decease" with "on other" target), it was possible to make quests whose goal is "go there, cure that dude". Since you are not asked to kill anyone, you can just as well stealth your way to the target; likewise, you need not know any curing spells, if you have a scroll, an item, or a potion.
  • Food for the Hermit. This quest actually provides a justification of why you have to go so far out of your way to complete it.
  • Relic Recovery. Basically a Fetch Quest, but, again, with religious significance. You are not just retrieving an item for a Quest Giver, you return a relic to the faithful.

An important aspect of all Temple quests is that you don't get any standard RPG rewards for them—which is a plot point. The Temple is a major charity organization, so your duties as a member are not supposed to be rewarded. At most, you can hope for a book or a potion.

A breakdown of The Rashomon surrounding the events of the Battle of Red Mountain

What, exactly, happened at the Battle of Red Mountain? Over the course of the game, the player may come across nine or more mutually-contradictory accounts of the battle. There are a number of minor disagreements such as Nerevar's title or whether the dark-elf faction is called the "Dunmer" or the "Chimer", which reflect the author's biases or knowlege. And then there are the substantial points of disagreement:

  1. Who were the combatants? Most versions agree that the main combat was the Dwemer versus the Chimer, with disagreement as to which side House Dagoth was on, or whether the Tribal Chimer were present, or whether the Dwemer had Nord allies. And then there's the Nord version, which has a Chimer/Dwemer alliance fighting a Nord/Orc/Dagoth alliance.
  2. Why was the battle fought? Inherent Chimer/Dwemer hostility, a falling-out between Nerevar and the Dwemer king, to stop the Dwemer from using the Heart of Lorkhan, or (the Nord version again) to retreive the Heart of Lorkhan?
  3. When and why did the Dwemer disappear? Were they exterminated by magic note , did they attempt to use the Heart of Lorkhan to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and fail, attempt to use the Heart of Lorkhan to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and succeed, attempt to use the Heart of Lorkhan to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and get exterminated by a divine being, get "removed from the world" during the battle by Vivec, disappear when someonenote  severed their connection to the Heart of Lorkhan, or (yes, Nord version) get exterminated by a temporarily-revived god Lorkhan?
  4. How and when did Nerevar die? Was he mortally wounded by the Dwemer king in battle, killed in battle as a random casualty, killed by his arch-enemy Dagoth Ur during battle, killed by his friend Dagoth Ur as part of a Face–Heel Turn after the battle, assassinated by Almalexia, Vivec, and Sotha Sil after the battle, or (the Nords really do see things differently, don't they) killed in battle by Lorkhan?
  5. What was the relationship between Nerevar and Almalexia, Vivec, and Sotha Sil? Was he their servant? Their companion? Are they his counselors? His queen and generals? Rival leaders of the Chimer Great Houses?

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