Struggling to Start a Goblin War in Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion struggling and failing to start Goblin Wars among the tribes with staff theft

I have tons of hours in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but for some reason I continuously fall off its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, when I try it. I’ve done the introductory dungeon crawl several times over and been wowed by Patrick Stewart’s voice acting, but I haven’t gotten as immersed in the game world and character-building systems as I have with other RPGs. I know the prior Elder Scrolls games are stone-cold classics, so I want to sink more hours into them. Since the side material is obviously where I’m most interested, I realized some sort of self-imposed goal could be more fun than forcing myself to play up to a certain level or a fan-favorite faction quest I have to sink tons of prerequisite time in to get to.

My perfect silly objective came when I learned about Goblin Wars, a fascinating enemy mechanic apparently present in Oblivion. While goblins are standard starter enemies like in most fantasy worlds, Bethesda also added basic tribal dynamics to the named goblin tribes you encounter. The player can pillage tribe totems (which are also magical staves) from the tribe camps, which apparently cause parties of goblins to go to its location and try to retrieve it. If you then put a totem in an opposing tribe camp, this can supposedly start a war between the two groups. The idea of stoking a chaotic goblin conflict sounded like great fun and motivated me to boot up a fresh Oblivion save on my PC.

I clicked through the intro dialogue as fast as possible, barely thinking twice when choosing my class and going for a spell caster, which I would regret later. When the chatty Emperor finally stopped talking my ears off about amulets or whatever (due to getting stabbed), I was let loose in Cyrodiil. I got my bearings and made for Skingrad. I had read that you can stumble on two Goblin Wars already in action in Oblivion’s world, with one of them happening at the Derelict Mine. As I approached the first cave, I felt a pang of hope when I saw some goblin corpses in the outside area, but I only found local Sharp Tooth tribe goblins after exploring the dungeon, running into no other clashes already underway.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion struggling and failing to start Goblin Wars among the tribes with staff theft

I came to regret my stat specs because I neglected stealth, which would have made being a fly on the wall in these goblin caves a little easier. I was stumbling through Derelict Mine, thinning their numbers as I had to fight most goblins I encountered. I made it to one of the deepest areas and ended up having a spellcaster duel with a strong goblin shaman. I emerged from the fight bloodied but victorious, but then dread started to creep over me as something tickled my memory. My fears were confirmed when I double-checked the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages (UESP) wiki and saw that killing the shaman effectively pacifies the residing tribe and ends any Goblin Wars happening. Shit.

Well, at least I have a staff to blow things up with, but placing it anywhere would pretty much be useless since the White Skin tribe were now filthy pacifists. I’m more of a Goblin Peacekeeper than a Warlord, besides all the murder I committed. I figured I might as well check out the side quest built around this mechanic, Goblin Trouble, since it revolves around the only other active Goblin War I could access. You get the setup for this quest when you stumble on a group of farmers camping in the forest, who tell you they can’t build their farm because of the warring Rock Biter and Bloody Hand tribes. The combat was so brutal, so vicious, so merciless that they had to turn tail and hide until a brave adventurer could save them.

The farmer’s guide Mirisa explains that you could either retrieve the stolen staff or kill a shaman to end the fighting. She even notes mischievously that you could place the staff elsewhere to cause more chaos after getting payment for ending the fight, making me even more excited to try this stuff out for myself.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion struggling and failing to start Goblin Wars among the tribes with staff theft

I decided to check out the Rock Biter tribe in Timberscar Hollow first, since they were the offending thieves, and hoped to glance at some goblins fighting in the farmland while on the way. But as I crossed the future farm, waiting to view the goblin adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, it was completely serene and peaceful, no goblin slaughter anywhere in sight. Timberscar Hollow was also pretty mellow with no fighting, and there were just a few patrolling Gobbos well spaced out in the first room. So I managed to pull off a stealth approach even as my clumsy mage. I found a corner to park it in the room outside the shaman’s lair and decided to wait around to see if a Bloody Hand raiding party would arrive to claim their stolen goods. I let the wait timer cycle through some hours quickly and even took an in-game day or two crouching in a dank cave, but the war never came for us.

I got a little impatient here, frustrated that I was just sitting in front of a PC watching the camera slowly rotate around my sitting dark elf character. I wanted to nurture my own homegrown conflict, not piggyback on a preplanned one. Why not have the biggest fight possible? I stole the Bloody Hand and Rock Biter totem staves hidden in Timberscar Hollow, then scampered back south to collect my reward from the farmers. I went with the Three Feather Tribe in the northern mountain area as the site of the Final Fight. I whizzed into the Plundered Mine, trying to leave as many Three Feather soldiers alive as possible and stowing the totem staves in different barrels in the dungeon. With my trap laid, all I had to do was make it out of the mine, kill the one goblin still hounding me down, and wait outside for the inevitable raiding parties to come.

I sat for one day, then let another pass… nothing happened. I ate away more hours with the wait mechanic, and the only goblins that appeared were more Three Feather soldiers to guard the entrance. I just watched their models shuffle back and forth as more days passed my burgeoning hero by. No raiding parties came; no Goblin Wars broke out. Basically, all I’ve succeeded in doing is ending all the combats in progress and nothing else.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion struggling and failing to start Goblin Wars among the tribes with staff theft

After taking a break from this absolute failure of a playthrough, I unfortunately made a horrible discovery on another wiki page. While researching the remaining tribes on the Goblin UESP page, I found this line that I previously missed: “Stealing a goblin tribe’s totem and hiding or placing it somewhere will not start a war though, due to distance restrictions built into the game.” Interesting. This would have been valuable information for the Goblin Wars wiki! Basically, without mods, there’s no way to start your own Goblin War, and I had already undone both of my chances for seeing one in my foolishness.

I’m pretty much waving the white flag here. I know it would be very fun to figure out modding, but that’s not a rabbit hole I’m particularly interested in jumping down at the moment. I think my biggest mistake here was that I tried to play Oblivion too much on Skyrim’s terms and didn’t familiarize myself enough with the game I was actually playing. In Skyrim, there was at least some illusion that NPCs could trek long distances in the map, with some characters jogging to far-away quest markers after agreeing to meet you there. Ultimately, I definitely let myself get prematurely excited over this minor game mechanic that was basically just created for this sidequest and a couple of other encounters.

Even though my set goal was a total failure, I still enjoyed my time wandering around Cyrodiil, foraging plants, and meeting characters in the towns I passed through. Maybe I need to “yes, and” the role-playing prompts I’m getting and make my new goal to become the most nonviolent hippie character I can possibly embody to gain redemption for the goblins I slaughtered for an inane cause. As much as I wanted to discuss the other interesting mechanics in Oblivion that unfold during a Goblin War, this failure became its own story and a unique mark I left on the world.

About the author

Jacob Linden
Jacob is a freelance writer for The Escapist and the writer of the column Expedition, which explores compelling side stories in new and classic games. He started writing for The Escapist, and games media in general, in fall of 2022 after a year writing blogs for small brands and news for smaller websites. He plays a ton of different genres but has a soft spot for sprawling RPGs like the Souls series or Skyrim, and he firmly believes that Pokémon Emerald is the best game in the series hands down. He has a degree in Film & Television Production and is also published in Esquire, Polygon, and Popular Mechanics.