Pocket Guide to the Empire, Second Edition

Released In:

In the summer of 2009, Peacemaker Lofely brought an idea to the members of Temple Zero: what if everyone collaborated on a new Pocket Guide to the Empire?

But before we can talk about that, we first have to set the stage. 

The mid to late 2000s were a very different time in the Elder Scrolls lore fandom. Skyrim and Elder Scrolls Online were still many years out, and Oblivion’s Cyrodiil had not lived up to the expectations and hopes of the lore crowd. While developer involvement was not as heavy as it had been in the Morrowind days, it was not unusual to spot Michael Kirkbride, Ted Peterson, or others posting new works or contributing to the conversation. The dislike of Oblivion’s aesthetic and the golden age of “obscure texts” led to many fans writing their own in-universe style books that favored a more PGE1 inspired Tamriel, with a more mythical, mystical bend, aimed at defying conventional fantasy aesthetics. 

The term Monkey Truth was coined to describe the best examples of these sorts of texts, which were of the utmost quality and which embodied a Tamriel in which “internal consistency takes a backseat to marvel,” as Temple Zero’s website would describe it. Temple Zero, in turn, was a collection of prominent fans who banded together to write and publish Monkey Truth, borrowing their name from a heretical society featured in the roleplays and writings of Kirkbride. Their website (www.monkeytruth.net) and initial texts launched shortly before our story begins. 

Back to 2009, and Lofely. While his idea was not a new one (many people have tried and failed to write their own PGE, both before and since), it came at the perfect time and was presented to the perfect collection of people for it to take off. The discussion about what should be included in the book and how to structure the collaboration began immediately, with The Old Ye Bard, Luagar, and Lady Nerevar being some of the first contributors to the thread. Things did not kick off in earnest however until Michael Kirkbride arrived in the thread and pointed out that the project needed a central focus to hew it from general expository guide to fantastical Monkey Truth: 

For me, the idea is missing some essential ingredient to make it work. 

Primarily, Morihatha’s Third Era is boring. It lacks the mythic. So, of course, I have a spin. From the PGE3:

“At last, recognizing the original’s multitudinous anachronisms, a second edition of the Guide was commissioned in the 331st year of the Empire by the Empress Morihatha. The Imperial Geographic Society was once again called upon to update its descriptions, remove most of the propagandistic tone of the original, and to reiterate and modernize the claim that Tamriel was in fact a unified Empire.

“Much has changed in the one hundred and twenty one years since the Second Edition, and much has remained the same.”

Emphasis mine. The PGE3 implies the publication of the Morihatha edition without every really confirming it. All it really says is that it was “commissioned”. 

What if the PGE2 was so batfuck insane that the Elder Council immediately banned it from ever being published? Like, sure, the IGS took its initial marching orders from Morihatha’s commission and then went, “Fuck it, here’s what it’s really all about” and wrote the craziest rendition of Tamriel ever– meaning the most truthful rendition of Tamriel ever. 

Naturally, this would have been tantamount to treason, and I’m sure they were all executed, except for those who escaped, went into hiding, only to later reform themselves as Temple Zero?

This would become the central thesis of the PGE2: a text so heretical that it was censored and its authors killed. Members of the Temple Zero society joined in after this post, including Adanorcil and Baruch (aka Sload), as did other writers and artists, including Lutemoth, Myzel, Nazz, Lady Olivia, Nalion, Adventurous Putty, and Paw Prints in the Mud. In the coming months, they would contribute ideas, sidebars, art, and chapters to the growing Guide.

But first, the group needed to settle on the structure. After some back-and-forth on just how out there the whole thing should be (did Uriel VI convince himself that he is a horse? Did Morihatha humor him and turn him into a horse?), it was decided that Kirkbride would write up the outline for the Guide.

Cover Page

Inside Front Leaf – blank except for the first annotations by the Crazed Editor

First Page – title, subtitle, intent, honorifics, invocations and acceptable blaphemes , including the Empress’ engraved silhouette – drawings and annotations ALL over this

Second Page – Map, but now including heretofore SECRET PROVINCES of X and Y. The latter, of course, exists on the moons of Masser and Secunda. Wut?

Third/Fourth Pages – “Welcome, Citizen (Zero)!” A summary of what shall follow, what brought this new edition about, which slowly dissolves into an encrypted message

[Section and subjects now follow]

* The Wheel Metamundic: Serpents and the Rumors of Serpents – a description of the Aurbis, Aetherius, Oblivion, Mundus, Nirn, and Tamriel. Chock full of Nu Shit and inherent contradictions. It runs as many pages as we think the reader might not headsplode.
– Sidebar: on the 19 planes of Oblivion (from Haskill interview) and the consequences that such a number would upset the generally accepted view of the Wheel
– Sidebar: on The Mad Godhead Theory

*Kalpa Akaishicorprus – three to four pages that detail all the eras of the “Diseased Unto Immortal” Akatosh in brief. However, to satisfy the “request of the Empress that all in Her Subjects of Her Realms and Dominions be represented to their myriad satisfactions” every culture chimes in, resulting in a magnificent and heretical clusterfuck.
– Sidebar: How this kalpa is different than the others

*The Totemic Return: Skyrim (‘Oldest’ human province)
-Sidebar: (?)
-Places of Interest: (?)

*The Something Something: Ensroniet (‘Newest’ human province)
– Sidebar: Uriel V
– Sidebar: the Akaviri Invasion
-Places of Interest (?)

*The Heart of Heaven and the Imperial Earth: Cyrodill
(Main body text mentions the, ahem, horse-trading involved)
-Sidebar: Amulet of Kings
-Sidebar: The Elder Council
-Sidebar: Temple of One and the Dragonfires
-Places of Interest (?)

*The Tatterdemalion: Secunda and Masser (The Split-Moon as an Imperial province)
(Main body text ends with the Provisional Governor’s present orders for a “tactical abandonment of all lunar holdings”.
-Sidebar: Third Moon
-Sidebar: Race X (Moonmer? Grave Ghosts?)
-Places on Interest (The Parliament of Craters, Fort Mothmoth, Port Knahaten whose spore clouds prevent further Imperial survey)

*The Northlords of the Iliac: High Rock
-Sidebar: the Convention
-Sidebar: ? (Numidium as the Loch Ness Monster, or Cthulhu, waiting, waiting?)
-Places of Interest: ?

*The (Something Cool from Something Unofficial): Hammerfall
-Sidebar: (?)
-Places of Interest: (?)

*The Tenders to the Mane: Elsweyr
-Sidebar: (?)
-Places of Interest: (?)

*The Million-Eyed Insect Dreaming: Morrowind
-Sidebar: (?)
-Places of Interest: (?)

*The Great Apes of the Graht: Valenwood
(Main body text nearly ignores the Wood Elves entirely, relegating them to a sidebar. For obvious reasons, Valenwood is instead written as if it had always been under the home and dominion of the Imga.)
-Sidebar: Bosmer
-Places of Interest: (?)

*The Abiding Eye: Argonia
-Sidebar: (?)
-Places of Interest: (?)

*The Threat of Mirrors: Alinor and the Summering Isles
(Main body text quickly establishes that ‘Summerset’ as a phonetic misconception of the ‘fex idea that “the sum is set”. Numerical nonsense Altmer-style is the watchword.)
-Sidebar: (?)
-Places of Interest: (?)

*Those Regions Largely Unwritten
(As per PGE1, brief mentions of “whoa” places outside (or, hell, within) the Empire)
– Etc.

(It would be great if this ran six pages or so and be choked with made up places that it becomes a mini-codex of wondrous delight. One of those places is “the jellyfish-thought-space of Empress Hestra’s heironach ‘baby’, a miniaturized version of Tamriel that fits inside of an eggshell”)

This provided a jumping off point for the crew, though the texts would evolve organically from there. The thread was moved into a private section of the forum and continued with brainstorming and planning, including determining stakeholders for each province and setting up a rough idea of deliverables. The groundwork laid, the work began in earnest. 

While it is hard to convey in summaries like this one, it cannot be understated just how collaborative the project was. While Temple Zero Society was invite-only, many people joined specifically for the Pocket Guide and were encouraged to submit ideas, art, and writing; everyone knew that their submissions would be critiqued and edited; everyone was welcome to disagree with everyone else. There were plenty of “yes, and”s as well as “no”s in both the brainstorming and writing stages, members editing each others texts, and different chapters and ideas feeding off each other.

The second Pocket Guide  was not just a text to be written: it was enclave of like-minded creatives seeking to find a world rather than merely to describe it. 

It is fitting, in a way, that the Guide was never completed. While the Pocket Guide in Tamriel was forcibly suppressed by the government, the one on Earth was brought down by more mundane forces: the lack of time and energy. Deadlines were set and missed, set and missed again. The 500 Companions piece was posted in 2011 to accompany TESV, but it was not until New Years day 2012 that Michael Kikbride decided to release the chapters that he had written, and urged others to do the same. The strange collection of texts was published in a semi-roleplay fashion and became an instant classic, a capstone to the golden years of the Elder Scrolls Lore forum. Its fragmented nature and the departure of most of its original crew years previously added to its mystery, as did the difficulty of finding it in the first place, giving the writings the same secretive, exclusive feeling that the in-universe pamphlet was supposed to evoke. Parts of its heresy bled into the collective psyche, were mistaken for orthodoxy, became the building blocks of new ideas, both official and fan-made. 

It has now been ten (!!!) full years since that date. While several other sites and individuals have backed up and collated the released texts since that date, none have done so with a focus on preserving the texts in a way that most closely resembles the way they were released, and none have been able to offer background on how they came about. That is what I aim to do here today. 

In closing: Tam! RUGH! 

Scroll to Top