Character Profile – Zarlak

Bathroom Graffiti

I like to romanticize things. Old things, dirty things. Stuff like cheap motels, truck stop diners, and of course, bathroom graffiti. In some ways bathroom art is the message board of yore, a place where you can connect with a stranger by touching your butt to the same porcelain. Yet for some, it’s romantic in a different way – an age old forum where truth and lies fight for purchase on walls of slippery tile.

Here in this church of the damned, you’ll find pithy quotes. Fake phone numbers. And of course, penis drawings. I imagine in some distant future when mankind is all but extinct, some alien race will descend into urine-soaked catacombs and decipher these ancient paintings, these grand musings of our collective subconscious.

While I can’t speak for the aliens, bathroom graffiti appeals to me because I’m a middle class intellectual. While I can break down the calculus of a good joke, give me an actual math problem and I will hang myself with my own nervous system. Graffiti is more my speed.

When you live life in the slow lane, sometimes it’s hard to grow up. The middle class intellectual is a perpetual 14 year old, just out of the kiddie pool and finding everything is DEEP on the other end. He’ll sample some philosophy, tell you the wise man knows nothing, and pretty soon establish to everyone he’s the wisest motherfucker in the room.


Still, whether your muse is Socrates of Athens or Kenobi of Tatooine, you can’t go wrong by taking the position of ignorance. The world is too diverse to be defined by a single dogma. Not even the theory of relativity can escape the quantum chaos, scribbled in fine print. For every commandment there’s a contradiction, and for every moral code an exception.

Even the statement Only a Sith deals in absolutes is itself an absolute. Shit man, a lot of people deal in absolutes. Sith Lords, Jedis, and Greybeards.

Zarlak is the counter-argument to the Greybeards’ do-nothing pacifism. While he wears the philosopher’s hat, at its heart his words are as simple as bathroom graffiti. Like any normal person, he thinks standing by and letting Alduin eat the world is fucking stupid.

Although his philosophy is similar to every NRA slogan ever, Zarlak is not a gun nut, arming teachers with AK-47s and putting grenades in every lunch box. Zarlak believes violence is a dangerous tool that one can learn to wield through training, discipline, and a strong moral conscience. He urges the Dragonborn to use the voice not as a weapon of war, but one that will bring peace.

And yet for all his wisdom, Zarlak himself falls victim to his own absolutes. There is no guarantee that the disciples he chooses will use their power responsibly. Moreover, actions made in the name of good intentions can result in unintended consequences. Zarlak’s refusal to teach his son magic led to him joining the Radiant Dark. And depending on your choices, his method of condemnation makes one wonder if the Greybeards weren’t right all along.

That’s the poker game we call life. Every deck is different, every player is different, and we can only see the cards in our hands. Even for the wisest among us, there is no guarantee that a good process – let alone the optimal one – will yield good results.

So I think Obi-Wan Socrates had that one right – in life, there’s never going to be absolute certainty. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a middle class thinker, I don’t know if my ignorance is wise or dumb, but I like the fact that life’s answers are far too big, random, painful and wondrous to fit on any bathroom stall.


Character Profile – Rumarin


I’ve long suspected life was a joke.

It’s a looooong one, and not all of you will find it funny. You might even think the joke is backwards, that the setup is funnier than the punchline – here we are, a species descended from monkeys who came from fish who started out as slime.

Hey Earl, I really hate our boss, he’s a real piece of slime.
Shut up Frank, my ancestor was slime.

Sometimes the joke is more amusing than funny. We live in a world where manufactured idols are flying private jets to the top of the charts while someone charming, likable, and genuine has to dig through trash cans to scrape the bottom – or to use another analogy, to get a seat at the big kid table.

Other times the joke is just depressing. There are scores of men born brown of skin and eye toiling in the fields right now, while the fruits of their labor are sold for more cash than they’ll earn in a lifetime. The laughter becomes a coping mechanism, a way to deal with the fact that life is bleak and unfair and there’s nothing you can or will do to change it. You’re not going to stop eating chocolate, and I’m not going to stop, and we’ll propose to each other with our blood diamonds wearing our sweatshop clothes and texting the news with our electronics crafted by the corpses of suicide jumpers. And everyone will profit save the people who deserve it.

And yet even the cynics can’t take refuge in nihilism, because the joke is life is getting better for everyone, slowly and inexorably, through the power of information and technology. Just the fact that we can spread awareness of the ills of society is a step in the right direction. The fact that a reporter can hand a cocoa bean farmer a Kit-Kat and light up their day is the best thing ever.

It’s also the worst thing ever too, because he’ll likely never taste it again. Like the slime who became a man, evolution is measured by the Byr, and the joke is you can plan for the future all you want, there’s no guarantee it will be there when you arrive. Idealism is winning a war that may never end. And that gives everyone a reason to laugh, because the reality is too painful to cry.

Of all the characters in the mod, I’d say Rumarin is one of the most self-aware. He understands that life is a joke, and that the only thing he has to cope with the horrible, depressing, unfairness of it all is to not take it so seriously. In some ways this makes him a coward, afraid to take a stand. When all you want to do is enjoy yourself and have another laugh, it can come off as indifference.

In some respects though, laughter is what we need. It’s the antidote for having to pick from a pair of toxic choices. It’s a reminder that the results will never make sense, and the only way to live with them is to realize that it’s all a joke. Laugh until it hurts, laugh because it hurts. Laugh because it’s the one thing they can never take away from us.

And so he’ll let you pick a side in the Civil War, kill the dragons, or save this world to doom the next one, and he’ll do it all with a shrug and a smile. At no point does Rumarin concern himself with the results or the numbers. His role is to support you no matter what you choose. He’s there to remind you that regardless of whether your decisions are good, bad, or sad, we’re all just slime in the end.

Character Profile – Erevan


“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, And nothin’ was all that Bobby left me.”

It’s my favorite line in a Joplin song, and not just because it was written by Kris Kristofferson, the Krissiest Kris who ever did Kris (with apologies to Kris Kross).

I like it because it’s about the paradox of freedom. Having nothing to tie you down – whether it be worldly possessions, responsibilities, or a reputation to live up to – is something that is indeed liberating. Hell, the very concept of “freedom,” regardless of the context, is a state we generally consider positive. Freedom? Why yes, I’ll have some of that.  What do you mean there’s a catch?

I was working the Gulf of Mexico on oil rigs, flying helicopters. I’d lost my family to my years of failing as a songwriter. All I had were bills, child support, and grief. And I was about to get fired for not letting 24 hours go between the throttle and the bottle. It looked like I’d trashed my act. But there was something liberating about it. By not having to live up to people’s expectations, I was somehow free.

Sure, freedom’s cool, but you know what’s better? Having something to lose. Not acting like an irresponsible shitbird because you actually care if things go wrong. In life, whether it’s true love or a closet full of limited edition Pokemon figurines, there are things you fought to build and things you’ll die to keep. Nothing to lose? Fuck that shit.  I’ll trade you a thousand free tomorrows for one more day with a ball and chain.

Of course, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. Having everything to lose – living a life full of pressure and expectation – isn’t something that I’d consider ideal either. The fishbowl life that celebrities live would be nothing short of a nightmare. When your entire life’s work can be blown up by a single, unsubstantiated rumor, it makes you wonder if you’re better off having nothing and being no one.

And that makes me think of Erevan. His story is not unlike that of a modern day celebrity, wrongly accused but casually convicted by millions of jurors making small talk at the coffee house, the barbershop, the tavern and the dinner table. He was a knight who lived to be perfect and welcomed all the expectations that came with.

And like the old songwriter, when he lost everything he gained his freedom. He’s no longer a prisoner to perfection. As a nameless, wandering knight, he has an opportunity to be the architect of his future. But is that something he considers a positive change? Tomorrow may seem boundless, but part of me wonders if he longs for one more yesterday.

Song Profile – Mogo’s Mead

These days, saying you like one type of music is like saying you like one type of video game. It’s just not possible. And as time goes by, the choices are only getting more diverse. It seems like every day the industry invents a new genre or I am discovering an old one. Every day is a buffet.

New Wave? Why not, I like the 80s. Math rock? Sure, I can add and substract.  EDM? Sounds future, gimme. Chiptune? It’s on like Kong, Donkey. Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G? Hell yeah, that’s my jam. Gimme gimme gimme.

The same isn’t true for karaoke. For me, karaoke songs have to fit a strict, authoritarian guideline. It has to be dorky, fun, and so pop the speakers are fizzing . Karaoke is not the time to be singing Stairway to Heaven or some depressing song about drug addiction or showing off your inner hipster. You sing songs you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to on the street, because all the good songs make for poor karaoke music.

Karaoke is the bizarre anti-verse where every day is backwards day.  It’s a place where Backstreet Boys >>>>> The Smiths, where Vanilla Ice >>>>> Wu Tang Clan. The closest you can come to merging good and good karaoke is Joseph Gordon Levitt singing the Pixies’ Here Comes Your Man, and even then that movie is kind of depressing (there’s also this, but this song is so old it’s automatically cheesy). If I had to take a guess, I’m not sure if there isn’t a more perfect karaoke song than this one, because it has just the right amount of dorkiness, energy, good vibrations, and as a Japanese song it manages to do so without a whole lot of irony. It’s a song I would never listen to willingly but I would dial up every time I stepped into that box.

That’s how I feel about Mogo’s Mead. A lot of the songs on the 3DNPC soundtrack fill me with feelings, especially with regard to certain quests and the like. But if I were a resident of Tamriel, I wouldn’t dare karaoke anything save Mogo’s Mead. Even A Warrior’s Life, a song that is tailor made for a drunken male chorus, is a song about the dead and loved ones lost. It’s got an element of buzzkill.

Mogo’s Mead, on the other hand, is guaranteed happiness. It’s written and composed by Arisen1, and it’s her writing that keeps it free of all the cumbersome, dour tripe that are a staple of my song lyrics. It’s light, feathery, and pure pop.

It’s a good time, and when I listen to it, I can’t help but have one.

Character Profile – Amalee


I can’t remember the last time I listened to live music. It was in some dark, ramen-scented catacomb in downtown Kichijoji that seemed too clean to be credible, as if the performances were meant to be observed rather than absorbed.

I was there to see a friend’s band, only they weren’t up just yet. Holding their place in line was a girl with a bowl haircut, a polka dot dress and candy-striped stockings. While she looked like a pop star, she kept this mean-ass guitar slung over her shoulder like a guard dog, and I felt like if I reached out to touch it it’d bite me.

So I kept my distance as the lights dimmed and the crowd gathered around her. She said a few words and backed off the mic, waiting for the chatter to fall to absolute zero. Then she went to work, strumming her tiny fingers across those taut steel fangs. And when she played, I got all sorts of feelings. Even if the music was bad.

I like to think that same combination of electricity and magnetism flows in Amalee. She’s got charm and she’s got style, but she’ll bite your finger off if you wag it at Dibella. She’s not the most technically sound bard, but she’s got passion and drive and hope and belief and that makes up for any notes she misses along the way. You could say the science of Amalee is a cluster of positively charged protons, and that pure energy will force you to have a good time, even if you’re a negative person like me.

For whatever reason, I don’t remember hearing my friend’s band play. The lasting memory from that night was the girl in the polka dot dress. But the best part wasn’t even the music. It came before she began her set, when she stepped up to the microphone and made a request. When she was done rocking the joint, and you were done smashing that beer can on your forehead, she asked that you place it in the appropriate, recyclable bin.

I thought that was kind of, well, neat.

Character Profile – Moris the Draugr


People sometimes tell me Moris sounds too young. It mostly has to do with his dialogue. Moris tells us he’s getting old. He can’t swing Ebony like he used to. I can’t deny this truth. But while Moris implies he’s an older man, that doesn’t mean he should sound feeble. Old doesn’t mean crotchety. Not all old men have punk kids on their lawns and onions on their belt. Because the word old isn’t always reflective of one’s age.

Take sports for example. Ballplayers are considered old if they’re on the wrong side of thirty. Veteran athletes routinely hear people twice their age tell them they’re too old. That they should retire. It’s even worse for tennis players who become old in their mid-twenties, and female gymnasts who can’t even get past puberty – because nature, ever so capricious, robs them of the balance and elasticity required for their sport.

Even in the same field, the effects of time will vary from person to person. A basketball player who depends on his leaping ability will see his value diminish much more quickly than a long range shooter. Similarly, it’s likely a mage or an archer would be a useful party member well into their fifties and sixties, whereas a two-handed warrior would start to feel the effects twenty years prior. The erosion of one’s strength and recovery time can be fatal for someone who fights nose to nose with his enemy.

Of course, there are ways to combat the effects of aging. Some use PEPs (performance enhancing potions, hardy har har). Others use guile. But Moris only knows how to fight one way. The Gods gave him two hands, and he has them both on his weapon, not some sissy stamina potion. And if he did have to cheat – whether through alchemy or magic or making reference to your untied shoes – there isn’t a potion in the world that would recover his pride.

It’s that same pride that keeps him trapped in the walls of the Nightgate Inn, where time has become both his friend and enemy. He thinks he needs it to heal, but every day he gets better his skills get worse. And the truth is, his physical wounds are all but gone – it’s his confidence that has yet to recover.

It probably never will. And that may not be such a bad thing. Moris isn’t an old man, but he is an old warrior. And old warriors, Draugrs in particular, tend not to remain among the living.

Character Profile – Yseld, Ynvar, and Thendrick


The Reachmen say his human heart was too big for his chest, so he traded it in for a smaller model. 

Unlike most NPCs, Thendrick doesn’t have an actor. He doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. His story is one told through his companions, Yseld and Ynvar. Nevertheless, I find him no less compelling.

This isn’t to say the trio are incomplete. Yseld has her quirks – she’s forgetful, indifferent, and at times aloof. She can turn a phrase, and maybe even turn a few heads. This is in sharp contrast to her sister Ynvar – who’s the kind of rough, unforgiving woman who eats scorpions and uses tarantulas to brush her hair. You might say she’s as hard as the very rocks that cover the Reach. And yet, while the two have depth both as individuals and as sisters, it’s their relationship with Thendrick that truly gives them character.

When I visit Ynvar and Thendrick, I’m reminded of those summer days as a kid. Maybe you met someone off at camp, and you were both a little bit shy, and a little bit excited, because it was so fresh and innocent and real. And when you go back to school in the fall and back to the real world, those summer days are like special little secrets you keep between the two of you, moments frozen in time.

I also think about how much of that innocence was lost as she grew older. As the war sharpened her edges, it left her angry, jaded, and mean. But Thendrick always believed that girl was still there. Sure, she never showed it, but that’s because it was something they shared between the two of them. He always remembered those words by the river, and the smile that came with it. It was their little secret.

And now, it’s a secret he takes to his grave.

When Thendrick transformed, you might say he lost more than his heart. He lost his innocence. Ynvar’s refusal to stop him is proof she had done the same. And yet while the story of Ynvar and Thendrick is inherently tragic, their secret still lives on through their hopes for Yseld. After all, she has her sister’s smile. Here’s hoping she never loses it.