Bethesda Softworks carried over a few elements from Fallout 3 for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which hit stores on Friday, but one feature that didn't make the cut was the karma system. Just like Oblivion and Morrowind, good and evil in Skyrim is measured not by a meter and a set of stats but rather by how you conduct yourself in your dealings with the world.
How then is one to become the picture of a saintly, do-gooding hero to all? The easiest answer is "follow your moral compass" -- after all, if it feels like the right thing, then it probably is -- but you wouldn't be reading this if you just wanted the no-brainer solution. So here are a few tips to get you started on the road to virtue in Skyrim's vast world...
Finding The Golden Claw
I highlight this particular quest for one important reason: it's the first opportunity that many players will have to do a good deed in the land of Skyrim. Once the world opens up to you at the start of the game, it's not long before you find yourself in Riverwood. Your first stop there will likely be Riverwood Trader. There you'll learn that the shop's sibling proprietors recently run into a bit of trouble; bandits made off with their prized Golden Claw, a solid gold sculpture shaped like a dragon's claw. They want you to get it back.
The quest unfolds at the nearby Bleak Falls Barrow. Don't expect a cakewalk. This is actually a location you'll visit during the main quest, so you should be aware of that before you try pushing through the whole thing. Still, visit Riverwood Trader and add that Golden Claw quest to your log. It'll be your first step on the long and difficult road to being a virtuous hero!
Be A Narc, Wipe Out A Skooma Ring
In the city of Riften, located in the southeast region of Skyrim, you might meet an Argonian named Wujeeta. This pathetic creature is held in the grip of a Skooma addiction, the illicit drug of choice in the Elder Scrolls universe. You can do a small amount of good at the start of this quest by forking over a healing potion, which cures Wujeeta's addiction.
That's just a starting point, however. You can tease out information on the cured Argonian's Skooma dealer and then use that info to do some more good in the world. I won't spoil every step, but your final act in this quest involves bringing down an illegal Skooma manufacturing operation. The drug won't disappear from Skyrim forever, but you'll have won a significant battle in the region's ongoing efforts to stamp out drug abuse.
In fairness, getting married doesn't not automatically equate with doing a good deed. You or your significant other could be a crappy spouse, or you could have gotten married for the wrong reasons, or any number of other things. Let's just for a moment assume, however, that if you're getting married in Skyrim, it's for all the right reasons. Which is to say, an Achievement/Trophy and fringe benefits.
To get started, you'll need to head to the town of Riften and find Maramal, a preist of Mara, who is the goddess of love. You'll soon learn that attracting a mate in Skyrim is as simple as wearing an Amulet of Mara, which you can conveniently purchase from Maramal for 200 gold. Potential spouses are scattered all across the land, but the correct dialogue options will only open up if you're wearing the amulet. There's typically some sort of task involved in winning the love of your betrothed.
There are a number of benefits to being married, not the least of which is having the option to turn your new spouse's home into your shared home. It's a great way to set yourself up early in the game with a home to live in. You'll also get the Lover's Comfort bonus when you sleep in your family bed, boosting the rate at which skills improve for a limited time after awakening.
Wipe Out The Dark Brotherhood
Oblivion's fan-favorite guild of assassins, The Dark Brotherhood, returns in Skyrim with an all-new faction questline. You won't want to follow it if you're role-playing for the forces of good, but wouldn't you like to be rewarded for wiping its existence from the land? Good news: you can! There's a catch though: you'll have to take a walk on the dark side to see it through.
Your first stop should be the Aretino residence in Windhelm. You might even hear talk of it in the world, that there's a boy who has escaped from a Riften orphanage and returned to his family home in Windhelm. The child now seeks help from the Dark Brotherhood in ridding the world of Grelod the Kind, the evil (and ironically named) headmistress of the aforementioned orphanage.
This is your evil act. Kill Grelod. Don't worry, she deserves it. Either do it quietly, or make a public show of it and then pay your bounty or spend some time in jail. I won't say specifically what happens next in the interest of avoiding spoilers; let's just say that you'll meet a Brotherhood assassin named Astrid.
Don't do what she asks. Kill her instead. Then go tell the law of the land; you'll eventually be sent to the sanctuary to finish off the rest of the Brotherhood. Harbor no illusions... this is easier said than done. The 3,000 gold reward is chump change compared to what you stand to earn from the full line of Dark Brotherhood quests, but no one ever said that being good is easy.
Don't Be An Asshat
Yeah, we're ending on a common sense note. In the final analysis, it's actually quite difficult to be "good" in Skyrim. You effectively cut yourself out of two full questlines -- The Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves Guild -- and all of the rewards that they offer. More than that, there's no tangible reward for saying no to evil tasks. Doing good should be its own reward, I suppose?
Just keep that in mind. It's entirely possible to role-play your way through Skyrim as a virtuous, relatively faultless hero to all. However, Bethesda offers many, many more options to players who are willing to tread in the shadows at least some of the time. Doing good in this game is often a simple case of common sense. Just remember that the rewards you'll receive for sticking to the good path are more often than not completely intangible and in your own head.