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On the way to Whiterun from Riverwood, I rescued a Stormcloak prisoner from some Imperial guards. The Stormcloak guy didn't even say much of a thanks (although I did choose the option to free him). Will freeing prisoners like this affect my standing in the game at all or is it pointless behaviour?

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On the way to Whiterun after the first town you visit (Rookridge or something). I don't feel like it was a special event because the prisoner didn't say anything except a kind of "thanks bro" and I wasn't able to open a talk dialogue with him. I don't remember his name. – victoriah Nov 17 '11 at 20:37
Ah, got it: added that part back into your question. – user3389 Nov 17 '11 at 21:00
after I went to free him imperials attacked me, and I killed them, or maybe I killed them first so they couldn't kill the prisoner. but whiterun guards then attacked and killed me. – Maslow Nov 3 '12 at 15:53
up vote 5 down vote accepted

To add immersion to the game, Bethesda added a bunch of "world encounters" that do nothing other than to provide some flavor as you travel around.

Among a ton of other things, Imperials escorting a Stormcloak around the map is one of these random world encounters. You can ignore them or help the Stormcloak: it doesn't matter.

There's another chance to help a prisoner outside of finding a chance encounter on the world map:

When you first enter Solitude, there's a prisoner being set up for an execution. You're technically not expected to save him: it's just a flavor event to give some background to what Solitude is (an Imperial stronghold). But it is technically possible. You don't get anything other than a "thanks, bro!" for doing it.

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Some advice with the part about guards attacking: The Whiterun guards attacked you because attacking Imperial soldiers--even those holding Stormcloak prisoners--is considered a crime, and a bounty is obtained. However, freeing the prisoner before attacking the Imperials--thereby causing them to attack you--incurs no bounty, because you're reacting in self-defense. Hope that helps!

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Doesn't really affect the game, but I chose to free the a prisoner. I had Lydia with me, after we defeated the guards, she swung her shield and killed the prisoner as well.

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I always thought if you killed enough Imperials or Stormcloaks it would actually affect their overall 'relationship' with your character.

Ie:: They become hostile if you approach their camps, ect.

Just from what I, myself, have experienced. I have played through once without joining either side of the 'war', but still did end up killing a few Imperials ((usually the ones holding prisoners, in attempts to try and free them)), and they were hostile towards me if I entered their camps.. But the Stormcloaks were fine with me in their camps... Untill a Dragon attacked one of the Stormclaok camps out side of Solitude and some Stormcloak soldiers sorta got nailed with a few arrows when they got in my way. They were kinda hostile after that. However after making a point in my most current play through not to kill Imperials or Stormcloaks, both pretty much allow me to walk right into their camps and chill with them.

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I don't know how much it effects the game. I freed the prisoner and then he ran into a bolder and died. So it didn't do much.

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