Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Parting Ways With Our NPCs

Brenda Brathwaite | 29 Sep 2009 12:26
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"The main quest forced you to visit a number of royal courts, and having read I, Claudius just before, they were all vicious, conniving, back-stabbing folk. Among the worst of them were the Dark Elf woman who had married King Eadwyre of Wayrest, Barenziah, and her son, Helseth. They were refugees from Morrowind, their homeland to the east, and people didn't trust them, largely for good reasons. As the game ended, Helseth was involved in a power struggle with his stepsister over who would be the heir to the throne. You could keep playing the game after completing the main storyline quest, but Helseth's ambitions remained unresolved."

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Peterson later left Bethesda, and the series continued without him. He found himself at the same crossroads many of us do, one that seems to create the most designer attachment: a long-term commitment to a character and its storyline combined with an awareness of an unresolved thread of potential. It would be eight years before Morrowind was published, but thanks to Peterson's persistence, Helseth finally got a second chance at the crown.

Peterson was contracted by his former employer to write stories for Morrowind that would appear in the game as books. After learning what the developers planned for the main storyline, Peterson talked them into slipping in some backstory about his characters Barenziah and Helseth. From there, his own story becomes nearly magical.

"The story was that on the King of Wayrest's death, Helseth had lost the power struggle with his stepsister, and he and his mother Barenziah fled the west. Barenziah's uncle Llethan Athyn was the King of Morrowind, a figurehead for the Empire, and they went to him for support. It isn't exactly stated that Helseth murdered his great uncle, but it's definitely suggested, and Helseth takes the throne. Because that's gratitude for you."

The story all happens in the background of Morrowind, in the literature you read and the rumors you hear on the street. It is an epic ninjaing of sorely missed NPCs, but it doesn't end there. Bethesda made an add-on pack called Tribunal where Barenziah and Helseth were front and center, the major players in the world, and Peterson was also invited to write the Pocket Guide to the Empire, a 112-page book which accompanied the collector's edition of Oblivion.

"In order to write it," Peterson says, "I asked my old co-workers what was going on in Morrowind after the events of the game, and they described to me how King Helseth was uniting the confederacy of the old land and assuming some real power in the land, abolishing slavery and standing against the old theocracy. It sounded good to me, so that's what I wrote in the book. I've since been told by fans that they don't believe I didn't come up with that as a triumph for my old favorite rascal, and I don't blame them. I wouldn't trust me on it either."

Brenda Brathwaite is a game designer and Chair of the Interactive Design and Game Development department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She has worked with NPCs in a variety of ways since 1981, and she misses many of them.

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