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Skyrim: Guild Requirements

There’s one major difference between Skyrim and previous Elder Scrolls games that’s been stirring up a lot of controversy. (Note that when I say “controversy” I don’t mean media attention; I mean nerds arguing with one another on forums.)

Bethesda has adopted a mentality that the player should be able to experience all the content on one playthrough without having to worry about min-maxing and stat whoring. We first noticed this in Oblivion, where it was possible to become the leader of every guild (though doing so was a challenge and required some planning in the leveling and stats department).

Now in Skyrim you can basically take command of every guild and complete every questline regardless of your build. The two most notable examples are that you can become Archmage without ever learning more than a few low-level spells, and you can become leader of the Thieves’ Guild without ever having to sneak.

So the big question is, is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’ve heard arguments for both sides. Some people say the fact that any questline is beatable with any build diminishes the point of character building in the first place, and that it breaks immersion when someone who is clearly only a beginner at magic is revered in the Mage’s College as a master of the elements. On the other side, people say that you still have the option not to go into those guilds that don’t make sense for your character, and that withholding content from you because you picked the wrong choice ruins some of the fun.

On one hand I agree that my character should not be Archmage when she’s been spending all her time hiding in shadows and backstabbing, but on the other hand, I think Bethesda’s new philosophy with regards to content is great. The idea that you can’t have access to entire questlines until you reroll a character can be irritating, and I always figured the appeal of differing player builds was having different approaches to the same challenge, not being given different challenges altogether. After all, Deus Ex has a wide variety of play styles, but you go through pretty much the same levels no matter what you do. It’s all about how you play, not what you play.

I read a forum post that I found very convincing on the matter…

I love how I can join every guild and be everything in Skyrim. If I had to remake a character just so I could experience the Mage Guild, I would never have experienced the Mage Guild. Do you know what this encourages? Google searches that ask:

“What class has the best quests in Skyrim?”

There’s a lot of truth to this. If I wasn’t a fan of stealth, I wouldn’t have ever experienced the Thieves’ Guild questline if it required me to be sneaky. It’s supposed to increase playtime by encouraging replays, but instead it decreases playtime by limiting your options. And there’s certainly still replay value, because each play style still feels substantially different.

Then again, it still does break immersion when you can lead the Mage’s College without being a mage. Yes, you can simply refuse to join guilds that wouldn’t make sense for your character, but the fact that the option is still there can break your suspension of disbelief. After all, the reason Bill Gates hasn’t won the Ultimate Fighting Championship isn’t because he’s simply chosen not to; it’s because he can’t.

So here’s my solution, Bethesda. Don’t change your approach to player content. Let everything be open to everyone. Instead, simply take away the guilds that are supposed to be accessible only to certain builds, and replace them with guilds whose defining characteristics don’t involve specific character attributes.

Some of the guilds in Skyrim already work this way. The Bard’s College doesn’t really have anything to do with the skills you unlock in the game, so joining it makes equal sense no matter what build you have. The Dark Brotherhood works, because all you really need to be successful in it is a passion for assassination. Even the Companions sort of work, since despite individual members claiming “we don’t use magic” or “we leave the hiding and backstabbing to the cowards,” ultimately it’s just a group of people who like to fight.

The two problematic guilds are the Thieves’ Guild and the Mage’s College. I’m not sure how to make the Mage’s College work, but the Thieves’ Guilds could absolutely work if it was just tweaked a bit. I mean, they already took away that silly idea from Oblivion of the guild basically being an order of Robin Hoods. Now you’re basically an organization of thugs with ties to an influential corporation. All they’d have to do is ditch the pretense of the guild being sneaky and nonviolent and there you go, any and all are welcome.

With that said, I definitely like Skyrim’s approach more than Oblivion’s and presumably Morrowind’s. If the game isn’t fun enough for me to play through a second time anyway, I’m not going to do so just so I can go through another guild or two that I couldn’t before. And if I do want to do a second playthrough, I’d want to go through all those fun questlines again, not be walled off from them because I picked a different class this time around.


10 responses

  1. Irridium

    I’ve actually thought about this.

    For the College of Winterhold, perhaps there could be smaller quests, much like the randomly generated quests, which send you out to “learn” more magical skills.

    Like, say, you join and have barely any magical skill. Instead of sending you out on the main missions, they teach you magic, and send you out to do some small, magic related stuff that levels up a magical skill. And to advance, you need get at least one magical skill to a certain level. You’d still be able to join the mages guild without being a mage, but you won’t be able to really advance unless you know your magic, or do some busywork to “learn” it.

    Not sure how it’d work in practice, but sounds like it could be an interesting thing to try. Not sure about the Thieve’s Guild though.

    Unless the college does this or something similar already. I don’t know, honestly I haven’t been to Winterhold yet.

    December 7, 2011 at 10:40 PM

  2. Ranneko

    I think it would be quite difficult to actually become guild master of the thieves without an investment in pickpocketing and lockpicking at the very least. Regardless of what the main guild questline says, you don’t actually become the leader of the guild until you bring it back to its former glory. So I kind of think that is already handled, though the dialog near the end of the standard quest where it implies you will be GM at the end should be adjusted I was pretty confused afterwards.

    Similarly I completed the mage guild quests with fairly low magic (besides enchanting) and I don’t recall them actually describing me as a master of the elements. The responsible usage of magic rather than good facility with it seems to be the main theme of the quests there to me though yes, you do become the leader at the end of it.

    I do think that Bethesda did the right thing, being able to do more of the sidequests kept me playing. I am not the kind of person to reroll their character to try a questline, if you lock me out of a quest and it is clear that I can’t reload a recent save and make another choice in order to get access then that quest may as well not exist.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:58 PM

  3. I have to agree with Irridium, they should alow anyone to join any organization but with the condition that, in order to progress in the guild or what have you, the player would need to increase the skills that guild values. Then the guilds could have a ranking system that would trigger stoy quests as you increased in rank.

    Rank Combined Level of Skills (Mage, Theif, Warrior, Whatever)
    1 10 x Number of Skills
    2 20 x Number of Skills
    3 30 x Number of Skills
    4 40 x Number of Skills

    That way anyone can join a guild, and maybe even playthrough part of it to get a feel for it, but in order to become master/leader you have to have put real time into the skills. This fomula would allow someone who only used Destruction magic to get far in the Mage’s Guild but they would still have to at least have to have some knowledge of Enchanting/Restoration/Conjuration/etc. to become Archmage.

    Thats what i came up with in like 10 minutes, and the only ES game ive really gotten into and enjoyed has been Skyrim so maybe this has been tried before.

    Let me know what you guys think and maybe we can come up with the perfect formula.

    December 8, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    • Morrowind had a similar system. To progress through guild ranks, you needed

      a) To have completed enough guild quests, and

      b) To have certain stats and certain skills at certain levels. Each guild had two stats and ten skills; to progress, you needed the stats at level X, at least one skill at level Y, and maybe a few skills at level Z. See also here.

      December 8, 2011 at 3:11 AM

    • JPH

      That goes against everything I just said, though. Great, you can join every guild. But if you can’t complete the questline without sinking a load of points into magic, then you’re being limited based on your character build.

      December 8, 2011 at 10:52 AM

  4. The college of Winterhold is essentially a research institution run by mages as a hub of both archaeological and arcane research. Solving the Winterhold problem is therefore pretty easy – change its focus from arcane stuff to archaeology. Mages (being the scientists of the setting) are naturally drawn to that kind of work, so a prospective magic user is likely to find kindred spirits there, and there’s a decent reason why you get all the training and spellmaking they offer in the main game.

    The questline is then structured more around archaeology, with rare spell components, tomes and enchanted artifacts being radiant quest objectives that you find in various dungeons. The head of the college is therefore the most prominent archaeologist, and anyone who plays Skyrim will have orders of magnitude more experience with dungeons than anyone else in the setting. Not a lot of the questline needs to be changed and someone who plays a mage will have done a lot of radiant quests and learned a lot of unique spells for their trouble, but you can still play an Indiana Jones style action archaeologist and plausibly run the place.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:48 AM

    • JPH

      That sounds awesome. To be clear, I haven’t done the College of Winterhold questline yet, mostly because my character isn’t a mage and it would feel weird. But that does sound like it would work for pretty much any class.

      December 9, 2011 at 3:58 PM

  5. Sumanai

    I don’t find it unrealistic for a non-spellcaster to end up as the head of a Mage’s Guild. After all, the best leader isn’t necessarily the best programmer (for instance), but the one who can lead.

    If one wants to make the “non-adept at the guild” -thing more realistic, you could approach it from the direction of giving different people different duties. Someone with no spellcasting skills would, for an example, be given clerical jobs.

    Of course this would lock different builds to different quests and isn’t what I would do. I don’t think it would be a bad idea if the whole gameworld would be designed to have believable jobs etc. but that’s not the case with most games so I’d prefer keeping the player’s option as open as possible.

    I think the suggested Archeologist’s Guild and so on would be the best approach. Maybe remove the Thieves Guild or change into something a bit more believable.

    December 10, 2011 at 1:48 PM

  6. vukodlak

    But there are already so many quests in the game that can be completed by any character build. Why not have a short questline or two that is skill-specific?

    December 10, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    • JPH

      These aren’t “a short questline or two.” These are the biggest questlines in the game. These are the major ones, the most important ones, and arguably the big selling points for Skyrim.

      December 10, 2011 at 5:20 PM

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