Ten Tips for Better Role-Playing in Skyrim
What's the Best Way to Play Skyrim?
Note: This is not a strategy guide to make your character more powerful, but rather a list of suggestions for making your experience more immersive.
What is the best way to play Skyrim? This short guide will give you a few tips that will help you get the most out of your role-playing experience in Skyrim. Role-playing is a highly subjective experience, so most players are going to each have different ideas about what increases their enjoyment of the game.
Keep in mind when reading through these tips that they are merely meant to serve as suggestions. These are techniques that I or other role-players have employed to increase our sense of immersion. They are all fairly common role-playing tactics, so even if you don't agree with all of them, they should give you a solid foundation to build on.
As always, if you have any suggestions for additional techniques, don't hesitate to leave them in the comments section below!
1. Plan Your Character
Great role-playing begins with a great character. I always try to come up with a basic story for my character before starting a new game. It doesn't have to be anything complex, just three or four key points that help define how your character is going to relate to the world.
Most people have some idea of the race and class skills they want to explore, but this is really only half the battle, and one of the reasons why people so often find themselves restarting characters. You need to think beyond race, class, and gender. You need to go beyond what color your character's eyes are, how she wears her hair, and whether or not she has war paint. These are superficial details, and while they are important, and form a part of every great character, they are not the details that are going to make for a great role-playing experience. They can inspire a great character, but won't do all the work all on their own.
Something you'll hear actors asking themselves all the time is "What is my character's motivation?" To help flesh out your character, you need to understand what motivates him or her to act.
Think about how he or she feels about the main elements of the story:
- Does he approve of the Imperial occupation of Skyrim?
- Do the people of Skyrim need the protection and assistance of Imperial soldiers?
- Or, do the people of Skyrim have the right to govern themselves?
- Should they be working together or fighting furiously for dominance?
- If your character hasn't chosen a side, how does she stand to profit from the conflict?
- Will she earn her gold as a mercenary, or do her best to heal the wounds of civil war?
- If your character is of a race other than Nord or Imperial, how does their race affect their opinion of the war?
- Does your character accept or reject their destiny as the Dragonborn?
Other questions can help deepen your experience when you're not busy completing quests:
- Is there a particular race or type of person that your character doesn't particularly like?
- Does your character have any weird habits like only eating raw meat or traveling only at night?
- Are they religious?
- Do you place offerings at the shrines?
- Do they have a tendency to overindulge in drink or sweetrolls?
- Do they collect skulls or pottery?
There are literally hundreds of questions that you could ask yourself about your character that will help to define them and make them interesting to play. By choosing three or four interesting quirks you can breathe life into a character that will sustain you for hundreds of hours of immersive role-playing.
To give you some inspiration, here are a couple examples of characters that I came up with:
- The first is an Orc assassin whose been assigned the mission of stirring up unrest in Skyrim to improve her master's illegal arms trade.
- The second character is a Redguard witch who had a vision of her destiny as a Dragon-in-Human-Form during her initiation rites and has been sent by her mentor to Skyrim to seek her destiny.
These characters are dramatically different in temperament and have radically different motivations, but both of them are workable long-term characters.
(If you've already started playing but you decide that you don't like something about your character's appearance, you can change it by using the console. See my article about changing your character's appearance for details.
2. Play in Character
Now that you've got a character you can get invested in, it's time to let that character shine! Designing a good character is half the battle. Of course you won't see the rewards of your role-playing until you get out there in the world and start making decisions about where to go, who to believe, and what to do about it.
In regards to your character, though, here are some general tips:
- Don't feel obligated to take every quest, or join every faction. There is plenty of content in Skyrim, and there's no reason why you need to experience all of it with a single character. You might find that the game is more enjoyable if you play it through a few times and restrict each character to the main quest and one other major faction (plus random adventuring and quest-taking, of course!) You may not clock as many hours with each character, but your experience may be more enjoyable overall for having experienced each story more intensely.
- Follow your intuitions. Don't worry too much, either. You will find that Skyrim's quests are very forgiving from a role-playing perspective so that no matter what choice you make you will be able to justify your actions in a sensible way. If your instinct is to help every person who asks for it and trust people unquestioningly, the next time you play Skyrim, try making the opposite choices. You might be surprised to discover how often an NPC you considered 'bad' the first time through turns out to be 'good' on a second run. Most of the quests are designed to support your intuitions, even if different people have different takes on things.
- Try to stay in character. It's also a good idea to restrict the kinds of things you allow yourself to accumulate and the kinds of activities you allow yourself to engage in. If you're playing a warrior, is there really any reason to go around collecting flowers and butterflies? Would your warrior really do that? (Maybe yours would, but many people know exactly what I'm talking about here.) The same goes for skinning animals, mining ores, chopping wood, crafting weapons and armor, brewing potions, picking locks, and so forth. A general rule of thumb you should follow is that if it seems even a little out of character for your character to engage in that kind of activity, don't do it. This might seem like a harsh rule, but it can work wonders for making each play-through a unique and interesting experience.
- Create several characters and be particular about them. That being said, instead of trying to do everything with one character, create several characters and make each character different. People complain about it being too easy to make money, but what if you played one character who made money by crafting and selling weapons and armor, another who did the same with potions, and a third who stole what they needed? No one character is likely to suffer from 'too much gold' syndrome if they're only pursuing a single occupation. What if you only let characters who should know lock-picking pick locks? Worried about what you might be missing? Don't be. Your warrior or mage can do something else to make money that your thief can't.
If you play it right, all of these different restrictions will balance out and lead to a variety of interesting play-styles and gameplay experiences.
3. Avoid the Min/Maxing Mindset
Character progression is crucial in the world of role-playing. That being said, I advise you to avoid min/maxing as much as possible.
Yes, not all skill trees and perks are evenly balanced. Yes, there are ways to get an unfair advantage over your enemies or artificially impose limits on yourself by creating a bad build. In all honesty though, your decisions, no matter what they are, are going to work out just fine. Avoid the temptation to 'peak under the hood' every time you have to make a decision about your character's progression and just enjoy the game.
For one of my characters, I have intentionally created the worst build I can and play the game on Master setting. You know what? Even though I purposely 'gimp' myself, I can still play the game and enjoy it immensely. Sure, combat is a little more challenging and requires a bit more strategy (and more reloads) but even with this build I don't consider the game broken. In fact, I find it's no more or less difficult than Demon's Souls.
So, don't worry about the game mechanics. They might not be perfect, but they work just fine, no matter what the perfectionists on the forums might say.
Dead is Dead (DID)
Some hardcore players like to challenge themselves by using a rule known as Dead is Dead (DID.) Essentially, if your character dies, that's it. No reloads. Some of them go so far as to delete their save file. I'd spend 99% of my time creating characters if I played like this!
If you think it sounds like fun, give it a whirl and let us know what you think!
4. Limit Fast Travel, Try to Walk Everywhere
Probably the single easiest way to make Skyrim more immersive is to stop using fast travel and walk everywhere, instead. You don't have to stop using it completely, but just make a point of limiting it:
- Force yourself to use the carriages instead to travel large distances and walk everywhere else.
- Or limit it to transporting loot back and forth from the dungeons.
- Make a point of walking more, and I mean actually walking, not running everywhere. (You can set the "bAlwaysRunByDefault" setting to 0 in the SkyrimPrefs.ini file to tell the game to make walking your default action instead of running. Just remember to back up your file before changing it.)
Half the pleasure of playing the game is drinking in the landscape, watching the grass sway in the breeze, watching shadows creep across the rocky ground as the sun makes its way across the sky, staring into the setting sun as it descends on Skyrim's rugged landscape, admiring the silver shimmer of the stars and the majestic rise of Tamriel's twin moons. Take the time to listen to the sound of babbling brooks, bird calls, and the haunting melody of the soundtrack.
Believe it or not, an old platitude lifted from real life applies equally well to your sojourn in Tamriel: you might not be able to smell the flowers, but you can certainly take the time to stop and admire them. (And harvest them, too, of course!)
While you're out wandering around, don't forget to take some screenshots.
5. Change the Timescale
One of the things that I always hated about the default time in Skyrim was how quickly it seemed to pass while I was walking around shopping and talking to people in the towns. By default, Skyrim time moves at 20x the normal time. However you can change this to something closer to real time by using the console. (Instructions are here: How to Change the Timescale in Skyrim.)
I have personally set mine to 5x the real time, which works very well for me: I can go into a dungeon in the morning and be finished by late afternoon instead of stumbling out sometime a whole day later.
Of course you can adjust this to suit your personal preferences, but I don't recommend going below 2x to avoid having issues with quests and NPC AI packages which sometimes don't fire properly below this setting.
6. Eat, Sleep, and Get Married
Skyrim is overflowing with things for your character to do, especially in the realm of food and drink. You can even combine food items in cooking pots to create new dishes or hunt, skin, and roast your own meat. Skyrim also lets you rent rooms in inns, or buy a house and sleep in your own bed. It even lets you get married.
While engaging in these activities doesn't necessarily do you much good from a gameplay perspective, they can work wonders from a role-playing perspective. Making a point of eating a couple of times a day and getting a few hours of sleep every night can enhance the experience to a more realistic one and feel less like you're controlling some sort of fake hologram.
Change your outfit once in a while, find a nice girl or boy to settle down with and take the occasional day off just to wander around town or go fishing. These breaks in the normal flow of the game add depth and richness to the experience that can't be delivered by scripting cut scenes.
7. Use Reasonable Rules for Encumbrance and Gear
Skyrim won't prevent you from loading down your character with 800 pounds of gear or loot a suit of elven armor from a five foot-tall female wood elf and equip it on your six and a half-foot male orc, but you can.
When I'm playing, I use a couple of reasonable rules of thumb:
- Never equip armor. I never equip armor unless I find it in a chest, buy it from a vendor, or see it lying around. For me, it isn't reasonable to equip armor made for someone else. Not only is it icky, since I likely just spilled their guts all over it, but most armor had to be custom fitted. I make an exception for certain items if it seems reasonable, but generally speaking, this is a no-no for me. In the case of found items, I just assume it's good fortune on my part that it fits so well!
- Avoid carrying a lot to sell. I won't carry around multiple suits of armor, a dozen weapons, and 25 wolf pelts just to sell them later. I generally restrict myself to three weapons, plus maybe one or two additional weapons to sell, and, at most, one additional suit of armor (that's only if I'm selling it and it didn't come from a recently oozing body.) I find it harder to limit potions, but I try to keep it to twenty or thirty (they add up fast, especially if you brew your own!)
Other rules can be applied to other items to keep things to manageable proportions. It's okay to stretch reality a bit here, simply because too much micromanagement can turn the game into a chore, but many people find that being forced to pick and choose what kind and how much loot they carry can give their decisions some additional weight—pun intended.
8. Use the 'Wait' Function
A lot of immersionists are anti-'wait' function because it unnaturally interrupts the flow of the game. However waiting can often do wonders for immersion.
When I'm crafting an item, for example:
- I typically wait afterwards for a period of time relative to the size and complexity of the item I'm crafting. If I'm making an iron dagger or brewing a potion, I might only wait an hour. If I'm making a cuirass, I'll wait half a day to simulate the time it would take me to craft it. (For all I know it takes weeks to make one in real life, but I'm not going to push my realism that far!)
Waiting during crafting not only gives these activities weight, it also helps to curb the temptation to spam them.
I have a similar tactic for reading books:
- It takes my character four hours to read a book, so it's generally something I only do when I'm in the towns or camping at night. (If you're playing a thief, it's a good way to pass time while you're waiting for everybody to go to sleep. ;)) I also only allow myself to learn one new spell a day, and use the same four hour rule to learn it.
The wait function is surprisingly versatile. Not only do I use it while cooking and eating, I also wait an hour every time I collect a skin from an animal that I kill and four hours after mining ore. That keeps me from randomly hoarding materials that I otherwise just end up lugging around.
There's no way anybody is going to literally stand around waiting for this much time to pass in-game, but there's also no denying that forcing yourself to wait when you engage in time-consuming tasks is good for immersion. I recommend you try it yourself.
9. Choose a Difficulty Setting That Suits Your Character
The difficulty slider shouldn't be viewed as just a tool to make the game harder—it can also be used to help simulate different character types. You can help make your character seem more heroic or more realistic by adjusting the difficulty setting.
- If you would like to role-play an epic hero, adjusting the difficulty slider down can give your character extra 'juice' in combat to help simulate his or her epic proportions.
- If you're playing Tamriel's answer to Conan, why shouldn't common cannon fodder like bandits and wolves go down with a single well-placed blow?
- If, on the other hand, you'd prefer to play someone who is just an average Joe, you can help simulate this by adjusting the difficulty slider up to make enemies harder to kill. Should your herbalist really be killing falmer with a couple of hits from an iron sword?
10. Reduce Screen Clutter
Another way to increase immersion is to remove distracting elements from the interface. All of the components are useful and serve a purpose, but if you are a serious role-player you may find that you function perfectly well without them and that your immersion may improve because of it.
All of the following can be removed through in-games settings or by making changes to the SkyrimPref.ini file. Just follow the links to the appropriate pages:
Remember: Always make a backup of the SkyrimPrefe.ini file before changing it!
Don't Forget: Have Fun!
The most important rule of all is to have fun. Remember, there is no right way or wrong way to play Skyrim. If somebody tells you you're 'doing it wrong,' you are . . . only if you listen to them. No one can decide what's best for your Skyrim experience but you.
I consider myself a serious role-player. I get very involved in my characters and follow most of the suggestions that I've listed in this page. However I won't do something just because someone else thinks it's better or more realistic. Food and sleep requirements? Sure. Dead is Dead? That just seems like overkill to me. Whatever you do, do what you love and Skyrim will reward you for it.
Now stop reading articles about playing the game and just play it already. Have fun!
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