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Things In The Elder Scrolls You Only Notice As An Adult

The games of the Elder Scrolls series from Bethesda Softworks are well-known for their wide range of pop culture references, obscure Easter eggs, and cleverly hidden details. And from the humble beginnings of The Elder Scrolls: Arena to the latter-day multiplayer environments of The Elder Scrolls Online, these titles haven't shied away from mature themes and content. This is reflected, of course, in the ESRB ratings for the various releases — The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and ESO, for instance, boast "M for Mature" ratings for "Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol" and "Intense Violence." But despite this relatively transparent and objective view of the content, the Elder Scrolls games are generally seen as safer for younger audiences, with watchdog sites like Common Sense Media approving the more mature titles for players age twelve and up.

These games each have their darker sides, including the handful of salacious story fragments and adult insinuations that lurk beneath the surface of gameplay and narrative, true to Bethesda form. With that devious spirit in mind, we're taking a quick look at a few things in the Elder Scrolls series you only notice as an adult. And don't say we didn't warn you!

The detailed subtext of "The Lusty Argonian Maid"

When considering the appearance of "sexual themes" in the Elder Scrolls series, the tome known as The Lusty Argonian Maid is likely near the top of everyone's list. Penned by the sexually perverse Crassius Curio of Vivec City, this two-volume play of ribald reptilian love made its first appearance in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and is instantly recognizable to players (who actually read their tomes) as one of Morrowind's cheekier offerings.

No doubt, younger readers may actually miss a few of these acute, adult references. But the dialogue between the titular Argonian Maid, Lifts-Her-Tail (insert snicker here), and the suspiciously-named Crantius Colto sheepishly hides a subtext that is little more than overt sexual innuendo. To wit: Colto assures Lifts-Her-Tail she has plenty of time to "polish" his "spear" after complimenting her "strong legs and shapely tail."

The Lusty Argonian Maid returned for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion before a Volume 2 was discovered in parts of Skyrim during The Elder Scrolls V. Crantius Colto (no relation to Crassius Curio, we're sure) is up to his antics once again. This time, our Argonian heroine's "oven isn't hot enough" for Colto's "loaf" which "has yet to rise." We see where this is going for Volume 3...

The "spiced beef" in Markarth is made of people

They say "there's no end of trouble in the City of Stone, and that means plenty of ways for you to earn your supper." But what's for dinner, exactly? Ask Hogni Red-Arm of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, who harbors a dark secret behind his strange fascination with meat. Spoiler alert: he's a cannibal adept of Namira, daedric prince of darkness, shadow and decay. Red-Arm secretly sells human meat at his stall in the capital city Markarth which he proudly hawks as "the bloodiest beef in the Reach." But it will actually take a bit of snooping around and a little Oblivion walking to find out what's really going on with Red-Arm's "spiced beef."

If NPC reactions to Red-Arm's boasting aren't enough to put players on guard, the Daedric Quest "The Taste of Death" should place them squarely on the path to a dark culinary discovery. Markarth's Hall of the Dead has been plagued by some strange events. And, according to the Imperial priest Brother Verulus, some of the dead have been eaten. Flesh has been chewed off, bones snapped for their marrow. The player's eventual attendance at Namira's feast presents some rather startling revelations about the spiced beef being sold and eaten in Markarth. It's people! That's right, "the bloodiest beef in the Reach" — fed to mer, man and beast alike — is actually Skyrim's take on "long pork" and is no doubt one of the more "Blood and Gore"-covered corners of Elder Scrolls lore.

The Ebony Flask in Ebonheart has a sex dungeon

As featured in The Elder Scrolls Online, The Ebony Flask is a tavern located in the Stonefalls region of Morrowind in the Dunmer city of Ebonheart. Here, players can take advantage of standard tavern amenities with regular vendor NPCs like an Innkeeper, a Brewer, and a Chef. To the astute observer, however, there are a few less-explicit services available to patrons of the Ebony Flask (services that do not, it needs mentioning, have any associated gameplay mechanics). While the bustle of standard tavern business carries on upstairs, the shaded corners of the Flask, it seems, are havens for dangerous liaisons and sultry coincidences.

Several of the employees of the Ebony Flask are, in fact, prostitutes. Amil the Deft, Bameli the Pure, Milva Githalvel, and Goveled Herendas are all working night shifts. If you stop to listen, snippets of conversation include offers to "make your stay more pleasant" and reminders that "you'll have to wait your turn." Meanwhile, the kinkiest action is going on downstairs in a makeshift bedroom setting surrounded by shaded panels. Here, you'll meet the shirtless Dunmer Renam Thervayn, who is tied up at the behest of his patron (read: dominatrix) Rena. Resting on the side table you'll find a pair of tongs, a knife, a feather, and a candle. But — as Rena and Thervayn will quickly let you know — this is a 50 Shades of Grey-inspired sex dungeon built for two.

Necrophiliacs are violating Tamriel's dead

It seems like out of all the kingdoms in Tamriel, Skyrim has more than its fair share of weirdo creeps. But Arondil, the Altmeri necromancer of Yngvild, might very well earn the reward for Most Revolting. Formerly of Dawnstar, this ice mage is engaged in unsavory acts with his reanimated dead.

If players don't make it to Yngvild of their own accord, the Thieves' Guild quest "Toying With The Dead" will point them in the proper direction. This remote series of ice caves is situated east of Dawnstar and is primarily populated by an all-female contingent of Draugr Warriors and Yngvild Ghosts, undead spectral maidens brought to life with Arondil's unholy magic. If the presence of an entirely female population of undead minions doesn't flip your switch, the four volumes of Arondil's Journal most certainly will. According to the necromancer, he "exhumed a few 'test subjects,' all female" and "was stunned to find [his] mind wandering again to the women of Dawnstar". We'll spare you the grislier details, but know this: according to Arondil, one of these Ghosts was "connecting with [him] on a level no woman of flesh and blood could do."

He's raising these poor women from the dead and sleeping with their corpses and/or incorporeal spirits (gross with a capital GAG)! Of course, this isn't the first sign on necrophilia on Nirn: just ask the Dunmer alchemist Falanu Hlaalu of Cyrodiil, who was chased out of Morrowind for her own perverse acts of defilement.

Rorikstead's sacrificial soil

The creepy origin story of Rorikstead might be one of the most obscure pieces of Skyrim lore out there, and it's one that takes some intense sleuthing to put together. But it's the kind of detail that contributes to the awe-inspiring sense of verisimilitude behind the entire Elder Scrolls series. A collection of legends, rumors, and evidence (namely, NPC dialogue and items) suggests that Rorikstead (which has been around since the First Age of Tamriel, then known as Rorik's Stead), was settled by daedra worshipers who sacrifice fertile mothers to seed the actual soil of the land.

Rorikstead is one of the villages of Whiterun Hold, and the closest one to the Reach — a region of Skyrim steeped in the most primordial lore the northern lands of Tamriel have to offer. Interestingly enough, Rorikstead is featured in the Daedric Quest "A Night To Remember" as well as the side quest "Erik the Slayer". Important things to note about Rorikstead include the presence of the "Spirit of the Daedra" tome, the surreptitious placement of Soul Gems, stories of dead mothers and fertile land, and an old Breton named Jouane Manette who trains two little girls in the ways of dark magic. "Do you want the entire village to learn our secrets?" the elder Breton asks. Why, yes, Jouane — we most certainly do, starting with the identity of the Daedric Prince who's masterminding this unnatural mystery.

Skooma: you use, you lose

There's a cancer plaguing Tamriel. And that cancer is Skooma addiction. For a lot of younger players, the most addictive thing in gaming these days is microtransactions (zing!). But the ubiquity of Skooma as a consumable item in the Elder Scrolls series — while seemingly harmless to the player character — serves to highlight some of the fictional society's most troubling "real world" taboos about substance abuse.

Various mods have certainly taken liberties by tweaking gameplay elements to introduce more realistic side effects into certain consumables of the various Elder Scrolls titles (a la the Hardcore mode of Fallout: New Vegas), but there is no real in-game mechanic: alcohol is a non-addictive consumable, with temporary side effects to Stamina regeneration. Meanwhile, Skooma itself has no tangible side effects whatsoever.

However, observant players with a mature eye for modern problems will notice that Skooma addicts in The Elder Scrolls occupy a very low stratum of Tamriel society — and their interactions with other NPCs echo the very real struggles of real world addicts. From the Bravil Skooma Den in Cyrodiil to the streets of Riften in Skyrim, there are ample instances of Skooma abuse if you start looking for them. After all, "those who use skooma for pleasure quickly become slaves to its visions," and Tamriel's black market is all-too-willing to exploit that servitude to the narcotic for financial gain.

The Dragonborn almost(?) slept with a hagraven

The Daedric Quest "A Night to Remember" from Skyrim is featured in several of the adult references on our list, and with good reason: it's essentially an homage to the raunchy 2009 comedy The Hangover from Todd Phillips & Company. But instead of a lovable trio of miscreants in Vegas for the bachelor party of a lifetime, it's our hero the Dragonborn who must take up the mantle of "one-man wolf pack" and piece together the realities of a lost evening of debauchery and Talos knows what.

"A Night to Remember" kicks off with a conversation in Whiterun at the Bannered Mare when an unassuming conjurer named Sam Guevenne challenges the player to a drinking contest. "A few drinks, a few laughs, and a contest. What could be better?" After taking him up on the offer and an out-of-control evening of painting the Five Holds red, the Dragonborn wakes up in Markarth's Temple of Dibella (which the player has unwittingly trashed). The majority of the quest tasks you with retracing your steps to find your quickly-forgotten fiance Moira — a hagraven — who's been awaiting your return and is all-too eager to "consummate" your love (hopefully for the first time...). It's no small surprise that Sanguine, the Daedric Prince of debauchery, was behind your errant escapade all along. Just be glad he's a good sport.

Septims don't grow on trees

True to form for any RPG, the games of The Elder Scrolls series present a simple monetary system as a subset of mechanics. This fictional economy serves as an ever-present tool and challenge. It's the stuff role-playing games are made of — since the advent of tabletop D&D, heroes have been motivated by rewards. The deeper the dungeon, the greater the treasure.

When it comes to exploring Tamriel, along with the various goods and services contained therein, a few interesting patterns emerge that mimic real work economic flux. Players more experienced in commerce may very well spot these anomalies and start to consider their reason for being; for instance, why is Surilie Brothers Vintage 399 twice as expensive as Surilie Brothers Vintage 415? What's up with the different cheeses of Skyrim? And why are ebony ingots so damn expensive? Subsystems of mechanics like repair, creation, and construction help fuel this economy and your reason for engaging with it.

But when the day is done, nothing is free. Once the barrows have all been plundered and all the artifacts purloined, we return to the real world. Everything has a price — and, when it comes to Elder Scrolls games, quite often that price is your personal time. As an adult, it's harder to look upon the game's emptier hours full of crafting and resource management without comparing those activities — and the time spent doing them — to tasks and responsibilities with real world payoff.

The sexually abusive origins of vampires (trigger warning)

The mythology of The Elder Scrolls is a wonderful pastiche of classic and contemporary inspirations, featuring a lot of fresh takes on the fantasy genre from the creative teams at Bethesda. Part of that wide array of worldbuilding includes the rather grim and dark origin story of the Tamrielic vampires, a furtive corner of Elder Scrolls lore that is perhaps best left unexplored for more tender-hearted fans of the franchise. This particular set of legends involves a fictional tale of rape — so please heed this as a trigger warning for emotionally sensitive readers.

According to the perfumed words of the Daedric tome known as the "Opusculus Lamae Bal" (as featured in Oblivion, Skyrim, and ESO) vampires are the supernatural undead progeny of rape, committed by the Daedric Prince Molag Bal. Molag Bal exists in the Elder Scrolls mythos as the God of Schemes and the Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement of mortals. According to the "brief account" retold in the Opusculus, "Tamriel was still young, and filled with danger and wondrous magick when Bal walked in the aspect of a man and took a virgin, Lamae Beolfag, from the Nedic Peoples." The subsequent passages recount how "savage and loveless, Bal profaned her body..." and "violated and comatose, Lamae was found by nomads", painting an all-too vivid picture of this sexually violent event for the player's imagination. The result: a level of sexual horror relatively unseen in RPGs so widely accepted by parents of younger players.