All week long here on TheFeed we've been zeroing in on helping you understand and get a better grasp on various fine points in the sprawling world you explore in Bethesda Softworks' The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. For my final guide, I'm going to step back and take a more all-encompassing look at things. Skyrim is a big place after all, and a diverse assortment of groups are out there looking for your help.
So let's now take a more general look at the game's various factions. Will you start out by throwing your lot in with the mages at their college in Winterhold? Slink into the thieves' den in Riften in search of a fence? Perform grotesque acts in order to catch the attention of the Dark Brotherhood assassins? Or maybe you'll just step up and choose a side in Skyrim's ongoing civil war.
Many factions are out there in Bethesda's fictional world, and they all want something from you.Here are some tips to help you figure out where to turn first and what to do once you get there.
The Big Three
Fighters guild, mages guild, thieves guild. The three major factions in Oblivion and Morrowind are of course back in Skyrim. The fighters in this case are actually a gang of for-hire mercenaries called The Companions. They operate out of their guild hall, Jorrvaskr, in the hold city of Whiterun. If you follow the roads the game lays out in front of you from the start, the Companions faction is likely the first one you'll encounter in Skyrim. Joining is a simple matter of seeking them out. The first time you approach Whiterun's walls, you might see a group of humans facing off against a club-wielding giant. Come to their aid. Once the giant is brought down, you'll be invited to come to Jorrvaskr and perhaps apply yourself as a Companion-in-training.
The mages guild is similarly easy to join. You pretty much just have to show up. Head to the College of Winterhold, located just north of the Winterhold settlement in Skyrim's northeasternmost region. The trick to joining the College is getting into the college. On your way to the entrace you'll meet a high elf wizard named Faralda who is charged with screening incoming visitors. Stop to have a chat with her. She'll want to test your magical abilities, though you can persuade her to forget it if your Speech skill is high enough. She'll ask you to cast a spell on a seal on the ground; she'll even sell you one on the cheap (30 gold!) if you don't have access to the spell she wants you to cast.
Alternatively, you can be a douche and wave your Dragonborn status in front of Faralda. She'll ask you at that point to direct a Shout at the same seal she would have asked you to cast a spell on. Whether you go the spell or the Shout route, take care not to accidentally hit Faralda, or you could ruin your shot at getting in!
The Thieves Guild is the most difficult to gain access to. For starters, there's no obvious building that you can just walk into. The thieves make their home in the southeastern city of Riften, in an underground pub called The Ragged Flagon. Unfortunately, the Flagon is at the heart of an underground corridor network called the Ratway, which is home to some dangerous toughs. Even if you fight your way through and get to the Flagon, you'll quickly find that no one wants to talk to you. You'll need an intro.
For that intro, look no further than Riften's open air market. Find the merchant named Brynjolf and accept a task from him. He'll ask you to steal a ring from a nearby competitor. Do so and you're in; head down to the Ratway, make your way to the Flagon and meet again with Brynjolf there. He'll set you to one more task which, once completed, opens up full access to the guild and its services.
Death Lurks In The Shadows
The Dark Brotherhood assassins guild also returns in Skyrim and, as was the case in Oblivion, you'll have to commit a cold-blooded act of murder in order to gain entrance. There's a trick though; in the previous game, any old murder would do. In Skyrim, there's a very specific jerk that needs to die by your hand: Honorhall Orphanage headmistress Grelod the Kind. Grelod's surname is an ironic one; she's actually a monstrous shrew of a woman, constantly berating and mistreating the children under her supposed care. You'll need to venture to Windhelm and get yourself into the Aretino home. There you'll find young Aventus Aretino, a former orphanage resident who escaped from Grelod's care.
Aventus has only one goal in his mind now: rid the world of Grelod. When you find him, he's huddled in a back room, reciting the Black Sacrament over and over again in the hopes of summoning a Brotherhood assassin. Interrupt him and listen to his tale, then head to Riften and off the foul Grelod, preferably while no one is looking. Once that's finished, find a bed and sleep in it. Your path to joining the Brotherhood from here becomes clear enough during the incident that follows.
Imperial Coward Or Rebel Scum?
If you were paying attention at the very start of the game during the intro sequence then you already have an idea of the tenuous situation Skyrim currently finds itself in. Dragons are back, and yes, that a big problem. But there's an equally big problem on the political side of things; a Nord named Ulfric Stormcloak has killed the king of Skyrim and laid claim to the throne for himself. Stormcloak intends to secede from the Empire, which is based far to the south in the land of Cyrodiil (the region explored in Oblivion).
The Emperor isn't okay with Ulfric secession plans and dispatches an Imperial Legion to wipe out the so-called Stormcloak Rebellion. All of these things have happened by the time Skyrim opens; you're simply left to pick a side and play out the civil war to its logical conclusion. The Imperials are based in Solitude and the Stormcloaks are based in Windhelm; joining either is a simple matter of completing a relatively easy quest. Take care though-- once you commit to one side of the civil war, there's no turning back. You'll have to play out that side's series of quests. You'll have an opportunity to turn around and betray your faction at the last minute, but the questline you'll follow is determined by which faction you ally with at the start.
Gods And Demons, And Other Matters Around Skyrim
Aside from Skyrim's main factions, there are any number of smaller groups of quests that follow a similar theme or narrative arc. The most diverse and difficult to quantify of these are the Daedric quest; just like Oblivion, Skyrim is filled with tasks for you to perform in the service of one Daedric lord or another. Unlike Oblivion, it's not always a simple matter in this new game of finding the right shrine; Daedric quests take many forms and tend to come up at random times, though the reward is always some sort of powerful magical artifact.
Then there are the Temple quests. Like the Daedric quests, they aren't all tied together by a singular narrative arc. Unlike the Daedric quests, you won't randomly happen on these; Temple quests are, unsurprisingly, obtained by visiting each Skyrim city's main house of worship. There are four of these in all: one apiece in Markarth and Whiterun, and two in Riften.
In addition to the various holy and unholy errands you can run, there are also a range of minor factions that offer you tasks of their own. Some even tie directly into the main story. Once you've visited with the Greybeards, you can return at any time and chat with Master Arngeir to learn the location of a new Word of Power that you've not yet discovered.
He won't always have a new location for you, but if he happens to run dry, just wait three days and ask again. That should do the trick. You'll keep being fed new locations until all of the Words have been discovered.
You can also perform a variety of tasks for the Blades once the remainder of the order is properly situated in Sky Haven Temple. One relatively simple one involves bringing any followers you gain to Delphine; your follower will then join the Blades and eventually be seen wearing and using the order's gear. They'll perform the same follower role for you as before, only now they'll be a proper Blade.
The Blades can also help set you on the path of slaying dragons. Speak with Esbern once you've brought three new followers into the order. Talk to him about dragon lairs. Much like the Greybeards' Word of Power quests, he'll start feeding you locations that you can visit to slay a dragon. Also like the Greybeards, you can always just wait a few days and ask again if Esbern doesn't have anything for you on a particular visit.
The last of the large-ish minor factions is the Bard's College, which can be found in the city of Solitude. Joining the college is a quest in and of itself, and you can then follow it with three more quests that involve locating lost instruments. There are no physical rewards for completing each of these, but you'll see different groupings of stats raised - thief, mage and fighter, respectively -- for each one completed.
Some Images From UESP.Net