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General:Ken Rolston's Posts

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Ken Rolston's Posts
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Interviewee(s) Ken Rolston
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These are a few notable comments from Ken Rolston on The Elder Scrolls setting. Rolston is known as Socucius Ergalla and kenrolston on the forums. These comments were originally archived by The Imperial Library.


Is it possible to find the traitors of Battlespire? (1998-01-12)Edit

Here is Ken's reply to you:

1. The following note, found in the second half of Level 2, links the name Sirran Angada with Jagar Tharn.

[a neatly penned message on a small piece of paper, many times folded, and signed in a bold, formal hand]

Read this and let it be judged fair, nor doubted.

The bearer wears the form of Lomegan Mariel, Imperial Secretary, but is indeed Sirran Angada. Sirran Angada enjoys my countenance, and speaks with my voice.

Jagar Tharn

2. The Battlemage traitor, Paxti Bittor, is encountered as a wraith on the East Dock of the flooded passage in level 3. In his dialog, Paxti Bittor complains bitterly about how he betrayed Battlespire in hopes of reward, but how he was in turn betrayed by Angada and Dagon. The two most important Bittor dialogs follow, giving the essential exposition on the betrayal of Battlespire:

Bittor: "Sirran Angada? No, perhaps not. A leechcrafter retainer of Jagar Tharn, the Emperor's Battlemage. He set it all up. I open the gate to the Prince, he comes in, cleans out the Battlespire, and I just barely manage to escape with my life, bringing the tragic news to the Emperor and Tharn. I'm a big hero, a personal retainer of Jagar Tharn, close to the Emperor and his family. In time, I get my own province. A great deal. And I delivered! But the scum cheated me!"

Bittor: That's generous of you, but this Angada has a special Transmorph spell, so he could look like anyone. Angada was posing as Lomegan Mariel, the Emperor's Personal Liaison to the Battlespire, when the Daedra took the place, but he -- or she -- could look like anyone by now. I appreciate your help, but you might want to run away now, because I feel the hungry madness coming on again, and I'm not much fun to be around.

Those who have found the Book of Rest and Endings are able to destroy Paxti Bittor in dialog.

3. On Level 6, in the Observatory [the southmost of the chambers in Xivilai's complex to the east of the central grassy courtyard, with a big telescope-like object] is Sirran Angada. He is a flat. In dialog, he may either be slain, or left alive, at the player's option.

Bethesda Softworks


On Paladins and the Dunmer (2000-06-01)Edit

Stendarr is worshipped throughout the Empire -- including Morrowind -- in the missionary cults of the Eight Divines. All aspects of the Eight Divines have their paladins, and Stendarr is a likely patron for a Frankish-style crusader. Dark Elves have an insular, xenophobic culture, and their dour, judgemental, standoffishness makes them unpopular and poorly understood outside Morrowind. The Dark Elves did not have a war with High Elves; they split off from the High Elves in an ancient religious schism, and the relationship is scornful but not bellicose.

Vvardenfell vs. Morrowind - quite different than what appeared in the final game (2000-06-07)Edit

The Dunmer [ie, the Dark Elves] of Vvardenfell are not physically different from mainland Dunmer.

There are far more Ashlanders [the nomadic Velothi Dunmer culture] on Vvardenfell than is common on the mainland; all but the south coast of Vvardenfell is rugged wasteland favoring the Ashlander lifestyle and economy. Dunmer Great House culture [the dominant culture of Morrowind and the mainland] is primarily confined to the more hospitable southwest coast of the island.

Vvardenfell is also atypically cosmopolitan by contrast with mainland Morrowind. Vvardenfell was only opened to general colonization after the Imperial conquest 400 years ago, having been for centuries for the most part a Temple preserve, with the exception of the sacred city of Vivec, and three small Great House settlements at Ald'ruhn, Balmora, and Sadrith Mora. Much of the development of the island in the past 400 years has been under Imperial pressure, and many newer Vvardenfell settlements [e.g., Caldera, Ebonheart, Seyda Neen] have as many Nord, Breton, Redguard, Altmer [High Elf], Bosmer [Wood Elf], and Imperial faces as they have Dunmer faces.

The king of Morrowind - minor differences with the final game (2000-06-09)Edit

The Empire has revived an archaic titular "king" from early Chimer traditions of a "high chief of the clans," like the High Elven High King. This replaces the "military governor" of the early years of the occupation. The titular king is descended in line from Hlaalu Brevur, and he and his "court" are generally despised by natives. King Hlaalu Athyn Llethan resides in Castle Mournhold in the city of Narsis [on mainland Morrowind].

On Game Balance and Power Gaming (2000-06-28)Edit

After following some topics on power gaming and game balance, I have the following observations: 1. Arena and Daggerfall are festivals of power gaming. Morrowind will also celebrate power gaming.

2. GOOD power gaming relies on good game balance.

3. Daggerfall's game balance was relatively easy. This was a GOOD thing, since it was easier for new players to learn the interface and world. This was a BAD thing, in that later levels of play offered less gameplay challenge.

4. The CRPG genre is peculiar among the various computer game genres in that it allows the player to balance the game to suit his own style, depending on how patiently and strategically he plays. That is, there is always plenty of opportunities to pile up loot and skills before embarking on the main quests.

5. The defining experience of a CRPG is a not-yet-dead character. The unique charm of both pen-and-paper games and CRPGs is the continuing character. CRPG players take their characters seriously, and are very indignant when they die. Therefore, a CRPG that kills you a lot is bad.

6. I have heard of a lot of CRPGs that are too long, or too boring, or too repetitive. But I can't think of any that are too hard. [I have heard that Battlespire is too hard. I am SURE that System Shock II is too hard. But they are not CRPGs.]

So. Have you ever found a CRPG too hard?

Is a difficult game balance the one unforgivable sin that NO CRPG ever commits?


Power gaming is simply making gaining power the point of a game. In a CRPG, gaining power is glorious and virtuous because it ensures the immortality of your character.

Power gaming is neither good nor bad in itself, as a gameplay style or a gaming genre.

We will, of course, make a GOOD power game. That is, a well-balanced game, elegantly scaled over time, with subtle and obvious shades of power acquisition, with good feedback on pace and rate of improvement, and with many, many different choices and paths on the road to Apotheosis.

However, because Morrowind is such a large game, open-ended, and dedicated to freeform gaming, and varieties of PC archetypes and play styles, it is gonna be a Mother of All Labors balancing the game for all players and play styles. If Daggerfall is perhaps guilty of a too-easy play balance, I can certainly sympathize, and celebrate the choice of being too-easy [and accessible] rather than too-hard.

Names for Magic Items (2000-06-29)Edit

One of the great problems with cool magic item names is that they are usually intimately related to the exotic languages and names of their settings. Like the Ring of the Niebelungen [or whatever]. What I'm looking for here is names that use common, familiar words, but combine them in evocative ways. Like:

The Well of Souls
The Reliquary of the Dead Gods
Ice Wine
Doom Spoon

On Language and Physical Culture (2000-08-18)Edit

Words like "katana" come from the Akaviri, a race which has, from time to time, unsuccessfully attempted to invade Tamriel. Imperial has many loan words from other cultures it has encountered or conquered.

The Akaviri weapons are somewhat similar in form and function to weapons familiar from historical Earth -- but the differences may be more significant than the similarities.

I sympathize with pedants who would prefer an exotic and accurate term over a familiar and misleading term. However, in practice, I stick with the well-worn and familiar usages, distracting and imperfect as they are, because most of these sloppy references have become comfortable after long use.

Slavery in Morrowind (2000-08-18)Edit

At the same time, it's a roleplaying game, and it can be both interesting and enlightening to roleplay a world view that is unsympathetic. Also, there's a big difference between the cultural context of 18th century slavery in the US and slavery in the Roman Empire. The latter is a much closer analogy for the nature of slavery in the Morrowind -- yet not all that close, since most of the other provinces of Tamriel have outlawed traffic in slaves.


On vampirism and diseases in Tamriel (2001-01-08)Edit

Enlightened Imperials treat vampirism as an incurable disease. Disease is Tamriel is recognized as a moral or spiritual taint - a magical condition that can be cured by various magical effects. Magic can readily cure most common, minor diseases. More terrible diseases require more powerful, specific magical effects. It is rumored [and manifestly proven by player characters] that there is a cure for the vampirism disease.

Yet another reason that Vvardenfell has no horses (2001-01-10)Edit

Imperial attempts to introduce Horses to the island have been a failure; Horses seem particularly succeptible to blight.

On the Blight (2001-01-19)Edit

The Blight is a weather phenomenon associated with Vvardenfell's colossal volcano, Dagoth Ur. Persistent within the ghostfence [i.e., within the crater and on the volcano's slopes], and intermittent near the volcano, the Blight is a health-threatening, ash-heavy volcanic cloud. Plants and creatures exposed to the Blight may contract a variety of blight diseases. Blight diseases resist common herbal and magical treatments, and are of two kinds: wasting diseases which attack one or more of an organism's systems, and abnormal growth diseases, which distort the organism's functions and structures. Natives avoid exposure to the Blight, and wear special protective garments when traveling in Blight-prone regions.

Background on bound weapons (2001-04-10)Edit

A "bound" weapon is a daedra bound into the form of a weapon. A common magic in Daedric realms is the binding of lesser daedra into physical artifacts. Daedra Lords particularly like to have their minions and defeated opponents made into coatracks and fuzzy slippers.

Weapons and armor are the most commonly bound items, and at some point some mortal bargained successfully for the secret of summoning such items from the Daedric realms. [I don't know any of the technical details... I'm only a bushleague hedgewizard.]

So, for its brief period of service in the world of Tamriel, a bound weapon is actually a Daedra [albeit a spectacularly weak and stupid one] in a magically constrained form. When the duration of the spell ends, *poof* the bound daedra returns to the Daedric realms, there to wait patiently for the next summons of a Master. [Imagine little stinkers bound for a fair portion of Eternity to sit an a dusty armory somewhere waiting to Serve a Lord.. or worse yet, a mortal wizard... and you can imagine how much fun it is to be a lesser daedra.

On the nature of Conjuration magic (2001-04-10)Edit

The key to successful Conjuration is DOMINATION. A good conjurer is skilled at arcane domination of both his own summonations and other entities. That's why Turn Undead ["Dominate" Undead] and Command Humanoid ["Dominate" Hapless Fool] are taught in Conjurer College.

On Indoril and Dres (2001-08-06)Edit

Before the Empire, all of Vvardenfell was held in trust for the people of Morrowind by the Temple, with a small settlement for each of the local Great Houses -- Hlaalu, Redoran, and Telvanni. Neither Dres nor Indoril had settlements on Vvardenfell, for reasons of logistics and principle. [Indorial and Dres Districts are located in the far south of Morrowind, and they had strong political and religious objections to taking Vvardenfell from the Temple and opening it to colonization.]

Following the opening of Vvardenfell to settlement in 3E 414 by the Empire, the Temple no longer had sole jurisdiction over the territory. Hlaalu and Imperial interests immediately moved to colonize Vvardenfell. Redoran and Telvanni were slower, and consequently they have fewer holdings.

Neither Indoril nor Dres have holdings on Vvardenfell. Both houses strongly objected to the Imperial opening of Vvardenfell to colonization, and both are reluctant to join the land rush at this later date for fear of being seen as hypocrites.

[Actually, Redoran also objected to opening Vvardenfell, but have, after considerable soul-searching, and after reflecting on the political and economic advantages they'd be ceding to House Hlaalu, decided to sacrifice their principles and expand their holdings on Vvardenfell.

The Telvanni are another story. They are passionate isolationists, and initially disdained to claim Vvardenfell holdings. However, after a group of relatively young and ambitious wizards offered to risk themselves on Vvardenfell, House Telvanni agreed to let these young wizards move to Vvardenfell, on the theory that these young wizards were expendable, and would be less trouble to the establishment if they were off on Vvardenfell island stirring up trouble with the other houses.

On the age of Vvardenfell cities (2001-08-06)Edit

Vivec City is over a thousand years old. The three district Great House seats -- Balmora, Ald'ruhn, and Sadrith Mora -- were founded centuries ago. It is only the new settlements that have sprouted in the last decade. And Balmora has grown dramatically since Vvardenfell was organized as a Provincial District under Duke Vedam Dren.


On the design of Caius Cosades (2004)Edit

To have weight, a primary character requires exposition.

Obvious methods of exposition, like dialogue, are perceived and resented by the player as awkward and manipulative. Dialogue, in particular, appears awkward and manipulative because it is, in a game, so far inferior in flavor and freedom to its real world counterpart.

Visual cues to character are discovered by the player through the player’s free and unconstrained exploration and observation, and, as such, are more subtle, less awkward and obtrusive, and more unconsciously acceptable in shaping the player’s response to the character.

Caius Cosades is the player's first and most important informant and patron in Morrowind. He is a spymaster, an agent of the Empire and Emperor, and your primary quest giver.

Three visual details define Caius Cosades: his bare chest, the skooma pipe beneath his bed, and the book he is reading.

Caius Cosades is the only character in Morrowind with a bare chest. He is an old man, which makes his bare chest seem more peculiar. And it is a strongly muscled chest, which is even more peculiar. He will be your boss. He is an old, creepy guy who lives in one room but he looks like an old creepy guy who could kick your ass.

The skooma pipe openly visible beneath his bed reveals that Caius Cosades is a drug addict. A spymaster who is a drug addict? That does not inspire our confidence in his judgment as our spymaster.

The book, "The War of the First Council," a historical summary of the political and religious conflicts of Morrowind’s major factions, presented in the voice of a serious and reflective Imperial scholar, introduces the major characters in the backstory of the ancient events inciting the major action of Morrowind’s plot. The old man is a creepy crack addict, but his bedtime reading is serious history.

Thus, by looking at Caius and exploring the items by his bed, we get the impression that Caius Cosades is an eccentric, creepy old man, with a disordered but fundamentally earnest and serious mind.

At first, we have a strong emotional reaction to what we see. The bare chest is odd, vaguely sexual, and repellent in an old man. The skooma pipe is worrying I’m taking orders from a drug addict?

But the book tempers our uneasy response with a reflection of Caius’s mind-a serious mind studying the exotic culture of the foreign country of his posting. Thus we begin our relationship with a strong, at best ambivalent, emotional response to Caius Cosades, tempered by an intriguing hint of his mind's inner workings.

These are the features I’m proud of in his exposition.

On the other hand, I’m sorry we didn’t take the same care with the other 3,000 characters in Morrowind. If we had, we would have rewarded the inquisitive and observant player every time he encountered a new character, and would have taught him to explore and savor their intriguing personalities before he killed them and went through their pockets.


On writing Vivec, and Elder Scrolls lore in general (2010-09-15)Edit

Kirkbride is definitely the ecstatic voice of Vivec’s sermons. Great stuff. I wrote the dialog that Vivec speaks to the Nerevarine. Wow. That was ages ago. I also vaguely recall that Michael wrote the voice of Vivec in an bulletin board trial of Vivec for the murder of Indoril Nerevar. [I have no idea how to locate that, and it is not textual (i.e., not ‘in the game’), though I’m sure it would be interesting.]

I particularly admire the conceit of the Dragon-Break, which I think was Kirkbride’s scheme, probably collaborative with Kurt Kuhlmann, who was his passionate partner in design thought crimes. What a wonderful designer response to the criminally irresponsible design scheme of having Daggerfall’s multiple endings in an epic heroic fantasy setting certain to be followed by sequels.

Morrowind, and all the Elder Scrolls titles, have been intensely collaborative projects, and I can’t recall who actually spewed ideas, or who polished them for publication. And it doesn’t really matter… it was a profoundly collective effort, with the enthusiastic internal ears and responses of designers being an integral part of the authoring process.

For all its many warts, Morrowind remains my favorite CRPG experience. I certainly admire the authorship and coherence of Planescape: Torment more… but the open-endedness and sheer vast glory of Morrowind made that experience far cooler and satisfying.

I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to experience Morrowind as a player rather than as a developer. And I look forward to TES V as my first chance to experience a modern Elder Scrolls title that way.

On the medium of Morrowind (2010-11-30)Edit




Thank you for the considerable effort, energy, and insight spent on this presentation.

Deee… lightful.

There sure is a lot of text in Morrowind. I hadn’t thought about it in a long while… but that leaves Morrowind in the literary mainstream… more or less. Text is certainly a fine medium for presenting a character like Vivec and his metaphysical riddles. Text is also a pretty dubious medium for today’s console games. So we won’t be seeing any more Vivecs any time soon, I suspect.

I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but I had originally thought that Morrowind’s hyperlinks for topics might produce an epic, naive hypertext novel. ‘Naive’, in that the novel would just grow, like Topsy, as an organic and non-deliberate c0mpositional process of writing lots and lots of text with lots and lots of hyperlinks in it.

That was, in retrospect, a pretty stupid thing to think.

But it makes me wonder what a modder could make of all those hyperlinks and various ways of displaying and linking in the Journal.

Ah, well. Another future project for an idle eon.

your servant and admirer,
Socucius Ergalla


On unsolvable mysteries in the Elder Scrolls setting (2012-02-02)Edit

We now call them 'franchise mysteries'. And as a Visionary, I preach that your setting should always be filled with franchise mysteries. And people in the setting should constantly argue about the Truths of those mysteries. And internally, you should have strong advocates for each of the 'One True Ways', and they should squabble like real scholars competing for tenure and grants.