An Elder Scrolls Lore Primer for Noobs
The Elder Scrolls series of games has built a massive pool of lore, all of which will serve as a resource for the forthcoming MMO, the Elder Scrolls Online. This is the first time the Elder Scrolls universe will be presented in MMO form, and the gigantic backstory built up over the previous five single-player games may be overwhelming to newcomers who will be experiencing the world for the first time.
Since so much of the lore can be gleaned from the vast library of books in all of the single-player games, the easiest and most fun way to bone up on Elder Scrolls history and lore is to spend some time in those games. Starting with TES II: Daggerfall, there are readable books everywhere, and they all contain some kind of accounting of the events in history. Of particular interest will be books dealing with the various creation myths, First and Second Era history, nature and the supernatural. Some prime places to hunt for relevant books:
- the library in Vivec (Morrowind)
- any Mages Guild guildhall
- chapels, temples, castles
- fully upgraded player houses (Oblivion and Skyrim)
It's also possible to learn a lot about Tamriel's rich history by paying close attention to the quests. The Daedric shrine quests in Oblivion, for example, give a profound insight into the alien natures of the Daedric Princes - they are neither wholly evil nor wholly good, but can be as capricious and cruel as the gods of the Greeks. Joining the Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim gives the player a glimpse at the very foundations of the universe - it's not just murder-for-sale, but serving a much greater purpose and following the laws of the universe itself.
Even the character creation process of the single-player games gives a glimpse of the lore: the player is asked to pick an astrological sign to represent the month of his birth. All of these astrological signs represent constellations which can be seen in the in-game sky at night. In the Elder Scrolls Online, the Serpent constellation (representing the Daedric Prince Molag Bal, who has a distinctly-serpentine appearance) dominates the night sky, reflecting Molag Bal's influence on events of that setting.
Place NamesNirn - The planet on which all Elder Scrolls games take place. It is the center of the plane of Mundus, and the eight planets are believed to orbit around it. Nirn has two moons - Masser, the big one, and Secunda, the small one.
Oblivion - a plane of existence lying between Mundus and the Aetherium, the plane where the Aedra exist. Oblivion is home of the Daedra and the Daedric Princes, who have constructed their own realms within the plane of Oblivion.
Coldharbour - the realm of Daedric Prince Molag Bal. It is essentially a copy of Nirn, including physical features like the White Gold Tower, but filled with desecration and destruction.
Tamriel - The continent where all the action takes place. Tamriel consists of nine provinces:
- Cyrodiil - the central province, home of the Imperials and the location of all of TESO's PvP. Setting of TES IV: Oblivion
- High Rock - northwestern province, home of the Bretons; also the location of the city-state of Orsinium, home of the Orcs
- Hammerfell - northwestern province, home of the Redguards. Setting of TES II: Daggerfall
- Skyrim - north-central province, home of the Nords. Setting of TES V: Skyrim
- Morrowind - northeastern province, home of the Dunmer. Setting of TES III: Morrowind
- Black Marsh - eastern province, home of the Argonians. Ground zero of the pandemic Knahaten Flu
- Elsweyr - southeastern province, home of the Khajiit. Consists of desert in the north and jungles in the south.
- Valenwood - southwestern province, home of the Bosmer. Largely uninhabited rainforest.
- Summerset Isles - a pair of islands located off the southwest coast of Tamriel, home of the Altmer.
White Gold Tower - The central structure of the Imperial Palace in Imperial City, Cyrodiil. Location of the Ruby Throne, the seat of the Emperor.
Aedra and Daedra
There are two main classes of supernatural beings in the Elder Scrolls universe: Aedra and Daedra. Initially, they were all formless spirits that existed prior to the creation of the universe. The Aedra are the few spirits who took part in the creation of the universe under the leadership of Lorkhan the Trickster, and the Daedra are the ones who did not.
Most of the Aedra were trapped by the act of creation, becoming mortal in the process, and some of them actually died, or became physical parts of the universe - the planets, the moons, etc. A very few of them took humanoid form and went on to father the various races of men and mer (elf-kind). For the most part, the Aedra are kind, benevolent beings with fairly narrow spheres of influence in the daily lives of the inhabitants of Nirn. For example, the Aedra Mara is the god of love, the Aedra Stendarr is the god of mercy, and so on. Because they are bound to Nirn and their power was greatly reduced by the act of its creation, they cannot take physical form, and may only interact with the world and its inhabitants in a magical or spiritual manner, through shrines and altars.
The Eight Divines are eight Aedra who are embodied in the planets orbiting the same sun as Nirn. These are the ones that willingly gave themselves to the creation of Nirn even after they saw through Lorkhan's ruse. Shrines and altars to the Eight Divines are built all over the human provinces of Tamriel. The elves worship different "sets" of Aedra, typically favoring the Aedra who escaped Lorkhan's trap and retained most of their divinity and power.
Most Daedra are beast-like supernatural creatures, usually of low intelligence. Lesser Daedra are relatively common and come in many varied forms, from the elemental Atronachs to the beastial, fire-breathing Daedroth to the demonic Dremora. Lesser Daedra are believed to be created by the Daedric Princes as servants, and are often found in the company of powerful mages who summoned them for the same purpose. The humanoid Daedra tend to be more intelligent and tougher than the others, and are far more rare.
Daedric Princes are the most powerful Daedra, and are commonly worshiped as gods. Since they took no part in the creation of Nirn, they are much stronger than the Aedra and are able to manifest themselves physically in their own private planes of Oblivion. Daedric Princes are not all monstrous, cruel demons; some of them, like Azura, Meridia or Nocturnal, are benevolent and helpful.
Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince shaping the events of the Elder Scrolls Online, is neither benevolent nor helpful. He is seeking to pull Nirn into his own private plane of Oblivion, called Coldharbour, which is essentially a recreation of Nirn but corrupted and ruined. He is associated with domination, corruption, slavery, vampirism and rape. Definitely not a nice Daedra.
Elder Scrolls history is divided into eras of varying lengths.
The Dawn Era is the time of the creation of the universe and the eventual rise of the peoples of Nirn. This era likely encompasses many millennia.
The Merethic Era involves the first settlements of Tamriel, the creation of different cultures and the erection of the first great man- and elf-made structures.
This is followed by the First Era, a roughly 3000-year period dominated by the struggle between Ayleid culture, which died out by the beginning of the Second Era, and the Cyrodiilic Empire, which grew to dominate Tamriel for thousands of years to come.
The Elder Scrolls Online takes place in the middle of the Second Era, a roughly nine-hundred-year era defined by strife and conflict as the Cyrodiilic Empire struggled to bring all of Tamriel under its control. Specifically, it is set during the Interregnum, a period where the Empire is at its weakest because of a combination of internal conflict, the combined efforts of the three alliances vying control for control of the Ruby Throne, and Molag Bal trying to drag the whole world into his own private hell. The Second Era ends when Tiber Septim finally unites all the provinces of Tamriel under Imperial control.
The Third Era, which lasts for 433 years, is defined by the succession of Septim emperors. It ends after the Oblivion Crisis in TES IV: Oblivion, with the death of Martin Septim. The events of Arena, Daggerfall and Morrowind also occur during the Third Era. These events happen within a 34-year span, starting 714 years after the events of the Elder Scrolls Online.
The events of Skyrim take place in the Fourth Era, roughly 200 years after the events of Morrowind and Oblivion, which are only about 6 years apart at the end of the Third Era. That places the Elder Scrolls Online about 948 years before Skyrim. Though the events of Skyrim are pretty epic, it is unknown whether the defeat of Alduin ushers in a new era, or whether the Fourth Era soldiers on for another few centuries.
One of the defining events of TESO's Second Era setting is the rise of Tiber Septim during the 9th Century, roughly 250 years after the setting of the Elder Scrolls Online. Because Tiber Septim has not yet been born, and his conquest and unification of Tamriel have not yet occured, there will be a few notable differences between TESO's setting and those of the later games. For starters, money won't be called Septims. It may have some other kind of Imperial-type name - denari or sesterce, perhaps, in keeping with the Roman-inspired names - but it won't be named after a man who has yet to be born.
Likewise, there are only Eight Divines instead of the Nine Divines of the later games. Tiber Septim has not yet transcended mortality to become the Ninth Divine, Talos, and is not yet worshiped as a god.
If you want to do your own lore research, all of the Elder Scroll games are still available for download. Skyrim (and its expansions), Oblivion and Morrowind are all available through Steam, and Daggerfall and Arena are both available as freeware from the official Elder Scrolls website. Be warned that Daggerfall and Arena require DOS emulation to function on modern machines and may require some third-party patching to make them compatible with recent operating systems and hardware.
What bits of lore tripped you up the first time you fired up an Elder Scrolls game? Let us know in our comments!