This is a wrapup post for my running of the Project AHO mod in Kendeshel’s playthrough, and a followup to the (mostly) spoiler-free review I posted earlier. Unlike that prior post, this one will definitely have spoilers for the mod in it, so proceed with caution if you think you might want to run this mod at some point!
A bit more commentary on quest rewards
By and large I do really like the quest rewards in this mod, but at the same time, I also feel like a bunch of them are OP. And I also feel like the circumstances around which you get some of these rewards are dodgy at best.
The Strategist perk
Case in point: the Strategist perk that you get off of filling out the chess board in the council hall in Sadrith Kegran. I only found out about this because I explicitly read the Project AHO wiki. If I hadn’t, I would have had no way of knowing that the “Warrior” and other such pieces I was finding here and there were in fact chess pieces, and that there was in fact something I could do with them.
And even knowing that, I didn’t really like that I had to basically go into every single house in Sadrith Kegran and nab all of the chess pieces off of various citizens’ shelves. The mod did at least have the courtesy of not counting that as stealing. But it felt weird nonetheless, because why on earth would someone just freely wander into somebody else’s house and take chess pieces off their shelves?
Especially if that person is actively enslaved by the town? It makes no sense to me that any of these people would look kindly upon one of their n’wahs just helping themselves to items off their shelves in their very own houses.
I didn’t do most of this until after I’d been explicitly set free, and was in theory now a citizen of the town. But that was only slightly less weird. I don’t go wandering into NPC’s houses and help myself to their stuff in main Skyrim–at least, in my non-thief playthroughs. 😉 So why would I be doing it here?
And also, why would just putting a bunch of chess pieces back on the board they came from suddenly trigger the ability in me to call up three times as many atronachs as I was able to do before? That’s a hell of a buff, surpassing even the Twin Souls perk that you can’t unlock unless you hit 100 in Conjuration. And the player unlocks this for what seems to me a ridiculously low amount of effort.
The AHO itself
Let me be abundantly clear here: I do think the AHO is cool, in concept and design.
But I also think that this enormous ship would damn well get attention all over Skyrim. It’s immersion-breaking to me to think of traveling around in this thing and not having every single power figure in Skyrim going WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING AND HOW DO I GET ACCESS TO ONE?
Or at the very least, WHAT DO I NEED TO OFFER THE DRAGONBORN TO LET ME GET IN AND SEE IT?
The launch pads it lands on, alone, I would think would get a fuckload of attention from Skyrim citizens. Scholars had to have been writing loads of treatises on what the Dwemer must have used them for. And since they’re outside and accessible, you cannot tell me there were at least some attempts to take them apart for their materials. Or otherwise use them as structures to build things around, if they couldn’t be dismantled for usable metal. Why the hell hadn’t at least one of them had a bandit lair set up around it?
And every scholar in Skyrim would damn well stampede straight to the Dragonborn the instant they found out there was a working ship that could use all those launch pads. Hell, Calcelmo, who already peppers the Dragonborn with courier letters whenever you buy any Dwemer item from any merchant ANYWHERE, would be beside himself with joy at the prospect of exploring a fully functional Dwemer ship.
And General Tullius and Ulfric Stormcloak alike would be very, very interested in finding out how many troops they could load onto the AHO for instant transport purposes. I cannot believe they wouldn’t be hitting up the Dragonborn for access to it, too.
As a Star Wars fan, I am kind of legally obligated to find Snippy adorable. 😉 And yet. He’s another example of a thing that strains my immersion, just because I can’t look at him without thinking that every single scholar in Skyrim would fall all over themselves trying to convince the Dragonborn to let them study him.
Starting with Calcelmo.
The Time Break spell
Out of all the notable quest rewards in AHO, this one, while still striking me as OP, is also the one I have the least objection to. Because there’s at least a quest surrounding getting it (though I have objections to the mod asking me to do favor quests for a town full of people who have enslaved me, see below), and if you don’t have the Slow Time Shout yet, it can save your bacon while you’re running Bkhalzarf. It certainly saved mine.
And while the spell does feel a trifle redundant in a game that does in fact contain the Slow Time Shout, it wouldn’t be the first example of a spell whose purpose is replicated in Shouts. E.g., the Detect Life spell and the Aura Whisper Shout. Or the Soul Trap spell and the Soul Tear Shout. So this is only a small objection at most.
Dwemer tech in general in this mod
The AHO is the foremost example, but generally speaking, the Dwemer tech in this mod strikes me as simultaneously cool and OP. The visuals all over the place are definitely one of Project AHO’s strongest points. But it also establishes a huge amount of tech in Bkhalzarf as still fully functional, despite it being well over a thousand years since the Dwemer disappeared. Main Skyrim establishes that Dwemer automations are still definitely alive and kicking, but that durability doesn’t necessarily extend to every single thing the Dwemer built, ever.
And some of the areas in Bkhalzarf, particularly the bits you can teleport back and forth between, come across as so much more advanced than what we see in main Skyrim that I have a hard time reconciling that difference. Even if I think those areas look super cool.
I will give Project AHO props for one thing, though, and that is how the various ingredients you find scattered around Bkhalzarf do show the signs of centuries having passed. So you find stale things, spoiled things, viscous things. That was a nice touch.
The spellbook typewriter in the Great Hexagonal Library
Relatedly, the spellbook typewriter is another thing I really like the look of and which I am absolutely taking advantage of in this playthrough. Because if nothing else, I feel like Kendeshel is going to be fucking bound and determined to never be taken surprise by slavers again. And if she finds herself an ancient Dwemer machine that lets her create spellbooks for spells in all known schools of magic, then fuck yeah, she’s going to make those spellbooks. Especially if it means she gets to fling lightning bolts into the faces of the next assholes who make the mistake of trying to capture the Dragonborn.
But I still think it makes the acquisition of spells too damned easy. There’s only so much bitching I should do about not having to buy all the higher-tier spells from the mages at the College of Winterhold, I know. 😉 For me as a player, though, part of the whole point of some of the higher-tier stuff you can get in Skyrim is the whole process of working my way up to them. If I just get handed a huge pile of spells I can make for free, it takes some of the fun out of working my way up to getting those spells.
Overall structure of the plot, and why you’re in Sadrith Kegran
Let me also be abundantly clear on this: I do not have a problem with “the Dragonborn is sold into slavery” as the core idea of this mod, per se.
But where I do have issues is how the mod chose to execute this core story idea.
Running any of the side quests
If I’m only in Sadrith Kegran because I have been captured and made a slave, then why in the name of all the Divines do I give the slightest fuck about helping out any of these people?
As I wrote in Kendeshel’s playthrough posts, the only way I could make this work for me narrative-wise is if I assumed that I was helping them explicitly as a means of gathering intelligence and looking for any way to break out of the place that I could find. I was certainly not running them to do these people any favors, as you usually do in Skyrim to gain the thaneship of a Hold.
Plus, all of these NPCs were bizarrely nice to the Redguard n’wah they’d enslaved, when they pitched these various quests at me. Why are they asking me to do things for them? I’m a slave, for fuck’s sake, why don’t they just order me to do these things? It makes no story sense at all.
Not being able to push back on the slavery activity in the town
The mod tries to cut you off from any opportunity to confront the town leadership about their slavery practices, by having Marisa Verendas haughtily assert that slavery is the Dunmers’ “ancestral right”.
Yes, she has lore precedent for that assertion. But just because it’s in the lore doesn’t mean the Dragonborn has to put up with the bullshit Marisa spouts. Especially given that the town enslaves the player.
“Well, Consul, not being a slave is part of my culture and my ancestral tradition. So why the fuck does your tradition get to win out over mine? Fuck you, fuck your town, fuck your tradition, fuck your entire House, fuck each and every one of your ancestors, and fuck the guars you all rode in on.”
It bugs me a lot that I was not able to explicitly reject Marisa and Erver’s offer to become a citizen of their town and a member of House Telvanni. Why the actual fuck would I want to become a citizen of the town and the House that enslaved me?
And that, in fact, keeps trying to enslave other citizens of Skyrim even after the plot is over?
This ties straight into how my biggest frustration with this mod is that it gives you only two choices to resolve the plot:
- Save the town by allowing the AHO to launch safely
- Destroy the town by not preventing an unsafe AHO launch
I went with the “save the town” option only because I realized that destroying the town would by extension mean the deaths of all their captured slaves. And that wasn’t fair to the slaves. They didn’t deserve to be destroyed, no matter how pissed off I was at their enslavers.
But I really, really wish that the “save the town” option would have included an opportunity for the Dragonborn to push back on Sadrith Kegran’s slavery practices.
At the very least, I wanted to be able to say, “If you want me to help you, you will not only release me, you will also release every single other n’wah you have, and never take another citizen of Skyrim. Otherwise, no deal. You don’t want to do that? Sucks to be you, I guess! Have fun figuring out how to keep Shanath Selthri from destroying this place!”
Given all of this, I saw no moral way whatsoever to get the player house available in the town, Hla Fang. Especially given that if you want to get it, you have to go through a “do I have a place here?” dialogue option with Marisa Verendas. AND GIVE HER TWENTY THOUSAND GOLD.
That’s absolute bullshit.
Because again, why would I want a place in the town that enslaved me and keeps enslaving other Skyrim citizens even if they let me go?
Moreover, why would I want to give this town money just so I could live there?
Fuck that noise. Marisa should have bent over backwards to convince me if she and Erver wanted me to have a presence in that town. They should have fucking well given me the house.
Not that I would have taken it, because again, not a moral choice if their town is still enslaving people.
Overall, this was the part of the plot ending that I found the most disappointing. For one thing, I felt it was anticlimactic that the only reason they offered to let me go was because they found out I was the Dragonborn and wanted to beg me for my help. And for another, my only options for how to proceed here were to decide to save the town, or destroy it. And neither of these options included any provision whatsoever for ending the town’s slave trade. I had no opportunity to confront Marisa and Erver on the cruelty they were inflicting on their captives, or call them out for how their grand plan to restore their House’s greatness was being carried out on the backs of slaves.
Or or even just point out to them that their branch of their so-called great House was fucking hiding out underground, terrified of being discovered by the rest of Skyrim.
Why does this town think I won’t give them away?
The plot makes a big deal of how Sadrith Kegran is a secret Dunmer settlement, trying to do its best to “restore the greatness of House Telvanni”.
But if you go through the “save the town” version of the ending, nobody in Sadrith Kegran seems to be the slightest bit afraid that you won’t reveal their existence. Y’know what else is in the lore? Slavery being illegal in the Empire.
And I cannot help but think that the Empire would take it very, very badly that an entire Dunmer town has set itself up under Skyrim’s very feet, and is stealing Imperial citizens to be their slaves. Even though the Stormcloaks are putting up a big damn fuss about this, the Empire sure as hell considers Skyrim their territory.
And a bunch of House Telvanni Dunmer establishing a secret settlement in Skyrim and kidnapping Skyrim citizens?
That smells to me like an act of war.
Practically speaking, Tullius doesn’t have the forces to really do much about this. But I could definitely see him sending in a battalion to clear the place, and extradite all high-ranking citizens the hell back to Morrowind. Lower-ranking citizens he might immediately declare conscripts for Imperial forces.
“Oh, I’m sorry, you object to being forced to do something against your will? Gee, WONDER WHAT ALL YOUR SLAVES HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT. Oh wait, they can’t talk BECAUSE YOU FUCKING TOOK THEIR TONGUES OUT, you barbarians. Now report to the quartermaster, grab some gear, and start praying you learn how to use a shield long enough to survive the next attack we’re making on the Stormcloaks.”
And if I’m playing a Dragonborn aligned with the Empire, why am I not going immediately to Imperial command to report Sadrith Kegran’s existence?
Or, if I’m Stormcloak-affiliated, why I am not going to Ulfric to report the same thing? Okay yes sure, you could argue that Ulfric is fresh out of fucks to give about Khajiit or Argonians getting enslaved. Windhelm is the Racism HQ of Skyrim.
Discussing this with Dara, I decided that the town’s probably justified in being terrified of discovery. Both the Empire and the Stormcloaks would have very strong reasons to come in and raze the place if they were found out. The Empire would consider this a violation of the original agreement laid down by Tiber Septim–because while he may have been willing to let Morrowind maintain slavery within its own borders, Sadrith Kegran is not in Morrowind.
Likewise, for all his flaws, Ulfric Stormcloak is not an idiot. And he would absolutely plausibly see that taking out a nest of slavery would be an act that could potentially heavily sway hearts and minds in Skyrim to his favor. He could point at Sadrith Kegran and go “Look! Look what the Empire allowed to flourish right under their very noses!”
If you’re running a Dragonborn aligned with either side of the war, you have huge reasons to march right out of Sadrith Kegran back to your side’s commander, and immediately report what’s going on down there.
If you’re not aligned with the civil war yet, but if you’re thane of anywhere (and at minimum you’re going to be thane of Whiterun) and you’re trying to do an ethical/moral playthrough, you still have reason to report back to your Jarl about their existence.
All in all, I don’t feel like this mod gives you enough narrative reason to not blow the whistle on this town the instant you have your freedom back, in addition to demanding the release of all the other slaves. I should think that release of all the slaves in the town and agreement to cease taking any future slaves would be the bare minimum required to get the Dragonborn to agree to not only not destroy the place, but also to let them continue to live in secret.
A boatload of nifty quest rewards, up to and including the AHO, are not enough to convince the Dragonborn to look the other way on this, not if you’re running an ethical/moral playthrough.
If you’re running an evil playthrough, or maybe even a neutral one, maybe.
But if you’re running a Lawful Good, Neutral Good, or Chaotic Good Dragonborn? No damn way.
And the other thing that really frustrates me is…
I can see how, with a bit more narrative work, this could have been a much more powerful story.
Here’s another thing I saw on the Project AHO wiki: a hint that Marisa Verendas might have actually had Erver Milo’s wife murdered.
Why the hell wasn’t this part of the main narrative?
That, that right there, would have been powerful motivation for Erver Milo to get on the Dragonborn’s side.
Writs of assassination are also legal in Morrowind, so even if Marisa had what she thought was just cause to order the Morag Tong to execute Erver’s wife, much would depend on what that just cause was. Because if Marisa was full of shit about her just cause, that would be a fantastic motivator for Erver to turn against her. I could see him initially ordering the Dragonborn to help him out with his spell research because “convenient n’wah guinea pig”–but soon realizing that this person could be a very powerful tool in getting his revenge on his fellow co-consul.
Hell, maybe Marisa’s reasons were just and Erver just wants revenge on her anyway because his wife is dead. Still powerful motive for him to try to overthrow her.
One more thing that is also in Morrowind lore. Two words: Twin Lamps.
I was really, really hoping, when I came into Project AHO with an expectation of it being a slavery plot, that there would be a counter to that. Morrowind (the game) has parts in it that let you actively free slaves, after all, and hooks you up with the Twin Lamps organization. If this mod had also leveraged that, that could have been awesome.
Maybe somebody in the town is an undercover Twin Lamps agent. Hell, maybe Erver Milo’s wife was!
And if she’d been executed, that might have been enough to stifle any further dissent in the town… until the Dragonborn is captured, and they realize that in the Dragonborn, they have another chance.
My nominee for most likely a Twin Lamps agent in the populace of Sadrith Kegran: Yen-Ylu. Give him reason to work together with Erver Milo, have them and the Dragonborn find some sort of thing down in Bkhalzarf that could let them free the n’wahs, and use that as leverage against Marisa.
Interweave this against Shanath’s growing madness. Shanath takes the Dragonborn down into Bkhalfzarf to begin with just because he wants to find books to give to the other townsfolk–why? What does he care about bringing them books? I’d think it way more likely that he’d want to take his n’wah down there to find what he needs to launch the AHO.
Give him a motive to do that, for that matter. Shit, this town keeps talking about restoring the greatness of House Telvanni. So exactly how excited might House Telvanni be to get their mitts on this thing? Telvanni taking control of a thing that has the ability to travel to multiple locations in Skyrim would have to be extremely interesting to them. And how many other Dwemer ruins have pads capable of accepting an AHO landing? This could potentially get the AHO to go a lot of places. Put enough Telvanni forces in there and I could see Telvanni thinking that this is their ticket to taking over Morrowind. And not stopping there, either.
But then you also have Shanath shifting from an initial focus on the greatness of his House, and over to his own greatness. This guy’s exactly the kind of maniac who’d decide, as he gets more bonkers, that House Telvanni doesn’t deserve to have this powerful Dwemer ship. He is the one who did the work to reactivate it. He is the one who discovered its secrets. He, and he alone, should be its master! House Telvanni–no, all of Morrowind!–should make him Grandmaster!
Then you can have a nice crunchy conflict between Yen-Ylu and Erver who want to free the n’wah, Marisa who wants to preserve the status quo (and doesn’t want her town destroyed), and Shanath (who’s gone completely off the rails but now has some actual motives to make him a bit more interesting than just ‘stark raving batshit’).
And that can lead into the Dragonborn having to choose who to support. You could choose to support just Yen-Ylu and Erver, which could result in Marisa’s overthrow. You could support just Marisa, which would go in the direction of preserving the status quo. Or you could go the route of making Marisa reluctantly join forces with you, Yen-Ylu, and Erver, which lets her keep power and keeps the town reasonably safe, but also loses her the slaves. But it also gives her an opportunity to push for being willing to do this if the Dragonborn agrees to not betray their town’s existence to the rest of Skyrim.
Or, you could tell all of these people to go fuck themselves, and go throw in with Shanath. Maybe if you want to focus one hundred percent on a revenge play, for taking down the asshole who had the gall to buy you from a slave auction to begin with, and who’s an abusive son of a bitch to boot.
As a writer myself, I can see the bones of a much more interesting story here than the one I actually played through, and one which could have much more nuanced outcomes.
No matter how cool the quest rewards are in this mod, I’d have been a lot happier with them if the story that delivered them had been stronger.
All in all
I have had a lot to say about running Project AHO, not only in my playthrough posts, but even to the point of writing two different prose scenes about its events and their effect on my character. You guys, this mod has chipped away at my years-long writing block! And for that alone, I have to give it a lot of credit.
And for reminding me about my narrative-building skills, and making me think about its plot structure and what I would do to fix it, I’m actually grateful to it.
But that said, I don’t think I will want to run this mod again in a future playthrough, no matter how cool the rewards are. The lack of any option to end slavery in Sadrith Kegran is a huge dealbreaker for me to want to play it again.
And just as importantly, the potential I see for the story it could have been frustrates me to no end. Clearly, the team that made Project AHO told the story they wanted to tell, as is their right! But in the end, it was a story that just did not work for me.