Überwald: Hjaalmarch. The entire hold contains a single quaint, rustic town surrounded by dismal foggy swamps and ruled by an old crone with mystical fortune-telling powers; nearby is a large vampire lair with a scheming master vampire; there are no roads, and the overall atmosphere is dark, mysterious and creepy. With Hearthfire you can also build and own an estate there, but your adopted children are afraid to live in this estate, claiming there are monsters in the swamp... and they're right! The random encounters that threaten the estate often include Trolls, Giants or Draugr from the nearby Nordic Ruin!
Remember Chauruses, the Demonic Spider that can usually only be found deep underground in Falmer infested lairs? One place they do live above ground is in Morthal's swamp, located about three steps from your front door! No wonder Valdimar is the only Housecarl to be a Spellsword!
To really bring it all together, there is a mod which inserts a Skyrim-ified version of the Arkay Mansion from Resident Evil. Take a wild guess where they put it...
"Tell me, do you believe in Arkay, god of life and death?"
Underground City: Blackreach, a Dwemer ruin so massive it has four separate surface entrances, its own Bonus Boss, and an entire castle.
Unexpected Genre Change: The Thieves' Guild has a few missions in which stealth (the lynchpin of a Thief-type character) is not the main focus. Of note is the mission "Dampened Spirits", which is basically you going into a cellar to eliminate rats. You're not sneaking or breaking in (in fact, you have to get permission from the proprietor to even begin the quest), and combat with the spiders and skeevers which infest the underground caves is almost impossible to avoid. Even worse is the Wake-Up Call Boss at the end of the level, Hamelyn, who is difficult to sneak up on because alerting his pets alerts him as well, and if you take on this quest at too low of a level, he can kill you in a matter of seconds.
The Blades will cut off all support if you refuse to kill Paarthurnax. This comes after you saved Esbern's life, help them reclaim Sky Haven Temple by literally using your blood, and help re-establish their order with new recruits. They do this despite being oathsworn to serve you.
Conversely, the Player Character is this, should you choose to go along with the Blades' plan after Paarthurnax has helped you learn Dragonrend and fight Alduin, both saving your life and giving you the means to save the world. Repaying that with death so that you can command a squad of warriors bent on exterminating his species is pretty harsh. The Greybeards will even call you out on it and prevent you from ever returning to High Hrothgar. It's made even worse by the fact that Paarthurnax won't turn hostile until you actually attack him, meaning you can both literally and metaphorically Back Stab him.
Tullius/Ulfric (depending on which one is your ally) will chew you out after you finish the main quest. Why? He blames you for the territory he had to give up during the peace conference. You know - the one you had to negotiate so that you could climb onto the back of a potentially hostile dragon, fly to an inaccessible mountain, travel to the afterlife, and save the universe from Alduin the freaking World-Eater. THAT peace conference.
However, the one that takes the cake is Aetherium, introduced in the "Lost to the Ages" sidequests in Dawnguard. This magic-imbued was apparently used by the Dwemer to make some of their most powerful weapons ever, and supposedly the small crest you assemble during the quest is all that's left of the stuff.
Unperson: The Thalmor are attempting to do this to Talos (and by extension Shor/Lorkhan). The ramifications have Apocalypse How - Metaphysical Annihilation severity for Men, though Mer would (probably) regain divinity.
The Unreveal: Your initiation into the Dark Brotherhood consists of you being presented with three hooded figures, you're told one of them has a contract for their death and must carry it out, deciding which one you think is the one with the contract. However, you're never told who it actually was and you succeed regardless of who you kill, as the test was about your willingness to carry out the order rather than about your actual choice of target. Given that you're allowed to kill all three and they all have reasons for others to want them dead, it's entirely possible all three had contracts, or even none of them. This is the Dark Brotherhood, after all.
The official strategy guide does provide The Reveal, though. None of them had contracts.
Unstoppable Rage: The Orc racial power, Berserker Rage, doubles weapon damage and halves damage received.
Played straight with the random generic thieves and Dark Brotherhood assassins who may appear. Their armor cannot be looted from their corpse. The Summerset Shadows' armor also cannot be looted (except for the group leader, whose armor is slightly different).
Also played straight with most Draugr; if they're wearing armor, chances are you can't loot it. You can find it as random loot elsewhere, and the Skyforge can be used to craft brand new versions after a certain story event.
While usually averted to hell and back that you can loot weapons and clothing off someone who literally have been turned to ash by your lightning spells, this is played straight with Ash Spawns in Dragonborn. Justified since their weapons are technically Shapeshifter Weapons.
Dremora can't be looted for their armor, though you can craft it or summon it from the bounds of Oblivion using the Atronach Forge, likely right off some Dremora's back.
The Dragonborn's activities are fairly unremarkable to most townfolk. You can be dressed in Archmage robes or a full set of Daedric armor, and they regard you with the same attitude that they would if you wore simple clothes. Their AI will also remark on dead bodies lying in the street while ignoring a dragon's corpse, or tell you to put away that "dangerous magic" when you just used it to kill said dragon. They also don't notice that you may be riding around on a purple, flaming, skeletal horse. Guards, on the other hand, are programmed to react to your attire and behavior.
Should also be noted that people react early on to your Thu'uming. After you meet the Greybeards, though, word has gotten around; and by the end of the main quest people are pretty much numb to it.
Unwinnable by Design: Can happen if you waste too much time in the prologue, as after a certain amount of time elapses from when you start following Hadvar and heading for the Helgen Keep, the dragon will single you out and start attacking you and you only, which can result in a short and brutal execution as your hands are still bound and he can position himself in such a way that the only escape is through him. Be especially quick when in front of the Keep, as the dragon will land there and immediately torch you dead should you not run the hell away inside the keep.
Useless Useful Spell: Averted in general. Just about every perk, spell, and shout has its uses, including seemingly useless ones. Deadly Shield Bash, for example, is not very useful compared to killing things with your dedicated weapons; but for mages who use shields, it turns them into an effective backup weapon if magicka runs out, and can serve as a workable backup for fighters who find themselves on the wrong side of a Disarm shout. Similarly, Elemental Fury is not terribly useful for someone with an enchanted weapon, but some particularly nasty weapons (i.e. Valdr's Lucky Dagger) don't count as enchanted.
Useless Useful Stealth: Averted with a vengeance in this game, in response to criticism of Oblivion. With a character focused on Sneaking, you can avoid setting off traps in dungeons, make no noise even when running, make less noise regardless of armor weight, execute silent combat rolls, and take advantage of the highest damage multipliers in the game. (Bows will do three times normal damage, one-handed weapons six-times, and daggers fifteen times as much!) If you master pickpocketing, you can sneak up behind someone and steal all their armor and weapons without them ever noticing you. When combined with other perks, such as Silent Casting, Illusion spells, and the ability to set Rune traps and conjure minions from several yards away, you can take care of threats without even being in the room. And even if you are caught, the Shadow Warrior perk allows you to run away, kneel, and force the enemy to lose your location. If anything, the game went too far in the opposite direction, making sneaking so absurdly overpowered with the right build that the game becomes laughably easy.
Bandits. Almost everyone sends you to fight bandits eventually. There's almost always bandits involved.
Alduin and his long-dead Cult of Dragons uses Draugr (barrow wights, more or less) as their standard mooks, who serve as the Usual Adversaries during the main quest.
Van Helsing Hate Crimes: The Silver Hand is a group of werewolf-hunters who don't discriminate between the non-evil werewolves and the ones that threaten villagers. They're also really brutal to the werewolves they do capture. One of their bases is essentially a werewolf skinning and tanning facility. For that matter, they're also hostile to you even if you're not a werewolf. If you wander into one of their forts by accident, they'll kill you anyway. So they're basically bandits who like killing werewolves for sport, rather than because they think it's the right thing to do.
One of the common insults enemies use on you if you're a Khajiit is "You'll make a fine rug, cat!" - The Silver Hand apparently follow through.
According to flavor text, the Vigilant of Stendarr has a "kill first, ask questions later" policy regarding vampires, werewolves, Daedra, and anyone suspected of associating with them. In-game, however, they don't appear to do this as much, and don't even care if you prance around them in full Daedric gear.
Vendor Trash: There are a lot of useless items scattered all throughout the game world that you can pick up and stash in your inventory. Pretty much any object that you could realistically pick up with one hand, you can take along with you. You can sell them off to willing merchants, though the majority of these things are worth no more than a few coins (even if, realistically speaking, said items should be quite valuable, such as silverware).
You can also make vendor trash. Alchemy recipes that provide both harmful and beneficial effects are generally useless in combat (i.e., a potion that buffs a magical school but drains magicka) but still sell pretty well, and are generally just meant to level up the skill. Enchanting with anything less than a grand soul is similar, no matter how good your enchanting skill is.
Verbal Weakness: Dragons have no concept of transience. Since Thu'ums make whatever is said a reality, that means they're weak to words embodying transcience, which makes up the Dragonrend Thu'um.
Vestigial Empire: Ever since the Septim dynasty was killed off in Oblivion's main story arc, the Empire has almost totally collapsed in on itself. After two hundred years of turmoil, only the provinces of Cyrodiil, High Rock, Morrowind and Skyrim remain under Imperial rule. You can change the status of Skyrim, also.
Video Game Caring Potential: Certain quests requires you to go out and find closure for people (usually by finding the corpse of whoever it is they're looking for). These are entirely optional and have no bearing whatsoever on the story, and many of them have rewards of little value. Other quests can play out differently depending on your response or (in the case of "Blood On the Ice") what you do.
A good example is "Finding Reyda," where at the end you can either flat out tell Narfi how his sister has died and destroy what's left of the poor man's hope, or lie to him and let him hope that he'll see his sister again. Your response has no bearing on how the quest plays out, so whether you want to kick the man while he's down or lift him up (and give him false hope) is entirely up to you.
One of the random encounters you find while traveling is a couple who lost their farm to a dragon attack. One of your options is giving them five gold. There is no reward or perk for doing this.
The Hearthfire DLC gives players the option to adopt children.
Many (though not all) of the Daedric quests require you to be an outright bastard if you want to collect all of the Daedric artifacts. Among the highlights:
Boethiah demands that you sacrifice one of your followers to her cult, and then kill all of the cultists.
Mephala gives you the Ebony Blade, but its power requires you to use it to kill people who trust you.
Namira requires you to lead an unsuspecting priest to a dinner table, then kill and eat him.
Vaermina will refuse to give you her artifact unless you kill the priest of Mara who is in the process of freeing Dawnstar from the nightmares she's sending to its residents.
Peryite orders the killing of a rogue priest for the crime of trying to cure his disease-stricken followers.
Mehrunes Dagon requires you to murder the man who hired you for the quest in the first place.
The most cruel of all, unshockingly, comes from Molag Bal; first, he forces you to kill a Vigilant of Stendarr for no reason other than he wants it done (you have no choice in the matter; if you don't give into the temptation, he will). Next, he has you collect a priest of Boethiah who corrupted his shrine, bring the priest before him, and beat him to death with Molag Bal's mace. Then he revives him and orders you to do it again until the priest renounces Boethiah and submits to Molag Bal. Then, of course, he has you kill him again anyway.
You can steal from NPCs or even kill their friends and family and they'll send thugs or assassins, or come after you themselves. You're free to retaliate as you wish.
As long as they aren't marked essential to quests, you're free to kill anyone you like, any way you like, and with decent Sneak you can do it in the middle of a town without getting caught. A particular Butt Monkey for this abuse is the Talos priest in Whiterun; he's connected to no quests and has no significant purpose, but he's quite noisy and never shuts up. So, take cover behind the fence at the Companion household so you're out of sight, take out your bow...
Or with high enough sneak, creep up behind him and impale or decapitate him.
There are bunnies in the game. Yes, they are cute and harmless. And, yes, you can still kill them. The game even keeps track of the number of "Bunnies Slaughtered".
What's a good way to level up Conjuring and Destruction skills at the same time? Raise corpses or summon familiars... and kill them yourself.
You can continuously heal and burn people (most notably the Torture Victims in the Dawnstar Sanctuary's torture chamber), leaving them in agony but unable to die.
Using Unrelenting Force on random people for amusement.
It's mentioned that giants are peaceful beings who will leave you alone as long as you do the same; just keep your distance and don't bug their mammoths, and some in the wild will just look at you then continue on their way. However, giants have so many uses it's not even funny. Their toes are one of the most potent alchemy ingredients in the game, which allows you to level up alchemy extremely fast and sell the product for lots of gold. Their high health and decent damage make them superb for leveling up magic, weapon and armor skills (damage them, heal them, repeat). Finally, their mammoths yield grand souls when Soul Trapped, and are one of the few non-human creatures that do so (the others are a lot harder to farm). Put simply, you'll be abusing them a lot after a while.
Characters flagged as essential can't be killed. That means that you can just keep on hurting them as much as you want, so long as you're willing to pay the trivial forty septim penalty for assault. Nothing like announcing your arrival in Solitude by locating Erikur and setting him on fire. Again.
In Dawnguard you can steal the clothes from a dead adventurer while her ghost is watching (and she will comment on how you've robbed her of her dignity). In another quest to clear a family tomb, you can loot the bodies of the quest-giver's ancestors. He'll complain, but then decide that your help is worth whatever you steal (which will be everything).
If you choose to side with the Vampires, you get access to a room full of "Vampire Cattle" that you are free to abuse and kill for your hunger or lulz. Similarly, the Dark Brotherhood questline can end with you buying a torture room... and using it.
Zap someone with the Paralyze spell. Once they faceplant onto the floor, cast a Wall of Fire under them. Sit back and watch while they slowly roast to death in their own armor, unable to even scream.
Want to teach Braith a lesson and get rid of her? Sneak into her parents' house, wait until all three of them are at home and kill both her parents before her eyes. The girl will obviously be distraught ("What...what am I gonna do?"). It gets worse for her, though, as she will be sent off to the Honorhall Orphanage in Riften, where she will spend the rest of her miserable youth, possibly in the company of Grelod "the Kind" if that old hag is still alive. This might overlap with Disproportionate Retribution, though...
Alternatively, adopt her afterwards, and treat her awfully.
Video Game Perversity Potential: With enough pickpocketing skill, you can steal NPCs' clothes, which can result in entire cities walking around in their underwear. However, NPCs will generally reset their clothing unless you leave them with one item still equipped. Mods, of course, can take this further. This does actually serve a practical purpose with followers; if you steal their default equipment, they can carry that much more loot for you.
Viking Funeral: The Companions hold one of these for Kodlak Whitemane following the Silver Hand attack on Jorrvaskr, burning the body on a funeral pyre at the Skyforge. This actually unlocks the ability to forge a certain type of armor there.
Villainous Rescue: The dragon at the beginning shows up just in time to save your character from being executed.
Villains Never Lie: Should you express doubt as to whether you can trust his word, Odahviing claims that although he doesn't always reveal the whole truth, he never lies.
Villain Song: Revealed at the end of the Dragonborn trailer, there's a second version of "The Song Of The Dragonborn," dedicated to The First Dragonborn. The full lyrics have not yet been revealed, but it sounds much darker and more terrifying than the one dedicated to you.
And it should, since they're actually the same lyrics, twisted and warped to reflect his menace instead of your heroism.
Visible Silence: At one point, after freeing Orthorn, your response to one of his lines is "..."
Also, "(Remain Silent)" is still a speech option in the Dark Brotherhood questline.
Violation of Common Sense: In the Companions questline, while you and Farkas are exploring Dustman's Cairn, at one point you're required to pull a lever that locks you inside a room. This separates you from Farkas, who is then attacked by the Silver Hand group and forced to reveal, while defending himself, that Farkas is a werewolf. This begs the question of why anyone would place a lever there that does nothing useful, locks you inside the room, and can't be reversed unless someone like Farkas pulls a different lever off-screen? Were none of the original inhabitants willing to paraphrase a certain elderly female villain from a certain movie about an emperor, and ask, "Why do we even have that lever?"
Maybe it used to be a prison cell back when the ancient Nords lived there?
It could also be a particularly weird variety of trap. After all, if someone pulled the lever and they had come into the ruins alone (or if their companions were also in the room with them), they're completely screwed.
Vomit Discretion Shot: In the Dragonborn DLC, you can allow the wizard Neloth to perform experimental spells on you. One of them apparently turns your eyes into tentacles, judging by the shocked dialogue between Neloth and his apprentice. You can't see anything - the screen is entirely black, as you're blind - but you can hear Neloth's apprentice retching in the background after commenting that he's going to be sick.
Salhoknir. Put off "A Blade In the Dark" enough, and when he crawls out of that burial mound, you're going to have an Ancient Dragon when you're only high enough of a level to be fighting Blood or Frost Dragons.
The Draugr Boss at the end of Bleak Falls Barrow. This is probably the first boss monster the player will encounter in the game, as well as the first opponent who will provide a challenge, unless you are unlucky enough to encounter a bear or a sabre cat on the way to Whiterun.
Some dungeons, including a notable few on Solstheim, have particularly high level enemies that will spawn there. For example, upon running across Saering's Watch, where you obtain the first part of the Bend Will shout, you can be only level 30 and find yourself surrounded by Draugr Deathlords and Draugr Death Overlords, when you're used to fighting Restless and Scourge Draugr. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, be prepared to start chugging potions.
Hamelyn, the guy squatting in caves underneath the Honningbrew Meadery. Up to this point in the Thieves' Guild questline, your jobs have been burglarizing, extortion, pickpocketing, and arson - usually with specific instructions not to kill anyone or cause more harm than is necessary. Then WHAM!, they hit you with this guy. Surrounded by an army of skeevers and spiders, Hamelyn boasts impressive fireball spells and is nigh impossible to sneak to or past at lower levels (if you alert his "pets", you alert him as well). There is absolutely no warning that this guy is part of the mission, making it highly possible you didn't bring the right gear with you. Good luck with that. It's even lampshaded. The guy who hired you for the job KNEW about him, he just didn't want to scare potential recruits away. Would YOU have taken the job, if you knew what you were in for?
Going to High Hrothgar at too low of a level may result in the frost troll near the monastery serving as one of these.
War Is Hell: FIRMLY in effect. Veterans of the Great War are haunted, fighters on both sides of the Civil War are becoming that way, many characters have lost family members, former friends are at odds, and the common people are either trampled in the struggle (like the folks in Dragon's Bridge) or left to fend for themselves because the majority of money and manpower is going to the war effort (like the people of Shor's Stone).
Was Once a Man: The Augur of Dunlain is a talking vortex of magic connected to some sort of place from whence it can summon shades. It also is able to sense intent and see through time to some extent. The Augur was once a student of the College of Mages who was overzealous in his pursuit of the deepest arcane lore.
We Are Everywhere: What the Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves' Guild end up becoming, if you join them and complete their questlines. The Thieves' Guild will gain agents, fences and allies in every major hold, and part of your job throughout the questline is to put the fear of the Nine into people by breaking into their houses, framing them, or destroying their assets. And in the Dark Brotherhood, you single-handedly prove that no one, not even the Emperor himself, is safe from them, and to drive the trope home, random guards will whisper "Hail Sithis" as you pass them.
Weapon Jr.: In the Hearthfire expansion, you can buy wooden swords for the children you adopt, and the kids will then train with them if provided with a training dummy. However, you yourself can also equip the silly things, purely for fun.
Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: Dragon Shouts all have unique effects: projecting a wave of force, breathing fire, freezing enemies, making oneself intangible, revealing the life essences of every living thing in the area, etc. Every dragon shout can be used in some way as a weapon or fighting technique; the lore explicitly states that when two dragons fight, it's literally a contest of words.
Welcome to Corneria: The game goes out of its way to give guards massive repertoires of random dialogue, but it still gets repetitive after you've played the game for a while. The other citizens have a much more limited set of greetings. However, even the limited dialogue is given variety, since while characters may cycle through the same sets of lines, different voice actors give different intonations to the lines. For instance, when you ask to see a wizard's wares, they may say "So, you wish to master the arcane arts?" Some say it with a sense of approval of your choice of craft, others sneer the line at you as if they don't think you have what it takes.
When you infiltrate the Thalmor embassy during a party, you need to have someone cause a spectacle so you can sneak out of the party and into places you shouldn't be. Depending on other quest progress elsewhere in the game, a variety of people you've met can be asked a favor to do so for you. The distraction will usually consist of the person doing you the favor walking up to Razelan and falsely accusing Razelan of either saying something nasty about one of the Thalmor/Ulfric/Empire factions, making a disparaging remark about elves, or making a lecherous comment about women. If you're asking Razelan himself to distract everyone, he gives a sarcastic toast about everyone being in bed with Elenwen "figuratively speaking", and if you're asking Erikur, he hits on a serving girl and gets her sent to the dungeons.
Rolf Stone-fist:Maybe we'll pay you a visit tonight, little spy. We have ways of finding out what you really are.
Wham Line: Delphine drops one at the end of "Season Unending". You're all done with the treaty, at least one side is satisfied, you know how to trap a dragon, and you're good to go... when Delphine walks up to you and drops this line.
Delphine: There's one more thing. We know about Paarthurnax.
The priestess at the beginning delivers one to players of the previous installments who have become familiar with the pantheon of the Nine Divines.
As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of the Eight Divines upon you.
Which is immediately interrupted by:
Stormcloak Soldier:For the love of Talos, shut up and let's get this over with!
There's also the note you get after killing Grelod the Kind for Aventus Aretino, who thinks you're in the Dark Brotherhood. The only thing on it is a black handprint and two words.
What Did I Do Last Night?: One quest starts this way. After a drinking contest, you wake up in a temple in Markarth... which is over a hundred miles away from the city you started in. Along the way, you apparently stole a goat and sold it to a Giant to pay for a ring, seduced and proposed to a Hagraven, then finally ended up at the temple, whereupon you trashed the place and molested the temple statuary. If you wander for a while, you'll meet a guy to whom you offered 10,000 gold for going into a bandit camp to steal a hat. Considering the fact that your drinking partner was the Daedric Prince of Debauchery, there's a very simple explanation for this.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Sentient beings have a different kind of soul that needs special soul gems to capture, and basically comprise the player races. It can be very odd to discover that that Falmer who was just attacking you with a bow or even magic is basically considered a "creature" for the purposes of Soul Trap. Giants are also considered "creatures" in this regard, despite displaying sufficient intelligence to build fires, use weapons, and farm mammoths for their milk.
One possibility is that the difference between "white" and "black" involves not merely sentience, but the ability to choose to be good or evil. Thanks to the Dwemer, the twisted Falmer don't really have this choice anymore - they are universally evil, loathsome raiders, slavers, and cannibals. Giants, conversely, may be too mentally simple to make the choice; their only concerns appear to be guarding their mammoths and the territory they live in, they are uninterested in anything outside their territories, and they don't even look at you as you walk by, while other NPCs at the same distance usually will at least look in your direction. If this guess is right, it casts Vampires in a new light. Other undead have "white" souls - no choice in whether to be good or evil. Vampires, however, have black souls. They don't have to be evil. And some, like Serana and Hestla, aren't.
What the Hell, Player?: The Greybeards will call the player out on killing Paarthurnax, especially after all the help he gave. The Greybeards will also refuse to help the player any further, seal the entrance to their fortress with an unpickable lock, and if you manage to get out onto the courtyard while one of them is meditating, they might hit you with a Thu'um shout and throw you off the side of the mountain.
A couple followers will say this whenever you do something they disagree with and can even abandon or attack you (or both) if you do something particularly heinous.
Jarl Balgruuf will deliver this if you side with the Stormcloaks and sack Whiterun.
All of the Jarls you overthrow in the war will give you this treatment if you visit them in exile. Their kids and housecarls are all there too. This does get noticeably weird when you drop off bounties for which they hired you. You are a good-for-nothing traitor one line and then suddenly it's a pleasure doing business with you the next.
Paarthurnax actually gives a surprisingly subtle one to the player if you chat with him about the nature of being a dragon. He notes that dragons have an innate desire to dominate, kill, and destroy, and being a Dragonborn, so do you. You feel those same urges to conquer and kill and steal and amass power too.
In Dawnguard, Serana doesn't appreciate the notion that "trading equipment" probably means "carry all this heavy stuff I don't want to lug around personally."
Also in Dawnguard, during the "Lost to Time" questline you encounter the ghost of a woman who was searching for Aetherium Forge. She can accompany you on your quest and, along the way, you discover her own dead body. If you strip the armour from her corpse - as many players inevitably will - she complains about you not allowing her any dignity.
Kill Endarie, and Taarie will send thugs after you. Visit Radiant Raiment, and she'll greet you with a low tone and glare.
While Ulfric and Rikke are arguing ideals at the end of the Battle for Solitude, if you suggest that they simply kill her and be done with it, Galmar Stone-Fist of all people will quite flatly and angrily call you a cold bastard.
In the "Hillgrund's Tomb" quest, a Dark Elf necromancer defiled a family tomb and is raising a Nord's ancestors into Draugr. The Nord (being too scared to go alone) asks you to help him. As you go inside, if you try to loot a chest he says, "Hey! Those belong to my family!" Then he sighs and (grudgingly) lets you keep whatever stuff you find as long as you help him.
Even ClavicusVile seems to think that the Dragonborn asking him for more power is a bit ridiculous.
Clavicus Vile: So, what's your heart's desire? What kind of deal can we strike?
Dragonborn: The power to crush all before me!
Clavicus Vile:Really? Power? You're a Dragonborn; you already have more power than most people who aren't immense fire-breathing monsters.
What the Hell Is That Accent?: Most Nords in Skyrim speak with some attempt at a Scandinavian accent of varying quality, while others sound Russian (especially females), and some Scottish (Brynjolf in particular seems to be trying for a Sean Connery impersonation). In general, it seems like Skyrim native accents wander across various parts of our world with a reputation for being cold and grim.
What's Up, King Dude?: Played with. Ulfric Stormcloak says that "only the foolish or the courageous approach a Jarl without summons" after you do just that, and Irileth is none too happy when you barge into Dragonsreach to speak to Balgruuf early in the game. You can simply walk up to many of the other Jarls without any repercussions. However, in the cases of Ulfric and Balgruuf, the extra caution is probably justified - Ulfric is a wanted man who has already had one close encounter with the headsman, while Balgruuf is attempting to stay neutral in the civil war while ruling the most strategically important city in Skyrim. It's not inconceivable that someone would try to assassinate either of them.
Faleen also stops you the first time you try to approach Jarl Igmund. Also justified, since his hold is full of Forsworn rebels that killed the previous Jarl (who happened to be Igmund's father). However, if you do the "Book of Love" quest before approaching Igmund, Faleen recognizes you as trustworthy and lets you pass.
This seems less glaring after the player is formally recognized as Dragonborn, what with being a mythic legend come to life and getting their own royal-ish title carried by Tiber Septim himself before them ("Stormcrown").
Whole Plot Reference: The Civil War backstory has several parallels to New Vegas, released a year before Skyrim. The Empire as a well-meant but corrupt and ineffectual government hated by the locals echoes NCR, while Ulfric acts as a stand-in for Mr. House, wanting to oust the Empire from Skyrim to claim the region for himself under the belief he is better suited to rule. And on the horizon is the Thalmor, who want to eradicate the region and both the Empire and Stormcloaks, went to war with the Empire several years ago, and now the peace is about to be shattered by a second, more decisive war — exactly the position the NCR is in with the Legion.
"A Night to Remember" is a nice homage to The Hangover; the Dragonborn wakes up after a drunken stupor and has to find their missing drinking buddy, all while cleaning up the mess they left behind throughout Skyrim. They even got engaged in all the drunkenness - to a Hagraven, no less.
Who's Laughing Now?: The situation between Morrowind and Black Marsh. The former has been raiding the latter for slaves for centuries, but now that Red Mountain has erupted, devastating a large portion of Morrowind, Black Marsh has turned the tables and is invading them.
In the fort ruins of Harmugstahl, you come across an adventurer who decides enchanted spiders wreathed in a frost cloak are too much; he already was creeped out by regular spiders.
Wicked Witch: Witches appear as enemies, but Hagravens fit the typical description a tad better. The Glenmoril witches arguably count when you learn what they did.
With Lyrics: The theme tune of Skyrim is essentially (in the words of the creators) a "barbarian choir singing to the Elder Scrolls theme in the draconic language" (with an English version of the song also written for the audience's benefit), supposedly the prophecy of the Dragonborn:
And the scrolls have foretold/of black wings in the cold/that when brothers wage war come unfurled!/ALDUIN/Bane of Kings,/ancient shadow unbound,/with a hunger to swallow the world!
It's likewise funny if you favor lightning magic, thus draining him of his magicka. He proceeds to whip out a dagger and start hacking away at you. If you pull out a sword and start railing away at him, he bitches that it's a magic duel and only supposed to be fought with magic.
A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Occasionally you will come across a group of bandits or thugs dressed as Imperial Soldiers claiming to be in some special operation and demanding a "fine" for intruding into a "restricted area" (i.e. their modus operandi for robbery). You'll know their jig is up by the hesitancy of their words, or better yet, during or after the Civil War questline and you reply with "I'm with the Imperial Legion and you're not" if you're on the Imperial side, or "Gee, only three Legionnaires against a Stormcloak? Hardly seems fair" if you're with the Stormcloaks. Another clue is the presence of some bodies of dead Imperial soldiers with their uniforms missing.
Can also occur in the Dawnguard DLC, where you can get beckoned over by some Vigilants of Stendarr while on the road. Approach them, and it'll turn out that they're really vampires who killed actual members of the Vigilants, and are wearing their clothing. They'll even raise those same Vigilants from the dead to fight against you.
The World Is Not Ready: What the Monk from the Psijic Order says about the Eye of Magnus at the end of the College of Winterhold questline. Apparently the Psijics are keepers of such things.
Worthy Opponent: The first dragon you fight will actually compliment the bravery of the Dovahkiin and how noble it is to be brave before the final moments of his life.
If you choose to kill Astrid during the Dark Brotherhood "initiation", her final words to you are to compliment you on your skills.
In Sovngarde, Olaf One-Eye claims that the bard Svaknir was a worthy opponent, and that he hopes that Svaknir will make it into the Hall of Valor so that he can greet him as a friend.
The final step in the quest for the Deathbrand treasure has you fight the ghost of Haknir Death-Brand and his crew. While it looks like a standard boss fight, if you read the book, you realize that it is the final test to see if you are worthy of wearing his armor and carrying his swords, since none of his crew were able to defeat him and worthy to succeed him.
Wreaking Havok: Use the Unrelenting Force shout in a room full of loose items (tankards, food, etc.). Go on, it'll be fun!
Extra-fun if you shout all three words, as you can include people and creatures in that list!
Enemies ragdoll when they die (or get hit with enough force, like a destruction spell with Impact or FUS RO DAH) and can get knocked around by objects, including swung weapons. Thus, sideways swings with weapons that kill an enemy can knock their bodies aside, even off ledges and over railings. Nothing quite like literally batting an enemy out of your way with a warhammer.
Bones from defeated skeletons will bounce off the floor and damage you if you sprint into them.
Dawnbreaker, a sword that you receive as a quest item, has the power to cause an explosion that throws literally everything (items, enemies, people, dogs) around in a blaze of insanity.
The bones of dead dragons will go flying when hit with a fireball, firebolt, or resurrect spell.
Go on, use Courage indoors. It is a non-damaging buff spell, and yet the area of effect makes things fly off the shelves.
Hitting creatures with a paralyze effect can very rarely cause them to fly off into the stratosphere, as if they'd been KO'd by a giant, and eventually fall down to their death a short ways off.
Wrestler in All of Us: The unarmed combat finishing moves include a chokeslam, a suplex, a three-quarter nelson choke, and what appears to be a powerbomb. Apparently the Dovahkiin has been watching Monday Night Raw.
There is also no proper constraint as to how one can use these finishing moves, which means even an old lady in a fistfight can suplex a man in heavy armor with ease.
Riften, home of the Thieves' Guild. On first approaching the city, the guards try to shake you down for a "visitor's tax", and the third thing (usually) that happens once you're inside is being recruited for the Thieves' Guild. Ironically, certain events and quest dialogues indicate that Riften might be better with the Guild than without.
Not to mention home to a bunch of cannibals and a shrine to the Daedric Prince of Domination.
Wrong Genre Savvy: The Stormcloaks initially believe that the dragon at Helgen is controlled by the Legion, while the Legion believe that the Stormcloaks woke up a dragon to aid them in the war. Both believe it's far too much of a coincidence that it showed up right as Ulfric was about to be executed. The Blades think the dragon was awakened by the Thalmor and meant to prolong the civil war by saving Ulfric's life, and the Thalmor believe it's the Blades stirring up the Dragons too. All of them are wrong. It showed up because of you.
Although some characters, notably the Greybeards, explain that you showed up because of the dragons, not the other way around.
The moment you enter Windhelm, you see a few locals accusing an innocent Dunmer of being a spy for the Empire, simply because she's a Dunmer. It's intensely racist, but looking upstairs in the New Gnisis Cornerclub (a Dunmer-run Tavern) reveals the owner actually is an Imperial spy (or just collects Imperial memorabilia).
Xanatos Gambit: The White-Gold Concordat. The Great War between the Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion ended with the Thalmor government demanding that the Empire ban Talos worship throughout the Empire. If the Empire refused, fine; the war would continue and it'd end with a Pyrrhic Victory for either side. If they agreed, they'd piss off several of their outlying human nations (especially the Nords of Skyrim) and ensure civil war throughout the Empire for decades, keeping it weak. This is explicitly outlined in several dossiers you can steal in the main quest (especially the one on Ulfric Stormcloak) in which the Thalmor say that they don't want either side to win the war just yet... not until the Empire has weakened themselves considerably.
The Skyrim Civil War itself is this for the Dominion, who helped orchestrate it: if the Empire wins, the Empire will be drained by the conflict and the ban on Talos-worship will be upheld. If the Stormcloaks win, the Talos-worship-stopping goal will be hampered, but the Empire will be effectively ended. If the conflict keeps going, humanity's brightest and best kill each other in droves without the Dominion having to lift a finger.
You All Meet in a Cell: As per Elder Scrolls tradition, but this time you actually do learn why you're imprisoned. You accidentally stumbled into an Imperial ambush while crossing the border, being mistaken for a rebel Stormcloak.
Of course, now the Noodle Incident becomes "why were you crossing the border?" instead of "why were you thrown in jail?" Also, both Imperials and Stormcloaks will assume you were a criminal before then, but both sides will pardon it. General Tullius will mockingly say he's sure it was a misunderstanding. Ulfric, on the other hand, is more cautious and impresses upon you to leave any possible criminality behind, if it was ever there.
The comment from Hadvar for your selected race does give one option to fill in blanks for most of the races (and some later dialogue trees, unrelated, give you options to choose from about your past). To wit:
Argonian: You're believed to be an emigrant from Black Marsh who has come to work in one of Skyrim's maritime industries.
Breton: It's surmised you are on the run from a badly executed court intrigue plot in High Rock.
Dark Elf: Morrowind has gone to hell, and you're fleeing for a hopefully better alternative.
High Elf: You're either a stray Thalmor, or considered an anti-Thalmor emigrant.
Imperial: Like the Dark Elves, Cyrodiil has gone to hell (or has been implied to be not much better than Skyrim), and you're implied to be seeking a relatively better (or at least different) alternative.
Khajiit: Thought to be a trader who got themselves in trouble with their badly timed border crossing.
Nord: Left ambiguous, but you have apparently decided to return to the land of your birth, at the worst possible time.
Orc: You're thought to be a member of (or wanting to join or rejoin) one of the Orc strongholds in Skyrim.
Redguard: Much like the Argonians, you are surmised to either be a sailor from Stros M'kai (the setting of Redguard) or a mercenary looking for work in Skyrim.
Wood Elf: Thought to be an emigrant from Valenwood for reasons unknown, but possibly related to the Thalmor occupation.
You Bastard: No matter who you side with in the Civil War, expect to get an earful from somebody after you've led your side to victory.
You Can See Me?: Drevis Neloren, the Illusion instructor at the College of Winterhold, asks you this the first time he is met.
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Standard operating procedure among most of the Daedric Princes. In several of their quests, you're expected to kill some of their followers because they decided you're more worthy of their attention. A few of them also make no attempt at hiding the fact that you will be replaced if someone else more worthy comes along (most notable with Hermaeus Mora). One of them has you do this, then sics some enemies on you as a parting gift.
Not counting the Daedric Princes, many of the people you previously helped will try to pull this on you. Arvel The Swift is probably the first (if the Draugr failed to kill him), but others include Chief Yamarz in Lagashbur, Jaree-Ra and Deeja in Solitude, and Mercer Frey which also doubles as He Knows Too Much.
Paarthunax, as far as the Blades are concerned. And they demand that you take care of it for them.
Your Head Asplode: Among the more brutal finishers in the game is the werewolf's double-claw power attack, where they lift the poor target off the ground and pop their head like a grape.
You Know I'm an Elf, Right?: Some people in Windhelm tend to talk vaguely about "damn Dark Elves and Argonians" ... even if your character is a Dark Elf or an Argonian. And bordering on Too Dumb to Live when playing as an orc specializing in heavy armor:
Guard: Orcish armor? Used to have a set of that. Ugly and strong, like those who forged it.
Given the gruff and grim nature of both Nords and Orcs, however, this is likely as close to a compliment as either of them can get.
Heck, even your followers can do this.
Lydia: Skyrim belongs to the Nords!
Non-Nord Dragonborn: ...
If you're a pro-Imperial assaulting a Stormcloak fort, you may hear "Ysmir curse you!" One problem with that curse... you are Ysmir. It was one of the monikers the Graybeards bestowed to you in their anointing ceremony.
You No Take Candle: How the intelligent (well, less dumb) Rieklings on Solstheim communicate with the Dragonborn.
You Shall Not Pass: Invoked, appropriately enough, by a mage standing guard outside the College of Winterhold.
Faralda: The way forward is treacherous, and the gate is closed. You shall not gain entry!
Your Soul Is Mine: Done by you. The central concept of being The Chosen One is that you can absorb the souls of dragons to grow in strength. You can also learn the Soul Trap spell or enchant items with the same ability, allowing you to draw the souls of slain enemies into soul gems.
At least three different Daedric princes do this in-game. Molag Bal claims the soul of one of his rival Boethiah's adherents. Both Hircine and Nocturnal lay claim to the Dovahkiin's soul, if he or she decides to remain a werewolf or finish the Thieves' Guild questline.
And then there's the Dragon Shout from Dawnguard called Soul Tear. Doing Exactly What It Says on the Tin, Soul Tear deals 300 points of damage, soul traps the victim, and then resurrects them. This is taught by Durnehviir in the Soul Cairn. It kills anyone under level 100 but takes 90 seconds to recharge. It's completely worth the wait.
Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Empire sees Ulfric Stormcloak as a vicious, racist extremist who abused his Thu'um ability to murder Skyrim's High King, while the Stormcloaks see him as a valiant hero, fighting to protect the Nord way of life and deserving of the crown, who legitimately defeated the prior High King in a lawful challenge. They both have a point.
Taken even further with the Forsworn, who want revenge for the massacre of their people at Markarth and independence for the Reach, but are seen as terrorists by the Stormcloaks.