Defending the Indefensible: Skyrim’s Thieves Guild — Part 3

Last time, we talked about the plot holes in the thieves guild questline, and how they all can be traced back to the regrettable decision, late in production, to avoid having NPCs tell the player to come back in a few days. This time, we’re turning to the thematic issues.

Maybe that should be thematic issue, singular. It’s really just one problem, but it’s a whopper: the thieves guild quests don’t involve much thieving.

As Shamus puts it describing the final quest (the one returning the skeleton key):

I get it. This last quest is supposed to be ironic, because we’re returning something instead of stealing it. Except, it fails at this because none of my other quests ever had anything to do with stealing valuable items. I extorted money with vandalism and threats of violence as part of my initiation. I stole a document (and committed arson) at Goldenglow Estates. I perpetrated fraud and food poisoning at Honningbrew Meadery. I attempted the murder of Karliah. I made a copy of some intellectual property by making the rubbing of the translation guide. You might think that the Eyes of the Falmer count, but that wasn’t a heist. Those were in a ruin. If that’s theft, then Indiana Jones is the biggest cat burglar in history. Theft was never, ever a theme of these quests, so one more quest of non-theft isn’t ironic at all. It’s just more non-Thief crap for me to do. You had idiot berzerker companions with you for the two set-piece dungeons, so the missions barely involved sneaking.

And this is entirely true—for the quests Skyrim presents as the main thieves guild quests. But the twelve quests in the main chain are just a fraction of the total theives guild content. In addition to these “story” quests, the thieves guild gives you the opportunity to do a lot of side missions, where they send you off to steal a random item, or break into a random house.FN 1 After you do five of these quests in the same city, you’re told that the guild has drawn the attention of local notables in that city and you’re given a story quest.

This story quest also involves sneaking/thieving, and is some effort to impress a local bigwig. Once you’ve completed the story quest for a particular city, you’ve earned the thieves guild a measure of influence in that city: you then gain access to a fence in that city, have some “thieve’s caches” in the city with some extra goodies, and have enough influence with the corrupt guards there to be able to bribe your way out of getting arrested. Completing these quests also draws more followers to the guild headquarters, and helps the guild recover from the hard times it’s been suffering.

Since there are four different cities with these quests, that means that completing them requires the player to perform at least twenty of these procedurally generated thieving quests. Then they need to perform the story missions for each city, for a total of twenty-four missions. That’s the minimum. But since which city you get sent to is random, it’s likely that most players will perform more than twenty of the procedurally generated quests.FN 2 Plus, there are three or soFN 3 optional thieving-related quests that a player can do through the guild for various rewards mixed in as well. So, I bet the average player who goes through this content is doing 30+ thieving-related quests during their thieves guild playtime—far more than the twelve “main” quests.

And (except for the few optional quests) all of these quests are required to be named guildmaster.

So, from a toneal perspective, it should be the case that the thieves guild quests feel like they’re mostly about thieving, and the main story quests about “ironically” returning something are a welcome (and earned) break. Yet I think Shamus isn’t alone in feeling like the thieves guild is all about non-stealing. Why is that?

I think it comes back to the same place: the same regrettable design decision that led to the elimination of Morrowind-style “come back tomorrow” dialogue and made such a mess of the plot. In previous Elder Scrolls games, the player would advance to various points in the story quests and then be told to go off and adventure or something before they were allowed to progress. In Oblivion, the thieves guild embraced this mechanic—almost every quest required that you hit a certain threshold in value of goods fenced before you were allowed to proceed with the story quests.

I’m confident the original plan was for Skyrim to do the same thing. I bet they wrote it so that you’d be told to go do some thievery at several points in the story questline, and they wouldn’t let you proceed until you had done so. In fact, dialogue left in the game makes it very clear that this was the plan. Once you finish the main story quests, people start saying things like “I’m confident that with you in charge, we’ll soon have more gold than we could possibly spend.” But you’re not in charge—they don’t make you guild master until you do all the non-story thieving quests. Despite this, they don’t make anyone else guild master either. It’s painfully obvious that all this was written on the assumption that the player was going to be required to do all the thieving quests before finishing the story ones, and thus would become guild master as soon as they returned the skeleton key.

If they had stuck with this original plan, it would have solved a bunch of issues in one swoop. Most obviously, it would make the thieves guild quests the thieves guild quests; it would solve the thematic disjunction.

It would also help with some of the remaining plot oddities (these aren’t really logical holes of the sort dealt with above, but more theme/tone issues that made the story “feel off”).

As it stands, you progress from first being admitted to the guild directly to being asked to fix the guild’s most pressing problem (trouble for Maven’s meadery). That’s not wrong exactly; they do emphasize that the guild is going through hard times, and it could just be that you’re the only competent person in the whole place. But with how big a deal they make out of you having to earn the right to join the guild, it would sure make a lot more sense if getting admitted only let you do the thieving quests. After you do some of those quests, they could come to you—by then a valued member guild—with the guild’s more challenging problems.

And, it would resolve another one of Shamus’ bigger-picture complaints. Shamus talks about how the reveal that Mercer cleaned out the thieves guild’s vault fails to emotionally connect with the player:

More importantly, the entire quest line began with repeated references to how the guild had fallen on hard times. If they were so broke, then why did they have a vault full of gold? Or if times were so tough, why are they so distraught to find the vault empty? . . .

All of this is supposed to be a huge reveal, but it falls completely flat. We don’t have any stake in this. Nobody really talked about the vault and it was never established that people cared or even thought about this vault. We never saw inside of it until now, so it’s not a terrible shock for the player to lose something they didn’t have two minutes ago.

But imagine if they’d stuck to the plan of making the player build up the power of the guild before they could progress in the story missions. Then, the guild would have been on hard times when you joined but—thanks almost entirely to your efforts—it’s built back up to a point where things are finally starting to look up. There could even have been references to how the guild vault was getting full again, after a long dry spell.

Then, Mercer’s betrayal wouldn’t be “losing something you didn’t have two minutes ago,” it would be stealing all the wealth you’d worked so hard—over the course of 30+ quests—to build up. He wouldn’t (just) be stealing from the guild, he’d be stealing from you.

So, why’d they yank away the perfect solution to so many problems? Again, we can only speculate, but my guess is it’s the same the-players-are-too-impatient executive medler from before. Somebody, late in development, seems to have decided that the player—the player playing the thieves guild questline mind you—wouldn’t have the patience for all this tedious sneaking about and would rather get on with their fancy voice-acted quests. They stripped away the requirement to progress through the thieving quests before progressing with the story, and nevermind how much hash this made of their themes and tone.

Luckily, as a player, fixing this issue is even easier than fixing the plot holes by pretending that people told you to come back the next day.

The questline lets you progress with the story quests without thieving on your own, but it doesn’t make you. If you take the time to pause and do some independent thievery before advancing on, you have the satisfaction of building up the guild and setting up Mercer’s betrayal beautifully. And you avoid the ignominious incongruity of getting back from returning a legendary artifact of the gods only to be told to go steal a candlestick before you can be made guild master.

So, in sum: if you play through the thieves guild questline the way I did—mentally correcting for the bizarre design decision/executive meddling of not trusting the patience of the player—then you not only solve the biggest plot holes, you also solve the theme and tone issues as well. That leaves you with an interesting, mechanically satisfying, and tonally appropriate questline—right up until the ending. Next time, we’ll talk about that ending and see how it fits into all this.


22 thoughts on “Defending the Indefensible: Skyrim’s Thieves Guild — Part 3”

  1. It would have been nice if some of these changes to time-based or skill-based triggers were incorporated into difficulty instead of removed completely. I never cared enough to push the bullet sponginess slider to the max, but I would definitely have appreciated being able to impose time or skill restrictions on guild progress.

    I only learned about the radiant quests required to become the thieve’s guild-master after completing the story, which meant having to do a large consecutive block of boring quests: “What’s that Vex? You want another gold hunting horn? Sigh.”

    1. That’s a really good point. I focused on how much it screws up the main story quests to leave out all the thieving, but you’re absolutely right that it messes up all the thieving quests to have them bunched together at the end–which is probably how a lot of players experienced it, since the game doesn’t prompt you to do those quests.

      It’s a real shame. We could have had a well paced story that mostly made sense, interwoven with some light, simple thieving quests that got the player involved in building up the Guild. Instead, we had a story that made no sense because things happened before people had time to react, made the player into a thief who never stole, acted as though the player had rebuilt the Guild even if they haddn’t, and that ended with making the player steal a ridiculous number of gold hunting horns/candlesticks in a series of boring “heists” before they could check the “guildmaster” box. It’s amazing how much would have been improved with that one change.

      Your idea of tying that to difficulty is interesting. Why do you think that it should be tied to difficulty instead of just changed outright?

      1. Maybe that’s not the correct place.. the idea in my head was that of Fallout New Vegas’ hardcore mode which, aside from scaling the enemy difficulty, also modified some game mechanics. So I was considering that a higher difficulty in Skyrim might have re-introduced some of these ideas for players that wanted a more realistically paced adventure.

        However, now that I rethink it I’m not sure the sorts of people who want to push the combat difficulty higher are necessarily the same people who would want obstacles in the way of progress. So perhaps it would just have been nice to have those toggle somewhere under the gameplay settings at least.

      2. I think this probably goes towards the change in perception of pacing across the series. Consider how progression worked in the different games.

        In Morrowind, advancement in the guilds required reaching relevant skill and attribute thresholds (besides quest completion.)

        In Oblivion, the skill thresholds were removed. This lead to the oddity that you could become the head of the Mages Guild, for example, without knowing a lick of magic. However, the Thieves Guild still retained a measure of this by asking you to steal and fence goods. Although you didn’t have a specific skill level requirement, it still asked you to practice the craft to a certain degree of competency.

        In Skryim, you could complete the entire quest line at your discretion, but you couldn’t be “guild leader” until you completed all of the radiant quests, which asked you to perform various acts of thievery, which generally required the use of the thieving talents.

        You can see how the Morrowind system made sense. If you were going to be the head of the guild, you should probably be a master at the craft. Given how laborious it could be to get skills to the maximum level, and the general change in Oblivion towards scaled content, the removal of the skill gating made sense, as did the change towards gating by the value of fenced goods.

        Of course, the problem with that change was affected by Oblivion’s use of randomized, seeded content. There was almost no reason to go breaking into the homes of NPCs because there was almost nothing of value to be found there. You could only really hit those thresholds by stealing from shops, but this still was a high hurdle, because most of the display items in shops were still not particularly valuable, and low mercantile scaling severely limited what you could get in return for it anyhow.

        The radiant quests of Skyrim were an interesting fix for this. It asked you to participate in a variety of activities (changing the books, pickpocketing, snatching a specific item), which kept things interesting and varied. Although most of the homes still had very little of value to be found, the thieving missions generated an item for you to retrieve, keeping you from having to pawn dishes and clothing.

        As you said, though, the radiant quests, despite having a variety to offer, did become tedious and repetitive. Perhaps the cardinal sin was having to complete so, so many of them; IIRC, it was five of each mission type for each city. That’s . . . a lot of missions to send players on.

        1. Yeah, in a way I think that the Skyrim system (or, well, a better-executed version with more interesting radiant quests) fits what they’re trying to accomplish better. The Oblivion system always felt a little odd to me—why do these other people care how much I’ve fenced?

          Sure, you could hand-wave it by saying that the guild got a cut and thus that you were making money for them every time you fenced something. But the independent thievery quests in Oblivion always felt like I was doing something for myself and that the NPCs cared more than they should. In contrast, the Skyrim quests really felt like I was doing something to build up the Guild (even though I was still getting paid).

          The other wrinkle in all this is the dramatic change in profitability of theft between the games, especially at low levels. I remember in Morrowind, cleaning out a single store could set you up *very* comfortably as a low-level character (especially a bookstore, for some reason). It was far more profitable to steal than to earn money “honestly” (i.e., through killing).

          Oblivion reversed this; breaking into a store was pretty worthless at low levels, and you’d definitely be better off adventuring even with a stealth focused character. I can see why they did this—Morrowind balanced the profitability of stealing with its difficulty, by having all the best loot guarded; that’s obviously much easier to do when your NPCs stay planted where you want them 24/7. Nevertheless, it meant that breaking into houses/shops went from something any sneaky character would be doing for fun and profit to something that players pretty much only did when forced to by the thieves guild.

          I’m always curious what order they made design decisions like this in. When someone decided to require the thresholds of goods fenced, were they reacting to the fact that thievery was now less profitable/trying to give players a reason to do it anyway? Or were they thinking about the Morrowind system and figuring that most players would be stealing regardless, and this was just a nudge into an already profitable diversion?

  2. I really think it would have improved the radiant quest portion of the Thieves Guild, tremendously, had you simply gone to each city to receive those quests. The Fence is already in said city, dispensing the (local) radiant quests before he’ll offer you his services.

    Why? Riften is about as far from anywhere else in Skyrim as you can get. Getting in and out of the Thieves Guild isn’t trivial, and although fast travel will take you to your destination city instantly, if you’re sensitive to the passage of time in-game (and this analysis tells me that the author is, at least) then repeated back-and-forth fast travel can get very obnoxious.

    If you’re one of those players who opts out of fast travel . . . best of luck to you.

    It also would help that element of “I need one more of quest X in Whiterun, but I keep getting quests for other cities.” If you can go to someone who will only give quests for said city, you take out an unknown element. Is it less random than the existing radiant system? Sure, but I think it still provides the randomness without frustrating the players quite so much.

    1. I like this idea a lot. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be an either/or thing either—you could leave it where you can get quests from the Guild or from the local soon-to-be fence (if you wanted to be really fancy, you could let players pick up a quest from one place and turn it in in the other).

      That way, they could still implement the idea of telling you to take a break from your story quests and do some thieving missions from Vex standing across the room. (It might feel like a bit more of an imposition if they asked you to hoof it over to Whiterun or wherever. I realize Vex is going to send you just as far, but somehow *starting* the quest in a different city feels like more of a burden.) But you’d also have the local questgiver if you wanted to stay in one place.

      In fact, that would give you an extra way to customize the experience. The fence could be set up to give you random quests from within the city (described as “whatever needs doing” or something) whereas the people at the Guild could (as they do now) give you your choice of assignments but in a random city. That way, players who are missing assignment from a city can knock them out quickly, and players who have a particular type of thieving quest they prefer have a way to get it, and everyone still has some random element to contend with (and feels like they’re in charge of making a choice about what they want that random element to be).

  3. My own story collapse happened at the sell your soul bit. Actually, that’s probably my biggest beef with the game as a whole. Morrowind didn’t make you sell your soul even in its Daedric quests, plus it had a lot more factions, and even the murder faction was an extension of a byzantine legal system, not a satanic cult. In Skyrim, you can have sold your soul to half a dozen different Daedra and the Night Mother by the end of the game, and two of those happen in faction quest lines, when there’re only 4 major factions in the game. Yeah, yeah, just don’t do those quests, but for a completionist like me, that kind of thing can really kill a game, or at least any kind of roleplaying on my part, since Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild both require me to roleplay an idiot with no thought for eternal consequences if I want to get the quests out of my journal.

    The fact that Nocturnal doesn’t even give you anything in exchange for your eternal servitude except for some mediocre armor and a crappy 1/day power that I never remember to use anyway, while requiring me to give up the extremely useful skeleton key that was the reward for her quest in the previous game, is just the icing on the cake.

    1. Yeah, the Elder Scrolls games have always (well, at least since Morrowind; I didn’t play the earlier titles) had a very odd relationship with the afterlife—and with immortality, for that matter. In Morrowind you can speak with the ghosts of all sorts of people, so there clearly is some sort of afterlife. But you never get the chance to ask them what it’s like and never find out (or ask!) if everyone gets one. What’s more, even with all the religious conflict, no one seems motivated by the idea of attaining/avoiding a particular afterlife.

      There are clearly some people (like necromancers) who are very motivated by attaining immortality, but it’s never clear if they do that because they don’t believe in an afterlife (why? They summon/talk with ghosts all the time) or don’t think it would be pleasant (why? what’s it like for most people?) or think they’d face some sort of punishment there (by whom? and why?).

      For that matter, the player in Morrowind may-or-may not have become immortal (there’s dialogue saying that it’s not clear whether people with corpus age and the prophecy the player fulfills says that “Neither blight nor age can harm him.” And yet no one treats the fact that you might now live forever as a big deal at all. Just a huh, that’s interesting.

      I think all this reaches its absurd zenith in Skyrim where, as you note, the player can repeatedly sell their soul for a pat on the head—and where no one (including the player) ever reacts to soul-selling as though it were a big deal. And where you can literally visit the (a?) afterlife without anyone acting as though this has any interesting religious ramifications.

      I’m really fascinated/curious about how that happened. Clearly someone at Bethesda is interested in religion—they keep coming back to it as a major theme of their games over and over in ways other games simply don’t. At the same time, they keep doing it in a way that doesn’t acknowledge any of the things that, in the real world, make religion so interesting to grapple with or think about. I’d be fascinated to understand what draws them to that (to me) baffling choice.

      1. The afterlife is treated rather vaguely because the cosmology in general is rather vague, which is weird, given how prominently the cosmology has featured into the plot of the three modern games.

        Here’s how I recall the story*: There are two sets of gods, the Aedra and the Daedra. The Aedra lost much of their divine power in creating Nirn, so while they can grant blessings and favor to people, they can’t manifest or directly interact.

        The Daedra didn’t give up any power to create Nirn, so while they’re not bound to the mortal plane, neither are they or the manifestations of their power natural to the world. They maintain absolute control over their own personal realms.

        Unfortunately, this is just one variation of the creation myth and the nature of the gods. The fact that there are diverging opinions and accounts of these events are the crux of the story for both Morrowind and Oblivion. So it’s not entirely clear what the natures of the Aedra are any more, what their connection is to the mortal plane, how they can (or can’t) interact with mortals, or whether they have personal domains of their own (i.e. the other planets).

        Thus why the afterlife is so confusing. It’s pretty clear that followers of the Daedra go to their respective lord’s realm. Why you’d want to follow Malacath or Mehrunes Dagon into eternity is anyone’s guess, but this seems to be the way of things.

        Worshipers of the Aedra, though? It seems as though they go to the “Aetherius,” the general realm from which the Aedra came. It’s segregated much in the way Oblivion is to each Daedra’s realm. The Nords, for example, go to Sovngarde, which is in Aetherius. By all indications, the afterlife seems to be racially segregated, in parts appropriate for a world where each race is the creation of a different deity, but also kind of disturbing, given that it provides rather perverse incentives in racial relations.

        * – I haven’t played any of the games in a while, I only ever played Morrowind once, and I scarcely remember Knights of the Nine, so my memories are fuzzy. Most of this came from perusing the Elder Scrolls Wikia. Generally speaking, most of this isn’t made explicit in the games; a lot of it is actually extrapolated from various lore books or other material.

        1. That’s pretty much my recollection as well, based on largely the same sources as you (well, I played Morrowind way more times than could be healthy, but it’s been a number of years at this point). I’d missed the part about Aetherius, but it totally fits with Sovngarde etc.

          But, like you say, it’s *really weird* how vague all this is. And the afterlife part is what makes it so bizarre, at least to me. Like, if there were no afterlife, I’d get it if there were these esoteric details about who the gods are/how the world was created and most normal people don’t really know the details or care overmuch about any of it.

          But there clearly *is* an afterlife—or rather, dozens of them. What’s more, it seems to be the case that (as you say) any individual can go to a *different* afterlife by worshiping a different Daedric lord. And yet no one talks at all about how the different afterlives compare or which one they’d like to end up in.

          And they talk to dead people all the time! (Well, ok, not all the time for a common person I guess, but still well more than enough that all this should be common knowledge/accepted as true.) They should have access to all this information about what eternity is going to be like and what to do to make it different/better and they … just don’t care.

          Like I said before, I’d love to hear the writer’s perspective on all this. *Someone* clearly cares about all this complex cosmology. Yet they don’t write their characters as caring at all , even when they really should. And that must be a deliberate decision—there’s no way someone lived in our world for enough years to be writing a videogame without being exposed to the idea that people care about heaven/hell/the afterlife.

          So they must have had a reason for leaving all that out as a motivating factor for their characters. But why? I’d love to learn the answer, because I don’t even have a guess.

        2. “The Nords, for example, go to Sovngarde, which is in Aetherius. By all indications, the afterlife seems to be racially segregated, in parts appropriate for a world where each race is the creation of a different deity, but also kind of disturbing, given that it provides rather perverse incentives in racial relations.”

          Perverse incentives that the games don’t do anything much with, in the same way they don’t do anything with the rest of their over-complicated cosmology. Now you have me thinking about a setting that takes all this seriously, and it seems like it would be a really interesting place.

          There’s a lot you could do with different species that have different afterlives waiting for them and thus think about death in totally opposite ways. Of course, you could do much of the same thing with standard religious conflict—it would basically work if the two sides *believed* they were heading to different afterlives. But somehow it seems much more interesting if they knew it as fact. There’s “Believing” in an afterlife as an article of religious faith, and then there’s “believing” in afterlife the way an American might believe in, say, North Dakota—they may not personally have been there, but they probably have talked to someone who has, or at least have read factual accounts from people with no reason to lie. And it seems like the little-b-belief in a specific afterlife would have a tremendously interesting impact on the way a people deal with the world (if taken seriously, I mean).

          And I bet you could do a lot more that just “good afterlife” and “bad afterlife.” Hmm …

  4. Your solution requires knowing the story and knowing about the (probable) role of the radiant quests before you play.

    But that means that the first play through will always be thematically nonsensical for almost every player.

    I appreciate the positive outlook, but fans are already doing a lot of work to make Beth games more playable through the mod scene. I think it’s more than fair to put more burden on Beth to produce a good experience rather than suggest that fans bend over backwards to appreciate a flawed and broken game experience.

    1. “I think it’s more than fair to put more burden on Beth to produce a good experience rather than suggest that fans bend over backwards to appreciate a flawed and broken game experience.”

      Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t think fans/players “should” do anything differently or owe it to the developers or anything like that. I think that—at least for me—thinking about it in a different way is something I can do for entirely selfish reasons: it makes the game more fun for me.

      Having the option to think about it in a way that makes up for those flaws doesn’t excuse those flaws at all—and I have ideas for developers about how they should fix all this, as I said above. That’s definitely my first-choice solution.

      But, when I play games, I’m *not* the developer. I’m just a player. So, I’m also on the lookout for things I can do that will make it a more fun experience, even if that means coming up with a different way to think about things that papers over/makes up for some of the flaws.

  5. For me the main issue is with the shallowness of the radiant quests. Morrowind had specific missions for stealing. Yes they were the same every playthrough, but that somehow made them more tangible. Oblivion took a more sandbox route, but that was great too as it encouraged you to plan your own heists and choose your own targets.
    The radiant quests….well…..they hit what I can only describe as an uncanny valley spot for me. I don’t fully know how to articulate it, except to analogize it to practical vs. CGI special effects. The former, even with great artists behind it, is limited in what it can do. The latter feels like mind blowing technology at first, but no mater how good it is, you can still feel the falseness to it, and that kind of takes something of the enjoyment away. Eventually I end up wishing for more of that limited realism more than the false spectacle. (Not to mention that if you’re a completionist and want all of the jobs based special loot, you need to do 125 jobs, at which point you really start to see the cracks. Multiple times the “random” generator sent me to a house I had been to before to steal an item I had already taken from it.)

    1. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I really wonder whether the developers had a more ambitious system planned for the radiant quests, but couldn’t get it to work and scaled it back and we wound up with a much more limited system.

      That’s pure speculation on my part, but it would explain a lot. If the thought they’d have this magnificent system for handing out procedurally generated quests, that would explain why they built their questline around the idea of stopping to go do those quests (as I’m convinced they did). And if they realized—fairly late in development—that the radiant quest system wasn’t working right and had to be scaled down to something much less ambitious/more boring … well, that would explain why they cut the requirement to stop and go do those quests.

      If all that speculation is right, though, it raises the question of what the radiant quests were *supposed* to be like, back when they thought the radiant quests would be more engaging. What system could they have hoped to implement that would have delivered interesting yet procedurally generated quests? I’ll have to give that some more thought.

      1. Honestly it wouldn’t surprise me if this was always what they had in mind for the radiant quests. Like early CGI, it seems amazing at first and its only with the benefit of time that we get the look back and see how rough the early attempts were. This was simply an early foray into the technolgy. Its possible that this just took much less time for people to get used to and examine critically. Alternatively if they did realize it was a bit shallow, we have to ask why it was used so prominantly in marketing. My guess would be that someone wanted this game to have a “frontier pushing” piece of tech to talk about to get the buzz going like radiant AI did for Oblivion. At this point our theories converge with the developers realizing it wasn’t that great and scaling back it’s usage in the questlines.

      2. This is pure speculation on my part (possibly wishful thinking) but I can’t help thinking back to the original public Radiant A.I. demo for Oblivion where they simulated an NPC reading, then being pestered by a pet, then getting annoyed and attacking the dog with a fireball, then the dog runs away. It seemed at the time that the idea of NPC goals and emotions had a lot of potential, but led to unforeseen consequence and ultimately needed to be cut back for gameplay reasons (e.g. NPCs going missing, dying, refusing to deal with the player/give quests).

        Based on this, I wonder if the goal for radiant quests was a more fluid setup where an NPC might have had a tangible goal which involved a specific item and, on delivering the item, the player would see the conclusion of a short sub-plot. Or perhaps there might have been radiant quests that involved multiple arcs chained together in some way and finding the target object of one arc might have triggered a twist to occur… (e.g. asks you to retrieve a . You go do some fighting, find the thing. Then before exiting the dungeon you are approached by a who tells you that actually wants the to commit a . You get to choose who to believe and maybe complete the quest by killing , or giving the , or reporting the whole incident to .)

        I suppose even something like that has to fit some sort of pre-build quest template and you simply end up writing adventure madlibs regardless of how many stages the plot-line involves.

  6. Wait – there’s actually story missions gated behind those radiant quests? I only did 2 or 3 of them before concluding that they weren’t worth my time (especially given how far away Riften is from everything) and, given that everyone addresses you as though you’re the leader after you finish up the “main” story quests, didn’t realize there was supposed to be more. Now I’m wondering if the same is true of the radiant quests generated by the Companions et al….

    1. I think it’s just the thieves guild that has story content after the radiant quests. Which is kind of odd, now that I think about it, from the perspective of guiding player expectations.

  7. Very astute perspective on the Thieves Guild quest line, especially in regards to the thematic problems.

    Though the story indeed feels rushed and hackneyed, the quest is still my favorite to play as I find it both fun and satisfying despite its many, glaring flaws.

    No surprise really, since my play-style sounds very similar to yours in fact – only advancing between main quests after regaining a foothold in a major city, and taking the time to recover special items, acquire all 24 Stones of Barenziah, etc. I understood what Shamus was getting at in his critique of the string of non-theft centered quests, however I was doing so much stealing and burglarizing in-between the main quests that they felt like a welcome change of pace when I finally got around to them.

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