Hey, you. You’re finally awake.
A few weeks ago marked the tenth anniversary of the release of one of history’s best-selling and most critically acclaimed video games, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It remains a cultural phenomenon to this day thanks to rereleases, remasters, additional content made by Bethesda, additional content created by fans and players, and of course endless memes.
As both of us have been playing this one recently, we found ourselves using a lot of the dialogue from Skyrim when discussing college football. So here’s a Big Ten Power Poll themed to Skyrim NPC’s.
If you’re not familiar, first off, don’t dive in unless you have 250 hours to spare, but to sum it up, it’s a very Dungeons & Dragons-inspired role playing game in which you play as a custom character in a high fantasy setting with swords, bows and arrows and magic.
The snowy, wooded and mountainous northern province of Skyrim is being torn apart by a civil war between the continent-spanning Cyrodiilic Empire that has been stretched too thin by recent conflicts with fascist elves and a faction of the native Nords who believe the Empire is destroying their traditional way of life on behalf of those fascist elves.
And in the middle of all this strife, immortal dragons, thought to be extinct for thousands of years, have returned to Skyrim to terrorize the populace.
HOWEVER! You are the Player Character, the only living being with the power to defeat them! Specifically, you are the latest iteration of the prophesied “Dragonborn,” a mortal born with the soul of a dragon. This means that you’re the only chance this land has!
Times are tough for the various stock fantasy races of Skyrim (except for dwarves, who no longer exist because they Divided By Zero thousands of years ago). Can you find out where the dragons came from and how to defeat them while also solving a bunch of other people’s stupid little problems?
This game contained multitudes of content, sidequests, storylines and characters, and it’s the Non Player Characters (NPC’s) that we’re going to focus on here.
Warning: spoilers for a 10-year-old game abound.
1: Michigan Wolverines: Nazeem
223 points, 15 FPV | High: 1 | Low: 2 | Last Week: 2
The early stages of the game will direct you to Whiterun, which is the first of the nine major cities most people generally visit. It’s here that people start to become familiar with some of the game’s mechanics as well as the setting, the general vibe, and political and religious undertones of everything. Whiterun is probably the city most players remember best.
And as you’re ascending through the city to report important news to the province’s ruler in the Cloud District where the Dragonsreach Palace is, you might run into one of Skyrim’s most infamous NPC’s. You’ll know him when you hear him.
“Do you get to the cloud district often? Oh wait, what am I saying? Of course you don’t.”
THIS. F’N. GUY.
He has no importance to the storyline and only has a couple other possible lines, but he’s very well known because you’re almost guaranteed to encounter him early in the game and you’ll certainly never forget the smug arrogance of his signature line. Here is a video of the “Kill Nazeem” Speedrun world record.
Michigan as Nazeem relates more to the fans than the team, because whether you choose to interact with them or not, this is a program and fanbase that’s perfectly happy to condescend to you for no reason. Now that they’ve achieved their broken clock moment, beaten Ohio State, and are heading to Indy and most likely the Playoff, get ready to be sneered at every time you’re on your way to Off Tackle Empiresreach. “Do you make it to the Playoff often? Oh, what am I saying. Of course you don’t.” And then if you swing your war hammer at them, the guards want to arrest you.
2: Ohio State Buckeyes: Ancano
206 Points, 1 FPV | High: 1 | Low: 3 | Last Week: 2
Ancano is a representative of the Thalmor, a nation of arrogant imperialists with absolutely nothing better to do than invade other people’s stadia. In Skyrim, he has insinuated himself into the College of Winterhold, a magic academy, just as the College discovers a source of vast power in the form of
the Eye of Magnus an inside track to the Playoff. Making full use of the vast resources backing them up, Ohio State looked to be well-situated to seize immense power and extend their dominance over their enemies. When the chips were down, though, they ultimately underestimated their opponent’s ball control offense.
Listen to this douchebag!
“You think I don’t know what you’re up to? You think I can’t destroy you? The power to unmake the world at my fingertips, and you think you can do anything about it?”
Well, at the end of the day, Ancano was defeated because you, the Dragonborn, just kept pounding the rock.
3: Michigan State Spartans: Heimskr
188 Points | High: 2 | Low: 5 | Last Week: 4
Heimskr is a priest of Talos, a controversial historic figure whose earthly deeds earned him an elevation to god standing among most humans. However, thanks to media coverage agreements, worship of that figure is theoretically banned as a condition of the peace treaty that kept the Thalmor from destroying the Empire.
Nonetheless, some folks not only persist in their Talos worship, but are none too shy about bellowing it in the public square. Try to interact with a Michigan State fan at the moment, and be ready to hear about how Tuck is in fact Comin, notwithstanding the savage L recently taken from the Thalmor.
The thing about Heimskr is that at no point does he ever shut up about the greatness of Talos and the massive conspiracy against his rooting interest. Observe:
4: Iowa Hawkeyes: Farkas
175 Points | High: 2 | Low: 6 | Last Week: 6
If there’s a Big Ten analog to the Companions, a band of warriors who like nothing more than getting in the trenches and roughing it up, it’s Iowa, and none personifies them better than Farkas. He’s a simple man who would much rather just charge into battle running zone stretch 30 times, come hell or high water, than analyze the situation and make a plan tailored to circumstances.
He also proves to be comically afraid of an easily schemed-against opponent (giant spiders in his case, intermediate routes in Iowa’s) such that, when the time to pursue glory arrives, he’s perfectly happy just to be in Ysgramorapolis and doesn’t see any point in making the changes to himself that might allow him to do more.
5: Minnesota Golden Gophers: Hermir Strong-Heart
155 Points | High: 4 | Low: 8 | Last Week: 8
Like Minnesota, Hermir Strong-Heart is a minor character living in an objectively inhospitable place who nonetheless soldiers on out of her slavish devotion to her beloved Jarl/coach. Is she relevant to the larger goings-on in the world? Haha no, but there’s something quaint and admirable about a young lady who’s happy to sing Ulfric Stormcloak’s praises regardless of how little progress his offense is making in the war effort. “I’m just so happy to be able to help Ulfric, and if you don’t support his message, well, he’s not talking to you anyway, row the boat,” she declares to you from her forge while wearing a sleeveless tunic in a blizzard.
“I never expected PJ to live up to the legend, but he does.”
6: Wisconsin Badgers: Helgird
150 Points | High: 3 | Low: 7 | Last Week: 3
In any world, there are characters who are made to fit a defined role, and at a certain point, expecting them to do something else is a waste of time on your part. Helgird is the coroner in Windhelm, and plays a part in a quest line where you’re tasked with tracking and identifying a serial killer.
When you first interact with her, there’s some useful information to be obtained, but get to the end of your questioning, and she will just stand there repeating the same line, describing one of the bodies: “large diagonal cut from left shoulder.”
She says this before you find the killer, after you find the killer, and after you’ve ended the civil war and killed the world-ending dragon that constitute the game’s main quest line.
Wisconsin’s going to run the ball and play defense, and that’s true whether that’s good enough to win the game or not. At this point, expecting anything more is like expecting a broken bit-player NPC to offer you a new quest after repeating the same line hundreds of times.
7: Purdue Boilermakers: J’Zargo
126 Points | High: 6 | Low: 8
J’Zargo is a Khajiit (cat person) mage who, if you take the trouble to obtain as a follower (to assist you in combat), turns out to be quite an offensive powerhouse in a fight. In fact, as you watch him hurl fireballs and mow down crowds of enemies, you can’t help but find yourself thinking, ‘why isn’t this guy more story-relevant?? He’s clearly capable of more than dicking around at the college.’ Then, you see him faced up against an enemy who can take a punch and he gets damn near one-shotted and it becomes clear that sometimes, winning a fight takes physicality he just doesn’t have. Doesn’t make him any less fun to watch, though.
8: Penn State Nittany Lions: Miraak
121 Points | High: 6 | Low: 8 | Last Week: 5
Hooooo boy is this one a bit on the nose. First, Miraak and the quest line around him was not part of the original version of the game, but it’s now been around long enough that most newer fans won’t even know of a time when he wasn’t part of the world.
Miraak was the first Dragonborn (as are you, the protagonist) and, despite having been presumed dead after an 0-5 start last year, is very much still kicking around at the center of an island full of brainwashed chanting cultists. Your first, casual encounter with him is a troubling situation involving monuments.
When you finally fight him face to face, be prepared to go nine overtimes. In that fight, it becomes clear Miraak has the roster talent to do big things, but he opted instead to stay in his large stadium in the middle of nowhere. Speaking of, we would wager that Solstheim, an inhospitable, half-ash covered, half-glacial island, gets better WiFi than Happy Valley.
“I see you have slain Ohio State. Well done. I could have slain them myself back when I was undefeated, but I chose a different path.”
9: Maryland Terrapins: Krosis
85 Points | High: 9 | Low: 11 | Last Week: 10
Among the various other factions and enemies, scattered across Skyrim are the mummified-but-now-reanimated corpses of eight Dragon Priests, which are just what they sound like. Each of them has a cool-looking mask in a different color, and in the right kind of fight, Maryland’s firepower can be formidable, especially if you’re looking ahead to grabbing that Word of Power, don’t notice the unopened sarcophagus next to it, and they get the drop on you. But, they’re also susceptible to the same thing that will win you almost any fight in Skyrim - charge in close and bash them into submission. Ultimately, they’re still more bark than bite.
10: Illinois Fighting Illini: Madwoman
78 Points | High: 9 | Low: 12 | Last Week: 11
There’s a series of quests in this game involving the Daedric Princes, living gods that cannot physically enter this plane (anymore) but can communicate with the mortals here, bestow their champions with power and bequeath special artifacts to champions who serve them well. Most of them will ask you to do some pretty nasty things.
The Daedric Prince of Madness Sheogorath, on the other hand, will simply ask you to fix the broken psyche of a long dead emperor by going inside his mind. Fulfill this task and you will be the master of the Wabbajack, a staff that has completely random and unpredictable effects. You might go on the road against a high level opponent and take them down because it turns them into a cheese wheel. You might find yourself at home against Rutgers where you use it and it just fully heals your opponent.
Either way, an NPC as rare as the die-hard Fighting Illini football fan is the so-called “Madwoman” who praises you for bringing Sheogorath back from hiatus and begs you to use the Wabbajack on her. I DON’T CARE IF THE OUTCOMES ARE RANDOM, AT LEAST THEY’RE INTERESTING NOW!
(I also considered this person from TES IV: Oblivion, because Illinois is fine if they’re getting room in the running game, but if you give them an answer they don’t like by stacking the box, they’ll run around in a circle going NI NI NI NI NI NI NI NI NI)
11: Nebraska Cornhuskers: Imperial Legates
74 Points | High: 9 | Low: 12 | Last Week: 9
Point of view: you’re playing 2021 Nebraska.
The Civil War I described in the overview is a large questline that gives you the option to join either the Imperial Legion or the rebel Stormcloaks. There’s good and bad things about each side, which is something I love about Skyrim and the whole Elder Scrolls universe in general. Regardless, if you join the Stormcloaks, you’ll eventually slay General Tullius of the Imperial Legion and drive the Empire from Skyrim, installing Ulfric Stormcloak as High King.
Long after the war is over, you can still find Imperial camps. How populated they are will rather depend on a few factors, but many I found had only an Imperial Legate (commander) in a strategy tent with a battle map who would warn me that I was trespassing and eventually attack.
The thing is, they’re all marked as “Essential NPCs,” which is a designation given to characters whose premature death would make further progress in a major quest impossible. This remains true even after the war and all the main quests are over. So here you are, the legendary Dragonborn and the hero of the victorious Stormcloak conquest, fighting an Imperial Legate who is incapable of dying.
He’ll take a breather, and he’ll get up and fight you again, even though everyone knows he’ll come up one possession short. He can’t be blown out, but he also can’t win unless you are too low-leveled or lack good equipment like Northwestern or Buffalo. He’ll just keep fighting this futile battle until you leave the area and Wait for the season to end.
Hard to imagine these Imperial Legates will continue to find gainful employment much longer.
12: Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Narfi
50 Points | High: 11 | Low: 13 | Last Week: 12
Among the many factions you can choose to fall in with in Skyrim is a league of assassins, the Dark Brotherhood. As you might guess, their missions all involve killing people, and you generally don’t get much sense of why your targets have been chosen for assassination.
To hammer home the moral choice you’ve made by throwing in with hired killers, one of your earliest contracts is on Narfi, an insane man who lives in rags in the ruins of his family home, awaiting the return of his sister who’s been missing for a year (she’s dead). A truly pitiful character, and your only real use for him is to end his life for a bag of money.…you see the parallels here, yes?
It’s worth continuing the Dark Brotherhood storyline, however, as you eventually gain the clout to flex like Sithis.
13: Northwestern Wildcats: Town Guards
28 Points, 5 LPV | High: 12 | Low: 14 | Last Week: 13
Much like Northwestern, the version of town guards you encounter here have been nerfed considerably from previous games in the Elder Scrolls series.
These days, all you really need to do is hunch over in a run alignment and you can run whatever offense you care to, more or less in their full sight. That said, they’re sure good for some really solid memes. Northwestern used to be a division contender like you; then they took an O’Neil in the defense.
Also, Pat Fitzgerald thinks he’s a cop. It was he who stole your sweet roll.
14: Indiana Hoosiers: Torbjorn Shatter-Shield
21 Points, 11 LPV | High: 13 | Low: 14 | Last Week: 14
Being an Indiana fan in 2021 is like this:
The patriarch of a clan in Windhelm. When you first meet him, Torbjorn is already in mourning, as one of his daughters was a victim of the serial killer you can track down. Things…can go considerably further south for him, as his surviving daughter is another mark you can murk on behalf of the Dark Brotherhood, but even if you don’t kill her, the serial killer might if you don’t catch him quick enough. If his other daughter dies, Torbjorn’s distraught wife commits suicide.
At least it’s basketball season?
Coach might get nervous...a ref approaches with his whistle drawn...