Some of the funniest moments I’ve had in Skyrim were almost assuredly completely unplanned by the people who designed it.
Skyrim, like the previous titles in the series, or the other major gameworld from Bethesda, the Fallout series, uses scripts to tell all the various characters in the game where to be at certain times of the day, and how to react to events around them, and to moderate how each person feels about the player and the player’s actions.
Radiant Quests, Repeating Forever
Many of the basic quests available to the player are also randomly generated. There’s a list of quest-givers, a list of random loot or rewards, and a long list of possible locations for these quests. This is the Radiant system, and it adds a certain amount of unpredictability to every playthrough.
The game is big, with far too many moving parts, with everything governed by an interlocking set of scripts and triggers, all built on top of an engine that has been expanded and patched over the years. Toss all that together with an unpredictable human player who has been given the freedom to go anywhere, talk to (or kill) almost anyone in the game. You end up with a system that mostly works, but can break pretty easily.
Some of those breaks are predictable and repeatable and become exploits that a gamer can use (or not, if they would rather). And some of those breaks are chaotic, unpredictable, and hilarious. These bugs create some of my favorite moments in the game.
The Unbound Dremora
On one of my most recent playthroughs, I’ve been playing a pure mage, eschewing swords and armor for spells and potions. My character had been only using the various schools of magick to attack, defend, or otherwise complete quests. And eventually she had maxed out her skill in conjuration, the ability to summon things and creatures from other planes of existence.
Having reached this level, there was only one thing left to do: approach the instructor for conjuration at the College of Winterhold basically to complete my degree. The instructor gave me a ritual to perform: summon a dremora (a creature of the plane of Oblivion with great power), defeat it in combat three times, and order it to bring back some powerful artifact. All this, I did, and ran off to give the artifact to the instructor, Phinis Gestor.
Some time later, maybe a week or more in real time, my character was returning to the College to sell off a bunch of loot I’d found, and heard a noise behind me as I entered the dorms. I turned around, and came face to face with the red devil face of the unbound dremora I’d summoned earlier.
The dremora was not hostile. In fact, it seemed listless, quiet, almost depressed. Instead of bellowing threats, it said nothing at all. As I watched, it wandered across the atrium and up the stairs to the second floor. I ran after it, curious, but only watched as it went out the door to the roof. I couldn’t stop laughing. Apparently I’d forgotten to dismiss it after I was done.
That dremora is still there, on the roof, staring out to the horizon, stuck here, unable to leave or return to its home dimension. I’ve even tried attacking it to see if killing it will dispell it. Nope. It’s glitched out. It’s immune to attack, and it will not fight back. The College has gained another student, or a mascot.
Unpredictability Is Fun
A downside to the Radiant system is that after a while, these Radiant quests become boring and repetitive, despite the randomness, because they all boil down to “go fetch this thing for me”. It’s clearly not special to that NPC because they keep losing some random weapon or piece of armor in some other random tomb, cave, or dungeon, and only the player can go there and find it for them again.
I assumed that the unbound dremora should disappear, or at least become an enemy you can fight (and loot), after completing the quest. Its persistence is a bug, one that should have been fixed by a patch (and is fixed by the Unofficial Skyrim Patch, a crowd-sourced update provided by fans of the game). But it’s much funnier to have it hang around, observe, and act depressed at its fate.