Harrowhark Playthrough,  Skyrim

In Which Harrowhark Escapes Execution and Dragonfire

Welcome to the very first official post for Harrowhark the Imperial’s run through Skyrim! This is my seventh official Skyrim playthrough, and it’s my first using more than just the USSEP for mods. I’m using 75 total mods in this playthrough, and so commentary for it will include a lot of observation about what the mods do to the world in general.

This will also be a playthrough in which I’ll be targeting playing as a vampire, a necromancer, and a member of the Dark Brotherhood.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Highlights

  • Play date: 11/19/2022
  • Session number in this run: 1
  • Began new playthrough with mods!
  • Load order not entirely happy, the Simply Knock mod bitched about my version of the SKSE, so not entirely sure that plugin is up to date properly?
  • Then ran into issues with the SKSE not launching properly when I launched the game from Steam
  • Wound up running the SKSE launcher directly and that worked okay, so I was able to start the game
  • Opening sequence not different noticeably, except for how, setting up Harrow as an Imperial, I got the captain to call me “the renegade from Cyrodiil”
  • Followed Ralof out of Helgen
  • Had forgotten that you get a few extra Stormcloaks to come with you once you hit the torturer’s chamber, who are separated from you once you get to the part where the tunnel caves in
  • Grabbed a bunch of gear off of a couple of downed Imperials just so I could sell it later, and grabbed the gear off the dead mage in the cage, as well as the Book of the Dragonborn
  • Played out the rest of the cave as per previous playthroughs
  • Made it out with Ralof and heh, amused that both Ralof and Hadvar make comments about how it’d be better to split up and yet they act like they clearly expect you to follow them
  • Mods in play definitely gave an overall different look to the road to Riverwood
  • Having the Realistic Animals and Predators behavior mod in play meant that the two wolves that usually attack you on the way into Riverwood didn’t 
  • Played out the meeting with Gerdur and got her request that I go to Whiterun
  • Did not actually bother to go to Gerdur’s house after that conversation; instead, I proceeded to Whiterun
  • Road leading into Whiterun was noticeably different, what with Lillith Maiden-Loom’s house being present just across from the stables, and Bjorlam the cart driver off his cart and sitting nearby at a little campsite
  • Lots of differences inside Whiterun, with more trees as well as additional market stalls
  • Heard a deep booming noise a couple of times inside the city, which sounded like it had words, and I have no idea what it was; possibly the roar of a passing giant?
  • Checked out Adrianne’s forge just to see if I saw anything new; lots of new armor types; and I was able to melt down a couple of things brought out of Helgen into usable ingots
  • Made leather bracers and boots, just for less obviously identifiable Stormcloak or Imperial gear
  • Made it to Dragonsreach and reported to the Jarl; noted new outfit on Balgruuf
  • Got steel armor from him, and had initial conversation with Farengar; also noted new outfit on Farengar, as well as glimmering light inside the soul gem on his desk
  • Took quest to go to Bleak Falls Barrow
  • Headed out towards Riverwood
  • Noted that one of the guards did in fact give me shit for wearing the Stormcloak cuirass
  • Changed to mage robe en route just to be a little less blatantly obvious
  • Finally encountered wolves on the way back to Riverwood–but three of them! And they killed me! Ouch
  • Thrown back to coming out of Whiterun
  • Made it into Riverwood very early in the morning
  • Did a little forging at Alvor’s forge, and while I was doing that, other wolves came running through the town
  • Killed mostly by the guards, but I got in a couple swipes on one or two of them
  • Wound up making the armor part of Leather Scout Armor, to have something better than the mage robe to wear for now
  • Waited until 8am then went into the trader shop
  • Initiated the quest from Lucan to get the Golden Claw, and got Camilla to give me directions
  • Started the run up to Bleak Falls Barrow
  • Took out the bandits at the initial tower
  • Stopped there and saved until next time

Commentary

Getting Harrowhark’s first session started was a little bumpy, just because this is my first official playthrough running a serious number of mods. Shenner’s had just the one, the USSEP. And what playing I’ve done with Skyrim Together Reborn has a very tightly controlled and small list of mods in it.

This one, however, has 75. (Or, at least, when I did this session, it had 74. I forgot to install the mod to get Vilja as an available follower until after I’d run this first session! That mod will be included in all future sessions, though.) I didn’t have any real issues getting them all installed, save for a few conflicts here and there that Vortex sorted out for me.

But getting the mods all installed is not the same as actually running a game with them. And this session was my first real stab at that. I ran into a bit of a bumpy problem, though, which seemed to be oriented around the Simply Knock mod. I saw it throw an error bitching about what version of the SKSE I was running; it didn’t seem to pick up on the fact that the SKSE was in fact there.

I think, but am not sure, that this error might have just been a symptom of my trying to launch without the SKSE properly loading. I need to keep an eye on this in future sessions, and see if the issue comes back.

One other issue I noted was with SSE Engine Fixes. That mod also threw my an error complaining about a DLL not loading properly, and strongly advising that I back out of running the game. Despite that error, I didn’t have any immediately obvious problems–but I did crash at least once. I am wary about this, as it might be an indicator that the SSE Engine Fixes mod files aren’t happy with my trying to run on a Win11 VM that’s specifically an ARM build. I may have to wind up removing that mod. We’ll see.

Aside from those bumps to startup, this went pretty well so far!

Running Helgen

Nothing about the Helgen opening sequence was particularly different, even with my mods installed. But I was amused by how, once I’d set up Harrow as an Imperial, the captain called me “the renegade from Cyrodiil”. Which was a real interesting way to put it. I’m going to have to think about what this implies for her background, since it certainly suggests I was already a criminal when the Empire caught me and brought me to Helgen for execution.

(And this is the part where I regret forgetting to install Alternate Start. Because if I’d started out of the gate as a vampire, that would have been a grand excuse for being arrested. As it stands, though, I think I’ll have to go with Harrow having committed an act of necromancy, perhaps even not entirely deliberately.

Ooh… I bet she fought off a rape attempt, and in her fury at her attacker, wound up raising him just so she could stab him again. And she got caught in the act of doing that. And since necromancy is extremely frowned upon, there you go!

And once she escapes from Helgen, she’s going to be aware that she did something to that guy after she killed him. She’s going to want to know more about what she did.

And she’s absolutely not sorry that she did it. Because fuck that guy.)

Given that the captain described her as “the renegade from Cyrodiil”, it seemed natural that I’d follow Ralof out of Helgen this time. And this time through, I was struck by a thing I hadn’t picked up on before: that once you reach the torturer’s chamber, there are three other Stormcloaks already there, trying to escape. And the only reason they don’t stick with you is because the roof caves in, blocking you off from the others.

Sure hope they got out alive!

Road from Helgen to Riverwood

Another thing I don’t think I’d ever properly noticed before: both Ralof and Hadvar, once you get out of Helgen with them, have a line to you about how it’d probably be better to split up. And yet, they act like they clearly expect you to follow them, going ahead of you a little on the road, and pausing to wait for you to catch up. I wonder if this only kicks in if you explicitly follow them? If you go off in a different direction from Helgen, does the NPC AI then let them just go on their way?

Here’s where the mods started making an impact–because the road to Riverwood had a whole new look to it, thanks to the tree and flora mods I installed. A lot more vividly colored, in general. Which I really appreciated. And Realistic Water Two had an impact, once I reached the Guardian Stones and had a good view of the water, as well as following the river on towards Riverwood.

Realistic Animals and Predators’ first impact was the part of the road to Riverwood where a couple of wolves usually attack you on the way into the town. With this mod installed, that is no longer guaranteed to happen. Those wolves do spawn a little ways up the hill though, and bark at you in warning to keep you from coming too close.

Sounds of Skyrim started making itself felt here too, with an abundance of bird and insect noises.

In Riverwood

The main differences in Riverwood were visual. Skyrim Flora Overhaul had an impact here, but so did Noble Skyrim, which gave a distinctly different look to the buildings.

However, Realistic Animals and Predators also had an impact, because it adds in geese to Riverwood, which overall contributes nicely.

EVLaS started being noticeable here, since the behavior of light was impacted by the presence of all the buildings, as well as the surrounding hills and clouds overhead.

I didn’t do much in Riverwood at this point, just did the encounter with Ralof’s sister Gerdur, which let me take the supplies she offered and get her quest to go bring word of the dragon to the Jarl. I decided to not actually go to Gerdur’s house, for character reasons–I feel like Harrow is still really fucking salty about coming close to being executed, and while she was willing to follow Ralof out of Helgen, she does not trust him, or his sister, no matter how nice they seem. So she accepted the supplies and agreed to carry news, but didn’t want to spend any more time with them than absolutely necessary.

Onward to Whiterun

Coming up the road to Whiterun gave me some tasty new changes to enjoy. The first thing that leapt out at me was that Bjorlam, the dude who drives the carriage at Whiterun, was not actually on his carriage when I got there. Instead, he was just across the way, relaxing in front of a nearby campfire, near a tent.

I don’t know which of the mods actually triggered this change, Immersive Citizens maybe? But I like it! Because it totally makes sense that a city’s carriage driver wouldn’t be sitting on the damn carriage all the time. They should have some downtime! And if they’ve got a little nearby campsite, they can at least keep an eye on the carriage and horse, just in case somebody comes by at some stupid hour of the morning to go “Hey, I wanna go to Solitude!”

Another huge change at that point of the road was the addition of Maiden-Loom Manor, a house right across the way from the stables. This is courtesy of the Cutting Room Floor mod, and I like this change, too. It’s the house owned by Lillith Maiden-Loom, who owns the stables! So it’d make sense for her to live right near them.

Noble Skyrim and Dawn of Skyrim both, I think, contributed to the overall new look of Whiterun! It was pretty cool coming into the place and having it look fresh. I noted quite a bit more plant life all over the city, as well as ornamental changes on various buildings. And a few new market stalls as well!

It was late, though, when I got there. So I didn’t have a chance to see any unfamiliar NPCs.

I made a point of stopping at Warmaiden’s just to see what if anything I’d see new on the forge UI. That let me verify that yep, I sure did have a bunch of new armor types available to make. Some of which I hadn’t expected–like the Colovian armor from Morrowind! And I found it definitely useful to be able to melt down some of the metal items I brought out of Helgen into usable ingots.

Doing the initial encounter with the Jarl and Farengar was familiar in terms of general actions, but there were a lot of visual things going on as well. Dragonsreach looked very different with the new mods. And both Balgruuf and Farengar had on unfamiliar outfits, which I’m pretty damn sure I can attribute to the Armor and Clothing Extension mod.

And oh yes, one other important NPC appearance change! Irileth, who in vanilla Skyrim has leather armor, had elven armor this time. I don’t have a strong opinion about whether this would be in character for her? I could see it going either way, either she wears elven armor because goddammit she’s an elf, or else she wears the leather to try to fit in a little better in a city predominantly full of Nords. But that said, it sure looked cool on her.

When I went into Farengar’s little nook to get his initial quest, I noticed that the soul gem on his desk was distinctly shimmering. Presumably from the Rustic Soulgems mod. That was cool.

And back to Riverwood

Noted another change as I came out of Whiterun to head back to Riverwood! This is the point where in previous playthroughs I’ve seen the Khajiit show up, and this time was no exception. Ri’saad’s camp had set up. But this time they had an extra NPC: an Orc guard, who was hanging out at the campfire while the Khajiit slept. This Orc’s name is Grushnag, and he’s another addition from Cutting Room Floor, a guard hired to protect the caravan as it goes back and forth between Whiterun and Markarth. He’s apparently there particularly for the Markarth side of that journey, due to the dangerous nature of the Reach.

On the way back to Riverwood, I did in fact get a wolf encounter–but with three wolves, which were a bit too much for Harrow to handle on her own. They did kill me. Which certainly suggests that Realistic Animals and Predators kicked in here, and happened to throw me a little wolf pack–and so the wolves were braver, because they were in a group.

Possibly also the same explanation for why a different pack actually charged through Riverwood! They might have been chasing a deer? I dunno!

I didn’t think to actually buy the Raise Zombie spellbook from Lucan when I went into the trader shop to start the quest for the claw. But I should totally have done so! I shall assume that Harrow noted it in his wares, but didn’t buy it at the time just to avoid suspicion. But she is totally coming back later and is going to buy him out of his spellbooks.

I was legit a little surprised at how easy it was for me to take out the bandits at the first tower near Bleak Falls Barrow. I’ll have to see if this trend continues.

Next time

I left off after clearing that first tower, so when I play Harrow next, I’ll proceed through Bleak Falls Barrow and see if I can make it to the Dragonstone!

Screenshots

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.

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