Elessir Playthrough,  Skyrim

In Which Elessir Escapes Helgen and Becomes a Dragonborn

After extensive doinking around with my mods to try to recover a workable set of them, finally got a load order I like working on both the VM and the Steam Deck. So time for a new modded playthrough, y’all.

And this time I’m switching it up even more and playing a dude, Elessir the Dunmer, named for Elessir a’Natharion from the Free Court books.

So let’s do that destroying Helgen thing, shall we?

Play by play

  • Play date: 7/19/2023
  • Session number in this run: 1
  • Cue crossing the border into Skyrim, getting caught, Helgen, OH SHIT DRAGON
  • Main challenge with trying out this set of mods: Immersive Armors kept causing major breakage of the cart sequence, see below
  • Also, had weirdness getting this set of mods to work on the Deck, but this ultimately may have been a question of load order, see below
  • Aside from mods, pretty standard beginning playthrough for me at this point
  • Followed Hadvar out of Helgen as per usual
  • Notable thing about coming with Hadvar to Riverwood this time is that right around where the wolves usually show up, some bandits spawned across the river, and Hads starting shooting at them
  • I splooshed across the river and went after them more directly
  • One of the bandits freaked out and ran, so I elected to not go after him, but the other two, fair game
  • Apparently there were two bandit chiefs? I took out one and Hadvar took out the other
  • This didn’t seem to match the usual sorts of bandit world encounters I’ve seen, so apparently I just got super lucky with randomly spawned bandits or something? Anyway, it meant more loot to sell!
  • Got into Riverwood a little later and didn’t have much time to sell stuff or do the forge intro; started the intro, but then Alvor wandered off, presumably heading for the inn
  • So only had time to start the intro and not finish it
  • Sold stuff at the Riverwood Trader and got the initial quest to recover the Golden Claw
  • Rented room at the Sleeping Giant
  • Headed to Whiterun in the morning
  • Ignored the Companions fight with the giant at Pelagia Farm
  • Saw the Khajiit coming in to set up camp
  • Main notable changes in Whiterun with this set of mods coming in via Immersive Armors, and Zak’s Imperial Female Guards and Soldiers
  • Had a bit of weirdness with Farengar actually not standing by his desk as per usual when the Jarl took me over to talk to him, see below
  • Took quests at the Bannered Mare on the way out; got Hulda to give me the rumor about visiting the Shrine of Azura, and also a bandit bounty at Redoran’s Retreat
  • Took Amren’s quest to get his family sword back, this time from Valtheim Towers
  • Then headed out to return to Riverwood
  • Talked to the Khajiit on the way out; didn’t have anything left to sell to Ri’saad, but did take his quest for the bandit camps
  • Spotted the guards being mustered by Irileth on the way out
  • Tried to go first into Riverwood and sell a few more things, maybe finish the forge tutorial–but wolves spawned in Riverwood
  • Tried to go after them–but a damn cow got in my way when I was swinging at the wolf, and that pissed off Alvor and made him kill me, oops
  • Thrown back to coming out of Whiterun, so re-did the hoofing it back to Riverwood sequence
  • This time the guards got a bit distracted by a wolf spawning by the road, but since I have Realistic Animals and Predators in this playthrough, the wolf was not down by the road, it was up the slope
  • So the guards kept trying to run at it but not actually finding it; I went after the wolf though, and took it out
  • Then headed on over to Bleak Falls Barrow and took out two more wolves on the way up
  • Sniped two bandits just outside the tower, and took out the third one inside it
  • Almost made it sneaking to the entrance to the temple, but got spotted by exterior bandits and had to fight them by the door
  • Used Flames when I could, Dunmer start with that spell already in their arsenal, and Elessir is a mage
  • Started running the barrow, and since this was an actual playthrough as opposed to just mods testing, made a point of not overloading myself so I could get out quickly–and also get through those two swinging blades traps
  • Then it was happy fun snipe all the draugr times, arrow to the knee, motherfuckers!
  • Came into this barrow very well equipped with arrows after taking out all the various bandits
  • Made it to the Word Wall, had a little bit of a time taking out the Draugr Overlord, but nothing healing potions couldn’t handle; didn’t even have to run off to the emergency “snipe him from a distance” spot nearby
  • Crashed when I came out of the barrow and tried to mine the corundum vein, but I’d quicksaved when coming out of the barrow, so I didn’t lose much
  • Passed Anise’s Cabin, did not engage
  • Got back into Riverwood and returned the claw to Lucan; sold him a bunch of bandit loot and bought Frostbite and Clairvoyance spells
  • Came back out again and got the courier with the note about the zombie ritual site
  • Finished the forge tutorial with Alvor
  • Bought Leather Scout Armor, Boots, and Gauntlets from Lucan and Alvor
  • And since Immersive Armors adds wearable bandannas to the game, bought a blue one to try it out
  • Headed off to Whiterun to report back in to Farengar with the Dragonstone
  • Took the ‘so pay up’ dialogue option with him, because Elessir is rather more mercenary of mindset than most of my previous alts
  • Headed out with Irileth’s detachment for the dragon fight at the watchtower
  • The armor gift I got from the Jarl this time was hide boots with a fire resist enchantment, so that was pretty fucking handy actually, on top of being a Dunmer and having fire resistance off of that
  • We took out Mirmulnir on the eastern side of the tower this time
  • Irileth sent me back to the city–but I got too damn close to a male elk in the road and pissed it off, so it came at me
  • I took it out, but my FPS took it in the teeth, maybe because the Deck was running low on power?
  • Saved, rebooted the Deck, plugged it in, and restarted; the game proceeded normally at that point
  • Cue Greybeards summons
  • Got back into the city and saw the Alik’r warriors at the gate–but no guard telling them to fuck off
  • Went up to Dragonsreach and reported to the Jarl; got proclaimed Thane
  • Saved at that point until next time

Ironing out mod weirdness

I started this run only after going through a bunch of extensive mods testing, trying to find a set I liked after Harrowhark’s run imploded. And while I was testing this set of mods out, I found that Immersive Armors pretty much destroys the opening cart sequence.

By which I mean: the entire cart started rotating, and its wheels and other objects started flying in random directions all over the screen. This made the whole opening sequence entirely unplayable.

When trying to figure out what the fuck to do about this, every bit of info I could find basically said that this was a known issue with Immersive Armors. Which is a fairly old mod at this point. And the best recommendation I could find for what to do about it was to keep it off until I was out of Helgen.

So that’s what I did. I had it on in my Vortex, but when I loaded up the game, I went into the Mods menu off the main menu, and disabled it in my load order there. Only after I got out of Helgen with Hadvar did I then save and go back into that same menu, to turn Immersive Armors on again.

A shame, that. I saw that the mod put different armor on both Ralof and Hadvar, and it looked pretty neat actually. I’m assuming that the different armor put on Ralof is what caused the cart sequence to freak out, but damned if I know why. Apparently changing his armor from the standard Stormcloak gear he was wearing was enough to make the cart sequence’s physics freak out?

But anyway, turning the mod on after Helgen seemed to work fine.

Some of the other mods were temporarily problematic as well. The full load order seemed to work initially on the VM. But when I did the same load order on the Deck, I kept running into some inexplicable crashes to desktop. Ultimately, this may have been a question of load order?

I turned all the mods off and then started activating them a few at a time on the Deck, until I figured out which ones were the problem: a couple of the Immersive College of Winterhold patches, and also Menu Maid.

But here’s the weird part: once I got a viable load with the problem mods off, I then tried to just activate them again to see what happened. And it actually worked.

So I don’t even know! I guess Skyrim’s backend things in charge of mod load order rearranged things well enough to get everything running properly. As long as it works, that’s the important thing!

And speaking of getting out of Helgen

This time through, I paid a bit more attention to what was around me as the cart came into Helgen–just because I wanted to try to get an idea of where I was in the town and see what bits of it I recognized as still standing after Alduin torches the place. I think I spotted the eastern gate that I usually go through when cutting over towards Haemar’s Shame and the Rift.

You may conclude from previous paragraphs that I did in fact follow Hadvar out of Helgen. I’m figuring Elessir’s no fan of the Empire, especially not after they tried to frigging kill him. But I’m also going to take the liberty of assuming he’s been hearing enough about the Stormcloaks and about the treatment of Dunmer in Windhelm that he’s not going to be a fan of them, either.

(And besides, in the spirit of his namesake, Elessir should very much be a lurk on the edges, snark about stuff kind of character, rather than a warrior who’d outright commit to fighting in a civil war.)

So yeah. Followed Hads out of Helgen. And was kind of surprised to have the journey to Riverwood a bit different this time, just because of bandits spawning across the river and shooting at us!

One of them freaked out and ran off, so apparently he thought a pissed off Dunmer throwing fire around was pretty fucking terrifying. Elessir let him go, but not without throwing a flames burst or two after him just to drive the point home.

This threw off my timing of getting into Riverwood, too. It meant that I didn’t have time to do the full forge intro with Alvor before he wandered off, presumably to the inn. And it also meant that I was in the town late enough that I needed to decide whether to hoof it to Whiterun immediately, or spend the night in Riverwood.

I opted for the latter, and rented a room at the Sleeping Giant. Which let me note that Delphine does not do the typical “Let me show you to your room, right this way” thing that all the other innkeepers do. I take this as an argument for Delphine just really not being suited to the whole innkeeper gig, LOL. Because okay sure, yeah, it’s not like the Sleeping Giant has a huge number of rooms or a huge number of patrons to make the choice of rooms difficult. But it does amuse me that Delphine doesn’t even bother to tell you to just pick whatever room isn’t currently being used.

Once in Whiterun

The main things I noted once I got to Whiterun were things brought in by Immersive Armors, and also Zak’s Imperial Female Guards and Soldiers. Because now all the Whiterun guards have a variety of helmets! For the ones not wearing the standard full-face guard helmets, you can see their faces. So that’s kind of cool.

And I did see female guards present, which was the main thing I wanted to see with the Zak’s mod. Just as importantly, it didn’t break the Dragon Rising quest. (More on this below.)

Since Irileth is the first person who speaks to the player once you enter Dragonsreach, I figure Elessir definitely took note that the Jarl has a Dunmer housecarl. Interesting question here of whether this would make him inclined to be friendly to her, or distrust her. Maybe both.

Also, like the character he’s based on, Elessir is absolutely the kind of person who’d snark to the Jarl of Whiterun that he had an excellent view of the dragon coming in when the Imperials were about to cut off his head. Because why yes he does take offense at that, and he’s still surly about it!

Had a bit of weirdness with Farengar when the Jarl took me over to talk to him, but I’m not convinced this was a bug. The problem was that Farengar was not actually at his desk when we walked over. He wound up just behind me for the “go get the Dragonstone” conversation.

This may have been a question of my coming into Dragonsreach fairly early in the morning, and maybe Immersive Citizens moving NPCs around in new ways. I don’t remember noticing at the time, but Farengar may have been coming back in from having breakfast in the main hall?

One other note here about Farengar: I don’t think I’ve written about this before, but I was a little surprised to realize during all the mods testing I did to prep for this run that he is, in fact, a Nord. Given that he has a very pointy chin, which is the most distinguishing feature of his face given that he’s always wearing a hood (or a cowl if you’re running the same set of mods I am), I could have sworn he was a Bosmer or an Altmer. But nope, he’s a Nord.

He may also be only one of two Nord court wizards in the game? I’m assuming Wuunferth in Windhelm must surely also be a Nord? But he’s tagged as an Elder according to the wiki, and the game counts that as a different race. So I don’t know for sure what race he’s supposed to be.

Returning to Riverwood

Not gonna lie, it was embarrassing to get myself killed in Riverwood entirely by accident. This is what I get for trying to help the town with the wolves rampaging through the streets! Also what I get for not paying attention to where I’m swinging the damn sword.

I mean honestly, me! Hitting a cow when you were trying to hit a wolf? Sheesh.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to repeat this incident on take two of going to Bleak Falls Barrow.

Running the barrow and getting back out again

This many playthroughs in on Skyrim, and I am still not good at figuring out the timing on sprinting through swinging blade traps! I have to look this up every damn time but I’m calling it out again here for Future Me: I gotta hold down that left bumper button. Just that left bumper button. I keep mistakenly thinking I have to hold down the LB button and hit my left stick to move.

I think I better practice this some more, with whatever character I play next after this post goes up.

Really, Elessir probably should have just shot Arvel the Swift the instant he ran off. Usually I let him go just because I know he’ll get taken out by the draugr and/or the spike trap. But I think Elessir probably almost shot him in the back–but pulled off on it at the last minute. He probably also took his time easing through the next bits of the dungeon, half expecting the bastard to ambush him.

I’ll take a moment to congratulate Past Me on remembering to actually frigging quicksave upon leaving Bleak Falls Barrow. Because that meant when the game crashed at the corundum vein, I didn’t actually lose anything to speak of!

Returning to Riverwood was pretty straightforward, but this time with the amusing side detail of buying a blue bandanna. Bandanas are added in by Immersive Armors, I think? So I bought one to try it out and was very satisfied with how it looked. The blue even matched the blue of the Leather Scout Armor. (You can see the results of this on Elessir’s playthrough page now.)

And, back to Whiterun, OH SHIT DRAGON

As noted above, I was pleased to see that Zak’s Imperial Female Guards and Soldiers, unlike the previous “put some damn female guards into the Imperial holds” mod I tried, did not break the Dragon Rising plot. At least, not in this playthrough!

The other mod had caused the guard who reported to Balgruuf to sometimes spawn as female, and break the progress of the quest because the necessary lines had not been recorded in female voices. I didn’t see that problem happen this time. Granted, that only tells me it worked for this playthrough. But at least that was promising.

Taking out Mirmulnir went pretty well this time. Particularly given that the armor gift I’d gotten from Balgruuf on the way out was a pair of hide boots with a fire resist enchantment! Between that and having a natural 50% Resist Fire ability as a Dunmer, I was in a good position to get more in the dragon’s face than I do with other characters. I didn’t even have to take cover in the tower.

After the battle, once everybody had the obligatory OH SHIT HE’S ACTUALLY DRAGONBORN conversation, one of the guards threw me a line I’m pretty damn sure I hadn’t seen before:

“I’m proud to be your battle-brother, Dragonborn. Whiterun doesn’t need to fear with you on our side.”

I have conflicting reactions to this! One, a positive “Aw <3”, since that’s a surprisingly touching line to get this early in the game. But also two, a negative “Aw :(” because I wonder if this is a line that only gets said to male characters? I can’t find it on either of the wikis I use for reference.

As for Elessir, I think he was legit startled by this. And perhaps not knowing entirely how to respond to that, no doubt because he was still caught up in the shock reaction of WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED BY THOSE DRAGON BONES?

Returning to Whiterun, though, got unexpectedly interesting. I saw a male elk that may well have been trying to mate with another elk nearby right in the road–and that elk came at me when it saw me coming. Yikes.

There were a few parallel issues here. One, the general in-character DO NOT FUCK WITH ME, ELK, I JUST TOOK DOWN SOMETHING A HELL OF A LOT BIGGER THAN YOU reaction.

Two: that elk got right up in my face and started rendering weirdly. I clipped through it a couple of times trying to get out of its way.

And three: I’d been playing the Deck not plugged in for once. And this point in the session I was starting to run low on power. I’ve seen the Deck’s performance tank if its power gets too low when playing Elder Scrolls Online, and the same thing seemed to happen here. I managed to take out the elk, but my FPS took it in the teeth. Hard. We’re talking maybe 8 FPS or so once I got back near the carriage by the Whiterun stables.

I don’t know what caused the frame rate hit, if it was one or all of the above problems. Fortunately, I was able to make a save, plug the Deck in properly, reboot, and restart the game. At that point, things proceeded normally.

Once back in Whiterun, I spotted the Alik’r warriors at the gate as per usual, ready to give me the pointer to the In My Time of Need quest. What I did not see, however, was a guard bitching at them and telling them to fuck off. I don’t know whether this was a side effect of Immersive Armors, Zak’s mod, or both; I couldn’t find suitable data re: either mod having this as an issue.

Thankfully, it did not appear to be game breaking. Because one of the warriors did come over to me as I stopped by Warmaiden’s and made myself a Leather Scout Hood, and give me the quest to bring them information about the woman they were seeking.

General differences playing a guy

Since this is my first time playing a male character in Skyrim, it’s worth pointing out a few differences I could not help but notice.

First and foremost: all the combat noises the Dragonborn makes are of course different than the ones I’m used to. In the course of my mods testing I actually tried a couple of different character models, not just Elessir but also a version of Kestar from my Rebels of Adalonia books, and Kestar was based off a Nord model with Bosmer blood mixed in. Elessir was the one I ultimately ran with, but I did notice during all my testing that he had different combat noises than the ones made by the Kestar test character.

Second: all the clothes objects I pick up as this character render as Boy Clothes. I’ve written plenty before about how I find this annoying. But I’ll say this, it will at least be a change of pace to wear the male versions of all the various clothes objects.

Relatedly, third: the armor doesn’t have boobplates! (Well, it wouldn’t anyway because this is a modded playthrough and I am running the various Practical Female Armors mods I’ve found. But MY POINT STANDS.)

Lastly, this didn’t happen during the official first session, but I did notice it on test sessions before I committed to playing this character: Olfina Gray-Mane has a line she throws to male characters that I have never heard before:

“What’s the matter? You can’t stand the sight of a strong Nord woman?”

Snerk. I’m torn between being all “PREACH IT, SISTER” and trying to think exactly how Elessir would actually answer that. Perhaps a devilish grin and a purred, “Darlin’, I barely noticed you.”

Next time

I’ve come to incorporate AE content into my standard character setup at this point, so Elessir’s next session is probably going to involve getting the Bow of Shadows. (I’d say it would also involve getting the Wild Red Horse, but I’m thinking he needs a different horse than that one, for once! Maybe the black one near Falkreath.)


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.