If somehow you are completely new to this ten year old game then you might not want to proceed further in this article. It is aimed at Skyrim veterans and consequently contains spoiling material.
If you are reading this then there is a fair chance you have been tempted to replay Skyrim with the release of its Anniversary Edition. You will soon remember that although there are many ways to play your character in Skyrim you are always the dragonborn. The main quest shepherds you along into shouty Dragonborn status right from outset of the overlong intro.
This article will show how you can delay or even completely avoid this story arc in a roleplaying friendly way even without the benefit of a mod like Alternate Start – Live another Life.
In the second part of this article we will also show you why you could want to do that.
The key event that unlocks the Dragonborn status is the fight with a dragon called Mirmulnir outside of Whiterun. This fight gives you your first dragon soul and allows you to start shouting Thuums. It also fires up the spawning of dragons at the dragon sites and various other dragon attacks on the towns and villages.
The main quest might start right from your first moments on the wagon to Helgen but this event is where the main quest turns from background ambience into your central mission which also shapes your identity in the world in a particular way.
Skyrim is, like any RPG, a game of quest fulfillment. For skyrim there are two kinds of quests, one is the “urgent do now” kind and the other is a “put it on your to-do-list and get around to it when you feel like it” kind. Delaying the former kind of quest feels wrong from an RPG and immersion point of view even if the game logic generally does allow it.
The mission to fight this dragon outside Whiterun is really of the “urgent” type of mission which feels gamey to ignore or delay once you are given it. Picture it. Whiterun’s Jarl asks you to help his guards fight a dragon that is right now attacking a fort in his land.
Then you wander off for a few days, weeks or years looting Dwemer ruins, social climbing in the Thieves Guild or the Magic College, getting married and building a house in the country before returning to Whiterun to find the dragon is still right now attacking the fort in Whiterun!
If we are going to delay Dragonborn status then we should to do it before this event triggers. When does it trigger? The event triggers the instant you hand the Dragonstone tablet from Bleakfalls Barrow to Farengar, Whiterun’s court wizard.
Let us sketch out how the main quest develops up to this point to find our perfect departure point before this event to duck out and delay.
– Helgen, you escape with either Raolf of the Stormcloaks or Havlar of the Imperials. Both will invite you to join their respective faction and invite you to meet their friends in Riverwood.
– Riverwood, you meet the friends of your Helgen companion, who then asks you to bring news of the Helgen dragon to the Jarl at Whiterun. Optionally if you pop into the Riverwood trader you can get an early mission to Bleakfalls Barrow which will enable you get the Dragonstone that Farengar wants.
– Whiterun, you take the news of the Helgen attack to the Jarl and he sends you to Farengar for another mission. This mission is to go to Bleakfalls Barrow for the Dragonstone.
If you already took the Dragonstone by following the quest given by the Riverwood trader then you can give it to him now. Otherwise you could immediately head back to Bleakfalls Barrow to retrieve it. Whenever you get it, the instant you give it to Farengar the Mirmulnir attack begins.
So you could part company with Raolf or Havlar immediately after leaving the cave at Helgen. Perhaps you head straight to Solitude to join the Imperials. The problem with breaking with the main quest here is that it is quite hard to avoid Riverwood and very hard to avoid Whiterun and as soon as you do then you are back on the main quest as if nothing happened. The trip from Helgen to Riverwood is a little bit of the urgent kind of mission.
Whiterun in particular is a very useful place to access whichever way you want to play your character. There are many side quests, traders and of course the Companions faction is based here. For this reason we may as well meet up at Riverwood to get the mission to go to Whiterun.
While there you can use the Riverwood Trader to offload some loot or buy a spell without taking the Bleakfalls Barrow quest. Or you can accept the quest for your journal but treat it as a “do when you want” mission. After all, bringing the news of dragons to the Jarl is surely more urgent?
So then the best place to break from the main quest is immediately after bringing the news to the Jarl. Farengar will then give you the mission to recover the Dragonstone but just like with the Riverwood Trader you can treat it as a “do when you can” mission and put it off for as long as you like.
This is the perfect place to break. If you break here then you get access to Whiterun, including Farengar who is a magic trader, but you do not trigger the dragon attacks or become the Dragonborn.
All you need to do is skip Bleakfalls Barrow. There is nothing to miss there. Besides hosting the dragonstone it is more or less just a standard Draugr barrow with standard Draugr loot and baddies. It does have a word wall but if you are putting off Dragonborn status then you are putting off the shouting power too.
Incidentally if you do this to delay or avoid Dragonborn status you will still learn shout words from other word walls in the other Draugr tombs that you explore. However without dragon souls taken from slaying dragons you will not be able to use them. But they will be ready for you whenever return to the main quest and become the Dragonborn.
Breaking with the main quest here does mean that the Jarl of Whiterun will not make you a thane, give you the housecarl Lydia or allow you to buy Breezerhome. However Skyrim has many other holds, homes and housecarls to acquire. If you are replaying Skyrim then why not replay it differently than your first?
The options now are almost limitless but a few paths are more obvious than most. You will already have an option to pursue a career as a soldier in the civil war as a Storm Cloak or Imperial.
Other quest trees to explore would be the factions such as the Companions, College of Winterhold, Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild. Veterans will know how to pick up these quest trees. Otherwise a place to start is looking for work and rumours at inns.
Whenever you want to get back to the main quest, if ever, then simply do the Bleakfalls Barrow quest and give the Dragonstone tablet to Farengar.
So now we know how to skip the main quest, let us consider the why of it. Why would you want to skip or delay Skyrim’s main quest? What are the benefits?
At game start one player character is much like another. He or she will have a spread of skills at a low level and rather poor gear. As you play, your character will become more specialised as certain skills are developed over others and different gear, followers and properties are gained or lost. Playing and replaying the main mission early means playing the same character over and over again for it.
If you break out of the main quest early you can develop a specialised character before returning to the main quest, if you want. Even an often replayed main quest can feel fresh and new if you play it as a differently specialised and well developed character.
Avoiding the main quest can allow you to experiment with quirky character builds that would not really suit the main quest. How about a dedicated bounty hunter whose focus is clearing Skyrim of its bandits for coin? A scholar determined to collect and read every book in the game? An archeologist with a special interest in recovering artifacts from Dwemer ruins? How about a playthrough as a pure civilian tradesmen: as a smith or seller of potions?
Ten years after its first release, even before considering mods, the official Skyrim has an enormous amount of content to explore. The less time you spend on endlessly replaying the main quest the more time you have to explore the content that you may have missed in earlier playthroughs.
A central set of abilities granted by the main quest is gaining the power to use a large variety of powerful “shouts”. These shouts are effectively a parallel magic system, and arguably they are rather stronger than the main magic system. Perhaps the game would be a little more challenging without immediate access to these?
If you skip the main quest at the point described above then no dragons will show up to attack civilisation. These dragon attacks are quite fun but since many NPCs are not marked in the game logic as “essential” they can be killed during these attacks. When killed their quests, resources and dialogue die with them. These include NPCs that are shop keepers as well as potential spouses and followers.
Delaying the dragon attacks gives you a chance to get to know them before they perish.
Another aspect to dragons is that they level with the player which means early dragons are rather wimpy compared with other powerful creatures that do not level like giants and mammoths. If you like your dragons to be the baddest monsters in the game then delaying the main quest until you have leveled up will do that.
There it is, the hows and whys of delaying or ditching Dragonborn status and the main quest in Skyrim. If that does not appeal then how about a character build that is the perfect fit for the Dragonborn quests?