Alarrah Playthrough

In Which the Dragonborn Becomes Arch-Mage and Thane of Winterhold

Previously on “Alarrah the Dragonborn”, I’d gone seeking the Staff of Magnus. And in this session, I found it–and finished the main quest line for the College of Winterhold! Also became thane of Winterhold, while I was at it.

Did a lot in this session, so this is a long post.


  • Finished the run through Mzulft to get the Staff of Magnus, and boy howdy was that Synod researcher not happy with me
  • Got another vision from the Psijic Order who told me to haul ass back to the college and report to the Arch-Mage
  • Got jumped by an Elder Dragon as soon as I fast traveled back to the college, and finally killed it with Daedric and ebony arrows after it landed on the roof of the Hall of Countenance
  • Grabbed the bones and tried to report to the Arch-Mage, only to discover that shocker, Ancano took over the Eye and blocked everybody else from entering the Hall of Elements
  • Tried to help the Arch-Mage and Mirabelle break through the magical barrier, but things went splody, oops
  • Also discovered that oh shit, the Arch-Mage was dead
  • Dropped off my dragon bits from that Elder Dragon in my room in the Hall of Attainment, then ran down to Winterhold with Faralda and Arniel to take out a flock of magical anomalies before they could hurt anybody in the college
  • Ran back to report to Mirabelle, and told her I needed to go to Labyrinthian to find the Staff of Magnus; she gave me the Arch-Mage’s amulet, as well as the Torc of Labyrinthian
  • Went to Labyrinthian, and witnessed a bunch of ghosts from a prior party from the college who’d clearly all died in the place–except for a younger Savos Aren, the Arch-Mage
  • Also killed a skeletal dragon, a bunch of regular draugr and skeletons, and ghostly draugr and spectral hounds, because apparently regular draugr weren’t extra enough for this place
  • Killed a couple of enthralled wizards and then the dragon priest they were powering, Morokei, which got me his mask as well as the staff
  • Got jumped by another Thalmor on my way out, and had no time for Estormo’s bullshit, so I had to take him out too
  • Fast traveled back to Winterhold, and found three of the mages out on the bridge because they’d had to fall back–and found out Mirabelle was also dead, yikes
  • Took down the barrier with the Staff, and went charging in with the others at my back; went hand to hand with Ancano for several rounds before finally realizing derp, I had to hit the Eye with the Staff, which finally shut it down enough that Ancano could be taken out
  • Got Quaranir to show up along with a couple of compatriots from his Order, declare me Arch-Mage, and bamf off with the Eye
  • Got Tolfdir to confirm me as Arch-Mage, and give me the quarters and the robe, go me
  • Once things settled down, did a little more training with a couple of the teachers, and also told J’zargo his scrolls totally exploded
  • Grabbed my dragon bits from my old room, then made a bunch of potions in the Arch-Mage’s quarters until I figured out how to make a potion of Fortify Carry Weight, which let me fast travel back to Whiterun
  • Did a round of smithing and selling, and then took a bunch of materials to Heljarchen Hall, where I built a new wing, because I wanted me an armory
  • Returned to Mzulft because I found out I could get the third Aetherium Shard there, so got that taken care of
  • Returned to Winterhold and this time actually found the proper way in on foot; on the way, met a madwoman who totally wanted me to hit her with the Wabbajack (which I hadn’t realized I was carrying?)
  • At Winterhold, stopped by to see the Jarl, and got him to send me on a quest to find the lost Helm of Winterhold, which was at a cave I’d already cleared before, but I cleared it out again
  • Also made a point of buying things from Birna in the general goods store, and selling things to her to get the inventory down, but mostly just to get her some more coin
  • Also settled the debt owed to the innkeeper by a resident who was drinking them dry
  • Sold some ore to the nearby mine
  • Discovered I’d actually already pre-fulfilled the “help the people of Winterhold” requirement for becoming thane, because of doing the Azura’s Star quest and quests at the college
  • But hey, now I’m thane!
  • Got Arniel’s side quest at the college triggered, will follow up more on this

More of the mage college quest: Revealing the Unseen

Partway through doublechecking the wiki to see how to get through Mzulft, I discovered that that place had an extra exterior building where I could find another of the Aetherium Shards. Unfortunately I discovered this only after I was well into the place, so I couldn’t exactly go back out and get it. But I made a note of that to follow up on later, and focused at the start of this run on just getting through dealing with the oculory and solving this part of the quest.

I’ll freely admit the oculory gave me a little trouble. I was able to figure out that I had to use the three buttons to rotate the thing, but it was not clear to me exactly how to get them aligned correctly. The wiki finally clued me in that I had to ask the guy from the Synod team what to do, and at his behest, I threw fire and frost spells at the crystal until it was sending beams out in the right angles.

Which made a bit of sense to me. Since this was a quest for the mage college, it kind of stood to reason that it would expect me to throw some magic around.

However, there wasn’t much to be done for Paratus, the Synod guy, being convinced I was deliberately sabotaging his work and that by gods, the Synod council would hear about this! I only got him to grudgingly admit that the Staff of Magnus was probably in Labyrinthian, and left him to his business as I went about mine, returning to the college.

On the way out though I got another vision from the Psijic Order. Turned out the guy who’d shown up at the college was not the guy I’d gotten the first vision from–but this second vision did come from that same guy who’d sent the first one. And this guy, Nerien, basically told me I was on the right path and that I needed to return to the college immediately.

Mage college quest: Containment

Which I did. But as soon as I made it up the bridge, RANDOM DRAGON TIME, with our host, Alarrah! This run’s special guest star: yet another Elder Dragon!

This battle provided a little bit of variety, just because of the place where it was fought. There wasn’t enough room for the dragon to land so I could take it on at close range–so it perched and spit a lot of frost at me, from either the arch just over the bridge or from the nearby top of the Hall of Countenance.  So I had to switch off to the dragonbone bow to take it out.

Which also let me try out those tasty Daedric arrows I’d found. I had only seven of them, and it took more shots than that to take the dragon out–but I did get one of them back, and didn’t put too huge a dent in my stock of ebony arrows. Good dragon-killing arrows, Daedrics!

And with that done, I know, I know, quest line, I’m supposed to go report to the Arch-Mage. But dammit I just killed a dragon and I need to go get its soul and its bits of bone and scale!

So I scampered up to the roof of the Hall of Countenance, got the soul and the bones and the scales, and then reported to the Arch-Mage. Slowly, because now I was overburdened. Yay?

Anyway, when I found Savos Aren, I discovered that (shocker! WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING) Ancano had taken over the Eye and was blocking everybody else from getting at him. Savos ordered me to help him try to take down the barrier–

–but there was fuck all I could do, because suddenly everything went white, and I was waking up to find Mirabelle asking me if I was okay.

When I said yes, she urged me to find the Arch-Mage.

He’d been thrown out into the courtyard. And he was sorta kinda dead. Yikes.

And I learned from Tolfdir that magical anomalies had appeared and had swarmed down to the town. He urged me to run down there with Faralda and Arniel, to help protect the people of Winterhold.

So I made a stop at the Hall of Attainment to drop off the dragon bits and get unencumbered, so I could actually have enough speed to fight. And then I ran down to the town along with the others.

Let it be noted for the record that Faralda, the Altmer mage who greeted me on the bridge when I first showed up, gets credit for declaring that “we can’t let any harm come to these people!” And this whole part of the plot basically set up for me that the college means no harm to Winterhold, no matter what suspicions Winterhold’s people harbor about them.

Faralda, Arniel, and I took out the anomalies. I wound up hitting them with my dragonbone sword just because I could do a lot more damage to them that way than with my meager Destruction spells. Got several soul gems off the ones I killed, too.

Then I went running back up to report to Mirabelle. Who, when I told her I needed to go to Labyrinthian to find the Staff of Magnus, went ?!!?! at me. Because the Arch-Mage had given her a mysterious thing called the Torc of Labyrinthian, and had said that she’d know what to do with it when the time came. Which was clearly now. She also gave me an amulet of his and told me to get going.

Mage college quest: The Staff of Magnus

I got going. Got to the entrance of Labyrinthian without any trouble (despite a frost troll’s efforts to the contrary), and when I arrived, I found the six ghosts of a party of mages from the college, who’d clearly tried to get into the place before. The Torc let me open the gates and proceed inside.

Where I was greeted by a SKELETAL DRAGON YIKES. I was also greeted by a booming voice that sounded like it was speaking the dragon tongue. And oh yeah, the obligatory swarm of human-sized skeletons around the dragon one.

Nothing I couldn’t handle, though I gotta say, I’m pretty sure that even after all the dragons she’s killed, a skeletal one gave Alarrah a start. :O

As I proceeded through the place, I kept seeing the ghosts of the college mages. Whose number grew fewer and fewer every time I saw them. And I couldn’t help but notice that one of them was addressed as “Savos”. Why hello there, backstory for the Arch-Mage!

Unlike the unfortunate mages, though, I kept on through the dungeon without too much trouble–even though I also started running into ghostly spectral draugr, as well as spectral hounds. Because regular draugr apparently weren’t extra enough for this place, oh my no, this place had to have ghost draugr. With extra special ghostly weapons that could drain your health, your stamina, or your magicka!

I nabbed one of each, which I thought might come in handy later, and proceeded on through the dungeon, killing the ghostly draugr and spectral hounds as I went, along with a wispmother and her wisps.

Morokei shifted over to understandable dialogue partway through the dungeon, making snotty commentary about my language as he continued to taunt me. I liked that touch, it added a good layer of extra creepiness to the dungeon.

And when I finally made it to the boss chamber, I found two enthralled wizards who were feeding power into the boss monster of the place–who turned out to be a dragon priest, Morokei. It was unclear to me whether the two enthralled mages were part of the party from Winterhold, though it would have made narrative sense if they were. I had to take them out before I could go after Morokei himself.

He was a challenge, as the other two dragon priests I’ve fought before were. He did that thing where he dodged very quickly out of melee reach, but I did eventually take him down and get the mask and the Staff.

On the way out of that dungeon, I saw an apparition of Savos one last time, as he swore to seal the place so ‘that monster’ couldn’t get out.

I laid him to rest for you, Arch-Mage. So now you can rest too.

Last but not least, I got jumped by yet another Thalmor on the way out of this place: Estormo, an agent of Ancano’s, who was under orders to kill me. Given that I’d just taken down a friggin’ dragon priest, I was had no time for Thalmor bullshit. Gave him one out (“I have no quarrel with you”, said my dialogue prompt), but he didn’t take it.

So I took him out too. Insert image of Alarrah going “my dude, how did you think that was going to go?” to Estormo’s surprised corpse.

And with that, I hastened right back to the college.

Mage college quest: The Eye of Magnus

Got back to find the situation was significantly worse. Ancano’s barrier had grown, and Tolfdir and a couple of the other mages had had to retreat out onto the bridge.

Also, Mirabelle was dead. Yikes.

So Tolfdir urged me to use the Staff to take down Ancano’s barrier, which worked. We were then able to make it into the Hall of Elements to take Ancano on directly.

It took me several tries of going after Ancano in melee combat, and his chortling about how I couldn’t hurt him, before I finally realized that derp, I had to hit the Eye with the Staff. As Tolfdir had in fact urged me to do, but I hadn’t parsed what he yelled at me a few minutes before.

Once I got the Staff throwing power at the Eye, that got the thing to shut down–which left Ancano vulnerable, and able to be taken out.

At which point Quaranir of the Psyjic Order appeared in another vision, told me I had proven myself worthy to be Arch-Mage and guide the college, and that he and his Order would get the Eye taken away because the world was clearly not ready for it.

Gee, ya think?

After he vanished, along with the Eye, Tolfdir also confirmed I was now Arch-Mage. He gave me the key to the Arch-Mage quarters as well as the robes of office.

Which I found kind of hilarious. I mean, sure, I was the one who ran off and got the Staff for them, but comparatively speaking, all the other mages in this place (aside from the other apprentices) were all way more powerful than me. Not to mention that Tolfdir was an experienced teacher and by rights, as far as I’m concerned, should have become Arch-Mage next as he was the surviving senior member of the staff.

Practically speaking, sure, the game gives you this as a reward for clearing out the quest. And arguably, as a consolation for how, if you get to be thane of Winterhold, you can’t get a house and a housecarl there. And the Arch-Mage’s quarters are pretty shiny.

Also practically speaking, Tolfdir kind of becomes default leader of the college anyway. But still, I think I could have liked having the narrative closure of being able to specifically turn down being Arch-Mage on the grounds of my relative lack of magical experience, and name Tolfdir as my successor. I mean, I appreciate the gesture and all, game, but I can’t stay here, I do eventually have to go kill Alduin and all. 😀

But if I have to be Arch-Mage, I figure Alarrah’s first orders would be:

  1. For chrissakes, somebody fix that bridge, here’s a wacky thought, howsabout you hire townsfolk to get up here and rebuild it for you? Can’t afford it? I can! I’ll pay for it if I have to!
  2. Okay yeah I get it, you all didn’t actually cause the Great Collapse, but seriously, have any of you actually considered helping rebuild the town? It is kind of in dire straits, you know. And they need more help than just you periodically popping down here to kill magical anomalies.

All of which ties in nicely with what I did later in the session. Hold that thought, I’ll get to it below.

Once things settled down, I took the time to explore the Arch-Mage quarters and take care of a few other loose ends as well. I told J’zargo his scrolls totally exploded, and while he was rueful about that, he did appreciate my help. <3

And I got in a bit more training with a couple of the staff. Because I figure that if they’re going to expect me to be Arch-Mage, the least I could do is actually learn more magic.

(But I cannot help but notice I do not even get an Arch-Mage discount for getting them to train me, either. Sheesh!)

Whiterun, then Heljarchen Hall

I got my discarded dragon bits out of my room in the Hall of Attainment, and then went to make a bunch of potions in the Arch-Mage’s quarters.. This let me get to a point of figuring out how to make a potion of Fortify Carry Weight. Which in turn let me fast travel to Whiterun, for another round of being in a slightly less crazy environment.

And say hi to Lydia! And do more smithing and selling!

Then I took a whole lot of materials up to Heljarchen Hall with me. Fast traveled in, and when I landed, a couple of wolves tried to jump me. Which I didn’t even have to do anything about, because there was Gregor right there, killing them for me.

Good job, Gregor! You deserve a raise!

But also, you deserve a bigger house to hang out in. So I got him to restock the lumber and stone reserves, and proceeded to build an armory wing on the place. I wanted somewhere to start displaying my growing collection of armor and weaponry!

The armor, just because I envision Alarrah as partial to her elven and glass armor sets, even though she’s upgraded to dragonscale. I figure she’d want to keep those around and in good condition. Just in case.

Also, she keeps making extra sets of armor that at some point she’s going to want to give to her housecarls!

One more stop at Mzulft

Next I blipped back to Mzulft to find that other building and get the third Aetherium Shard out of it. I didn’t even have to kill anything to do it.

Katria’s ghost showed up, said hi, and promised I’d see her again when I got the final shard.

Back to Winterhold: Becoming thane

From there, I blipped back to Winterhold. Or more specifically, to Wayward Pass, because I wanted to hoof it for a bit and see if I could actually find my way into Winterhold on foot. Answer: yes, finally!

On the way, I ran into a madwoman who begged me to hit her with the Wabbajack. I was a little surprised by this as I hadn’t realized I was actually carrying it! But I have this slight problem with how, when I keep trying to get stuff out of my storage chest in Breezehome, I keep hitting the Y button and grabbing everything when I actually mean to just hit A and grab the current thing. And I’d done this back in Whiterun, and had neglected to re-store everything I didn’t want to actually carry around with me. I will need to re-assess the inventory when I start my next session, clearly!

In Winterhold, I decided I’d finally see about becoming thane even though I knew I wouldn’t get another house or another housecarl. But it seemed narratively appropriate, given my sense that Alarrah would want to reach out to the town now that she’s in charge of the college.

But the game does not give you any mechanism to resolve the tensions between the college and the town. All it gives you is the mechanism of becoming thane, and helping the people through that standard quest line. So I took it. And I got Jarl Korir the Helm of Winterhold as he asked, which turned out to be in a cave I’d already cleared before. I cleared it again this time–Hob’s Fall Cave–and wiped out a whole fresh bumper crop of necromancers.

When I brought the Helm back, Korir gave me the standard order to help his people before he’d make me thane. And I only belatedly realized that I’d already pre-filled that quest, by doing the Azura’s Star quest and by doing the side quests at the college–because all of that involved people of Winterhold.

That said, I also got in a couple extra rounds of helping people, by settling a debt owed by a drunk at the Frozen Hearth inn, and also by selling ore to the nearby mine.

I came back then to get Korir to declare me his thane. Though I totally also envision Alarrah warning him, “Look, I’m here to help you and I’m honored you want me to be your thane, but you really need to know that I’m also Arch-Mage of the college.”

And before Korir starts roaring at her, hastily adding, “Your town needs help. And I can’t fix the past for you, or undo the Great Collapse. But I can do everything in my power to help your people, and to make the mages realize they need to help you, too. If you’ll have our help. I’ll understand if you say no. For starters, I am fully prepared to pay handsomely for anyone in your town who’s willing to come up and fix our bridge. And I’ll pay for supplies to bring in to help rebuild the town.”

But this will have to remain my headcanon, since the game didn’t let me do any such thing. Awww.

And oh yeah: I also made a point of stopping at Birna’s general goods place, selling a bunch of things, and buying a bunch of things as well. Just to get the poor woman some business.

And I got another side quest triggered at the college: Arniel’s quest that starts off with asking me to go fetch him some Dwemer cogs. So I’m going to have to make one more stop at Mzulft!

Next time

Seeing about that question of cogs, probably. But I also have one Aetherium Shard to find, and Gauldur’s amulet to re-forge! Plenty to keep Alarrah busy. Stay tuned!

Editing to add

3/11/2022: Reformatted this post to make it better match ones in later playthroughs.

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.