Some pacifists are nice people who wouldn’t harm an elf. Others would cast a spell on a town full of people and have the crowd beat the elf to a pulp.
The second kind of pacifist isn’t really a pacifist, of course. She’s a manipulative monster who keeps her hands clean. That’s who 20-year-old vocal music major Ember Jones is playing while reaching level 35 of the mammoth role-playing game Skyrim without recording a single killing blow.
She even makes dragons dead, without laying a sword or spell on them.
“My primary method of tackling dragons is to try and kite them to a nearby town or fort full of friendly [non-player characters] (or on one occasion two Giants) which I buff with spells like Courage and heal them while they do the work for me,” Jones told me over e-mail. “It takes a while and sometimes the NPCs die too fast; but for about half of the dragons I encounter I can take them down with this method.
Jones is playing her third character in Skyrim, her first as a non-killer. “I see my character as a type of mentalist or minstrel: inspiring strife or discord to manipulate the odds in her favor while not actual being the one with blood on her hands.” She is a very different kind of non-killer than Felix the Monk, the gentle pacifist we’ve covered here on Kotaku previously. That pacifist was nice. That pacifist was also Level 9 in Skyrim. Jones says she’s ranked her heroine to Level 35, reaching the Alduin’s Wall part of the main quest and otherwise just screwing around in the massive game.
These are the stats for Ember Jones’ no-kill master-manipulator.
“I imagine I could likely get up to the final face-off with Alduin before I hit my wall and am unable to go any further without directly killing him,” Jones told me. “When it comes to side quests I’ve dipped my fingers in just about every quest I’ve come across. I’ve gotten up to the Labyrinthian quest in the Winterhold College questline—I’m still theorycrafting how to go about getting past the Dragon Priest at the end of that one.”
Jones’ playing style seems unpleasant. She advises those who get frustrated easily to avoid copying her. “There have been several times where I’ve had to reload entire dungeons, because I couldn’t get past a certain area without direct confrontation and losing my pacifist goal.”
It may be frustrating to play as a master-manipulator, but it’s also downright clever. Consider how Jones handled getting into the murderous Dark Brotherhood... without murdering anyone herself: “Well, the first Dark Brotherhood quest involves killing a cruel orphanage headmaster—luckily enough for me there is also another adult present in the orphanage. I simply used Frenzy on the other nursery maid and let her kill Grelod for me. After this quest is a quest that requires you to murder a victim in front of the guild master Astrid. I frenzied Astrid into killing the victims for me, which completed the quest. Oddly enough neither of these tactics counted as a kill in my statistics which allowed me to technically still be a pacifist.”
And here’s how she got through the game’s first main quest, one that pits the player one-on-one against a single enemy. What does a character who makes others do the killing for him or her do with a situation like that? Jones: “My biggest challenges are one-on-one faceoffs. For example: The Draugr at the end of Bleak Falls Barrow (the first real quest dungeon in the game) where you must kill him to get a Dragonstone for the main questline. I had to kite him all of the way back to a hallway with a swinging axe trap and run him through it about 10 times before he died and I was able to loot the quest item off of him. There have been other scenarios like that where I’m forced to use other tools available to me in order to work with my 0 kills goal.”
Jones calls this playing style “contrived.” It’s also amazing. Poor dragons, they thought they had an easy mark.
Update - 2:45pm, Dec 19, 2016: The subject of this article is now known as Ember Jones. We’ve updated the piece to reflect that.