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I'm new to Skyrim, probably the last person to try it and get hooked, I might add. I've mostly just wandered around kind of doing my own thing, I guess. I haven't officially joined any factions.

The companions are still waiting for me to show up under the forge, and I started the Dawnguard content, sort of, but still have Serana in my company. I don't want to take her home, even if she can be a bit snobby. Currently, I have her along with the dog Barbas, once again, just kind of keeping him, even if he is annoying. I have the priestess from Azura's temple as a follower.

I've done some side quests and killed some dragons. I killed the old woman, but haven't gone back to the kid cause I know that starts the Dark Brotherhood quest. I haven't done anything for the Thieves' Guild yet either, and I haven't gone to sign up for either of the Imperial or Stormcloak armies.

So, can I continue as-is? Or will the game force me to do something other than kill dragons and raid mines and crypts and stuff?

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  • Can't help but notice that OP already joined the Dawnguard - a faction ;p And, after a fashion, likely the Greybeards too - after Windcaller's horn, the hero becomes like bestest friend of theirs.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Jan 24 at 0:00

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You don't have to join any factions if you don't care to complete their related questlines and receive their related rewards without performing workaround methods. Bethesda was quite good about allowing players to pick up the benefits of both sides of the factions in one playthrough, except for narrative-specific endings, such as if you help the Imperial Legion or the Stormcloaks in the war.

You can, however, join every single faction in the game except for two. Those two are exclusive to the opposing side. The two factions that force a choice are:

  1. The Imperial Legion and the Stormcloak Rebellion
  2. The Volkihar Vampires and the Dawnguard

Choosing one of each of those two will lock you out of the other, disallowing you to continue the opposing side's questline. In the case of the Vampires vs the Dawnguard, during the questing, you can switch sides, however the Dawnguard will never allow you to join if you are a vampire. The Legion and Stormcloaks are permanently exclusive to each other after completion of "The Jagged Crown," where you are presented with the opportunity to switch sides by taking the crown to the leader of the opposing side from your original choice. Once you choose one from that point forward, you are locked in.

So, to more pointedly answer your question: You are free to completely disregard all factions in the game and dungeon-crawl to your heart's content, ignoring all quests except ones you might complete or fail by complete accident as you randomly enter caves/dungeons and kill potentially relevant NPCs. There's no point at which you will be forced to join a faction to continue to dungeon-delve and explore all over Skyrim.

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  • Thank you for answering. Good to know. I guess I've joined the magicians college, but I don't think that counts as a faction. I've found 3 words of power and I will continue the main questline...eventually. That woman is waiting for me in Riverwood for the 2nd time. Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 21:15
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    @GamerPrincess The College of Winterhold is actually considered a faction, so congrats, it's your first :)
    – Spevacus
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 21:20
  • Haha thanks. I just don't care for either of the military sides. I have no intention of joining either if not forced I've read though that there is an alternative to the dark brotherhood. After I report to the kid that I took care of the nasty old woman, I will be kidnapped and I have the option of killing the leader of the dark brotherhood right there. I might go that route eventually. No idea how hard she will be or what would happen to my current group of followers. Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 22:26
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    A small correction, in the Imperial/Stormcloak questline there is actually a single chance to switch sides: During the quest "The Jagged Crown" you can take said crown to the leader of the opposite side instead of the one you initially joined. Doing so will cause you to swap to the other questline and continue as if you had joined them initially. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 19:51
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    Joining the College of Winterhold is not strictly mandatory, so your answer is technically correct, but in practice, first-time players will struggle to begin Discerning the Transmundane without speaking to Urag gro-Shub or reading a walkthrough. Discerning the Transmundane is required to complete the main quest, and it is also required to gain access to Blackreach.
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 0:17

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