In Which Harrowhark Visits the Forgotten City
All of my Skyrim posts are spoiler-laden by definition. But this one has a particularly high volume of spoilers, because in the two sessions covered here, I talk about running the plot for the Forgotten City mod. If you haven’t ever played this mod and think you might want to, and if having spoilers in advance would wreck your ability to enjoy the mod, I strongly recommend you bookmark this post and come back to it later.
If you want a short spoiler-free review, check this post instead. (And if you’re reading this post directly on Dreamwidth instead of on the main Anna Plays Skyrim site, here’s the direct Dreamwidth version of the spoiler-free post.)
And now, let’s talk about the Forgotten City! With a side helping of getting the swords Bloodthirst and Red Eagle’s Bane, killing a dragon at Fort Greymoor, and seeing a herd of wild horses. <3
This post is very long, because I have a lot to say about the mod. Brace for verbosity!
Play by play
- Play dates: 2/2, 2/4/2023
- Session numbers in this run: 28-29
Thursday the 2nd
- Picked up at Lakeview; boinged to Western Watchtower from there
- Frost dragon attacked Fort Greymoor while we were riding past, so stopped to deal with the dragon
- The bandits in the fort, ungrateful bastards, attacked us even though we took care of the dragon for them, so had to kill a few bandits too
- Proceeded onward from there towards Broken Fang Cave
- Killed in there once by the master vampire, but solved that problem second time through by throwing the daedroth in ahead of me
- Got Bloodthirst and other loot, which overloaded me right good
- Boinged to Whiterun to sell things at Warmaiden’s and also to Belethor
- Bought what iron and corundum I could get my hands on
- Went up to Dragonsreach and destroyed a couple of items on Farengar’s enchanter
- Boinged back to Lakeview
- Built more things, in the cellar and the armory, then put materials and Bloodthirst sword away
- Went back out and fast traveled to Sundered Towers to get within range of Rebel’s Cairn
- Fought a few wolves and then got into the cave
- Threw the daedroth at the problem and quickly took out Red Eagle and got his sword
- Came out again and spotted what looked like two wild horses going by (!!!)
- Checked it out and found an entire herd of horses nearby, at least six of them <3 <3 <3
- Did not bother those lovely beasts, just kept riding until I found the nearest road
- Wound up in what looked like an unfamiliar area until bandits attacked—four of them—and I realized I was at the crossroads near Rorikstead; took out those bandits
- Loaded up a bunch of stuff in Hjalte’s saddlebags
- Returned to the road heading west
- Saw Ri’saad’s caravan going by with their Orc guard
- Got ahead of them on the road though and then ran into cultists; stopped to take those guys out
- Veered off the road to Markarth to try to find a good path over to the Forgotten City
- Mined an iron ore vein
- Spotted the same small Forsworn camp I’ve seen in previous playthroughs, but did not get close enough to engage
- Found nirnroot by a bridge
- Found the two boys Sond and Bottar and got Sond to mark the location of Deep Folk Crossing on my map
- Heard bear growling
- Crossed the bridge… and the game crashed >_<
- Threw me all the way back to coming out of Rebel’s Cairn so everything after that point in the session was lost
- And it was late, so I went fuck it and saved for the night
Saturday the 4th
- Picked up where I’d left off just outside Rebel’s Cairn
- Rode from there over to the location for the Forgotten City quest
- Passed that Forsworn camp again, and again did not engage
- Re-found the nirnroot by the bridge
- And this time marked Dushnikh Yal for the map, and talked to NPC Nagrub who warned me off; got the quest to get the Forgemaster’s Fingers from him
- Kept an eye out for the locale for the Spell Knight armor but didn’t see it, will come back to that later
- Reached the Forgotten City access point, which required me to go in via a waterfall
- Did a little initial exploration with Lucien and Inigo, then found Cassia
- Got her initial story about her and her brother Altrius, who were Imperial deserters, ha
- Cassia asked me to go into the ruins and find her brother, since he’d gone in a while ago and had explicitly told her to stay put where she was, but she was worried about him
- I agreed to do this and went in further to find Altrius
- This required me to jump down a shaft, and this was the first bumpy bit of my experience; Lucien didn’t come with me, but Inigo did (more on this below, mod is not entirely smooth if you have custom follower mods running)
- Wound up down in dark, spooky Dwemer-style passages; found several bedrooms with personal items of various types, clothes and journals and letters; also found a bunch of burned corpses
- IMPORTANT: also found a bunch of immobile Dwarven centurions in various alcoves
- Kept hearing a deep spooky voice delivering deep spooky warnings about death being the “better choice”, about hiding a key, and staying the fuck out of the lakehouse
- Made my way up levels until I finally found a ghost that attacked me; I took him out, and found the key he was talking about hidden in a chest behind a door
- The floor collapsed out from under me, and I took a hard fall that damn near killed me
- Healed up from that and eventually found my way to a tree where a body fell down off a branch; found an old man’s body and a suicide note
- Which set up that a) the ghost had been Cassia’s brother; b) he’d been desperately trying to help the locals and failing over and over and over ad infinitum, and c) finally killed himself in despair and urged the reader to do the same
- Found my way to the lakehouse that the ghost warned about
- The door to the lakehouse had a glowing purple aura on it but I was able to enter
- Found a skeleton on the floor and a worrisome note, signed by Jarl Metellus, about an unspeakable atrocity; it urged the reader of the note to go back in time to correct the thing that caused the atrocity
- So went back out through the glowing door–and the scene reset
- Suddenly I was in a brightly lit version of the same creepy area I’d just come through
- Greeted by Gulvar sitting at the dock, who offered to take me to go see the Jarl
- (This took a while, I was overloaded at this point after gathering several items out of the dark rooms I’d just searched)
- We went into the Citadel—the area I’d searched on the way in
- Saw more of those Dwarven centurions on the way
- Ran into another NPC called Hjormund who confronted Gulvar about escorting me rather than being out working on the crops; Gulvar grumpily left me with Hjormund
- Hjormund escorted me the rest of the way to the Jarl and clued me in about being on “best behavior” if I wanted to make a good impression
- Went in to speak to Jarl Metellus–who startled the hell out of me by really sounding like Patrick Stewart (I doublechecked, it wasn’t him, see below)
- Showed the Jarl his own note from the lakehouse; he believed my story of his having sent me back from the future
- He recruited me to find out who was about to break the Dwarves’ Law which caused the destruction of the city; he authorized me to talk to the city residents and search their homes
- Headed back out to begin talking to city residents
- Spoke to the guard Sato near the entrance to the Jarl’s little suite, who turned out to be completely deaf so I couldn’t have a coherent conversation with him
- Learned from Gaia that she was an assistant to the scholar Brol, the local Dwemer expert
- Learned from Dwemora that she was apparently Metellus’s “adopted” daughter, and restricted to staying in the citadel, and bored as fuck; she tried to convince me to get some skooma, which she hoped to pass on to Asanshi, an addict
- I refused, even when she tried to threaten me with telling Metellus that I’d been spying on her in the bath
- Learned from Safira that she was apparently under the power of Domitus, after her past living in the warrens in Markarth
- Learned that Jeshol was responsible for keeping the citadel clean and had little to tell me other than a) she’s old and b) she’s a devout mara worshipper and tends to bore people to tears with that
- Went outside to look for the merchants Gulvar had mentioned in the way in–only to be approached by a frantic Miranda
- She told me looters were coming in through the shaft down into the city, and begged me to do something about them before they hurt anybody and broke the Dwarves’ Law
- Looters made it out into the public area and Inigo and I started fighting them–but yeeeeeeeek that triggered disaster
- Everything went dark, and a booming voice went THE MANY WILL PAY FOR THE SINS OF THE ONE
- All the various immobile centurions I’d spotted on the way in came to life and started wreaking havoc
- Got a directive to follow the Jarl back to his lakehouse; made it in, saw the Jarl keel over and die, and had to take his letter again
- Came back out for round two of what was now set up as a time loop
- Made my way back up to talk to the Jarl again; got cranky commentary out of him when I admitted to being the one who’d caused the last round of disaster, but he still recruited me to try to find out who else was going to cause problems
- Went out to talk to people again
- This time, when Miranda approached me about the looters, discovered I could duck right inside the nearby door and intercept the looters before they came out into the open
- That was where I could fight them without repercussions, because apparently that entire corridor was not yet under the Dwarves’ Law jurisdiction?
- One of the incoming looters was a Dark Brotherhood assassin with a note about someone named Quintus that he was tasked to find and take out; got directive to find out who “Quintus” was
- Went back out again and assured Miranda the looter problem had been taken care of; she gratefully promised to tell everyone what I’d done
- Asked her what her story was and she said she and her husband Habiq, a Redguard, had fled Solitude; they’d lost their son but she couldn’t bear to tell me the deets, and suggested I talk to her husband
- Learned from Habiq that their son had been shot down by an abusive Imperial, and that High King Torygg had in fact kicked him and Miranda out of the city
- Met Vitus, an Imperial, who was salty at me about not committing to either side of the civil war, but I did get him to at least tell me what he knew as an engineer about the technology in this city, including the pipes and the “Sun Below the Ground”; it was also Vitus, I think, who told me he thought the place was haunted because he kept hearing a woman sobbing at night
- Talked to Vernon the grocer and discovered that a) he’s gay, and b) he’d been closeted in Windhelm’s guard force, wound up fleeing
- Also learned he was getting threatening notes from someone calling him an abomination; agreed to help him find out who was threatening him
- Learned from Habiq also that he’d lost a ring that had gotten down into the tunnels that apparently had access points from everybody’s quarters
- Found the quarters of the dying Brandas, a Vigilant of Stendarr who’d gone down into the tunnels and gotten ill from it; he urged me to take his Immaculate Dwarven Boots and take care of the evil down in the tunnels
- Found my quarters and confirmed that yes, I had an access point into the tunnels but it was locked
- Talked to the scholar Brol who was clearly all “you are completely batshit crazy” when I told him I’d come from the future, but he was also willing to humor me when I questioned him about time travel
- Got the idea of how to make a paradox to return to my own time
- Told him about the boots I’d gotten from Brandas, and got him to tell me a bit more about that and about the Dwarves’ Law
- Found that Rykas, a big brawny Nord, had Immaculate Dwarven Armor and flat out refused to give it up; he also kept wandering around the area with a drawn axe, so I suspected him of being the one hassling Vernon, which I confirmed by searching his house
- Confronted Rykas about this and threatened to cast a spell on him to make him Vernon’s “pleasure thrall”, which freaked him out and got him to agree to back off; he also protested very loudly that he wasn’t “like that”, which, admittedly, smelled a lot like he was living in denial
- Learned from Ulrin that his wife Maisi had disappeared
- Learned from Rastasia that she had a lot of gossip about everybody
- Learned from Asanshi that yes, she had a skooma problem that she’d picked up originally in Markarth, and this had cost her her marriage; she was struggling with withdrawal cravings but kind of grateful that her current circumstances were letting her live clean
- Spent some time looking for the rest of the armor pieces; had to search for hints for this on the net
- Got into the underground tunnels where I was able to get the helmet
- Had to jump my way up to the door to the abandoned palace to find the gauntlets; this also required me to do some jumping inside the place, onto coffins, then a chandelier, then onto more coffins, then finally onto a pipe to get over a locked gate; that let me finally get to the burned corpse that had the gauntlets
- Inigo followed me in past that point, too; I assume that he did the same jumping I did but clearly his AI just moved him to catch up with me again
- Took a long time for me to find a way back out of the Abandoned Palace
- Had to kill a lot of “burned horrors” so apparently there were some survivors of a sort from the last time the Dwarves’ Law had been enforced? YIKES
- Went through a lot of locked master gates which was kind of tedious
- Finally found my way out again on a much higher ledge; had to do Become Ethereal to get safely down from there; Inigo just teleported to catch up
- One more visit into the tavern; spoke with Deglund the merchant, who let me have an Elixir of Acrobatics for 1,000 gold; LOL, that might have been useful in the Abandoned Palace? ;P
- Talked to Gulvar who told me his backstory about losing his entire family and farm to bandits, and that he was carrying a big grudge against the Jarl
- So at this point I had multiple potential suspects to take back to the Jarl, and I also knew that I really needed that armor off of Rykas and he was not going to give it up
- Tried to sneak into his house while he was asleep, and confirmed I didn’t have the Pickpocket perk necessary to steal equipped items; my presence in there woke him up and I wound up getting a bounty for trespassing, so rolled back from that
- Various forum posts I found outright said I was going to have to kill him, but I was bothered by just picking a fight with him, so decided to go report back to the jarl and tell him Rykas was my top suspect
- That got the Jarl to give me a key into the underground tunnels; he claimed that the tunnels were not watched and that the Dwarves Law would not be enforced down there
- So I got a directive to lure Rykas down into the tunnels; took him through the locked door in my own quarters, and tried to pick a fight with him down there
- He killed me once; second time through, took him down with Inigo and the daedroth, and got the armor off of him
- As he died he called me a murderer, and BOOM there went the THE SINS OF THE ONE alert
- Ran out to find the centurions waking up, who also killed me; thrown back to coming out again
- This time i made it back to the lakehouse, and began the third iteration of the loop–but also noticed that this time Quintus/Marius came in with me, and attacked and killed the Jarl in the lakehouse :O
- This time I had all four armor pieces because I was retaining all items picked up on previous iterations
- Told Gulvar this time that I was a time traveller, LOL; he did not know what to do with that
- Went up one more time to talk to the Jarl, but this time from there just went straight down into the underground tunnels
- Ssuited up with the full suit of Immaculate Dwarven Armor, started getting alerts about “strange energy” but took no damage because i had on the armor (and this made having Inigo with me weird a little immersion-breaking)
- Tromped down through the tunnels and went around several loops; mined a few gold veins, and killed several magic anomalies, like the ones from the College of Winterhold plotline
- Finally made it down to an entity called the Arbiter–who was responsible for creating and enforcing the Dwarves’ Law, and who had apparently been the original founder of the city?
- Very morally crunchy conversation that led me to talk the Arbiter into standing down from enforcing the Dwarves’ Law, because it was resulting in nothing but wave after wave of his killing a bunch of innocent people just because of occasional crimes, and I had high enough Speech to pass the relevant Persuasion checks
- He wound up destroying himself and returning me to my own proper time
- Woke up to find Cassia’s brother—at his proper young age—leaning over me, and a statue of me in the dwarven armor, erected as I’d now become a savior of the city
- Altrius did not fail to notice i was wearing dwarven armor a lot like that statue, too, LOL
- He led me back up to the surface and his sister
- On the way out saw that Gulvar had become Jarl; he told me they’d executed Metellus, he had in fact apparently been responsible for the disappearance of Maisi
- Saw Miranda and Habiq’s kid Maliq running around (not sure if Maliq had been there before?)
- Saw Hjormund and Domitus working the gold veins, and Domitus bitched about me wrecking his previously high standing, too bad so sad sucks to be you, asshole
- Lucien caught up with me because now the city was open to the surface, but Inigo had not caught up with me after the Arbiter threw me back to my own time
- Still heavily overloaded so it was slow going but made it eventually back to Cassia; resolved the plot and got her gratitude, and a necklace called the Talisman of the Silver Tongue, which will bump my Speechcraft and let me sell stolen stuff to merchants, how VERY INTERESTING 😉
- Took my leave finally and got back outside into main Skyrim
- Found Hjalte, mounted up, and fast traveled back to Lakeview
- Confirmed Inigo and Rusher and Lucien all came properly with me
- Saved at that point until next time
Getting Bloodthirst out of Broken Fang Cave
I’ve hit this locale before, and hit it before specifically to get the Bloodthirst sword. But this time through, the noteworthy thing is hitting it as a vampire.
Because this is a couple times now that Harrow’s hit a vampire lair and seen other vampires living amongst blood and gore. And I feel like having followers that are loyally sticking with her even though they know she’s a vampire is making her lean in the direction of being repulsed by how other vampires live. And making her not want to live like that.
Which means, I feel like this is nudging her away from the idea of living as a vamp the rest of her life. And I’m starting to think that in particular, this may make her reject Harkon’s offer of making her a vampire lord.
And this ties in as well with what I experienced playing the Forgotten City mod. More on this below. I have some thinking to do about how to play out this character’s path moving forward!
Wild Horses sighting! <3
I knew that the Anniversary Edition added a total of seven wild horses to the game; Harrow and Kendis have both acquired examples of these. And Harrow in particular found two of them.
However, I did not know that I’d have the ability to find an entire herd of wild horses wandering around in Harrow’s run! I found a herd of at least six of them, while coming out of Rebel’s Cairn.
I’m almost certain this is courtesy of Realistic Animals and Predators? Regardless of what mod caused this lovely thing to happen, though, I’m delighted it did.
Arriving at the locale for the Forgotten City and meeting Cassia
I liked the initial setup of the mod, where I finally found Cassia and got to talk to her about what she needed me for, what her story was, and why she’d reached out to me in particular.
She and her brother Altrius were apparently deserters from the Imperial army, and in particular, they were conscripts. The idea of the Imperials conscripting troops is not, I think, one that vanilla Skyrim gets into. But it totally makes sense that they’d do that, rather than just unilaterally relying on volunteers.
She also told me that she’d sent me a letter explicitly because she’d heard chatter about me in Markarth. I liked that as an idea, but in practice, I feel like that concept was a little shaky. The reason for this: I got the original courier letter way back at level 5.
And as I think I observed at the time, it made little sense to me that word about me would have had time to spread across Skyrim enough that Cassia could have heard about me. Shit, at level 5, I’d barely had time to go to Bleak Falls Barrow and get that Dragonstone. I hadn’t even had time to kill the dragon at the Western Watchtower yet! So how the hell would word of me have spread as far as Markarth, where Cassia said she heard about me?
And apparently at least one other player thinks the same way, because I did see a mod on Nexus that adjusts the starting level for that courier note to show up to be 25. So making a note of that here, if you also think this mod starting at level 5 seems a little dicey, you might consider installing the patch along with it.
Forgotten City is a little wonky with custom followers
Next thing I noted at the start of play, and which continued to be noteworthy as I played the whole adventure, is that Forgotten City is a little wonky if you’re running custom follower mods.
In theory, from what you see on the mod’s page on Nexus, Forgotten City is meant to be run solo. There’s a part where you have to jump down a shaft to get into the main area for the quest, and the expectation is clearly that your follower can’t come with you.
However, if you’re not actually running vanilla Skyrim followers, you may well get unpredictable results. Once I jumped down that shaft, I discovered that Lucien had not come with me. But Inigo had. I’m pretty sure this is because Inigo’s AI allows him to just teleport to catch up with me, if I happen to get ahead of him.
And if I were still running Vilja, I’m fairly sure she’d had come with me as well. I recall from reading her mod page that she’s got a similar sort of mechanism built in, where she just catches up with you periodically if you get too far ahead of her.
Here’s the problem with your follower automatically teleporting to catch up with you: this plotline makes a huge point of wanting you to acquire pieces of a set of Immaculate Dwarven Armor, to protect yourself against “strange energy” (i.e., radiation) in a section of tunnels you have to explore if you want to try to aim for the best ending to the story. And if you’ve got a follower tagging along behind you, and that follower is not impacted by the radiation in the slightest, this kind of breaks the immersion of that plot detail.
So be advised. If you want to run Forgotten City in a modded playthrough that includes custom followers, you might want to explicitly dismiss any and all followers first. (Or at least tell them to hang out at a campsite nearby, if you’re running Campfire. That’d work too.)
The part where I explored the initial ruined Citadel, and fought Altrius’ ghost
I really liked the part of this adventure that sets up the whole situation once you jump down through that shaft. You must explore a bunch of levels of Dwemer-style passages, with multiple burned corpses, as well as personal effects in various bedrooms.
You see multiple Dwarven centurions in various alcoves, too. This is a critical detail; keep that in mind for later down the post.
And you keep hearing a spooky, ghostly voice warning that “death was the better option”, that the speaker had hidden a key, and that under no circumstances should I go anywhere near the lakehouse.
The overall idea here being, something horrible happened in this place that burned a lot of people to death, and that the ghost must have tried to stop it.
You do eventually actually find and fight the ghost–as well as the dead body of who the ghost must have been. Who, you discover, is an old man who’d committed suicide and left a nearby suicide note that clues you in that yes, this was Cassia’s brother.
Clearly, Altrius fell into a time loop trying to prevent catastrophe from striking this place, and he did it long enough to become actually old, until he finally took his life in despair. Yet, as you play out the adventure, you eventually learn that your own time is only about seven years before the time frame of the plot. There are NPCs to talk to who are very clearly aware of High King Torygg, and the conflict between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks. So the time jump is not all that large, really.
So you have to assume here that Altrius aged because subjective time for him in the loop was a lot longer.
(Mind you, I feel like any genre-savvy player of Skyrim is probably also going to be familiar with time loop plot tropes. There are a lot of them in SF/F after all; Tor.com calls out several examples in a recent post. And while I would not be surprised by most players of Skyrim being aware of these tropes, I’m not going to arbitrarily assume all players of Skyrim would be! So I don’t know how this aspect of the plot would play for a player less familiar with the various examples of these tropes in SF/F.)
I liked as well that Cloaks of Skyrim dropped in an indicator of its presence, here. Altrius, who was wearing heavy Imperial armor as opposed to the light armor his sister had on, had a cloak with the Imperial dragon sigil on it. That looked pretty nifty, actually!
(I’d say I want one for Kendis, but, well, she can’t run that mod. Sigh.)
Finding the lakehouse, going back in time, and meeting the Jarl
Of course, as you are the player character here, avoiding the lakehouse is not really an option. 😉
The letter you find left by Jarl Metellus, like other major letters in this plot, is actually narrated. Part of me likes this, but part of me doesn’t; it seems to cause a bug where the item in question gets duplicated in your inventory. I saw this happen with Cassia’s original courier letter, with Altrius’ suicide note, and also with the Jarl’s letter.
At this point in the proceedings, though, I was actively startled by the Jarl’s voice because he sounded a hell of a lot like Patrick Stewart. Enough that I did an active double-take and had to look up the mod credits.
It wasn’t Stewart; the actor voicing the Jarl is apparently a guy named James McLauchlan. But damned if that guy didn’t do a hell of a Patrick Stewart impersonation. 😀
Getting up to talk to the actual Jarl (as opposed to listening to his voice narrating the letter) happened once I left the lakehouse, and therefore entered the time loop. I met a couple of the notable NPCs, who escorted me up to talk to Metellus, and establish my arrival with him.
This also let me see what the city looked like prior to the disaster. There was a thriving little settlement, well lit by artificial lightning that the NPCs called “the Sun Below the Ground”. I learned that there were twenty-four people in the city–or twenty-three, if you discounted the character Brandas, who was dying. Gulvar introduced me to the outer, lower parts of the city, and hailed a few other NPCs as we passed them. He then had to hand me off to Hjormund, who gave him shit about not working, and who then took me the rest of the way up to see Metellus.
On the way up to the Jarl, I once again spotted those centurions in various places, both out in the public areas of the city and in the same alcove and nooks inside the Citadel.
Since I actually showed up with a letter in Metellus’ own handwriting, he took me at my word that something horrible was about to happen, and that I’d come back from the future to stop it. He told me he’d in fact been investigating time travel portals, too. And authorized me to investigate his citizens to try to figure who among them was going to cause the forthcoming catastrophe, up to and including getting into their personal spaces and possessions if necessary–though he also stressed that if I were asked to leave any such spaces, I should do so immediately.
I agreed to do this. Cue talking to all the NPCs!
About Dwemora and Rastasia
Let me note this first: naming an NPC “Dwemora” in a game that contains creatures called “Dremora” was… well, not a choice I would have made. I kept misreading that character’s name! It reads like Elmer Fudd trying to say “Dremora”.
She also struck me as a sign that the Jarl is not entirely on the up and up. Dwemora was confined to the rooms of the Citadel, and bored as fuck. She also had on the same skimpy “tavern clothes” outfit you see in Morthal on Alva, which raises unsavory questions about why this young woman is not only confined to the Citadel, but also confined while wearing very scanty clothing.
My conversation with her also led me to suspect that the mod creators were defaulting to assuming that the Dragonborn was male–because Dwemora threatens to tell Metellus you were spying on her in the bath, if you don’t do what she wants. This strikes rather differently, IMHO, if your character happens to be female.
(Which is not to say that a woman couldn’t ever spy on another woman bathing–of course she could. But the default use of that trope is almost always a man spying on a woman. And I feel it’s reasonable to assume that most players would interpret the trope that way. So it struck me as weird given that I am, in fact, playing a woman here.)
Rastasia, meanwhile, was set up to be the city’s flirtatious sexpot. Which again gave me a hint that the mod was expecting the Dragonborn to be male–because she has a line to Gulvar, when she first sees you go by, in which you are explicitly described as “strapping”. This makes rather less sense if you’re playing a woman, or at least, a woman who’s not either a Nord or an Orc.
That said: I will allow myself the indulgence of being deeply amused by Rastasia being super flirty and coming on to a female Dragonborn. 😉
First round of breaking the Dwarves’ Law, and kicking off round two of the loop
When I came back out into the public areas after talking to the Jarl, I had a frantic Miranda run up to me, with word that looters coming down the shaft into the city were about to get us all in deep shit. She begged me to help.
However, I did not know immediately where these looters were, which was a goddamn problem. I ran around a little looking, and finally spotted them coming out into the open. Inigo and I started fighting them–and all hell broke loose.
Everything went dark. A booming voice intoned THE MANY SHALL SUFFER FOR THE SINS OF THE ONE.
And all those centurions I’d seen on the way in came to life and started wreaking fiery, vengeful havoc. Kind of like Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still, except if Gort had been armed with flamethrowers rather than lasers.
I got a directive to follow the Jarl back to his lakehouse, at which point I saw him die and had to take his letter again–and was promptly thrown into iteration number two of the time loop.
Talking to the Jarl a second time gave me an opportunity to identify myself as the cause of the previous catastrophe, though I had a few quibbles with the dialogue choices there. Quite reasonably, Metellus is aghast when you tell him you caused the disaster, and when he asks you why, your only choice in response is “I wanted to see what would happen.”
Which strikes me as bullshit. Because I was explicitly trying to fight off attackers coming into the city, as a citizen of the city had expressly begged me to do. And I still got everybody fried for this. This was not a question of my deliberately committing a crime “to see what would happen”–this was me trying to help and choosing the wrong way of doing so.
Plus, it didn’t flow well with the rest of Metellus’ dialogue at that point, because he still goes through the rest of the lines about recruiting you to find who was supposed to break the law and unleash hell. I’d literally just stood there and told him I did it, so what was there to investigate from his perspective, at that point?
The Jarl even gives you shit about doing this investigation for you “if you can control yourself”, which, again, strikes me as bullshit.
So I feel like if you’re going to go down that conversational route at this point in the proceedings, you should have the opportunity to tell the Jarl “it was me, Miranda told me looters were coming in, I was fighting them to try to keep them from attacking anyone”. None of this “I wanted to see what would happen” bullshit. Then if you tell him what you actually did, he could grudgingly accept that and warn you that any violence, even if in theory in defense of the city, still counted as a violation of the Dwarves’ Law. And that you find yourself having to do that again, you would have to find a different way to address the problem.
You should also be able to tell the Jarl you’d actually done this conversation before with him, and emphasize that he’d already tasked you with trying to find a different transgressor. The first time through the loop already established that the Jarl was predisposed to believing me. So I could see you having to work a little harder to persuade him here, but maybe not too much harder. He’s already on board with accepting you came back in time; it’s not much of a stretch from that to also include “and I’ve already had this conversation with you, we are in a loop, I have to find a way out”.
He could even point you at Brol for further information, since the plot eventually leads you to talk to Brol anyway.
Dealing with the looters, take two
At this point in the adventuring, I started looking online for tips on how to get through this without frying the city accidentally by my choices. And one of the first things I discovered was how to handle the looters.
So the second time through, as soon as Miranda approached, I was able to immediately turn left and run in through the doors there, which took me back towards the shaft down from above. The looters were coming in through there, and as long as I didn’t let them clear the doors, I could safely take them all out.
Apparently, that whole area was not considered under the jurisdiction of the Dwarves’ Law? Which raises questions about a plot event later, more on this below.
One of those looters turned out to be a member of the Dark Brotherhood, tasked with finding somebody down in the city called Quintus. This is noteworthy later.
More talking to NPCs, and some thoughts on plot choices the mod makes about racism
Did a lot more talking to the NPCs at this point, trying to find the proper path forward.
Talking to Miranda and Habiq got me their backstory about having fled Solitude, and also established they’d received some abuse at the hands of High King Torygg when seeking justice for the death of their son. The kid had been killed trying to stop a callous Imperial from taking a horse he wanted–but Torygg basically kicked the grieving parents out of the city, lest they get the same fate.
I have a lot of thoughts about this, all of which amount to, “I was uncomfortable with the idea of these two NPCs getting targeted with racism, but can’t exactly argue with it as a plot choice, either.” Here’s why.
One: it is definitely clear that there’s a strong current of anti-outsider racism in Nord society. It’s most pronounced in Windhelm, but it is not limited to Windhelm. None of the Skyrim holds allow Khajiit to enter. Windhelm restricts Argonians to living out on the docks, and of the other hold capitals, only Riften and Solitude have Argonian NPCs living inside the city that I can think of. Whiterun and Markarth have none.
Nor is the anti-outsider racism limited to the so-called “beast” races. Windhelm is the standout for hostility to the Dunmer, but as I’ve said in prior playthroughs, Thongvor Silver-Blood certainly stands out as hostile to all elves. And I’ve bitched more than once about Bolund being a racist asshole in Falkreath, too.
Even fairly egalitarian Whiterun, which has multiple Redguard NPCs living there, forbids the Alik’r warriors looking for Saadia from entering the city. You can interpret this more kindly as it being a matter of the guards kinda restricting everybody from coming in due to the dragon situation. But you don’t see any other NPCs being turned away from Whiterun, either. So that’s worthy of giving a bit of a side-eye here.
Based on this, I have to conclude that yes, it’s plausible to consider the idea that a Redguard would experience racism in Skyrim, even if it’s not quite as overt as what’s directed at the Argonians, the Khajiit, or the Dunmer.
Two: we also know that a lot of Nords are mistrustful of magic. And y’know who besides elves are good at magic? Bretons. And in this mod, Miranda, wife of Habiq, is a Breton.
So based on that, I also have to conclude that it’d be reasonable for Miranda to be mistrusted because she’s a Breton.
Three: on the other hand, I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea of setting up Torygg as someone who would, in fact, kick grieving parents out of his city rather than bring the Imperial who slew their son to justice. The core game gives us no indication that he was the kind of man who would have made such a callous and abusive judgment call.
But on yet another hand, the game doesn’t give us any indication that he wasn’t the kind of man who would have done that, either.
We know nothing about Torygg as a man from what the core game gives us. He could well have been an abusive racist. (In which I gotta call into question exactly why Elisif loved him, but!)
So I don’t think that particular character choice is one I would have made… but it’s not one I can really strongly argue against, either.
Four: lastly, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of a Breton/Redguard couple being targeted with racist treatment in Solitude in particular. We do have multiple examples of Redguard couples all over the game, either two Redguards or a Nord who’s taken a Redguard spouse. Rustleif and Seren. Amren and Saffir. Nazeem and Ahlam, even though yes, Nazeem is a snotty asshole. 😉
And in Solitude, we have Beirand and his Redguard wife Sayma, in addition to at least four other Redguard NPCs I see on Solitude’s page on the wiki. Which is a higher count of Redguards I see in any of the other cities, except maybe Whiterun.
But. Just because Redguards are semi-common in Skyrim doesn’t mean it’s not plausible for them to get racist treatment. I’ve always had the vibe of Solitude as being the most cosmopolitan and civilized city in Skyrim. But “cosmopolitan” doesn’t mean “immune to being racist”.
So while I feel uncomfortable about the idea of Solitude having racist undertones, I can’t exactly argue with it from a game plausibility standpoint. And this as a plot choice should make you uncomfortable, I feel.
Related to all of these thoughts, I also want to call out that the NPCs in this mod also complain of racist treatment directed at the lower-level city dwellers, from the Imperials who get the swankier rooms in the Citadel. As with the treatment directed at Miranda and Habiq, this idea took me aback, just because the vibe in my head of the Empire is usually one that’s more cosmopolitan than the more actively racist Stormcloaks.
But again, and I cannot stress this enough, cosmopolitan does not mean immune to being racist.
And I could absolutely see racist behavior of Imperials towards non-Imperials as plausible. They are, after all, the people of Cyrodiil, and the seat of the Empire is in Cyrodiil. And there’s a hefty side helping of classism there as well, since the situation in this mod is putting the Imperials into the higher-tier living quarters and making the non-Imperials do the menial labor.
Quick side thought re: perceptions of the player’s race
One side tangent I want to put in here: y’all may recall Harrow is, in fact, an Imperial. Which would suggest that she would get well received by the Imperial denizens of this city.
Not so much, I found. Domitus was just as abusive to me as he was to anybody else, and actively called me a “peasant”.
But here’s the interesting thing about that: I know from reading up on vampirism on the wiki that if your character is a vampire, the game code considers this a separate race. The aforementioned Bolund, for example, would not parse you as a Nord if you happen to be a Nord vampire.
Which makes me wonder if I’d come into this mod as an Imperial who wasn’t a vampire, would I have gotten better treatment?
And if the racism wasn’t enough, here, have some internalized homophobia as well
One of the NPCs I spoke to, Vernon the grocer, turned out to be gay. And once I struck up a conversation with him and found out he was getting threatening notes from someone calling him “an abomination”, I learned from him that he’d used to live in Windhelm where he served as a guard. But he eventually fled, because he was having to live closeted there and eventually just couldn’t take it.
As you might guess, I took fairly well to this character. And he was was certainly relieved that I not only didn’t give him shit for his preferences, I also agreed to find who was threatening him.
I didn’t have to think very hard about the most likely suspect for who was threatening Vernon: Rykas. This guy was your prototypical big caveman of a Nord, and was making a point of wandering around periodically with his axe drawn. He also was wearing Immaculate Dwarven Armor, which Gaia tried to get me to acquire from him so she could study it, but which he flat out refused to give up. He wouldn’t let me buy it from him, either.
And he was very much Big Brawny Testosterone-Fueled Warrior Dude, so yeah, he stood out to me as a suspect for the threats. I was right, too.
I found out while searching for how to get Rykas’ armor off of him that apparently, if you take the so-called “best ending” of the plot, then Rykas actually comes out and winds up with Vernon as a love interest. Part of me wants to go YAY at this. Part of me wants to go WHOA HOLD ON THERE STUD at Vernon!
Just because going from “sending a dude threatening letters because he can’t face the fact that he is, in fact, queer himself” to “being romantically involved with said other dude” is a massive pivot. Possible, sure. But this strikes me as a situation where Rykas would have a lot of goddamn ground to cover before Vernon should trust him as a love interest! Get both of these boys some therapy, stat.
(Mind you, I did not actually get to confirm this as a plot detail myself based on how I finished up the quest. I didn’t get a chance to talk to either Vernon or Zykas in the epilogue. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that maybe next time I try to play this mod.)
And speaking of Zykas…
There were four pieces of Immaculate Dwarven Armor that the plot wanted me to get, if I was to get safely down into the underground tunnels. Three of these were acquirable reasonably easily.
But Zykas flat out refused to give up his armor. He wouldn’t let me buy it. And I didn’t have high enough Pickpocketing or the appropriate perk to be able to pickpocket equipped items. Which meant I had absolutely no recourse but to deliberately kill him and take the armor off his corpse.
I was not a fan of this. Whether I’d have taken the armor via pickpocketing or by killing Zykas, that still having to commit a deliberate crime. And okay yeah, Harrow’s in the Guild, so I could see her wanting to just pickpocket the damn armor.
But I see her kinda drawing the line at deliberately killing the guy. Particularly given that by that point, it had become clear in the plot to me that stealing or harming anybody else would explicitly trigger the disaster. Harrow is extremely morally dubious, no question. She’s even considering joining the Dark Brotherhood herself. But even she draws the line at killing a guy just because she wants to take his stuff.
As a player, as well, I just didn’t like the idea of having to deliberately break the Dwarves’ Law in order to get the thing I needed for the plot to proceed. So I wound up going back to the Jarl to accuse Zykas of being my suspect, which gave me the Jarl’s authorization to discreetly kill him. Which still counted as murder and still caused another round of disaster, because apparently the Jarl’s theory that the force enforcing the Dwarves’ Law wasn’t active in the underground tunnels was just fucking wrong.
Which ties in to what I said up above re: the looters. The plot clearly established a known area where I could safely kill someone. So why did the Jarl tell me to lure Zykas down into the tunnels instead? Or why, at least, did I not have an opportunity to mention that in the conversation? The answer that strikes me here as plausible is, the corridor where I fought the looters is a bit too high profile and has access directly out into the public area of the city. I could be seen taking Zykas in there.
Overall, I get that the plot wants you to be willing to deliberately do something immoral for the greater cause of actually breaking out of the time loop and stop what’s going on–this idea even came up in the conversation I had with the Arbiter later. I get that, from a narrative perspective.
But as a player, I still feel like it forced me into doing something I didn’t actually enjoy or want to do. I really wish it would have given me a better way. And since I did in fact have “there must be a better way” as a dialogue option when the Jarl told me to go kill the guy, I do have to wonder what Metellus would have said if I’d taken that option. I.e., if he’d doubled down on the idea of my discreetly killing him. I kind of suspect he would have done so.
I also wasn’t happy with fingering Zykas as my suspect to begin with. Partly because at that point, after looking for hints online, I kinda knew Zykas wasn’t really the actual problem. So I wound up fingering him mostly as an excuse to get some very dubious authorization to kill him, which was only slightly better than just outright attacking him for the armor without any authorization at all.
No, plot, I am not going to give the recovering skooma junkie any fucking skooma
While I’m on the topic of immoral choices that this plot provides you an opportunity to take, I want to go on the record as noticing that the plot sure did want to throw me the idea of giving skooma to Asanshi.
First Dwemora explicitly asked me to get skooma for her, presumably so she could pass it on to Asanshi. Secondly, I also noticed Rastasia had some for sale.
Asanshi herself clearly seemed to be unaware that a source of skooma was readily available to her. But I was, goddamnit, not going to be the one to tell her. After she told me all about her sad story and ultimately seemed at peace with being off the stuff even if she still periodically got bad cravings, I did not want to fuck that up for her.
I did, entirely by accident, figure out who the mysterious “Quintus” was. An NPC going by the name of Marius walked past me while I was out investigating stuff late into the night, a dude clad mostly in black, and who definitely had the overall vibe “potential assassin, or at the very least, somebody who’s shady as fuck”.
And Harrow definitely recognizes when somebody is, in fact, shady as fuck. 😉
I had quite the interesting little conversation with the guy, and came away without any particularly solid reason to consider him an immediate threat. I had enough to go buy to certainly consider him massively suspicious, but the story he spun didn’t have any truly solid red flags. So I had to let him go about his business for the immediate moment.
He sure did show up again later though!
Getting the helmet and gauntlets, and exploring the Abandoned Palace
Retrieving the Immaculate Dwarven Helmet was reasonably easy. That was just a duck down into the initial part of the underground tunnels, just not going far enough to start getting impacted by the radiation down there.
Getting the Immaculate Dwarven Gauntlets took a bit more work, though. And in particular, a lot of jumping. I had to do jumping to get up to the entrance into the Abandoned Palace–though when I did, I realized that there were other doors up there that seemed to lead to houses I hadn’t previously seen before, like Jeshol’s. Which makes me wonder if there was some other easier way to get up there, if I’d come out of somewhere in the Citadel.
Once I was inside the place, anyway, I had more jumping to do. And I didn’t realize this until I actually looked on the net for help, and saw a hint about having to do some jumping up along all the various coffins stacked up on either side of the corridor in front of an impassable gate.
I didn’t particularly like this bit. Even after two straight years of playing Skyrim, and bringing Morrowind, Oblivion, and ESO into the mix as well, I’m not particularly great at acrobatics. So it took a whole bunch of tries, and a bunch of quicksaving and quickloading at various points so I wouldn’t have to redo the whole damn sequence again, before I finally made it up to the pipe and over the gate.
This was another spot as well where having Inigo along was a little weird. Inigo blipped past the gate once I was over, and wound up still following me. So yeah, this was his AI moving him along to catch up with me. I’ll have to assume for purposes of headcanon that he did, in fact, follow me up the coffins and over the pipe! And since he’s a Khajiit, I should think he’d be good at climbing, hmm?
Once I got the gauntlets, the challenge became how to get back out of the Abandoned Palace. That gate I’d had to climb over had no way to be opened from the other side either–no handle, no pullchain, no nothing. So I had to find an alternate path out of the place.
I did a lot of wandering around and a lot of picking locks on Master-locked gates, trying to find the spots I could see on the map that were exits back out into the Forgotten City. My search was periodically interrupted by having to fight Burned Horrors, to wit: yiiiiikes?
So apparently there were still severely burned survivors of a sort from the last time the Dwaves’ Law got broken and all hell broke loose? I’m given to understand that this was probably tied in to another corner of plot that I didn’t get to explore fully. While searching for hints and tips on how to get through the story, I kept finding references to a necromancer hiding somewhere in the Abandoned Palace. I didn’t actually find that person, but it seems like I was seeing signs of their handiwork? Probably somebody trying to actually raise the burned victims of the previous catastrophe? Which, again: yiiiiiiikes.
That, however, will have to be a thing I’ll try to explore next time I run this mod. For this particular run, my main impression of the Abandoned Palace was that it was creepy, definitely large, and perhaps a bit too large and complex to navigate through for my personal preferences. I found the time necessary to get out of there after getting the gauntlets to be tedious, though maybe I’d have considered it time better spent if I’d actually found that necromancer.
When I did finally find a way out, it turned out to be on a much higher ledge. Which gave me a hell of a view of the city; I really liked that part. But on the other hand, this was a situation that called for Become Ethereal. Which is another good argument for running this plot as a higher level character, to increase your chances of having that Shout available before you show up in the Forgotten City. You may or may not need it, but I was glad I had it here.
Third iteration of the time loop and heading into the tunnels
Deliberately killing Rykas and getting the armor kicked off another round of all hell breaking loose, and kicked me over into the third iteration of the loop.
One noteworthy aspect of making it back into the lakehouse to start the third loop: Marius/Quintus also ran in there with me. And attacked and killed the Jarl. So that was certainly ever so interesting, and raises some nice juicy questions about whether Quintus had originally come into the city because one of the residents actually invoked the Brotherhood to take out the Jarl?
But if that was the case, why would they have sent somebody else in to hunt him down? Was the Brotherhood thinking he’d reneged on the contract, when the real problem was that Quintus was just as trapped as everybody else and couldn’t fulfill the contract without initiating another catastrophe?
Since having to kill Rykas had left a bad taste in my mouth, this time through I was out of patience with the idea of having to talk to a bunch of people again. And at this point, since I did have all four pieces of the necessary armor, I did the bare minimum of talking to Gulvar and the Jarl, and then went straight down into the underground tunnels to see what I could find once I was actually suited up in the full set of Immaculate Dwarven Armor.
As I’ve noted above, having Inigo along did kind of crack immersion for me at this point. Inigo was clearly not supposed to be there, as far as the plot was concerned. He was clearly only there just because his custom follower AI kept moving him to catch up with me no matter where I went. So since the plot had no provision for me showing up down there with a custom follower, it meant it had no reason for Inigo to be impacted by the radiation, and the only real contribution he had to the whole plot at all was to help me out in fights. He didn’t interact with any of the NPCs, and had no commentary on the situation at hand, or anything. He might as well not have been there.
Calling this out again just to emphasize for folks reading this that if you’re fond of Inigo, or Lucien, or other custom followers that might have similar “move the follower along to catch up with you if you get separated” AI, have that follower stand down before you commence running Forgotten City. Otherwise you’ll get the same weird immersion-cracking behavior I saw here.
I went through a few loops of path going down into the dark. Following those path loops let me go by several gold veins, which I did stop to mine. But it also put me in the path of several magic anomalies, like the ones generated by the Eye of Magnus in the College of Winterhold plotline.
I’m not entirely sure what I think about that similarity. It felt a little too familiar in an otherwise pretty awesome plot, really? But on the other hand, if you take the idea of “magic anomalies created by hugely powerful source of magic”, that does also seem kind of applicable here. Because…
Finding and speaking to the Arbiter
… I finally made it down to the entity responsible for the entire situation, the Arbiter.
Again, the Arbiter felt a little bit too familiar, a lot like the Augur of Dunlain, from the College of Winterhold plotline. He was just basically a big glowing ball of yellow light, parked over what appeared to be a deposit of aetherium.
What he might have been originally was not at all clear. During the course of my conversation with him, he merely identified himself as the original founder of the city, the original creator of the Dwarves’ Law, and the mechanism through which it is enforced. So he had some godlike powers, basically. But it wasn’t clear why he had these godlike powers, if it was because of prolonged exposure to the aetherium or what.
And, for that matter, if the radiation in the area was due to the aetherium.
(But that said, I’m not also hung up on the plot not explaining these things, necessarily. I don’t know if it really needed to. It’s interesting to think about, though! Particularly the idea that sufficiently large quantities of aetherium might be frigging radioactive. Makes me want to side-eye the entire Lost to the Ages plot, a bit, since that’d mean I’d be carrying around four potentially radioactive shards and making a radioactive crown out of them!)
The main interesting thing for me about the Arbiter was that he clearly knew who and what I was. He addressed me as Dovahkiin. And he knew about my background, what crimes I’d committed prior to this plot–petty thievery as well as killing in cold blood. Though he didn’t specify if he meant my killing Rykas on the earlier loop, or earlier in the run when I’d killed Grelod for Aventus, or Vasha for Astrid.
And he knew I was a vampire as well. He had a line about how I thirsted for the blood of my own kind.
All of which would arguably make the Arbiter totally not inclined to help me. Particularly since I did point blank cop to having broken the Dwarves’ Law–twice at that point!
What made him listen to me, I think, might have been a combo of “I freely owned my prior choices” and that he also specifically knew of heroic things I’d done. Like slaying Ancano.
I was able to draw parallels between what I’d done–and how I lost sight of the bigger picture by making immoral choices. He’d been doing the same thing, causing the horrible fiery deaths of innocent people while trying to enforce a rigid and unyielding system of law. It was a very morally crunchy and satisfying conversation, and it kind of even took the sting out of my having had to make the earlier unsatisfactory choice of deliberately killing Rykas.
(But not entirely. I still don’t like that I had to do it, even though I acknowledge that it was important for the narrative the mod wanted to tell. And I do have to acknowledge that it did kind of fit the character I’m playing here, even if I personally as a player would really have preferred some other plot path. Makes me wonder how a Lawful Good character would fare in this story!)
Those of you familiar with Star Trek will certainly recognize this trope as one used to great effect in that series, most notably in “The Ultimate Computer”, with Kirk talking the computer M5 into destroying itself because it had committed murder. This is the same idea, and while it was a familiar trope to me, I feel the mod executed it quite well.
And it ended the same way, with the Arbiter basically blowing himself up along with the aetherium, and throwing me back to my proper timeline.
One last important note about this part of the plot, though: I had high enough Speech to pass the relevant Persuasion checks. This is another argument in favor of coming into Forgotten City with a high level character, to give yourself time to get that Speech stat up high enough. A lower level character would arguably have had a much harder time talking the Arbiter into standing down, I expect.
I really liked the epilogue, wherein I was found by Cassia’s brother, now back at his proper young age. Altrius led me back out of the tunnels, and I got to pass assorted city NPCs on the way out and get an idea of what had happened to them.
I didn’t get to talk to everybody, and didn’t try just because I was super overloaded at that point. And it was late and I wanted to get to a good breaking point!
But I did get to see Gulvar as Jarl, and see that the asshole Domitus was now having to do physical labor and was really fucking bitter about it, LOL. Too bad, so sad! Sucks to be you, asshole. Put your back into that mining!
I also find it kind of hilarious that the reward I got off of Cassia for helping her out, the Talisman of the Silver Tongue, not only bumps my Speechcraft but also lets me sell stolen items to merchants. How ever so interesting to the future Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild!
But if I hadn’t been a thief and budding assassin, if I’d been a Lawful Good character instead, would I have gotten a reward more appropriate to that? Damn good question! And I will definitely have to run this mod again in a future playthrough to find out.
One more nice little detail here to note: coming back out of the Forgotten City, I was able to get back to the surface via a now-functioning lift in the shaft I’d previously jumped down. So apparently the residents of the city did restore the lift! Damn good thing they had a military engineer amongst their number. 😀
This was a big crunchy adventure, and a big hefty dose of new material courtesy of mods. So I think probably next time, I’ll swing back to doing a few more lower key side quests, and beat down Harrow’s quest journal a bit! We’ll see what I’m in the mood for when I load her up next.
I have an unusually high number of screenshots here, so doing this style of gallery rather than the usual small thumbnails one. Most of these screenshots are for assorted things and NPCs in Forgotten City, though a small number on either side of that adventure are not!