A Handful of History
In the beginning was Redguard.
Shipping with the First Edition Pocket Guide to the Empire, The Elder Scrolls: Redguard continued the soft reboot of Julian LeFay’s Elder Scrolls that began with Battlespire’s Daedric politics and culminated in Morrowind’s alien, haunting atmosphere.
Tamriel Rebuilt began development deep in that time period, shortly before the release of Morrowind. The mods which are unified under the ”Project Tamriel” name are, while younger, still 10 years old or older. It was a different time because Bethesda itself was a different company: lore discussions and role plays were largely confined to a handful of websites, with the official Bethesda Lore forum as the hub of out of-game lore development and official forum RPs (often held or participated in by Bethesda developers).
However, The Elder Scrolls games, and with them the lore have moved on, in multiple directions, and Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel moved in their own unique direction as well. Charitably, the projects are building on what we think made Morrowind great. Uncharitably, we are isolationist grognards stuck in their outdated playground. We mostly focus on the lore created by the developer teams that created Battlespire, Redguard, and Morrowind, participated in the forum RPs, and wrote what the Imperial Library lovingly calls "Obscure Texts".
We codified our development from this basis in five principles (and three sub-principles) of Lore:
- Principle of Alienity - What is boring and mundane is wrong; what is interesting and alien is right.
- Alien in excess is mundane.
- Principle of Interpretation - Lore is nothing but interpretation.
- Lore is 90% the reader's interpretation.
- The remainder is the interpretation of the author.
- Principle of Contradiction - Contradiction is not invalidation, and, in a way, is confirmation.
- Principle of Mythopoeia - Belief makes truth.
- Principle of Inception - Every book has an author, but that author has one as well.
Outside of our bubble, there are currently three mainstream "recognized" strains of lore: the main line games (with Skyrim representing another, visible soft reboot of the setting), The Elder Scrolls Online (taking place more than seven centuries earlier), and Cosmic TES (secret lore, based either on obscure meanings behind mundane or religious occurences or focused on the post-Nirn world depicted in c0da and set in the post-Landfall 5th era and later).
While the lore differences do not matter at a casual glance, Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel are by their reliance on “old” lore odd and quaint to outsiders. More importantly, Project Tamriel have ongoing projects rebuilding Cyrodiil and Skyrim based on the same “old” lore basis in cooperation with Tamriel Rebuilt, actively and radically different from the setting development of later games.
So, what are the most glaring and obvious differences between Tamriel Rebuilt lore...
... as compared to main line games (Oblivion/Skyrim)?
Starting with Oblivion, the Elder Scrolls games have deemphasized politics and religion in favour of epic struggles. Their focus are on individual characters, either paupers or princes. Tamriel Rebuilt in contrast focuses on the middle managers and the macropolitics.
A lot of lore was developed (both in-game and out of game) to explain the differences between the First Pocket Guide and the settings in Oblivion and Skyrim. Most well known is the “Many-Headed Talos” which was posted by MK in the Bethesda lore forums shortly after the release of Oblivion and tried to reconcile the description of Cyrodiil in the First Pocket Guide and Morrowind’s dialogue with the pastoral landscapes of Oblivion. It was made official as part of Heimskr’s preaching in Skyrim’s Whiterun.
This lore does not apply to Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel. We built our mods on the older lore and our Tamriel looks wildly different.
The Thousand-and-Eight Nibenese cults still exist, as do the Nordic totemic tradition and their Old Gods. Cyrodiil is still largely a jungle where few Elves go, and Skyrim an icy wasteland littered with Direnni ruins near the Reach in the west and Dwemer ruins among the Velothi mountains in the east (the Falmer were by modern knowledge nomadic and didn't really leave anything behind).
The Thu'um is not nearly forgotten, but a craft taught in the Imperial College of the Voice (alongside family traditions and the Greybeards' monkish teachings) and is sometimes misidentified as another take on magic. Necromancy is legal and accepted in the Empire, and communication at the highest level of the Curia are conducted via Dreamsleeve memospores, as they have been since Reman's times. River dragons still bathe themselves in the Niben and the Order of the Blades are just a fancy name for the Imperial Secret Service.
Politics diverge as well. The Nord kingdom of Haafingar, exploiting prolonged Imperial weakness, has only recently occupied the Imperial territory of Roscrea and is now stretching its greedy fingers towards Solstheim. The Oblivion crisis, hinted at in Morrowind's dialogue, is the result of prolonged unrest in the Imperial Province, as people fear the heirs of Uriel Septim VII are just Daedric doppelgangers placed to create disorder and ruin.
... as compared to Cosmic TES?
Cosmic TES is built largely around the lore championed and written by Michael Kirkbride.
Responsible for creating the metaphysics of the The Elder Scrolls, MK was busy creating lore to reconcile the difference between Morrowind and Oblivion out of a labor of love for the series and setting. From this spiralled ever more complex and hidden plots, metaphysics, and divine politics, attracting people by the mental exercise and colourful imagination.
As far as Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel are concerned, MK was a developer among others and the gnostic and secret lore he created is lore among other. As a game mod depicting people living in a fictional setting, we are first and foremost concerned about Tamriel’s mundane reality.
At a fundamental level, history in The Elder Scrolls is different. Magic is a fact of life and just another craft. History is indistinguishable from religion. Souls are born, die, and are born again, and wizards who have lived long enough know this for a fact.
Most people Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel depict could never conceive of the esoteric truth Cosmic TES is concerned with, and so we must keep it confined and at an arm’s length as well and remember that it is secret knowledge for a reason. While daily life in Tamriel might be more magical than our reality, the world and its conventions are normal for its inhabitants and this is the reality we want to display.
Cults have their places on the fringes of polite society, and Imperial Clerks are trained to communicate via Dreamsleeve – just the mechanics are not talked about or named to outsider, as guild protect their secrets. At the same time, Yokunda and Akavir are just far-away places that people can and have travelled to and from, Atmora is known to be frozen in snow and ice (if there’s something else going on there, nobody has come back to talk about it), the Hist are known to just be trees (no matter what those crazy religious natives believe). Magnus might be the sun and the Magna-Ge might be unstars, but they are just nameless holes to Aetherius and their intricant relationship to each other and their names and ideology simply do not matter as far as Tamriel is concerned.
The knowledge about Anu-in-the-Sun is restricted to a handful of people in the entire world. CHIM, comparatively cosmology 101 for Cosmic TES is obscure enough that it drives maybe two dozen people’s lives.
At the same time, these people with esoteric knowledge are among the movers and shakers or the hidden monsters of a large continental empire. In this context, Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel serve as a practical implication of esoteric knowledge, as we are focused on implementation.
... as compared to Elder Scrolls Online?
ESO is a clear departure from the Elder Scrolls lore presented before its release – especially since its plot development is still ongoing. Its position in the (not-quite ancient) past makes most of its plot developments unpredictable for a mod set in the late 3rd era. Even outside of Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel, ESO is sometimes assumed to take place within a Dragon Break to reconcile the larger setting. As far as our mods are concerned, this might as well be true.
The Second (“Common”) Era was a long time ago, as obscure and strange to the citizens of Uriel Septim VII’s universal Empire as the middle ages are to us. The Interregnum especially was a terrible time, of which few accounts remain. Some accounts of this time may have cycled down as legends and unverified myths, but details have to be kept intentionally vague, since the plot of ESO is still moving forward.
More important to Tamriel Rebuilt and Project Tamriel is the stage set by this time period. Emperor Cuhlecain, Tiber Septim, and Zurin Arctus were products of the war-torn Interregnum. For Morrowind, these players ended the last calm years before the reawakening of Dagoth Ur, the last twitches of the Tribunal’s Morrowind before its calcification. For most of Tamriel, they kick-started modern politics and ended centuries of disunity and disinterest.
Why participate in such an odd setting?
Morrowind (and Tamriel Rebuilt/Project Tamriel) depict the end of a dreamless, hopeless era. The continent-spanning empire a regicidal warlord forged four centuries ago with the help of a god-robot of a dead race has been in terminal decline for half its existence, the reigning Emperor broken by years spent in hell at the behest of one of his closest advisors. Pietism, corruption, and adventurism are on the rise as civil order slowly but irrevocably crumbles. Petty nobles are jockeying for positions on top of the wasteyard that will follow the Empire’s inevitable collapse, heretical sects preying on the desperate are on the rise, and the Lords of Oblivion are drawn to mortal affairs ever more, sensing the onset of necrosis.
Later games have gone in a different direction entirely and the secret, hidden lore of Cosmic TES barely relates to it at all. If it does, it merely laughs at it knowingly, as Jesus did in the presence of Judas.
Much more than just building a bigger version of Vvardenfell on the mainland or rebuilding different TES games in an older engine, we are committed to creating something that hits the same sweet spot that Morrowind did. Something with the same alien feeling, the same political development, the same internal coherency, the same feeling of history, while at the same time bringing new, non-derivative, interesting locales, people, and events into the game.
We are building a setting where magic is mundane, common descent from the Gods is a plain fact, and history and religion are inescapable synonyms. Sure, we are quaint to the other lore strains. Outdated even. But Tamriel Rebuilt and Project Tamriel are building a civilisation, just as the Bethesda team that made Morrowind would have done. Are you interested? Come join us!