Skyrim,  Skyrim Together Playthrough

In Which the Dragonborns Are Betrayed By Their Guildmaster

A long-overdue Skyrim Together post, literally a month after we had this session! Did I mention I’m way, way behind on getting my playthrough posts up?

Main action in this is Thieves Guild stuff, and specifically the part where Mercer Frey’s true colors are revealed, and the Dragonborn then has to break into a museum. Fun times!

Heaping side helping, though, of my having to replay everything we did in this session solo because my game broke. Oof.

Play by play

  • Play date: 7/1/2023
  • Session number in this run: 9

Thieves Guild and Whiterun

  • Picked up at the Thieves Guild, since we decided to proceed with the main Thieves Guild plot; so next course of action was going to be running Snow Veil Sanctum
  • Dara ate an apple in the bedroom behind the Ragged Flagon and got snarky commentary from Tonilia
  • Before we got the Guild plot underway, though, we hit Whiterun first; Dara wanted to buy Breezehome
  • When I fast traveled directly into Whiterun, got the courier with the note about the museum in Dawnstar
  • Dara had a bit of trouble finding Proventus in Dragonsreach but did finally buy the house after finding the steward back in the main hall eating dinner
  • Lots of dead dragon action at the Whiterun gates! Two different dragon corpses spawned right there, and when I came over to the gates to check it out, one of the corpses actually triggered and threw me a dragon soul (which I later lost due to game breakage 😢)
  • Mel confirmed that yep, Nazeem sure was still alive! She found him in the Drunken Huntsman!
  • Elrindir however, was still super dead, so no selling anything else at the Huntsman
  • Mel had a hell of a time actually re-killing Nazeem; he grabbed the Imperial bow off the counter and started shooting back at her
  • LOL Jenassa yet again got the fuck out of the way
  • Mel did finally kill him, but there were subsequent issues with guards confronting her over it

Snow Veil Sanctum

  • Did the “Mel takes the cart and we teleport to her” thing so we could get to Windhelm and in range of Snow Veil Sanctum
  • Didn’t actually discover Windhelm for the map but didn’t need to, we just needed to get to the stables; hoofed it over to Snow Veil Sanctum from there
  • Found trio of Stormcloaks just standing around; in my POV, two of them were naked and the third one had regular clothes on
  • Pissed off the wispmother at the nearby altar, so had to fight her and some shades she spun off
  • Finally reached Snow Veil Sanctum and HI MERCER (you asshole)
  • Brief weirdness with us plus Lydia blocking Mercer from getting to the door but we fixed it
  • Started running the place
  • We unfortunately kept blocking Kitty from getting good arrow shots, just because it’s tight quarters in snow veil sanctum except for the couple of larger chambers
  • Kitty did get into the side chamber with the apprentice-locked door though, and Mel nabbed the ship model
  • Partway through Mercer got aggro on Kitty, and we had to hit him with the console to fix it
  • Once we reached the Word Wall, Mel let me have first dibs on the boss chest so’s I could get the gold in it, since I’d noted i was trying to build up funds so I could also buy Breezehome
  • Finally made it to the cutscene with Karliah, which played out but was dodgy at least for me, with Karliah not properly disappearing when she should have done
  • Cue the followup scene where the player wakes up outside in Karliah’s camp; we had the conversation with Karliah as per usual, but with added hilarity of Mercer strolling right past us
  • Dara went after him and stole all his stuff 😆


  • Headed to Winterhold to approach Enthir about translating the journal
  • Killed a ridiculous number of snow bears en route
  • The guard who patrols near Whistling Mine a) was naked and b) kinda looked like Brynjolf, actually, LOL; saw him run off to fight a nearby ice wolf as we went by
  • After the GAUNTLET! OF! BEARS!, found an Orc skooma dealer, who happened to render as a Khajiit for Dara; Dara stole his moon sugar but left the skooma; Mel just outright killed him
  • Made it into Winterhold and issues here, too, with guards being pissed at Mel; Lydia got into a hell of a fight with the guards, until she finally killed both of them
  • Winterhold’s Jarl also tried to get in on the fight, until he ran off
  • Inside the Frozen Hearth, found Enthir; got the objective to go to Markarth and talk to Calcelmo for translation help
  • Dara stole the Staff of Arcane Authority behind the counter in the room where Nelacar hangs out
  • Other plot notes:
    • Mel talked to Nelacar, but this was not the point at which we could get the quest to go after Azura’s star; we have to talk to Aranea at the shrine to do that
    • Mel declined for now to read the book in the inn that lets you go after the dwarven-themed home
    • Mel took the quest from Birna and got the Coral Claw from her, which is the quest to go hit Yngol Barrow, and also the quest from the Jarl to go get the Helm of Winterhold


  • Fast traveled to Windhelm so Mel could take the cart from there to Markarth
  • After I warned her to be prepared, Mel saved Margret from being stabbed as we came through the gates
  • Eltrys dropped his note as per usual, but Mel didn’t read it yet; instead, we headed up to Understone Keep to talk to Calcelmo
  • Saw the initial conversation with Thongvor Silver-Blood and Brother Verulus; Mel took the quest to investigate the Hall of the Dead, but we didn’t pursue that for now
  • Reached Calcelmo and talked to him; he told Mel to fuck off as per usual
  • Mel elected to steal the key into the museum, never mind going after Nimhe the spider
  • Off to the museum! The guard tried to challenge us when we approached but Dara and I both were able to just walk right past him; Dara RPed at keeping him distracted while I went by, heh 😀
  • Mel got in ahead of us and basically just started rampaging through the place, taking out all the guards as well as Calcelmo’s nephew
  • Did not go through the section with the poison gas, and Mel sure did trigger a big fuckoff explosion with the valve! And she got the Dwemer puzzle cube
  • Made it through to the tower; Mel got the charcoal and paper to make a rubbing, then we rampaged our way back out again
  • At this point I was overloaded just from grabbing stuff off all the guards, so I had to keep teleporting to catch up with Mel
  • Finally got out okay at the part where the player is supposed to jump down off the balcony into the waterfall; Mel fast traveled back to Winterhold and I teleported to catch up

Back to the Frozen Hearth and SURPRISE! My game broke!

  • Had followup conversation with Enthir and Karliah about what all was in the journal
  • Karliah got us to the point of “oh shit we have to take this evidence back to the Guild” and gave us the Nightingale Blade
  • The plan was then going to be head to Riften to follow up, and this worked okay for Mel and Dara, but not for me; I had a sudden relocation right back to Karliah’s camp near Snow Veil Sanctum
  • Speaking with Silence quest started again for me, at which point I went WTAF
  • Used setstage command in the console to try to clear that quest, then teleported to Riften to catch up with the others
  • Mel was feeling kind of done at this point so we decided this was a good stopping point
  • Dara parked in the cemetery next to the (temporarily blocked because plot) entrance to the Guild

Anna-only epilogue, 7/1, 7/9, and 7/10

  • Tried to do some inventory cleanup at this point; sold a bunch of things in Riften to try to get up to 5K so I could go buy Breezehome, only I discovered that my game was fucked
  • And I also wound up accidentally nuking my save while trying to restore my fucked main solo run, so I had to re-run everything we’d just played in this session–twice
  • Took Lydia with me, because I needed her as backup in the museum
  • Did not save Margret, or read Eltrys’ note
  • Ran the quest to kill Nimhe the spider and got the Dwemer museum key that way, and got through the first part of the museum unchallenged
  • Took the Stone of Barenziah while there, Mel says she didn’t get it during the main session
  • Nabbed the spider control rod because I’d never actually tried it before, just to see if I could get it to help me kill guards; answer, yes!
  • Nabbed the Dwemer puzzle cube
  • Moved things along to the point of getting the translated journal and the nightingale blade
  • Boinged back to Whiterun and bought Breezehome, with some of the decorations as well
  • Later, hoofed it from Whiterun to Riften just to see if I could kill anything and level up to 20
  • Answer: did not find a single hostile critter until I got to just outside Riften, at which point I finally found a bear
  • Went into Riften and promptly found the guard force targeting a thief, who ran into the inn
  • Everybody wound up taking him out up on the second floor, including Lydia, who got in on that thief attack action even without me shooting at him myself
  • Snurched his stuff
  • Took a bounty from Keerava, for killing the bandit leader at Broken Helm Hollow
  • Went back out again and killed several wolves en route to the hollow
  • Threw Lydia and the atronach at the two outside bandits
  • Bandits in the cave were more of a problem and I think I died three times? Because Lucy is super squishy
  • Lydia and atronach however did finally take out the bandit chief
  • Looted her and other nearby slain bandit, and hit the boss chest
  • Did not hit the back room since I know the corpse in there is a quest hook, and I was trying to minimize taking any quests besides the bounty
  • Killed a couple more wolves on the way back to Riften
  • Second thief on the loose when I came back into the city, but I didn’t see where he fell
  • Didn’t bother taking an inn room, just waited until daylight, then was able to actually finally find the second thief after some searching
  • Meanwhile tanned all my wolfskins and made a new set of leather scout armor just so I could have armor I can improve, can’t improve the Thieves Guild armor yet without Arcane Blacksmithing
  • Sold a bunch of bandit loot to Balimund and a bunch of thief loot to Bersi
  • Went up to Mistveil Keep and reported in to Anduriel about the bounty
  • Bought some spells from Wylandriah, and used her alchemy table
  • Sold assorted things to Hafjorg in Elgrim’s Elixirs
  • Went back out the back gate and derped around the edge of the lake a little, but got bored with that and fast traveled to the Western Watchtower
  • Commenced hunting run through the plains, and took potshots at elk, deer, and mudcrabs
  • Found a Blood Dragon airborne over Drelas’ Cottage! And a sabre cat and bear fighting nearby
  • Took out the sabre cat and the bear, then the dragon noticed us, and GAME ON
  • Took the dragon down with some effort, still not at 20, so started hoofing it back to Whiterun and throwing my Muffle spell until Illusion leveled up enough to tip me over
  • Took potshots at a few more critters on the way back to Whiterun
  • Sold a bunch of things to adrianne and belethor and arcadia
  • Went up to Dragonsreach and bought the remaining furnishings for Breezehome!
  • Racked the Skyforge Steel sword since I was carrying two other swords and it’s not currently better than Dawnbreaker
  • Came back out again and got courier with the message about the museum in Dawnstar
  • Finally fast traveled back to Riften, parked myself just outside the Ragged Flagon, and saved

The nerve of some people expecting thieves to not be thieves

Neither Mel nor I witnessed this happening to Dara, I think, but Dara reported later that she ate an apple in the bedroom behind the Ragged Flagon–and got snarky commentary from Tonilia!

Tonilia: “Well, I guess that’s yours now.”

Kitty (startled, and also not understanding the point of the question): “AA! Uh, yes, it is…?”

LOLOL. Tonilia, honey, you live in the Thieves Guild. You are surrounded by people with light fingers. How did you think this was going to work for you?

Kitty gotta see a man about a house, or would if she could find him

I guess it’s a side effect of our in-game time being borked, which makes it a bit harder to predict when certain NPCs will be in certain places. Like Proventus, who I know moves around a bunch in Dragonsreach. He’s usually in the main hall near Balgruuf’s throne, sometimes eating at the long tables, but he also spends some time out on the Great Porch back behind the main hall.

When we came in to Whiterun so Dara could buy Breezehome, she did have a bit of a time actually finding Proventus. I mentioned his possibly being out on the Great Porch, but by the time I got to Dragonsreach myself to help her check, all the main NPCs had gathered at the table for dinner. So Dara was finally able to talk to Proventus and buy the house.

Dammit, Nazeem, stay dead

Meanwhile, Mel found out that Nazeem was in fact still alive, as she found him in the Drunken Huntsman! So naturally she had to take another crack at him.

Which proved surprisingly difficult! He actually picked up the Imperial bow off the counter (which was standing abandoned, as Elrindir, unlike Nazeem, was still super dead) and started shooting at her.

Mel did finally take him out, and this caused her issues with the local guards until we finally got out of Whiterun.

Onward to Snow Veil Sanctum

We’ve settled into a rhythm at this point of Mel taking the cart to whatever new location we need to get to, and Dara and I teleporting to catch up with her. How much longer we’ll need to do this, unclear. All five of the major holds are now on our maps, but we’re still short on the minor holds. So I think at least a bit more cart action is going to be required for a few more sessions.

This time, at least, we did the cart thing to get Mel to Windhelm, or at least the Windhelm stables. We didn’t actually need to go into Windhelm itself, since we just had to hoof it over to Snow Veil Sanctum from outside the city.

On the way, we spotted a trio of Stormcloaks just standing around. In my POV two of them were naked, and one had clothes. Which definitely made it difficult for me to tell that they were supposed to be Stormcloaks! Mel identified one of them as a captain, though, and I gotta wonder whether the one with actual clothes was supposed to be the captain. No easy way to tell though.

Once we finally reached Snow Veil Sanctum, we had the same problem there that I’ve seen in my solo runs–i.e., a follower in the way blocking Mercer Frey from getting to the door into the ruins, and gaming the lock. Three Dragonborns plus Lydia did make this a bit more logistically challenging than usual. But we sorted it, rearranging ourselves (and Lyds), and Mel doing a bit of judicious Unrelenting Force.

Then we started running the place. First big notable problem was that Mel and I both kept accidentally blocking Dara from getting in good bow shots. Snow Veil Sanctum is mostly pretty tight quarters except for a couple of larger rooms. As per standard Skyrim behavior Lydia did not follow us in. But this still meant we had a party of four going through this barrow, plus my periodic summoning of my flame atronach. Plus, there was the complication of draugr in Snow Veil Sanctum tending to come in big bunches. So eventually, Dara just had to punt to having Kitty steal stuff.

Next notable problem was that partway through the dungeon, Mercer started getting heavily aggro on Kitty. We are not sure why, whether Dara accidentally hit him with an arrow shot, or whether Mel or I hit him and he just happened to target Kitty. (It’s certainly possible that my flame atronach might have hit him, it’s not like the atronach has precision aim!)

We had to hit Mercer with the console to make him settle the fuck down. I think what we wound up doing was having Mel open her console, click on Mercer to activate his ID, and then entering this command:


This took a try or two but did eventually work. However, I found afterwards that a) Mercer’s behavior is apparently a known issue sometimes even in vanilla Skyrim, and b) we had a different option we could have done as well, namely these two commands:

prid 22651

Noting both of these for future reference, in no small part because of the strong possibility we’ll have to do this again if we take this STR run all the way to the point of doing Dawnguard. Because Serana is absolutely prone to going aggro when she shouldn’t!

Last but definitely not least, the cutscene with Karliah was dodgy with all three of us running it. It did play. But in my POV as well as Dara’s, Karliah did not properly disappear once she refused to fight with Mercer. I saw her still moving around in the background while Mercer turned to stab me!

The epilogue scene with Karliah in her camp was also a bit dodgy, but hilariously. We did have the conversation with her as per usual, but while we were doing that, Mercer strolled right past us. Entirely nonchalantly, without any sign of reacting to us.

And, well, LOL. Logistically speaking, this kinda makes sense. The game expects there to be only one Dragonborn, not three. Karliah outright tells the player she has enough poison only for one shot, so she couldn’t have shot all three of us. And Mercer likewise probably couldn’t have stabbed all three of us.

My writer brain wants to reconcile this by assuming that Mel as our party leader was the one who actually had the cutscene with Karliah play, and Mercer specifically stabbing her. Which raises questions of how exactly Mercer made sure Kitty and Luciriel weren’t going to interfere with his betrayal of Rhanys!

I’ve come up with the following for a headcanon, at least for Luciriel. (And told Dara she could apply it or not as she likes with Kitty.)

Easiest answer I can think of is, vanilla Skyrim has several examples of gates in dungeons that block your followers from coming after you until after you take out the primary boss in the chamber. I think we can assume such a gate fell as soon as Rhanys and Mercer went into the final chamber of Snow Veil Sanctum, and Luciriel wasn’t able to follow until after Mercer and Karliah had their confrontation.

I will also assume that Luciriel, still an inexperienced mage who has just only barely started being able to summon a flame atronach, tapped herself out on magicka. Otherwise she could have thrown an atronach even through the gate and had it fry Mercer’s ass! And when she saw Rhanys go down, she may also have realized that she had to hang onto her magicka to heal her. Then afterwards, she helped Karliah get Rhanys to safety at her camp.

Still though, even with that as a presumed headcanon for what actually happened, I should think Mercer would have fucking noticed if the party he’d just tried to betray was still alive and kicking in Karliah’s camp. 😀 So my writer brain is also insisting her that Karliah must clearly have moved her camp, because she would likewise have fucking noticed that Mercer killed her horse.

Either way, we all laughed ourselves silly over this. And Kitty went after Mercer and stole everything in his pockets. Because the bastard had it coming.

More to come about Karliah’s camp, though. Hold that thought.

Unexpectedly lively in Winterhold, which is not a thing you expect to say about Winterhold

Getting to Winterhold in the first place involved the guard at Whistling Mine being naked, a perfectly ridiculous number of snow bears, and an Orc skooma dealer. The Orc skooma dealer actually rendered as a Khajiit for Dara; I didn’t see the dealer at all, because they got to Winterhold ahead of me and I think I had to teleport again to catch up. Dara reported to me later that she explicitly let the (Khajiit) dealer keep the moon sugar “because it’s good for you”, but took the skooma because “that isn’t”. Kitty is nothing if not helpful to fellow Khajiit!

But once we actually got there, it was also unexpectedly exciting! (Words said about Winterhold by no one in Skyrim, ever.)

The guards in Winterhold confronted Mel (probably about that whole killing Nazeem thing, back in Whiterun), which caused Lydia to unleash some aggro all over them. This was a long fight for our housecarl! Lyds did, however, finally prevail.

Winterhold’s Jarl, Korir, also tried to get in on the fight! But he wound up running off. (The wiki says Korir is marked Essential, so we couldn’t have killed him even by accident. So one assumes Korir decided maybe he’d better cut a judicious retreat rather than trying to confront these hooligans in his street head on, given that one of the hooligans just killed two of his guards. Snerk.)

Korir running off, too, is kind of lollertastic given that Mel later got the quest from him to go get the Helm of Winterhold. Presumably the Jarl was all “whatever, here, have a job to run off and do, yes, I’ll reward you for it, just get the fuck out of my town!”

After that we finally made it into the inn to talk to Enthir, and get the objective to go to Markarth and talk to Calcelmo. But while Mel was taking care of that, Dara noted the Staff of Arcane Authority behind the counter in the room where Nelacar hangs out. She reported that Kitty was highly tempted to steal it, but was pretty sure she shouldn’t!

Narrator: “She did, in fact, steal it.”

Mind you, Dara wasn’t sure afterwards if she still had the thing, in which case she’s going to assume Kitty hallucinated having it. Mel opined that Kitty must have been hitting the moon sugar.

Me, I confirmed on the wiki that this is the staff you have to steal to run a favor quest for the Winterhold steward, Malur Seloth.

(I’m pretty sure I’ve never run this favor quest; usually, if I want to bother to get the thaneship for Winterhold, I can take care of the necessary favor quests by running the College of Winterhold plotline. Not to mention that it’s kind of a stupid idea on Malur’s part, anyway! How exactly does he plan to use that thing to pretend to have authority when the guy who owns it hangs out in the inn right across the street? Does he think Nelacar wasn’t going to notice? Nelacar, comma, a mage who’s on record as conducting experiments likely to make things explode?)

But anyway, regardless, we got the objective to head onwards to Markarth. And break into a museum.

The problem with visiting Markarth: it’s fucking Markarth

(Note: we’re not terribly fond of Markarth, oh my no.)

As we came into Markarth I reminded Dara and Mel that we’d get hit with the Forsworn Conspiracy opener as soon as we came through the gates. I also pointed out that if you move fast enough, you can in fact save Margret from being stabbed by Weylin! So Mel went for it–and did, in fact, save Margret from being stabbed.

We were not, however, inclined to try to run the Forsworn Conspiracy right then. So when Eltrys dropped his note, Mel declined to read it. Instead, we headed on up to Understone Keep to talk to Calcelmo.

Which ended, as per usual, in Calcelmo telling us in Grumpy Old Wizard fashion to get out of his face. And this is the part where Mel diverged from how I usually play this plot, LOL. Because she outright swiped the museum key rather than bothering to talk Calcelmo into giving it to us by going to take out Nimhe the spider.

Also, as I’ve written a few times before on this blog, I usually like to run the Dwemer museum in stealth mode. This time through?

We totes rampaged through the place. And by ‘we’, I mostly mean ‘Mel’. Because I wound up getting overloaded fast from looting all the guards she was mowing down! Of course, yes, I get overloaded all the damn time in regular Skyrim, so this isn’t exactly surprising for me. Here, though, there was the advantage of being able to just keep using party teleport to catch up with Mel. That did save some time.

And at any rate, we were successful in getting the rubbing and rampaging back out again.

Back to the Frozen Hearth and oh shit my game broke

Once we got back to Winterhold and met up with Enthir and Karliah in the cellar of the inn, Dara was too busy stealing stuff to pay attention to any of that conversation. So she completely missed that Karliah did in fact give us the Nightingale Blade. I told her to check her inventory next time we play, to make sure she has it!

Coming out of that conversation, though, was when I had the first signs of disaster. Because while Dara and Mel headed off to Riften to position themselves for winding down for the night, I got thrown back to Karliah’s camp. And the Speaking With Silence quest started up again.

At which point I went WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. I tried to recover from this by forcing the quest to resolve via the setstage command in the console, and party teleporting to catch up with Dara and Mel.

Afterwards, though, while trying to do some solo running to get enough gold to buy Breezehome, I discovered my game was fucked. It started showing the same behavior I saw in Harrowhark’s solo run before it imploded, where I could not fast travel without causing a crash–and even if I tried to play without fast traveling, I had a crash a few minutes in regardless.

So I had to roll clear back to the save I’d had at the start of this session, and replay everything we had just done, but this time solo. And the really maddening thing was, I had to do it twice. Because in the middle of trying to save Harrowhark’s run, I accidentally wiped out a lot of recent save files–including Luciriel’s last viable save.

A few things did cross my mind while trying to restore Luciriel’s progress, though!

  1. It sure would be nice to know what exactly Mercer did to jimmy the door into Snow Veil Sanctum, or the puzzle claw door. Given the number of those all throughout this game, I rather imagine any thief Dragonborn being surly about not picking up that trick before having to kill Mercer.
  2. For that matter, was there a claw for this door? If so, where the hell is it? Did Karliah claim it as spoils?
  3. Mercer has the same voice actor as Belethor, and I find myself respecting that actor, because Mercer’s voice comes across distinctly different than Belethor’s. Mercer is harder and crueler sounding, while Belethor is just smarmy!
  4. I don’t think I ever realized on previous attempts to fight Nimhe that if you back up into the corridor leading into the room where you fight her, you can safely pelt her with arrows and be out of her reach.

Getting through Calcelmo’s laboratory solo, though, was a goddamn problem. I wasn’t even up to level 20 yet, and did not have a means of invisibility. So first time through I kept getting spotted and killed by the guards. Second time through I was all FORGET STEALTH. I brought in Lydia with me on the second run, and also, because I’d never actually tried it before, nabbed the spider control rod to see if I could use it to make the spider take out guards.

The spider rod was actually kind of neat to play with, since things that are new to me in Skyrim are pretty rare at this point. And it was cool to see the spider in action. A little disappointed though that the spider only worked inside the laboratory. No taking the pet spider with me. 😀

Also, anything Lyds and the spider couldn’t take out, the ability to summon a flame atronach handled nicely. This was a lot more aggro than I usually am coming through the museum! But hey, it worked!

Doing enough followup action to try to clear level 20 so I wouldn’t be too damned far behind Rhanys and Kitty also let me learn a new thing, too. Namely: that if there’s a thief on the loose in Riften, as often happens when you’re running the Guild, it’s apparently possible for the thief to actually run into the inn! I saw the guards chase him in there, and they and Lydia wound up killing him up on the second floor. I hadn’t previously realized that fugitive thieves could do that!

Next time

Continued Thieves Guild action is likely, but we’ll see what we’re in the mood for next time we play.


And now, the obligatory screenshots! First up, mine:

And here’s Dara’s:

And Mel’s:

Last but not least, a bonus video snippet from Dara, in which Kitty observes Ranmir in the Frozen Hearth looking like he’s having a bit of a fit (content warning: skip if you’re seizure-prone):

Editing to add

  • 11/25/2023: Restored missing galleries.

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.