Harrowhark Playthrough,  Skyrim

In Which Harrowhark Becomes a Thief–and a Vampire

This was a huge eventful session, in which I did a great deal of things initially in an attempt to get Vilja killed off. But she kept doggedly holding her own in battle! So i finally punted to a backup plan, which resulted in the dismissal of all of Harrow’s followers–but also in her becoming infected with Sanguinare Vampiris, and fleeing her party’s company rather than risk endangering them. So now she’s run off to join the Thieves Guild in Riften…

But her disease has run its course. And now she’s a vampire.

This post is enormous, since a lot of things happened in it. You may want to grab a snack or a drink before you settle in with this one!

Play by play

A whole helluva lot happened in this very long, very busy session, so I’m going to tweak my usual format and divide the play by play up into sections.

  • Play date: 12/18/2022
  • Session number in this run: 9
  • Picked up at Breezehome
  • Lucien asked me to train him in combat, I agreed
  • Tried to go to Bannered Mare to get another job from Hulda, but I didn’t have the prompt with her

Getting the horse

  • Headed out on foot
  • Flyby dragon
  • Swung past Bleakwind Basin but not close enough to piss off the giant, did at least mark it for the map
  • Proceeded to the road and headed west, then south
  • Passed Imperial trio
  • Spotted sabre cat near the crossroads to Rorikstead but did not pursue
  • Found unmarked alchemist’s camp
  • Found Evergreen Grove and fought spriggans there
  • Got several nirnroot and Alchemy skillbook
  • Found novice necromancer camp; Vilja and Lyds and Lucien killed him
  • Got Conjuration spellbook there
  • Hit a couple of iron veins
  • Got close to Cracked Tusk Keep but not close enough to mark it for the map
  • Heard Vilja go after something that was probably a wolf
  • Vered north again towards Evergreen Grove and finally found the black horse; tamed him!
  • Vilja’s horse Bruse showed up as soon as I tried to ride the horse
  • So now Vilja has her own horse? Felt this was kind of abrupt

Ill Met by Moonlight

  • Rode over to Falkreath
  • Went past Roadside Ruins and marked it for the map but did not go in to engage right now
  • Reached Falkreath and sold a couple items to Lod
  • Chopped firewood and tried to sell it to the innkeeper but she didn’t have a prompt for it
  • Got bounty to go kill the dragon at Ancient’s Ascent
  • Went over to the graveyard and listened to initial scene with Runil and Mathies and Indara
  • Got Runil’s journal quest, which wanted to send me to Bloated Man’s Grotto
  • Talked to Mathies about his daughter; got objective to go talk to Sinding
  • Headed into the barracks; read the dossier in there to trigger the Elven Hunter Armor quest
  • Went down to talk to Sinding, but that was a little buggy
  • Got objective to go hunt the beast and also took the ring; headed out to go find said beast
  • Took out the bandits at the tower near Pinewatch
  • Went hunting for the stag and chased it all the way up the mountain
  • Discovered both Angi’s Camp and Ancestor Glade
  • Finally killed the stag and got Hircine’s directive to kill Sinding; initially agreed to do so
  • Then went over to Ancient’s Ascent to take out the dragon for the bounty
  • Fast traveled back to Falkreath to collect payment for the dragon bounty, then headed to Bloated Man’s Grotto
  • Told Sinding I’d spare him; Team Dragonborn + Sinding then proceeded to take out all the hunters
  • Swiped all their armor; got Runil’s journal and other loot out of the boss chest
  • Had final conversation with Sinding at which point he promised to stay put in the grotto
  • Tromped very slowly back out because overloaded
  • Hircine expressed his pleasure at the subverted hunt and I went on my way

Whiterun, Goldenhills, and Robber’s Gorge

  • Got on horse and boinged back to Whiterun
  • Smelted down a bunch of the metal armor objects
  • Made an entire set of Bosmer armor + Bosmer blades + Bosmer bow + Bosmer arrows and outfitted Lucien with these
  • All the smithing resulted in my leveling up to 14; took first Pickpocket perk and bump in Magicka
  • Got a courier with a letter from Lucien’s father reporting on the location of the Dwemer ruin he wanted to visit: it’s on Solstheim
  • Gave Lucien the letter and he begged to go to Solstheim, but I old him we had other things to do first
  • Bought more spellbooks from Farengar and destroyed another item on his enchanter table
  • Dropped off stuff at Breezehome, then headed out again
  • Stopped at stable to register a name for the black horse: Tormod
  • Saddled up and headed out
  • Stopped at Goldenhills Plantation to run the plot there and secure the place for later
  • Discovered I cannot recruit Vilja to be steward there, damn
  • Vilja tried to get me to send Lydia home so that it’d just be “the two of us traveling”, clearly she is trying very hard to pretend Lucien isn’t around, snerk
  • Shot that idea down, Harrow isn’t thrilled about having to travel with an entourage but she doesn’t really want to be alone with Vilja either
  • Proceed on through Rorikstead; confronted bandits at the crossroads
  • Made it to Robber’s Gorge and tried to take on the bandits there but killed by bandit chief
  • Thrown back to coming out of Goldenhills following resolving the plot there
  • Re-did bandits at the crossroads
  • Re-did Robber’s Gorge and this time we wiped out the place

Dragon Bridge, Solitude, and Kilkreath

  • However, lost track of Tormod and couldn’t find him with Detect Life
  • Also severely overloaded with bandit loot, so tromped off very slowly through Dragon Bridge
  • Spotted potential new location from mods south of there but couldn’t stop to investigate
  • Tromped through Dragon Bridge then Whirlwind-Sprinted my way to Solitude
  • Got courier with a letter from a friend, pointing at Lost Valley Redoubt
  • Made it into Solitude; cue Roggvir’s execution! Vilja had sympathetic commentary about that
  • Sold all my excess stuff at Bits and Pieces, stocked up on ingredients
  • Headed back out to pick up Tormod, fast traveled right back to Solitude to trigger moving him to the stable at the farm so I could fetch him
  • Headed over to the Statue of Meridia
  • Got the word for Elemental Fury off the wall
  • Turned in the beacon and got yoinked up into the air by Meridia
  • Took the “it sounds like I don’t exactly have a choice” option as my response to Meridia’s demand; Meridia was unmoved and sent me on in to do the thing
  • Out on the balcony, ran into another addition from Cutting Room Floor, an NPC called Herebane Sorenshield; he was near the chest and picked a fight with us; I took his stuff, including a named elven shield and a named sword that does fire damage
  • Malkoran killed me a couple of times, but no obvious harm done to anybody else in the party
  • Dawnbreaker acquired!
  • Returned to Solitude and sold assorted things, and OMG Beirand actually has a smelter now
  • Improved my Hedge Mage Armor a little further since I grabbed linen wraps for the hood in Kilkreath
  • Went back out to the horses and set out for Morthal

Fort Snowhawk, Morthal, and Laid to Rest plot

  • Went back through Dragon Bridge
  • Found the new area just south of Dragon Bridge: Frost River Farm, ooo they have a smith
  • Stopped at Fort Snowhawk and ran the place; Team Dragonborn encountered no real opposition
  • Reached Morthal and saw the initial conversation with the steward re: the wizard in town
  • Stopped at the inn and rented a room
  • Asked the innkeeper about the burned down house and got the Laid to Rest plot started
  • Got the directive to talk to Helgi’s ghost, but as I was talking to her a dragon showed up, so I had to still go through the conversation while the dragon was literally strafing the town with fire
  • Dragon crashlanded very near where Helgi’s body is buried–and I triggered a super weird bug where Lydia, Lucien, and Vilja all got into a fight with an invisible Laelette, who had not spawned properly, but who still periodically could hit and damage me? WTF?
  • But they showed no sign of actually destroying Invisible Laelette, so I rolled back to a previous autosave, which was us coming out of the Jarl’s longhouse
  • This time, before I could go talk to Helgi’s ghost, the dragon showed up again; this time it was a frost breather, and this time I focused first on taking out the dragon
  • It crashed in the same place but I also saw that Helgi’s ghost ran over to join the crowd gawking at the dragon bones, so I had my conversation with her right there by the dragon skeleton, LOLOLOL
  • From that point I was able to proceed through the plot as per usual
  • Stayed in the inn after taking out Hroggir
  • Got an opportunity to chat with Lucien; he chirped happily about being one of the rare adventurers in his family; told him not to get cocky, he wasn’t a hero yet, which kind of deflated him
  • We had no trouble clearing Movarth’s Lair–but, kind of as I was expecting and hoping for, I did get Sanguinare Vampiris from one of Movarth’s lackeys

Ustengrav, and Harrow bailing on her followers

  • Overloaded from Movarth lair loot, and had nowhere to sell it in Morthal, so damn good thing I had the horse!
  • Headed over to Ustengrav; confronted the bandits in the camp next door
  • Started running Ustengrav; killed once by the giant frostbite spider towards the end
  • Thrown back far enough that I had to re-do getting the Become Ethereal Shout word, but made it through okay the second time
  • Got back out of Ustengrav–and I dismissed everybody, but my actual headcanon here is that Harrow snuck off

Heading to Riften

  • Got attacked by a few things while riding through the Pale and Eastmarch towards Riften–but hey, I was on a horse, so I was able to outrun most things that came after me
  • Had to kill a couple of wolves who wouldn’t back off though
  • Found Cutting Room Floor content: the town of Heljarchen restored, right where Nightgate Inn is in the vanilla game; didn’t explore it fully, but holy crap they have a smith and an alchemist 😀
  • Rode through Anga’s Mill and spotted the party trying to get to Vittoria Vici’s wedding
  • Reached Shor’s Stone and stopped there to melt down a bunch of things in the smelter; sold a few things to Filnjar
  • Proceeded to Riften (bypassing Fort Greenwall) and pissing off a bear as I went by
  • Passed Persuade check to get past the guard at the gate
  • Bribed Maul for local intel; also got the rumor from him about Aventus Aretino wanting to summon the Dark Brotherhood
  • Greeted by Brynjolf who challenged me how whether any of the coin I had on me was legitimately acquired–and Harrow, a little ragged and desperate by now, seized the chance to bolster her dwindling cash reserves
  • But first, smelted a bunch more stuff at Balimund’s forge because OH THANK DIVINES BALIMUND HAS A SMELTER NOW TOO <3
  • Made another entire set of Bosmer armor which I may actually like better than Hedge Mage? Still haven’t been able to fortify the Hedge Mage yet
  • Sold a bunch of things to try to get down under carry weight

Joining the Guild

  • Successfully broke into Madesi’s stall–but failed the Pickpocket attempt on Brand-Shei
  • Paid the bounty and was released from Mistveil Keep
  • Went back to Brynjolf and got his second chance and directive to make it to the Flagon in the Ratway
  • Took the note off the door on the way in
  • Killed once by Gian the Fist
  • Spotted the ghost for the Dawnfang & Duskfang plot but didn’t engage for now
  • Made it down to the Flagon; got Brynjolf’s welcome and directive to go hit up the shopkeepers for their debts, but didn’t have to intimidate them, thanks to my mods
  • Returned to Brynjolf and got his welcome
  • Talked to Mercer and got directive to run the Goldenglow Estate job
  • Talked to Vex about how to get in; also got a Burglary job from her for Clan Shatter-Shield in Windhelm
  • Got a Bedlam job from Delvin in Markarth
  • Got armor from Tonilia
  • Talked to the face sculptor and tweaked Harrow’s face a little, actually made her paler, with the presumption that hey, she’s about to be a vamp
  • Took five rounds of Pickpocket training with Vipir the Fleet; that got me leveled up to 18
  • Headed to Windhelm to do the job there
  • Had not actually marked Windhelm for the map so had to fast travel to Steamcrag Camp and then ride north from there
  • Parked Tormod at the stables and headed in
  • Saw initial assholes hassling the Dunmer encounter
  • Got a room in the inn
  • Took a nap and woke up after sunset–and got the message “Your blood boils and your vampiric powers awaken.”
  • Saved until next time

More commentary about Vilja

So let’s get this out of the way first: since I’d reached the decision to boot Vilja out of my playthrough, a lot of the action I carried out here was with the intent of seeing if I could throw her into a combat situation that’d kill her off.

And I feel like I got hoisted by my own petard here, because having Team Dragonborn at four pretty much meant that the combo of Lydia, Lucien, and Vilja handled everything I threw at them. Which is great if you actually want your followers to survive. Not so much if you don’t. ;D

And, well, sure, I could have ordered one of them to stand down, sure. But I was trying to give Lucien a fair shake and didn’t want him to go. Moreover, I explicitly didn’t want to dismiss Lydia–in no small part because Vilja kept trying to get me to send Lydia home. Very clearly an opportunity to try to have me to herself for romantic purposes, and yeah no.

Vilja started doing another thing I felt was awkwardly implemented: she kept handing me horns that were clearly intended to serve various means of short-hand to get her to do certain things. I had issues with these for the following reasons:

  1. Her dialogue about how these were apparently customarily used in her family felt forced and not lore-friendly at all.
  2. She gave me three different horns that do three different things, and the damn things had weight in my inventory. Not all that much weight, to be fair, but I gotta frown on the mod trying to load me up with multiple horns and making them occupy any weight in the inventory at all.
  3. And for a character I’m explicitly intending to be stealthy, why in Divines’ name am I going to be carrying around multiple horns?

Now I’ll say one other thing, which is, although Vilja makes me cranky enough that I’m punting her, I will say that she conducted herself credibly well in combat. She looked pretty badassed doing it, and she even got in some halfway decent combat taunt lines. Which just makes me wish harder that she was less self-deprecating about her own combat skills. Way, way too much “oh you’re so good at the bow, I could never be as good as you” or “I’m really not very good at the sword”.

I also noticed that one of the things that kept her from dying in combat was that she could heal herself. Lucien did too for that matter, I saw both of them throwing off healing spells. So again–Vils has more skills than she gives herself credit for, and I really, really wish she didn’t pull the self-deprecation so much. I’d like her a lot better if she came across more as “I’ve traveled all the way here from Solstheim, I may not be a Companion, or a Dragonborn, but I can protect myself!”

Honey. You’re a Nord. You grew up on Solstheim, for fuck’s sake. You have combat skills. Own them. But, y’know, own them somewhere else that isn’t following me.

Vilja’s horse showed up as soon as I tamed the wild black horse for Harrow. Again: kind of awkwardly done. But in fairness I think this might have been at least partially on me? Because I’m pretty sure Vils has a dialogue prompt “Why don’t you ride?” which could well have been an opportunity to get her to get her horse. But I just didn’t have enough giveadamn to trigger that option.

(It did make me kind of wish that Lucien and Lydia also had horses. It felt weird having two of the party mounted, and two not. Though getting Lucien on a horse could have been a problem!)

Next, I want to call out my irritation with Vilja constantly asking me if we could chat more about her background. Because just before we headed in to fight Malkoran, Vilja tried to talk to me about her background yet again. And honey, so not the time. This is another one of those things about Vilja that, in fairness, I have to allow is partially on me. Because Vilja in an earlier conversation had explicitly described for me that I could tell her to not talk as often if I wanted, and I should have taken her up on that, to explicitly make her not try to get chatty in unsafe areas.

But on the other hand, I also feel like “not chatting in unsafe areas” should be the default behavior of a follower. I see no circumstances in Skyrim where this makes any sense at all. The player is known to be an adventurer, and any follower coming with them is by extension going to be accepting that they’re going into dangerous areas. Anybody with half a lick of sense is not going to think, “Hey, we’re in a dangerous ruin and about to fight a necromancer! This is a great time to ask the Dragonborn if I can tell her more about my personal history.”

No. No it is absolutely not.

Just as importantly: I expect that the Vilja mod creator was attempting to work all the various ways you can control Vilja as a follower into her dialogue with the intention of making learning how to do that more organic, as opposed to making you read a bunch of documentation? If so, I can appreciate the intent. But in actual practice it really didn’t sit well with me. Because having the sweet-natured, fairly ditzy blonde girl describing for me all the various ways I can tell her what to do or not to do made her come across as super subservient. And, bleah. It made her come across way more as an interactive AI assistant of some sort, like Siri or Cortana, and way less like an actual character.

Relatedly, I didn’t like Vilja saying ever so sweetly that “doing this thing with my horns is complicated so I wrote it all down for you”. Honey, how complex can blowing on a horn actually be?

Honestly, I’d just as soon have a nice long documentation page about what a mod does and does not do. If I can change a follower’s behavior in various interesting options, just write all that out on a web page or stick it all into a book of notes that I can carry around with me. Don’t try to work that shit into dialogue from the follower. It’s immersion breaking. Have the follower just talking about actual in character stuff.

More commentary on Lucien

And speaking of Lucien: I did try to give him a fair shake in this session. So far I do like him better than Vilja, though I feel like he’s overly chirpy and perky and almost as bad a match personality-wise for Harrow as Vilja.

I took the time to make a set of Bosmer armor and weapons for him, partly because I just wanted to see what that gear looked like, and partly out of the desire to get him something better to wear than his fine clothes while traveling. And I’ll say this for him: the Bosmer armor actually looked pretty badass on him. He did well with the dual Bosmer blades, too.

Which ties in to what I was saying about Vilja above. Lucien presents himself to the player as a simple scholar, and even asks the player to train him. But from what I saw of Lucien in this session, like Vilja, he seemed perfectly capable of defending himself. Not only with the weapons I gave him, but also with magic. I saw him throw off frost spells, and he may also know fire spells? But I saw him grab a staff at one point, too, possibly when we fought the hagraven–so the fire I saw him throwing around might have been off that. He seemed capable of healing himself in battle, too.

And that all made the whole “hey will you train me?” conversation with the player feel kind of disingenuous.

Like Vilja, so far I’m finding Lucien vacillating between “charming” and “annoying”. But so far with Lucien, I’m interested enough in the character that I might consider picking him up again later in Harrow’s playthrough, or running him with a lighter-natured Dragonborn. I like how enthusiastic he got when we started killing dragons; he was in fact apparently counting them, and psyching himself up on the subsequent ones we fought, now that he knew he could help kill one. And I liked and how he enthused about his family just not having a grand tradition of adventurers. He had several bits of dialogue about his family history clear back into the Second Era, even mentioning certain things that show up in Elder Scrolls Online, so clearly, the mod creator knows their lore. I approve of that. <3

I also liked that Lucien’s plot was moved along more organically, with the courier showing up with the letter from his father and giving it to me by mistake. Even though I have kind of a hard time believing that the very clearly competent couriers of Skyrim would fuck that up! Maybe they’re too used to handing all the letters in the game to me. 😉

And I am legit curious about the ruin, and may have to restore Lucien as a follower later just so I can actually see the place. Curious in particular about where it’s located; Solstheim is not exactly abounding with open space to drop things in.

Now let’s move on!

Getting the black wild horse

Hurray, Harrow has a horse! This one was a little harder to locate than the one near Whiterun in Kendis’ playthrough, but I’m very glad I took the time to get it.

I expect that in both playthroughs, I’ll stick to the one horse just because I don’t want to have to remember where the hell the various Wild Horses all live if I wind up changing mounts. On the Switch, where I can’t mod, the wild horse near Whiterun was the best choice because easiest to find.

On Harrow’s playthrough, I could in theory install mods to address this problem–but I don’t know if i want to throw other mods into her mix at this point. This may be a thing I’ll need to consider for future playthroughs though.

I was rather pleased with the random name selection once I registered the horse at Whiterun’s stables. Tormod. I can work with that.

Ill Met By Moonlight quest

I was pretty sure I’d do Ill Met By Moonlight this time, just because I knew a large number of hunters would be available in Bloated Man’s Grotto. And therefore, a potentially complex combat situation for getting rid of Vilja purposes.

Having the initial conversation with Sinding proved a little buggy though, in a way I’ve seen happen when talking to the Alik’r prisoner in Dragonsreach–i.e., Sinding never came up to the bars so that I could talk to him. Happily, this was easily fixed by going out of the prison back to its front room, and then coming back in. That appeared to reset him so that he’d move to the bars within conversational range.

From there, I proceeded to play the plot out. I initially agreed to skin Sinding for Hircine. And on the way to Bloated Man’s Grotto, stopped to kill the dragon at Ancient’s Ascent. No problem for Team Dragonborn.

Once I got to the Grotto, I actually changed my mind and spared Sinding. I figured this was a matter of Harrow reacting warily to the prospect of telling a Daedra she won’t do what he wants, but then realizing she had more sympathy for Sinding than she liked to admit. But this was also a matter of my trying to trigger all the hunters to fight, to make it more dangerous for Team Dragonborn. The team, however, had no issues with the hunters either.

Goldenhills Plantation

I ran the plot there just to secure the place for later, though it’s not as vital to Harrow’s playthrough as it is to Kendis’. And I was a little disappointed, but also not surprised, that I had no way to hire Vilja as the steward there. Which makes sense: she was created as a mod before the Farming Creation was built, so making her compatible with that would require tweaking her code.

Ah well, so much for an idea about how to get Vilja to stand down without getting her killed in combat. ;P As we were leaving, though, I got another reminder as to why I want to punt her–because she dropped a big stone hint about sending Lydia home. Between that and her regular “Wouldn’t it be nice to just talk together, you and I?” hints, it’s clear that she’s trying to make a romantic play for the Dragonborn. And meh, her tactics just don’t play well for me as a player.

I say this as a person with a lifelong history of being a romantic sucker, too. And I am not unsympathetic to Vilja’s opinion that the whole Amulet of Mara thing is weird. But I’m also a fan of a slow burn, and Vilja’s tactics just strike me as heavyhanded.

I feel like Lydia would have put in, “You’re sweet, but my place is with my thane. I’m fine. Let’s keep going.”

And Lucien would be all, “What am I, chopped skeever liver?” He elbows Lydia, and stage-whispers, “Is this why she keeps asking about buying an Amulet of Mara?”

(Clearly, Vilja is not set up to be cognizant of any other follower mods you might have active. Reasonable, just because making follower mods aware of each other means extra work, not only for your follower mod, but also the creator of any other mod you’re interested in interacting with. But it still is kind of funny, because it means Vilja was completely ignoring the dude following us around.)

Harrow, pointedly: “We all keep going.”

Heh. Now, at least, I have the farm. I’ll need to think about which NPC I do want to put there as a steward.

Robber’s Gorge

Continuing the trend of Team Dragonborn being a credible match for anything in the game, we pretty much wiped out the place. Only real problem was the bandit chief who killed me once–with, I think, a staff of fireballs that I saw Lucien using later.

And this was the point at which I got the same reminder about horses that I did in Kendis’s playthrough: that if you lose track of your horse, a good strategy to try is to cast Detect Life. This time through it didn’t actually work for me, though, and I was legit uncertain as to where the hell Tormod ran off to. I should probably have ditched a bunch of the bandit loot I was laden with, but didn’t. Attribute this to my magpie tendencies as a Skyrim player! And also, Harrow probably being cranky and determined to carry her burdens. 😉

Dragon Bridge and environs

Cutting Room Floor made its presence felt again near Dragon Bridge, as I spotted a new/restored location just south-ish of there: Frost River Farm. Which has a smith. Extremely useful to know!


I’ve been harshing on Vilja a lot but will say something positive about her re: when we showed up to Solitude: she had dismayed commentary about Roggvir’s execution, and asserted her belief that the poor guy didn’t deserve to die. I feel like this was in keeping with her established sweet nature, but also interesting in a political sense.

Because here’s a question that occurs to me: Solstheim was ceded to Morrowind after Red Mountain erupted in the beginning of the Fourth Era. The player is told upon arrival in Raven Rock for Dragonborn, in fact, that Solstheim is Morrowind, not Skyrim. But what does this mean for the Nords who live on Solstheim? Do they consider themselves to live under Skyrim’s rule still, or Morrowind’s? Or do they consider themselves under no rule at all?

I feel like the Solstheim Nords could very legit consider themselves independently ruled. They might consider Raven Rock Morrowind territory to be sure, but the Dunmer have not seemed too interested in moving northward on the island, at least no Dunmer who aren’t reavers. So as a Skaal or at least Skaal-adjacent Nord from Solstheim, it seems legit to me that Vilja would have no particular horse in the race that is Skyrim’s civil war. So her being aghast about Roggvir being executed seems like a good bit of character reaction for her. Because what you see when you enter Solitude for the first time is a bunch of pissed off townsfolk and a man being executed, but at peace with what he did, and willing to announce his principles to the world even as he’s about to get his head chopped off.

As for Harrow’s opinion on the matter, I think she was naturally inclined to be super sympathetic to Roggvir, getting executed for acting on his principles–given how close she came to being executed for acting on hers. I also think she kept that opinion very firmly to herself.

Aside from Vilja, the main other point of interest in Solitude was seeing what Dawn of Skyrim did to it. Soiltude does not have quite the same extensive changes to it that Whiterun got, from what little I saw so far. But it did have one huge change I really appreciated:

Beirand’s forge has a smelter.

THANK YOU, DAWN OF SKYRIM! Because y’all may recall I have bitched repeatedly about the forges at Solitude and Riften not having smelters!

Kilkreath and getting Dawnbreaker

I don’t usually take the “It sounds like I don’t have much of a choice” option when presented with Meridia’s demand to cleanse her temple. But in Harrow’s case, I made an exception. I feel like she wasn’t terribly thrilled with the Daedric Prince demanding her action.

And, of course, Meridia doesn’t give you the opportunity to back out. Because as far as she’s concerned, you will get into her temple and clean it out. Which, y’know, perfectly in character for Meridia. So Team Dragonborn went in to run the place.

(And I was slightly disappointed that neither Vilja nor Lucien had anything interesting to say about my being yoinked into the air?)

Cutting Room Floor showed up again partway through Kilkreath, because when I got to the part outside on the balcony, we ran into an unfamiliar NPC: Herebane Sorenshield. He was hostile and immediately attacked us, a poor decision on his part. So I took all his stuff, which notably included a sword that does fire damage, and an elven shield with a frost resistance enchantment on it. There was nothing else particularly interesting about the character, though, so I’m kind of not surprised that he was cut from the original release of the game.

At any rate, the good news is, Vilja and Lucien did not get in my way in Kilkreath nearly as bad as the times I’ve run it with Barbas.

The bad news is, Vilja survived the fight with Malkoran! LOL. I was sure he’d take her out. But no, Lucien and Lydia and Vilja got in there and pretty much took him out for me. I stayed the fuck out of the way, not wanting to get caught in a frost blast, but did periodically throw the flame atronach in there to help.

Malkoran did kill me a couple of times, because let’s face it, Harrow is kind of squishy, and I’m not doing her any favors by my current affection for the Hedge Mage Armor. (Which still needs reinforcing.)

He did not, however, appear to do any serious damage to anybody else in the party. I did hear Vilja cry out “No, no” once, so I think she might have come close to dying? But as I saw later, she appears to be capable of healing herself in combat. So ultimately, Team Dragonborn prevailed with no casualties.

And now I have Dawnbreaker–just the one Dawnbreaker, because this is a modded playthrough and I do have the USSEP, so the duplicate Dawnbreaker bug is fixed! But as I’ll note below, I am not actively using it, because wielding Dawnbreaker in a vampire/necromancer playthrough feels extremely weird. Nobody tell Meridia. ;D

Fort Snowhawk and Laid to Rest quest

Ran Fort Snowhawk with the thought that maybe one of the powerful mages in there might take out Vilja? No dice, though! Team Dragonborn encountered no real opposition in that fort.

Getting to Morthal and getting the Laid to Rest plot underway triggered my next real sign of potential buggy behavior resulting from mods, though.

Because when I got to the part of the quest where I’m supposed to talk to Helgi’s ghost, a frigging dragon showed up, right in the middle of my conversation with her, and started strafing the town with fire. This was not the interesting part of this; I’ve had dragons interrupting conversations before.

The interesting part was how, after I finished the conversation with Helgi and joined the defense against the dragon, the dragon crashed over to the side of the town, right near where I needed to be to find Helgi’s coffin and kill Laelette. And when I ran over there to finish off the dragon and get its soul and its loot, this triggered Lydia, Lucien, and Vilja all getting into a fight with Laelette.

Who, furthermore, was invisible and apparently invulnerable, because she hadn’t spawned properly yet, because I hadn’t gotten to the part of the plot where she actually shows up.

This was interesting enough that I let it go for a couple of hours game time, just because I wanted to see what would happen. This is how I found out Lucien and Vilja both can heal themselves in combat, because I saw both of them doing it. And I also saw Vilja cry out “No, no” a couple of times, which seems to be her line when her Health bar gets low enough.

But this invisible Laelette got near me a couple of times and actually hit me. And I couldn’t see her, so I couldn’t do anything to her. I eventually decided I’d clearly have to roll back, so I did so, punting back to the last autosave.

So I had to re-do the conversation with Helgi. But this time, the dragon showed up first. It crashed in the same spot as before, and when I ran over to do the the soul and the loot, I noticed something else: Helgi’s ghost had come over to join the crowd of town gawkers. Lololololol.

Now that difference was kind of funny. I really like the idea of a little girl’s ghost going “OMG dragon!” and running over to see what had happened. So I wound up having my conversation with her right there by the dragon bones, rather than in the remains of her burned down house.

There appear to be two things here that could have been impacted by mods:

  1. Where the dragon crashed when it was shot down
  2. Helgi’s ghost moving out of the house and coming over to gawk

Every other playthrough I’ve done to this point, if I fought a dragon in Morthal, it wound up crashing either south of the town, along the trail that leads up to the town from the road, or north of the town, just past the bridge that leads to the mill. Why it wound up landing to the west instead is not clear to me, nor is which mod might have done this.

It was suggested to me on my Mastodon feed that this might be a combo of Immersive Citizens, the USSEP, and Cutting Room Floor kicking in, though. I didn’t see this behavior in Shenner’s run, where I had the USSEP going–so this argues in favor of Cutting Room Floor.

But I think Helgi’s ghost running over to gawk should count as a feature, not a bug. That was awesome. ;D

From that point, I was able to proceed through the plot as per usual.

First item of note here: while staying in the inn after taking out Hroggir but before reporting in to the Jarl, Lucien got hugely enthusiastic about taking out his third dragon. And about how his family is really not known for being adventurers, and how he was excited to be one of the few. I got a dialogue prompt about how to respond to that–and told him not to get cocky, he wasn’t a hero yet. Which seemed appropriately IC for Harrow, but also deflated the poor guy a bit! I did feel a little sorry for him, with Harrow shooting him down like that. I feel like he was starting to get on her fraying nerves, though. Well, at least, him in tandem with Lydia and Vilja.

Second item of note: both Vilja and Lucien had good lines about this situation. Vilja had some rare snark about where exactly the Jarl was going to find able-bodied warriors in Morthal–and heh, well, she wasn’t wrong. That’s one of the few times I actively liked Vilja, and if that Vilja showed up more often, I’d like her more.

I also liked Lucien’s line about not believing in vampires when he was a kid, and how ignorance had been bliss. That was a nice little bit of characterization, seeing the reality of one of the most fearsome parts of Skyrim sinking in with him.

Which leads to the last thing of note here, which is the much more major thing.

While we were running Movarth’s lair, I did indeed get hit with Sanguinare Vampiris off one of his followers.

And this time, I let it stand. Because I was looking for an opportunity for an infection anyway, and I’d told myself that if Vilja survived getting the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, I’d dismiss her. So this let me carry out two goals at once, and work dismissing all of my followers into Harrow’s overall narrative.

It didn’t take long for Team Dragonborn to start commenting about my looking ill, either, as I reported back to the Jarl to get paid for my efforts and get her invitation to become her thane.

Lydia’s line was “You’re bloated with disease.” Gee, thanks, Lyds! I just feel a little shitty, okay? ;P

Vilja was rather more delicate about it, and just commented that I looked pale.

I think Harrow testily told them both she was fine, and that they needed to go to Ustengrav to get the Horn.

Ustengrav, and Harrow bailing on her followers

Running Ustengrav to try to get the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller is, I’m thinking, where the disease started sinking its teeth into Harrow.

I envision her willingly diving through the waterfall by the Word Wall just because of the water being cold, and strangely refreshing on her flushed skin.

Getting out of Ustengrav, when I stopped to get the stuff out of the chest, was the part where I decided to go ahead and dismiss everybody. The game doesn’t really give me a way to drive them off in a non-peaceful fashion, or dismiss them without actually interacting with them, so I had to actually actively dismiss all three of them. Even though I’m pretty sure that isn’t what Harrow would have done, so I have collision here between “likely headcanon” and “what the game mechanics actually let you do.”

Vilja tried again to get me to send Lydia home, and I shot that down. I think that was really starting to get on Harrow’s nerves, too–exacerbated at this point by Harrow beginning to fear that the vampires had infected her. And an exploding fear in her that if the others found out, they’d turn against her, never mind that she’s the Dragonborn and a thane. Because she’s still traumatized by the experiences that led her to Helgen. She’s got grounds to assume that people will turn against her.

And, in opposition to that, a small crumb of not wanting to endanger these people (who, to be fair, had been nice to her up to this point) if she was about to turn.

So game-mechanics-wise, I had to dismiss all three followers one at a time.

Vilja said she’d wait “at home” but I don’t know which home she thinks that is. I know from the session after this one that she wasn’t at Hendraheim or at Breezehome. I’ll have to check Goldenglow too just to see if she’s there.

Lucien sounded disappointed, but promised to meet me in Falkreath if I wanted to travel with him some more.

Lydia said she’d be at my house, and I knew she would go to Breezehome.

But headcanon-wise, what I think happened here is that the group traveled back to the inn in Morthal. And as everybody settled in for the night, she left them to sleep–and told the innkeeper on her way out to tell them when they got up that she’d left and that they were not to follow her.

“Tell them I went to look for the Horn. And that I need to do it alone.”

Which is not even entirely a lie, I think. Because she’ll go look for the Horn eventually. Just not yet.

Heading to Riften

I also think Harrow’s actual intention was going to be, finding a shrine to pray at. But in a place where people didn’t actually know her, and where Lydia or Lucien or Vilja wouldn’t think to look for her.

The problem with this plan: aiming for Riften gave her affliction time to progress. And she got a little fever-addled, enough that she started distrusting what potions she had on her, and whether they could actually make her feel better. (l’m not seeing on the wiki whether Sanguinare Vampiris actually causes fever, but I feel like that’s a reasonable guess if we’re talking blood infection here.) Because I did have a few potions of Cure Disease in my inventory, and I needed a reason for why Harrow just didn’t up and take one. So I gotta run here with “she wasn’t entirely in her right mind.” Hence, feverish, enough to be hallucinatory. She actually forgot some of her potions were Cure Disease.

I rode almost non-stop for Riften, barely stopping even with wolves, a sabre cat, and a bear trying to come after me. It helped a lot that Tormod is an unkillable horse. I was able to outrun most things that came after me, and since Tormod’s marked Essential, not even the sabre cat could actually bring him down.

I was very pleased to find more Cutting Room Floor content: the little town of Heljarchen, right where the Nightgate Inn is in the vanilla game. I stopped to peek at it only briefly, but learned later on the mod’s page on Nexus that there is a smith there, as well as an alchemist! Awesome.

Only out of necessity did I stop in Shor’s Stone. Because there’s a smelter there, and I didn’t know if there was going to be one in Riften. And I wanted to melt down some of the loot items. So I did that, as well as selling things to Filnjar the smith. This didn’t get me back down totally under carry weight though.

Joining the Guild

Finally made it to Riften, and passed the Persuade check to get through the gate. I’m imagining Harrow in a bit of a fugue state at this point, out of fucks to give, and calling the guard on his bullshit in a very icy voice. Enough to unnerve the guy a little and go ahead and let her in.

Noticed pretty immediately that Riften had a lot of little changes all over the place. A lot more visible gear related to fishing, which makes sense given that the place is a fishing town. I also noticed a lot more rats running around, especially in the Ratway. Which seemed like a simple, not entirely pleasing, and yet entirely appropriate detail to add. Riften is a bit of a hellhole. It makes sense it would have a rat problem. Especially in the Ratway.

Brynjolf recruiting her, I think, fed right into her desperate state. She may have been a bit too ill at this point to really think past “this is an opportunity for cash and maybe a chance to gain a safe place to hide in this town”. So she took him up on his offer.

Before I ran my part in Brynjolf’s little scheme, though, I stopped at Balimund’s forge. And saw that yes indeed he has a smelter. YAY!

Failing the Pickpocket attempt on Brand-Shei even felt appropriate. Harrow was ill, so it made good sense that she wouldn’t be quite as able to pull off a pickpocket attempt as Brynjolf would have liked.

And this was where my Thieves Guild mod started having an impact: I didn’t have to intimidate the shopkeepers, which pleases me as a player, and which also counts later for favors in Riften when I get to the point of trying to get the thaneship. I call this Harrow still having enough of a better nature to fight against her desperation, and blowing the last of her available gold to keep the shopkeepers out of trouble and maybe have some allies in the city.

(This intention of mine would have worked better if Brynjolf had actually taken the gold on me to pay for the debts. He didn’t, which seemed like a bug on the part of the mod. But for narrative purposes, I will take the liberty of assuming he did.)

I took the time to talk to the Face Sculptor. Of note here: I was infected with Sanguinare Vampiris, but not yet a vamp, so the face sculptor would still talk to me. Harrow’s intent here: making it easier for her to hide.

I also took the time to get five rounds of Pickpocket training with Vipir the Fleet. Call this a matter of Harrow’s pride being stung by failing the Pickpocket attempt, and being willing to learn to get better if it means she has a dark place to hide out of the sun.

Note that this punted me up to level 18. I actually forgot to track in my notes where I leveled to 15, 16, and 17. But I’m pretty sure at least a couple of those points were when I hit the smelters available to me, the ones now parked in Solitude and Riften, as well as the one at Shor’s Stone.


Didn’t explore Windhelm in depth once I finally got there, but I did see the Candlehearth Inn definitely looks different.

And as always, I saw the initial “local bigots hassling the Dunmer citizen” encounter. Snerk, I think those assholes may volunteer to be my new Windhelm takeout.

I figure by this point Harrow was dragging hard in the sunlight–so she took an afternoon nap, and woke up after sunset. At which point I got the message “Your blood boils and your vampiric powers awaken.”



Next time

I’ve played the session after this one already, in which I experimented with Harrow’s new vampire abilities, and went to Markarth to carry out the jobs there. More on that in my next post!


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.