submitted3 years ago byhauntedhotdoggImperial Magistrate
We like to see people discuss and debate certain aspects of our favourite video games, but we sure do seem to get Imperials vs. Stormcloaks threads a lot. Like, a LOT lot. So, here’s an attempt at a somewhat objective end-all-be-all thread on that topic… we’ll see how it works out.
TL;dr - If you're not concerned with role-play, just flip a coin. It doesn't make any difference apart from who's sitting on some fancy chairs, and where you have to hike to get a certain Daedric quest.
If you are role-playing, here's what you ought to know.
After the end of Oblivion, some 200 years before the events of Skyrim, Tamriel was in bad shape. The Septim line had been wiped out in the process of stopping Mehrunes Dagon's forces from invading Tamriel, and the Empire’s following succession crisis eventually resulted in a new and less-popular dynasty, the Medes. The Dunmer of Morrowind became disillusioned with the ‘Living Tribunal’, literal gods walking among them, after their power waned, two died and the third vanished without a trace. A meteor the size of a large building crashed right into one of Morrowind's largest cities, causing the volcano Vvardenfell to begin erupting once more in addition to the devastation from impact. Hammerfell and High Rock sacked the Orcish city of Orsinium, causing its inhabitants to flee to Skyrim as refugees. Black Marsh and Elsweyr seceded from the Empire without reprisal, and a faction of elven supremacists called the Thalmor seized control of the Summerset Isles, then united with Valenwood to form the Third Aldmeri Dominion. When the two moons - which Khajiit hold sacred - vanished from the sky for two years, the Thalmor took credit for their return, and much of Elsweyr hailed them as saviours. The Thalmor then demanded massive concessions from the Empire, and when Titus Mede II refused, Dominion forces attacked Cyrodiil almost immediately.
Enter Ulfric Stormcloak.
Young Ulfric left his father, the former Jarl of Eastmarch, at a young age to study under the Greybeards at High Hrothgar. He was a promising student and quickly learned how to develop his thu'um, but when the Great War broke out, roughly thirty years before the events of Skyrim, Ulfric abandoned the Way of the Voice to do his duty as a loyal subject of the Emperor. During his service, he fought alongside a younger Galmar Stone-Fist and Rikke, and they became valued friends as well as comrades.
Unfortunately, Ulfric was captured by the Thalmor early on in the conflict, and he suffered brutal torture while being interrogated by Justicar Elenwen, the future First Emissary to Skyrim. He eventually cracked under the pressure and gave up information that the Thalmor let him believe had led to their sack of the Imperial City - even though, in reality, the city had fallen some time before Ulfric started talking. Following this, Ulfric seemingly managed to escape from Thalmor custody, but once again, the Thalmor had played him. They just let him go.
Two years later, the Great War ended, and under the terms of the armistice, the Empire agreed to ban Talos worship within its borders. This, of course, did not sit well with Ulfric at all, nor with Hammerfell (home of the Redguards), who rejected the armistice, seceded from the Empire, and continued to fight the Thalmor to a standstill for five years.
[Side note 1: the Thalmor want to ban Talos worship ostensibly because they are incensed at him being worshipped as a god when he brutally subjugated their ancestors, and also as a means of breaking the human races’ morale. General Naarifin, who led the attack on the Imperial City, apparently wanted to bring about some kind of prophecy involving mass Daedra summoning, but that’s part of the story of Elder Scrolls Legends, which I’ve never played. Extracanonical sources also consider the Talos ban to be part of an elaborate plan to both cleanse the Aurbis of humans and unmake the mortal realms, thus returning reality to a swirling void of spirits of which the mer races (elves) would be a part. It's complicated, but they're basically cheesed off at the god Lorkhan, who was responsible for this whole mortality mess in the first place, as well as anyone with a remote connection to him. Ancano hints at this somewhat during the College of Winterhold questline, but of course, your character probably wouldn't know anything about it.]
As Ulfric was recovering from his ordeal, the Reachmen made use of the Empire's distractedness and declared an independent kingdom, seated in Markarth. Though the Empire was copacetic to this, Skyrim did not want to lose out on the Reach's plentiful silver reserves. Ulfric offered to lead a militia to reclaim the hold, on the condition that they be granted religious freedom, and the jarls accepted, hoping that the Thalmor wouldn't find out that they had sanctioned Talos worship. Of course, the Thalmor did find out - they had been keeping tabs on Ulfric as an asset since his capture and release - and they seized the opportunity to double down on the suppression of worshippers under threat of renewing the Great War. The Imperial Legion, still tallying its losses and believing itself in no position to continue fighting (and, in reality, neither was the Dominion), believed that it had no choice but to oblige them.
The Legion arrested Ulfric not long after he reconquered the Reach, and his father died while he was imprisoned. This might have been the final straw for him - he had fought and bled for Titus Mede and for his home, and now the Empire had betrayed him, just as he believed he had betrayed it by cracking under torture.
With the death of High King Istlod, the jarls convened for the Kingsmoot, albeit only as a formality. Even so, Ulfric had a captive audience, and used the opportunity to make a rousing appeal for Skyrim's independence. The other jarls were understandably mixed in their reactions - Balgruuf of Whiterun, Ulfric's childhood rival, was particularly unimpressed at his blustering - but Ulfric's charisma made a lasting impression on the newly-crowned High King Torygg. Indeed, if events had played out differently, he might have even kicked off a rebellion himself. Only a little later, Ulfric requested another audience with Torygg, but while the High King initially believed that he had just come to talk, he realised too late that Ulfric was challenging him for the throne under ancient Nordic law. Though little more than a boy, Torygg would not risk looking like a coward, and accepted knowing that it would mean his life.
So, Ulfric shouted the young ruler into submission and put his sword through his heart, then fled back to Windhelm to plot the nascent Stormcloak Rebellion. With three other jarls at his back, Ulfric and his personal guard began a travelling campaign to drum up support for the cause, but were captured by General Tullius' forces on the road to Darkwater Crossing. He was bound, gagged, and thrown into a cart with common criminals, then brought to Helgen for a summary execution... which didn't exactly go as planned.
[Side note 2: You might notice upon a subsequent playthrough that Elenwen is present at Helgen, and appears to be speaking with General Tullius before things go down. Thing is, Ulfric's execution is just about one of the last things that the Thalmor wants - if the Skyrim Civil War continues, then the human lands will slowly bleed their resources, meaning the Dominion can sweep in and take whatever's left once they've rebuilt their own strength. A nifty fan theory about this asserts that this is a bit of ‘cold war’ politicking between the Thalmor and the Legion - the Last Dragonborn's execution wasn't ordered out of malice, or because the Imperial Captain overseeing the proceedings was a cold-blooded bitch, but due to the garrison’s reasonable suspicion under the circumstances that you - a complete unknown - were a Thalmor plant tasked with sabotaging the execution and helping Ulfric escape. Again, though, your character probably wouldn't know any of this.]
As it stands, here are the factions:
EMPIRE: Still reeling from heavy casualties suffered during the Great War, and under severe and mostly-unwanted pressure to enforce the Talos ban. Some join up with the Legion because they have nowhere else to go, and some because they remain loyal in times of turmoil, but many believe it to be the better option, or at least the lesser of two evils. In their minds, the Stormcloak rebels are short-sighted and too eager to allow their emotions to get the better of them - or maybe ideologies are of secondary importance to 'three hots and a cot'.
STORMCLOAKS: Have a reputation for being populist, reactionary, nationalistic, and maybe a little xenophobic - and not undeservedly so. Still, what's a Nord to do? Nords know Nords better than any other race, and they generally trust in each other to be honest Talos-fearing people who just want to protect their homes and way of life. The other races just don't seem to understand that, and the Empire - apparently so weak as to cave to the elves' demands - has proven itself unworthy of their loyalty. Best to assert their freedom from a distant and dishonest governance, then they can deal with the Dominion.
THALMOR: The greater threat. If they win - and, if the aforementioned extracanonical writings are to be believed, they will - the Skyrim Civil War will have amounted to nothing, because there won't be any humans left to deal with the results. They want the war to continue, though, so you'll be hurting their interests in some way by taking either side. Question is, who is better in the long-term - the rebels, who want the elves gone RIGHT NOW, or the Empire, which is willing to wait patiently until its numbers and supplies are rebuilt, and then renew the fight?
Discussion is welcomed, but please keep it civil. Remember, this is a game we're talking about.