Kendis Playthrough,  Skyrim

In Which Kendis Recovers the Dragonstone

Kendis’ second session was standard “starting off a Skyrim game” action–i.e., going to Bleak Falls Barrow. But given that this is a run with Survival Mode on, this played out rather differently than it’s done in my prior playthroughs!

Play by play

  • Play date: 12/8/2022
  • Session number in this run: 2
  • Picked up where I left off at the Bannered Mare
  • Went down to the forge to run the tutorial for smithing, just to clear that out of Adrianne’s dialogue prompts
  • Got her quest to deliver the sword to her father, and went up to Dragonsreach
  • Found a dead guard lying on the steps, WTF? So helped myself to (most of) his gear
  • Dropped off the sword with Proventus; got a bandit bounty from him for Redoran’s Retreat, and also got the letter to kick off the Bow of Shadows quest
  • Talked to Farengar and got his quest to take frost salts to Arcadia
  • Wen to Arcadia’s Cauldron and gave her the frost salts; also took the ledger copy
  • Talked to Carlotta to get her quest to get Mikael off her back
  • Tried to do so but failed Speech check! Also failed brawl, Mikael kicked my ass, and I broke out of the brawl when I actually drew my axe—not to hit Mikael but just to heal myself
  • Couldn’t bribe him either, didn’t have enough money for it
  • Went out to sell things to Belethor, and got up to the necessary amount of gold, so paid Mikael off to get him off of Carlotta’s back; she paid me 250 for my trouble
  • That finally got me ready to try to start gathering supplies for Bleak Falls Barrow
  • Got a fishing rod but could not find an axe for sale to cut firewood
  • Went out to try to hunt and gather meat and leather; shot at a couple of deer and elk but didn’t bring them down
  • Spotted three wolves from a distance when I heard them howling; did not engage, three wolves seemed like a little much
  • Did a circuit around Whiterun and came around to Whitewatch Tower–where the guards were fighting bandits, who, ever so conveniently, had fur armor
  • So I snurched a bunch of things off of them and went on my way, and immediately learned you can still carry over your limit in Survival Mode, but it will hit your Stamina hard
  • Tromped very slowly back to Whiterun
  • Got in a couple more potshots at a deer near Tundra Homestead but didn’t bring it down, just got a couple bumps to Archery off of that
  • Stopped at fishing spot and did a little fishing
  • Made my way past Chillfurrow Farm and started feeling cold, but nothing for it but to head back into Whiterun
  • Discovered that I could pause and warm up at each of the braziers that light the path into the city
  • Finally made it back in and sold a bunch of bandit loot to Elrindir in the Huntsman to get back under carry weight
  • Went back to the inn to rest up
  • Popped into the side room to cook a couple of things to eat; Saadia stopped to talk to me, and offered me food for sale so I bought some stuff of her to nom as well
  • Olfina went by me with a remark about ‘you’re lucky that was lying around for you to take’ just before I picked M’Sharra’s diary off the table for later; not sure what exactly she was reacting to, or the exact wording of the line? Because that was the only thing I picked up
  • Once refreshed, finally set out for Riverwood; made it over there with no trouble
  • Stopped in the Riverwood Trader and got the quest to go get the claw; got Camilla to show me the way up to the barrow
  • Headed up there and switched into the fur armor to try to keep warm
  • Killed a wolf on the way up
  • Got to the bandits at the initial tower and took out all three of them with combo of Imperial sword and flames spell; looted the chest and the barrels
  • Headed over to the main temple, and snuck up to the entrance after what iI earned running Harrow; eluded all of the exterior bandits, got in there before they could reach me
  • And inside it was warm!
  • Took out the first couple bandits, and on one of the bandit corpses already in there, I found better fur armor with a much higher warmth rating
  • Discovered I couldn’t cook at the bandit fire but could at least sleep on the bedrolls
  • Took a nap and leveled up to 2; took Novice Restoration perk
  • Then started running the barrow
  • Did this in waves, and twice actually came back to the bedrolls for additional resting so I could level up to 3 and 4
  • Third time I came back to the bedrolls, a draugr was chasing my ass; that let me level up to 5
  • Perks taken: Novice Destruction, first One-handed perk, first Archery
  • Started making a hard push through the rest of the barrow to see if I could make it through without keeling over from hunger or fatigue
  • Killed multiple times, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary, it was just the usual trying to break in a brand new character situation
  • Eventually ran out of things to eat and got hungry
  • Also made a point of not picking up anything that wasn’t super critical or at least light enough to not overburden me, because I really wanted to get out without being overburdened
  • Had to remind myself how to do a sprint on the Switch, to get past the second swinging blade trap
  • Did a lot of sniping of draugr and got a whole bunch of bumps to my Sneak
  • Finally made it to the boss chamber and got the word for Unrelenting Force
  • Immediately scampered over to that little bit of ledge where the Draugr Overlord couldn’t reach me, and I sniped him to death from there
  • Got the Dragonstone and other loot off of him, and cleared the boss chest as well, which still left me in good stead to GTFO and return to Riverwood
  • Came pretty much straight down the mountain
  • Hit the corundum vein on the way
  • Went to the river and followed it a bit, until I found where I could cross and come up by the Guardian Stones; shorter path back to Riverwood!
  • Came into Riverwood by the guard camp and discovered I can cook there! And also sleep on the bedrolls! So I did some cooking
  • Got a courier with the anonymous note about the necromancer ritual; hold that thought stranger, I am super fatigued and fucking starving
  • Ate the fish I cooked and conked out in the bedroll for a couple hours
  • That let me level up to 7, I was able to do 6 and 7 at once; took perks in Light Armor and Novice Alteration
  • Then checked in to return the claw; sold Lucan some things and bought assorted food items and a few replacement arrows
  • Went to the inn and discovered that oh yes, no Delphine at this point, so I couldn’t rent a room
  • But I did buy more food from Orgnar–and whoa he actually had a Daedra heart? Delphine brings him some odd shit to sell, apparently?
  • Bought some leather off of Alvor and improved all my remaining armor items
  • Napped more on the bedrolls since my Fatigue status was still showing as Drained, but that didn’t change with bedroll napping
  • Headed to Whiterun, got there with no trouble
  • Returned to the Bannered Mare and re-rented a room; slept there and that got me back to Well-Rested!
  • Saved until next time


In all my previous Skyrim playthroughs, going to Bleak Falls Barrow for the Dragonstone was a thing I could pretty much do immediately, when Balgruuf and Farengar give me the quest.

With Survival Mode on, however, even this simple starter quest takes on new significance. Because with Survival Mode, there’s a helluva lot more planning to do.

I read a couple of articles with tips for handling Survival Mode:

And one of the things that leapt out at me as necessary here was getting hold of fur armor fast. Because Survival Mode actually means fur armor is suddenly useful. So much of Skyrim is cold as fuck, and Survival Mode adds a stat to track how much warmth you can get out of any particular item of armor or clothing. And some armor will protect you from the cold better than others. Fur armor, kind of unsurprisingly, does this extremely well.

Bleak Falls Barrow was really an excellent trial run at dealing with a cold environment, too. Because the top of the peak it sits on is cold and snowy–but you don’t have to be up there very long. Knowing that, I still didn’t want to risk freezing my ass off with this brand new character. So before I even went up to Bleak Falls Barrow, I wanted to get hold of some fur armor.

Fortunately, this is super easy. And all I had to do was find some bandits. But more on this in a moment.

In general, conscious that Bleak Falls Barrow was going to present me unfamiliar challenges, I wanted to take the time to plan to do the run. I spent extra time in Whiterun queuing up favor quests, trying to make money, so that I could outfit myself appropriately. I really wanted to just chop firewood for Hulda, but could not find a woodcutter’s axe for the life of me.

Some of the other quests went as per usual. One thing that stood out on my way up to Dragonsreach to talk to Proventus, though, was that there was a dead guard lying on the steps up to the keep. I have no idea why the guard was dead, there wasn’t any sign of an attacker anywhere nearby. I was kind of wondering if this was the aftermath of that rare occurrence of a Stormcloak spy being caught inside the city, who might have killed him?

I helped myself to some of his gear, but not all of it. It just seemed mean to leave him there totally naked.

Getting Mikael to leave Carlotta alone did not go as well as I’d hoped. I failed the Persuade check. I also failed to brawl him–partly because he beat my Health bar down, and when I instinctively drew my weapon to bring up my healing spell, I broke out of the brawl. And I didn’t have enough money on me to bribe him.

Some of my efforts, therefore, had to go to selling a few extra things just so I could get money to bribe him! And I liked that choice the least, just because it doesn’t really address Mikael learning anything from his behavior. Still, though, Carlotta was happy and paid me 250 gold.

I bought a fishing rod, remembering that I’d be able to fish as a source of food. And I decided to go out to hunt and see if I could bring down a deer or two for meat and leather. I wasn’t able to do that.

But after making a circuit around Whiterun and making it around to Whitewatch Tower, I found the guards fighting bandits. Who, ever so conveniently, had fur armor! So I cheerfully looted all three bandits, like you do if you’re me. And got overloaded as a result, because this was Survival Mode, and I hadn’t yet mentally recalibrated how much stuff I could safely carry.

And that led me to learn a couple of important things.

  1. Survival Mode will still let you be overloaded and move around, it’s less unforgiving than Morrowind, which won’t let you move at all
  2. It will, however, totally eat your Stamina

I got three pieces of fur armor off that, which were absolutely necessary for going up to the barrow. The rest of the stuff, arguably, was optional. But I didn’t want to give it up, because dammit, I wanted to sell it.

So I tromped very slowly back into Whiterun, and got quite cold on the way. But I learned another helpful thing on the way in: I could stop at the various braziers that light the road up to the city gates. Those counted as sources of warmth. So I paused at each one and got warmed up again before proceeding.

And in character, I figured that was also a good excuse to stop and rest because holy shit I was carrying a lot of stuff.

When I got back into the city and sold off the excess loot to Elrindir, that left me free to return to the inn to rest up and warm up. And I got in a little bit more character interaction with Saadia than I’m used to! She actually stopped to talk to me while I was at the cooking spit, and offered to sell me additional food or drink. I took her up on this.

And being approached by Saadia actually hit rather interestingly, given that I’m playing a Redguard in this run. I see two conflicting in-character reactions here: Kendis being relieved to see another Redguard in this unfamiliar city, and Saadia possibly being torn between being pleased and very, very suspicious. So I could easily see Saadia coming over to check me out because she wanted to doublecheck me.

A few things stood out about running the barrow!

First and foremost: I was feeling super paranoid about getting to the barrow to begin with, given it was on a snowy peak and all. So I wanted to spend as little time as possible outside, which included fighting the exterior bandits. However, fortunately, while running Harrowhark’s playthrough of Bleak Falls Barrow, I discovered it is in fact possible to sneak up to that entrance and minimize exposure to those bandits!

With Kendis, they still spotted me and started shooting at me, but not before I actually reached the door and made it in. So that minimized my time outside. Very helpful, and I think I can recommend this approach for anybody else playing Survival Mode.

I’d already gotten hold of fur armor, and actually using it for this barrow run taught me something else: fur armor appears to be about on par with Imperial light armor in terms of its actual level of damage protection. So in other words, as armor goes for most purposes, fairly poor. But in terms of warmth protection, excellent!

And I was pleased to find one of the better pieces of fur armor that had a much better warmth rating. I swapped to that one immediately. But inside the barrow, at least, I didn’t have to worry about temperature. That better fur armor will come in handy later though–particularly when I set out for High Hrothgar.

Second major thing about running the barrow: in my usual playthroughs, I come in there around level two and come back out four or five levels higher. This time was no exception. But because Survival Mode was in play, I could only level up while sleeping. And the only place to sleep inside the barrow was the camp of the bandits I’d just killed!

So first thing I did after taking out those bandits was take a nap on one of the bedrolls, next to the still-burning fire. Which let me level up to 2. And I came back to those bedrolls three different times, which let me hit levels 3, 4, and 5.

Third thing: after reading up on Redguard lore, and learning that Redguard society as a whole is really, really against fighting honored dead, I felt like Kendis would be disinclined to loot draugr. I also felt like she’d be inclined to try to avoid fighting with any mobile draugr if possible.

Of course, the draugr had other ideas about this. So Kendis didn’t hesitate to defend herself, though this basically meant I did a lot of sneak-sniping, as per usual with my prior playthroughs. A few times, if a draugr got close enough to me for hand to hand combat, this led to me dying. So range fighting was the way to go.

About halfway through the barrow, I started a hard push to see if I could make it the rest of the way without keeling over from hunger or fatigue. I made it, but I was both “Hungry” and “Drained” when I came out. By the time I reached the end of the barrow, I wanted that to go as quickly as possible as well. So I took advantage of that little back bit of ledge where the Draugr Overlord couldn’t follow me, and sniped him to death from afar.

I succeeded in getting out without being overburdened! Given my play habits I feel this is a victory. \0/ And by the time I made it back to Riverwood, I’d become “Famished”.

As with going up to the barrow to begin with, so too with coming back; I took the shortest possible route to Riverwood I could find, crossing the river near the Guardian Stones rather than swinging by Anise’s Cabin. Because I also knew that if I went through there, I had the chance of a hostile encounter. And I really wanted to get back to Riverwood as quickly as possible for food and sleep.

Which I honestly kind of appreciated. Running a barrow and fighting a bunch of bandits and pissed off draugr should be a huge energy hit! Particularly if you have to come down a snowy mountainside to get back to safe shelter!

Lastly, I want to note my amusement that Orgnar, in the Sleeping Giant Inn, had a surprisingly esoteric assortment of ingredients for sale. Including a Daedra heart. Apparently Delphine brings back quite the selection of things for Orgnar to sell!

Initial impression of Survival Mode so far

Two sessions in, so far I’m liking this. It takes some aspects of Morrowind and implements them here in a way that’s less annoying–the thing about carry weight here being an example. I appreciate that Survival Mode is willing to let you carry a stupid amount of stuff, but it’s going to make you pay for doing so.

In Morrowind, I’ve started implementing a strategy of making loot caches, and taking advantage of Mark and Recall to move loot out of a dungeon in waves after I’ve cleared it. Survival Mode does not offer me such an option, and moreover, a lot of the dungeons in Skyrim have secret shortcuts that let you take a quick way out once you’ve run them. Some other dungeons explicitly don’t let you go back out the way you came; Potema’s catacombs are an example of that.

So I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to do the loot cache thing in Survival Mode. I’m just going to have to be a lot more careful about what loot I choose to carry out of a dungeon, and follow the advice of the guides I read, which is, go for gold and gems.

And I honestly appreciated just taking some time in Whiterun to get ready for the barrow run, talking to a few NPCs faster than I normally would, all in the name of trying to find work so I could pay for supplies. It added a lot to the feeling of getting to know the city.

Needing to eat a lot may eventually become annoying, but for now, I’m appreciating cooking actually being necessary. Again, for purposes of immersion.

And I’m kind of wishing that Survival Mode gave you the same little perky leveling up messages that you get in Morrowind, really!

Next time

I’m back in Whiterun, so I’ll need to report to Dragonsreach to turn in the Dragonstone! So I feel a fight with Mirmulnir coming on!

(I think I want to get Kendis a few more sessions in, to get her in parity with Harrowhark, who’s had five sessions so far. Then I’ll start alternating between them.)


Editing to add

  • 11/25/2023: Restored missing gallery.

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.