Slaying dragons and saving emperors is all well and good, but some of us know that the real fun in an Elder Scrolls game is amassing a ludicrously extensive personal library to peruse in between bouts of crafting and mass slaughter. Assembled below are ten of our favourite tomes from the captivating continent that is Tamriel.
A Game at Dinner
‘It would be perhaps easiest for me to say who I haven’t poisoned. I haven’t poisoned any who serve but one master, any whose loyalty to me is sincere. I haven’t poisoned any person who wants to see King Helseth on the throne of Morrowind.’
A Game at Dinner takes the form of a letter from a spy to his master, begging to be reassigned. The previous day, he explains, the Prince had invited the members of his court (including the spy) to dine with him, and with cold cunning, used the meal as a means to test their loyalty to him.
The spy’s thoughts as the Prince unveils his wicked scheme have the feel of a chess game, one where the player is hopelessly outmanoeuvred at every turn. The possibility that every single member of the court may have been a spy for one house or another gives insight into the subterfuge and intrigue between the great houses of Morrowind, and how even when surrounded by treachery, a clever mind can prevail.
We are the Renrijra Krin. “The Mercenary’s Grin¸” “The Laugh of the Landless,” and “The Smiling Scum” would all be fair translations. It is a derogatory expression, but it is amusing so we have adopted it.
This manifesto gives a glimpse into the good-humoured madness of the Khajiit race. Hopelessly confusing and contradictory to an outside mind, the Khajiit’s set of “foolish concepts” (the closest translation they have to “rules”) advocates both for bravery and for running away, lauding charity as much as dirty fighting.
To say that this book sheds light on the Khajiiti people would be a lie. A better analogy would be to say that reading it is like stepping into a house of mirrors; all that you see is true, even that which is blatantly contradicted by its neighbour. Still doesn’t make sense? Good. The Khajiit prefer it that way.
It was an unimaginative, austere building not noted so much for its aesthetic or architectural design as for its prodigious length. If any critics wondered why such an unornamented, extended erection held such fascination for Lord Vanech, they kept it to themselves.
The sequel to A Dance in Fire, Argonian Account likewise follows Imperial clerk Decumus Scotti’s hapless exploits in foreign lands. Rewarded for his semi-deserved successes in Valenwood with an even more harrowing contract, Scotti miserably sets off for the swampy cesspool of Blackmarsh.
Though tasked with improving the Empire’s trade routes in the area, Scotti quickly has trouble enough just staying alive. Enduring fleshflies, hackwings, raiding Nagas and a landscape stubbornly and violently resistant to change, Scotti more than has his work cut out for him. The solution he finds at the end is a stroke of genius, perfectly reflecting the character and imparting a little wisdom to the reader at the same time.
Slashing a smoking tear through the Veil, She, her-very-self, appeared before them, terrible and resplendent. She came arrayed in ebony darker than a moonless night, wielding a blade burning hotter than the surface of the sun.
This short but dark tale details the summoning of Boethiah, the Daedric Prince of Deceit, by her faithful cultists. Annoyed at being pulled from Oblivion, Boethiah speaks to each cultist in turn, demanding proof of their worth. Those who disappoint her are destroyed, and she is easily disappointed.
While Tamriel is filled with stories warning against meddling with Daedra (for example, trying to bind one to your will or accepting one of Clavicus Vile’s Faustian bargains) this one strikes the hardest because of Boethiah’s merciless severity. The cultists venerated her, and she found them worthless. Unless your heart is as black as the Daedra you summon, better to stick to atronachs and undead.
Confessions of a Khajiit Fur Trader
My brother gave me my first skin. It was to be a memento. But in the darkness of the fence’s cabin, the coin hit my hand heavy.
The account of how a Khajiiti bandit began trading in his own people’s skins is chilling, to say the least. With the entrepreneurial spirit of a Prohibition-era bootlegger, the fur trader builds a criminal empire on the most forbidden of luxuries.
The coldest of killers, he regrets almost none of the things he’s done, only a few of the misfortunes that have befallen him along the way. Even when his own mortality is threatened, when an ordinary person would walk away, he refuses to stop. The trade is his life, and his life is worth far more than anyone else’s.
Killing – Before You’re Killed
The graves are filled with many a mediocre swordsman. If you don’t have the stomach for war, try a monk’s work. But if you do travel the path of the warrior, learn the basics and keep your head firmly planted on your shoulders – or someone’s bound to lob it off.
This somewhat biased manual details everything a neophyte warrior needs to know about basic combat. More than just an interesting read, Killing – Before You’re Killed serves as a good starting point for anyone engaging in Skyrim’s close combat (which will be everyone at one point or another).
Wisely beginning with how to block incoming attacks, the text then moves on to offensive strategies, weapon choice, stamina management and some more advanced strategies to keep enemies on their toes (or on the floor). This is a great way to explain gameplay mechanics, harkening back to the kind of in-character and humour-laden instruction manuals that games used to have.
Report: Disaster at Ionith
Despite the creation of two new legions during his reign (and the recreation of the Fifth), the loss of the Expeditionary Force left the Empire in a dangerously weak position relative to the provinces, as the current situation makes all too clear.
This lengthy report details the Emperor’s ill-fated invasion of the foreign (and downright alien) land, Akavir. Though the Expeditionary Force easily made a foothold in Akaviri lands, it soon suffered from tenuous supply lines, severe weather, Tsaesci raiding parties, attempted assassinations and even magical interference. Each unfortunate event contributes to at least one other, dooming a campaign that by all rights, should have succeeded.
While dry, the report is a fascinating and objective read, as it examines each decision leading to the disaster both as it seemed at the time, and with the benefit of hindsight. The fact that a force as mighty and widespread as the Empire could be nearly undone by something so simple as logistical oversight serves as a reminder that nobody is invincible. Truly, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Sixteen Accords of Madness, v. VI
The Prince of the Hunt struck his spear to the ground, bringing forth his unnatural, snarling behemoth. Doffing his cap, sly as ever, Sheogorath stood and stepped aside to reveal a tiny, colorful bird perched atop the stone.
Like a Greek myth, volume six of the Sixteen Accords of Madness describes a duel between two Daedric Princes: Hircine, Prince of the Hunt; and Sheogorath, Prince of Madness. For nothing but their own pride (and in the Mad Prince’s case, amusement) each is to present a beast to do battle in three years time.
Though the ending to this David and Goliath tale is somewhat predictable, this tale shines bright because of how Sheogorath effortlessly enrages his rival, all the while quietly grinning to himself. The moral of the story (one it shares with The Armorer’s Challenge, another fine read) is to always prepare according to your enemy’s strengths and circumstances, lest your great and powerful weapons lie useless in the dirt.
The Doors of Oblivion
‘I can see from one end of the world to the other in a million shades of gray. There is no sky or ground or air, only particles, floating, falling, whirling about me. I must levitate and breathe by magickal means…’
This may well be the most fascinating book in all of Tamriel, as it documents a master wizard’s journey through the most chaotic and treacherous realm imaginable: the planes of Oblivion, where the sixteen Daedric Princes reside, each twisting their own plane to reflect their nature.
Told from the perspective of the wizard’s apprentice who receives telepathic missives from beyond the Veil, The Doors of Oblivion reads like a series of challenges; a gauntlet the wizard must run in the pursuit of knowledge. From the ruinous vision of Tamriel in Coldharbour, to the endless nightmares of Quagmire, to the disarming beauty of Moonshadow, the wizard manages to resist the planes’ various traps and horrors. However, like most stories where Daedra and mortals cross paths, this is a cautionary tale. Oblivion has more than one way to snare a soul, so by the Nine Divines, stay away.
The Lusty Argonian Maid
Cleaning, eh? I have something for you. Here, polish my spear.
But it is huge! It could take me all night!
A cheeky play in at least seven acts (though only two scenes are available in-game), The Lusty Argonian Maid chronicles the budding affair (or banal conversation, depending on how seriously you take the suggestive language) of a man and his beautiful Argonian servant.
While quite juvenile in its humour, the fact that the maid is specified as Argonian suggests that the man and the reader is not. Considering the pervasive racism across Tamriel, for a reptilian woman to be held up as a human or elf’s object of desire would have been extremely progressive, making the play even more risque to the right audience.
Did we miss your favourite? Comment below and inform us of our most grievous error, so that we may engage in a scholarly duel of such lyrical intensity as to scorch the petticoats from a librarian’s rump.