In Which Harrowhark Investigates the Ruins of Winterhold
This is a double session post, though two sessions that were more or less the same extended RP session. Both of these sessions focused on getting through the Fall of Winterhold quest, which is put into the game by the Immersive College of Winterhold mod.
Play by play
- Play dates: 1/23-1/24/2023
- Session numbers in this run: 24-25
Monday the 23rd
- Pcked up from Lakeview and did a little inventory management
- Boinged to Whiterun to sell some stuff
- Boinged off to the college to check in there
- Dd some classes in the Hall of the Elements
- Leveled up twice, from 31 to 33; took Health and Stamina bumps; took perks in Restoration and Alteration
- Went down into the Midden and triggered the Fall of Winterhold quest
- Found the area with the smelter, forge, armor workbench, and grindstone
- Found access down into the ruins
- But got sidetracked because I couldn’t find how to get to the area I was supposed to reach for the quest, and it was super dark down there and hard to navigate through all the clutter
- Rolled back to an earlier save
- Searching for more info about the quest suggests that I missed a key in the room with the smelter
- Paused there for the night
Tuesday the 24th
- Played Harrow twice in a row because I wanted to follow up on the Fall of Winterhold thing
- Re-ran getting down into the Midden
- This time, found a key next to a draugr that let me open a locked door but that didn’t seem to actually do anything useful? It only let to a short corridor that ended in a barred gate that had no obvious lever or handle to open
- Re-ran getting into the room with the spellbooks and entrance exam paper and then down through the water to the ruins
- Still dark AF down there though and couldn’t figure out how to get to the part where I needed to be
- Finally resorted to checking a walkthrough video I found on YouTube; saw that I was going in the wrong direction and that I needed to be looking for additional guidance from a helpful ghost
- Made my way in further up onto what appeared to be a castle-like structure and the sense I was getting was, giant underground cavern?
- Not at all sure where exactly that cavern was supposed to be in relation to current Winterhold, or to the college
- Side note: throughout all this exploration, noted that the background music/ambient noise seemed to be what I usually hear in the Forgotten Vale
- Found a pair of child skeletons with toys, a couple of dolls and a toy dragon in a toybox, that was sad! Possibly the ghost was one of those two children?
- Found a Temple of the Gods and a journal that indicated the priest in that temple was apparently spiking the air in the place with skooma in an attempt to get worshippers fired up again for attending the temple
- That apparently happened in parallel with the catastrophe striking the city, some discussion in the journal of the catastrophe striking, but they didn’t appear to be cause and effect necessarily? Just a snapshot of what was going on at the time
- Finally made it into the Hall of the Dead, and cue draugr! Lots of draugr!
- Including a Draugr Giant, draugr type apparently unique to this mod
- Found and fought a named draugr: Nofur Spear-Ear
- This fight was a good hard extended fight, kept hearing a voice that resurrected draugr in the room and used dragon bones to create hostiles a couple of times
- From there, tried to head back out the way I came, because casting clairvoyance seemed to want me to–but this was the wrong approach, the water tunnel I’d used to get down there did not have a way to get back out again
- Lost track of Inigo, Lucien kept having comments about that
- So once again I checked a walkthrough video, and discovered there was a door out of Nofur Spear-Ear’s chamber that I’d missed
- Did a rollback back to Nofur Spear-Ear’s chamber, which also let me have Inigo again
- This time went from there out the door I’d missed, which let me multiple urns, a couple of regular chests, and a boss chest
- This finally dumped me out in Skytemple Ruins
- Which also tied into Anniversary Edition content I hadn’t hit during Shenner’s run, the Arms of Chaos stuff–so I got the artifacts there and Hyenril’s journal, will follow up on that later
- Proceeded to fight a couple more draugr and skeletons
- And finally, the dragon priest Beinaarkh and the dragon Kahvozein, resurrected by Beinaarkh
- That was a long hard fight, killed multiple times
- Got through it by taking cover inside the ruins and mostly flinging my flame atronach out, and then periodically sniping with the Bow of Shadows or my scout bow
- Inigo drove the close up fighting and Lucien provided flames support until we finally took out the dragon
- Discovered at that point that yes, the dragon priest had gone down fairly early in the fight, found his remains too; got excellent loot off of both
- Once the big combat was over, retrieved loot I’d stashed in the last boss chest
- Tromped down to the shore and summoned Hjalte via the Horse Call power
- Mounted up and fast traveled back to the college–which, LOL, was kind of problematic because two horses do not fit well on the bridge; I spawned abover the bridge, but fortunately didn’t go plummeting to my death 😀
- Rode up okay into the courtyard and slept for a bit in Arch-Mage’s quarters
- Reported to the Hall of the Elements for classes
- Got enough training to get bumps in Destruction, Conjuration, Alteration, Illusion
- Could not get bumps off of Colette for Restoration for some reason, couldn’t figure out why
- Bought Ironflesh spell from Tolfdir and a couple more Illusion spells from Drevis, though I’m not far enough along to get Invisibility yet
- Leveled up to 34; took Magicka bump and
Orcish Smithing perk(correction: that was Kendis; legit don’t remember what perk I took here? And Orcish Smithing doesn’t exist in Harrow’s skill tree anyway)
- Took the chance to train Lucien in Conjuration; gotta get that boy capable of summoning atronachs, and get him more spells as well
- Boinged off to Windstad to drop off assorted building mats; still no Valdimar!
- Boinged to Whiterun to sell things and buy more materials
- Boinged to Lakeview to pick up more materials
- Started building armory wing at Lakeview until I ran out of logs
- Fetched additional materials from cellar and boinged back to Windstad
- Built smelter
- Used debug console + horse call trick to retrieve Valdimar from whatever hole he fell into
- Told him to stand down so he can just patrol at Windstad
- Saved there for the night
The Fall of Winterhold quest: a bit of a mess
This pair of sessions was basically all about running the Fall of Winterhold quest, a feature of the Immersive College of Winterhold mod. You can run this quest once you become Arch-Mage! And all you have to do to kick it off is enter the Midden. So I wanted to give this a shot, and see what it offered by way of history of the Great Collapse.
Short answer: less than I’d like.
Longer answer: I found this quest and its content a bit of a mess. I liked several of the ideas it had, but found the implementation kind of rough.
One: the area it gives you to explore was chock full of a lot of interesting detritus, signs of the Winterhold that once was… when I could see it. The place was super dark, comparable to the darkest bits of Darkfall Passage when you’re running Dawnguard. Which meant that even if I had a torch lit or a Candlelight spell, I had a hard time navigating.
Following the quest marker didn’t help, and neither did casting the Clairvoyance spell. I got lost enough doing these things that I finally had to resort to looking at a walkthrough video. Doing this clued me in that I needed to be following a ghost pretty much the whole way. I’d seen that ghost initially, but hadn’t realized I needed to keep following it.
Two: There were several disparate plot threads hinted at in the things I found, and I’m not sure how they were all supposed to fit together, or if they were supposed to:
- I think, but am not sure, that the ghost I supposed was supposed to be one of the two dead children I found in a room with a couple of small skeletons and toys
- I found a Temple of the Gods and a priest’s journal providing a bit of a snapshot about what was going on with the temple when the catastrophe struck
- I found a named draugr called Nofur Spear-Ear but no journal or anything useful about his backstory
- I found a canopic jar that the quest expected me to actually pick up and take, and which may or may not have been the trigger to release the dragon priest Beinaarkh
- Beinaarkh apparently was able to raise the dead dragon Kahvozein, the same dragon whose fang you are tasked with getting by Tolfdir if you run the Alteration Master quest
Three: There were several different unusual antagonists to fight, to the point that it felt like a little much in the end. Not just a named draugr, or a Draugr Giant, or a dragon priest, or a resurrected dragon alone. This mod gave you all of them. If there had been a unifying plot for all of it I think I would have liked it better. As it happens, it felt more like “here are some spooky ruins to explore, and here’s a cool enemy for you to fight! And another cool enemy! And another cool enemy!”
Which was just not as satisfying as I would have liked. I would have liked to know more about the kids, and if the ghost I saw was one of them. And if so, why the ghost wanted to lead me down into the ruins. Did it want me to specifically do something? When I found that room with the child skeletons, I didn’t get any objective or anything to pick up a keepsake, or move their remains to somewhere to be properly buried, or anything of that nature.
And how the Temple of the Gods came into it, and why a dragon priest was involved, and how Kahvozein tied into it, and why any of this had to do with the actual fall of Winterhold. Because none of it actually seemed to. It seemed more like stuff that happened to be connected with those ruins that may have been going on when the city fell.
But if you’re going to give me a quest called The Fall of Winterhold, I want it to actually be about the fall of Winterhold. Not other stuff that happened parallel to it. Give me some connection between that other stuff and the fall of the city!
Four: I had a hard time visualizing exactly where the ruins were supposed to be, in relation to current-day Winterhold and the college. Since you come out in Skytemple Ruins, the implication here seems to be that the ruins you explore are between the college and Skytemple? But it’s hard for me to picture it, given that there’s no sign of the disruption if you traverse that distance outside. Is the idea here supposed to be that the ruined area you explore is submerged and underground, and that it’s been long enough since the Collapse that ice and wind have erased any sign of ruin above ground?
Smithing area in the Midden
Now let me talk about the parts I did like, because yeah, I did like several of the ideas it had.
I like that the mod adds a smithing area to the college, though I’m not sure hiding it down in the Midden makes the best sense. It’s pretty clear from dialogue you get with Mirabelle that it’s generally considered a good idea to stay out of the Midden. So who’s actually going to go down there and smith anything?
Do any of the college staff actually know how to smith anything? Or would they want to? None of them use armor or any weapons bigger than a dagger. The mod does also add a guard who’s armed and armored, but he may have brought in his own gear.
Dara points out quite correctly though that if the mages are going to be smithing anything, it’d probably be jewelry. Because we do know from Sergius’ dialogue in the college that “Enchanting services are one of the few things that keep us in touch with the rest of Skyrim.” So I could see them wanting access to a forge if they needed to make an enchanted necklace for a client, and they weren’t provided one, I guess.
Still, I’m not convinced an underground smelter is the smartest idea anyway, on general principles of “the air down there has got to be horrible”. At the very least, there ought to be some sort of air vent to let the fumes off anything you smelt clear out! (Of course, there’s only so much room I have to bitch about that given that the Hearthfire houses also have you put smelters in cellars!)
I think I might have been more satisfied if this was a thing you could rebuild as Arch-Mage, and ideally, rebuild it down in Winterhold, so that the townsfolk could actually make use of the smithing facilities. Arguably they need them a helluva lot more than the mages do.
But, well, I’ve been on record for a while as wishing I could rebuild Winterhold!
Oh, so that’s what an entrance exam to the College of Winterhold might look like
The thing that actually pleased me the most was one simple note that I found–with questions for an entrance exam to the College of Winterhold.
I took the liberty of transcribing those questions, because I liked the content well enough that I wanted a textual transcription in case anybody had issues reading my screenshots. I’ve provided the transcription at College of Winterhold Entrance Examinations 4E 122, a new wiki page I’ve put up on this site.
And what really caught my eye about this: finding this hard on the heels of Lucien bitching about how ridiculously easy the current test to get into the college is. All you have to do to get into the college now is just cast one spell for Faralda.
But this? This plants the idea that the college actually did used to have a more stringent exam, as of when the Great Collapse occurred. And it makes a great deal of sense to me that they might have dialed down their entrance exam in resignation.
It’s well established in vanilla Skyrim that what’s left of the population in Winterhold mistrusts the college, and to this day thinks them responsible for the Collapse. I could certainly see this attitude spreading out into the rest of Skyrim, and having a hard impact on the number of applicants the college has had since. I could also see that it could even put off potential applicants from elsewhere in Tamriel, too, if people had to make a judgment call about whether it’d be worth it to travel all the way to one of the bleakest, coldest corners of Skyrim, while going through territory ruled by people who actively mistrust magic.
And if the college’s entrance numbers took it in the teeth, hell, I could easily see the Arch-Mages since the Collapse going “fuck it, if somebody went to the trouble to come all the way here, let’s just take them as long as they have even a grain of magic in them, okay?”
So this old exam? I really like it. 😀 It fits in very well with the established lore, and enhances what the game established.
Remnants of a children’s bedroom
The two small child skeletons and toys I found, I think, were the best little detail I found in the ruins. For values of best meaning “tugging hardest at the heartstrings”–because those two little skeletons and their toys made me go oh shit that’s sad.
This was a point at which I think my having the Hearthfire Dolls Are Ugly mod made an impact, too. Because the two dolls were quite nice, and I think they did look like what that mod puts in. The toy dragon, I think, must have been new to this mod? (And I was tempted to take it. But I didn’t. Because that struck me as just mean.)
Like I said above, though, I wish I’d have been clearer on whether that ghost was one of these kids, and if so, if the ghost wanted me to do something. Like, say, adopt one of its toys? Or take a keepsake and make sure it was placed somewhere in a proper grave? Or go say a prayer for them above ground, or something? Anything?
Elder Vindar was clearly an asshole
Elder Vindar’s journal, found in the Temple of the Gods, is the best source of information this quest gives you about what you find in your exploration of the ruins. Too bad that the clearest thing it has to relay is that Elder Vindar was clearly an asshole.
This guy was a hypocrite through and through. He bloviated about how potions aren’t nearly the equal of the power of prayer when it comes to healing, while at the same time quaffing Cure Poison potions to protect himself from the effects of burning skooma in his thurible.
In a setting where praying at shrines can in fact get your diseases cured, I will allow that Vindar had at least some grounds to stand on when he goes off in his journal about the “power of prayer” healing people. Still, I also think he’s an asshole, if he’s more concerned with what means his congregation uses to get healed, rather than getting them healed.
And if Brain Rot and Rockjoint were rampaging through the city streets, I feel like rallying the mages–who, after all, have healing spells in addition to potions–would take at least a bit of pressure off the Temple, and give them a few less bodies they have to worry about flooding the Temple as people try to reach the Shrine of Mara for prayer.
He was not above burning skooma in the thurible (I had to look up what a thurible is, because I didn’t know that word) in the temple either, just to spike the air and get his worshippers more “moved” by his sermons. Had the city not been destroyed in the disaster, exactly what did he think was going to happen when he ran out of skooma to burn? Was he going to turn to illicit dealing in skooma himself? Or was he not even thinking that far ahead? Because I sure get the vibe off of his journal that he hadn’t considered how to keep his congregation interested once he stopped drugging them with a dangerous addictive substance.
At least the second time he mentions burning skooma in the thurible, it’s after the disaster happens, and this time it’s three full bottles of skooma vs. half a bottle. This is sadder, and arguably a bit more justified as he’s clearly doing it to try to give his people in the temple a merciful end rather than face having to starve to death in the dark.
The last line of his journal seems like it’s a hint that he’s referencing the dragon priest. “Let it be known that Elder Vindar worshipped no pride!” First of all, the dude is clearly prideful, so on that grounds alone he’s full of shit. But secondly, there’s a line about worshipping pride at the end of the Ancient Edict you find during this quest as well.
But the quest doesn’t give you enough information to go on here. Circumstantial evidence suggests simply that “worship no pride” might have been a local cultural thing, maybe started by the whole sealing away of Beinaarkh long ago? And that Vindar was making a callback to that? But that’s only a guess on my part.
One last side note here: I found it slightly distracting that the temple was specifically “The Temple of the Gods”, not “The Temple of the Divines”. NPCs all over Skyrim use the word “god”, sure. But “Divine” does seem to be the preferred canonical term to use, so it was weird to me to not see “Divine” used as a word at all in that journal.
Which makes me wonder if you can explain this by “Divine” being the term broadly preferred across the Empire, while “god” is preferred specifically by Nords?
One other thing I will grudgingly note as interesting in this journal: Vindar actually considers adding Daedra to the pantheon worshipped in the Temple, in the name of trying to attract more of the Dunmer refugees in the area. He decides against it because he doesn’t want to piss off the local Nords. But it is interesting to see that he at least considered the thought and didn’t categorically dismiss it. It makes him slightly less of an asshole than, say, a bunch of the people in Windhelm.
An organ in the Temple of the Gods?
One of the details in the Temple of the Gods that I found appeared to be an actual organ–another thing that struck me as weird.
However, apparently this is not entirely non-canonical? According to this page about instruments on the UESP wiki, an organ does appear in Daggerfall!
And I looked up pipe organs on Wikipedia as well, where I learned to my surprise that they were invented in real life way earlier than I thought. So it seems believable that Tamriel could have them, certainly by the Fourth Era. I’m a little surprised though that if organs are a thing in the lore, that the Temple of the Divines in Solitude does not have one. Because if any place in Skyrim should, it’s that.
When I found the room with the College of Winterhold Entrance Examinations document, I also found three spellbooks. Two of which were spells I already had, but the third one was Waterbreathing. Which was clearly there to aid the quest, because you had to go through a watery tunnel to get to the core part to explore. Which, I think, may have been the first time I’ve ever actually used the Waterbreathing spell in Skyrim? Because usually by the time I have to go underwater, I’ve got Volsung, or I have a piece of jewelry or armor with a waterbreathing enchantment on it.
Kind of neat to use the spell here, actually. It felt very much like Morrowind, since I’ve had to cast Waterbreathing a couple of times now to make it through watery tunnels that are just long enough for me to traverse before the spell runs out.
I found two different spells on this quest that seemed like they were direct ports from other sources: Conjure Daedroth and Conjure Scamp. It’ll be interesting to see whether Conjure Daedroth gets me more firepower than Conjure Dremora Lord.
Conjure Daedroth shows up in Morrowind, and according to the wiki, Conjure Scamp shows up in Beyond Skyrim. I do have Beyond Skyrim: Bruma installed, so I’m not sure whether I got Conjure Scamp because of that, or whether Immersive College of Winterhold provides it independently.
I waffled a bit about whether these new spells struck me as a good thing or a bad thing. Part of me wants to feel like they added to the sense of the Fall of Winterhold quest trying to do too much at once–not only giving you a huge ruined area to explore, not only giving you multiple unusual antagonists, but also giving you a couple of extra spells from other games in the franchise.
As I write this, though, it occurs to me that this could be one of those things that ties in well not only with the lore of the Collapse, but also with the lore of Red Mountain erupting and Dunmer settling in Winterhold. If those spells are lore that came over with the Dunmer and have since been forgotten, maybe they were explicitly lost when most of Winterhold fell into the sea.
So yeah, I’ll take this as a bit of forgotten lore to reward you for your explorations.
What is the story on that Draugr Giant?
I didn’t actually kill the thing myself–Inigo did. But I got a pretty good look at it, and yeah, that sure was a draugr, and it sure was big!
No info in the quest, though, about whether that draugr had once been an actual giant. Which raises all sorts of questions about what happened there. Did Beinaarkh manage to gain a giant follower in his dragon cult?
The fight with Nofur Spear-Ear
Let me get this out of the way first: I kept having mental double-takes every time I read this character’s name. Back in the days when I was playing Rillwhisper, Wolfrider chieftess of a tribe called the Willowholt on Two Moons MUSH, Rillwhisper had a son named No-fur. So this was a bit of cognitive dissonance for me, and made me LOL.
As I noted above, I wasn’t sure what this guy’s backstory was. Unlike the part of the exploration with the Temple of the Gods, I didn’t find any obvious journal lying around with info about him. All I did find was an Ancient Edict and a Writ of Sealing, which established that Nofur was involved in sealing away the dragon priest Beinaarkh. But one must assume that that was way earlier than the fall of Winterhold.
(Note: both the Ancient Edict and the Writ of Sealing were super hard to read, since they were rendered in a very small font. The difficulty of reading these two items is, in fact, what made me transcribe them for the small wiki page section of my site, because I surely can’t be the only person who had trouble reading them.)
Aside from his backstory, he put up a good hard fight–or at least, he was part of what turned into a good hard fight. While fighting in his chamber, I heard multiple utterings by a deep voice that was probably the dragon priest, and this caused multiple draugr in the room to resurrect and keep fighting me, Lucien, and Inigo. Even some of the loose dragon bones in the room wound up unifying into bone critters to fight us.
This quest led me out to Skytemple Ruins. I have visited this location exactly once before, way back in Merawen’s playthrough. Which means also that in this playthrough, I got to pick up some AE content I hadn’t done during Shenner’s run!
Namely, finding a dead mage, a journal, a couple of ornate staves, and an amulet. All of this is content for the Arms of Chaos plot! But I’ll swing around to deal more with that later.
The main action was of course Beinaarkh and Kahvozein. I’m not a hundred percent on board with the idea of a dragon priest resurrecting a dragon, though. I feel like it steals a little bit of Alduin’s thunder, since resurrecting long-dead dragons is the World-Eater’s thing. If any old dragon priest could do it, I’d have thought it would have been done by other dragon priests before now.
And if there’s any idea here that Beinaarkh could resurrect Kahvozein explicitly because Alduin is now active, or because Beinaarkh and Kahvozein had some sort of specific backstory that allowed for this, I certainly didn’t see it. I would have liked any kind of explanation at all.
That said: it was still a good hard fight, taking on the both of them.
Kahvozein kept flinging the same Drain Vitality shout I see thrown by higher level dragons, which I was not prepared to deal with at the mid-30’s for Harrow’s level. And he also kept summoning wrathmen, which felt like repurposing abilities I’m used to seeing wielded by Durnehviir. I’m not sure I’m on board with that, either. Not the idea of Kahvozein being able to summon minions per se–just the idea of his summoning wrathmen specifically. Just because that’s a Soul Cairn thing, and Durnehviir does it presumably because he’s bound to the Soul Cairn and is able to summon minions from it in battle.
If Kahvozein also does it, again, that kind of steals some thunder. I think I’d have been happier just seeing him summon regular skeletal minions of some kind. Or if there’d been a bit more story that actually tied Kahvozein to the Soul Cairn, or maybe even to Durnehviir.
All in all
In general I absolutely love the Immersive College of Winterhold mod, and this quest in particular has some good stuff going for it, even though I found it a bit of a mess. So it’s worth running, if your playthrough includes this mod.
In general though I’d recommend holding off on running the quest until you’re high enough level that you can withstand a Drain Vitality Shout. Or if you’re in a situation like Harrowhark, where you’re running multiple well-armed followers. Even so, Beinaarkh and Kahvozein were a challenge for my posse of three, with Harrow at level 33. So plan accordingly, if you want to tackle this quest.
The walkthrough videos I consulted were here and here.
Making Valdimar stand down
As a final note, since Valdimar never did show up and since I did get Windstad Manor, I decided I’d better have him officially stand down. Part of this is the buggy behavior of his just running off, which I still have no explanation for. It’s not clear to me whether this is caused by my giving him a horse via Convenient Horses, or if something else is going on that Convenient Horses just happened to give me a way to mitigate.
Either way, I feel like having three followers is too many. Lucien and Inigo are enough.
And since I wanted to have Valdimar stand down, I recovered my dragonscale armor from him. That stuff’s too important to leave parked on a housecarl that won’t actually be wearing it on active duty!
I did note with interest that Valdimar’s horse followed him as he wandered off for patrol. And that’s fine, anyway! If he’s going to handle guarding Windstad for me, it’s a good idea for him to have his own horse there.
I’ll have to think about whether I want to try to see if another housecarl replicates this problem. Maybe not in this specific playthrough, though. Because that’d require picking up a third follower again, and as I said, three is too many. We’ll see!
Damn good question! Now that I’ve done all the major new interesting stuff with Immersive College of Winterhold, I feel like I’m in a good position to go do something else now. But I have a lot of choices to pick from.
Lucien did drop me a dialogue line about going to follow up on the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. Probably high time I did that, so that I can kick that plot further along! Raiding the Thalmor Embassy is probably something I should take care of before I get up into the 40’s level-wise!