Factions are organizations of people with a common goal in Skyrim. The Dragonborn can join several of these factions. Upon joining, specific tasks, known as quests, can be administered by a higher-up or leading official of the faction. Each faction has a specific guildhall or headquarters that remains static for the entire storyline, with the exceptions of the Dark Brotherhood and the Blades. Each faction has a clear leader, such as Arch-Mage Savos Aren for the College of Winterhold, Delphine as the Grandmaster of the Blades, and Paarthurnax as the leader of the Greybeards.
Comparisons with other games
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was the last The Elder Scrolls title to employ the conventional four factions, which were called "Guilds." These factions included the Thieves Guild, the Mages Guild, the Fighters Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood. While Skyrim kept the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood, the Fighters Guild and Mages Guild were exchanged for other similar organizations. Due to the Mages Guild splitting into the Synod and the College of Whispers, the guild could not logically appear in titles set after the Great War. Thus, the College of Winterhold, making its debut in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, appeared as a joinable faction. The Companions is substituted for the Fighters Guild, canonically aligning with Ysgramor and Atmoran lore prevalent long before Skyrim's inception.
The vampire clans from The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind were omitted as well, with a newer adaption surfacing in Skyrim's first plug-in, The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard.
Unlike in Oblivion, where each faction had a clear hierarchy of ranks that the Hero could rise through by successfully completing missions, most factions in Skyrim make no such distinctions. For example, the only rank attainable in the College of Winterhold, aside from being a basic student, is that of Arch-Mage. The Stormcloaks and the Imperial legion, however, do employ specific ranks. All of these factions can give you a place to stay, like the other games, more or less, and perks to upgrade.
Perks of joining factions
Most factions grant a special uniform or a set of armor when joined. These items are usually competitive with the types of items found early in the game, and can be worn optionally either to reap the bonuses of the items or for role-playing aesthetic. Unique benefits, such as becoming a werewolf, can only be achieved by joining the right faction.
Most factions provide amenities to the Dragonborn, such as sleeping quarters, containers that never reset for safe item storage, and free access to crafting stations such as Arcane Enchanters and forges. The Thieves Guild in particular is significant in that it gives the Dragonborn access to fences who will buy stolen goods. Once a member reaches a certain point in the faction's quest line, they can freely take any items from the guild hall.
Certain guild-mates cannot be unlocked as followers or potential spouses unless a given faction is joined. For example, the College of Winterhold has three possible followers and two possible spouses. J'zargo, Onmund, and Brelyna Maryon are all potential college followers, with only Onmund and Brelyna Maryon being eligible for marriage. The Thieves Guild is one of the factions without any members eligible for marriage or as followers. The Dark Brotherhood has followers, but no marriage candidates. The Stormcloaks, Imperial Legion, Blades, Greybeards, and the Bards College also do not have marriage candidates or possible followers.
Because guild members can come and go at any hour of the day, joining a faction is wise for vampires, since there will be an abundance of sleeping guild-mates that can be accessed without breaking and entering, trespassing, or sneaking.
Expulsion and availability
Factions possess some integral rules. Members cannot steal from, murder, or attack other members of the guild without risking expulsion, arrest, or the faction's members becoming relentlessly hostile toward the Dragonborn. Some will desist if the bounty is cleared.
While most factions can be joined at any time throughout the main storyline, some factions can only be joined for a limited amount of time or are entirely unavailable upon joining another faction. In the former example, the Forsworn can be temporarily aligned with while fleeing Cidhna Mine, similar to the Hero of Kvatch joining the Mythic Dawn to temporarily advance the questline. In the latter example, the Civil War has two clear sides: the Imperial Legion and the Stormcloaks. At a certain point within the Civil War questline, one side must be selected to the exclusion of the others; if the Stormcloaks are joined, you can join the Imperial Legion if you give them the Jagged Crown. On the other hand, if you join the Dawnguard's vampire hunters or the Volkihar Clan, you cannot switch to the other.
List of factions
|Afflicted||Bthardamz||Orchendor||Have been infected with a special disease by Peryite, thought of as a blessing by them. Can be encountered before Peryite's quest by a Random Encounter in which they are non-hostile. Many are hostile on sight.|
|Alik'r Coterie||Swindler's Den||Kematu||Can be sided with during "In My Time of Need."|
|Anga's Mill||Anga's Mill||Aeri||Can be helped by chopping wood for them.|
|Blackblood Marauders||Wreck of The Icerunner, Broken Oar Grotto||Jaree-Ra||Helped during "Lights Out!" They will always double-cross the Dragonborn.|
|Battle-Borns||House of Clan Battle-Born||Olfrid Battle-Born||Can become one through marrying a Battle-Born with cheat codes. Have a feud with the Gray-Manes.|
|Black-Briars||Black-Briar Manor, Mistveil Keep||Maven Black-Briar||Bloodline descendants only. Can become rulers of Riften. Most influential family in the Rift regardless. Associated with Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood.|
|Blood Horkers||Japhet's Folly||Haldyn||Several Blood Horkers are encountered at Japhet's Folly during "Rise in the East."|
|Darklight Tower Coven||Darklight Tower||Silvia||Leader is defeated during "Repentance."|
|East Empire Trading Company||East Empire Company Warehouse||Vittoria Vici||Leader can be murdered during "Bound Until Death."|
|Elder Council||Cyrodiil||Emperor Titus Mede II, Amaund Motierre||The Emperor is murdered during the Dark Brotherhood questline because Motierre wants him dead.|
|Forsworn||Cidhna Mine and various camps and forts||Madanach||Temporarily joined as possible escape route during "No One Escapes Cidhna Mine." Allied with Hagravens.|
|Gray-Manes||House Gray-Mane||Vignar Gray-Mane||Famous clan in Whiterun. They have a rivalry with the Battle-Borns. Later they have partial control over Whiterun if the Battle for Whiterun for the Stormcloaks is completed.|
|Hunters of Hircine||None||Hircine||Can be helped by killing Sinding, or destroyed by siding with him during Ill Met by Moonlight.|
|Mythic Dawn||Silus Vesuius's House||Silus Vesuius, Mehrunes Dagon||Daedric cult worshipping Mehrunes Dagon. Vesuius is the only living member in Tamriel, and can be helped by getting Mehrunes' Razor for him. They were the cause of the Oblivion Crisis.|
|Glenmoril Witches||Glenmoril Coven||Unspecified||Can be wiped out as a part of The Companions quest "Blood's Honor."|
|Penitus Oculatus||Penitus Oculatus Outpost||Commander Maro||Enemies if joined the Dark Brotherhood. Can be helped during "Destroy the Dark Brotherhood!"|
|Psijic Order||Artaeum||Quaranir||Associated with the College of Winterhold.|
|Summerset Shadows||Uttering Hills Cave||Linwe||Rivals of the Thieves Guild.|
|The Silver-Bloods||Markarth||Thongvor Silver-Blood||Bloodline descendants only. Supporters of the Stormcloaks.|
|Silver Hand||Various strongholds||Krev the Skinner||Rivals of The Circle.|
|The Synod||Imperial City||Not specified||Associated with the College of Winterhold.|
|Thalmor||Thalmor Embassy||Elenwen||Rivals of the Stormcloaks and the Empire and the hand of the Aldmeri Dominion. They are interested in the Civil War as long as there is no winning party. Both a Stormcloak or an Empire victory would be bad for them (can be joined using console commands).|
|House Hlaalu/Morag Tong||Ashfallow Citadel||Vendil Severin||Enemies of House Redoran, they want to assassinate the first councilor Lleril Morvayn. They are killed during "Served Cold."|
|Vigilants of Stendarr||Hall of the Vigilant||Keeper Carcette||Associated with the Dawnguard. Hunters of Daedra.|
|Whiterun Guards||Whiterun Guard Barracks||Commander Caius||They are their own faction because they are neutral about the war. Can be destroyed during the Stormcloak version of the "Battle for Whiterun."|
|Skaal||Skaal Village||Fanari Strong-Voice||A peaceful group of Nords living on Solstheim.|
- The Circle and the Nightingales are merely sub-factions within The Companions and The Thieves Guild, respectively.
- The Dragonborn is technically a member of the Dawnguard at the beginning of the first quest for the DLC, but they can decide which faction they would prefer to join during "Bloodline."
- Despite not being a joinable faction, the Forsworn at Druadach Redoubt will not attack the Dragonborn if you side with Madanach during the quest "No One Escapes Cidhna Mine."
- In almost all factions, the Dragonborn goes on to become the leader of that certain faction, usually after the leader dies or is killed by the Dragonborn.
- Although the Thalmor are not officially able to be joined, one can still become friends with two individual members of the faction: Ondolemar in the Understone Keep (via Search and Seizure) and Ancarion on SolstheimDR (via taking his side in A New Source of Stalhrim).
- All factions that appear in Skyrim.
- Factions that only appear in lore sources, such as in-game books.