Mages Guild Brainstorming

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Kevaar's picture
Kevaar
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I’ll start this thread off with a thought I had while going through the old documentation.

One of the suggested tropes for the Mages Guild is that they are beset by corruption, with the powerful members pursuing their own ends and letting the Mages Guild flounder as a result. It’s another symptom of the Empire’s eminent collapse.

However, I think this would make them out to be a kind of bleached out version of the Telvanni, which is meh. Plus it also pounds in this notion that the Empire and the Temple and everyone is failing, which is...interesting, but way overused at this point, tbh. Turning the Mages Guild into yet another version of corruption-destroying-the-faction-from-within isn’t good storytelling when we’ve got several other factions with the exact same trope going on (Dres, Temple, Hlaalu, Indoril, maybe Redoran...). Note also how all those factions are Morrowind natives. A better direction with the Empire may be that the Dunmer are falling to corruption, while the Imperials are EITHER the possible saviors, or the scavengers picking them further apart for their own ends (or both).

So instead, what if the direction of the Mages Guild investigating some of the metaphysical effects of the Red Moment? Using this as a center for the Guild, the Empire could once again be cast as the possible saviors or exploiters of the greater calamities going on under the surface of the Tribunal’s collapse. The Mages Guild deals with the magical aspects.  Such as: the universal anomolies caused by three (well, four) mortals becoming gods, an entire race going poof, the true nature of the Blight, and the Chimer being changed into the Dunmer. Note, we probably shouldn’t go into trying to explain these things that Bethesda has so carefully kept obcure, but instead muddy the issue by contributing alternative theories for the player to chew on.

This could throw in a bit of a trope of science vs. religion too, which I think could also open up some interesting doors between the native religions (Temple and the Ashlanders) and the Mages Guild interacting. Mages Guild irritating the Temple by wanting to know how their ancestor worship differs from necromacy. Mages Guild irritating the Ashlanders by trying to assign magical theories to their dreamslore. Etc. We could also throw in some very dark stuff, such as a quasi-necromancer of the Guild vivisecting Dunmer to try and figure out why they have ashy skin and red eyes, attracting the ire of Azura in the process. (This particular storyline could also serve as a contributor as to why Archmage Traven took such a firm stance against necromancy in TES4, tying some of these games together.)

Dwemer studies would be an obvious direction to go. I know how their constructs worked was already investigated in a Skyrim quest, but something similar to that perhaps. Or, maybe a mystic of the guild picks up on a trace of Dwemer souls in the Dreamsleeve. (Be aware, I am suggesting this from the point of the view of the NPC: no Dwemer souls exist in the Dreamsleeve, but an enterprising young mage may find something he/she “thinks” is a Dwemer memory and try to capitalize on the maginificent discovery.) The rival of this particular mage has his/her doubts, and the PC is sent to discredit the mystic, but the mystic’s findings are compelling enough the higher ups have been dragged into it.

Another quest arc could be based on the idea of one of the higher ups trying to reproduce the Tribunal’s ascension and getting dragged off by Ordinators before he can get anywhere with it. The Mages Guild decides to help the Ordinators or at least turn a blind eye to it to prevent political blow-ups. As far the theme of being saviors/opportunists, perhaps the blasphemous mage got just far enough in his research to start suggesting the Tribunal’s power was Dwemer based. The Mages Guild then cleverly manuevers the Temple into their debt by saying they will destroy or falsify the damning research before it can get out to the public.

The Mages Guild could also interact with the Dres, calling into question the convention behind their vampiric leaders. This may or may not be the reason the Mages Guild is no longer welcome in Tear. (Also solving the problem of that captial city guild guide thing we had.)

Anyway, there’s a bunch of other ways you could go with this, but those were some examples I could think of off the top of my head to help illustrate what this direction for the faction would look like. TL;DR Mages Guild interacting with native Dunmer magic and beliefs, and poking holes into all the things.

Atrayonis's picture
Atrayonis
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In general, I agree with this. Overdoing the corruption storylines, much like the era may be ending, is overdone.

I would however go another way and put all those projects mentioned by Kevaar, the vanilla storyline, and some (non-santized) look at the Mages Guild’s future and would suggest to put the entire storyline under the question “Mages Guild: research or bureocracy?”.

Vanus Galerion created an instrument of magical and mundane research that elevated literacy to levels not seen IRL until the 20th century, it turned magic into another trade accessible to people with enough coin (for good and ill), it streamlined obscure knowledge, it is a vital part of the Empire’s infrastructure via the Guild Guides.
Yet at the same time, it is already fallen from the lofty ideals Galerion held it to. The lure of monopoly the Septim Empire promised it was too strong, and it’s turning into just another cog in the Empire’s clockwork. The mad mages, the unempathical experiments, the personal pet projects, the suppression of non-guild mages, (even the Oblivion-era eradication of an entire school of magic) all those are signs of a struggle between researchers and bureocrats.

It doesn’t need to be overt, but with the decay of the Septim Empire, the Mages Guild has one last chance to gain independance. Little wonder that powerful mages of all kind flock to where Imperial power is weakest (Morrowind and Black Marsh, probably Roscrea too) and try to find any scrap of native knowledge to become famous and powerful, and to the steer the Guild towards their own vision of the future.

After all, those crusted fossils in Cyrodiil can’t be bothered anymore. There is an age of wonder and knowledge to be found here, the last one in Tamriel. It’s interesting and wild, which should attract all the oddball mages.

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In my mind, I’d imagine a lot of intrigue, inner political strife, and even genuine advancement. I think it should be ambiguous weather or not any one faction is or isn’t prospering; as the guilds are stead-fasted into the roots of Imperial society anyway. The main conflict comes from native institutions vs. Imperial institutions. This is what makes Morrowind’s narrative so much better than any recent narrative from really any game or movie I can recall; there are more facets of ‘this vs. that’ rather than simply ‘good vs. evil’.  

I would like to see some actual meat in the questlines for the Houses and guilds, moreover some real plot development rather than ‘all is doomed’, which is certainly a nice motif for some places in Morrowind, but not everywhere.  Here are some outlines of what I would expect our Mages guild to harbor:

Mages that genuinely want to help others: 

Done in the fashion of lower ranked members who want to research ways to make potions in a more cost-effective manner to help cure disease/blight and make it more affordable to the common mer. Hindsight would be 20-20, as this would cause the Temple to put heat on them, as people should be going to healers at the Temple rather than relying on Outlanders.

Done in the fashion of higher ranked members who want to formulate ways to employ diplomacy throughout the Empire, using magick as the vessel of their labors. Some members who are particularly talented may be commissioned to make fantastic enchanted trinkets or baubles that people would use to gift others in gestures of good faith. IE: Imperial Knight gifting a particularly nice enchanted pair of shoes to his Commanding Officer in thanks for saving his life on a recent mission. Or one noble gifting a strong enchanted amulet to the lord of a neighboring land as tithe. Much like how Ashlanders like gifts of poetry and notions of good fortune; these mages are actually vital to building and maintaining both bureaucratic and personal relationships.

Done in the fashion of higher ranked members who can use their intelligence for advancing both spiritual and theoretical assembly within the nation of Tamriel. This could supplement the Imperial Cult which uses theology and spirituality to ascertain what is righteous and pious; the big questions of ‘what happens when we die’ and ‘what are we here for’ are more clearly answered in TES than in real life; but what if one could find a way to serve the Nine in the afterlife even more than they did in the waking world? On the flip side, what if a mage found that after we die, perhaps the Nine Divienes nor the Daedra have any say in it? That mage would probably be labeled a heretic even by the more understanding and forgiving Imperials.

Mages that genuinely want to only help themselves:

Done in the fashion of self-interest which is portrayed very well in vanilla Morrowind; even the members who want to find out the mystery of the Dwemer probably want to do it more for their names forever burned on the academia that would follow rather than finally ‘having an answer’, though this could lend itself into the former category of finding out ways to circumvent the ‘natural stasis’ that the Aedra have planned for us. Other quest arcs could stem from wanting the scholarly notes of other, more talented members so they can steal it and mark it as its own (done in vanilla), or having the player do particularly dangerous things for another member so the quest giver can earn either brownie points or an ‘I owe you’. 

Mages that genuinely want chaos:

Done in the fashion of mages with an agenda to split from the Empire and have the Institution of Mages be a sort of powerhouse or powerplayers hideout. Essentially a collective of super-powerful people who can do what they want as long as they stay within leu of the Empire; or perhaps some mages may want to even ascend above power of the Empire (ala the Imperial Battlemage).

Done in the fashion of members who may be infiltrators from other guilds or native institutions. There may also be people of noble bloodlines from other provinces who feel disjointed or even removed from society in backwater Morrowind and it may make them resentful. Perhaps ousted from their home territory for being notorious for being entrepreneurial and using magick to gain advantages, or maybe they just figured they could make a real names for themselves in a strange land such as Morrowind.

Done in the fashion of less harmful but more odd or eccentric members who could have the player do seemingly random tasks that end up being part of a big plot. These oddballs probably have their feet in a bunch of different waters for different factions or at the least different groups within the guild who have different end goals. Some of them may make brutish or rash decisions and the player can chose to oust them to the more level-headed (read, sane) mages of the guild and kill them or imprison them. The themes of the more intricate or even intimate applications of magicka can be explored through these oddballs as well. Perhaps simply playing practical jokes on other members or unsuspecting people around town. Maybe one joke could go too far and offend a native noble and the player must make amends on behalf of the guild.

One thing I’d love to see is the Telvanni taking hostile action against the guild, but in a behind-the-scenes way. Crossing the threads of the Telvanni and Mages guild quest arcs would be beneficial in may ways; in my mind I imagine the Telvanni Arch-Magister creating this sub realms out of Mundus and seeming to be completely absorbed in his work and not caring about politics; but then secretly creating this sub realm to capture the head of the Mages guild and drop them in there to experiment on them, or to simply try and coax them into telling him secrets of magcka they may know that he doesn’t. This would put the player in a position of divulgement because most people join both the Telvanni and the guild; so there is a decision to be made. Do they side with the Telvanni, and keep the abduction a secret, or perhaps outright kill the leader of the Mages guild, or do they side with the Mages guild and save their guilds’ leader, delivering justice to the Telvanni? Or do they chose to side with neither and back away from the situation, perhaps telling someone else so THEY can be the ones to figure out how to fix the mess?