The fact that you start as a prisoner in almost all The Elder Scrolls games has already become a meme in the gaming community. This kind of starting point allows the player to immerse himself in the world completely, as you basically start with a clean slate. And while you’re able to customize everything regarding your character, you’re not really allowed insights into what happened to it before he or she was captured. Many players are wondering if Skyrim characters even have a backstory, and if they don’t, how do you create a good one?
From Arena to Skyrim, the player mostly starts as a prisoner
The Elder Scrolls Games are notable for being incredibly immersive and open-ended. Still, one thing about them has almost stuck since the first installment: your character starts in captivity. In Arena, you are in a prison cell when a ghost or Ria Silmane appears to you and sends you on a quest to uncover Jagar Tharn’s plot.
In Daggerfall, you are sent to Illiac Bay on Emperor’s orders, and even though you can pretend to have a backstory here, it’s not surprising considering the game’s linearity in general.
In Morrowind, you are brought to Seyda Neen on a ship as a prisoner, of course, only to later find out that you are the Nerevarine reborn. In Oblivion, you start the game – as a prisoner until Emperor Uriel Septim VII frees you from your cell with the important task of safeguarding the Amulet of Kings until you can reach Jauffre in Weynon Priory.
In Skyrim, you are captured at the border between Cyrodiil and Skyrim. Your crimes are unknown, but Imperials are trying to execute you. The bell saves you, or Alduin, to be more exact, and you manage to avoid execution only to learn that you are prophecized Dragonborn, meant to defeat the Dragon that stands at the end of time.
Those origin stories are nothing more than a placeholder, and you will never discover your crime. Did you have any family before the events of the game place? You will never uncover what led you to commit those crimes and who you were affiliated with, and that’s okay.
That’s part of the open-ended games that allow you to create a completely new character from scratch. Still, many of the players consider that they are missing a backstory. Nothing stops you from creating one, and we will help you do it.
Creating your own Skyrim backstory – establish a proper origin
To set up your backstory correctly, you must figure out your origin. When you pick your race, you will automatically assume that your High Elf needs to be from Summerset Isles or your Argonian needs to be from Black Marsh. But this isn’t exactly the case. Your Argonian can be a refugee from Morrowind, fleeing the oppressive regime that enslaved him for centuries. It can be a Breton that left High Rock to join the band of pirates in Hammerfell ages ago and remembers his homeland only in bits and pieces.
No matter how you decide to orient your backstory, origin is a must.
Think about family and relationships
Your Skyrim character starts out as a clean slate with no familial relationships whatsoever, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can give your character an already existing surname in the game to associate it with other existing NPCs in the game. Maybe you have a brother in Riften? Does your cousin work the mines in Dawnstar? You are a widower, and you’re ready to get married again? It’s completely your choice.
Think about your past experiences that can be connected to your current skills and abilities
It’s always the hardest to explain your character’s proficiency in certain skills without giving him a proper backstory, and this is one of the most important aspects. Maybe your character is a good swordsman because he grew up in Imperial City and often participated in Imperial Arena matches.
Maybe your character wronged Synod somehow and decided to jump the border and escape to Skyrim, only to be captured by Imperials, which would explain why you’re such a good mage. Maybe you were raised by Penitus Oculatus secret agent, and that explains your tendency to use stealth. It doesn’t matter if you establish why your character is so good at what he or she does.
Establish proper motivations and goals
It’s rare nowadays in gaming to see characters that are strictly good or evil. Most protagonists dance on the grey area of morality, so you should attempt to do that with your own character. Did your Dragonborn decide to come to Skyrim to seek riches or glory? Was he a violent criminal escaping the death penalty somewhere else? Was he simply at the wrong place at the wrong time?
And what are you trying to accomplish anyway? Are you only meant to be Dragonborn or the greatest alchemist that Tamriel has ever seen? Are you aiming to put yourself in the books as the greatest thief of all time, being Shadowed only by Gray Fox?
Details matter, and you need to put great thought into your motivations. Likewise, don’t forget to give your character some flaws. You don’t want to make him or her to be too perfect. No hero is a cookie-cutter type, especially a hero that gets to choose whether to join Imperials or Stormcloaks (both sides objectively being wrong.) A hero who saves the world only to join the Dark Brotherhood is not such a hero after all.
In any case, give life and 3D personality to your protagonist, and you can shape up your in-game decisions and dialogue responses based on that personality. Skyrim is, after all, a role-playing game. Nothing stops you from inventing your own role.
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