A Fool In Morrowind, Day 4 – Existential Crisis

Something a little different (and a lot more serious) today, as I attempt a spot of pop psychoanaylsis on my own roleplaying habits. This won’t be the end of my now-traditional comedy escapades, however.

I’ve stolen clothes from corpses. I’ve made an old woman run up a mountain. I’ve hidden drugs in the cellar of a religious organisation. I’ve beaten up adorable animals. So many adorable animals. But.. what am I? As I finally approached the outskirts of Balmora, second-largest city on this hostile island, questions about my purpose and my nature weighed heavy upon me. This much I knew: I was named Loaf, a Dunmer by birth, and an Agent by trade. Beyond that, I was simply a empty cipher at best, a irritating clown at worst. At least, I realised, this was probably why I’d been slowly but intently wending my Machiavellian way to Balmora these past few days – somewhere amidst its hubbub, grime and crime, I hoped to find an answer to that most ultimate of questions. Why am I here?

Balmora is a strange city. It’s small, but so labyrinthine that it nonetheless feels strangely overwhelming. Much of this is down to the river that bifurcates it into two – creating a very rough divide between the small houses and bars on one side, and the mansions and shops on the other. If there is a class divide here, the people don’t outwardly show it. Nonetheless, quiet conflict is at the heart of Balmora. It’s in the uncomfortable adjacency between the Fighters Guild and the Mages Guild, the festering rivalry between the Thieves’ Guild and its fellow criminal organisation Camonna Tong, and it’s in the constant, sinister patrols by the golden-armoured Hlallu Guards. Balmora is peaceful on its surface, but secretly fuelled by aggression.

I struck up conversation with a few passers-by – including the first Orc I’d seen in this land to date. Without fail, they encouraged me towards the Fighters’ or Mages’ Guild. Now, much as I craved belonging and purpose, this didn’t seem right. I wasn’t a mage. I wasn’t a fighter. These sounded far too noble. So, what was I?

The South Wall Corner Club, a dingy bar on the wrong side on the river, provided me with an answer of sorts. As had become my wont, I was in there looking for things to steal. Nothing was especially standing out, so I struck up conversation with a catwoman called Sugar Lips. I was not inclined to lay any sugar upon her furry lips, alas. Perhaps more alarmingly, she didn’t waste any time in mentioning she was part of the Thieves’ Guild.

I was startled – surely one wouldn’t just announce one’s criminality to a perfect stranger? Perhaps this was some sort of test. I elected not to inquire further about the Guild, for fear of violent reprisal, and instead moved on, troubled – intrigued by the prospect, concerned by the possible repercussions. Then I cast my mind back to Fort Stupid, and how its halfwit religious zealots had openly declared their cultism. Ol’ Sugar Lips might well be a master thief, but that didn’t mean she was any less short on common sense than her bible-bashing chums down the road, did it? Alright, Sugar Lips. Sign me up.

Okay. Bear with me here – that fourth wall’s coming down for the rest of today. Normal service resumes for the next instalment.

In any RPG, I’m drawn towards thief/thieflike classes. It’s not something I’d really thought upon before now – it’s just what I do. Some guys are wizards, some guys are barbarians, some guys are Amazonian she-hulks in furry bikinis. And in the game. I’m a thief. Why? Well, it’s for at least one of these reasons:

– I’m a kleptomaniac. While I don’t steal stuff in reality – bar the occasional digi-purloined DIVX – I am worryingly prone towards collecting things. Books, CDs, DVD, comics, toy robots, pet rodents – all of these are things I’ve briefly, obsessively collected in ridiculous numbers. In a game like Morrowind, I want everything. The idea of missing out on something fun, something powerful, or just plain something nags at me. Thievery is the easiest way to get my hands on any and everything.

– It’s my game, so I expect to be allowed to take and use what I please, not to be restricted by some external mechanic or internal morality.

– I find the challenge of sneaking, stealing and escaping undetected more thrilling that simply fighting a man to the death.

– I find the challenge of fighting a man to death upon failing to sneak, steal or escape undetected yet more thrilling.

– It’s a more meaningful interaction with NPCs than either fighting them or listening/to reading their canned speech. I’m attempting to outwit them, I’m potentially inspiring a reaction from them, and I’m creating a personal anecdote concerning them that all the pre-written dialogue in the world could never match.

It’s all of the above, clearly. Being a thief is how to make a game in which much depends upon fighting be based upon a dramatically different and far more subtle discipline, and one that usually relies on genuine human guile as well as raw statistics.

So I joined the Thieves Guild, of course.

My existential crisis was averted: I was no longer a paltry pickpocket and troublemaker, forever one step away from an ASBO. I was A Thief. And I would be proud of it. Well, I would be eventually. My first official mission, sadly, was to steal a diamond from an old lady. Aaargh. Perhaps I should have been an Official Old-Lady-Botherer rather than an Agent.

Next: heists.


  1. sinister agent says:

    I too lean towards thievery in any game that allows it, though often with a large dose of assassin/archer thrown in. I think there’s just more scope for creating your own challenges there, an throwing in a light helping of aspects of other playing styles makes for more cunning antics than, say, being a soldier who occasionally nicks something.

  2. LithianLord says:

    I always become a theif in morrowind/oblivion out of habit. Anytime I try to become anything else I just end up a theif in shiny clothing. Keep up the great work BTW, I LOVE this story.

  3. MrBejeebus says:

    Loving these, each 1 brings me closer to buying it…

    Could the Thief games not be a reason for you wanting to carry on the whole stealing things in other games? Or were you just drawn to thembecause of their content?

  4. Alec Meer says:

    I very much like the Thief games, but I don’t love them, oddly. It might be because I feel a little too forced into being a certain character – there’s not quite enough adaptability for me.

  5. Will Tomas says:

    I love being a thief in games too, but sadly most games become infinitely harder if not unplayable if you properly go in for that. There’s always a need to hit things very hard, whatever RPG it is, sadly.

  6. Clockwork Harlequin says:

    Sign me up as a thief, too. Although I typically try to be a good guy, as well. . . sort of the ‘lovable rogue’ stereotype. And the added challenge (thievy types generally being at a disadvantage) just makes playing more engaging!

  7. radomaj says:

    Unrelated question time! Will the RPS Omnibus ever return?

  8. Alec Meer says:

    Unlikely, alas – too much effort, not enough reward.*

    * I.e. not many people read it, as they’d already read most of the week’s stories anyway.

  9. Heliocentric says:

    Necromancer, not mage necromancer. I don’t fire spells about, i lead an undead army. Morrowind limits you to 1 summon but when games don’t have those limits that is my prefered technique.
    Alternatively healer, again leading a troop. So yeah, i’m a minion master. Keep the others alive, know when to run away and start raising them from the dead to get back to full strength.

    Games which let you lead a troop? Spellforce and gothic off the top off my head.

  10. Theoban says:

    For me, I just like to hit things in games. Every RPG where I’ve ever had the choice, I’ve been smacking things in the head.

    I’m a simple creature at heart.

  11. Fede says:

    I tend to always go for melee characters.

    But I also tend to get everything I can.
    I think I had at least half the world’s items in my inventory by the end of Gothic and Gothic 2.

  12. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I tend to play lone Good Guys. Rangers, often. Paladins as well. But mages (and many other classes) too. It sounds a bit boring, but it’s all I usually want to play. In Fallout, for example, I tend to play smart marksman-type characters. Same thing, only not fantasy.

  13. gojiro0 says:

    I’m almost invariably a Paladin or Cleric. I’m the guy that has to take every goofy quest to save a kitten or free a slave that comes along. I never wanted to be lawful good IRL but somehow I always end up being that guy in games.

  14. JA says:

    Alec – thank you very much for these diaries, they are bringing back a ton of memories.

    Two points on Balmora in particular. On meeting your Blades contact (can’t remember name) he basically says bugger off – join a guild, explore or do whatever for a while. I think this is a key point in creating people’s perception of Morrowind. Are you comfortable in the game simply turning you loose or do you want more direction? It was the former for me.

    Finding you could quite easily pinch a sword of awesome at level 1 from a guard tower emphasised that exploring and being nosy were rewarded for the most part. (From memory guard tower is right by your Blades contact’s house. Look on top of a wardrobe on the second level. :-) )

  15. Shoo says:

    Being used to computer RPGs such as Baldurs Gate, Morrowind, etc. I tend to go with multiclass characters. My favourite combination is thief/mage, which is represented by the Nightblade class in the Elder Scrolls series.

    Especially fun in Morrowind as a Nightblade is to cast mark in a safe spot, loot a place until the guard or owner catches you, then casting recall just as they are about to strike you and zip back into security. Next day I pop in into the South Wall Cornerclub and ask the barkeeper there to make the bounty on my head to disappear, so that I can live happily ever after with my loot.

  16. Seth says:

    As thief I found it better to stick to cities and spend my ill gotten gains on plenty of training.

  17. Philip says:

    I tend to roleplay as if the character was myself in the “real world”. A stronger, more handsome version of myself, obviously. However, in my play time in Oblivion I am frustrated in this goal, as I want to take a path of wizardry and magic, perhaps mirroring my tendencies towards science research and a feeling of sad familiarity within the confines of the Mage’s Guild. However, I lack the pure player skill to make such characters work in the game world, especially in the early game where magic users tend to be vulnerable to threats such as rats, mud crabs and paper cuts.

    I therefore end up developing a crusader-type character, with high strength and lower intelligence to provide damage with melee weapons. I am just about able to hold my own with melee weapons in game: to pinch Yahtzee’s turn of phrase, it’s like a point-and-click adventure, except the only command is use sword on man. The only magic I use is the odd fireball and restorative spell, both of which are tempered by Oblivion’s system where wearing armour reduces your magic efficiency…

  18. ilves says:

    Are you actually going to pick up the main story line at some point? As you are in Balmora might be a good time…

    I played agent/thief type characters in Morrowind and Oblivion as well, once you get acrobatics way up its amazingly entertaining to bounce over and around buildings and battlements. Although in Morrowind you can join all the guilds if you want, at least they have some requirements for advancing in terms of skills. Oblivion you could potentially have 0 magic ability and still become grand mage… in Morrowind you need some actual magical ability.

    But you should start the main quest, the first mission takes you to a creepy dwarven fortress/dungeon.

  19. drewski says:

    I hit everything and steal everything.

  20. eain says:

    I play thief-y characters because I like feeling like I got away with something naughty.

  21. CrazedPenguin says:

    Absolutely loving this series, it inspired me to re-install Morrowind again :)

    Quick question: how many segments are planned? Will they end when you die? If you follow the main quest line, will they end when it does? If you don’t, then what?

  22. Bhazor says:

    As an additional unrelated question.
    Whatever happened to the RPSchive where you picked and discussed the best games of a given year?

  23. Quicksilver_502 says:

    i generally enjoy mages the most but oddly i loved being sneaky in oblivion. (partly due to the dark brotherhood) i can’t remember what i was in morrowind, i played it so long ago.

  24. Crescent says:

    I haven’t played morrowind but in oblivion stealing stuff was just waay too easy, I felt the path of thief didn’t have much challenge. I’m more of a jack of all trades, and an opportunist when it comes to something very shiny being left unguarded :P.

  25. Terr says:

    I’m a thief too. And in the game.

  26. Metal_Circus says:

    Thieves guild and Camonna Tong aren’t really related together, infact if you proceed down the thieves guild quest line you’ll find they are acctually feuding.

  27. Taillefer says:

    I like thieves for all the skills they have. Generally in RPGs, they’ll be finding and disarming traps, picking locks, picking pockets, sneaking unnoticed. It all gives you access to items and parts of the game other classes just wouldn’t have.

    Thieves are free. They go where they want and take what they want. And if you don’t like it, they stab you in the back for huge damage bonuses, then steal your pants.

  28. Aphotique says:

    I still often make my first play-through of anything as a thief, but I’m starting to think that’s out of habit, as I’ve developed a rather seedy interest in wiz-flash-bangs of spellcasters, and almost exclusively healer types in games that support them. Being a thief always gave me the most freedom which is awesome, but I think the other two, healer especially lend themselves more to challenge. (Depends on the game of course, sometimes being a thief is positively brutal.)

    As for Morrowind and Oblivion, thief was the only way for me to go. They don’t lend themselves particularly well to extra play-throughs, and being a thief is a surefire way to get most if not all of the content in one go.

  29. MrBejeebus says:

    The thing that gets me on games where I play as a bad guy, say in Oblivion or Mass Effect, despite making all the evil choices and killing 100’s of people, I’m still treated pretty much the same way as everyone else, although I think its generally like that. I want a world that reacts to me!

    The 1 game that had this, and made me feel totally badass was KotOR, I wish I had it….I’d make my own Simon Evil >:D

  30. MrPotato says:

    Like many others, this very cool series inspired me to reinstall Morrowind. I also added a few mods like high-res texture packs and Morrowind Graphics Extender and FPS Optimizer so the graphics are worthy of my 24″ display.

    Alas, when I’m outside the framerate often drops as low as 10-15 fps. Surely my HD4850 can handle more? I read somewhere that the game prefers Nvidia cards, is there anything to be done?

    Help me fellow RPS’ers, you are my only hope!

  31. jalf says:

    @MrBejeebus: Mass Effect tried to get around the issue by making sure you’re a hero no matter what though. You’re the champion of humanity no matter how brutal and ruthless you are.

  32. CakeAddict says:

    I also tend to a thief character with heavy melee in games whenever I can be.
    Pretty much for the same reasons I just like to sneak around and that nobody knows I’m there (especially online of course)
    Just running up to people and bashing them to dead is less exciting for me, And I also tend to want to complete games 100% thus my custom morrowind house has several thousand items and the thief is perfect for such things.

  33. StenL says:

    I call my most common character build the Magnificent Bastard, which is a 100 % evil character build with an absurdly high charisma and intelligence stat. I focus on ranged fighting, but not magic, and speed keeps me alive more than pure strength.

  34. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Dare I admit this? For a second I thought that Precis was visiting Baltimora.

  35. tekDragon says:

    Thieves are fun to play when I choose to play them, and when the game provides interestingt means to play a thief. Loved playing a thief in Morrowind, kinda hated it in NWN (for example).

    But what really gets me is when games where I’m not playing a thief randomly force me to play the stealth game.

  36. Moonracer says:

    I too go for the stealth/thief role often. A big reason for me is the feeling of empowerment when I can open locked doors and chests. It generally out weighs the feeling of power from being able to kill an NPC.

  37. D says:

    I always end up playing a stealth character, but not for the collecting/100% completion/all locks must open! OCD behaviour :) I just don’t want the opposition to get a fair chance. I guess that makes me an assassin type?

  38. Antistar says:

    I find it hard to get away from always playing the same character: a Breton mage with some ability with a sword (and light or medium armour). All the utility spells are just too useful to go without: levitation, teleportation, jumping really freaking high, unlocking anything in the world at a touch, invisibility, charming people into liking you more than anyone else in the world, water-breathing, telekinesis (which allows you to steal things from a secluded spot and also not have to worry about traps at all since you can manipulate things from a distance), etc, etc. That’s even before getting to the various offensive and healing spells. Some of the above-mentioned spell types basically allow you to ignore various skills, if you want – thievery skills in particular.

    This focus on magic is difficult in vanilla Morrowind, since magicka doesn’t regenerate on its own – but I always use the ‘Magical Trinkets of Tamriel’ mod, which adds a huge range of magical items to random loot, including items that allow magicka regeneration. They’re a bit more creative than just new enchanted items: there’s clothing/armour pieces that form part of a set, ioun stones, foci, rings with multiple slots that gain more and improved abilities as you find more and more matching gems to set into them…

    I like that mod a lot.

  39. Antistar says:

    Oh – and Lock spells! They can be more useful than you might think. I remember being tasked with killing a certain vampire in the main lair of a particular clan. I snuck through (using invisibility magic), avoiding the VERY nasty vampires (added by certain mods) that the place was filled with. The vampire I had to kill was in the armoury. By himself.

    I magically locked the door, locking myself in there with him, so that when the fighting started, the rest of his clan couldn’t come to help him…

  40. tycho says:

    For those wanting a really different character in Morrowind, try a hand-to-hand/stealth mix. I had a lot of fun with it, and it really provides a challenge in combat, but at the same time is very powerful. Unlike Oblivion, you can knock people out and then work on killing them only if you want to. By the end of the game, you are sneak-knocking people out in one go – highly amusing to keep knocking out daedra lords again and again while you ransack the room.

  41. JKjoker says:

    I stole SO MUCH stuff in ultima 7, 7p2 and 8, i remember blushing when in 7p2 you get taken to trial and someone says that you were “borrowing” things all over town :p
    and in 8 i spent most of my gametime endlessly amused about how often i would try out some cool new shinny thing i “found” somewhere and end up killing myself (that game has soooooo many different ways of killing yourself, from insulting npcs to “accidentally” ending the world…. oops)

    my policy in rpgs and rpg-likes is “im saving the freaking world so anything not nailed down to the floor is mine for the taking, any attempt to stop me will only encourage me further”, adding that to my obsession about “i might need that later” causes me to usually end games swimming in money and carrying thousands of scrolls, potions, wands and enough weapons and armor to suit up a 100k men army

  42. pepper says:

    Thief’s and Spy’s. My favorite class, nothing screams screw you as much as taking over sentry’s and backstabbing HWguy’s.

  43. Tei says:

    I agree with the thief thing. It make soo *any* valuable item somewhere become at quest at itself.

    There are like a million movies about bankrobbers, these movies sell the idea that everything can be stolen, with a good plan.

    Theres also the thing you can do good things with the gold. You can train yourself something usefull, or buy new fun spells.

    Is a collector thing too.
    Also, the game help you on that, because the cursor shows the value of the item. You rollover all items on a table, and see how a spoon is made of gold and is value 4000g. For crist sake.. you MUST steal that spoon!.

    (note: the “And in the game” comment made me laught loudly, thanks :-) )

  44. Tei says:

    @MrPotato; I don’t know. But since things added by mods use ticks and a unoptimized way, maybe you are colliding with a bound here.. CPU bound? try to disable some of the mods. My GPU is godlike, but I was forced to disable a grass mod, because low framerate.
    Probably you are asking too much to your comp.

  45. MC says:

    I lean towards magery and thievery in games, and I loved stealing stuff in Morrowind. Heheh, gotta love ‘liberating’ all the valuables from the treasuries in Vivec.

  46. Mr. Versipellis says:

    These diaries are epic — I just caught up with them this morning. In most RPGs, I tend to learn the game as a fighter (easy), then move on to a mage. However, I think my favourite TES characters have been thieves — especially in oblivion, which has some brilliant thieve’s guild missions.

  47. Adventurous Putty says:

    Alec, you should


    join both the Thieves Guild and the Fighters’ Guild because later in their questlines you discover that the latter has been almost completely bought out by the Comonna Tong, and it provides one of the finest factional conflicts in any video game ever — mostly because it feels so emergent and unplanned. One of Morrowind’s finer points, in my memory.


  48. Freudian Trip says:

    I wasn’t much of a thief and then one day I decided to play a game of Oblivion as a Bowman and suddenly it all just clicked. Sitting in my dark room, the screen my only light with any footstep setting me off like a Gooseberried Grandma seeing a guy off in the distance. Click. Hold it. Hold it. Let go Sneak attack does 3x critical damage! Going up to the body pulling that arrow out of his carcus and moving on.

    First time since the dogs in Resident Evil to make me jump everytime.

  49. Andy says:

    If I have the choice, I’m a bard. I love bards. But in real life, I’m also quite talkative and well-liked. And I tend to talk myself into and out of trouble all the time.

    I’ve spent several years playing Ultima Online on a semi-roleplaying freeshard server. In these years, I only had one character, Torm the Bard. And I never entered a single dungeon. And it was great.

  50. DigitalSignalX says:

    On the matter of subtlety – this experience reminds me of the difference between Morrrowind and Oblivion’s entrance into the thieves guild. Morrowind handles it far too bluntly given the nature of the guild. I liked how Oblivion hinted at its presence first (NPC’s, wanted posters, and the newspaper mentioning the grey fox) and then you have to pass a speech check on a homeless person just to get a hint about where to go at what time to meet with someone who might get you in. Far more subtle and in character with the nature of thievery.

    Of course after that it was still just steal this from there missions, but that’s another issue.

    I tend to always play sniper / longbow types, because I enjoy the strategy (hopefully) of positioning myself for maximum effect and avoiding close-up confrontations. There for sure is a psycho-social equivalency for real life there, as I’ve always been the impersonal wall-flower type in social settings with a few close friends rather then a large contact list.