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The Elder Scrolls franchise does not shy away from introducing their players to many bright, colorful, and downright weird characters in their games, and, of course, Skyrim is no exception in this fact.
The Elder Scrolls 5 does not only have some of the more eccentric characters in the entirety of Tamriel, but it also goes to great lengths to give these characters great backstories and motivations with impressive writing and dialogue options available to the player in every single nook and cranny throughout the land.
Some of these characters play more significant roles in the game and therefore get a lot more screentime, precious time for the player to fall in love with their personalities, and therefore such characters will feature heavily throughout this guide.
However, that does not mean that the several unique, one-trick pony characters a player might come across in the game won’t be included. So please, don’t worry, I am sure to give a little detail into your own personal favorite. Now, what are we waiting for? Let’s get into it!
Main Questline Characters
As one of the very first main characters encountered throughout the game, Ulfric seems like a good place to start in terms of the main characters from the game. Unlike many other high-ranking members of military/faction organizations, Ulfric from the very beginning of the game gives off the vibe of a rebel.
A man to be respected and maybe feared. Remove the general pompous attitude one receives from many of the game high-ranking characters, Ulfric will tell the main character how it is and will never suffer fools.
Whilst he is not incredibly important in the main questline, only appearing once should certain conditions be met during a peace treaty between himself and General Tullius of the Empire. He is, however, a key character in the civil war questline, and therefore the developers of Skyrim decided to put a great deal of detail into his backstory to flesh out his character and motivations for starting said civil war.
Ulfric, also known as the Bear of Markarth has lived a great deal of time as the Jarl of Windhelm, long before the civil war. In this position, the Jarl has always longed for Skyrim’s independence from the Empire, believing his native land to be one belonging to the native Nords and therefore should be governed by said race.
This belief was only strengthened after his service in the Great War wherein he developed a hatred for the Empire and their relationship with the Aldmeri Dominion, especially their banning of the worship of Talos. As a true Nord, Ulfric simply could not accept this.
With this resentment brewing and growing over time, it was High King Torygg who Ulfric decided was the face of the Empire in Skyrim and everything heinous such a relationship brought with it. Therefore, Ulfric decided to challenge the High King to a duel, in the old Nord way in 4E 201.
In this duel, Ulfric reportedly used the voice to defeat the High King in a battle that was overall considered by the Stormcloacks to be both fair and honest, other characters, however, such as General Tullius of the Empire will say the ‘duel’ was nothing short of a brutal murder.
Soon after this duel, the Jarl of Windhelm would escape back to his hold, only to be branded a criminal by the Empire and therefore an enemy of the state. This was when Ulfric would be ambushed at Darkwater Crossing, getting captured and placed on the same cart as the Dragonborn at the beginning of the game.
- The player first meets this NPC in the opening section of the game wherein Ulfric sits quietly, mouth gagged for fear of his Thu’um.
- After the opening prologue, the player can find Ulfric in Windhelm at the Palace of Kings.
- This NPC is also known as the Bear of Markarth.
- Key quests this character is involved in includes Unbound, Joining the Stormcloacks, Battle for Whiterun, and Liberation of Skyrim.
- This character can be killed during the battle for Windhelm, only to be encountered later in Sovngarde.
The main antagonist of this game, Alduin, is a big one. Not only is he a monstrous, time-traveling dragon from an age long forgotten but he is also known as the Eater of Worlds. Simply put, this one is not to be messed with. During the main quest, the Dragonborn will encounter this dragon multiple times and therefore will become quite familiar with his fire breathing ways.
His main goal is a simple one, to destroy all living creatures on Nirn to properly rule over the planet with his dragon friends, thus taking his proper place as the harbinger of the apocalypse. He is also known in some texts scattered throughout Skyrim as the ‘creator of dragon civilization’, or whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Alduin’s lineage is a rather difficult one to explain with scholars throughout Skyrim disagreeing on almost every aspect of his origin and being. Some texts cite him as being the same entity as Akatosh whilst others state there are entirely different beings.
The in-game lore also suggests that Alduin is the reason that Nirn exists today, that he was the one who brought the previous world to an end, destroying it so Nirn could be born, in a process called Kalpa. This understanding places Alduin slightly outside of the moral quandaries mere mortals must consider as this dietic figure represents both creation and destruction.
In the main questline of Skyrim, and the parts of Alduin’s timeline that matter to the ordinary Skyrim player, Alduin arrives just in time to stop the player from getting their head cut off. You find out later that his arrival through a time portal was the result of the previous generation’s plan to defeat the World Eater.
This arrival also serves as the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy which states, “And the Scrolls have foretold, of black wings in the cold, that when brothers wage war come unfurled! Alduin, Bane of Kings, ancient shadow unbound, with a hunger to swallow the world!”
The Dragonborn then encounters this dragon several more times throughout the game, as they slowly learn how to defeat him. In the end, the player finds that through a combination of a shout called Dragonrend and some good old-fashioned hacking and slashing, the player can ultimately lay the harbinger of death to rest in their final battle in Sovngarde, thus completing the main quest.
- Alduin’s arrival at the beginning of the game saves the Dragonborn from getting his head cut off. This arrival, for Alduin, takes place mere seconds after battling the previous Nordic heroes in ancient times, due to his trip through an Elder Scroll-inspired wormhole.
- When Alduin is defeated, unlike all other dragons in the game, his soul cannot be absorbed and his skeleton is completely burnt up, leaving nothing behind.
- Alduin is mentioned in Elder Scrolls 3, 4, and Elder Scrolls Online.
- Quests the Dragonborn encounters Alduin in include A Blade in the Dark, Alduin’s Bane, Sovngarde, and Dragonslayer.
The Dragonborn first meets this NPC after she has stolen, out from under your and the Graybeards noses, the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, leaving behind a note to direct the player back to her inn. When the player subsequently meets Delphine back at her Riverwood inn, they will find out she is the current master of the Blades, an old warrior faction concerned with the protection of each incarnation of the Dragonborn and later, the emperor’s guards.
There is not much known about Delphine’s backstory. All we know is that during the Great War, Delphine became a high-priority target for the Thalmor and therefore has to take great strides to protect herself.
Upon escaping these agents of the Thalmor, Delphine fled for Cyrodiil, only returning to her homeland of Skyrim once the heat had died down a little bit. After this, the only thing we know about Delphine is her allegiance to the Blades, her ultimate goal of saving the world from the dragons, and her inconvenient hatred for the master of the Graybeards, Paarthurnax.
- Delphine can be seen with Farengar Secret Fire when you return with the Dragonstone. She is stood beside the mage with a hood up and is simply referred to as his associate. Upon meeting Delphine properly, the Dragonborn can access a special dialogue option, stating, ‘You were at Dragonsreach’.
- There is an apparent connection between Delphine and the Thieves Guild that is never properly explored. Firstly, she wears a guild hood with Farengar and later she has a copy of Fall From Glory on her dresser. She also knows Brynjolf in some way.
- Delphine is involved in nearly all major quests and some which need not be completed such as Paarthurnax wherein the player can choose whether or not to kill the dragon.
- Delphine can be seen as a rather poorly written and coded character, not only do we not have much backstory on her, but she also does not represent many of the founding tenants of the Blades. Instead of serving the Dragonborn, she can often be seen to either use or order the player around. She will also attack the Dragonborn on-site should they have any bounty at all on them.
This wonderful dragon can be found perched atop the highest mountain in Skyrim, the Throat of the World. He is not only one of a few helpful and good dragons in Skyrim, but he is also a source for good in the world, helping the player defeat Alduin and his legion of dragons.
That being said, however, Paarthurnax, dragon tongue meaning ‘The Old One’, once served as Alduin’s lieutenant during the Dragon War and therefore committed innumerable atrocities against mankind.
Paarthurnax’s loyalty to his brother remained until one of two things occurred during the Merethic Era. Paarthurnax himself states that Alduin claimed to be a god that originally turned him against his brother, making him realize that he had gotten drunk on power.
However, Nordic legend states that it wasn’t a decision made by Paarthurnax at all to turn against Alduin, apparently an order from Kyne herself forced the dragon to help mankind. Whether Paarthurnax originally despised mankind or not, his allegiance to them by the time he meets the player is unquestionable. Upon turning to the human side, he and other dragons sought to teach humans about the Thu’um, giving them a key weapon in their fight against Alduin.
The reason for Paarthurnax’s seclusion atop the Throat of the World does however suggest that the dragon is still capable of reverting to his old ways. After the pacifist creed, The Way of The Voice was established by Jurgen Windcaller, founder of the Blades, Paarthurnax decided that to prevent himself from returning to his old, power-hungry ways, he would need to isolate himself away from other dragons and influences, instead, focusing on this creed in the hoped of achieving peace.
In the main quest, Paarthurnax is invaluable to the player, not only does he offer you myriad pieces of advice and words of power to help you along your journey, but he also helps you to fight Alduin at one point before the World Eater scarpers off to Sovngarde.
Yet, even after offering all of this help, the elderly dragon is still target number one for Delphine and the Blades. To be honest, if you decided to kill Paarthurnax for Delphine after the completion of the main storyline, then you, my friend are a monster and should stop reading now… Only kidding, but please, leave the poor old guy alone next time.
- Paarthurnax, like all other dragons, is technically immortal, however, due to his immense age, his skin is starting to show signs of age. He is the only dragon in the game to be textured in this way.
- Paarthurnax can only be encountered after progressing far enough in the main story, after this point, however, the Dragonborn can hang around with the dragon anytime they like.
- Quests containing Paarthurnax and his help include The Throat of the World, Alduin’s Bane, Paarthurnax, and Epilogue (should you choose not to kill him in Paarthurnax quest that is).
- Paarthurnax translates to Ambition-Overlord-Cruelty, whilst his dragon brothers also refer to him as the Old One.
This member of the Graybeards serves as a mentor, instructor, and spokesman for the Dragonborn and Greybeards respectively. Unlike the other members of the Graybeards, Arngeir is experienced enough with the Thu’um that he is capable of communicating normally without the worry of losing control of his Thu’um like the other members of the Graybeards.
This is why he is the only member to converse in the game. Another reason may also have been to save on voice actors, but this is merely speculation on my part.
There is not much known about Arngeir or the other member of the Graybeards, seemingly they have lived in their current form for many decades, leaving behind any past lives or relationships long ago. This is quite strange for a character in such a lore-heavy game as Skyrim, to have no background lore discoverable in the world suggests a possible deliberate effort has been made on the developer’s part.
Possibly to heighten the mystery surrounding these scholars, but once again, this is mere speculation. In fact, as the only speaking member of the Graybeards, one would suspect that he would have the most lore out of the group… and you would be wrong. He is the weakest when it comes to the amount of lore available to him.
To find this character, the player need only take the pilgrimage of 10’000 steps up the side of the tallest mountain in the game, the Throat of the World, wherein the player will eventually make it High Hrothgar, home of the Graybeards, originally constructed by Jurgen Windcaller.
- Some lore suggests that Arngeir is the weakest amongst the Graybeards and thus he can communicate still. However, other pieces of lore suggest it is his very power and master of the Thu’um which allows him to speak.
- Arngeir is the highest leveled NPC in the entire game, sitting at a whopping, level 150.
- If the Dragonborn decided to kill Paarthurnax, Arngeir will refuse to talk to the player for the remainder of the playthrough. There is no way to redeem this travesty I’m afraid.
- Key quests involving this NPC include The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, The Way of the Voice, Elder Knowledge, Season Unending, and Find the Word of Power.
- He has 7 dragon shouts; Disarm, Fire Breath, Clear Skies, Frost Breath, Ice Form, Unrelenting Force, and Whirlwind Sprint.
Jarl Bulgruuf the Greater
Jarl Bulgruuf the Greater is the first Nord Jarl that the player will meet during their playthrough of Skyrim. Sitting upon his throne in the hallowed halls of Dragonsreach, situated within the walls of his settlement, Whiterun.
Whilst being one of the central characters to the main questlines of Skyrim, Jarl Bulgruuf does not have a great deal of backstory written about him within the game or any other external lore sources, therefore we know very little about the man before the events of Elder Scrolls 5.
What we do know however is that, whilst he does pledge fealty to the Empire, he has and always will place the safety and wellbeing of Whiterun above all else, stating, “if it’s war you’re referring to, I’m on the side of Whiterun.” In this spirit, the Jarl has countless times denied the Imperial Legion permission to garrison their troops within his city walls to protect his citizens.
The Jarl’s allegiance is not as simple as it may seem however, yes, on the outside looking in, one could truthfully say he is on the side of the Empire throughout the civil war, however, the Jarl himself will state that even though he supports the Empire as a province, he still supports the Stormcloacks out of loyalty to Skyrim and other Nords.
This contradiction within the Jarl is greatly interesting, one can see how as a man in a position of power within the new ruling structure of Skyrim, he has been forced to ally with the Empire, however, nearly everything the man says or does contradicts this apparent loyalty.
In talking to his son Nelkir, for example, the Dragonborn will learn that he still secretly worships Talos despite the ban on said worship within the Empire. He also apparently hates the Thalmor, even as much as Ulfric himself. This distaste for the Thalmor is never more evident than in the quest for Diplomatic Immunity wherein he can be very easily persuaded to cause a distraction to help the player steal intel from the Thalmor.
As noble as his actions may be, however, his albeit suffering allegiance to the empire has weakened the stance of the Stormcloacks throughout Skyrim.
As Bulgruuf is perceived by many as being a ‘true Nord’, when he aligned himself with the empire, many possible Stormcloack recruits decided to follow in his stead, deciding that if the Jarl were to trust them, then they cannot be so bad after all. A point Ulfric would certainly disagree with.
- The main questline relies heavily on Jarl Bulgruuf, not only is he the first lord the Dragonborn tells of the dragon invasion, but he is also the person who sends the player towards the Graybeards to start their journey to become the Dragonborn.
- Quests which include the Jarl are Dragon Rising, The Way of The Voice, The Fallen, Message to Whiterun, Battle for Whiterun, Diplomatic Immunity, and the Whispering Door.
- Despite Bulgruuf’s apparent liking of Ulfric’s Stormcloack agenda, the two have been at odds for years. Most likely over their conflicting loyalties.
- Bulgruuf’s son Nelkir is identified within the Creation Kit as actually being Jarl’s brother. This, therefore, gives more weight to a comment made within the game about Nelkir not having the same mother as Dagny and Frothar, Bulgruuf’s other children.
Standout Characters in Skyrim
Of course, whilst there are many amazing characters from Skyrim’s main questline that have already been covered, it would be a right shame to miss some of the more eccentric and interesting ones dotted throughout the land, simply because they have more important things going on than helping the Dragonborn play dragon slayer for a while. So, let’s take a look at some of these characters, shall we?
Sam Guevenne and Sanguine
This NPC is not only brilliant due to the quest he inevitably ends up landing the player with, but he is also one of the more interesting characters in the whole game, simply because he does a great job of fooling you.
Now, far be it from me, a humble Skyrim fan, to point out flaws in the overall writing of the game but, let’s just face it, subtlety has never really been the strong suit of writers over at Bethesda, has it? Well, not in this quest it seems, maybe they had an intern in one day? Who knows, either way, I was certainly surprised at the culmination of his quest.
The player will randomly meet Sam in one of Skyrim’s many taverns or inns. After which he will challenge the Dragonborn to an impromptu drinking game. Full of confidence after slaying a dragon most likely, you will of course accept.
This then starts the player down a drunken road full of darkness and forgotten memories. The drinking game got a bit out of hand and the player, accompanied by their new drinking buddy, Sam, managed to navigate throughout the entirety of Skyrim leaving drunken mishaps everywhere they go.
The next morning, after waking in and being reprimanded by a Priestess in the Temple of Dibella, the player will begin a journey of apologies and memory chasing to both find Sam and learn just what happened during those forgotten merry hours.
At the end of this journey, the player will find Sam, surrounded by a bunch of random people at a weird dinner party, only he reveals to you that he is not Sam Guevenne, he is the Daedric Lord, Sanguine. So, all and all, a pretty good quest filled with funny moments and spiced with just a little bit of surprise or shock, what more could a humble adventurer ask for?
Sanguine, on the other hand, is known by many more names than Sam. He is referred to throughout the Elder Scrolls franchise as the Lord of Revelry, Blood-Made-Pleasure, Prince of Hedonism, Daedric Lord of Debauchery, Lord of Hard-Partying, and He Who Tastes the Shaven Fruit.
Whilst this Daedra does mostly concern himself with the more lighthearted side of human iniquity, he is also responsible for the less savory elements of man such as lust, sin, sloth, and gluttony. You know, the good deadly sins.
In essence then, Sanguine is the Daedric lord of tricks, a similar figure to the many trickster deities scattered throughout human mythology. In the Khajiiti religion, he is also known as Sangiin or Blood Cat, known for his tests and promises of immortality and debauchery.
- If you say the name Sam Guevenne quickly, you may be surprised to hear yourself say Sanguine. You see, it was right in front of you all along.
- Sanguine may be remembered from the Elder Scrolls Oblivion wherein he leaves you in a rather familiar state, naked and running from myriad pursuers.
- The quest Sam gives the player, A Night to Remember is encountered randomly, whilst he will always be found in a drinking establishment after the player passes level 15, the actual location of his quest is always changing and seemingly random throughout the game runtime.
- Completing the quest, A Night to Remember gives the player the Daedric staff, Sanguine Rose, allowing the player to summon a Dremora Lord at will.
- Sanguine is known to have over a thousand magical realms known as Myriad Realms of Revelry which exist perpetually under his control.
Grelod The Kind
This character has made this list for a very different reason than pretty much any other character I have or will include. She is not likable, rich in wit, or a great fighter. Instead, she is simply a horrible old woman.
This NPC can be found at the Honorhall Orphanage in Riften, and the player will most likely first encounter her during the introductory mission for the Dark Brotherhood. This quest begins with a young orphan, Aventus Aretino, calling on the Dark Brotherhood via the Black Sacrament, begging for them to kill his headmistress, Grelod. She is not so ‘kind’ after all as the young child reports her as a cruel figure who delights in nearly torturing the children in her care.
When the player arrives at the orphanage, you can see first-hand how the old woman treats the children in her care, leaving many without the slightest bit of ill-feeling regarding sending her to Sithis.
The reason this character has been included in this list is rather simple, how much I hate her in every single playthrough I make of Skyrim. I simply cannot stand the women and even the voice acting annoys me at this point.
To provoke this reaction after so many playthroughs, one can merely pat the writers on the back, they truly managed to write a distasteful character in one of these games without relying on supernatural powers or grand schemes of mass murder. Instead, through sheer dialogue and great voice acting, Grelod becomes a standout character in this game.
- Grelod is involved in many quests, including Innocence Lost, Spread the Love, and partially within Hearthfire.
- The Dragonborn cannot adopt children from her orphanage whilst she lives.
- This character is found in Honorhall Orphanage to the north of Riften.
- Grelod, probably due to her advanced age, only has two health points, the weakest in the game, and therefore can be killed by a telekinesis spell and practically any object.
- She is unique in Skyrim, if the player kills her in full view or feeds on her as a vampire, no bounty will be placed on the player.
This NPC is most commonly first encountered in the Falkreath Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary; however, players may encounter him on the road north of Whiterun, wherein he is having trouble transporting the coffin of his’ mother’.
Later, the player discovers that he is a member of the Dark Brotherhood and the ‘mother’ he was transporting was the Night Mother. Cicero will always be found wearing the vestments of a typical medieval court jester, complete with a silly hat.
His crazy personality merely fits in with his general ensemble. On the surface then, the jester merely seems to be a crazy and annoying source of ridicule within the Dark Brotherhood, however, if the player reads through his journals found scattered in his room, a rich backstory reveals itself.
In the beginning, Cicero was just another member of the Bruma Brotherhood Sanctuary before its demise and then later the Cheydinhal Sanctuary. During this time, he was highly respected for his execution of contracts, heralded as a skilled assassin.
During this time, riots occurred in Bravil resulting in the death of the Brotherhood’s listener, Alisanne Dupre, and the destruction of the Night Mothers crypt. This resulted in Cicero being voted as the Night Mother’s keeper. However, before taking on this role, Cicero took one last contract, the murder of a court jester. This contract slowly consumed the assassin until he became obsessed.
Not long after this, with there being no Listener to convey contracts to the Brotherhood assassins, many of them left the sanctuary to find work, leaving Cicero trapped with only the Night Mother and his slowly diminishing capacity alone for years.
During this isolation, he seemingly lost his mind and became obsessed with hearing the Night Mother and becoming the next listener, to no avail. A full 8 years of isolation later, the jester wrote to Astrid in Skyrim requesting sanctuary, thus bringing him to our shores.
In the main questline of the Dark Brotherhood, Cicero is more annoying than particularly important, that is until the finale. After surviving Astrid’s double-cross, the Dragonborn returns to the Falkreath Sanctuary only to find that Cicero has gone crazy, wounding many in the sanctuary just before fleeing.
Astrid challenged the Night Mother’s authority, and this did not sit well with the crazy little jester. The Dragonborn must then search out Cicero, given you the decision to either kill him or spare him.
- If spared, Cicero can become a follower of the Dragonborn.
- The Specter of Lucien Lachance will warn the player against killing Cicero because the Keeper is a respected position within the Brotherhood, also citing that Sithis does not want him killed.
- Cicero is involved in many Brotherhood quests, including Delayed Burial, Whispers in the Dark, and the Cure for Madness.
- There are three different models of Cicero found in different points of the game, each with vaguely different attributes and base IDs.
Question: Where are the most NPCs in Skyrim?
Answer: The most heavily populated city and, therefore, the environment in Skyrim is Whiterun, with 74 unique NPCs. This is unsurprising considering the player will most likely spend a great deal of their time here in comparison to other settlements. Riverwood comes in at the low end with 17 NPCs, and Windhelm sits in the middle with 58.
Question: How many NPCs are in Skyrim?
Answer: There is a total of 5400 NPCs scattered throughout Skyrim. Of these 5400, there are roughly 600 which the player can interact with.
Question: Is Ulfric Stormcloack a Dragonborn?
Answer: Ulfric may be the only non-Dragonborn character in Skyrim that you encounter who has the power of the Thu’um. This, however, is not because he, too, is a Dragonborn. Instead, he trained with the Graybeards for many years to acquire his abilities. If he were Dragonborn, these studies wouldn’t have been necessary.
Question: What type of dragon is Odahviing?
Answer: The ancient dragon is categorized as a red dragon whose name translates into “Winged Snow Hunter” or literally, “Snow Hunter Wing.”
Skyrim Characters Guide: Conclusion
Well, there you have it, a somewhat competent list of the best and sometimes the worst characters in Skyrim. Hopefully, this list will help you choose which characters you should explore deeper during your next playthrough.
Maybe you will find some more information about them scattered throughout the beautiful Isle of Skyrim. No matter what you decide, I wish you good luck, and may the Divines bless you.