If you’ve modded Skyrim, you’ve probably installed Alternate Start at some point. It lets you pick a new beginning other than (almost) getting your head lopped off, so you don’t lose it from sitting through “Hey you, you’re finally awake” 100 times. One of the alternate starts is living as a bandit, waking up in a camp, and seeing a dragon fly overhead. The expectation is that you go, “Huh, interesting, let me investigate,” and stumble on Helgen before becoming a somewhat upstanding citizen. Instead, I committed to banditry. And in doing so, I turned every single hold against me, never kept any friendships going, and couldn’t complete any meaningful quests.
Banditry is crime. No shit. But it’s not Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood crime where you skulk about at night and get away clean. It’s open and loud, with guards routinely telling you about the good ol’ days when bandits would raid and give them an excuse to dust off their longsword. Think of most bandit encounters in the game: they’re found in open forts and encampments, right in plain sight of the cities – they don’t hide. So, to fully commit to banditry, rather than making this yet another stealth archer build, I opted to recruit a few followers. I’d upped the cap to three with a mod, meaning I could form a squad of raiders to go attack villages with.
Faendel, J’Zargo, and Jenassa made up my troop, and our first mission was simple – raid Riverwood. Helgen has just been raised by a dragon of legend, the people are scared and frantic, and there are no guards… yet. We’re supposed to help the town by going to Whiterun and getting the Jarl to send down a few, just in case, but I’m playing as a bandit, so no guards are coming. That means I storm in, slaughter everyone in sight, rob every single house, and leave. Delphine is immortal, which is completely unfair, but that’s part of the experience! Bandits typically have to fend you off. You, the Dragonborn, are not only an incredible hero of legend, but a scum-saving player who can’t actually die. Delphine is my Dragonborn, and my strategy was to leave her on her knees in the tavern while I robbed her and killed all her friends.
Riverwood is now scorched Earth (scorched Tamriel?), but the plan was to raid the lot. At the time, Whiterun was too big a target, so I opted for Rorikstead. There wasn’t much here, bar a few guards and a couple of houses, so I turned it into my bandit outpost – my staging grounds. If you fast travel back, guards seem to respawn, so I was constantly having to defend it from recapture. That meant my bounty kept growing. From here, I scouted out the Markarth area, got some new loot, took out local Forsworn outfits, and built up my strength, all culminating in that one juicy target – Whiterun. I had my sights set on it from the start, knowing full well that I could murder Nazeem, slink out, and take out a bunch of guards with me, robbing the alchemist, the blacksmiths, and the general store for some prime loot.
In essence, I was planning a one-man Ulfric Stormcloak-level invasion with three pretty much useless followers. I had all the town guards and the NPCs to contend with. Storming the front gate was the only way in, but getting to it was tough because I had such a high bounty, meaning that I’d have to fight from the second I fast traveled. The guards immediately charged at me, not even bothering to hand me an arrest warrant, so I cut them down. Then I moved in, past the gate, and quickly discovered just how many essential NPCs live in Whiterun. I miss the Morrowind days when you could kill anyone.
It might seem aimless, but I did have a goal in mind. It wasn’t to piss off all the friends I’d made in other Skyrim runs or to ruin a save file by making it impossible to go near any of the cities, essentially cutting me off from every guild and major questline. It was to get a big bounty in every hold for an achievement. I just went a bit overboard and doubled down, so much so that my game kept crashing when I got too close to Whiterun thanks to all the corpses. I don’t think it helped that I piled them up in one place and started blazing at them with the flames spell. Now, the real challenge is to somehow salvage this mess and beat the main quest. The question is, will Balgruuf forgive me?
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