Kendis Playthrough,  Skyrim

In Which Kendis Becomes Arch-Mage and Returns Some Instruments

Double session post, with the main action being acquiring the Staff of Magnus, using it to save the College of Winterhold, and returning the lost instruments to the Bards College.

And oh yeah: these are the sessions that saw me decide to bail on Survival Mode.

Play by play

  • Play dates: 1/28, 1/30/2023
  • Session numbers in this run: 25-26

Friday the 28th

  • Picked up at Honeyside in Riften
  • Did small amount of inventory management on the way out
  • Got my horse and rode around the city’s perimeter to get to the road that leads to Ivarstead
  • Had fight with cultists on the way; also passed Imperials with prisoner
  • Reached Ivarstead and gave the bearskins to Temba; got Iron War axe of Weariness from her
  • Hung around long enough for the window of time that’d let me step into the farmhouse and get Wylandriah’s spoon
  • Then mounted up again and headed out
  • Heh, promptly attacked by another bear on the road
  • Realized only after I went around Helgen that i was going the wrong damn direction, towards Whiterun when i wanted to be going to Lakeview
  • So when I reached Riverwood, went the other way and headed to Lakeview instead
  • Built the storage wing of Lakeview and some of its furnishings; also built some stuff in the cellar, including its smelter; built till I ran out of iron, then put all the building materials away
  • Made some more camping supplies
  • Then finally got my carriage driver to take me to Winterhold
  • Arrived Drained and Famished, so popped into the inn to warm up and eat
  • Then ran up to the college and took a long nap in my apprentice quarters
  • Only then did I report to the Hall of the Elements for the next phase of the plot
  • Attempted to help Savos and Mirabelle get in through Ancano’s ward on the door–only to have the game crash on me, argh >_<
  • So did take two of that, and cue the confrontation with Ancano! And BOOM and OHNOEZ the Arch-Mage is dead
  • Ran down to Winterhold to fight the anomalies
  • Rapidly progressed to the state of being “Numb”, because Winterhold’s weather is brutal in Survival Mode, and I got frostbite >_<
  • Had to duck into the inn to try to warm up so I wouldn’t freeze to death–which meant I also missed out on killing the last few anomalies, the NPCs had to do it for me, and that’s no goddamn fun
  • Came out again when I’d warmed up
  • Discovered that Meeko had not survived the fight, damn; RIP Meeko! You were a noble hound!
  • Headed back up to the college to report in to Mirabelle, and told her I was off to Labyrinthian to get the staff; she gave me the torc and the amulet
  • Headed back down to Winterhold to get my horse
  • Had to fight a couple more anomalies on the bridge on the way down, so got to “Numb” status again 😛
  • Once again had to duck into the inn to warm up some–and while in there, finally also found the book that pointed me at the AE quest for the Dwemer style home I didn’t do during Shenner’s run
  • Went back out to mount up and bolted for Whistling Mine
  • Passed a snow bear and a hostile Redguard, but did not bother to stop to engage because Winterhold’s weather is fucking brutal and I didn’t want to be frostbitten again 😛
  • Stopped at the mine to warm up by the smelter
  • Had to backtrack a bit because Lightning ran back a little ways, but then mounted up again and proceeded
  • Went past two different sets of wolves and again, did not stop to engage; bolted through the long rocky canyon that leads towards Windhelm
  • Stopped to drop another campsite to warm up not far from the city
  • Then rode Lightning through the water over to where the Windhelm farms are
  • Reached the stables and hired the carriage driver to take me to Morthal
  • Got a room at the inn, and kicked off action in Morthal by asking Jonna the innkeeper about the story with the burned house
  • Got directive to talk to the Jarl (but will deal with that later)
  • Slept to rest up, then went back out to mount up
  • Got a couple of deathbell and the nirnroot for Ingun’s ingredients quest
  • Mounted up and headed over to Labyrinthian
  • Fought a frostbite spider on the way, and the skeleton at the tomb near Myrwatch
  • Reached Labyrinthian and got to “Freezing” status as I got up the steps
  • Frost troll followed us up and attacked me while the ghosts were doing their initial conversation, so that was a trifle weird
  • Took out the troll
  • Verified that I could see where Lightning got to, at least from the steps
  • Then got inside because again, freezing
  • Started running the place
  • Got a Paralysis Rune spell rather than Telekinesis, damn
  • Hit most of the usual areas but skipped the part with the troll cave
  • Killed a few times towards the end, first by the Draugr Deathlord just prior to Morokei, and a couple more times by the spellcaster traps
  • But finally made it through and got the word for the Slow Time shout
  • Took out the enthralled wizards, then took out Morokei–and pleased to actually take him down in melee for once
  • Hit the chests on the way out, which got me overloaded
  • Lydia took out Estormo for me
  • Got out again, and decided at that point that fuck it I was done with Survival Mode
  • But there was an active hostile frost troll nearby, so I had to jump down and kill that troll; then I was able to fast travel out
  • Boinged back to Winterhold and then ran up to the college; made with the Staff of Magnus
  • Then proceeded to have a harder time than usual with Ancano o.O
  • But finally took him out, and cue the Psijics making off with the Eye and proclaiming me Arch-Mage
  • Got the robes and the key to the quarters from Tolfdir
  • Parked up in the quarters and saved until next time

Monday the 30th

  • Picked up in Arch-Mage’s quarters at the college
  • Went around to all five trainers and got training in their various magic schools
  • Sold a bunch of enchanted items to them to pay for that and also for additional spells
  • Got four Restoration spells off of Colette and Ironflesh and Telekinesis off of Tolfdir
  • Decided to head out from there to Hob’s Fall Cave and get the last instrument for the Bards College
  • This took three tries
  • First and second time: killed by frost troll 😛
  • Third time: ran into three frost trolls at the same goddamn time, what the hell, game?
  • Finally killed those three trolls, with some effort, and proceeded to Hob’s Fall Cave
  • Threw Clairvoyance a lot just to try to lay down the best route to get over there on foot from the mage college
  • Reached the cave and started running the place
  • Killed once by the necromancers in the middle part of the lair, but I’d quicksaved so not thrown back too far from that
  • Got all the spellbooks in the chest in that part of the lair
  • Made it through to the big mage fight at the end, which required a bunch of Lydia + atronach calling
  • Got the flute and other loot out of the boss chest
  • Got out and fast traveled to Solitude
  • Tracked down the various bard professors and turned in the instruments, and got the skill bumps
  • Leveled up to 33 doing this and partway through 33 as well (forgot to record earlier level up to 32, oops); took Advanced Armors perk
  • Popped into Angeline’s Aromatics to see if she had deathbell or nirnroot; answer: yes!
  • Saved there until next time

Bailing on Survival Mode

Let me get this commentary out of the way first: I’ve already covered in this post why I decided to bail on Survival Mode in this playthrough, so I won’t go into that again in depth.

But I will add to what I already said that there are definitely parts of Survival Mode that I like. I like having to think about food and rest. And sometimes I like enforced lack of fast travel. At least, if I’m traveling through the less icy parts of the game!

And I know that if I do not have the game actively forcing me to think about how much I’m carrying, I will chronically become overloaded. So even if it kind of irritates me to have carry weight nerfed, I also feel like having that constraint helps me plan better as a player.

Without Survival Mode turned on, though, I’m pretty damn sure that I will revert to standard playthrough habits. Particularly when it comes to food, which has never struck me as anything but entirely optional in a regular playthrough.

I may at least try to take more time traversing the land, though. Because I do find that if I take the time to journey somewhere, more cool things can happen! So we’ll see if I can at least keep to that for this playthrough. No promises, though! I reserve the right to fast travel if I’m in a hurry and just want to finish up a session before I go to bed. 😀

Sleep, too, is a thing I sorta kinda pay attention to even in a regular playthrough. So I’ll try to keep myself in the habit of that. I like the idea of resting up before setting out on a long journey, and keeling over when I get back from one as well.

I have camping supplies I don’t have to care about now, though. I think I’ll try to at least look for opportunities to use them, rather than just outright selling them. Again for the sake of trying to maintain the spirit of the parts of Survival Mode that I like.


This was arguably the last gasp of Kendis getting in a journey before I finally bailed on Survival Mode, and I am glad I did it! Because it let me take Temba back her bearskins, and it also gave me a chance to find one of Wylandriah’s objects.

I take the liberty of assuming headcanon that I did actually ask for permission to pop in there and get the thing, even though the game didn’t give me an opportunity to do so! Because yeah just trying to lockpick my way into a house just to get a spoon would have just been rude.

But since I had no dialogue option for “So hey, the court wizard in Riften thinks she may have left a spoon in your house, is it okay if I go in there and look for it”, I figure waiting until the house was unlocked and I could go in was close enough.

(I also envision the family going “Wait, the Riften wizard sent you all the way here for a spoon?”)

And it just goes to figure that I got attacked by yet another bear right after leaving Ivarstead. Well, Temba did tell me to kill more bears for her when I got a chance!

Confronting Ancano Round 1, and the fight with the anomalies

Possible note of caution for Future Me: when I tried to help Savos and Mirabelle get through Ancano’s ward on the door in the Hall of the Elements, my first try at this was using the Elemental Bolt spell.

The game crashed at that point, but I don’t know if it was specifically due to my spell choice there. It didn’t happen the second time through when I chose Lightning Bolt instead. But that’s a thing I may try to repro in a future playthrough, out of curiosity. Makes me wonder whether any of the other “Elemental” spells would cause a similar problem.

Let me also take the time to pour one out for poor Meeko here. Because he did not survive the fight with the anomalies, a thing I was not in a position to prevent given that the weather damn near killed me. And while this wasn’t the main reason I found this whole part of the session not fun, it was certainly a contributing factor.

But this will at least allow me to take on a new pet follower later, maybe.

Noteworthy thing about reporting back to Mirabelle after fighting the anomalies: she was actually on her feet inside the Hall of the Elements. I’m used to seeing her sitting and slumped on the floor at this point of the plot. Not sure if this was a bugfix or not; if it was, it would have come in with the AE. But it was an interesting difference in her behavior.

As noted above, I had to go back down to Winterhold, through the same brutal weather, to get my horse. Rapidly returned to “Numb” status, and had to duck into the inn yet again to warm up.

While I was in there this time, though, I took the opportunity to hunt around for the book that was supposed to give me the pointer to finding the Dwemer-style home I didn’t look for in Shenner’s run, Nchuanthumz. I did find that book, so that quest is on! More on this later.

Heading to Labyrinthian

This kind of ties into what I was saying above about liking enforced overland journeying if I’m not in brutally cold territory. Because riding from Winterhold to Windhelm was basically just an exercise in riding quickly, and not stopping to engage with any hostiles.

Which, I think, kind of defeats the point of traveling overland. If the whole idea is to enjoy more of the journey, that’s hard to do if the land and the weather are making you have to basically go “oh shit oh shit it’s fucking cold where can I stop to make a camp OH SHIT SNOW BEAR can’t stop now will fucking freeeze to death!”

And yeah. Not really a mindset I want to put myself into. I much prefer “ha ha, a random snow bear! You dare to attack me and my horse, snow bear? You’re about to regret your life choices.”

Once I reached Windhelm, anyway, I took the carriage from there to Morthal. And took the opportunity to queue up the Laid to Rest quest for later. Now that Survival Mode is out, I can return to Morthal and deal with this quest without having to worry about its weather, either.

Labyrinthian itself

This was a super-fast run through there, even more of a surgical strike on the place than Harrow’s run. Specifically because I was trying to minimize how much loot I picked up due to Survival Mode’s carry weight constraints. I even very specifically skipped the side branch of the place with the extra trolls.

Getting out of Labyrinthian was specifically the point at which I decided to bail on Survival Mode, though. Because the whole idea of having to ride all the way back to Winterhold and risk frostbite and/or freezing to death again on my way up to save the College just made me tired.

And, turning it off, unsurprisingly, got me back a boatload of carry weight. The nerf was lifted, and I got an additional bump because I’d activated the Steed Stone before. Survival Mode nerfs the Steed Stone’s bonus, and turning it off undid that nerf, too. So I wound up with an additional 200 or so carry weight.

Saving the College

With Survival Mode off, I was able to boing straight back to Winterhold and run up to the college from there. At which point I had a surprisingly difficult time taking down Ancano.

He and/or the anomalies he summoned in the Hall of the Elements took me out multiple times. I don’t know what was up with this, whether I just had my timing off or what. I tried to do what I’ve done before, charging in there to smack the Eye of Magnus with the staff, and therefore make Ancano vulnerable again to attack.

But the NPCs with me weren’t able to take him out. So I had like three or four iterations of the battle where he overpowered the NPCs with me, and that gave him time to call up additional magic anomalies. I was left running out of magicka as I had to keep healing myself, and burning through soul gems to recharge the Staff of Magnus.

Somewhere in there I think I pissed off Tolfir by accidentally hitting him with my Soul Trap sword. Oops. Sorry about that, Tolfdir! (But at least I got killed shortly after that, so didn’t have to worry about Tolfdir kicking me out of the college for assault!)

Finally, I got to a point where I was able to deactivate the eye fast enough and run to Ancano and hit him with the Skyforge Steel axe, still my biggest damage weapon. That let me finally take him out and resolve the battle.

So now Kendis is Arch-Mage! Not bad for the Redguard girl who just wanted to come to Skyrim and learn how to do magic. I think she’s surpassed that goal nicely.

Heading to and running Hob’s Fall Cave

In the second of these two sessions, I decided to head over from the college and get to Hob’s Fall Cave, so I could get the last of the three instruments for the Bards College.

This took three tries, because apparently the game was bound and fucking determined to throw frost trolls at me en route. Which kept killing me.

And the third time through, it did three of them.

“Gonna bail on Survival Mode, are you? Fuck you, here, have an entire family of frost trolls!”

Taking care of this required frantic running in circles around the frost trolls, and a bunch of flinging a flame atronach at them to set them on fire. Which did finally work! Once they’d taken enough fire damage I was able to jump in and take them out one by one.

Lydia came very close to dying though, I gotta stock that girl up with some healing potions! And also bump up her armor! I can do better for her now than the Orcish Plate she has on.

Also, I went over to Hob’s Fall Cave on foot. Because Lightning had disappeared, and I’d tried to fast travel to Winterhold to get him to catch up with me so that I could ride him over. That didn’t work out. It was on the first two attempts to deal with the trolls, and on the third, I just went fuck it and went over to the cave on foot.

(After the demise of Survival Mode in this playthrough, I was clearly on some residual backlog of fuck it.)

I cast Clairvoyance a lot, both to get in the Illusion practice and also to see if I could find the best possible way from the college to the cave. Interestingly, it actually took me down to the outer area at Saarthal, which I was about to take issue with until I saw what it had in mind: a shortcut I hadn’t seen before.

There was a path accessible with a gentle jump up from the corner of the stairs, and that let me get over very easily to the cave. So that was a new cool thing!

Once I actually made it to Hob’s Fall Cave, ran it in fairly short order. This was another lair I skipped part of on purpose–because Kendis is not a Thieves Guild run, so I didn’t want to bother to go down into the part of this lair that has the Stone of Barenziah. I just wanted to get in and get out as fast as I could. (See above commentary re: residual background levels of fuck it.)

So I was able to get the spellbooks stashed in there, and get the flute and other boss loot. And return to Solitude to turn all the instruments in at the Bards College!

Next time

I’m in Solitude, and I’m also now level 33, so I’m kinda feeling feisty and wanting to head over to try to clear Fort Hraggstad again. And I really ought to go follow up with Delphine about the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller with this run, too, since I was reminded of doing that in Harrow’s!

I really do need that last word of Unrelenting Force. 😀


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.