On Tuesday, I started talking about the Thieves Guild in Skyrim. Today, I finish talking about the Thieves guild in Skyrim.
To quickly recap: a man approached me in Riften, said I’m thief material, had me rough up some shops, and then sent me to go burn a honey farm. After that, it was off to Whiterun to poison some mead and then tail an Argonian. All of this sabotage and subterfuge happened because Maven Blackbriar wants me to investigate her competitors.
At this point, we’re five quests into the Thieves Guild, with a few of the side quests thrown in. At this point in Morrowind, we would have done all of the entry-level quests for each of the guild branches. We’d have been introduced to the Fighters Guild as the Guild’s bitter enemies. We’d have run into the Camonna Tong, which is the Guild’s rival enemy. In Oblivion, we’d have stolen five items, outsmarted the Imperial Guard three times, and investigated a missing Guild member. In fact, at this point, we would be entering the end game for the Thieves Guild.
In Skyrim, we’re about to blow the lid on the financier for Maven’s competition. Considering that the cost of making games has gone up, Skyrim can not have as many quests Morrowind did; following the example Oblivion set, we’re about to start the end game for the guild. We’re going to find Karliah, discover where she got her wealth from, and what her plans are.
Having nothing better to do after shadowing Gulum-Ei, I travel to Windhelm; Delvin has a job for me to do there. Apparently, a group of thieves calling themselves the Summerset Shadows has set up a base of operations nearby. Delvin’s contact, a man by the name of Torsten Cruel-Sea, lost his daughter and the Summerset Shadows robbed her grave. He tells me the Altmer Nivanye will have more information.
And more information she has! The Shadows steal from the dead, and she used to be a fence for the Thieves Guild; because the Guild was falling apart, the Shadows started their operation and threatened Nivanye to fence for them or die. Furthermore, she suspects that the Shadows did not murder Fjotli (Torsten’s daughter), but that she was the tragic victim of Windhelm’s Butcher. I’ll be talking more about Windhelm and The Butcher at later dates.
Nivanye tells me that the Shadows are set up in Uttering Hills Cave. All I have to do is go in there, murder everyone, and recover the stolen jewelry. Pretty simple stuff, actually. Finishing the quest, Nivanye returns to the Guild as a fence; evidentially, working with the Guild is far less stressful than fencing for people who have no problem with murdering you.
The only thing to note is that there is an optional objective in play here. The Shadows have adorned their hideout with a banner. The player can set this banner on fire to send a message to any rival group that tries to encroach on the Guild’s territory in the future. I’ll ignore the problem of how anyone is supposed to find out about the burned banner that is at the bottom of an ice cave. It’s just nice to be able to burn things sometimes, y’know?
Speaking with Silence
A short distance north east of Windhelm is Snow Veil Sanctum. Having taken care of other guild business, I decided it was time to go meet up with Mercer. He’s had enough time to scout the place out, right?
On my way to the barrow, I notice that there is a small camp and a dead horse next to it. Mercer killed Karliah’s horse. Not a bad idea, as it limits her options for escape, but this is completely negated by the fact that I brought my own horse. If she’s escaping, then she’ll be out of the barrow first, see my horse, and steal it. Granted, that’s a terrible idea because I like my horse, and I would not stop looking for her until I got my horse back.
Turns out, while I was busy in Windhelm, Mercer has been taking his sweet time to get here. He’s waiting outside, not having done even the most basic of tasks like unlocking the front door. I had time to settle a Guild dispute, kill two dragons, solve a murder, have tea with the Jarl, invent the sport of Decapitation Ball, listen to a bard perform her set list, and got to see the bard “perform” after her set list.
Okay, some of that is exaggeration, but come on. The least Mercer could have done was unlock the door while he waited.
Snow Veil Sanctum is set up with many traps. Karliah is a very crafty person. One trap has vases stacked up behind a door so that when Mercer and I open it, the vases are thrown across the room. Karliah set this up so that we would have to wake the draugr. Speaking of waking the draugr, Mercer makes a point to mention that we shouldn’t wake them. He tells me to avoid obvious traps that will wake them up, and then proceeds to set off the traps and wake the draugr. Good job, Mercer. If I didn’t know better, then I’d say you’re trying to get me killed.
Alas, I do know better: Mercer’s behavior is the result of companions being terrible for stealth. Most companions don’t have a decent Sneak skill. Considering that Mercer is the guildmaster of the Thieves Guild, I would hope that he has a decent Sneak skill. But it’s not just skills that is coming into play here, as companion AI is awful as well. Mercer walks into traps because companions don’t have advanced pathing.
Skyrim uses a waypoint graph (as does Morrowind and Oblivion). This means that AI characters can only travel in straight lines between to predetermined pathing nodes. There is a quest later in this line that shows off what happens when an area is designed around the idea that companions are going to have to follow the player. (Editor’s note: Since the release of the Creation Kit, official documentation shows that Skyrim uses a navigation mesh for pathfinding. This could suggest that Mercer is actually set-up to walk into the traps, rather than being an unintended by-product of the design.)
Traps and AI aside, Mercer and I eventually find Karliah. She’s hiding behind one of those doors that requires a dragon claw artifact to open, which Mercer manages to unlock by “knowing the secret to opening these old barrow gates.” Entering the room first, I then collapse to the ground, having been shot by one of Karliah’s arrows. Mercer and her then have it out with words. Karliah accuses Mercer of killing Gallus, and then he admits to it. Y’know, while I’m still there on the ground, paralyzed. Karliah turns invisible, and then Mercer comes over to stab me, leaving me to bleed out while an invisible woman hangs around.
When I come to, I’m outside of the barrow at Karliah’s camp. She’s revived me, and explains that the arrow saved my life. See, by slowing the heart rate of my character down, Mercer’s stab to my gut caused me not to bleed out.
In other words, I’d be pretty screwed if Mercer decided I didn’t need a head. Or that one stabbing wouldn’t be enough. Although, his glass sword did have a rather wide blade. And since I’m no longer paralyzed, the heart should be beating normally and I should now be dying. Great, could this day get any worse?
Karliah wants me to translate Gallus’ journal. She found it. She thinks it might have proof that Mercer betrayed the guild 25 years ago. Wait, what? Mercer killed Gallus 25 years ago? And she’s only putting her plan into effect now?
Brynjolf said he joined after Gallus was killed. In fact, there aren’t many people in the guild who would even remember him. Those that do must be in their 40’s by now, anyway. Meanwhile, the only thing I have against Mercer right now is that he just stabbed me.
What does Karliah have going against her? Well, she bought Goldenglow, which put several Guild members out of a job by having Aringoth hire mercenaries. She paid for a meadery to rival Maven Blackbriar, who backs the Guild. Her plot to get revenge against Mercer has been more detrimental to the Guild than anything Mercer could have done.
And now she wants my help to continue her petty revenge quest. To that, I say no. I am not continuing this stupid quest line. It began with an interesting hook, but now it’s deviating into a contrived plot line. This plot had a lot of promise up to this point.
So, going forward, we’re going to continue on that original hook. We’re going to pretend that we’re still investigating Maven’s competitors and doing dirty business. We’re going to pretend that Mercer didn’t betray the Guild, but rather that he’s trying to free it from Maven’s grasp. Not only that, but Karliah is his accomplice. On top of that, but we’re going to be working within the same general framework that Bethesda provided. That means we’re going to help Karliah get Gallus’ journal translated, because she thinks it might contain a clue about how Maven has been able to keep a hold on the Guild for so long.